THE WORK OF GOD.
There is, then, as these Jews thought, a work of God. There is something which He would have us do. But if so, we want, of course, to know and do it. It is certainly our duty, and it will with equal certainty prove in the end to be for our advantage. We are all interested, therefore, in Jesus' statement of it. It is very concise, very simple and at the same time not a little perplexing."This is the work of God, "He says, "that ye be lieve on Me."His meaning cannot be mistaken. It is not merely that He is entitled to men's confi dence, nor that it is the duty of all men to give Him their confidence. He means to assert that this is the one supreme duty of all men. It com prehends all other duties. It is the work of God. And to believe on Him, which is the form of ex pression that He uses here, as He used it on many other occasions, denotes the strongest possible be lief; it signifies an absolute, unhesitating, unre served reliance upon Him. Not merely the ac knowledgment that He was a messenger from God; not merely the acceptance of His words as words of unimpeachable authority and truth; not merely the confession of Him as the rightful Lord of thought and life, or the endeavor to obey His precepts and to copy His example; - to believe on Christ means even more than this. It is fully to admit His ut most claims as to His nature, His authority, and His mission to this world. It is to render Him the homage to which He is entitled as at once Son of Man and Son of God. It is to yield Him the grateful adoration of our hearts. It is to trust with unbounded assurance in His power, His wis dom and His love. It is to give ourselves with cordial self-surrender to His service. It is to ex pect by His grace deliverance from sin and death, and exaltation by and by to His right hand. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is something more than to believe Him or even to believe in Him. It is to make His person and His work the basis of all our hopes, the object of all our affection, the inspiration of all our activity.
And this He declares to be the work of God, the one great and comprehensive duty of man. If He is right, it is your first duty and mine. If we neglect it, we do so at our cost and at our peril. If we fail in it, we miss the true end and glory of life. It is the keystone of the arch of moral obligation. It is the condition on which alone it is possible for us to have the divine favor and blessing. On our doing this one thing, or not doing it, depends our destiny here and hereafter.
This is the teaching of Jesus Himself, as it has been in later days the teaching of all who have faithfully proclaimed His gospel. And yet, simple as it is, it is not without its difficulty for many thoughtful minds. It is, no doubt, in some re spects easier to believe in Him to-day than when He was visibly present on earth. But there are some of us for whom it is not easy to admit the claims which He makes upon our confidence; some who say that they cannot believe Him to have been the Son of God sent down from heaven. And then there are others who make the great confession very readily, and honestly, and heartily, but whose faith makes but little impression on their characters and lives. Is it then really, we are tempted to ask, so important? Up to a certain point it is not diffi cult to believe in Jesus Christ. All good men be lieve in Him as a good man. All minds and hearts that are sensitive to moral beauty pay willing hom age to His nobility of character. The most emi nent name in history, the greatest benefactor of the human race, the world's ideal and in that sense the world's Saviour, we can readily admit Him to have been. But this believing on Him, in the sense in which He seems to require it of us, this unreserved acceptance of Him as the Son of God, this unlim ited confidence in Him, this entire self-surrender to Him, - is it necessary, is it possible? How can it be the first and greatest of all duties? What right had He Himself to say that"this is the work of God"? I shall try to answer this question in one of the many ways in which it may be answered. The common answer to it is"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."It is only be cause of His sacrifice that we can be forgiven. It is only by His Holy Spirit, received into our hearts by faith, that we can be made pure and strong, be delivered from the power of sin and fitted for the heavenly blessedness. And that is true, if the word of God is true. It is the gospel in its sim plest terms.
But it is well for us at times to think of some of the things which are implied in such a thorough going faith in Jesus Christ, and some of the effects which it produces, or, in other words, to consider the gospel in some of its wider relations, and to ob serve what it does for those who really and truly accept it.
