Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.John 5:40
He seems sometimes, does He not, to speak hard words to those Jews? You must remember they were the Judæan Jews, the Jews of Jerusalem and of Judæa. They were respectable, and knew about the law, and were the authorities of the country; at least they were regarded as the upper classes, with the Scribes and the High Priests and the Elders at the head. And these were they who set themselves against the truth. They sought honor of men, and yet at any moment any one of them might have fled to those arms of deliverance that were spread out to rescue them. “Ye will not come to Me that ye may have life.”
Friends, take care against the feeling that these are words that were said long ago, and that we are busy with antiquities while we are talking about these things. Our Lord Christ always spoke out of the simplicity of eternal principles. The thing that the Lord said then is just as true as if He had spoken it this moment to us. He spoke it because it was true. He lives in the truth; He is not subject to any of our poor little facts that we talk about. He lives in the truth of His Father and of His own nature, and speaks the simplicity of eternity. And for us the prime of these is that there is waiting to deliver us a man; the man, the eternal man, is waiting to deliver all the poor children of men who will ask Him to help them. Deliver them from what? What did He mean? What do you want to be delivered from, friends? If you do not know anything you need to be delivered from, you will know some day. But if you do know anything that you need to be delivered from, there is Jesus Christ; He is the Redeemer, the Saviour of men, in all senses. “Ye will not come to me that ye may have life,” He says.
Did it ever occur to you that the root of all your troubles, if you have any—and I have never known the man or the child that had not some trouble—did it ever occur to you that the root of all your trouble was that you had not life enough? It is so.
What do I mean by life? Well, I do not mean what many people do, the going on and on in this kind of consciousness that they are in. I suppose that I have led a life as happy as most people. Thank God I know what trouble is! But trouble could not kill happiness. I have led a life as happy as most people, I say, but rather than go on with this for ever and ever, as some people would seem to like to do, I would rather drop out of existence at once. God knows I speak the truth. Rather than live with a small proportion of life I would not live at all. I want more life, immeasurably more life.
Are any of you content? I know some of you cannot be, because your desires are set upon things, in order to make which content you, you would need to cease to be the children of God at all. God would need to take oiji of you the very essence of your being before it would be possible for the things that you seek to content you. I dare say a wild beast is tolerably content when he lies down in his den, having filled himself with all the food that he wants. You need to be what we call a lower animal before the things that some of you seek could content you; and then I doubt it, for I have a strong hope in my heart that the animals, too, are being taught for something higher and better.
I am not going in my little heart to limit the great Father. But the Lord Christ wants to give them life, and for that He came. He has got the secret of things, and He wants us to share it. That is just the mission of the Son of God. Ye will not come to Me that ye may have life.” And the sole thing between life and them is that they will not take it.
Do you understand this—that no man was ever condemned for any sin that he ever committed? His condemnation is that he won’t come out of it; it is not that he has done it, but that he sticks to it—that is his condemnation. “This,” says St. John, who learned it of the Lord (for all the Apostles learned everything they tell us of the Lord), ”this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” They won’t come to the light because it would expose them; you won’t come because it would make you so dissatisfied with yourself, and you know it. If you were but once to give in to this that the Lord calls life, and sometimes calls light; if you would open your hearts to this thing, you know you would have to look down on yourselves, and you do not like to do that. There are millions that prefer to go to misery to meeting the sight of themselves that they know is awaiting them if they would only look the reflection of themselves in the face, the reflection which the mirror that God holds up to them would give of themselves. And so it comes to this, that you would rather think yourselves something fine than be something divine. You would rather believe yourselves to be very passable respectable people than you would know yourselves the children of the Infinite God.
But, friends, some of you have come to Christ to get life in some way or other. You are always trying to get near Him, and some of you have come a step nearer to Him; but you have not life enough yet. You know it well. Which of us would dare to say: “This will do now, I may go on now”? Yes, we are ready to think that when we have offered up a prayer sometimes, we have felt as if God had heard us, and that He was near us—we have then sometimes felt as if we could go on a little bit. It is a great mistake. For the moment we think we can do, and then we are beginning to slip away. It is an everlasting, continuous reaching up and trusting and yielding to the possession of God that will keep us ever in the way. You know many of you are so busy, and you are not able to think two things at once, and so suddenly you come to be aware that you have been forgetting God, and that life has not been in you, and that you have been wandering this way and that way, trying to make money or doing your duty in the world. Oh, it is not wickedness only that makes it difficult for us. But then, when you wake up, did it ever occur to you, or does it occur to you, that it is He that is calling you?
Oh, make yourselves glad with this thought, that when you have been forgetting Him, and have thought of Him, it is He that is calling you, ”Come unto Me and have life.” So we have just to lift up our hearts to Him for more life, and brace ourselves to the thing He tells us to do, whatever it be, even the duty that has been making us forget Him—we have to do it with Him instead of without Him.
