WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST?
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ?" -- Matt. 22:41, 42.
THE crucial question for each one of us in our every-day life is just this, "What think ye of Christ?" To some the question may seem to require a doctrinal answer, and I do not at all say that there is no idea of doctrines involved in it. But to my mind the doctrinal answer, valuable as it may be, is not the one of most importance for every day. The vital answer is the one that would contain our own personal knowledge of the character of Christ; not what He is doctrinally, but what He is intrinsically, in Himself. For, after all, our salvation does not depend upon the doctrines concerning Christ, but upon the person of Christ Himself, upon what He is and upon what He does.
"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12).
Paul knew Him, therefore Paul could trust Him; and if we would trust Him as Paul did, we must know Him as intimately. I am afraid a great many people are so taken up with Christian doctrines and dogmas, and are so convinced that their salvation is secured because their "views" are sound and orthodox, that they have never yet come to a personal acquaintance with Christ Himself; and, while knowing a great deal about Him, it may be, do not know Him himself at all. They have a sort of religion that will do for church going or for Sunday work, but they have nothing that will do for their week-day living.
"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6).
It is Phillips Brooks, I think, who says, "There are two distinct ideas of Christianity. One of them magnifies doctrine, and its great sin is heresy. The other magnifies loyalty, and its great sin is disloyalty. The first enthrones a creed. The second enthrones a person." The first is like a carefully collated botanical manual, the second is like a living and growing plant. A manual may do for a Sunday religion; nothing but life will do for week-days. Christ always says, Believe in me, not, believe this or that about me; but, believe in ME.
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me" (John 14:1).
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:6-9).
It is not the doctrines concerning Christ, but what He is in Himself, that constitutes the foundation of our faith. "I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life," He says, "I myself; and if you knew me, you would know my Father also, and would understand that there can be nothing in all the universe to make your hearts troubled or afraid."
Looked at in this light, the question, "What think ye of Christ?" becomes a question of vital personal import to each one of us. And it becomes also a question that each one can answer personally and individually for himself. If it were doctrines only that were in question, we might find it necessary to appeal to the creeds and dogmas of our own particular sect or denomination in order to find out just what we do believe, or at least ought to believe. But when it is our personal estimate of our Lord and Master that is in question, we can surely each one of us discover very easily what our individual thoughts about Him are; what is our own opinion of His character and His ways; what sort of a person, in short, we really think Him to be. Is He kind and loving, or is He harsh and severe? Is He trustworthy? Is He sympathising? Is He true to His promises? Is He faithful? Is He self-sacrificing? Is He full of compassion, or is He full of condemnation? Is He our tender brother, or is He our hard task-master? Does He care most about Himself, or about us? Is He on our side, or against us?
It is by our answers to questions like these that we shall reveal what our real estimate of Christ is. We may have all the Christian doctrines at our fingers' ends, and yet not have the faintest conception of the real character of Christ Himself. And therefore I would urge upon us a personal answer to this personal question, "What think ye of Christ?"
"Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name" (Ps. 91:14).
To "know His name" does not mean to know that He was called Christ or Jesus, but it means to know His character. God's namings always mean character. They are never arbitrary, as our namings are, having no connection with the work or character of the one named. They are always revelations. They tell us what the person is or what he does. "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins;" Jesus meaning a Saviour.
"So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel" (Ezek. 39:7).
To "pollute God's holy name" must mean to attribute to Him a character that is contrary to His goodness. Continually we find the Lord calling upon the people not to profane His name, that is, not to live and act and talk in such a way as to give others a false idea of His character and His works. And continually we find the saints of all ages calling upon the people to "praise His name," which is evidently equivalent to praising Himself. "Both young men and maidens; old men and children; let them praise the name of the Lord; for His name is excellent." "According to Thy name, O God, so is Thy praise unto the ends of the earth." (See also Ps. 135:3, Ps. 96:8, &c. &c.)