To believe with all one's heart and soul in Jesus Christ means then, for one thing, to believe that God may be known in terms of humanity. There are those who tell us that we cannot know Him at all. If there is anything back of the phenomena of nature besides a mysterious energy, we cannot find out what it is, and our minds soon become be wildered when we try to conceive of a personal be ing who is eternal and infinite. On the other hand, the popular notion of God is merely that of a mag nified man, and it is sometimes said that man is a miniature of the Almighty. No wonder that many reverent minds revolt from the crude idea that the Most High is"altogether such an one"as even the noblest of mankind, and take refuge in agnosticism. But if the measure of a man must not be applied to Him whom the heavens themselves cannot contain, there is still a likeness between His nature and ours. And the proof of this is not merely that Jesus spoke of Him as His Father and our Father, or that He regarded and treated all men as God's children. The proof is that God could and did become incar nate in Him. He was certainly a man, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; and another nature did not come and dwell in Him, side by side with the human nature which was so evident in all He said and did, so that there were in Him two per sons, one divine, the other human. God simply poured Himself (if I may say so) into the humanity of Jesus and revealed Himself through it. He was at once and in one person man and God. Doubt less in order that this might be possible, some of the divine attributes were laid aside. He"emptied Himself, "as St. Paul says, "when He took the form of a slave and was made in the likeness of men."The fullness of the Godhead could not be brought within earthly limitations."My Father, "He declared, "is greater than I."But the essen tial nature and character of God could be manifested in a human character and life. No man could re veal His omnipotence, or His omniscience, or His omnipresence. But even a man might manifest His holiness, His justice and His love. And Jesus did exhibit these, and so taught us how we are to think of God. He that hath seen Him hath seen the Father. And we have seen Him, for He was made flesh and dwelt among us in the person of a man. I will not stop to speak of the new light which is shed on human nature by a fact like this. But I call upon you to consider that, while God is not a larger man, it is through a man that we gain our only real knowledge of Him. He is not un knowable, for we have beheld His glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Then the second thing implied in a true belief in Christ is the belief that God is love. For that is what Christ was. It was in love that He came into this world. It was in love that He gave Him self to the ministry on which the Father had sent Him. It was in love that He sought and tried to save those who were sunk in ignorance and sin. It was in love that He taught and toiled. It was in the fullness of His love that He died upon the cross. A more loving heart than that of the Son of God has never been known on earth. He loved God. He loved truth. He loved righteousness. He loved unlovely and sinful men and women. This was, as anybody can see, the chief trait of His character. This was the impelling motive in all His activity. It is what made Him so pitiful. It is what made Him so patient. It is what made Him so untiring in His efforts to do good. It is what made Him so self-forgetful and so self-sacri ficing. Listen to Him as He speaks, on the hill side, in the streets, on the shore, by Jacob's well, in the temple-courts, in the upper room. Watch Him as He sits at the Pharisee's table, or in the home at Bethany; as He stands by the bedside of the daughter of Jairus, or before Lazarus' grave; as He moves about from place to place, teaching, comforting, healing the sick, raising up the fallen; as He kneels in the garden, stands at last before Pilate, expires on the cross. What love! What boundless love! Did He utter burning words of indignation in regard to the Scribes and Pharisees? It was because of His love for those whom they de ceived and oppressed. Did He seize a whip of small cords and drive the tradesmen from the tem ple? It was because of His love for God whose worship they profaned. Did He depict in language of terrible import the certain consequences of sin? It was because in His great love He longed to save men from them. Did He warn those who heard Him of a sin that bath never forgiveness? It was because even infinite love can save no man against His will. Surely the apostle spoke advisedly when he spoke of the love of Christ as"passing knowl edge." Well then, such also is the character of God. He is love; not power, nor justice, nor holiness, but love. So He also feels toward the children of men - feels toward each of us who are His children. He loves us just as Jesus loved; too well to let us sin with impunity; too well to suffer us to perish, if it is possible to save us; so well that there is nothing which He will not do for us, if we are will ing to trust and love and obey Him. In His laws and in His judgments even, we can hear the beat ing of His heart of love. And in all our trials and sorrows we can lay our heads on it and be at rest.
A third truth which is implied in a profound be lief in Christ is that of the supreme importance of character. It was certainly the one thing for which He cared. He was wholly indifferent to wealth and honor, to social rank and public ad miration. He had a tender sympathy for physical suffering, but His miracles of healing seem to have been chiefly wrought for the sake of the moral and spiritual help which they so vividly symbolized, or for which they opened the way. Not from pain but from sin did He long to save men; not from the things that kill the body but from those that de stroy the soul. He was not a social reformer, as the work of a reformer is commonly understood and carried on. He did not attack the social cus toms of the day, or seek to readjust the relations of classes, or even touch in His discourses on the grave political issues which led so soon afterward to the utter destruction of the Hebrew nationality. His teaching all bore on the reformation of personal character. He strove to make men pure and peaceable and forgiving and true and kind and lov ing. This is the kingdom of heaven, He said, that a man should love God with all his heart and should love his neighbor as himself. And He taught this by His example as well as by His ser mons and His parables.