But now I want you just to think a little more fully what life means here. It is no place, of course; you cannot say that life is a place in the world to come; it is not going to heaven, or anything like that that is meant by life—that would be ridiculous. Did you ever go to bed very tired? I presume there is not one of us that never did. Things look rather uninteresting and dark about you. You know, friends, we have a great faculty of the commonplace in us, and we spoil God’s lovely thoughts in the world and in society—I mean by society just what we have to do—buying and selling, and so on: we have such a faculty of spoiling them; things look common-place, and if they were such as we see them, they would be common-place, but they are not. Well, you go bed tired and weary, and feel as if all the world were a drizzle about you. And we shall suppose that it is a rainy night, and that the black fog has come down as you came home. But you sleep, that mysterious experience is yours which we are so accustomed to that we think very little about it, but it is one of the most mysterious things in existence. You sleep, and sleep, and somehow it seems to me as if we got back in our sleep a little nearer to the fountain of life. I do not know what I mean further than that; we get somehow nearer to God, who is our home, not, perhaps, spiritually, but physically, for we have a physical relation to God. And so, when the morning comes we open our eyes, and the sun is shining, and hope is awakened in our hearts. We feel strong, and what? Alive, we say; we have got more life. I am not asking now what kind of life this indicates, it is in close association with all kinds of life, for when we say we do not mean this kind of life, and that kind of life, they are all associated, and the very light by which we are able to read our book is somehow or other the same kind of thing as God Himself, for it is an outward shining of an inward incomprehensible radiance, it is from God.
So I say all things are associated together. And when we wake in the morning and say: “I feel alive to-day,” we have that very kind of life, though you may say it consists only in what is very ready to turn into the pride of life, the sense of strength and clearness—a condition in which some men, or perhaps all of us, are readier to forget God than in any other. For when we wake and are weary, we say, “Where is God?” And when we are strong and active and powerful, then we are ready to feel, “Well, we can do without God to-day.” We do not say so; some of us would be horrified at the idea, and would be at our prayers at once, for we should know that that was fearful. The idea of living alone, even in the greatest power that the universe could give us, would be frightftil to us. But that is one way of knowing what we mean by life. It is freedom, strength, the consciousness of a joyous existence.
You have been ill, some of you. I wonder which of you has not been ill; and although the illness might be a small thing, it might be sufficient to make you very miserable. And when that passes away, if it be only a headache that has been crushing you all night long— when towards morning the headache, like an evil demon, is driven away, and you feel repose and quiet, and as if you could either go to sleep or get up and work— you do not care which—you have got life; you feel it is life. But some of you have been very miserable about your business affairs sometimes, or about your home affairs sometimes, or because your heads would not work right. Some of us, perhaps, are beginning to feel old age just coming to stop the activity for a moment of what we call our brain—God knows what it is. And you feel inclined, perhaps, to ask the question in some of these circumstances, or, it may be, when some dear friend has gone out of sight: “Is life worth living?” And then you think: “Oh, it is very wicked of me to put such a question as that.” No, friend, it is not; you had better ask it.
I, for my part, if that were life, should say it is not worth living. But where I find that life is an open hillside, up which I have got to climb (let the darkness be what it may, or be the storm as loud as it may), because there is paradise on the top, then I say life is worth living, so well worth living that I set my seal to the will of God in making me. Less than that I would rather not accept from any hand. Give me the perfect life that God meant to give me, or let me die.
Well, suppose that the cloud passes away; your business rights itself, we say, using a Pagan kind of phrase about it; your illness passes; your sorrow is comforted— God grant that it be with a Divine comfort—that is, with a good reason for not being sorrowful. Then things get so clear about you that you feel as if you had double the life. You see what I am driving at. I want you to have the notion that life is a right condition of the being that God made. You are aware that every time that joy, that strength, that hope is strong in you, you are more alive than you are at other times, you have more life in you; for verily pain and sorrow are against the harmony of things, and cannot last; they must pass unless you keep them, they must pass. Life is joy, labor without weariness, thanksgiving for existence, a sense of well-being and delight for which God made us.
