The Sensitive Verasity of Jesus
The Sensitive Verasity of Jesus
“If it were not so, I would have told you.” — John 14:2.
Little things reveal character. Coleridge said that one could discover that a man was a gentleman by just the few words he would speak during the moments he was standing under a common shelter from a sudden summer shower. There is a very certain, though not easily defined, difference between an ordinarily true and an especially true man. An eminent botanist pronounced it impossible to make a definition of an oak which should distinguish it from all chestnuts; or a definition of a chestnut which should distinguish it from all oaks. But when the botanist was asked. Would you ever mistake in calling an oak a chestnut or a chestnut an oak, the reply was, never? He might not formulate the difference; he could recognize at once.
Now, I think, one will get the impression at once from this single clause that Christ was in no ordinary sense and degree trustworthy; and that word stands for a quality than which it was difficult to mention one more excellent.
Jesus was comforting the disciples in their grief over his impending departure. He is telling them that though they cannot follow him now, they will follow him by and by. He assures them that in the Father's house whither he is returning there are many dwellings. Just here he drops this brief remark, “If it were not so, I would have told you.” What a disclosure there is in this one remark of that quality of character in him, on which one may rely without hesitation and to the utmost, because he is one who feels the value of truth and could not, either willfully or heedlessly, leave the disciples building on an unfounded hope!
Suppose, then, for a few moments, that the Master could have given any one of the following turns instead of this given in our text.
Thus, suppose him to have said, it may not be so; but it makes no great difference whether it be so or not. It is of no particular account what any one believes about a future state. One is neither better nor worse because of belief or disbelief. You can go on and be faithful to the moral principles which I laid down in my mountain sermon, even should there be no mansions for you in any heavenly country. Indeed, faithfulness to right and truth, without any expectation of any future felicity may be better. Your virtue will not be tarnished by suspicion of being done for a reward. Do we not discern instantly the chasm which separates the mind which can think in this cold and indifferent way, from the mind of the Master? “I would have told you, “for the truth on this subject is not a matter of slight importance to me. Let men, like Pontius Pilate, ask derisively or despairingly, what is truth, to me it is beyond estimate precious. If there were no heavenly mansions, I would not have alluded to the prospects of them.
Or, suppose the great Teacher to have given this turn: There may not be really any such home in the Father's house, but the prospect seems to comfort you; if it be only a dream, yet the dream is pleasant to entertain; I would not take it ruthlessly out of your faith; it may help you to sustain coming trials; no harm can come of it; some time perhaps you will be advanced in your ideas and will not need it. How different is the tone of such a theory from that of the actual Christ! If heaven were not to be, I would say so. If it were only a pleasant dream, you should know it. Just now, when Peter was dreaming about his willingness to lay down his life for my sake, did I not say to him, Why, Peter, before the cock crow, you will deny me three times? Could I cut down that pleasing complacency in Simon's mind and let this delusion, if it were a delusion, linger unrebuked in your thoughts?
Again, suppose our Lord to have said, in an undertone, I do not myself see any firm ground for affirming any Father's house with many mansions providing for individual and personal immortality, but the affirmation has had undeniably a good effect upon mankind; it has stimulated virtue in ordinary men. Therefore, it is such a tenet as may be indulged on account of its proved useful-ness. Such is well known to have been the final position of an eminent English philosopher of our own generation. Immortality, reasoned this wise man, cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt, but as it is a wholesome doctrine on the whole, the hope of it may be indulged. Plainly this is not the tone of the prophet of Nazareth. If I did not know that there are dwellings prepared on high for your individual home, I would have told you. Here is trustworthiness resting not merely on veracity, but upon actual knowledge.
I may suggest one other possible turn which might have been substituted for this of the text. Suppose our Lord to have said, if this beautiful doctrine of heaven shall finally prove unreal, I do not hold myself responsible for the issue; it may prove true; it may prove untrue; take your own risks about it. There might seem a blunt rough honesty in so disposing of the matter, but such veracity is hollow or heartless as compared with the tone of our Lord's actual utterance. If it were not so, I would have told you. I should consider myself bound to tell you. I could not regard it honorable in me as a special religious teacher to throw these risks upon you. I take the risks myself. I hold myself responsible for the reality of the pictures which I have drawn of the heavenly home.