Now there is such a thing as a belief in Christ which makes no deep mark on a man's own per sonal character and allows him to remain strangely indifferent to the specific duties on which the Mas ter so strongly insisted. But it is not such a faith as that of which I am now speaking, and it is of very little practical value. A real belief in Him must lead any one of us to set the matter of char acter far above everything else. It is fatally easy to fancy that faith in Christ may be a substitute for right living; that one may be mean and selfish and dishonest and impure and almost anything else that is contemptible, and cover it all from the sight of God and men by membership in the Church or by some showy form of religious activity. There can
be no doubt as to the way in which Jesus Himself would treat Christians of this kind. He would say to them, "Woe unto you, hypocrites!"A man simply cannot be His disciple without being in the first place absolutely sincere, and without feeling to the very depths of his soul that nothing else what ever is so important, so beautiful, so worthy of most earnest and patient pursuit, as a character like that of Christ Himself, strong, pure, free, gen erous, self-denying, intent on doing God's will, de voted to the promotion of truth and righteousness and happiness among men.
The latent possibilities of human nature - that is another thing which every man must believe in, who truly believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself believed in men."He knew, "as John tells us, "He knew what is in man, "the evil and the good alike, and yet He believed in man. He believed that every man was worth saving, that every man might be saved. He knew, of course, that there were some men who would not be saved, but it was because they would not receive the di vine gift that was offered them. He saw in every human being the nature which He had Himself as sumed, and He sought to win all, of every rank and class and moral condition, for the kingdom of heaven. This was indeed one of the most novel and surprising features of His work - the univer sality of the invitation which He Himself uttered and commissioned 'His apostles to utter. It was, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me. Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden."And He declared that if He were"lifted up, He would draw all men unto Himself."This spirit of hope, and of hope even for the least and lowest of mankind, was absolutely new in the world. Who was this young Jew that He should conceive schemes so vast and think that even publicans and harlots had immortal souls? He was the Son of God. He knew God as well as man. And He actually lifted on His faith and on His love the en tire human race to higher destinies.
He taught us who believe in Him to think very poorly of ourselves in some respects. We are not what we ought to be, nor what we might be. But there is no one of us who is not a child of God and (if he will) an heir of heaven. Before the most insignificant of us open boundless spheres of growth and happiness and usefulness. And what is true of us is no less true of the very meanest and most debased of our fellow-men. If we believe in Christ, that is what we believe in regard to our selves and every member of the race to which we belong. Nothing so precious as a human soul No human soul beyond the reach of God's love and care, or of His renewing and sanctifying Spirit! There is hope for all mankind, if Christ was right in His estimate of men, and if He was Himself what we believe Him to have been.
I ought not to say"If He was what we believe Him to have been."I should rather say, if He is what we believe Him to be. For He is the same yesterday and to-day and forever, the same on the throne of glory and power as when He walked the streets of Jerusalem or the highways of Judea and Galilee. Nay, He has never left this world, for whose redemption He lived and died. He is still present in it, in the person of His Holy Spirit. He is present in every assembly of His followers. He is present with each individual soul that trusts and loves and tries to serve Him. He is present in all our labors and struggles, all our joys and sor rows, present with us wherever we may be called to toil for Him, present with us whenever and wher ever we may be called to die."When one re marked on David Livingstone's loneliness in Africa, he answered that he was not alone. Christ said that He would be with me always. It is the word of a gentleman of the strictest honor, and there's an end of it.' When he fell upon his knees in an African but (says Dr. McKenzie), and threw his arms forward on the couch, and rested his head upon them, he believed that the promise was kept. The candle burned low at his side, and his heart ceased to beat, but he knew that he was not alone."He who was with His servant there, is with His servants everywhere. And He is guiding them in their work, and making it successful. If it were not so, they might well shrink from many of the tasks in which they are engaged. He sets before them open doors. He sweeps obstacles out of their way. He rules among and over the nations, as well as over and in His Church, so that"nothing - abso lutely nothing - comes to pass either in heaven or on earth without His divine will."We do not believe in a dead and buried Christ, but in an ever-living, ever-present Saviour and King.
