Christ, the Want of the Soul

1919 205 "And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20). There are some plants which grow right up — erect in their own sturdy self-sufficiency, and there are some feeble ones which take hold with their hands and clasp and climb. The soul of man is like these last. Even in his best estate he was not meant to grow insulated and stand alone. He is not strong enough for that. He has not within himself resources sufficient to fill himself. He is not fit to be his own all-in-all. The make of his mind is an out-going, exploring, petitionary make. The soul of man is a clasping, clinging soul, seeking to something over which it can spread itself, and by means of which it can support itself. And just as in a neglected garden you may see the poor creepers making shift to sustain themselves as best they can; one convolvolus twisting round another, and both draggling on the ground; a clematis leaning on the door which will by and by open and let the whole mass fall down; a vine or a passion, flower wreathing round a prop which all the while chafes and cuts it; so in this fallen world it is mournful to see the effects which human souls are making to get some efficient object to lean upon and twine around. One clasps a glittering prop, and it scathes him. The love of money blasts his soul, and it hangs round its self-chosen stay a blighted, withered thing. Another spreads him' self more amply over a broad surface of creature-comfort, — a snug dwelling, and a well-furnished library, and a pleasant neighbourhood, with the command of everything that heart can wish, or fortune buy — but death opens the door, and, with nothing but vacancy to lean upon, he falls over on the other side a helpless and dejected being. And a still greater number, groping about along the ground, cleave to one another, and intertwine their tendrils mutually, and by forming friendships and congenial intimacies, and close relations, try to satisfy their leaning, loving nature in this way. But it answers little end. The make of man's soul is upward, and one climber cannot lift another off the ground. And the growth of man's soul is luxuriant, and that growth must be stifled, checked and scanty, if he have no larger space over which to diffuse his aspirations, his affections, and his efforts, than the surface of a fellow-creature's soul. But, weedy as this world-garden is, the Tree of Life still grows in the midst of it, erect in his own omnipotent self-sufficiency, and inviting every weary straggling soul to lay hold of His everlasting strength, and expatiate upwards along the infinite ramifications of His endless excellencies and all-inviting love.

God has formed the soul of man of a leaning, dependent make; and for the healthy growth and joyful development of that soul, it is essential that he should have some object far higher and nobler than himself to dispread his desires and delights upon. That object is revealed in the gospel. That object is Immanuel. His divinity is the Almighty prop able to sustain the adhering soul, so that it shall never perish nor come into condemnation — the omnipotent support which bears the clinging spirit loftily and securely, so that the whirling temptations which vex it cannot rend it from the Tree of Life, and that the muddy splash, which soils and beats into the earth its sprawling neighbours, cannot tarnish the verdant serenity and limpid glories of its flowering head. And just as His divine strength is the omnipotent prop of the adhering soul, so His divine resources and His human sympathy make Him the all-sufficient object, over which each emotion and each desire of regenerate humanity may boundlessly diffuse itself. And however delicate your feelings, however multitudinous the necessities of your intricate nature, there is that in this heavenly Friend which meets them every one. There are in His unimaginable compassions, and in His benignant fellow-feelings, holds sufficient for every craving tendril and eager clasper of the human heart, to fix upon and wreathe around.

This is what the gospel does. It just offers you a Friend, who can both save and satisfy your soul. Jesus, the Son of God, God manifest in flesh, Immanuel: the gospel offers this Friend to you — not more tender than He is holy, not more divine than He is human. Instead of clutching to props which cannot elevate you, or if they do bear you up for a moment, must soon be withdrawn again the gospel bids you grow against the Tree of Life: and just as you grow up into Christ, you will grow up into holiness and into happiness. And if you have not yet found an object to your heart's content, if you feel that there is still something wrong with you, that you are neither leading the life which you would like to lead, nor enjoying the comfort which you think might be somehow got; be advised. Take the Lord Jesus for your friend. He is one in whom you will find no flaw. He is one of whom, — if you really get acquainted with Him you will never weary; and one, who, if once you really go to Him, will never weary of you. He is a friend of whom no one had ever reason to complain: a friend who, having done so much for you already, deigns to do for His people a great deal more; a friend who is singularly kind and considerate, for "He sticketh closer than a brother"; a friend who does not vary, "for He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever"" and, best of all, a friend who is never far away, for "Lo, I am with you alway."

There are many reasons why men do not love the Lord Jesus. Some feel no need of Him. They understand that He is a Saviour; but a Saviour is what they do not desire. Others have no congeniality with Him. They understand that his character is divine that His love of holiness is as intense as His hatred of iniquity, and as they love the world, and love their own way, and love the pleasures of sin, they feel that they cannot love the Lord Jesus.