The four suppositions, now made, will have served their purpose, if they have helped to bring out to any other mind the impression which has been again and again fastened upon my own by reason of this single line of our text. This single line flashes instantly upon one's thought the impression of our Lord's careful, strong, delicate and affectionate trustworthiness. But this quality of character, though revealed in these few words, is by no means confined to them. The gentleman may be disclosed as such by the one question or answer that he makes during the pattering of the summer shower, but that is because his culture has become a part of himself and he divests himself of it nowhere and at no time. Our attention may be drawn to it on the slight occasion, but once we have seen it, we shall never cease to see it. So when I read this clause, I say to myself, how admirably these words suggest the perfect reliableness of my Savior! But the moment this suggestion passes my lips, it seems also as if all the sacred pages were written to set forth this particular grace. Indeed, it may well seem so, for trustworthiness is not a single grace. When one speaks, for instance, of the trustworthiness of a bridge, say, such a one as spans the Mississippi at St. Louis, that is the grand thing about it, that, day or night, when streams are low and streams are high and mad with terrific currents, in wind and rain and scorching heat, the great structure has committed to it the burden of rich harvests and of a continental commerce and of human lives; and the first, middle, last thing demanded of it is that it be worthy of confidence. But though that be the one grand requisite in the bridge, yet how many things go together to make up that requisite. The granite that lies deep down in the treacherous bed of the river, the piers that bear the weight and pressure of the whole, the truss work of steel, the various pieces of material which have been wrought one by one and fitted each to its place, all go to make the bridge safe. So, what is there in our Lord's complete person, what grace or power of nature or growth, which does not enter into his perfectness as an object of human trust? But it is always a great source of confidence regarding any massive structure reared by men's hands, if we find that the responsible persons engaged upon it were themselves distinctly conscious of the problem which they had undertaken to work out. For, after all, in the most important sense, the St. Louis bridge was put and held in its place by the engineer who planned it. His brains and knowledge and trusty character were its support. So the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ is the foundation on which the salvation of this world is built. All the travel to the celestial country passes over his person. No question, therefore, is so vital as this: Did he fully understand that which he had undertaken? Did he consciously and distinctly appreciate the strain that would come on his trustiness? He assumed the greatest task ever assumed in this world. Bridges and ship canals are as nothing to this work. Did lie assume it as one who felt to the quick the demands which it made on him?
Now, if anyone will go through the New Testament with these questions in mind, he will be impressed with the affirmative answer given to them there. From beginning to end it is manifest that the Redeemer understands and feels that a pressure is on him, which needs to be sustained by utter and extraordinary trustworthiness.
Remark, then, as you pass along these pages, how prominent the grace of truthfulness is made. He is the only begotten of the Father, “full of grace and truth.” “Ye seek to kill me, a man that told you the truth.” “Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” So, in the chapter before us, “I am the truth.” In the presence of Pilate also, what majestic words are these in answer to the question, 'Art thou a King, then?’” “Thou sayest I am a King; for this cause came I into the world that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my words.” This quality in him impressed itself in a special manner upon the mind of the apostle, John. In the midst of the false and the unreliable, John had only to lift his eyes and he beheld again “the true and faithful witness.” How often in the book of Revelation does this epithet flash forth! In that grand scene, for example, when he sees heaven opened and the Redeemer ride forth, at the head of the armies of heaven, the long columns of saints following their leader on white horses, themselves clothed in fine linen, white and clean, the name that is first applied to him is “Faithful and true.” Now, it is much to me, in reading the Scriptures, which invite continually to the exercise of faith, to find that the being in whom especially this faith is to be reposed, is represented as having the very quality which corresponds to faith. You ask your friend returning from New York, What impression did you get regarding that bridge-work that has been doing to unite New York and Brooklyn? If he answers, the impression fastened on me concerning it was its prodigious strength; the more closely I examined, the more I felt that this was devised by someone who meant that it should last and be safe forever. If that be your friend's answer, it is such an answer as one would like to hear. But this is the impression which a careful reading of this New Testament will induce. Why, whatever else may be affirmed of the Lord who is described therein, one trait stands forth clear, he made a specialty of the truth.
There was one point in his claims, in respect-to which the strain on him would be especially-severe. For he ventured to guarantee to all men who trusted in him, forgiveness of sins, restoration to divine favor and to everlasting life. But the natural and reasonable feeling was expressed by the Jews when they said, who can forgive sins but God only? For it is sun-clear that nobody can make such guarantee as Christ makes, unless he has extraordinary divine authority. But just this is what the Master claims. It is a stupendous claim. It is nothing less than the claim to span the abyss which separates the infinite from the finite; to combine in himself divine and human power; while standing on the shores of time to have instant, constant and potent unity with him who inhabiteth eternity. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Now, plainly, at this point the pressure on Christ's trustworthiness becomes severe. But it is precisely at this point, where the strain is so tense that it might seem as if the entire Christian structure would snap any moment and drop out of its high place into nothingness, right at this point that I see the veracity of Christ is careful, unhesitating, clear. He is aware that this claim is high. He knows that it must be challenged; that men may feel constrained to say, Why, this is absurd; this is impossible; this, at the least, is improbable. Nevertheless, he persistently links himself with his Father, as no other being could presume to do.” Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” It is manifest that Christ is not propounding a doctrine about the future life, but he is affirming what he knows about his Father's house and what he is able and going to prepare there. This becomes the more evident when, in the ninth verse immediately following, he makes that wonderful answer to Philip, “Have I been so long time with you and dost thou not know me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” As I ponder over these and similar declarations, there grows upon me the thought, suggested by the single line of our text. Yes, we may be sure that, if these great facts were not so, this person, who is so exceptionally true, would have said so. For he is not merely honest as the world goes, but he belongs within that inner circle of those to whom truth is sacred, who could not, if they would, and would not, if they could, do or say anything which would deceive. Say rather, he is himself the centre and life of that circle. Every one that has this character is a child of light, of”that light which lighteth every man that Cometh into the world.” All that we have imagined possible in trustworthiness is realized in him.