The question, therefore, "What think ye of Christ?" may equally well be rendered by the question, "By what name do you call Christ?" for name and character are one. What, then, are the names we individually are bestowing upon our Lord? In words, no doubt, and on Sundays we are calling Him our "Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." but in thought and act in our every-day life we are unconsciously calling Him by many other names, and some of them, it may be, names that it would shock us very much to hear spoken or to see in print. So few of us, I fear, really know Him!
"Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am" (John 13:13).
"And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46.)
It is of no use for us to call Him "Master and Lord," while we are refusing to do the things He commands. Our words may hide our thoughts, but our actions reveal them. If we really think He is our Lord, we will not fail to obey Him. It is his thoughts, not his words, that control a man's actions.
"Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid" (Isa. 29:13, 14).
It is very easy to draw nigh to the Lord with our mouth, and honour Him with our lips; but the thoughts of our hearts, what are they? Let us test ourselves by comparing our secret thoughts of Christ with our public words concerning Him. The Bible teaches us to call Him by certain names which express what He is. We reverently and conscientiously, it may be, use these names, as far as words go; but how is it about our thoughts? Do our words express our thoughts, or do our thoughts and our words differ?
Let us take a very familiar instance. The Bible calls Christ by the name of the Good Shepherd, and Christ Himself adopts the name as His own. "I am the Good Shepherd," He says. No doubt, each one of us has called Him by this name hundreds of times. "The Lord is my Shepherd," we have said, over and over and over, times without number, ever since our babyhood. But how about our thoughts? Do they correspond with our words? What do we think of Christ? Do we think of Him as being really and truly our Shepherd, who cares for us as a good shepherd cares for his sheep? Or do we feel as if we ourselves were the shepherds, who must keep a strict watch over Him, in order to make Him faithful to us?
There are certain characteristics that our common-sense tells us must be required of every good shepherd. He must devote himself with all his strength and wisdom to the care of his flock. He must forget his own ease and comfort in promoting their well-being. He must protect them from every danger, and must stand between them and all their enemies. He must never forget them nor neglect them, and must be willing to lay down his life for their sakes. Now, is this what we think of Christ when we call Him by the name of Shepherd, if we ever do so call Him, in our every-day life? I very much doubt it! I am afraid we look upon Him in regard to our daily life as an unfaithful shepherd who forgets and neglects his flock; or, as a hireling, who, when he sees the wolf coming, "leaveth the sheep and fleeth;" or as the selfish shepherds of Ezekiel's prophecy, who "fed themselves and fed not the flock." We honour Him on Sundays with our lips, it may be, but alas, the hearts of too many, on week-days, are far from Him.
"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:7-9).
Or again, take the name of Comforter. How many of us take a common-sense view of this name, and really believe that Christ will not and does not leave us comfortless? A comforter must be one who understands our sorrow and our need, and who sympathises with our sufferings. A comforter must not criticise or judge harshly. He must be tender and considerate, and full of that charity that covers a multitude of faults. A comforter must put arms of love about us, and must whisper in our ears words of infinite kindness. A comforter is for dark times, not for bright times. If any one should call himself our comforter, and should then run away and hide himself when storms and trials came, we would consider that his name of comforter was merely an empty title, and all his promises of comfort would sound to us like idle tales. What is it that we think of Christ when we read that He has promised not to leave us comfortless, but to come and abide in our hearts as an ever present Comforter? Do we think of Him as a Comforter for Sundays only, or as One abiding with us through all the week as well? Surely an abiding Comforter must be always with us both on Sundays and week-days; and if we go uncomforted about anything, it can only be because we do not think He really is our Comforter, however often we may repeat His words about it.
"And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:16-18).
Again, take the name of Saviour. If Christ is called by any one name more than another it is Saviour. He is called over and over the Saviour of the world. No one can question that this is, without any controversy, His God-given name. Now, what is the common-sense view of a Saviour? Manifestly, He is one who saves. He is not one who merely offers to save, but He must of necessity, from the very nature of the name, be one who actually does it. The only claim to the name lies in the fact behind the name. We might as rightly call a man a king who had only offered to reign, as to call a man a saviour who has only offered to save. When, then, we say Christ is our Saviour, what are we thinking of Him? Do we think of Him as One who is actually saving us now? Or do we think of Him as One who only offers to save us at some future time, and who has accompanied that offer with such well-nigh impossible conditions that the salvation is practically not available for us at all? Everything in our Christian life depends, not on what we say of Christ, but on what we think of Him when we call Him our Saviour.
