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XXXIII. THE UNCHANGING SAVIOR
"Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever." HEBREWS xiii. 8.
THREE times over in this chapter, the closing chapter of an Epistle the study of which has been so pleasant and helpful, the sacred writer urges his readers to think kindly of those who ruled over them. The full force of the Greek word is better represented by the marginal rendering guide, than by the word rule. But in any case he referred to those who were the spiritual leaders and teachers of the flock. The three injunctions are-Remember (ver. 7); Obey (ver. '7); Salute (ver. 23).
It is a proud name for the Christian minister to be called a leader. But unless he has some other claim to it than comes from force of character, eloquence, or intellectual power, his name will be an empty sound, the sign of what he might be rather than of what he is. Those who are qualified to lead other men must be themselves close followers of Christ; so that they may be able to turn to others and say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ;" "Be followers together with Me."
But the Christian minister must also watch for souls (ver. 17). He is not sent to his charge to preach great sermons, to elaborate brilliant orations, or to dazzle their intellects; but to watch over their souls, as the shepherd watches over his flocks scattered upon the downs, while the light changes from the gray morning, through the deep tints of the noon, into the last delicate flush of evening far up on the loftiest cliffs. He must indeed keep careful watch, for he must give an account in the evening; of his hand every missing one will be required.
It is told of the holy Melville, that his wife would sometimes find him on his knees in the cold winter night; and on asking him to return to bed, he would reply, "I have got fifteen hundred souls in my charge, and fear that it is going ill with some of them." It is not difficult to remember or obey or salute men like that. They carry their Master's sign upon their faces. They are among Christ's most precious gifts to his Church.
But there is this sorrow connected with all human leaders and teachers. However dear and useful they are, they are not suffered to continue by reason of death. One after another they pass away into the spirit world, to enter upon their loftier service, to give in their account, to see the Master whom they have loved. The last sermon lies unfinished on the study table; but they never come there to complete it. The final word is spoken. The closing benediction is given. The ministry is done. But what a relief it is to turn from men to Christ: from the constant change in human teachers to the unchanging Master; from the under-shepherds who are here today but gone tomorrow, to the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls who watches his sheep in the evening shadows of this era, equally as in the first bright beams of its Pentecostal morning!
This is the meaning of our writer (ver. 7). The verb is in the past tense: "Remember them which had the rule over you, such as spoke unto you the word of God: the end of whose life considering, imitate their faith." Evidently they had been lately called to witness the end of the life and ministry of some who had been very precious to them. And, as their hearts were sorrowing, their attention was turned from the changing guide and leader to the ever-living, unchanging Lord, Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
WHAT IS DENIED. It is denied that either time or mood or circumstances or provocation or death can alter Jesus Christ our Lord.
Time changes us. Your portrait, taken years ago, when you were in your prime, hangs on the walls of your home. You sometimes sadly contrast it with your present self. Then the eye flashed with fires which have been quenched with many tears. Then the hair was raven and thick, which is now plentifully streaked with the gray symptoms of decay. Then the face was unseamed by care, unscarred by conflict; but now how weary and furrowed! The upright form is bent, the step has lost its spring.
But there is a greater difference between two mental and two physical portraitures. Opinions alter. The radical becomes conservative; temper changes, and affections cool. Names and faces which used to thrill are recalled without emotion. Faded chaplets lie where once flowers of rarest texture yielded their breath in insufficient adoration. Thus is it with those who are born of woman. Time does for them what hardship and authority and suffering would fail to effect. And sometimes the question arises, Can time alter him whose portrait hangs on the walls of our hearts, painted in undying colors by the hands of the four Evangelists?
Of course, time takes no effect on God, who is the f AM; eternal and changeless. But Jesus is man as well as God. He has tenses in his being: the yesterday of the past, the to-day of the present, the to-morrow of the future. It is at least a question whether his human nature, keyed to the experiences of man, may not carry with it, even to influence his royal heart, that sensitiveness to the touch of time which is characteristic of our race. But the question tarries only for a second. The moment it utters itself it is drowned by the great outburst of voices which exclaim, "He is the same in the meridian day of the present as he was in the yesterday of his earthly life; and he will be the same when to-morrow we shall have left far behind us the shores of time and are voyaging with him over the tideless, stormless depths of the ocean of eternity."
