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JESUS ANSWERED THEM, AND SAID, MY DOCTRINE IS NOT MINE, BUT HIS THAT SENT ME. IF ANY MAN IS WILLING TO DO HIS WILL, HE SHALL KNOW OF THE DOCTRINE, WHETHER IT BE OF GOD, OR WHETHER I SPEAK OF MYSELF. HE THAT SPEAKETH OF HIMSELF SEEKETH HIS OWN GLORY: BUT HE THAT SEEKETH HIS GLORY THAT SENT HIM, THE SAME IS TRUE, AND THERE IS NO UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN HIM.
IN the Gospel according to St. John the Jews are constantly asking questions respecting the claim of Christ to be regarded as the Son of God. They require of Him a sign from heaven; and sometimes He answers them in enigmatical language: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again’: or, ‘I, if I be lifted up from this earth, will draw all men after me’: or, ‘Moses gave you not that bread from heaven, but My Father giveth you the true bread.’ Sometimes He appeals to the prophets who wrote of Him and foretold the darkness which would come over the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people; 195or again, to the witness of John the Baptist, who had himself been asked similar questions by the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem. They have strong reasons for doubting the truth of His mission: ‘Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet’; or, ‘Howbeit we know this Man whence He is.’ Some times in a more natural strain they argue: ‘Is not this the carpenter’s Son, whose father and mother we know?’ For mankind are slow to recognize the greatness of those with whom they have been long familiar; as Jesus Himself testified, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own country.’ Then, again, they are puzzled by His words, they do not understand in what sense He bears record of Himself; and they seem to taunt Him with a forgetfulness of His own profession, that His Father bore witness of Him. They do not comprehend how He can be the judge of the world, and yet not the judge of the world; or how they should seek Him and not find Him, and ‘whither I go ye cannot come’; any more than Pilate under stood the word of Christ that ‘He was a king’; or that ‘He came into the world to bear witness unto the truth.’ His inmost and deepest thoughts, ‘Before Abraham was I am,’ and ‘I and the Father are One,’ appeared to them to be blasphemy. They were offended at His breaking the law about the Sabbath day, according to their narrow interpretation of it. They failed altogether to see His meaning when He told them that they ‘must be made free,’ or ‘must be 196born again,’ or ‘must eat His flesh and drink His blood.’ Some of them wondered, ‘How He could know letters, not having learned.’ Some said, ‘He is a good man,’ and others, ‘Nay, but He deceiveth the people.’ And ‘neither did His brethren believe in Him.’ They wanted Him to show forth His claims to the world, saying, shrewdly enough, ‘There is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.’ If He would only make a speech, or assert Himself in some way, then the world would acknowledge Him. And they also reminded Him that He was running a risk of being stoned if He went up to Jerusalem. To whom Christ, in the deep stillness of His convictions, only replies, ‘My time is not yet; your time is always ready’; and, ‘Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world’: how much more he who sees always the light of the divine presence!
Even the inner circle of His disciples seem to have found a difficulty in understanding His language and character. They knew that some great and mysterious calamity was hanging over Him and them. But they could not tell what He meant when He said: ‘Yet a little while, and ye shall not see Me, and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.’ They wanted Him to ‘show them the Father, and they would be satisfied,’ not understanding that in Him only would they see the Father. They knew 197not whither He went, and how could they know the way? They had no conception of a kingdom not of this world; they had rather hoped that He should restore to the Jewish people their own kingdom, and even that some of themselves might be sitting on His right hand and His left, judging the tribes of Israel. They were the personal friends of Christ who were ready to follow Him whithersoever He went, and like friends they were anxious about His safety; they were comforted by His presence, they were conscious that He had the words of eternal life. But of His inner mind, of His real nature, of His relation to the Father, of the purely spiritual mission which He came into the world to accomplish, they seem hardly to have had a conception. They were ordinary men who had no outlook into the world or into history, and who had not yet been transfigured by the power of His character. So the author of the fourth Gospel, which of all the Gospels and of all the books of Scripture is by far the most dramatic, in his own lively manner has pictured to us the feelings which filled the minds, not of the Jews only, but of the first disciples.
