TWELFTH "VERILY, VERILY."
THE PERFECTING OF THE NEW MAN.
The last reiterated Amen comes from the lips of the risen Christ, and belongs to the Forty Days, during which our Lord was with His disciples after His resurrection, while as yet His Spirit had not come upon them, to fill them with power according to His promise. These Forty Days are the appointed figure of that stage or period of our Christian life, when, having followed Christ to His cross, we have, not faith only, but personal experience, of His resurrection,—when the Lord appears and breathes upon us, as He never did before, still commanding us to "wait for the promise of the Father," which now ere long shall come upon us (Acts 1:4). At this stage we hear our Lord's last reiterated Amen, testifying, that while we are in the flesh we must still be crossed, and, like Himself, can be made perfect only through sufferings. It is a blessed stage, though it yet falls short of that coming of the Holy Ghost, which thenceforth conforms carnal disciples to the image of their Lord.
This is not understood by all. On the contrary, it is assumed by some, that, because those who walked with Christ of old received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire at Pentecost more than eighteen hundred years ago, therefore all believers now have reached the same. As well might the apostles, when first called, have concluded, that, because at His baptism the Spirit like a dove rested upon Christ, therefore they all had equally received the same blessing. It is this assumption of being spiritual, while they are yet carnal,—that they are rich and increased with goods, while they are miserable and poor,—which keeps so many believers blind and wretched as they are (Rev. 3:17); just as the same assumption in the world keeps the unrenewed from seeking for the grace, which the Lord so freely gives to all who ask Him. Surely the Spirit has been given, and the work been wrought in Christ for all; but to enter into possession of the blessing, whether as disciples walking with Christ, or as further "enlightened and made partakers of the Holy Ghost" (Heb. 6:4), there must be a personal application to the Lord for the grace He has to give, which He still gives as of old, "here a little, and there a little," as we can bear it (Isa. 28:10; John 16:12). At first we can only receive the Word made flesh. Therefore He gives us the Word made flesh. Then by that Word we are led to wait for and receive the Spirit. True souls are conscious that the descent of the Holy Ghost on others is a very different thing from the coming of the same Spirit on themselves,—that others may be spiritual while we are yet carnal,—that the promised rivers of living water do not yet flow forth from us (John 7:38), though our calling is to expect and wait for them. Let such yet wait on God. If they wait for the promise of the Father, the baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire will come in due season. But of how many is it yet true, that "the Holy Ghost is not yet come, because that Jesus is not yet glorified" (John 7:39) in them.
It was to souls at such a stage that the last "Verily, Verily," was first spoken. To souls at a like stage it still comes as the needed word in due season. In it the risen Lord opens the process of the perfecting of His elect, that only through the crossing of their own will, though this may come in different ways, can even His dearest disciples attain that perfect union with His will, which is their true calling. Blessed are they to whom the Lord thus speaks. When this truth is learnt in deed, the glorious end is not far off.
This then is the subject of this last reiterated Amen. It sets before us the way of our perfection. For even the New Man, when first formed in our nature, is not perfect. The first form of Christ here in the flesh was not His perfection. He is first made in our likeness, that, bearing it and dying to it, He may bring us back through death to God's likeness. Thus He was "made perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10; 5:8, 9). In Himself He was indeed perfect. As the Son of Man, who is in heaven (John 3:13; 6:53, 58), the division which is in us was not in Him; and this undivided nature He comes to give to those who eat His flesh and drink His blood. But He came into our divided nature, to be man, "made of a woman, under the law" (Gal. 4:4), and in and to this nature He had to die, to bring us back in Himself through death, from our present divided state, to that where the "two are one," "the man not without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Cor. 6:17; 11:11); "where there is neither male or female, but Christ is all and in all" (Gal. 3:28). (Note: And compare with this the remarkable passages in Clement of Alexandria, Strom. book iii. chap. 10, and 13.) And so when Christ is formed in us, the new man first grows in our likeness, and then must suffer and die, like Christ for us, to reach perfection. "Every one that is perfect shall be as his Master" (Luke 6:40). And to be like Him we must give up our will, and even our life, into the hands of God, in the faith that when He "turns us to destruction," it is that He may say, "Return as sons of Man" (שובו בני-אדם, Psalm 90:3). The last "Verily, Verily," testifies to the process by which this end is reached.
