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THE HIDDEN POWER OF CHRIST’S PASSION.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
OUR blessed Lord here reveals the great end of all His holy passion. He was lifted up from the earth, nailed upon the tree, that He might draw all men from all nations, both Jews and Gentiles, to Himself. By His precious blood-shedding, He took away the sin of the world: and by the mighty virtues of that one great sacrifice, He has been gathering together again in one body the children of God who are scattered abroad.
First, then, in these words He foretells the gathering out and knitting together of His mystical body, which is the Church. From the time of His ascension into heaven, and the shedding abroad of the Holy Ghost, He has been working unseen upon the spirits of mankind; He has been drawing together the living stones of His spiritual house; by the apostolic priesthood, by preaching, by His holy sacraments, by the interweaving of His providential government with the working of man’s will, and by all the wonderful mutations of two thousand years; by the movements of the reason of man, and by what men call the civilisation of the world; by the rise and fall of empires, and the organised system of human polities. He has thus been working out this great all-comprehending aim—the perfection of His Church. First He drew a remnant of the Jews to the foot of His mystical cross; then to them he drew the Gen tiles, first proselytes, then they that before were “strangers from the covenants of promise:” laying thereby in all the world the first foundations of the Catholic Church: and then into that same area He drew people unknown before by name; and, as they entered into the holy precinct, they put off their old natures—they came in as conquerors, and then dwelt in it as conquered. They were taken in a snare, and were subdued by the power they had seemed to overthrow. And thenceforward in all ages of the Church, He has wrought, through the sacramental power of its visible polity, upon the multitude of nations, drawing them together into the bond of peace; drawing them up ward to higher movements of spiritual life; building up His temple, not only in the majesty of its lofty stature, but in the glory and perfection of its parts. There has been not a change, but a growth: as the springing or unfolding of a stately tree; a growth, not only of bulk, but of beauty; ever opening itself to the drawings and invitations of a gentle sky: so His mystical body has grown from childhood to youth and manhood, throwing out new powers of illuminated reason and of regenerate will, ever advancing “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
But this subject is too large for our present thoughts; and therefore I will not follow any further the mysterious economy by which He, through His Church, draws nations to Himself, and the whole body of His people to perfection. We will confine our thoughts to a more particular form of this great work of mercy; I mean, the way in which, in His Church, He draws men one by one unto Himself. Christ is in the midst of His Church. His eye and His hand have been upon us from the hour of our baptism. He is ever drawing us by His unseen virtues: we are all around Him, some nearer, some further off; some approaching, some receding from Him. There is a work going on, of which the day of judgment is only the end and summing up. There is between those that follow and those that resist His drawings, a real separation even now. “His fan is in His hand; and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather the wheat into His garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” With those, however, that resent His gracious drawings I have nothing now to do. Let us speak only of those who are approaching, be it never so slowly and far off, the foot of the spiritual cross; and of these I pass by penitents, and the first and imperfect forms of a character under the power of its second regeneration, as repentance was wont to be called; because in His sight we are all penitents, and because the degrees of such characters are in finite, and because they will be ultimately included in the more general forms, of which we shall speak hereafter.
He is, I say, in the midst of His Church, and we are ranged around Him in many measures of approach, as if we were in the many courts or precincts which surround His eternal throne.
First, and farthest off, among the better kind are blameless and amiable people; against whom no greater charge can be laid, than that they are harmless unemphatic Christians; there is nothing high or deep about them—nothing that has any meaning below the surface of their life. They have no great measure of devotion, and of contemplation still less; they want awe and reverence, because they lack a consciousness of things unseen. And hence their characters are shallow and disappointing: they raise, and dash, your hopes of them in turn: they fall short both of your expectations and of their own resolutions. It seems as if their nature were incapable of taking a sharp and true impression. They mix in the world, and are highly esteemed, because they are amiable; but no man is awed by them; for, after all, they are poor characters. Now even such as these are ever drawing nearer to Him; but their slight retrogressions are so many, and their advance so slow, that it is imperceptible. By measuring together large periods of their life, the change may be detected: on a death-bed it is perhaps seen more plainly. But there is an original fault about them, in some region of their spiritual life; something which retards their advance, and ever keeps them back. Of such men it is hard to know what we shall say.