But the hearts of some towards Christ are cold for other reasons. Their conceptions regarding Him are sufficiently vague and dim; but so far as they can be reduced to anything definite, we might say that they do not love the Lord Jesus, because they habitually think of Him as a dead Saviour, or a Saviour different from what He was, or a distant Saviour — a Saviour far away.

Some look on the Lord Jesus as dead. They read His history as of one who lived long ago, but who is not living now. They read Matthew's narrative, or John's, and they are interested — for the moment moved. They feel that these words are very beautiful — that this stroke of kindness or tenderness was very touching — that that interposition was very surprising. They feel that the whole history of Jesus of Nazareth is very affecting; and, just as they may have wept at the death of Socrates, or when they read the martyrdom of the saints at Lyons, so they may have felt for him who had not the fox's hole — they may have wept when they saw the son of Mary hanging on the tree. And, if they were visiting Palestine, they might linger over many a silent spot with a solemn impression. "Is this the grassy mount where He preached that sermon? You lake, rippling round its pebbly margin, is it the one He so often crossed? And are these the very rocks which echoed the strong crying of His midnight prayers?" But there they feel as if it ended. They look On it all as a tale that is past. They take for granted that it all closed on Calvary — that the cross was the conclusion of that life — the most wonderful life that the world ever saw — but still its conclusion.

To them Christ is dead, not living; and therefore no wonder that they do not love Him. You may revere the character of those long ago departed; but love is an affection reserved for the living. You will only love the Lord Jesus when you come to believe in Him as a living Saviour — one who once was dead, but who, once dead, dieth no more. Jesus lives. He was not more alive when He sat at Jacob's well than He is alive this moment. He was not more alive when He poured the water into the basin and washed the disciples' feet — not more alive when He took the cup and made a beginning of the Remembrance-feast not more alive when He rose from table and sang the parting hymn, and went out before them to the Mount of Olives, than He is living now. The Lord. Jesus lives. He is alive for evermore.

Some, again, do not love the Lord Jesus because they look on Him as an altered Saviour as different now from what He Once was. Earthly friends are apt to change, and if they do not change, they die. When a visitor comes from a foreign land where you once sojourned, you ask eagerly about the different acquaintances you once had there. "And did you see such a one?"" Yes; but you would not know him, he is so greatly altered." "Did he remember me?" "Well, I rather think he was asking for you, but I cannot be very sure. He has got other things to occupy his thoughts since you and he were wont to meet." "And what of such another?" "Ah, times are sadly changed with him. You would be sorry to see him now. I believe he has the same kind heart as ever; but he has not in his power to show it as he used to do." "And our old neighbour, who lived next door?" "Your old neighbour! Dear good man, he is safe in 'Abraham's bosom.' I found his house shut up, and all his family gone away." And it is very seldom, after years of absence, that you hear of one whose outward circumstances are no-wise different from what they were, and rarer still to hear of one whose dispositions are quite unchanged.

However, One there is who wears — not indeed" our fallen nature, yet nevertheless our nature, but is not liable to the variations of mortality. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." The concurring testimony of those who have seen Him from time to time, along a reach of some thousand years, goes to prove that the Alpha and Omega, the Friend of sinners, cannot change. He who talked with our first parents in the cool of the day is the same holy yet condescending one that He ever was, and loveth righteousness, and hateth iniquity, as much as when the first sinners ran away from His pure and sin-repelling presence. The heavenly High Priest is still as accessible to prayer, and as ready to yield to His people's entreaty, as when He six times conceded to Abraham's intercession. The God of Bethel is still the faithful keeper of His People and their families, as when He heard Jacob in the day of his distress, and was with him in the way which he went. And anything which has been heard of Him. since He went back to His glory, goes to prove that He is the same Saviour now as during the continuous years He sojourned with us.

It is true, there are some circumstantial differences, but no intrinsic change. There is more of the oil of gladness on Him than when the Father first anointed Him, and crowns are on His head which have been planted there since the work given Him to do was finished. His satisfactions are fuller, as He continues to see the travail of His soul; and, doubtless, there are outbursts of His glory yet to come, more dazzling than any which have yet astonished heaven.

1919 222 But still the mind of the Lord Jesus is the same as it ever was; and when the last saint sits down beside Him on His throne, when the fulness of "It is finished" comes to be understood, and word is brought to the many mansions that death is dead, and that time is now no more — the redeemed, as they bow beneath that exceeding glory, will feel that it is still the glory of the Lamb that was slain — the glory of the" friend who sticketh closer than a brother."