And so in later ages and on many grounds, some times lighter, sometimes more serious, men have had their searchings of heart respecting ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ For not only in His own day was Christ misunderstood, but in all ages there have been those who have put the letter in the place of the 198spirit, and have perverted what was inward and moral into what was local and outward. Either they have found difficulties in the ancient narrative of the Gospels, which they have vainly endeavoured to meet by pretended reconcilements; or they have wanted to see with their own eyes the miracles of which they have heard by distant report; or they have hoped against hope to witness the Son of Man appearing in the clouds of heaven; or they have formed within the bosom of the Christian Church narrow sects more nearly resembling in externals the congregations of the first believers, until the very conception of the Gospel has vanished into a many-coloured dream, and the truth which was to be the life of man has taken the form of an answer to objections, an apology, a defence, a book of evidences; not the highest and the holiest which the human mind could conceive, a self-evident truth or light, but a full-blown system of theology, and a vigorous polemic against opponents. For the religion of Christ is always being recovered and being lost; and errors, falsehoods, superstitious practices, which He came into the world to destroy, are constantly being reasserted in His name. The men of our own day are not so unlike as we imagine to the contemporaries of Christ; and the difficulties of our own age resemble, in a measure, those difficulties which the Evangelist has put into the mouths of the Jews. Slowly, if at all, do men realize that Christianity is not a church, or a congregation, or a history, 199or a book, but a blessed and divine life, or communion of men with God, of which he who wills may be a partaker. They have never applied to their own case the passionate exclamation of Christ, ‘It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.’ If we allow for differences of times and countries, and also for the length of time during which the objections to the Gospels and the answers to them have been accumulating (for the evidences of Christianity have become a great literature), we may fairly argue from one age to the other, or at any rate find in the one the germs of true and useful thoughts which are applicable to the other. Following on the lines indicated by the words of the text, I propose to consider more particularly—(1) the nature of Christ’s answer to the Jews; (2) what did He mean when He said ‘If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine’? (3) what application of these and similar words we may make to ourselves and to our own day.
First of all our Lord appeals to Himself. There is a true witness which a man may give of his own life and actions, and there is a false witness by which he deceives first himself and then others; and lastly, there is a witness, partly true and partly false, by which he perplexes his fellow men, because they see the high and lofty aims which animate him, but they also see that he is the victim of a delusion. The 200record which is true appeals irresistibly to our highest sense of right and truth; there are a few whose goodness we could hardly doubt without at the same time doubting the existence of goodness itself. The false record is that of an impostor, who is also a fanatic, who can offer no reasonable ground why men should believe him to be sent of God, but yet by a certain positiveness and egotism, by an intense belief in himself, gains an ascendency over the minds of others. And there have been leaders of religious thought, who have been deceived as well as deceivers, who with good intentions have not been aware how much of their own teaching was derived, not from God, but from themselves. Characters of this type are common among men, and they often gain an undue power over their fellows; they insensibly undermine the truth and purity of religion, and create a distrust of it in the world. There have been even saints and righteous men whose witness of themselves was not to be believed; they thought they saw, and perhaps really saw, the true light at times; and at other times they supplemented by self-delusion the faith which was beginning to fail them; and yet they have been good men still in the main, if all the circumstances of their lives be considered. Nevertheless it is obvious that their testimony of themselves must be received with suspicion; for they and their beliefs were what they made them by fastings and religious exercises, by a study of one side of the truth only, by indulging 201the natural tendency of their minds; or, what they had become by the opposition and antagonism of their age, by the cruelty and persecution of their enemies.
