Page images
PDF
EPUB

V

SUPPOSING CHRIST WERE ONLY A

MAN

Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man ! - John xix. 5.

W:

us see.

HY did Pilate say, “ Behold the man!” ? Let

For the first time in his experience,

doubtless, the Roman Governor hesitated about the crucifixion of a helpless victim of popular fury. Pilate's chief inducement, one would have thought, would have been to please the Jews, win their approval by crucifying one who was evidently the object of their bitter hatred. Yet he hesitated almost up to the point when the mob would have turned upon him and wrested from him the sceptre, or reported him to his dread and jealous lord, the Cæsar, gloomily waiting in imperial Rome. Yet he hesitated, for he had never looked on a prisoner like this one, helpless in his hands, without weapon to defend himself, without friend to speak for him; Pilate felt that he had changed places with his prisoner; he was upon his trial, and this kingly man was his judge. He had never looked upon such a man. Even in his hour of shame and agony the Christ, the victim of the hatred of the people he came to save, towered above them in majesty, and compelled the reluctant admiring homage of this master of legions himself. " Art thou a king?” he said; and the Christ, penetrating to the

impulse which made him ask the question, returned, “Thou sayest it because I am a king." In effect, the Master was saying: You can see in your prisoner of today, with this purple robe, this crown of thorns, a Master who, though esteemed not of this world, is a man as never was before; never have you

looked

upon a man like this: thou sayest it because thou seest that I am a king.

Keeping closely to the natural and instinctive feeling of this man who looked upon Jesus for the first time, let me introduce you to the most pressing religious question of to-day. All religious controversy seems for the moment to have concentrated upon one sacred head. The question of questions at the present hour is: Who was and is Jesus Christ? I am proud and glad to think that so many men come with open minds to listen to that question who do not ordinarily frequent the courts of the Lord. Some of

you
think
you

have made up your mind upon the question, and that, in doing so you have dethroned the Master from the place where superstition has placed Him. You will have to come back again and reopen the question. “Behold the man!” and then tell me what you think of the Christ.

Some of you feel the difficulty of accounting for the Master while retaining the halo of the supernatural around His head. One sometimes hears men say, “How easy it would be to account for Jesus, yea, and to render Him the first place in the estimation of mankind, if only we could strip away from Him all the adjuncts of a false and mistaken piety; if we could say, Here is a man, but only a man, one of ourselves, a great and a good, but still only a man." There is a difficulty felt about the dual personality. Sometimes one hears a young fellow say: “How could this man pray to God and be God; exhort Himself, call upon Himself, love, trust, and adore Himself? If Jesus and the Father were one, how are we to account for the personality of Jesus Himself? for that also appears to be one.” True. Another difficulty is presented: “Would it not be easier to say that Jesus of Nazareth, the victim of Jewish hate, ran the course that all goodness does in this world ? men crucify their prophets. Did not Jesus die a martyr to the beautiful testimony He bore to the goodness of our Father in heaven? was not His gospel the occasion of His death ? and at the last did not He, in common with all the suffering sons of men, the best as well as the worst, cry in agony from the Cross of Calvary: ‘My God, my God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?' Is it not true that His bones are mouldering into dust in Palestine to-day,

“And on his grave, with shining eyes,

The Syrian stars look down”?

Oh, simplify the matter at once, and let us say, Here was a man, the greatest of men, the noblest of men, the purest of men, one who has given us vision of God, but still only a man.”

Wait a little. What is a man? Let us settle that question first. The difference between man and man is all but infinite. The difference between a Robespierre and a Cromwell, for example, in moral stature, is immeasurable. The difference between a Charles Peace and a Charles Spurgeon cannot be expressed as comparison, only as contrast. The difference between a Voltaire and a Wesley is all but infinite.

“Only a

man ”—but it makes a great difference which man.

Only a man ”-suppose it was Gladstone; no building in this land or in any other land would hold the people who would flock to see him and love and adore. Some men stand far above their fellows; you cannot think of them without looking up; their humanity towers up and up until it is lost in divinity and indistinguishable therefrom.

“Only a man”? I will paint you a picture which is perfectly true. Not far from these doors, so Hall Caine tells us, there are gambling hells and drinking dens-clubs they call them, of one kind and anotherwhere degraded men, like harpies, like devils, are preying upon their kind, luring the youth of both sexes to destruction, and doing it for gain, selling others, body and soul, and damning their own in the process.

Only a man ”—but a man that does that is a devil. Again: Into one such den on a certain dark night there went another man, and by main force of his sanctified personality he drew out of that foul and reeking sink of iniquity one and another-a man, a woman; gave them back their manhood and their womanhood, and drew them to the God whom their life had denied. That man died, after a life spent in saving; he died because, some wise people tell us, he had worked too hard to better the lot of humanity; he died because his rescue work had killed him. Now we speak of him as a saint. Thousands followed him to the tomb; on the day when he was laid to rest it was impossible almost for all those who wished to pay tribute to his memory to obtain access to the graveside. Amongst the company that stood there was one poor woman, who asked permission to lay a bunch of violets on his

66

coffin. He was only a man,” but to her he was a man of men; he had saved her from a fate that was worse than death; she associated him with the best she knew of heaven and of God. That woman is living; that man is dead. Can he die? “Only a man”—but that man was Hugh Price Hughes.

Only, a man." Man is a fragment of divinity, and he never can forfeit his origin. 'Only a man but we must take each man at his real value. How much of God does a man contain? That is the

way

in which to measure his humanity. “Only a man may he never cease to be a man, too, when his manhood towers up and up till it touches God, and reveals God. We are mistaken when we try to draw any line between that humanity and the God that created it. Moreover, manhood overlaps. None of us liveth to himself, nor can, even if he wants to. You are the trustee, not only of your own life, but of other lives. When you refuse to serve, you are serving all the same, causes bad or good. When you are standing for the wrong you are struggling against the right, and lives you never saw are the worse for the life you are living. Every man sends the roots of his being deep into the total life of humanity. Here are we, a great company, representatives of all humanity that has ever been or ever lived. What I say of the congregation as a whole, I say of the weakest and the least influential man in it. In a sense, all humanity has come to a focus in you; in a sense, God has spoken to humanity through what you are.

We cannot cover much of the territory of another man's being, but we cover some, and you measure the greatness of a man's manhood by the amount that he is able to do for lives other than his

« PreviousContinue »