From e-Sword Study Bible
The Pattern of Service
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day— — Joh_9:4
The Perfect Service of Our Lord
Our Lord came among us as one who suffereth, and so He has taught us how to suffer. He also came as one who serves, and so He has taught us how to serve. And in this day, when the idea of service exercises such control in western Christendom, it is well that we should turn continually to the perfect service of our Lord. Sometimes out in mid-Atlantic a little boat is caught in a great storm. And she heaves and tosses in the wild of the waters till every timber in her frame is racked. And then not very far away from her making for the same port across the ocean, majestically there sails on some mighty liner. Many a worker has so thought of Christ when the winds were contrary and the sea was violent. With what an ease—with what a sense of power—with what unconscious triumph He goes by! And so it is well that we should think of Him and find anew the features of His service, and it is on some of these that I want to dwell.
The Union of Obedience and Originality in Christ
If I were asked what is the keynote to all the manifold service of our Lord, I think I should answer that it was obedience. We speak of the Gospel of John as the Gospel of love, and certainly it thrills and throbs with love; yet if you read that Gospel, at the back of love you will find something else. You will find that in every act He ever wrought, Christ was but doing what the Father showed Him; you will find that in every word He ever spoke, He was but uttering what He had heard. There is a beautiful instrument which some of you may have seen and to which is given the ugly name of seismograph. It is an instrument for recording the tremors and vibrations of the earth. And so delicate is it that if in the heart of Africa the earth should tremble with the shock of earthquake, it will be caught and registered in England. It is far from here to central Africa; it may be farther still from here to heaven. It was no skeptic, but a prophet of the Highest, who spoke of the land that is very far away. And yet so infinitely sensitive and delicate was the truly human soul of our Redeemer, that every whisper of the voice divine was caught and registered unerringly. Not the tide when it obeys the moon and moves to its fullness at the appointed moment; not the swallow when in the destined hour it makes for the sunshine of the south again—not these, nor any angel in the heavens speeding to fulfill the will of God, are so perfectly obedient as was Jesus.
Yet the singular thing is that when men looked on Christ, it was not that obedience which impressed them. It was something which seems quite different from obedience—what impressed them was His originality. On the tomb of Oliver Goldsmith there is written, Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit. It means that Goldsmith, with the charm of genius, touched nothing which he did not adorn. And if it be true of him, with all his weaknesses, a thousand times truer is it of the Master, who poured the infinite riches of His heart into His doctrine and His ministry. He touched the cottage, and from that hour to this, life in the cottage has been a different thing. He touched the heart, and in this heart of ours heights and depths appeared which had been hidden. And He touched language and it began to blossom, and He touched womanhood till it grew beautiful, and with His hands of love He touched the cross, and it has been bright with glory ever since. Had you asked Jesus with what eyes He saw, He might have answered “with the eyes of God.” Had you asked Jesus with what lips He spake, He might have answered “with the lips of God.” And yet men looked at Him and listened to Him and felt that here was a Man who was Himself. He was as fresh and wonderful and new as the first morning of another spring.
Now as you go out to serve, that is the first thing I want to leave with you. Your first duty is to be obedient to everything that you have learned from God. Never begin by trying to be original. That is always a tragic mistake. When men or women begin by trying that, they generally end by being useless. Begin by the great endeavor to be true to all that God has taught you and has shown you, and gradually in the lowliest service will come the touch that tells you are yourself. All service with that touch in it is blessed. All service without that touch in it is barren. It is a great thing to dare to be oneself whether in society or service. And Christ has shown us the way to that nobility—it is by being unfalteringly true to all that in the depths of our own soul we know to be the very voice of heaven.
In Christ, a Singular Union of Narrowness and Breadth
Now of course there is a sense of the word narrow which no one would ever apply to Jesus Christ. There is a narrowness which is very noble, and there is another which is very nasty. There is no love in it—no tenderness—no kindly touch as of a brother’s hand. It is not generous as the sun is generous when it kisses the orchard of an autumn day. What then do I mean by narrowness? Well, take the story of the third temptation. “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” There, at the very outset of His life, when the world was all before Him where to choose, there was the stirring of imperial dream. “All these things will I give to thee.” Might not this young prophet be a Caesar? Might He not go abroad into the world of men and show that He was the Master of them all? And instead of that He chose the narrow road and moved in quietness through little villages; and Roman historians, when He was dead, could not even spell His name correctly. Deliberately Christ drew His little circle, and inside that little circle He remained. And voices called Him, and hands were stretched to Him, and men besought Him, and He would not listen. Here was the place appointed Him of God, and not by a hand’s-breadth would He swerve from it. That was the glory of His narrowness.