The true witness which a man bears of himself is not positive, not egotistical, not polemical; it is humble, calm, retiring; not what a man proclaims of himself, but what his life and character say of him. His acts are the witness of his words; he himself is the witness of the spirit in which he acts. If you would test a good religious teacher, try him especially in those points in which he is most likely to fail. Is he disinterested, or seeking for his own glory? Is he a lover of all men everywhere, or only of his own sect? Are his ideas of right and truth in politics and religion dependent on the interests of Church or dissent? Is he as careful of means as he is of ends; or is he apt to think that the end sanctifies the means? Is he really living above the world, in communion with God, in love and harmony with his fellow men? There is no difficulty in distinguishing the religion of such an one from the conventional imitation of it; from the ecclesiastical religion which seeks only to exalt the power of the priesthood; from the puritanical religion which would bind up salvation in a theological formula; from the interested and Pharisaical religion which desires to appear well in the eyes of men; from the political religion which converts the words of Christ into the symbols of a party.202
In answer to the questions of the Jews, our Lord appeals to the purity and disinterestedness of His own character—‘No man convinced Him of sin’, and, ‘if He said what they felt in their hearts to be the truth, why did they not believe in Him?’ What motive had He for deceiving them? He came not seeking His own glory, but to reveal the Father in Him and them. He did not want the praise of men, but only that they should come to Him and have life. He had done the works of God; that was the proof that He was one with God. The Scriptures, too, of the Old Testament, whenever they spoke of mercy and judgement, of the Son and Servant of God, of the love of Jehovah to His people, were fulfilled in Him who first felt for Himself, and taught mankind to feel, that God was their Father and His Father, and their God and His God. To Him John the Baptist, to Him the prophets witness, to Him all good men everywhere who have a like spirit in them. Goodness and truth recognize Him who is good and true as naturally as the eye catches the light of the sun. Not only the life of Christ, but the life of His humblest followers, the poor man or woman dying in a cottage or workhouse of a lingering disease, do sometimes, by their humility, by their resignation, by their elevation above the things of this world, give a testimony of the truth of religion which strikes home to our hearts.
But Christ has a greater witness than the witness of men. He feels that God is His witness. Without 203God He could not have lived such a life, or died such a death. To those who say, ‘Show us the Father and it sufficeth us,’ He only replies, ‘I am the manifestation of the Father.’ Righteousness witnesses to itself, but it has also the witness of God. The Jews said, ‘This is blasphemy’; and so it was for Simon Magus, or any other false prophet who had no truth in him, to declare that he was the ‘great power of God.’ But it was not blasphemy for Christ, feeling in His whole soul the love of God, the truth of God, the righteousness of God, feeling that in all His words, works, thoughts, He was reflecting the will of God, to declare Himself one with God. The creed tells us that He was ‘equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.’ But is it not more intelligible to us, and more instructive, to think of Him as one with God, because Christ and God are one with righteousness and truth? Christ does not so much assume to be God as He naturally loses Himself in God. Other leaders and teachers of mankind have been remarkable for confidence in themselves, and this quality is sometimes thought to be characteristic of great men. The confidence of Christ is of another sort, not confidence in self, but absolute dependence on the will of God. He has no fear, except once and for a moment, lest He should be forsaken of God; He has no wish or desire except that which is inspired in Him from above. He is not making an effort, or striving to 204produce an impression on His own disciples or the Jewish people, but simply appearing as He was, and showing men the truth which He had received from God. The depth and calmness of His nature are not ruffled by the violence of the multitude; He still pleads for them, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ To the Roman governor and in the face of death He continued to announce His mission: ‘For this cause was I born, and to this end came I into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth.’ He has nothing to do with the world, or the kingdoms of the world, or the policy of Caiaphas, or the rival sects of the Jews. The scene which sur rounds Him, whether of the feast in the temple or before the judgement seat or on the cross, passes unheeded before His eyes. In the midst of the crowd He is alone with God.
