IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF JESUS.
No one can read what is sometimes called the gospel of the resurrection - the inspired but still imperfect narrative of the wonderful forty days, in which our Lord showed Himself alive after His passion - without observing the changed relation in which He stood to His disciples. Sometimes it seems as if nothing were altered. He sits and talks and even eats with them as before. He declares to them that though His body is possessed of new properties and powers, it is still the same body which was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb."I am not a spirit, "He said, "but a real, living man. Handle Me, and see."It was when He was walking with them as of old, along the familiar path over Olivet toward Bethany, that in the midst of His discourse, He was taken up from the earth and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
And yet evidently, also, He was not with them now as He was wont formerly to be. He was set free from the limitations of physical law by which He had been bound. He came and went, as a spirit might come and go, appearing when the doors were shut and then mysteriously vanishing away. There is something about Him which strangely eludes us. He seems to be hovering upon the border which divides the sensible from the unseen world.
An extremely suggestive illustration of this is given in the statement made by the angel to those who were early at the sepulchre. Recalling a promise that had been made by Jesus Himself be fore His death, He said:"Go, tell His disciples and Peter [the particular mention of Peter is espe cially noteworthy] that He goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you."The command which had made them His disciples was a command to follow Him, and they had literally obeyed it. They had left their boats and nets, the booths where they carried on their business, and even the towns and cities in which they had been living, and gone forth after Him wherever He led the way. They had walked with Him up and down the whole length of Palestine, from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem back to Nazareth, more than once. But it had com monly been with Him. If they were His follow ers, they were also His companions. He was al ways in the midst of them. Sometimes, even, He had followed them, as when He sent them, or a part of them, onward before Him, either to pre pare for His subsequent coming, or because it was His pleasure to go, after them, alone. Now, how ever, all this was changed. He was to go before them into Galilee, and they were to follow Him f thither, but it was not as a visible presence moving among them. They could not keep Him in sight as they made the long journey. The path He took they could not take. In other words, they were now to begin to walk by faith, following one whom they could not see. Nowhere, as they went along, could they catch sight of Him. His blessed feet were unstained by contact with the Judean roads and left no print upon them. He passed unseen among the throngs of Passover pilgrims who were returning northward to their homes, bearing the tidings of the strange events which had made the days just past so tragic and so memorable. And the disciples were bidden to follow Him in the be lief that though they could not perceive Him, as they pursued their way, He would fulfill His prom ise and manifest Himself to them when the familiar hills of Galilee were once more beneath their feet.
Now the special thought suggested by this is that our blessed Master has gone and is still going be fore us along the paths which we are called to take in life. We cannot, indeed, behold Him now, but over every step of the way in which we are mov ing onward, He has really passed, and we shall see Him by and by, when we reach our journey's end. There is certainly great encouragement and comfort in the fact, when the way seems, as it so often does, lonely and wearisome.