I have already noticed the time when this was spoken by the Lord. But the details given are no less instructive, as showing exactly the state of the disciples. Our Lord, for the third time after His resurrection (John 21:14), had just shown Himself to them. There were together seven; Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of His disciples. The number and the names are mystic, figuring the completeness of the Church, and the varied forms of life which work in union in it. "Simon Peter saith, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee." This is rightly enough disciples' work. But the words fall upon the ear as if they were uttered with more or less of self-will. They are the words of those who propose to do what they like, rather than of men who look and wait for guidance. For at this stage, in passing from the carnal to the spiritual knowledge of the Lord, the tendency of our old nature often comes out, still prone to fulfil even our appointed work more according to the will of the flesh than of the spirit. Then follows a night of fruitless toil, during which the Lord's presence is not seen or felt. But when the morning comes, Jesus, standing on the shore, begins to direct the labours of the disciples. At first they do not know Him; but when a draught too large to be received into the ship follows obedience to His word, they learn who it is that has been speaking to them. John first recognises the Lord; Peter first hastens to Him; after which the other disciples slowly follow; all showing the dimness of our first vision of a risen Christ, and by what imperfect glimpses of this risen life we are gradually led to the higher knowledge of the Lord. Then comes the feast with Christ,—communion with Him in what He has prepared, the fish and the bread, both well-known figures of Him. (Note: See Augustine, Tractat. cxxiii. § 2. All are familiar with the early Christian use of ἰχθύς. See Smith's Christian Antiquities, s.v. "fish." I need not speak here of the "bread.") After which He utters this last reiterated Amen, testifying how to the very end disciples must be crossed, for only through this crossing of their will can they be perfected.
The process of this perfecting comes out in our Lord's words to Peter and John. Here are two men, most unlike each other, though both are near and dear to Christ. Each represents a distinct form of Christian life, whose perfecting therefore, though according to the same one law, to outward eyes may seem very dissimilar. Christ Himself is the one pattern of the whole life of God in man. In Him that life is in all its fulness, union, and proportion, as all the coloured rays are one in white light. In the apostles His fulness is divided. In each we mark some special grace. The three chief, Peter, James, and John, respectively reveal faith, hope, and charity. Peter is the active life of faith, which longs fully to follow Christ; which therefore comes into very peculiar trials and distresses; which steps out to walk on the troubled waters, where it sees Christ walk, and fails, and then, rescued by His hand, comes back into the ship, to continue the voyage with brethren, who, if not less trustful, are more cautious (Matt. 14:28-32); which follows the Lord into scenes which others never see, and yet denies Him in the time of trial more than all the rest (Matt. 26:58, 72). In John we see another life; that of passive love and contemplation; content to be loved, more even than to love; and who in this passiveness is able to receive far more of the Lord's mind, and to see in Him from the first what others little understand. The one says, "Lord, Thou knowest that I love thee" (John 21:15, 16): the other delights to be called "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). "These two lives," as Augustine says, "the Church yet knows; the one in faith, the other in sight or revelation; the one in the work of action, the other in the gain of contemplation; the one fighting, the other reigning; the one curbing fleshly lusts, the other wholly given to spiritual delights; the one scourged by evils that it be not unduly exalted by its good things, the other with such fulness of grace that without pride it cleaves to the chief good. Therefore the one is good, and yet distressed; the other better, and blessed. The first is figured by the Apostle Peter; the last by John. The first here finds an end; the last yet waits, and in the world to come has no end. Therefore to the one it is said, 'Follow me;' but of the other, 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee;'" (Note: Augustine, Tractat. cxxiv. § 5.) words which show how each must suffer for a season, that they may be made perfect even as their Lord.