But here it occurs to me that some of you who would like to know something about this, but who, at the same time, have that kind of feeling of which I spoke at the beginning—namely, that you are afraid to lay yourselves open not merely to God, for you cannot hide from Him; but to yourselves—are saying: ”Yes; it may be very delightful to have all that, but there is a very ugly something lying between. I have got to say I am wrong; I have got to say that I have done wrong; I did that thing wrong yesterday, or last year, or ten years ago, and it hangs on me like a clod of stone.” (So it does.) “And I cannot confess it. If I confess that thing, I confess that I am a dishonorable man. I know I am, but I won’t say it.” That is the kind of feeling. Or, you say: “I have got to order my life altogether differently, else what you call life can never wake up in me more.” There is this passage to go through. The old world “conversion” is as true as ever it was, although, perhaps, having been turned into a kind of slang, we shrink sometimes from employing it. It is an eternal fact that a man born into this world has to be born from above as well, that he has to change his way, that he has to repent—that is, to think better of it. I do not say he can be sorrowful for his sins when he likes—it is a high grace of God to be sorry for sins—but he can turn from them; he cannot excuse himself there.
The Greek word for repentance means just a change of mind: “I did so-and-so, please God I will never do it again.” You confess it, and in confessing you cast it from you; in refusing to confess it to yourselves, or to anyone whom you ought to confess it, you are hugging the ugly loathsome disease to the very heart of your being. Confess it, and it is gone. God says: “I, too, will forget it.” Whatever you have done wrong God says: ‘*Come to Me, and I will cast your sins behind my back.” Where is God’s back? What lies behind God’s back? Nothing—nowhere. They are gone. If God pleases to forget a thing, where is it?
Oh, friends, to have the life that comes just of saying, ”I will do so no more. I have done it, and I will not do it any more!” St. Paul says, taught by Jesus—and you will never understand the Apostles until you understand the words of Jesus—you may get ten thousand stories out of them, but you will never come nearer them—St. Paul says: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Then St. Paul looks upon us as dead, or half-dead—dead enough to be buried, to be let down among the dead. And yet we can awake if we will, and come out. I know I am too ready to get impatient with my fellow creatures, but I cannot understand—I am learning a little wisdom about it perhaps—why people will not be reasonable in this matter, why they will not arise from the dead and seek the life that would make their whole being radiant. But why should I be impatient when here is the Lord crying: “Ye will not come to Me that ye may have life?”
Oh, my friends, if you will but cast away the evil! I speak to myself and to all who have believed already, for you are not saved yet. I do not count myself saved. Never till God and I mean the same thing, and think the same thing, and do the same thing; never till the very existence of God is my continual gladness shall I count myself saved. Then I say to all of you, Cast away the thing that you know is not light, is not clarity, and, let it cost what it may, receive the life that Jesus offers you; then you will one day, I know not when, be filled with life, that you will be glad like God Himself with an intense consciousness of blessedness. But, you say, “This is all very fine; it is a way people have of talking in the pulpit, and there may be something in it; but what am I to do, how am I to come to Christ?”
You say the thing that He said then is just as true now, because He is alive now. The word “was,” you tell us, is not to be used of Jesus Christ and His life; you say that He is. “But how am I to go to Him?” Well, if there were no way of talking to Him, I do not know how you should. You might proceed to do the things that He tells you, and that is essential, for the very first thing to anybody is to begin to obey the things He says. But, if there is no way of talking to Him, you will never feel that you have come to Him.
You might obey His words looking upon them as an old story, but if He does not hear, how can you come? Of course we know that there is an infinitely closer contact than seeing and hearing and feeling. There is the contact of the soul, whatever the soul is, that which I call me, that which you call you, that which can call to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ can hear it, and talk back to you as your friend, setting you right, strengthening, converting, governing you, whatever you need. If that is not true, then there is no reason why I should stand here and trouble myself to talk. Either God is, and God hears, or all this book is—well, I cannot say it is foolishness even then, for I declare that the idea of a God, the notion of a Christ, the idea of what a mere man might become as a shadow from the heat, a covert from the tempest, a splendor of truth and righteousness, is so glorious in the very ideal, that I believe the invention would be better than any fact. I say the very idea of God as revealed in Christ, is more precious to think of than anything else that the world can give.
Of course, friends, there are some of you whom this does not touch a bit. Whether it be that you have been doing wrong so long that you have become spiritually stupid, or, whether it be that you are such babies that you have not wakened up to any kind of feeling with regard to the things that are not seen, namely the region of thought and feeling and duty; which it may be I cannot tell; I only pray you if you feel a motion as small as the wind that a fly’s wing will make upon you as you lie in bed, hear it, heed it, let it work. Nay, more, awake and arise from the dead as that poor motion in you would have you. Save your life by accepting from Christ the life that He will give you. Come to Him with obedience saying, ”Lord, help me to obey Thee, tell me what I have got to do.” Turn to your New Testament, look to the words of the Lord, and set yourself to do them. Pray to Him to help you, and to give you light; and then you will know that life has begun to grow in you, that the thing which was depressed is beginning to move, to spread, to send forth leaves and branches, nay, to send forth wings to lift you above the follies and troubles of the earth, into the empyrean of God’s love and man’s perfect peace.