The journey of life! There is something very impressive in the thought of it, when one reflects upon all that is involved in it, and traces it from its beginning to its remote and unknown end. What a mysterious, winding way it is, through desert and forest, over delectable mountains, perhaps, and per haps across rude and stormy seas, through mist and darkness very often, and sometimes through bright, exhilarating airs, - a narrow way, with pitfalls and precipices on every hand, and the end coming no nearer, because it never ends! It is"a path which no bird knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen, " - that over which the soul of every man is called to move, rising higher and higher toward the heavenly hills, or leading downward into dark and dreary realms of spiritual desolation and death. Well may we sometimes feel dismayed, as we sur vey it, and ask ourselves, Is life a blessing after all? How shall our souls be made competent to bear the tremendous burden of their own destinies? Who shall guide us so that we shall not stray? Who shall keep our weak and timid feet steadfast in the right path? It is a great question - the greatest of questions for a thoughtful mind, looking out upon the world into which it finds itself flung by an unseen and ir resistible power. And the most cheering answer that can be given to it is in the words, "He goeth before you; follow Him." Let me remind you, in the first place, that the Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us through the round of daily cares and duties in which so much of life consists. It was not for nothing that He was born into the home of the Nazarene carpenter, and lived there quietly and unknown for thirty years. They were years of ripening and of prepa ration, and the sacred record passes them in silence. We sometimes 'lose sight of them, while we fix our attention upon the short but crowded ministry that followed them. And yet I think that in some re spects they bring Him, who is our divine example as well as our divine Redeemer, nearer to us, than the few months of public activity which were so resplendent with teaching and miracle, and which ended at the cross. For our life is made up (is it not?) of homely duties and of little things. We fill no public stations. We are not called to be apostles. Our sphere is narrow, our opportunities are few. Our years are all silent years; and it is here, in the dull routine of events that make no stir, and of work that comes to nothing great - it is here, if it is anywhere, that we need the power of an inspiring example and the assurance of a divine sympathy and aid. And precisely here it is that we may be daily following Jesus, for He has gone through all this before us. For thirty years the sun rose and set every day upon that Galilean vil lage, and it saw no splendor of miracle surrounding Him who was by and by to catch the tempest on His word and send it back to the caverns out of which it had come forth. It saw only a gentle, faithful, patient human life, employed in such tasks as others were engaged in - the lowly labor of a small mountain town. There can be in your daily life or mine no humbler or homelier duties than those which for so many years engaged the daily thought and care of Him who was at once the Son of Man and the Son of God. The weariness from which we so often suffer, the consciousness of pow ers unemployed or only half employed, the restless ness that torments us under the limitations by which we are hedged in, do you not suppose that He also knew them, as the uneventful years moved round, and the sense of His great mission burned more and more brightly in His soul? Think of it, when you are inclined to fret under the duties which every day requires of you, and the burdens which the night, even, does not lift from your heart. You are simply walking in the path in which the Lord has gone before.
But our lives have their crises also, their great decisive experiences, when important interests de pend upon the decision of a moment, when our own fate or the fate of others hangs on our action or on our failure to act. At such a time the bur den of responsibility or anxiety which is upon us may be almost overwhelming, and the contents of many years may be crowded into a few hours. Measure life not by its duration but by its intensity, and many a young man has outlived whole genera tions. These are the experiences which test men, coming when they are not looked for, and lifting one into heroism or dashing character and reputa tion into irretrievable ruin. They came to Jesus also, and you know how He met them: calmly, bravely, with His heart resting upon God, with His eye fixed upon the future. I do not say that to Him they were unforseen, as they so often are to us. But there was in Him an energy of faith, a resoluteness of purpose, which is a better safeguard in moments of suspense than any power to antici pate that which is to come. This power does not belong to us. The other may be ours. No man can tell when the emergency may be upon him, or what its issue is to be. But there can certainly come to us no trials of faith or constancy or cour age or meek endurance which are worthy to be compared with those through which the Lord has gone before us. If He walked on the loftiest heights of human life, He also sounded its deepest depths. His human nature was not more perfect than His human experience, passing from that which is lowliest to that which is grandest both in achievement and in endurance. If He asks us to follow Him in the one, He asks us only to follow Him in the other.
So, too, He has gone before us in the conflict with temptation. Yes, He condescended even to that. One might have expected that if God was to come into the world, making His glory visible to mortal eyes, it would be in such a way that evil would flee away before Him, as darkness vanishes before the sun. How could it be possible for Him to feel its fierce and deadly assault? How could it seize Him with a grip so strong that it required an almost superhuman effort to shake it off? It was possible only because He took our nature upon Him so completely, even to its capacity of being tempted to sin. He did not sin. He conquered where we are all beaten. But He knew the tre mendous strain which we all know so well. Not once only, as we are apt to imagine when we read or speak of The Temptation, but through all His life He carried on the conflict, in which we too are all the while engaged. Here is the explanation of the nights spent in prayer upon the mountains. Here is the secret of the mysterious scene in the shadow of the olives of Gethsemane. And if we
would estimate the strength of the temptations which He endured, we must measure the malignity of the powers of darkness, toward one who seemed about to overcome them, and who did overcome them and break their reign on earth. But you, 0 tempted soul, who are trying hard to stand your ground against the same principalities and powers of evil, and who are bruised and wounded in the tremendous struggle - remember that even the Son of God has gone before you through the same life long battle; that even for Him it was not wholly ended till He cried, "It is finished, "and breathed out His spirit into the hands of God. Remember that He who has now become our high-priest for ever, is still touched with the sense of our infirmi ties, because He was tempted in all points as we are now tempted every day.
