Preached in the West Croydon Congregational Church
”Ye have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His shape, and ye have not His Word abiding in you for whom He hath sent. Him ye believe not.”John 5:37, 38
If I cannot persuade you to understand a little more of Jesus Christ my labor is lost in coming to you. If I cannot help any human heart to draw closer to the living One, my labor is lost.
Did the fact ever cross your mind that you are here in this world just to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, and for no other reason? Do you think you were sent here to struggle after this poor, poverty-stricken existence, and the more poverty-stricken as what are called the means of life increase? We are sent here that we might choose to live, and there is no life but in knowing Jesus Christ and the Father that sent Him. I suspect it is true of every man as of Judas, that if he passes out of this world a traitor to any truth into the face of which he has looked, it were better for that man that he had never been born. Our Lord used that word of Judas, I suspect; I say that is true of every false man who knows the truth and will not do it.
In John 5:37, 38, Jesus said: ”Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape. And ye have not His word abiding in you.” You do not suppose that He is merely stating the fact that no man has, with his bodily eyes, beheld God. That surely was not necessary, and our Lord speaks not an unnecessary word. Do you not recognize the tone of reproach spoken to the men who were always arguing, and would never open their minds to the truth, a class of men just as common in the present day as then? They will lay hold of anything to argue about. They would take the very words of the Lord themselves, and build fine arguments to their own destruction, and that of all men; but their own spirits lie dark towards the Eternal Sun of the living light. The fact is, men of old knew their Scriptures, yes, and they would talk from morning to night; but they had neither heard the voice of God at any time nor seen His shape, and had not His word abiding in them, and therefore they did not know the Lord when He came. That applies to all forms of truth, that those who have not the truth in them cannot know the truth when it comes to them. Not being true, they cannot recognize that which is not of their sort. When a man has seen something, however little, of the shape of God; when he has heard anything of God’s voice, and known it as the thought and intent of the Eternal One; when his being responds to the being of God – and in all ages of the world’s history there have been such men – then when the Son of God comes to them, they know Him, that He is the Son of God. Therefore, the Lord says of them that, with all that God had done to them to make them know Him, to give them such a notion in their hearts of what He was like, they had learned so little about God that when His very image came to them they did not know Him, they would not have Him. Do you think it is possible to be true hearted and to refuse the truth thus brought down just into the very depths of the soul? Oh, a man who is only anxious to save his soul never sees anything of this! If he does not love the truth, if he neither loves God nor would be ready to die for his fellow men, if he is only occupied with his own individual being and its well-being, he can know nothing about this, and he cannot know the kingdom of heaven or the liberty of the sons of God in the obedience of the truth.
These particular Jews were a sore trial to our Lord. He, in His own heart and soul and mind, in all His consciousness, knew. He came from the Eternal One, and if there be a living God, what else, what more could He do than to send such a one as the story tells us about, this Lord Jesus Christ, His own Eternal bosom friend, being His very Son, and to say and tell My little ones there: “Let them see what I am like: go and be Myself amongst them. You can do it, because you are My son; they are My sons, but they cannot understand the Father until they get some idea of what the real Son of My heart is. Go to them, and dwell with them, and suffer them, and let them do anything to you they like, so that they may see what I am, who from morning to night am serving them and doing all that I can do for them, and they won’t believe Me; go and be amongst them as My very self.”
And so He came, a poor man and a laboring man. He lived among them, and let them strike Him if they would. He would bear it all if only He could let them know the patience of His Father, and the overflowing love of His heart, and the forgiveness that He sent them for all that they did wrong. And He tells them then: “If you would have any glimmering view of what My Father is, I, knowing that I am His Son, must be accepted by you when I come to tell you that I am His Son, and that I know His thoughts, and that I want you to know them, that you may be just as blessed as I am.”
We are far from the liberty of the children of God yet. Only when we have come to feel that life is precious to us just and only because we are the children of the Living One, and that we are hand and heart with Him, only then can a man be thoroughly, righteously able to say: ”It is worth while to live.” With some of you, it is a marvel that you care to live at all. Will you say for yourself now, and to yourself, that you are a Christian? What do I mean by a Christian? I mean a man who lives for and in the purpose and life of Christ, a man who acknowledges his life as hid with Christ in God, a man who knows that he cannot serve God and mammon, and never tries, but, feeling in him his own imperfection and evil, struggles against it, and seeks to cast out everything, that God might dwell in him. But instead of that, how would you like me now to be able to see into your heart, and see the kind of thing that is there? Some of you know you would not like it, the vileness, the dirt, the meanness, the vanity, the selfishness. In God’s name, I would not like to see it; I see enough in my own. But God sees it. But do you like Him to see it? Some of us like Him to see the bad that is in us because we know He will help us to get rid of it. He will clear it out for us, not without our earnest endeavor and strife and struggle, but He will do it, for He is on our side, and against the evil. Why, some of you have learned that self is a thing that is loathsome to you. You have begun to see that if there come not into you a high power of purity and deliverance, a presence to your consciousness of the living God, by whom and in whom you live, your whole nature is a something from which you recoil, for it was never meant for you to live in the consciousness of self, and no man can live in that, but must go mad, but must turn in and in upon himself until he goes mad or goes out of being. Ah! you feel quite right now, do you? You are quite able to go to business tomorrow, and to laugh at the idea of your going mad, because you have not found God; but there is a living truth lying in wait for you, and for that truth, the reality about yourself, I mean, and about God, to enter into a man and to be by him accepted and acted upon, is liberty and life.
