Then said Jesus again to them, I go my way, and you shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: where I go, you cannot come.…
There are three methods of living — from beneath, from within, from above. We none of us live after one single method. There has been but one self-consistent man, Jesus, who followed one method throughout. But no other man is either wholly good or consistently bad. Three distant principles, however, of the formation of character are clearly manifest.
I. LIFE FROM BENEATH we can easily recognize. The world has received Christian education enough to lead it publicly, at least to repudiate the method of the devil, even though they may follow it privately.
II. LIFE FROM WITHIN is good so far as it goes. It is the effort to live as a human being may best live in the powers of his own reason, and out of the motives of his own heart without seeking help from above. And it is fair to say that some who follow it reach admirable results. Christian faith need not make us blind to natural virtues.
III. BUT SCRIPTURE FAILS TO RECOGNIZE THIS INTERMEDIATE METHOD OF LIVING. Yet Jesus must have looked out upon life with as quick an appreciation of anything fair in it as any of us can ever feel, and was always ready to see good where we cannot. Nevertheless, He admits of only two sharply defined principles and tendencies — one of this world and tending towards that which is beneath; and the other like His own higher life rising towards that which is above. This is admittedly a difficulty. We observe a good deal of loveableness and goodness in the world growing out of men's hearts without any religions vitality in it; Christ recognized nothing of the kind. Which is right?
1. Remember that Jesus went beyond all that is temporary in human conduct, and that His judgments have reference to radical principles and final issues. When, therefore, He distinguishes two opposite methods of life only, while human experience shows us a third, the question arises whether life can go on much farther in the halfway fashion? Is not this intermediate way a path that must break off somewhere, and he who follows it be compelled to scale the height or plunge into the abyss? Is it anything more than a provisional method, and so cannot be justified as a necessary and reasonable expedient for a life?
2. It is a great presumption against it that it is an expedient, and cannot possibly be the full, final method of an immortal soul. It is a serious disadvantage that the plan must be held subject to death, and will have to be dropped in the grave. As thinking, acting beings, we want to plan our lives for ages, not for years; and who of us expect to live one single day after death without finding ourselves obliged to take God and the whole kingdom of righteousness into our account of life? I cannot live fifty, one hundred, one thousand years hence, still drifting on in unconcern about the greatest and final realities of the universe.
3. Some will admit this disadvantage, but, however they may wish to believe as their mothers have, say, "I must build my life upon known facts and truths which experience can substantiate." So be it, give me facts to build into the substantial arch of a life, but let me not neglect the Keystone, because life can be carried so high without it, and the temporary scaffolding hold all in place for the present. And if the gospel brings the facts which are necessary to make life entire we ought at once to use them. Is faith in Christ, this Keystone, which completes and secures all, and that with no temporary scaffolding of our own construction, but with the righteousness of God?
4. Let me ask you who are trying to live honourably without religion to search the scriptures of your heart, and of providence, and see if the present fact of a living God is not everywhere pressed upon you? But beside this there is a whole range of Divine facts in the world called Christianity, as positive facts of history as the rocky mountains are facts of geography; and one might as reasonably attempt to engineer a railroad across America without taking the mountains into account as to seek to stretch a purpose across this life without taking Christianity into his plan. From these facts let us specify —
(1) The person of Christ. Pilate did not know what to do with it and would wash his hands; but the world cannot evade its responsibility. Christ stands before the judgment throne of every soul, and the final question of our lives, whether we will or no, becomes, "What shall I do with Jesus?" etc.
(2) The power of the Holy Ghost in the lives of men. This is a fact which runs through the whole range of Christian history, and is not unknown outside it, or whence those instinctive prayers, great ideas, visions of better things?
5. We must allow that a provisional way of living is justifiable only on the supposition that it is necessary. One may live as well as he can in a tent, provided there is no material of which he can build a house. One may camp out under a mere moral theory of life, provided a religious home is an impossibility. But there are materials sound and ample for a Christian home in life in the Christian Church. Do not then camp out, but come in.Conclusion: Note some considerations which show the completeness of the Christian method of living and the incompleteness of the best method which is not clearly Christian.
1. The Christian method is life from above. Christ finds the lost child and sets him in the midst of the Divine Fatherhood, and thus brings life into union with God.
2. It harmonizes everything in and around us, and the growing harmony of life is the sure proof that the method cannot be wrong.
3. Without these reconciliations the best life must be imperfect, and its method therefore to be eschewed.
(Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.