This is the witness which Christ gives us of Himself, the visible embodiment of His righteousness in a person who is holding communion with God. Some of us may have felt ourselves at certain times of our lives falling under the influence of a good man who has inspired us with thoughts which we never had before, who has spoken to us of our duty to God and man, of living for others, of giving up the world, of disinterestedness, of self-sacrifice. Why did we believe him or listen to him? Because his character seemed to witness to his words; what he said, he was; because the lesson that he taught flowed at 205once and immediately out of his own nature. We might have a doubt whether we could make the sacrifice which he demanded of us, whether we could resist temptation, whether having begun to lead a new life we should not after a time fall away. But we should have no doubt that he was speaking the truth, that he was calling upon us to fulfil the work of God, that if we would receive his words we should be happier than if we neglected them. Even if the impression faded away we should acknowledge that he was right, and we should perhaps feel grateful to him in after life for having sought to save us from sin and evil. This, which may have come within the experience of many of us, is an illustration of the manner in which Christ spoke and taught, Himself His own witness. And the persons whom I have been describing are like Christ in their own spheres, showing the nature of God in themselves, reflecting the life of Christ in their own lives; they are witnesses who need no other witness of the truth of their words. And, if in remote ages, amid new forms of society and new interests of knowledge, the image of Christ begins to wax dim, it can only be renewed by the lives of men like Him, devoting themselves to the cause of God and to the good of their fellow men, in an altered world, after another manner perhaps (for we cannot anticipate religious any more than political changes), yet in the same spirit of holiness and disinterestedness and truth.206
Once more, our Lord implies that the willingness to receive the truth depends upon the disposition of the hearer—‘Whoso willeth to do His will shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.’ He who hungers and thirsts after goodness and truth shall not be long in doubt about their true nature, for God will reveal them to him. He who is seeking for the light will not be left in the darkness. To him who is saying, ‘Who is the Lord that I may believe on Him?’ Christ will appear, whether in the form of a person or not in the form of a person, whether in a Christian country or not in a Christian country, whether in the words of the Gospel or not in the words of the Gospel. For we are a long way off that revelation of God which Christ made to His disciples; we see Him at a distance only; and there may be some who do not bear His name and yet are partakers of His spirit; and others, again, in so-called heathen countries who speak of truth and righteousness in other language than that of the New Testament; who have known Christ and have not known Him, in the spirit and not in the letter. And the more we enlarge the meaning of His words so as to include those sheep of another fold, those Christians in unconsciousness as they may be termed, the more truly do we enter into the mind of Christ.
Such a rule as that of the text obviously implies that religion is very simple, not a complicated or scientific system dependent on criticism or on 207examination of evidence, or adapted to the latest discoveries in philosophy. Christ does not say that he who wills to do the will of God shall know what is the true reading, or what is the interpretation of a passage of the New Testament, or whether the facts of His own life have been accurately narrated in the Gospels, or whether this or that doctrine has been rightly defined by the councils of the Church. Of such matters there is no spiritual intuition; the Scriptures must be interpreted like any other book, according to the same laws of language and the same rules of criticism and evidence. Neither does He seem to say ‘Be humble and believe what you are told by the ministers of the Gospel’; nor again, ‘Follow some religious practice until you are convinced of the belief on which your practice rests’; nor ‘Admit the claims of some religious teacher, and you will soon know him to be inspired.’ These are erroneous ways of applying the meaning of the text. But He means to say that, if you have a real desire after truth and holiness and righteousness, you shall know what they are, and shall be in no danger of being deceived about them. If you begin by seeking to do the will of God, more and more of His will shall be revealed to you. You shall see Him as He is, not disfigured by the traditions of men; and His grace shall be perfected in you.