Of course, out of such a theme as this I might draw nearly all the practical lessons pertaining to the Christian experience. For what is there of Christian grace or strength that does not root itself in the trustworthiness of the King of the Church?
But I may at least bring out and place in full view that definition of the word, faith; which needs to be kept clear in the minds of men in our con-fused time. Believe in God; believe also in me. This is the activity named in immediate connection. But what is faith? It is simply trust in one who is trustworthy. It is not opinion. It is more like the courage of conviction. It is not credulity. It is not “going it blind.” It is not trust simply, without regard to the person in whom the confidence is to be reposed. It is trust in one in whom we have good, and, as we have seen, especially good reason to confide. The faith in Christ, to which we are so much exhorted, is the most natural of all moral acts and the one most utterly rational. Faith and reason are as completely in harmony as the eye and the sunlight.
We may see, also, how faith is to be had and increased. It is by enlightenment and exercise. We become acquainted with Christ as he is given to us in the Word; he makes the impression of being reliable; we test him as far as we can do so, and the conviction deepens. We treat him as we do reliable persons. We grow in his grace, as you grow at rest respecting the trains that take you to and fro over the continent. We see the locomotive is strong; built expressly for its work; that it carries hundreds and thousands of people daily and safely. We have come to rest in it; we take our trips with hardly a thought of solicitude; we arrange all our business on the strength of our confidence; buy property and build homes on the basis of it. So our faith grows by knowing him on whom we trust and treating him as if he were worthy of confidence.
We may see, too, how it is that the Christian doctrine of immortality is not a doctrine simply, but an assurance. Dr. Thomas Hill tells us that on a certain occasion he had read to a friend the report of a scene which occurred in the Natural Academy of Science. The superintendent of the coast survey had read a paper on some abstruse mathematical topic; Agassiz rose and said, “Mr. President, I confess I do not know one word of this communication, but I have had heretofore such ample reasons for believing in the speaker's clearness and soundness of thought, that I accept what he has now said as undoubtedly true and of great practical value.” “That, “rejoined Dr. Hill's friend, “is just the way I do with respect to Jesus and the immortal life. I have seen and do see so many proofs of the wonderful wisdom and clearness of thought and holiness of character in him, that when he says these things are true of the future life, I believe they are true.” The Christian attitude indeed, with reference to all the promises is like that of Dr. Livingstone as exhibited in that story of him when his life was placed in imminent peril by the threatening presence of hostile bands. He made all the provision that he could make, and then lay down to rest in confident reliance on the providence of God. For, said he, “The promises of Divine care are made on the word of a gentleman of the most delicate honor, Jesus Christ, and that's end of it.” The word of Christ is the end of it with us also.
In respect, likewise, to the solemn questions which relate to impenitent souls in the future world, this perfect and delicate trustiness of the Redeemer brings its impressive lesson. For he who tells us that there are many mansions in the Father's house has pictured the loss, the death, which are the wages of sin hereafter. There are many who will be glad to think of his word as so delicately sure when he refers to the home of the blest. But we must not count him trusty, when he prophesies pleasant things, and treat him as evasive, equivocal, so discounting his reliableness, when he predicts the peril of unbelief. If he is sensitively trustworthy in one case, he must be equally so in the other. No theologian or preacher worthy of the name, warns against the second death, because the thought of such an issue is pleasant to his mind. But there it stands, outlined by the true and faithful witness. We know it must be a real danger, for if it were not so, he would not have told us that it is.
Every aspect of this theme also impresses this final lesson, that they who are the professed disciples of such a Master will be themselves trustworthy. Critics have sometimes discussed the question whether in the word, faith, the radical idea is trust or trustiness; whether a man should be called a believer because he confides in Christ, or because he is of such stuff that Christ confides in him. But the full Biblical view is that the believer becomes trusty by reason of his trust in the trustworthy Redeemer. When Peter said: “Thou art the Christ,” the Master replied, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Building on the Rock, one becomes of a piece with it. True faith grows into faithfulness. Resting on him who is the truth, we become people on whose word the world may rely, people who can be trusted in the business and intercourse of earth as well as in the Father's house above. In those parts of the oriental world where English and American missionaries labor, they and the natives who profess to follow their teachings are proverbially spoken of as the religionists who do not lie, whose word may be taken for all it naturally means. That is a gratifying tribute. But the wonder is that any follower of such a Master as Christ should deserve, or even seem to deserve, any different tribute.” I have no greater joy, “wrote the Apostle John, “than to hear that my children walk in truth.” We, who are parents, pastors, teachers, can have no greater joy.