Again; there are those who, to all that I have described, add further, an inward conformity in many lesser features to the mind of Christ. They have feeling and zeal, and are visibly and sensibly religious; so much so, as to bear at least a shadow of the cross for His name’s sake. They love the meditative parts of religion, the poetry and imagery of faith, and the consolations of Christianity. They have, unawares, gone so deep into religion, that they cannot go back. They cannot do without it; and onward they must go. Yet they are not near enough to Him to be at rest. Still they are afraid of going too near, and trusting Him wholly. There is much in them which would be precipitated,, as it were, by a closer approach to Him; and they are not yet willing to forego it. Nevertheless, they often pray for this; and are convinced that He, and He only, is enough so to fill all their heart, that if they had His presence, they should want nothing more. Such men are good Christians, but hardly saints; for that word has a deeper sense than they as yet can bear. There are too many reserved affections, and hopes, and wishes, yet clinging to them. But He will not let them rest where they are; unless, indeed, they wilfully go back from Him. He was lifted up from the earth for this very cause, that He might draw them still onward, nearer to Himself. He loves them too well to let them linger afar off; and therefore we find such people ever passing on, one by one, often unwillingly and with half a heart, drawing near as by the compulsion of angels’ hands, until they enter another circle of approach to Him. There is a higher fellowship, to which they are destined.
For there are those who are the true elect; the elect of the elect; the Christians indeed; the chosen ones, with whom is “the white stone,” and “the hidden manna,” and “the secret of the Lord,” and the “new name which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.” On them the voice of Christ fell in childhood; or in riper years, it may be in the threshold of life, or in after-life, under some cloud and chill of heart; and they heard it, and were for a long while amazed, as Samuel, at the thrilling sound, knowing neither who spake, nor what to answer. Yet it pierced their heart, and they felt it could not stop there. Why, they knew not: but they knew within themselves that they could never have peace till they had heard that voice again. They feel that they must hear it more closely and more clearly, and know the meaning of the voice. Afterwards, at strange and unlooked-for times, they have caught, little by little, the will of Him that spake: more, as it were, from the meaning of the tone, than from any articulate words. And they have followed Him in silence, not knowing whither, saying deeply to themselves, I must go on. And they have felt a change passing on them, as from a chill to warmth, like men coming up out of a grave into the noon day sun. And this mild guiding power has drawn them from faults, and from weaknesses, and from vain hankerings, and from the world: and they have begun, as it were, to live anew—more thoughtfully, but more happily; and they verily thought the work was done. Alas for them! the greatest work was yet to be begun. They were still living in themselves: self, with its hopes, and promises, and dreams, had still hold of them; but He had begun to fulfil their prayers. They had asked for contrition, and He sent them sorrow; they had asked for purity, and He sent them a thrilling anguish; they had asked to be meek, and He had broken their heart; they had asked to be dead to the world, and He slew all their living hopes; they had asked to be made like unto Him, and He began to make them “perfect through sufferings;” they had asked to lay hold of His cross, and when He reached it out to them, it wounded their hands; they had asked, they knew not what, nor how, but He had taken them at their word, and granted all their petitions. They were hardly willing to follow on so far, or to draw so nigh to Him. They had upon them an awe and a fear, as Jacob at Bethel, and as Eliphaz in the night-visions; or as the apostles, when they “thought that they had seen a spirit,” and “knew not that it was Jesus.” They were not ready to give up so much, to make so great a surrender of self, to forego so many things which He permits others to enjoy, which they take as a matter of course, almost of necessity. The change in life was too searching and too deep. They felt in a perplexity. If they should draw back, they could never be happy again; and yet they feared His nearness. They could almost pray Him to depart from them, or to hide His awfulness. They find it easier to obey Him than to suffer; to do than to give up; to bear the cross than to hang upon it. They have found His service growing year by year more blessed, but more awful; dearer to them, but more searching; more full of heaven, but more exacting. Little did they know to what they pledged themselves, when, in that first season of awe, they arose and followed His voice. But now they cannot go back; for they are too near to the unseen cross, and its virtues have pierced too deeply within them. Day by day they are giving up their old waking dreams; things they have pictured out, and acted over, in their imaginations and their hopes; one by one they let them go, with saddened but willing hearts. They feel as if they had fallen under some irresistible attraction, which is hurrying them into the world unseen: and so in truth it is; He is fulfilling to them His promise, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Their