But the feelings of others towards the Lord Jesus are vague and comfortless, because they think of Him as a distant Saviour — a Saviour far away. The Lord Jesus is omnipresent. He is not far from any one of us. His flame-bright eye follows the Lord's Day desecrator through the fields, and is on the drunkard as he reels into the tavern. It reads through the thought of the liar as he forges his falsehood, and looks through and through that heart which is full of its corrupt imaginings. It notices the worldly professor at the communion-table, and sees the unbeliever tumbling, night after night, into his prayerless bed. But though the Lord Jesus be everywhere present, He is present with His own people in a peculiar relation. He is with them as a Saviour, a Shepherd, a Friend. His divine presence fills immensity; but His gracious, His loving and interested presence — His Saviour-presence — is exclusively with His own. So constantly is the Lord Jesus present with His people that, in order to get the full good of it, they have only to remember the fact. From the moment that a man becomes a disciple of Christ, "Lo, I am with you alway" becomes a promise to that man a promise, the performance of which is never for a moment suspended by the Saviour, but the existence of which is often forgot by the disciple. But, forgotten or remembered, it is every moment true; and, to enjoy the full blessedness of this assurance you have only to remember to realize it. Sometimes, without any effort on your part, the conviction will dawn gently, or flash brightly, on the mind, and you will feel for a moment that Jesus is with you. But why not feel it alway? for it is always equally true.
"A glance from heaven, with sweet effect,
Sometimes my pensive spirit cheers;
But ere I can my thoughts collect,
As suddenly it disappears.

So lightning, in the gloom of night,
Affords a momentary day;
Disclosing objects full in sight,
Which, soon as seen, are snatch'd away.

The lightning's flash did not create
The opening prospect it reveal'd;
But only show'd the real state
Of what the darkness had conceal'd."

These lightning-bursts, these momentary gleams, are just the hints of truth which the Holy Spirit darts into the mind from time to time, revealing matters as they really are. But we ought to recollect, that even during the dark the solid landscape has not vanished, but is only hid. And even so, when Christ's sensible presence is withdrawn, we should remember that He is near as ever, and it is the believer's wisdom to go on in the joyful strength of the assurance, "Lo, I am with you."

Let me mention some benefits of Christ's perpetual presence with His people, especially when that presence is recollected and realized.

1. It is sanctifying. The company of an earthly friend is often influential on character. If he be one of a very pure and lofty mind, and, withal, one who has gained an ascendancy over your own soul, his very presence is a talisman. If an angry storm be gathering in your bosom or lowering in your countenance, the unexpected sunshine of his heavenly aspect will disperse it all again. If mean or unworthy thoughts were creeping into your mind, the interruption of his noble presence will chase them all away. If you are on the point of declining some difficult enterprise or evading some incumbent duty, the glance of his remonstrating eye will at once shame away your indolence or cowardice, and make you up and doing. So the Saviour's recollected presence is a constant reproof and a ceaseless incentive to an affectionate disciple. Is he provoked? Is his temper ruffled? Is he about to come out with some sharp or cutting sarcasm, or to deal the indignant blow? One look from the Lamb of God will calm his spirit — will cool the flush of fury in his burning cheek will make his swelling heart beat softly. Are you tempted? Do evil thoughts arise in your heart? One glance from these holy eyes can chase away a whole legion of demons, and banish back into the pit each foul suggestion. Are you seized with a lazy or selfish fit? Are you wearying of work which for some time you were doing, or refusing work which God is now giving you to do? Are you angry at an affliction, or averse to a given task? Lo! He puts to His hand and offers to help you with this cross, and you observe that it is a pierced hand; and He offers to go before and show you the way, and you notice that the foot-prints are bleeding, and it wounds you to think that you should have needed such an admonition. Or you have just come away from a scene of guilt from a company where you have denied Him — where you have just been saying by your conduct, by your silence, or your words," I know. not the man"; and as you encounter the eye of Jesus, whom they are leading away to crucify, O Peter, do you not go forth and weep bitterly?

