Lordé─˘s Day 20, 2011
I was glad when they said to me, é─˙Let us go to the house of the Lord.é─¨
Augustus Toplady (1740é─ý1778)
Redeemer, whither should I flee,
Or how escape the wrath to come?
The weary sinner flies to thee
For shelter from impending doom:
Smile on me, gracious Lord, and shew
Thyself the friend of sinners now.
Beneath the shadow of thy cross,
The heavy-laden soul finds rest:
Let me esteem the world as dross,
So I may be of Christ possessé─˘d!
I borrow evé─˘ry joy from thee,
For thou art life and light to me.
Close to my Saviouré─˘s bloody tree,
My soul, untiré─˘d, shall ever cleave;
Both scourgé─˘d and crucified with thee,
With Christ resolved to die and live.
My prayé─˘r, my grand ambition this,
Living and dying to be his.
O nail me to the sacred wood,
There hold me by the Spirité─˘s chain,
There seal me with thy fasté─˘ning blood,
Nor ever let me loose again:
There may I bow my suppliant knee,
And own no other Lord but thee!
é─ţThe Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987).
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.é─¨ 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God And when He had spoken this, He said to him, é─˙Follow Me!é─¨
20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, é─˙Lord, who is the one who betrays You?é─¨ 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, é─˙Lord, and what about this man?é─¨ 22 Jesus said to him, é─˙If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!é─¨ 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, é─˙If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?é─¨
24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses form the conclusion of St. Johné─˘s Gospel, and bring to an end the most precious book in the Bible. The man is much to be pitied who can read the passage without serious and solemn feelings. It is like listening to the parting words of a friend, whom we may possibly not see again. Let us reverently consider the lessons which this Scripture contains.
We learn, for one thing, from these verses, that the future history of Christians, both in life and death, is foreknown by Christ. The Lord tells Simon Peter, é─˙When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.é─¨ These words, without controversy, were a prediction of the manner of the Apostleé─˘s death. They were fulfilled in after days, it is commonly supposed, when Peter was crucified as a martyr for Christé─˘s sake. The time, the place, the manner, the painfulness to flesh and blood of the discipleé─˘s death, were all matters foreseen by the Master.
The truth before us is eminently full of comfort to a true believer. To obtain foreknowledge of things to come would, in most cases, be a sorrowful possession. To know what was going to befall us, and yet not to be able to prevent it, would make us simply miserable. But it is an unspeakable consolation to remember, that our whole future is known and fore-arranged by Christ. There is no such thing as luck, chance, or accident, in the journey of our life. Everything from beginning to end is foreseen,é─ţarranged by One who is too wise to err, and too loving to do us harm.
Let us store up this truth in our minds, and use it diligently in all the days of darkness through which we may yet have to pass. In such days we should lean back on the thought, é─˙Christ knows this, and knew it when He called me to be His disciple.é─¨ It is foolish to repine and murmur over the troubles of those whom we love. We should rather fall back on the thought that all is well done. It is useless to fret and be rebellious, when we ourselves have bitter cups to drink. We should rather say, é─˙This also is from the Lord: He foresaw it, and would have prevented it, if it had not been for my good.é─¨ Happy are those who can enter into the spirit of that old saint, who said, é─˙I have made a covenant with my Lord, that I will never take amiss anything that He does to me.é─¨ We may have to walk sometimes through rough places, on our way to heaven. But surely it is a comforting, soothing reflection, é─˙Every step of my journey was foreknown by Christ.é─¨
We learn, secondly, in these verses, that a believeré─˘s death is intended to glorify God. The Holy Ghost tells us this truth in plain language. He graciously interprets the dark saying, which fell from our Lordé─˘s lips about Peteré─˘s end. He tells us that Jesus spake this, é─˙signifying by what death he should glorify God.é─¨
The thing before us is probably not considered as much as it ought to be. We are so apt to regard life as the only season for honoring Christ, and action as the only mode of showing our religion, that we overlook death, except as a painful termination of usefulness. Yet surely this ought not so to be. We may die to the Lord; as well as live to the Lord; we may be patient sufferers as well as active workers. Like Samson, we may do more for God in our death, than we ever did in our lives. It is probable that the patient deaths of our martyred Reformers had more effect on the minds of Englishmen, than all the sermons they preached, and all the books they wrote. One thing, at all events, is certain,é─ţthe blood of the English martyrs was the seed of the English Church.