Speaking generally, the perfecting of both proceeds according to one law. Each with Christ must learn to say, "Not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). In each the will has to be crossed. But the words here respecting each show in what very different forms this cross may come; for the forms of self-will vary greatly, and the discipline which crosses the will of an active soul will be very unlike that which is required by the man who delights in passive contemplation. But be the form of our nature what it may, self-will must be crossed in all, if they are ever to be made perfect as the Lord. To the active soul therefore the word yet is, "Lovest thou me?" then "feed (Gr. βόσκε, John 21:15) my lambs." "Lovest thou me?" then "tend (Gr. ποίμαινε, John 21:16) and feed my sheep. Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow me." Of the other it is said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"—words which were first supposed to mean "that this disciple should not die," but which found their fulfilment in his remaining to see the old dispensation pass away, after all his fellow apostles had been taken to their rest. Thus the one, in the active life, is called from blessed work to sudden death: the other, in the passive, from his wish at once to follow Christ to long waiting and the martyrdom of life. The one receives the outward cross; the other, the inward sufferings of Christ, and the revelation of the coming of the Lord: the one, who when he was young girded himself and walked whither he would, is crossed by being girded by others and carried whither he would not; called to give up self-strength in an early participation with Christ's death, and to leave his work for Christ's sheep to other under-shepherds; while the other, who without a word follows the Lord (John 21:20), and leans upon His breast, who would rather depart and be with Christ,—for it is ever the desire of loved ones to be with the beloved,—to whom the struggle and battle of life is a daily cross, who fain would follow now to the heaven which so often opens to him, must tarry here, amid the cares and toils of earth, long after others have finished their course with joy. So John, who instinctively "follows," must "tarry," while to him who "girds himself" to labour here, the word yet is, "Thou shalt be carried whither thou wouldest not." Each is crossed in his own will, whether to work for, or to be with, Christ; the one by being taken from his work by death, the other by being kept from his rest by long and weary life; and this, not to mar, but rather to perfect, God's work in each, that the will of both may only be the will of God.
But the words deserve a closer consideration. Both the active and contemplative soul may here learn much as to the way in which each is to glorify God.
1. First, the word to Peter. It begins with directions as to his proper work,—to "tend Christ's sheep" and "feed His lambs,"—thrice prefaced with the question, "Lovest thou me?" which marks the one requisite for those who "watch for souls" (Heb. 13:17); and then going on, as we have seen, to foretell the cross, by which, being "carried whither he would not," the active worker should be brought to his appointed end. Thus this word to Peter calls him first to doing, then to dying; for by both are we led on, though it is only by the last that the active life is truly perfected. Surely in doing Christ's will there must be some giving up of self. Who can tend Christ's sheep and feed His lambs, without some self-denial? Yet in all doing an active nature may find some room for its own self-will. For such therefore dying is the appointed way to reach perfection. And yet the doing also is most blessed, not only in its fruits toward God and man, but even as supplying the very discipline which such a soul can bear in its earlier days, to check its natural proneness to self-will and self-sufficiency. Each stage is good, doing and dying. Both are appointed for us. In both we may offer ourselves a sweet sacrifice unto the Lord.
We shall see this better, if we look at the work here laid on Peter. It is a shepherd's work—"Tend my sheep," and "feed my lambs." Who can do this without having his self-will crossed again and again? Sheep are silly creatures, prone to wander, often needing to be brought back; tender creatures, subject to many forms of sickness, which require unceasing care; weak creatures, wholly unable to resist the wolf which seeks their life; ready to follow each other into unknown perils, where, but for the shepherd, they would be often lost. With such the shepherd goes, like Jacob, watching while they sleep (Gen. 31:40), or, like David, fighting the lion and the bear for them, that they may dwell safely (1 Sam. 17:34). Who has ever watched for souls, going in and out among them for their good, ceasing not to warn them night and day with tears, yet seeing them leave him and forsake the Lord, without having his own heart pained and his self-will broken, as he cries, "Surely I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought" (Isa. 49:4)? Yet the toil is not for nought. The worker at least profits by it all. And spite of all failures the sheep are gainers too. There is indeed a work with sheep, which is, not for the flock, but for the fleece. The Labans and Nabals and Absaloms, now as of old, are famous for "sheep-shearing" (Gen. 31:19; 1 Sam. 15:2, 4; 2 Sam. 13:23, 24). Like the kings of Moab, they are "sheep-masters" (2 Kings 3:4), without a pastor's heart. But good shepherds care for the sheep, because they love Him whose they are. And in their service they themselves are served; for by it, little by little, they are being freed from self, while their thought may be only to serve the Lord and feed His sheep.
