I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Augustus Toplady (1740–1778)
O when will thou my Saviour be,
O when shall I be clean,
The true, eternal sabbath see,
A perfect rest from sin!
Jesus, the sinner’s rest thou art,
From guilt, and fear, and pain;
While thou art absent from my heart,
I look for rest in vain.
The consolations of thy word,
My soul hath long upheld,
The faithful promise of the Lord,
Shall surely be fulfill’d;
I look to my incarnate God,
’Till he his work begin;
And wait ’till his redeeming blood
Shall cleanse me from all sin.
His great salvation I shall know,
And perfect liberty;
Onward to sin he cannot go,
Whoe’er abides in thee;
Added to the Redeemer’s fold
I shall in him rejoice:
I all his glory shall behold,
And hear my shepherd’s voice.
O that I now the voice may hear,
That speaks my sins forgiv’n;
His word is past, to give me here
The inward plebdge of heav’n:
His blood shall over all prevail,
And sanctify the unclean;
The grace that saves from future hell,
Shall save from present sin.
—The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987).
Israel Is Divided over Christ
Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” 41 Others were saying, “This is the Christ.” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. 44 Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
The Sanhedrin Is Confused over Christ45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” 46 The officers answered, “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.” 47 The Pharisees then answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” 52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”
These verses show us, for one thing, how useless is knowledge in religion, if it is not accompanied by grace in the heart. We are told that some of our Lord’s hearers knew clearly where Christ was to be born. They referred to Scripture, like men familiar with its contents. “Hath not the Scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” And yet the eyes of their understanding were not enlightened. Their own Messiah stood before them, and they neither received, nor believed, nor obeyed Him.
A certain degree of religious knowledge, beyond doubt, is of vast importance. Ignorance is certainly not the mother of true devotion, and helps nobody toward heaven. An “unknown God” can never be the object of a reasonable worship. Happy indeed would it be for Christians if they all knew the Scriptures as well as the Jews seem to have done, when our Lord was on earth!
But while we value religious knowledge, we must take care that we do not overvalue it. We must not think it enough to know the facts and doctrines of our faith, unless our hearts and lives are thoroughly influenced by what we know. The very devils know the creed intellectually, and “believe and tremble,” but remain devils still. (James ii. 19.) It is quite possible to be familiar with the letter of Scripture, and to be able to quote texts appropriately, and reason about the theory of Christianity, and yet to remain dead in trespasses and sins. Like many of the generation to which our Lord preached, we may know the Bible well, and yet remain faithless and unconverted.
Heart-knowledge, we must always remember, is the one thing needful. It is something which schools and universities cannot confer. It is the gift of God. To find out the plague of our own hearts and hate sin,—to become familiar with the throne of grace and the fountain of Christ’s blood,—to sit daily at the feet of Jesus, and humbly learn of Him,—this is the highest degree of knowledge to which mortal man can attain. Let any one thank God who knows anything of these things. He may be ignorant of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and mathematics, but he shall be saved.
These verses show us, for another thing, how eminent must have been our Lord’s gifts, as a public Teacher of religion. We are told that even the officers of the chief priests, who were sent to take Him, were struck and amazed. They were, of course, not likely to be prejudiced in His favour. Yet even they reported,—“Never man spake like this Man.”
Of the manner of our Lord’s public speaking, we can of necessity form little idea. Action, and voice, and delivery are things that must be seen and heard to be appreciated. That our Lord’s manner was peculiarly solemn, arresting, and impressive, we need not doubt. It was probably something very unlike what the Jewish officers were accustomed to hear. There is much in what is said in another place: “He taught them as One having authority, and not as the Scribes.” (Matt. vii. 29.)
Of the matter of our Lord’s public speaking, we may form some conception from the discourses which are recorded in the four Gospels. The leading features of these discourses are plain and unmistakable. The world has never seen anything like them, since the gift of speech was given to man. They often contain deep truths, which we have no line to fathom. But they often contain simple things, which even a child can understand. They are bold and outspoken in denouncing national and ecclesiastical sins, and yet they are wise and discreet in never giving needless offence. They are faithful and direct in their warnings, and yet loving and tender, in their invitations. For a combination of power and simplicity, of courage and prudence, of faithfulness and tenderness, we may well say, “Never man spake like this Man!”
It would be well for the Church of Christ if ministers and teachers of religion would strive more to speak after their Lord’s pattern. Let them remember that elegant bombastic language, and a sensational, theatrical style of address, are utterly unlike their Master. Let them realize, that an eloquent simplicity is the highest attainment of public speaking. Of this their Master left them a glorious example. Surely they need never be ashamed of walking in His steps.
These verses show us, lastly, how slowly and gradually the work of grace goes on in some hearts. We are told that Nicodemus stood up in the council of our Lord’s enemies, and mildly pleaded that He deserved fair dealing. “Doth our law judge any man,” he asked, “before it hear him, and know what he doeth?”
This very Nicodemus, we must remember, is the man who, eighteen months before, had come to our Lord by night as an ignorant inquirer. He evidently knew little then, and dared not come to Christ in open day. But now, after eighteen months, he has got on so far that he dares to say something on our Lord’s side. It was but little that he said, no doubt, but it was better than nothing at all. And a day was yet to come, when he would go further still. He was to help Joseph of Arimathaea in doing honour to our Lord’s dead body, when even His chosen Apostles had forsaken Him and fled.
The case of Nicodemus is full of useful instruction. It teaches us, that there are diversities in the operation of the Holy Ghost. All are undoubtedly led to the same Saviour, but all are not led precisely in the same way. It teaches us, that the work of the Spirit does not always go forward with the same speed in the hearts of men. In some cases it may go forward very slowly indeed, and yet may be real and true.
We shall do well to remember these things, in forming our opinion of other Christians. We are often ready to condemn some as graceless, because their experience does not exactly tally with our own, or to set them down as not in the narrow way at all, because they cannot run as fast as ourselves. We must beware of hasty judgments. It is not always the fastest runner that wins the race. It is not always those who begin suddenly in religion, and profess themselves rejoicing Christians, who continue steadfast to the end. Slow work is sometimes the surest and most enduring. Nicodemus stood firm, when Judas Iscariot fell away and went to his own place. No doubt it would be a pleasant thing, if everybody who was converted came out boldly, took up the cross, and confessed Christ in the day of his conversion. But it is not always given to God’s children to do so.
Have we any grace in our hearts at all? This, after all, is the grand question that concerns us. It may be small,—but have we any? It may grow slowly, as in the case of Nicodemus,—but does it grow at all? Better a little grace than none! Better move slowly than stand still in sin and the world!
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.