The GOSPEL TRUTH
Sermons on the Resurrection:
THE REKINDLED FIRE
G. Campbell Morgan
And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" -- Luke 24:32
During this week in conversation with an eminent scholarly, and devout professor of our Theology Colleges, he told me that he has been now for some years preaching Sunday after Sunday in different parts of the country, seeing Church life at the normal; and he declared that the impression upon his mind as to the condition of affairs is that there is everywhere an appalling flatness -- I use his own word -- and at the same time wherever ministers, office-bearers, or church members are led into conversation on this condition of affairs they earnestly express a desire for better things; a consciousness of deadness and a desire for life.
It is because I share this conviction that I bring you this evening the message of the incident in connection with which the words of my text occur. It is one of the post-resurrection stories. Here Christ is seen; no longer in the limited, straitened, circumstances in which, according to His own confession as recorded by Luke, He exercised His ministry of three or three and a half years; but in all the glory and power which came to Him by resurrection. He was the same as He had been during the days of His sojourning with men: yet entirely different in very many ways. The appositeness of the story to ourselves is born of this fact. The forty days of our Lord's sojourning on this earth after resurrection were characterized by appearance and vanishing; and I personally should be inclined to say that the main purpose of His tarrying was not that of appearing, but that of vanishing. He appeared to Peter, and vanished! He presenced Himself, without the opening of a door or the shooting of a bolt, in the midst of His disciples in the upper room; and vanished! He walked with disciples on the road to Emmaus, sat with them at the board; and suddenly vanished! He hailed the fishermen after the night of fruitless work, Himself standing in bodily presence upon the shore of the lake, "Children, have ye any meat?"; and they came and partook of the breakfast which He had prepared; He talked to Peter across the flicker of the fire, in the early morning, while the light of the sun was shimmering upon the sea, about past failure, challenged his love, called forth his confession, gave him his commission, and then vanished!
The chief value in each case was not in the appearing, but in the vanishing. He was teaching those disciples, not for their sakes alone, but for the sakes of all who should follow them, that even though they could not see Him with the eyes of sense He was always nigh at hand. He was training them to be independent of the senses, and dependent upon the spirit, in the matter of their fellowship with Him; accustoming them not to see Him, and yet to know that He was at hand; training them so that presently, one of the number of the disciples, not of those who saw Him in the days of His flesh, but of those who were brought to Him afterwards, Saul of Tarsus, could write, "Henceforth we know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet we know Him so no more." He was training men to know that absence of the bodily presence was not absence of the Lord; that the fact that He could not be touched by the hand, or handled as John said, or looked upon with the eyes of sense, did not for a single moment matter; He was ever close at hand.
Today we are living in post-resurrection days in the fullest sense; in days when we no longer have the presence of our Lord as to the physical fact, but when we know He is nigh at hand, in the midst of every assembly of His people, the close, personal companion of every pilgrim of faith, the constant comrade of every trusting soul.
We come back then to this picture of the transition period, when He was preparing men to do without His bodily presence, and we feel there is in it great value for us.
After He had vanished; they knew that although they could not see Him, He was with them. Talking over their experience they said: When He talked to us by the way the old fire burned, the old enthusiasm returned, the vision which had faded from the glowing sky was restored; "Was not our heart burning within us, while He spake to us in the way."
Let us then examine the story; looking at the disciples; their possession and their lack; then carefully observing the Christ; His quest; His method and His victory.
What then did these disciples possess? They still loved Him; they still believed in Him. Their journey was not one of forgetfulness. He was the theme of their conversation. So far as He personally was concerned they were absolutely loyal to Him still; they would have suffered no one to traduce the name of their loved and lost leader. They still believed that His intention had been of the highest, that His purpose had been of the noblest, that the passion of His heart had been the redemption of Israel. They had not lost their love and their faith. Amid the bitterness of disappointment and darkness, and disgrace, they still spoke kindly of Him, and in terms which manifested their confidence in Him.
What then did they lack? They had lost their confidence, not in Him, but in His ability to do what they thought He was going to do. They had come to the conviction in the presence of the tragedy of the Cross that He had failed. They had hoped he would redeem Israel, break the yoke of the oppressor, restore the people of the ancient economy, bring in that day of which prophets had spoken and psalmists had sung through the long ages; but He had failed. That was their outlook, and in consequence there had been a cooling of their enthusiasm, They loved Him still, and believed in His high and holy intention, and in His endeavour, but they had lost hope. Not in forgetfulness did they walk to Emmaus, but in keen disappointment; with a great sense oppressing them that their Master, however noble in Himself, however high and holy in His ambition, had failed. Therefore they lacked the burning, the enthusiasm, which is the dynamic of service.