turn is come at last: that is all. Before, they had only heard of the mystery; now, they feel it. He has fastened on them His look of love, even as on Peter and on Mary; and they cannot choose but follow, and in following Him altogether forget both themselves and all their visions of life. Little by little, from time to time, by fleeting gleams, the mystery of His spiritual cross shines out upon them. They behold Him high and lifted up, and the glory which rays forth from the wounds of His holy passion; and as they gaze upon it, they adore, and are changed into His likeness; and His mind shines out through them, for He dwells in them. They live alone with Him, in high and unspeakable fellowship; willing and glad to lack what others over-enjoy; to be unlike all, so that they are only like to Him. Such were the apostles; such in all ages were they who now follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Had they chosen for themselves, or their friends for them, they would have chosen otherwise. They would have been brighter here, but less glorious in His kingdom; they would have had Lot’s portion, not Abraham s; would have been full of happiness and of anxieties, of lower blessings and heavier burdens. If they had halted any where; if He had taken off His hand, and let them hang back, as they often yearned to do, what would they not have lost; what forfeits in the morning of the resurrection! But He stayed them up even against themselves. Many a time their “foot had well nigh slipped;” but He in His mercy held them up. And now, even in this life, they know that all He did was done well; that it was good for them to stand alone with Him upon the mountain and in the cloud; and that not their own will, but His was done in them.
This, then, is the work which He has been doing with each one of you. Little as you may know it, your whole life, from baptism to this day, is a parable of which this is the key. Even with the sinful, and the enemies of His cross, He has been dealing in tenderness and long-suffering. He has been striving to draw them to His cross, while they have been wrestling against Him. Fearful thought, that a man should be in open warfare against the will and work of Christ, baffling by a stubborn heart the great mystery of His passion! “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker: let the potsherd strive with the potsherd of the earth;”7272 Isaiah xlv. 9. but woe thrice told to him that striveth with his Saviour: “He that falleth on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”7373 St. Matt. xxi. 44.
All of you has He been drawing; and if you look back, you can see the links in the chain by which He has drawn you until now. A word, a thought, a chance, a sickness, a sorrow, a burden of sadness in the day-time, or a dream of the past in the night-season, alone, or in the throng of men, in your chamber, or at the altar, something pierced deep into your soul, and there abode; and you carried it about like a barbed arrow, which no hand could draw but the same that launched it. And then He has led you, little by little, with gentle steps, hiding the full length of the way that you must tread, lest you should start aside in fear, and faint for weariness. And as it has been, so it must be: onward you must go: He will not leave you here: there is yet in store for you more contrition, more devotion, more delight in Him. A few years hence, and you will see how true these words are. If by that time you have not forsaken Him, you will be nearer still, walking in strange, it may be solitary paths, in ways that are “called desert;” but knowing Him, as now you know Him not, with a fulness of knowledge, and a bowing of heart, and a holy self-renouncement, and a joy that you are altogether His. What now seems too much, shall then seem all too little; what too nigh, not nigh enough to His awful cross. How our thoughts change! A few years ago, and you would have thought your present state excessive and severe; you would have shrunk from it then, as at this time you shrink from the here after. But now you look back, and know that all was well. In all your past life you would not have one grief the less, or one joy the more. It is all well; though, when it happened, you knew it not. “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Therefore shun all things which may hinder your approach to Him: follow His drawings with a free and willing heart. Though restless and perplexed at first, yield to His mysterious will; even as Peter, who first strove with Him, and then said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”7474 St. John xiii. 7 and 9. Wait for the end. Men mar their whole destiny in life by prescribing to God’s providence. They either thwart it by outrunning it, or hinder it by hanging back. What we are to be He has determined, and in due time will reveal it. Your place, your crown, your ministry, in His unseen kingdom, are all marked out for you. He is drawing you towards your everlasting portion. At that day, when He shall have brought unto Mount Sion the last of His redeemed flock, and every lost sheep shall “pass under the hand of him that telleth them;” when the mystical number shall be full; and all the saints of God, from Abel the righteous to the last that shall be quick on earth at His coming, shall be gathered round the Lamb that was slain, then shall we know what He is now doing with us under a veil and in silence. We shall no more follow Him unseen; but behold Him face to face.
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