You will certainly anticipate me in thinking of sorrow, as another of the universal experiences of life through which the Lord has gone before us. There are elements of sorrow which He cannot have known by any actual experience of them. He who made no mistake, and who committed no sin, can have felt no self-reproach. He preached repentance to others, but He had Himself nothing to repent of. The sorrow that springs from the sense of shame, He often witnessed, but He did not feel it. Or rather, He did feel it all, just as He felt the weight of sins which He had not com mitted, because by His divine sympathy He entered so perfectly into the actual life of humanity and made it all His own. It was not the burden of His own guilt, but of the world's guilt, which crushed Him in the garden and on the cross, and He has borne on His strong and loving heart the burden of the whole world's sorrow. He has gone before you, 0 sad and suffering heart, through the valley of tears in whose deep shadows you are walking, and you are only following Him. We sometimes look, in the midst of our grief and desolation, for something just like it in the life of our Lord, and we say, "How can He know precisely my sorrow, when His experience was so different from mine?"Ah! it is not that. Your experience is His, be cause His infinite nature comprehends yours, as the ocean comprehends each several drop in the vast volume of its waters. And not only sorrow like yours, but your very sorrow - He has taken it upon Himself, in His divine compassion and love. Go forward, then, with patient steps, saying: Not as I will, "because the One Who loved us first and best has gone Before us on the road, and still For us must all His love fulfill, a Not as we will." And then, not through life alone are we literally to follow Christ - through its more common and more critical experiences, its conflicts with tempta tion, its endurance of sorrow; He has also gone before us through death. Through death - it is His resurrection which has taught us to use these words. Into death, the world has said before. Generation after generation had gone down into the grave, as shattered ships go down into the sea, and it had closed over them, and all was still again. It was an insatiable and a bottomless abyss. What was beyond it? Was anything beyond it? Who could say? Into that silence and that darkness the Lord of life and light descended. He also was laid in the tomb, and they rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre and sealed it and left it. But that was not the end. There is something beyond the grave, and out of the shadowy world shadowy only because our sight is so dim - He who had gone thither before us comes back and speaks to us again. He does not promise to us or to any of us immunity from physical death. That is not a curse, it is a blessing. It is rest for the weary hand and brain and heart. It is freedom for the imprisoned soul. But He says to us, "I have gone before you through it; follow Me."" He that believeth on Me shall never really die."So it is that the darkest of all paths is brightened, and the deepest of all mysteries dispelled. We need not fear to follow where He has passed. What if the way is lonely when it goes out beyond the little space over which our vision ranges? What if we shrink with natural recoil from new and untried conditions of existence? Lo, He has gone before us through the grave itself. And for us to die is but to follow Him.
"There shall ye see Him, "added the angel, "as He Himself said unto you."And the prom ise was fulfilled. They did not find Him where they sought Him, in the sepulchre; but among the hills of Galilee, on the shore of the lake where they had so often walked together, He made Himself visible to them again. It is an inspiring prophecy and promise to all who follow Him in faith. It is no sign that He is not near us that we cannot behold Him now. But the perfect and re warding vision of the Lord will not be ours till we have gained the heavenly hills, and looked forth upon the crystal sea. There at last the way will end, and we shall be with Him forever. It was, after all, only a vanishing glimpse of the Master which rewarded the obedient faith of the disciples. The presence, which was manifested to them, was soon again taken from them, and they were left to walk once more by faith. But there will be no further separation from Him for those who have followed Him into the other world. There at last we shall behold Him as He is, and the great re ward of all our earthly struggle, the final fruition of our hopes, the full satisfaction of our souls, which this world can never yield, will be attained, when we shall there be with Him forever.