If we could ask the blessed dead if they had found him altered from what they had expected him to be from the pages of the holy Gospels, they would reiterate the words of the angels-this same Jesus; they would tell us that his hair is white as snow, not with age, but with the light of intense purity; that his face shines still as the sun in his strength, with no sign of westering; and that his voice is as full as when he summoned Lazarus from the grave, as mellifluous as when it called Mary to recognize him. Time is foiled in Jesus. He has passed out of its sphere, and is impervious to its spell.
Moods change us. We know people who are like oranges one day and lemons the next; now a summer's day, and, again, a nipping frost; rock and reed alternately. You have to suit yourself to their varying mood, asking to-day what you would not dare to mention to-morrow; and thus there is continual unrest and scheming in the hearts of their friends.
But it is not so with Jesus. Never tired, or put out, or variable. Without shadow cast by turning. In his earthly life, wherever we catch sight of him-on the mountainside, on the waters of the lake, beneath the olive trees in the evening; in the synagogue, or alone; at work in the sunlight, at prayer in the moonlight, at supper in the upper room, he was always the same Jesus. And the apparent exceptions when, for a certain purpose, he entered his manner and made himself strange, only brought his essential sameness into stronger relief. And so is he to-day. And we shall become happy and strong when we remove from all thought of others' moods or our own, and settlt down under the unchanging empyrean of his love.
Circumstances change us. Men who in poverty and obscurity have been accessible and genial, become imperious and haughty when they become idolized for their genius and fawned on for their wealth. The butler who would have done any favor for Joseph in the prison forgot him when he was reinstated in the palace. New friends, new spheres, new surroundings, alter men marvelously.
What a change has passed over Jesus Christ since mortal eyes beheld him! Crowned with glory and honor; seated at the right hand of the Father; occupied with the government of all worlds; worshiped by the loftiest spirits. Can this be he who trod our world, confessing his ignorance of times and seasons, surrounded by a handful of the poor and despised, an outcast and a sufferer? It is indeed he. But surely it were too much to expect that he should be quite the same! Nay, but he is. And one proof of it is that the graces which he shed on the first age of the Church were of exactly the same quality as those which we now enjoy.
We know that the texture of light is unaltered; because the analysis of a ray, which has just reached us from some distant star, whence it started as Adam stepped across the threshold of Eden, is of precisely the same nature as the analysis of the ray of light now striking on this page. And we know that Jesus Christ is the same as he was; because the life which throbbed in the first believers resulted in those very fruits which are evident in our own hearts and lives, all having emanated from himself. He has to govern the worlds; but he is still as accessible to the vilest, as gentle and tender-hearted, as humble and lovely, as when that Jewish woman could not restrain her envy of the mother who had borne him, and when he sat to rest amid the sycamores of Bethany, and the sisters rested by his feet.
Sin and provocation change us. We forgive seven times, but draw the line at eight. Our souls close up to those who have deceived our confidence. We are friendly outwardly, but there is frost within. We forgive, but we do not forget; and we are never the same afterward as before. But sin cannot change Christ's heart, though it may affect his behavior. If it could do so, it must have changed his feelings to Peter. But the only apparent alteration made by that sad denial was an increased tenderness and considerateness. "Go, tell my disciples, and Peter, that I am risen." "He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve." "He said unto Peter, Lovest thou me?"
Your sins may be many and aggravated; and you are disposed to think that you should give up all profession of being his at all. But you do not know him. He is not oblivious to your sins; he has noticed each one with sharp pangs of pain. His eye has followed you in all your way ward wanderings; but he is absolutely unchanged. You are as dear to him as when, in the first blush of your young hope, you knelt at his feet, and were clothed, as the old warriors used to be, by a stainless tunic over your armor of proof. Naught that you have said or done has lessened his love by a single grain, or turned it aside by a hair's-breadth. He loved you in eternity; he foreknew all that you would be before he set his heart upon you; he cannot be surprised by any sudden outburst of your evil. You may be, but he cannot be; and he laid his account for this, and more, when he undertook to redeem. Your sins, child of God, can no more alter your Lord's heart than can the petulance of a child alter its mother's.