"And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee" (Ps. 9:10).
"For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name" (Ps. 33:21).
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Prov. 18:10).
The "name of the Lord" can only be a strong tower for us in proportion as we believe that name to express a fact. If I say with my lips that I believe Christ is the Saviour of the world, and at the same time question in my heart whether He saves me, my words are but mere idle tales, and I am really "profaning His holy name." It is an absolute fact that they that "know His name" will, without any doubt, put their trust in Him. No one could help trusting Him as their Saviour, who thought of Him as a real and genuine Saviour who saves.
Had I time I might bring forward many more of the names by which our Lord is called, and press home the same question in connection with each one, "What think ye of Christ?" But enough has been said to show the vital necessity of there being a perfect agreement between our thoughts of Christ and the Bible words concerning Him. Only in this way can we come to know Him. Knowledge is impossible where our thoughts are opposed to the thing we are taught.
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children" (Hosea 4:6).
"They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me" (John 16:2, 3).
"Because they have not known." Ah, dear friends, how many ugly things we have done, and how many sad things we have suffered, because we have not known Christ! Again I repeat, therefore, that the one absolutely essential thing is to know the Lord. I do not mean know about Him, that avails but little; but to become acquainted with Him Himself, to have a personal knowledge of a personal Saviour, to know what sort of a being He is, to know Him as a man knows his nearest friend, to know Him so intimately as to make it impossible for doubts ever again to assail us.
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
"Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death" (Phil. 3:8-10).
I can well understand how Paul could say so confidently that he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. When once the soul has come to this knowledge, all fear and doubt, and even perplexity, are at an end, and perfect peace must of necessity reign undisturbed.
"Who that one moment has the least descried Him,
Faintly and dimly, hidden and afar,
Doth not despise all excellence beside Him,
Pleasures and powers that are not and that are?
Ay, amid all men, hold himself thereafter
Smit with a solemn and a sweet surprise;
Dumb to their scorn, and turning on their laughter
Only the dominance of earnest eyes."
No one can possibly have come to know Christ, as He really is, without entering into absolute rest for ever. It is like the rest and peace of the little child in the presence of its mother. The child knows instinctively that its mother will not let anything harm it; therefore it has no fears. And Christians, who know the Lord, know intelligently that He will not let harm come to them; and therefore they can have no fears either. Where there is a perfect care-taker there can be no cares; where there is an invincible protector there can be no anxieties. What is needed then is for Christians to find out that they have just such a Care-taker and Protector in Christ; and this is why Paul could say, and we can all unite with him, that all things are to be counted as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
But some may ask, "How can I acquire this knowledge? It seems all so vague and mystical to me that I do not know where to begin." To all such I would reply, that there is nothing mystical about it. Begin by making yourself acquainted with Him in a common-sense way as you would with any historical character you wanted to know. Study His life. Ponder on His words and actions. Find out from the Bible what sort of a person He is, and teach yourself to think of Him as being just what the Bible reveals. And then, counting everything else as loss, accept Him in His fulness as your all-sufficient portion for every day and every hour of your lives.
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:10-12).
It is an essential part of the new covenant that "all should know Him from the least to the greatest." His part is to reveal Himself; our part is to believe His revelations. It is very simple. He tells us He is the Good Shepherd; we are to believe that He actually is, and are to accept Him as our Shepherd. He tells us He is the Saviour who saves now and here, and we are to believe that it is really true, and are to accept His salvation. Of every revelation He has made of Himself in the Bible, we are to say, "This is true; This is true." We are simply to lay aside all our own preconceived ideas, and are to accept God's ideas instead. We are to answer the question, "What think ye of Christ?" by replying, "I think of Him what the Bible tells me to think, and I think absolutely nothing else."
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