And truth must be known some day, even to those that do not love it, for the Lord hath said that there is “nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither anything hid that shall not be known”; and the business of God which He has taken to Himself is to compel us to see, and for that is all our life and all training here, although we might try to deny that there is a life truth. It is not merely that there is truth that we can find out by thinking about it; but there is a living truth which insists you shall know it. But you call yourselves Christians, I will say. Well, then, would you know Jesus Christ if He came? You think you would. I was going to say if it were His will to come again to the earth, but I do not know why I should say “again,” because I do not believe He has ever left it. I do not like to say anything about “The Lord said,” and “The Lord thought,” and that kind of thing. I think very often we ought to use the present tense. I believe at any moment He could make Himself manifest to your eyes and mind if He pleased; but I do not think He would come in any old-fashioned, conventional way that we may happen to imagine about Him.
Oh, yes! if He came with His halo around Him, or with the garments white as snow, perhaps you would recognize Him then; but you would be no nearer for that. But would you know Him if He came as He did then, in the same relation to our time, our century, and our foolish interests as He was to those of the Jews of old? Which of you would be crucified for Christ? Which of you would acknowledge Him in the face of poverty? If He came now some of you would not know Him a bit, but would just serve Him as some Jews served Him of old, only that His influence has so wrought on the feelings of society that we would not take and crucify a man whatever he said, but we might make his life bitter to him. Then if He reproached those Jews that they did not know Him, being what He was, that they had so little developed in them the notion of the Father after all He had done for their nation and for themselves, being the foremost men in it, what words would He give to you if you neither hear the voice of Jesus nor know what He is like, nor have His word to abide in you after the perfect revelation of God in Christ? For I, who have for more years, than I can tell tried to understand Him and have studied His word, declare that I cannot imagine any other kind of revelation that would come to the necessities of my heart and soul and imagination that could give me faith and hope like this.
We have got the Book; say all you can critically about it, but I see Jesus Christ to God in it for me and for every one, I believe, who will turn the energy of his nature to find Him; I see, then, that, if this revelation, of its kind beyond all human outlook, and yet lifting the human life up to itself, if this revelation must come, what reproach lies upon you if you do not know God yet, if you are capable yet of believing bad things about God! You do not believe bad things about Him, do you? You act as if He were not to be trusted. Some of you are troubled from morning to night as if He were not looking after the sparrow, as the Lord said, and some of you say bad things about Him, things impossible for any man who knows Christ to believe. How is it possible that you should know Him, any of you, who understand perfectly that the main end of your life, cover it up as you will, is to make money? You belong to the Devil if you do, that is his way; he offered to our Lord the kingdoms of the earth if, He would but worship him. Mammon is only another name for hell.
Do you know Christ, and are you able to turn the whole energies of your nature towards money-making? No; it may not be, because the two things are as essentially opposite as God and the Devil. You won’t save your own soul. Are you even trying to? Have you invested anything in the world to come? I am not talking about your faith in this or that doctrine. I care nothing about that. I do not even ask if you are one with the Lord; if you are, your doctrine will be all right; but I am asking whether you have had prudence enough to invest some of the property you are so busy making in the other world, the money, I mean. The Lord tells us we are to make friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that which is unrighteousness and mammon to those who love it. I have known people give largely to societies to do good. Do they suppose that the society will be there when they go into the next world? There will be some individuals of them, I suspect, I hope, I do not doubt; but do they ever think what the Lord meant by that strange parable? Did He not mean that we should pass into the other world with a considerable need for somebody to give us a helping hand when we got there? For when we get there we shall have no pockets. Even if we had any money we could not carry it. We shall have no pockets, empty-handed, naked as we were born; nay, far more naked, for our very body will be left behind.