And yet once more the singular thing is this, that never was there a life so broad as Christ’s. Narrowed in its sphere and in its service, the breadth of it is the marvel of the ages. Rich men like Nicodemus drew to Him. Poor men like Simon Peter loved Him passionately. Women of beautiful character revered Him. Women who were sunken would have died for Him. Men who were lawless like the zealot Simon would have fought for Him against the Roman army. And a centurion of that Roman army fell down at His feet and called Him Master. Was there ever a life so broad as this? Was there ever a life so rich in understanding? He knew the publican. He knew the mother. He knew the sufferer. He knew the child. And every bird that winged across the heaven and every flower that blossomed in the meadow, He saw, and, seeing, had these thoughts about them that oftentimes do lie too deep for tears. Intense with the intensity of God, He had the heart at leisure from itself. Feeling the infinite agony of Calvary, He felt the wonder and the joy of everything. Hating sin with an intense abhorrence, far more intense than we shall ever fathom, there was not a sinner from the streets of Magdala but somehow felt she had a friend in Him. It is such things as these that baffle me when I turn my eyes to Jesus Christ. So eaten up with zeal, and yet so tranquil; so narrow, and yet so infinitely broad. He had a baptism to be baptized with, and how was He straitened till it was accomplished—and yet He would dally with a little child as if He had nothing else on earth to do.
In Christ, a Singular Union of Failure and Success
I take it that when Christ was crucified, everybody thought that He had failed. Had you moved amid the crowds around the cross, that is the verdict you would have had from all. There was a time when He had seemed to triumph and when the people had been enthusiastic. And they would have taken Him and made Him King, and they cried “Hosanna to the son of David.” But now the moment of the cross was come, and all the glory seemed to have been quenched, and the one word to write across the story was the most pitiful word in human speech. Perhaps there were one or two women who still trusted. Women can trust when everything is dark. Women will still hope about a man when every other voice is crying shipwreck. And so it may be that on the day of Calvary here and there a lamp of faith was still burning, each of them tended by a woman’s fingers. But ask the disciples what they thought of it—ask the workmen what they thought of it—ask that young student, with his weary eyes, who had listened to the Lord until He loved Him. It was a splendid dream, but it was over now. It was a noble life, but it was ended. It was a fight for God in a corrupted church, and here at Calvary the church had won. Would Peter have written triumph on the cross? Could even John have written, This is victory? It was all dark to them, and all mysterious, for they had not grasped that He should rise again. If ever a service seemed to close in failure—failure dark and tragic and profound—it was the loving service of the Lord.
And then what happened? You all know what happened. On the third day He rises from the dead. Then there comes the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, and the conversion of three thousand souls. And Peter is off to Babylon to preach, and Paul is off to Rome to tell the news—and Augustine is on his way to England, and Columba is on his way to Scotland—until now throughout our western world and to the farthest borders of the east, Christ is living, Christ is working, Christ is powerful in ten thousand ways. Give any name you like to that brief life, you dare not call it by the name of failure now. In all that it has done for men and women it is magnificent in its success. And yet that service, so mighty and so wonderful—so rich in impulse for a million hearts—flows from a life that once, in human speech, was branded with the bitter name of failure.
Our Seeming Failures May Be Successes in the End
Now as you go out to serve, will you engrave that upon your heart? When a man is in earnest about Christian service, he will be dogged and haunted by the sense of failure. I was talking to a doctor—a man who is well-known in his profession—and he told me how frequently there came to him a sense of uselessness that was unbearable. And I could not help thinking if that were so with him who had but the body for his sphere of service, much more would it be so with us who handle the infinite mystery of soul. I want you to believe that when you fail you may be succeeding all the time. I want you to feel you may be doing most, just when you think that you are doing nothing. I want you to look right back to Jesus Christ and to remember what they thought of Him and then to take you to your task again, leaving the issue in the hand of God. The one thing vital is that you persist. The one great treachery is to despair. To hold to it, when everything is gloomy, is the first task of every mortal man. And then some day, when all the gloom is passed, and the sun is shining and the wind is hushed, you will discover that your sorry failure was not quite so sorry as it seemed.