But now in speaking thus of the way over which our Lord has passed before us, through life and through death, I would not forget, or have you fail to remember, the other thought, which I suggested at the outset, that He is still going before us, and that we have only to follow Him, through every difficult service and every dark path. It is not merely true that He once moved across the earth on. which we live, leaving a line of light behind Him, and then vanished into the world unseen. That is not the gospel of the resurrection, or the great truth of Christianity. He is still moving among men and before them, as when He then went onward, in advance of the disciples, from Judea into Galilee. He goes before the missionary of the cross to heathen lands, preparing the way by which His servant is to follow Him, and open ing the path for the entrance of the truth into darkened minds and dying souls. He goes before the sister of Christian charity, on her divine errand of love and pity, to the abode of ignorance and poverty, or the bedside of disease and death. He goes before every trusting, obedient disciple to the spot where a difficult or perilous service is waiting to be done, or to the hour which is to call for some still more difficult, still more heroic endurance. We cannot see Him, but we shall find Him there, and His presence will make the achievement pos sible, the trial light. Ah! if we could but realize this, how strong and courageous and confident it would make us! There is no loneliness - the most solitary way is bright and peaceful - to one who knows that the Lord is always with him. There is no such thing as failure for one who can (as it were) feel the nearness of that divine form which the eye cannot discern. Then difficulties seem to be swept from before us, as the summer wind sweeps away the mists that have settled upon land and sea. Then fear and doubt are dispelled, as when after many days of storm the sun breaks forth again, and all the sky is clear. So it was that the dis ciples, believing that the living Lord was going be fore them, went forth, in the might of an invincible faith, not to Galilee merely, but to the ends of the earth. The power by which they accomplished their great work was not in themselves. It was in Him, whom they obediently and gladly followed, and who not only manifested Himself repeatedly to them, but gave them strength and fortitude and courage for the stupendous task which He called them to undertake.
And here is also our hope and our strength, in presence of the duties and trials by which we are so constantly confronted. It is comforting to remember that the path of life which we are tread ing has once been trodden by the Son of God. It gives dignity and beauty to the lowliest career, and takes their terror and threat from the greatest emergencies. It makes temptation easier to face, and sorrow lighter to endure. The power to meet even death without shrinking, comes to us from the knowledge that He has passed through it into a larger and more glorious life; and it is the glory of heaven itself that He - the Lord - awaits us there. But sweeter still to those who are weary and worn with the toil and conflict of life - sweeter and more inspiriting still, is the divine assurance of Him whom the grave could not detain, "Lo, I am with you always, "or, more exactly, "all the days, " - with you every day, "till the world shall end."He will go before you in a few moments, to your homes, and there He will be with you. He will go before you to-morrow to your business, and there, too, He will be with you. He will see you, though you may not see Him. He will hear you, as you speak to Him, though you speak to Him in the softest whisper, or only in your thought. He will not leave you, even if you forget Him, and wherever He may send you, He Himself will go before.
All unseen the Master walketh By the toiling servant's side; Comfortable words He speaketh, While His hands uphold and guide.
Grief nor pain nor any sorrow Rends thy heart, to Him unknown; He to-day, and He to-morrow, Grace sufficient gives His own.
Holy strivings nerve and strengthen; Long endurance wins the crown; When the evening shadows lengthen, Thou shalt lay thy burden down.
0 the comfort and the glory of walking thus after the unseen Lord! 0 the glory, greater still, of walking with Him by and by, in the light and peace and joy of Paradise.