For this work is the fruit of love, the practical answer to the question, "Lovest thou me?" and love and self-love are directly antagonistic. Love seeketh not her own (1 Cor. 13:5): love counts all self-sacrifice as nothing for the beloved. An independent life for lovers is impossible. They who love give up themselves. Therefore our Lord here asks for love, that in the exercise of it we may be freed from the self-will which by nature holds us. For love like self-love grows by yielding to it. The self-indulgent man becomes daily more self-loving: the loving, self-sacrificing soul, by its toil for others becomes more wholly loving. And this love is shown in deeds. The lover's acts show that he loves. He may be absent from, but he gives his strength for, the beloved. Unlike the "lovers of their own selves," of whom the apostle speaks, who, because lovers of themselves, are also "covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers" (2 Tim. 3:1-4), those who love the Lord will suffer long and endure all to serve His flock; they cannot but serve, because they love; and in this love, feeding Christ's sheep, not as their own, but His; seeking His glory in them, not their own; thinking of Him, whose they really are; they too also are being changed, even if they know it not, and show, to other eyes at least, that they are putting off the old man, and putting on the new.
Such is the work and its results. But it is by dying that the worker is perfected after the pattern of his Lord. Now, therefore, comes the last reiterated Amen:—"Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow me" (John 21:18, 19). Here we have all the later stages of the path set before us: first, in the promise as to the worker's end; and then in the final command which he receives, which contains in itself all counsels of perfection. As ever there is a promise and a command (compare Gen. 12:1, 2; Matt. 4:19; 11:28; 2 Cor. 6:17, 18). The promise is, that the worker shall be freed by being "carried whither he would not;" the command, in obedience to which the promise is fulfilled, is "Follow me."
The promise here then is the cross. This shall conform Peter to Christ. The active soul, who once had said, "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now: I will lay down my life for thy sake," and had then with oaths denied his Lord, now shall reach by grace to that which he had thought himself able to accomplish in his own self-will. But this end shall be reached, not in self-will, but in being "carried whither he would not." The promise is the death of self, and this is not attained through any self-willed penance, or self-inflicted cross, which too often increases men's high thoughts of themselves, but rather by meekly accepting the real humiliation, which obedience sooner or later always brings with it. Our Lord declares this in the words in which He marks the contrast between the past and future of this active worker:—"Verily, Verily, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." For we act at first as if our wish to work for God were a sufficient guide; we speak and pray as if we could direct Him, instead of yielding in all to be directed by Him. And this self-will may work even in our wish to live and die for Christ; even in saying, "I will lay down my life for thy sake." Slowly we learn that self-love may be strengthened by our active service, and that we yet need suffering to free us from ourselves. Therefore we have to be humbled by the discovery of what we really are, till by failure we have no confidence in self.