And now I will proceed to consider, in the last place, how the words of the text may be applied to 208ourselves, and to our own times. There appears to be in the minds of many persons a good deal of apprehension about the future of religion. These alarms which have been always felt in all ages of the Church seem in our own day to have increased, and perhaps with some reason. We see powerful influences at work and rapid changes taking place, and we cannot pretend to foretell what will be the course of religious opinion in this or other countries fifty or even twenty years hence. Not only the speculative reconcilement of science and religion appears to be distant, but the practical reconcilement of them in our own life and conduct is not free from difficulty. For we are subject to opposite and discordant influences; we hear one voice speaking to us in the churches and another in the newspapers or the lecture-room. And some persons have thought that they would be quit of the difficulty by being quit of religion; they have gone further and further away from the faith of their fathers, putting the world in the place of God, the laws of nature in the place of moral and spiritual truths. Yet, perhaps, we should not attach too much importance to such changes; for there are some who, in the days of their youth, have lightly laid aside all regard to religion, and have died in the bosom of an infallible church. And there are others who have gone to the opposite pole, and then in middle life they have found the articles of belief which they had eagerly embraced in youth slipping from under them, 209and their life has set in darkness and doubt. There have been times in the history of the Church when the true meaning of the Gospel seemed to be almost lost; when, in the beautiful words of the great Catholic historian, ‘Christ was in the ship, but asleep’; and to these times of lethargy and vacancy have succeeded other times of revival, awakening, reformation, counterreformation. Therefore we should look forward in faith to the future, and not be too much influenced by the accidents of the age in which we live—the state of knowledge, the progress of criticism, the conflict of ideas and modes of thinking. Human nature has been so created by God as to be sufficient for itself under all its trials. The world is moving on fast; ideas which are in the air trouble our minds; at times they seem quite to overpower us; and we want to know where, amid the floating sands of opinion, we may find some rock or anchor of the soul.
Is not the answer the same as of old, ‘The things which are shaken are being removed, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain’? The law of duty, the standards of morality, the relations of family life are unchanged. No one can truly say that he is uncertain about right and wrong. ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ The answer is the same as it always was, ‘Even by ruling himself after Thy word.’ The nature of true religion is not altered in the latter half of the nineteenth century. ‘To do 210justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God’; ‘to visit the fatherless and widow, to keep himself unspotted from the world’; to live always ‘as unto the Lord, and not unto men’; ‘to be kindly affectioned one to another’; to ‘take up the cross and follow Christ’ (if we are capable of it): which of these precepts is changed by the inquiries of criticism? Which of them does not come home to us, not only as a word of the New Testament, but as a self-evident duty or truth?
And, if there are difficulties which the progress of the nineteenth century has introduced into religion, we should also remark that of many things we have a clearer knowledge than our fathers; we have surely a truer perception of the spirit of Christ than in the days of party and persecution; the proportions of religious truth are better understood by us, and we see that the points in which we differ are far less important than those in which all men, or almost all men, are agreed; we have learned that a Christian life comes before definitions of Christian truth; if we do not doubt about the one, neither need we doubt about the other; for the truth is the reflection of the life, as Christ also implies when He calls Himself ‘the way, and the truth, and the life.’ There are many ancient misunderstandings between good men of different forms of religion which we now see to be, partly though not wholly, questions of words. There are some aspects of the Gospel, some temporary or local 211beliefs, which fade away in the distance (as we might expect after 1800 years); but there are others which were never realized before in the same manner. For example, we can understand better than ever before what Christ meant when He said of the teacher who was not of His own followers, ‘Forbid him not’; or what He meant when He replied to those who charged Him with profaning the Sabbath Day, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’; or the meaning of the Apostles when they said, ‘Of a truth God is no respecter of persons,’ and ‘There is neither Greek nor Jew, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus’; or the final result of St. Paul’s ‘high argument’ in the Epistle to the Romans, when he says, ‘So then God concluded all under sin that He might have mercy upon all.’ Or, again, we can better realize the depth and fulness of those other words of Christ, ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ than in the days when the visible greatness of the Church seemed to overshadow the earth.