2. Christ's presence is sustaining. The apostles were wonderfully calm and collected men. People, considering that they were, many of them, unlearned and ignorant, were amazed at their dignified composure in most difficult circumstances. It was scarcely possible to alarm or agitate them. When brought before kings and rulers, it was usually their judges who trembled, but they themselves were tranquil. And Paul tells us the secret of it. When he himself was brought before Caesar it was an agitating occasion. Nero was a cruel prince, and the people looked on his palace much as they would have looked on a leopard's den. An order has arrived to bring the Galilean prisoner to the emperor's judgment-hall. The apostle has just time to warn a few friends, and like enough they came and condoled with him; but they thought it prudent not to go with him into court. It might compromise their own safety, and it could do him no effectual good; and he did not urge them. The soldiers arrived, and he went away cheerily with them — the old weather-beaten man without his cloak, for he had left it at Troas; without his friends, for he had left them behind at his own hired house — as forlorn as ever prisoner stood before Caesar. And how was it that the infirm old man passed, with so serene a look, the clashing swords and scowling sentries at the palace-front? How was it that he trod the gloomy gateway with a step so full of merry innocence and martyr-zeal, and never noticed Nero's lions snuffling and howling, in their hungry den? And how was it that in the dim and dangerous presence-chamber, where cruelty sat upon the throne of luxury, — how was it that, with that wolf upon the judgment-seat and those blood-hounds all around him — with none but pagans present, and not one believing friend to bear him company — how was it, O Paul! that in such an hour of peril, instead of pleading not guilty, and falling down on suppliant knees, thou didst commit the very crime they charged against thee — the crime of loyalty to Jesus — and urge Christ's claims on Caesar? Why, the secret of this strange courage" At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me"; was, notwithstanding, THE LORD stood with me and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."

And you, my friends, will all be brought into agitating circumstances. It is not likely that it will be said to you, "Fear not, for thou must stand before Caesar." But you may be arraigned before terrible tribunals — the tribunal of public opinion — the tribunal of private affection — the tribunal of worldly interest for Christ's name's sake. From time to time you may be constrained to pass through ordeals which will make you understand how Paul felt when passing in at the palace-gate. When called to give your testimony for Christ, the flesh may be weak, and the willing word may be like to expire in your choking utterance. Worldly wisdom may beckon you back, and, like Paul's fearful friends, cautious or carnal Christians may refuse to support you. It is not Nero's hall, but a quiet parlour you are entering; but before you come out again you may be a poor man, or a friendless one. The Yes or No of one faithful moment may have spurned the ladder of promotion from under your feet, and dashed your brightest hopes on this side the grave.

1919 238 Or, by the time the letter you are now penning is closed and sealed and posted, and the sinful assent, or the compromising proposal, or the resolute refusal is written, the Lord Jesus will have said, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead"; or, I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot"; or, "I know thy works; behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. I also will keep thee." In such fiery trials of love and fidelity, there is nothing so sure to overcome as the recollected presence of "Lo! I am with you." And oh it is sweeter, like the three holy children, to pace up and down beneath the furnace's flaming vault, arm in arm with the Son of man, than to tread the green pastures of an earthly promotion or a carnal tranquility purchased by the denial of Jesus, and so win the wrath of the Lamb.

3. Comforting. You have noticed the difference in travelling the same road solitary and in pleasant company. "What! we are not here already! It takes three hours to do it, and we have not been half that time. Well, I could not have believed it; but then I never before travelled it with you." No doubt Cleopas and his comrade used to think the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus long enough, and were very glad when they reached the fiftieth furlong. But that evening when the stranger from Jerusalem joined them, they grudged every way-mark which they passed; and as in the progress of his expositions Moses and all the prophets beamed with light from heaven, and their own hearts glowed warmer and warmer, they would fain have counted the mile-stones back again. "How vexing! This is Emmaus; but you must not go on. 'Abide with us, for the day is far spent.'" Any road which you travel solitary is long enough, and any stage of life's journey where no one is with you, will be dreary and desolate. But you need have no such companionless stages — no such cheerless journeys. If you be a disciple, the Lord Jesus always is with you. And whether they be the silent weeks which you spend in search of health in some far away and stranger-looking place, or the long voyage in the sea-roaming ship, or the shorter journey in the rattling stage or railway car if, in reading, or musing, or lifting up your heart, you can realise that Saviour's presence, who is about your path and compasses all your ways, you will be almost sorry when such a journey is ended, and when such a solitude is exchanged for more wonted society. I can almost believe that John Bunyan left Bedford jail with a sort of trembling, fearing that he might never find again such a Bethel as he had found in that narrow cell for the last twelve years; and I can understand how Samuel Rutherford wrote from his place of banishment, "Christ hath met me in Aberdeen, and my adversaries have sent me here to be feasted with His love. I would not have believed that there was so much in Jesus as there is. But 'Come and see,' maketh Christ to be known in his excellency and glory."