At first, indeed, while we are in the flesh (Rom. 7:5), all is done from self for self: self is the spring and end of all our works. Even after grace comes in, what is done at first is still from self, though it is for Christ; for we are yet but babes in Christ, and therefore carnal (1 Cor. 3:1). At last we reach the stage when what is done is all from Christ for Christ. None reach this, while, even in good things, they "walk whither they would." None reach it without often being crossed and "carried whither they would not." In outward appearance the appointed cross may vary. It may come as some outward loss, either of health or earthly means, which deprives us of the power of doing the good we would; or it may be the inward sense of darkness and distress, which for a season keeps our spirits bound, mocked by devils, even as the Lord in the presence of His accusers. It is always something which really crosses self, and thus frees us from ourselves and from our own self-will. And in this path, in resigning ourselves to God, in leaving Him to do in us and with us as He wills, in submitting all the more to things which displease us, as seeing in them our appointed cross, in utter submission and dependence on Him, be the trial what it may, God can accomplish His own far better will in us, and by our very helplessness and death lead us safely and surely to a better resurrection. There is no other way to be made perfect. In one form or another all must be crossed who are to be conformed to Christ.
And, strange as it may seem to flesh and blood, in this crossing there is a rest such as the soul has never known before. In doing our own will there is never rest. Even when the aim is good, our very eagerness keeps us in constant unquietness. In yielding to the will of another there is rest. Therefore the time comes when by some cross our own works cease, and we pass from the days of labour to the day of rest. In being carried whither we would not, an inward rest is found which passes all former understanding. Our Lord's words here seem to mark this; for in following his own will the worker "walks": and he who "walks" can never fully rest: when at last he is girded by another, he is "carried" to an outward cross indeed, but no less "carried away in the spirit" by it, as John was (Rev. 21:10), to see that heavenly city, whose name is "vision or possession of peace," (Note: Jerusalem means simply the "vision or possession of peace.") where there is rest and joy for evermore. Certainly there is a heart-rest in being utterly unable to do as we will, which is never reached in any other way. Some sufferers know it: the peace beyond all thought: the rest of being freed henceforth from any care. And the pain by which it has been bought is felt to be unworthy to be compared to the present joy, unspeakable, and full of glory.
But in this last word to Peter there is more than promise: there is also a command,—"Follow me," and again, "Follow thou me" (John 21:19, 22). Strange that these last words should be but a repetition of the words of his first call, the very words which years before had come to him from a voice then strange and new, which said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matt. 4:18). But these same words, "Follow me," now heard from One who has passed through death, convey to him who again hears them volumes more than when they first fell upon his ear. So it ever is. Words open to us. The self-same words which at one stage seem to say so little, or are so dimly understood, at another shine out like fire, piercing our hearts. The lesson is indeed repeated in the old form; but it now comes to us with a deeper meaning. So to Paul in the storm a message comes, which is but the repetition of a former word (compare Acts 27:24, and Acts 23:11); but how much more does it now say, both as to present deliverance and future work and suffering for the Lord. And so these old words to Peter, "Follow me," as now spoken by the risen Lord, convey to the disciple who has followed thus far, and seen the cross, lessons which at an earlier stage he could not have understood.
For at first we think that all following must be active work. By Christ's cross we slowly learn that the highest following may be in passive suffering. These simple words contain every Counsel of Perfection, Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. All are contained in "Follow me." For can we fully follow and not be chaste? Can we fully follow and not be poor? Can we fully follow and not be obedient, even to being "baptized with His baptism" and "drinking His cup." A time comes when our Lord's teaching, of which He says, "All men cannot receive this saying: he that is able to receive it, let him receive it," whether as to marriage, or to selling all, or to entire submission and obedience, in being baptized with His baptism and in drinking His cup, speaks to us as it never did before. (Note: In the Gospel according to S. Matthew, after the section, (Matt. 16:13 - 18:35,) which declares the mystery of the Church, we come to a section which opens the Evangelical Counsels of Perfection, Chastity, (Matt. 19:1-15,) Poverty, (Matt. 19:16 - 20:16,) and Obedience, (Matt. 20:17-28.) Of the first, Christ says, "All men cannot receive this saying: he that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Of the second, "If thou wilt be perfect, sell that thou hast." Of the third, "Are ye able to drink the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?") We need not antedate the day. There is a time for every purpose under heaven (Eccl. 3:1). Not only is there no use in seeking to do some things before the time, but the very attempt to do so may itself hurt us. Children may come into light too soon, or, when brought forth, may try to act as men, while they are yet children, with consequences of lasting pain and weakness for them. God never hurries. When we are prepared, all opens to us. Counsels of Perfection, which were once too high, seem now the very food our souls long for. Then when, like Peter here, we have learnt ourselves,—what poor untrusty creatures we are, who deny Him whom we really love, and forsake Him whom we desire to follow,—when we have known His cross and resurrection, and He has come and breathed on us, and said, "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21),—old words, which once meant little, come to us again, with a far deeper sense, and things, which once seemed impossible, by grace become easy. Then we too, like Peter, can rejoice so to follow Christ as to be "carried whither we would not," and in being so carried find our perfect rest.