And therefore we believe in the future progress of the human race. We believe in a better day that is coming. We believe that the kingdom of heaven will at last conquer and fill the world. Not because of tendencies which we observe in human nature, nor because of natural forces now at work in society; but because it was to redeem and save the world that Christ came down into it from heaven, and because it is for this great end that He is working still. We have His own word for it. We have the continual evidence of His gracious and mighty activity. And we know that the pur pose of God in the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection of His Son cannot be changed or de feated. We are optimists and enthusiasts - we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we help it? Can it be for a moment supposed that His redeeming work will fail, that only a handful out of earth's myriads will be at last gathered into the kingdom of heaven, and that He who is infinite in power and pity will be satisfied with that? No, the time must come when all men shall know Him, and worship Him, and rejoice in Him, and the whole earth shall be full of His praise.
It is impossible to gather into a few paragraphs all that is properly included in a hearty and intelli gent belief in Christ. But let me enumerate the few points that I have now touched upon: It means believing that there is a natural kinship between man and God, so that from that which is highest and best in ourselves we know something at least of what He must be. It means believing that His nature and His name is love. It means believing that nothing in the world is so important as char acter. It means believing in the divine capacities that are latent in every human soul. It means be lieving that the Lord of all power and grace is still alive, and is still working in and for the world. And it means believing that at last the whole round world will be brought to His feet. It is a grand creed - is it not? - uplifting, inspiring, enlarging the mind, rejoicing the heart. But it is what I be lieve, and what you believe, if we really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And now what effect must such a faith have upon one who is truly possessed by it? It will make him, for one thing, profoundly reverent toward God. God gains nothing from distance or mystery. The nearer He comes to us, the more clearly He makes Himself known to us, the more glorious does He appear. But at the same time, beholding His glory as we do in the face of Jesus Christ, we know that we may trust Him utterly. Love cannot al ways be trusted, unless it is combined, as it is in Him, with equal wisdom, righteousness and power. But God's love may be trusted, even when His dealings with us are most mysterious. It cannot fail. It cannot err. It will have its way. And then any one who has even begun to know that love, as it is revealed in Jesus Christ, will find the first of the two great commandments easy to obey. He cannot help loving God with all his heart. Love does not always awaken love, but dull and hard must be the heart which can believe in Jesus and not love Him. It is impossible. Faith and love cannot be separated. Faith works by love, as the apostle says, and in its eager thankfulness the loving soul pours forth its praise in word and deed. It finds songs even in the night. It fills the dark ness with the music of resignation and trust. The light of heaven shines on and through its tears, and grief and disappointment cannot rob it of its deep and sacred joy. And then it is always looking for new opportunities of service. Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? Then you will want to do something for Him. You will have a strong de sire to be like Him in character. You will long to have other people far and near know Him and love Him as you do. If you only half believe in Him, you may not feel in this way. You may think that you are safe, and think no further about it. This is, alas! all that the faith of some people amounts to. A mere opinion, a mere spasm of emotion now and then, a mere confession"from the teeth out ward" - it is no faith at all! A real, heartfelt be lief in Christ will inevitably have the effects of which I have been speaking. It will make a man over. It will make all things new to Him. It will give him new views of God and man, of life and death; new aims, new purposes, new desires and hopes, a new feeling toward his fellow-men, a new spirit and temper in everything he does. It will make him love and seek what is true and good, and hate what is false and low and selfish. I say a gen uine and hearty faith in Christ cannot but have this effect. A little faith, a faith that merely gives him a false sense of security, may do him positive harm. Such a faith as Christ demands, as He deserves, and as He inspires in one who is thoroughly in earnest, will make him such a man as God approves and loves.
And this is why Jesus could say that it is the work of God that we should believe on Him; that it is what God would have us do, and is all that He requires of us. It leads to everything else that is worth being and doing. It is simpler perhaps, as I have already suggested, to say, "Be not afraid, only believe, and thou shalt be saved."But we need to get down to the realities which underlie these familiar and momentous words. And this is the gospel in its amazing height and breadth and its magnificence of moral power. I pray you re ceive it into your minds and hearts. Let it mould and sway and inspire and exalt your daily lives. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe on Him as you believe that you are here alive to-day! Nothing else is so true as His words, nothing else so noble as His character, nothing else so certain as that He is the Lord of the world. Other things may pass away, but His kingdom cannot fail. A little while and we shall have vanished from the earth, but His truth shall abide unchangeable for ever. There is no other name so great as His in all the universe. And according as we have be lieved, or have not believed, on Him, will be our endless destiny. 0 my dear friends, believe in God, believe in goodness, believe in your own im mortal souls, believe in the divine love, believe in the final triumph of righteousness, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ;"that He may dwell in your hearts by faith, and that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the length and breadth and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fullness of God."