The presence of Christ can turn a dark night into a night much to be remembered. Perhaps it is time to be sleeping, but the November wind is out, and as it riots over the misty hills, and dashes the rain-drift on the rattling casement, and howls like a spirit distracted in the fireless chimney, it has awakened the young sleeper in the upper room. And when his mother enters, she finds him sobbing out his infant fears, or with beating heart hiding from the noisy danger in the depths of his downy pillow. But she puts the candle on the table, and sits down beside the bed; and as he hears her assuring voice, and espies the gay comfort in her smiling face, and as she puts her hand over his, the tear stands still upon his cheek, till it gets time to dry, and the smoothing down of the panic furrows on his brow, and the brightening of his eye announce that he is ready for whatever a mother has got to tell. And as she goes on to explain the mysterious sources of his terror 'That hoarse loud roaring is the brook tumbling over the stones; for the long pouring rains have filled it to the very brim. It is up on the green tonight, and had the cowslips been in blossom they would all have been drowned. Yes and that thump on the window, it is the old cedar at the corner of the house, and as the wind tosses his stiff branches they bounce and scratch on the panes of glass, and if they were not very small they would be broken to pieces.' And then she goes on to tell how this very night there are people out in the pelting blast, whilst her little boy lies warm in his crib, inside of his curtains; and how ships may be upset on the deep sea, or dashed to pieces on rocks so steep that the drowning sailors cannot climb them. And then perhaps she ends it all with breathing a mother's prayer, or he drops asleep beneath the cradle-hymn.

And why describe all this? Because there is so much practical divinity in it. In the history of a child, a night like this is an important night, for it has done three things. It has explained some things which, unexplained, would have been a source of constant alarm — perhaps the germ of superstition or insanity. It has taught some precious lessons — sympathy for sufferers, gratitude for mercies, and perhaps some pleasant thought of Him who is the hiding-place from the storm and the covert from the tempest. And then it has deepened in that tender bosom the foundations of filial piety, and helped to give that parent such hold and purchase on a filial heart as few wise mothers have ever failed to win, and no manly son has ever blushed to own.

Then for the parallel. "As one whom his mother comforteth, so the Lord comforteth his people." It is in the dark and boisterous night of sorrow or apprehension that the Saviour reveals, Himself nigh. And one of the first things He does is to explain the subject matter of the grief, to show its real nature and amount. "It is but a light affliction. It lasts but for a moment. It is a false alarm. It is only the rain drift on the window — wait till the day dawns and shadows flee away. Wait till morning and you will see the whole extent of it." And then the next thing He does is to teach some useful lesson. And during these quiet hours, when the heart is soft, the Saviour's lessons sink deep. And last of all, besides consolation under the trials and peaceful fruits that follow it, by this comforter-visit, the Saviour unspeakably endears Himself to that soul. Paul and Silas never knew Christ so well nor loved Him so much as after that night which He and they passed together in the Macedonian prison. And the souls on which the Lord Jesus has taken the deepest hold are those whose great tribulations have thrown them most frequently and most entirely into His own society.

But we hasten to a close. We have seen the meaning of the words so far — "Lo, I am with you alway"; I am with you to succour in temptation, to strengthen in duty, to guide in perplexity, to comfort in sorrow. From the instant you become a disciple I am with you all along. I am with you every day. All your life I am with you — and at death? — at death you are with Me. That's the difference. At present I am always with you, but you are not always with Me. At present Jesus is constantly near His own, but His own do not constantly desire to be near Him. Here it is only by faith that believers enjoy His presence. There they shall see Him as He is. Now the Lord Jesus follows His own whithersoever they go, but they do not always follow Him. Then it will be different, for they will follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. And all that is wanting to complete the promise is what death's twinkling may introduce, what the Saviour's coming for His own shall fully supply. Now it is, "Lo, I am with you alway," — and then it is, "And so shall we be ever with the Lord."

Ever with the Lord." At once and for ever! At once — for absent from the body, we ire present with Him. So near is Jesus now, that, like the infant waking from its dream, it looks up, and lo! she sits beside it — waking up from this life-dream, the first sight is Jesus as He is. At once no flight through immensity — no pilgrimage of the spheres — for the everlasting arms are the first resting-place of the disembodied soul it will be in the bosom of Immanuel that the emancipated spirit will inquire, "Where am I?" and read in the face of Jesus the answer, "For ever with the Lord." Forever — To be with him for a few years, as one way with another John and Peter were — to be with Him one Lord's day as the beloved disciple subsequently was to be with Him a few moments, as Paul caught up into the third heaven was — how blessed? But to be ever with the Lord — not only today, but tomorrow — nay neither today nor tomorrow, but now, now, one everlasting now!
For ever with the Lord!
Amen! so let it he;
Life from the dead is in that word
'Tis immortality." J.H.