Such is the way for Peter, that is for active souls; but the mere knowledge of the way,—the appointed toil by which self-will is first broken, and then the promised cross and the "following" of Christ, by which the active soul may in due time be made perfect,—may be held as doctrine by souls who know nothing really of the promised cross, or of that humble following of our Lord, to which again He here calls us. Some with all their knowledge in the letter are only more and more self-willed, doing all they can to gird others and lead them whither they would, instead of yielding themselves to be carried, if the Lord so will it, whither they would not. And even when we have heard these words, and understand our calling, and wish to follow Christ, the old nature may show itself in us, and we may still be busy with questions about others, rather than with our own appointed cross, saying, like Peter here, "Lord, and what shall this man do?" (John 21:21). Self-willed curiosity may still be active, after sad experience of ourselves. And instead of pondering in silence the solemn words just heard as to our appointed path, our minds, like Peter's, may be far more busy about our brother's way, than in walking humbly in that which is set before us as our own. Hasty acts may cease, yet hasty words may still remain, and curious questions which concern us not. Blessed be the Lord, He too remains, our Saviour to the end; and to our questions His unchanging word comes once again, now in tones almost like a reproof, but as ever bringing further light, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me."
2. It only remains here to notice these words respecting John. They are much briefer than the words to Peter; for contemplative natures need less outward teaching than active souls, whose energy requires constant crossing and direction. These words too respecting John are not said to him, but of him to another; for the passive soul, even when no outward voice directly addresses it, ever hears the inward word, and does unbidden, as men would say, the very thing which more active workers only do through some express command. For John here was already "following" (John 21:20), that is doing, without another word, all that Peter more slowly does through a reiterated command. There yet are souls, like John, between whom and Christ many words are not needed, because all is understood as it were without a word; while there are others, like Peter, to whom everything must be expressed, and who always seem to think that others need as many words as they do themselves, to the very end full of questions for their brethren. Yet both are loved, and both are crossed. And the words here spoken as to John sufficiently indicate the nature of the cross ordained for passive souls, whose delight, like Mary's (Luke 10:39), is, not so much to work for Him they love, as to be near Him, in quiet meditation upon His words, and contemplation of Himself and all His coming glory. For such the cross is to "tarry" here, if Christ so will:—"If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"
This then is John's cross, that, while his joy is in things within the veil, in meditation on the Word of Life made flesh for us (John 1:14), which he has seen, and looked upon, and handled with his hands (1 John 1:1), or in entrancing revelations of the present service and coming glory of the same Lord, either as priest walking amid the golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:12-16), or as Lamb of God opening the seals (Rev. 5:5-7), or as the Word of God, with the two-edged sword, going forth to rule and conquer all (Rev. 19:11-16), his appointed lot is to "tarry" here, amid the strifes of time, seeing the shaking and passing away of all that can be shaken, his early companions, one after another, taken before him to their rest, while he, to whom that rest is perhaps dearer even than to them, is left to struggle on through weary years, a pilgrim still, not yet at home. But this too is love; for if self-pleasing can enter into active work, no less can it steal, still less perceived, into the joy one has in visions and revelations of the Lord. Souls, therefore, to whom such visions are vouchsafed, require a sorer cross, some Egyptian prison, as with Joseph (Gen. 37:5-10; 39:20), or some longer waiting, as with John, or some thorn in the flesh, some messenger of Satan, as with Paul (2 Cor. 12:1, 7), to keep them low, till they too are delivered from the even subtler self, which may be built up in us by gifts superior to our brethren. Waiting is harder than working, and the Johns must wait. Waiting is service also, for "they also serve who only stand and wait." So the Johns serve to advanced old age. The self-pleasing, self-willed, life is the curse from which we must be freed, if we are ever to be perfect. In one way or another it must be cast out. Hence all the toils and judgments laid upon all, on the most gifted not less, generally far more, than on their weaker brethren, that by all means they may be delivered from themselves, and from that self-will which so inveterately clings to all. For nothing really perfects but that which lays us in the dust. (Note: It is surely instructive to notice that the two words תמם and בלה, used in Hebrew to express destruction, signify also, and are used to express, perfection.) All, therefore, must be brought down, till God's will, and not our own, is done in all.