Religion has become simpler than formerly; it is not so dependent on language; it is not so much disputed about as in the older times. Mankind have a larger and truer conception of the divine nature; they have also a wider knowledge of themselves. They see the various forms of Christianity which prevail in their own and other countries, they trace their origin and history, and they rise above them to 212that higher part of Christian belief which they have in common. Their vision extends yet further, to the great religions of the East, and the controversies and phases of faith which have absorbed them. They set aside lesser perplexing questions, whether of criticism or of philosophy, which are neither important nor capable of being satisfactorily answered. They turn from theology to life, from disputes about the person of Christ to the imitation of Him ‘who went about doing good.’ He who begins by asking, ‘What is the evidence of miracles? How are the discrepancies of the Gospels to be accounted for? How can the physical and spiritual qualities of man be harmonized?’ is losing himself in questions which may continue to be in dispute long after he is in his grave. But to him who asks: ‘How can I become better? How can I do the will of God? How can I serve my fellow men? How can I serve Christ?’ the answer is in a manner contained in the question. He has the witness in himself of what is holy and just and true. He knows that righteousness and truth are the will of God; and he has the witness of life and history to the consequences of human actions.
Once more. There is a great part of knowledge which, coming late into the world, by a sort of accident, seems at present to be at war with religion, and yet can no more be separated from it than the mind can be parted from the body. It would be a false superficial religion which tried to ignore or put out 213of sight these new branches of knowledge, so vast, so minute, which speak to us of the physical universe. Rather they are to be regarded as a new revelation which is added to the old, and is in some ways the interpretation of it. This is that part of knowledge which confirms, what daily experience also teaches, that we live under fixed laws. And sometimes we imagine them to be a prison which encloses us, or a high wall over which we cannot climb. But the truth is that they are a mode in which God manifests Himself, and that the knowledge of them is power and freedom. Not by being ignorant of them, but by knowing them, do we escape from the accidents of life; ‘the arrow that flieth by night and the pestilence that walketh in the noon day.’ And for the application of this knowledge to our own lives, just as much as for the application of any other kind of knowledge, we are responsible to God. Have we ever considered that the care of our health is a religious duty? and that to provide others with the conditions of health (upon which to them and us so much depends) is a religious act? Have we ever thought of the innumerable ways in which the state of the body affects the mind? If God has revealed to us in Scripture that we have the power to turn to Him and do His will, He has revealed to us in science that the mind is dependent upon the body, and that we can alter the circumstances of which we are some times called the creatures. And therefore the laws 214which regulate our bodily frames are to be reverentially observed by us no less than the spiritual laws which Scripture and reason reveal to us. They have the witness of God Himself in the penalties which He has annexed to the violation of them. And they too require of us a certain degree of faith, because the consequences of breaking them are distant and unseen, and our immediate interests may often seem to be opposed to them, or our passions may rise in rebellion against them.
To conclude. In every state of the world, and in every class of society, there are elements of good and evil, of weakness and strength; and our character and disposition may be such that we extract the evil and reject the good, or extract the good and reject the evil. In our own age too, and in this place, there are peculiar difficulties and dangers. There is the temptation of youth to sensuality, and the equal if not greater danger of sentimentalism; there is the tendency to extravagance and self-indulgence, to indolence or irregularity; there is the flood of new ideas coming into conflict with old beliefs. Happy is he who, by good sense, by strength of character, and by Christian principles, steers his way amidst these rocks. Happy is he who has not only the enjoyment of these years which he passes at the University—to many the happiest of their whole lives, and of the greatest opportunity—but who can afterwards look back upon them as a time of innocence and of self-improvement, 215a time of natural growth, in which he unlearned some prejudices and acquired a true love of knowledge and a real experience of life. Happy is he too who, in the evening of his years, instead of regretting the days of his youth or the ages of faith which are gone, feels his heart still beating in sympathy with the young and with the world around him; who has cheerfully met the mental trials which to a reflecting mind are in separable from a state of progress or transition, and been renewed and invigorated by them; who has taken the good and rejected the evil of the age in which he has lived, and has learned the lesson which God intended that it should teach him.216
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