The Lord makes much of friendship, for He was the one perfect Friend man ever had. How dear it is to have any human heart that can understand you, and trust you, and believe that you mean right and well. Blessed is it when two men, two women, still better when a man and a woman thoroughly know and trust each other. They must be good before that is possible. How can a man trust that which he knows not to be good? How can two ever be friends when each of them is selfish? Impossible! A genuine heart-love of individual to individual is the nearest thing to the love of God that can come except by loving God, for that is altogether beyond it.
The Lord prized friendship, for He knew if a man needed a friend it would be when he went into a new state of things altogether. Yet he would be himself only in a new condition. And there have been those who have been there longer than we, and we might have friends there if we would. Are you all sure that when you pass through the narrow gate you will come among your own people, those that will know you and help you and receive you into everlasting habitations? That is one thing the Lord says, and if you do not obey Him you do not know Him. You will tell me, some of you, I am always beating that anvil, that obedience to Christ is Christianity. Let me die insisting upon it, for my Lord insists upon it, and I have come to understand that it is true. It is not enough to do a thing even because Jesus Christ tells you. You must obey Him, and then you will know it to be true; you will know that He said it because it was true, and you have to learn it or you are mere hangers-on of the kingdom of heaven.
What do you do to know Christ? Do you try to know Him? Do you ponder His words, especially any that you cannot quite understand? There is sure to be something there if you could find it. Do you try to get at Him? Some of you are reading a biography, and trying to get at the heart and mind of the man you are reading about; you want to see him as he felt himself to be. I do not trust much in biographies, but the more that man is a true man the nearer you see him. Do you understand Jesus Christ? Do you think He came to reveal anything but God, or do you think it was any good to Him to reveal Himself if nobody understood Him? What a waste it would have been! He reveals Himself in word and work just that we may know the Man, that we may enter into Him and understand Him and perceive what He thought and felt.
First of all, begin to obey Him. Without obeying Him you never can understand Him, and if you could it would only sink you deeper in hell if you did not obey Him. The thing is an absolute mockery, a mockery of God Himself to say: “Thou art the source of my being; I live because Thou livest; I lift my hand only with Thy power; nay, the very hand is Thine own; Father, let me draw near unto Thee.” ”Ah, My child! you go and behave properly to your brother and sister.” “Oh, no! I do not want to do that; it is very disagreeable to go against my inclinations; I am in the right and he is in the wrong; I cannot do it.” Wait a bit. Is that man a worshipper of God? Do not you see it is almost impossible that he should feel anything of that devotion of which I speak when he will not listen to the Word of the Father? I have seen it on the earth. I have seen a child cling to his father’s or his mother’s neck, loving; it could not be from pure love, not from childlike love, when the father or mother said to him: “Get down off my knee, and do so and so,” and he clings the harder. Is that love? Is that love of the Eternal God which my soul needs, and without which it starves in the desert? Is that the kind of love that I will offer to my Father or my Elder Brother who has died for me? Shall I not strive with the very essence of my being for His sake rather than refuse to do anything that He tells me, to give the right eye or the right hand? It is the mercy of God that He demands an absolute devotion to Himself. It is no selfishness, it is giving Himself unto us: “I in them, and they in Me, that we may be one.” God wants us all to be just with Him as His own kind, and less than that will not satisfy God, and cannot satisfy us.
Let me just end by saying: Know Jesus Christ your Master. He is doing all He can to make you know Him, and if you do not know Him yours is the loss now, and there is more coming that you cannot reckon. I would be no prophet of soft and smooth things. I believe that if disappointment, pain, sorrow, and fear, anything, will make you turn to God, you shall have it, and I believe that for those who are like Dives the evil is coming for those that had the good things, and I take the Master’s word, though I would go beyond it and interpret it after the manner of men; but I say there is no escape for you, and you had better make up your minds to be of the truth, and not need to have all the sheepdogs in the shepherd’s courthouse sent after you to lay hold on you and worry you into obedience. For God is in earnest. There is an old Turkish proverb that says: “God has feet of wool, but hands of iron.” You may not hear Him coming after you, but you will know it when He has hold of you.
I believe that the very fire of hell is the fire of love, but it is a love that will burn the evil out of you. In God’s sight, now, have the common sense to know that at the outside you will not live much beyond a hundred years here, and that this is but the beginning of things, and that what comes next depends on what you have done and made and caused to be here. It stands to reason, and though some people manage to put it away from them for a long time it does not follow that they can do it always. It might want just the slightest pressure on some little spot of your brain to drive you into eternal despair, because all the memory of the past would roll in upon you, and all the fear of the future, the fear of the houseless, homeless, unfriended man. Even to say nothing worse, that is waiting for those who are living for self and selfish ends, however low or high, when they pass into the world that joins this world. Oh, friends, know Jesus Christ: through Him know God! God grant you to see the truth and to do it!