Meanwhile the blessing is that all is according to Christ's will. It is only "if He will" that any "tarry" here. "If I will." Here we may rest. Our times are in His hands. His will is perfect love, and must be far better than our own. Not blind chance, but wisdom, determines the times before appointed, and the bounds of our habitation, for us all (Acts 17:26). If He will that we tarry, even until He come, there must be blessing for His elect in such tarrying.
And in a certain and very real sense the contemplative soul does tarry till Christ comes. John tarried, not only till he saw the revelation of Jesus Christ, which opened all, but till the whole carnal dispensation, with all its bondage, passed away, and he saw new heavens and a new earth, and the New Jerusalem, coming down from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1, 2). And so like souls still tarry till they see new heavens and a new earth, which, real and present as they are, are yet unseen by all. They are, therefore, not troubled at the shaking of the things which can be shaken, knowing that there are things which cannot be shaken, but must remain (Heb. 12:27). And though what is revelation to the Johns may yet be darkness to the Church, though their visions may be but dreams to many of their brethren, "though Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, may not receive them" (3 John 9), their long waiting is not fruitless, either to others or to themselves. They at least are gainers by being "sharers in the tribulation and patience of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9: συγκοινωνὸς ἐν τῇ θλίψει, κ.τ.λ.).
Such then is the perfecting of God's elect. Nature must die and pass away, in whatever form, whether active or passive, it may show itself in a disciple. Till we so die with Christ, our very religion may but add to our delusions. As William Law said long ago:—"Would you know whence it is that so many false spirits have appeared in the world, who have deceived themselves and others with false fire and false light, laying claim to inspirations, illuminations, and openings of the divine life, pretending to do wonders, and to extraordinary calls from God? It is this. They have turned to God without turning from themselves. They would live in God without dying to their own fallen self-will." (Note: Law's Spirit of Prayer. Part II., p. 19.) Therefore "we which live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11). The life of God must be brought forth and made manifest in us (Col. 3:3, 4); while that which is "first and natural" (1 Cor. 15:46) must be swallowed up of life. This is only accomplished by the cross. And this cross is our priestly consecration, (Note: The same word is used in Holy Scripture to express "perfection" and "consecration." See Heb. 7:28, margin.) the true perfecting or "filling of our hands" (Note: The word מלא, used in the Old Testament to express consecration, is literally to "fill," translated in the margin of our Authorized Version to "fill the hands." See Exod. 28:41; 29:9, 33; Lev. 21:10; Numb. 3:3, etc.) for God's service; that, being first emptied of ourselves, we may be filled with God, and so minister His Spirit unto men. Thus was Christ made perfect (Heb. 2:10; 5:9); thus were His apostles consecrated to Him; and thus, and thus alone, can we be made like them. Not till we are stripped and cleansed can our enlightening come: not till we are enlightened can we fully know the union to which the Lord calls us. So long as self-will remains, there can be no perfect union. The more of self-will there is in any, the more of hell. By the appointed cross therefore, and by it alone, do we come to the blessed end, where all are one, and One is all.
[Editor's note: "They also serve who only stand and wait," quoted in the fourth from last paragraph, is the last line of the poem "On His Blindness," by John Milton.]
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