We may glorify God in death, by being ready for it whenever it comes. The Christian who is found like a sentinel at his post, like a servant with his loins girded and his lamp burning, with a heart packed up and ready to go, the man to whom sudden death, by the common consent of all who knew him, is sudden glory,é─ţthis, this is a man whose end brings glory to God.é─ţWe may glorify God in death, by patiently enduring its pains. The Christian whose spirit has complete victory over the flesh, who quietly feels the pins of his earthly tabernacle plucked up with great bodily agonies, and yet never murmurs or complains, but silently enjoys inward peace,é─ţthis, this again, is a man whose end brings glory to God.é─ţWe may glorify God in death, by testifying to others the comfort and support that we find in the grace of Christ. It is a great thing, when a mortal man can say with David, é─˙Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.é─¨ (Psalm xxiii. 4.) The Christian who, like Standfast in é─˙Pilgrimé─˘s Progress,é─¨ can stand for a while in the river, and talk calmly to his companions, saying, é─˙My foot is fixed sure: my toilsome days are ended,é─¨é─ţthis, this is a man whose end brings glory to God. Deaths like these leave a mark on the living, and are not soon forgotten.
Let us pray, while we live in health, that we may glorify God in our end. Let us leave it to God to choose the where, and when, and how, and all the manner of our departing. Let us only ask that it may é─˙glorify God.é─¨ He is a wise man who takes John Bunyané─˘s advice, and keeps his last hour continually in mind, and makes it his company-keeper. It was a weighty saying of John Wesley, when one found fault with the doctrines and practices of the Methodists,é─ţé─˙At any rate our people die well.é─¨
We learn, thirdly, in these verses, that whatever we may think about the condition of other people, we should think first about our own. When Peter inquired curiously and anxiously about the future of the Apostle John, he received from our Lord an answer of deep meaning: é─˙If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me.é─¨ Hard to understand as some part of that sentence may be, it contains a practical lesson which cannot be mistaken. It commands every Christian to remember his own heart first, and to look at home.
Of course our blessed Lord does not wish us to neglect the souls of others, or to take no interest in their condition. Such a state of mind would be nothing less than uncharitable selfishness, and would prove plainly that we had not the grace of God. The servant of Christ will have a wide, broad heart, like his Master, and will desire the present and eternal happiness of all around him. He will long and labor to lessen the sorrows, and to increase the joys, of every one within his reach, and, as he has opportunity, to do good to all men. But, in all his doing, the servant of Christ must never forget his own soul. Charity, and true religion, must both begin at home.
It is vain to deny that our Lordé─˘s solemn caution to His impetuous disciple is greatly needed in the present day. Such is the weakness of human nature, that even true Christians are continually liable to run into extremes. Some are so entirely absorbed in their own inward experience, and their own hearté─˘s conflict, that they forget the world outside. Others are so busy about doing good to the world, that they neglect to cultivate their own souls. Both are wrong, and both need to see a more excellent way; but none perhaps do so much harm to religion as those who are busy-bodies about othersé─˘ salvation, and at the same time neglecters of their own. From such a snare as this may the ringing words of our Lord deliver us! Whatever we do for others (and we never can do enough), let us not forget our own inner man. Unhappily, the Bride, in Canticles, is not the only person who has cause to complain: é─˙They made me keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard I have not kept.é─¨ (Cant. i. 6.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, the number and greatness of Christé─˘s works during His earthly ministry. John concludes his Gospel with these remarkable words, é─˙There are many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.é─¨é─ţOf course we must not torture these words, by pressing them to an excessively literal interpretation. To suppose that the Evangelist meant the world could not hold the material volumes which would be written, is evidently unreasonable and absurd. The only sensible interpretation must be a spiritual and figurative one.
As much of Christé─˘s sayings and doings is recorded as the mind of man can take in. It would not be good for the world to have more. The human mind, like the body, can only digest a certain quantity. The world could not contain more, because it would not. As many miracles, as many parables, as many sermons, as many conversions, as many words of kindness, as many deeds of mercy, as many journeys, as many prayers, as many warnings, as many promises, are recorded, as the world can possibly require. If more had been recorded they would have been only thrown away. There is enough to make every unbeliever without excuse, enough to show every inquirer the way to heaven, enough to satisfy the heart of every honest believer, enough to condemn man if he does not repent and believe, enough to glorify God. The largest vessel can only contain a certain quantity of liquid. The mind of all mankind would not appreciate more about Christ, if more had been written. There is enough and to spare. This witness is true. Let us deny it if we can.
And now let us close the Gospel of St. John with mingled feelings of deep humility and deep thankfulness. We may well be humble when we think how ignorant we are, and how little we comprehend of the treasures which this Gospel contains. But we may well be thankful, when we reflect how clear and plain is the instruction which it gives us about the way of salvation. The man who reads this Gospel profitably, is he who é─˙believes that Jesus is the Christ, and, believing, has life through His Name.é─¨ Do we so believe? Let us never rest till we can give a satisfactory answer to that question!