WHAT IS AFFIRMED. He is the same in his Person (Heb. i. 12). His vesture alters. He has exchanged the gaberdine of the peasant for the robes of which he stripped himself on the eve of his incarnation; but beneath those robes beats the same heart as heaved with anguish at the grave where his friend lay dead. We shall yet see, though in resurrection glory, the face on which stood the bead-drops of bloody sweat; and touch the hands that were nailed to the cross; and hear the voice of the Son of man. What does the mystery of the forty days teach us, except this, that he carried with him from the grave, and upward to his home, the identical body of his incarnation-though the corruptible had put on incorruption, and the mortal had put on immortality? Thus he is the same as "Jesus."
He is also the same in his once (Heb. vii. 24). Aaron died on Hor, and all his successors in mystic procession followed him. Ancient burying-grounds are closely packed with the remains of priests, abbots, and fathers. The ashes of the shepherds are mingled with those of their flocks. The office remains, but the occupants pass. But Christ, as the Anointed Priest, is ever the same. Unweariedly he pursues his chosen work as the Mediator, Priest, and Inter cessor of men. He does not fail, nor is he discouraged. Though the great world of men neither knows nor heeds him, yet does he bear it up upon his heart, as when he first pleaded for his murderers from his cross. "Forgive them, Father, forgive them !" is his unwearying constant cry. And though the age be black with tempest and red with blood, his pity wells up like one of those perennial fountains which heat cannot scorch, nor cold freeze; because they draw their supplies from everlasting sources. He is the same as "Christ."
WHAT IT IMPLIES. It implies that he is God. It implies, too, that the Gospels are a leaf out of his eternal diary, and may be taken as a true record of his present life. What he was, he is. He still sails with us in the boat; walks in the afternoon with us to Emmaus; stands in our rnidst at nightfall, opening to us the Scriptures. He wakes our children in the morning with his "Talitha cumi"; calls the boys to his knees; watches them at their play; and rebukes those who would forbid their Hosannas. He feeds us with bread and fish; lights fires on the sands to warm us; shows us the right side of the ship for our nets; and interests himself with the results of our toils. He takes us with him to the brow of the Transfiguration Mount, and into the glades of Gethsemane.
When we are slow to believe, he is slower still to anger. He teaches us many things, graduating his lessons, according to our ability to understand. When we cannot bear more, he shades the light. When we strive for high places, he rebukes. When soiled, he washes our feet. When in peril, he comes across the yeasty waves to our help. When weary, he leads us aside to rest.
Oh, do not read the Gospels as a record merely of the past, but as a transcript of what he is ever doing. Each miracle and parable and trait is a specimen of eternal facts, which are taking place by myriads, at every moment of the day and night; the achievements of the ever- living, ever-working Lord. No lake without that figure treading its waters. No storm without that voice mightier than its roar. No meal without that face uplifted in blessing, or that hand engaged in breaking. No grave without that tender heart touched with sorrow. No burden without those willing shoulders to share the yoke.
Oh, take me not back through the long ages to a Christ that was! He is! He lives! He is here! I can never again be alone, never grope in the dark for a hand, never be forsaken or forlorn. Never need a Guide, a Master, a Friend, or a Husband to my soul. I have him, who suffices for uncounted myriads in the dateless noon of eternity. He who was everything in the yesterday of the past, and who will be everything in the to-morrow of the future, is mine to-day; and at each present moment of my existence-here, and in all worlds.
The Revised Version adds a significant yea to this verse, to bring out the emphatic accentuation which the writer lays upon the unchangeableness of Jesus. It is well placed. And with what a thunder of assent might that word be uttered! All who are of this opinion answer YEA. First, the innumerable company of angels utters it; then the spirits of just men made perfect reaffirm it; then the universe of created things, the regularity of whose laws and processes is due to it, bursts forth with one great Amen. God himself says Amen; "for how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God.
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