I believe that at the present moment, that is the condition of the Christian Church to a large extent. I am perfectly convinced that there was never more personal, individual loyalty to the Lord than there is today; a loyalty which is undoubted if we think of the individual, in personal relationship to Christ. There are not tens, hundreds, thousands, but tens of thousands of those who believe in Him for themselves; believe in Him as the true Lord of their life, having perfect, abiding, abounding confidence in Him; those who, even in the hour of doubt and difficulty, almost of despair, yield to Him a great personal allegiance and loyalty. But there are thousands of persons of whom all that is true, who are nevertheless suffering from a lack of certainty as to His ability to do what they thought He was going to do. They are inwardly, if not confessedly, pessimistic as to the issue of our Lord's work in the world. They are not quite sure.
Let me give you some of the symptoms of this lack of assurance.
You find Christian people are content, to give attention to men who are putting Him into comparison with human teachers. I find among my brethren in the ministry as I travel through the country that the articles they are reading are those which question Him. The Hibbert Journal is the most popular magazine, I find, among ministers today; and in so far as it is a medium for those who criticise Him adversely its influence is pernicious. We are questioning Him, asking whether after all He is the One we thought He was; admitting some kind of supremacy to Him, professing loyalty to Him, but putting Him into comparison with others, asking the question that came out of Herod's prison long ago, asked then by a man perfectly loyal but perplexed, "Art Thou He that cometh; or look we for another?"
Another symptom, is that we are modifying our conception of His victories. We are not sure that the victories won were won in and by that Name alone. We are willing to discuss the possibility of some other form of religion being more suited to certain races than that of the Lord Christ. We are not quire sure whether it is final. Therefore we are a little uncertain of the possibility of His ultimate triumph.
There is consequently a marked cooling of enthusiasm, a lack of passion, an absence of fire; until today, the Church of God, taking it as a whole, making every allowance for exceptions, is a little afraid of enthusiasm. If I may quote again the words of my professor friend, there is everywhere an appalling flatness.
Now let us go back to our story. How did Christ deal with these men? First I pray you notice the fact of His quest. As I look at it, I am going to say a thing which perhaps reveals my own failure to understand my Lord. If I am surprised at these men -- and I do not know that I am, I think I understand their menial mood -- I am more surprised at my Lord. I am surprised that He thought it worth while to take that walk to Emmaus with two disciples who, while still loyal to Him in heart, had abandoned their confidence in His ability to accomplish the purpose of God in the world. When I listen to His estimate of them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe," I am still the more surprised that He should care to walk with them and talk with them.
What a revelation this is of the Christ. If we want to know what Christ is, as revealed in that story, let us put Him into contrast with ourselves. We seek for confidence in ourselves, even before we care about love of ourselves. If a man believes in us, and in our ability to do things, we are willing to be His comrade even if he do not love us. If a man love us and have lost his confidence in our ability, we are not careful for his comradeship.
That leads us to the discovery of what Christ was really seeking. He was seeking love, and the bursting of it into a flame, into passion, the rekindling of it into fire! He knew it was there, overshadowed; He knew there was faith in Him, loyalty to Him, and that is but another way of saying that love for Him still remained. They had lost their confidence in His ability. They were disappointed. They felt He had been defeated, but in their heart there was love, and He was seeking that; to bring it again from underneath the shadow, and to fan it into the flame of great devotion.
Now mark His method. He did not make Himself known in order to kindle that love. He brought them hack to the things they knew full well, to the old, familiar things. He brought them nothing new, but He turned the old into the new, by His interpretation. Have you ever dreamed dreams as you have read that story? Have you ever wished you could have listened to His interpretation of Moses and the prophets? I often have. They listened to this Stranger as He took their own sacred writings, and interpreted to them their deepest meaning. They listened to Him as He revealed to them the profoundest depths in the suggestive ritual of the Mosaic economy, as He breathed in their ears the secret of the love which lay at the heart of the ancient law. They listened to Him as He traced the Messianic note in the music of all the prophets; showing that He was David's King, "fairer than the children of men," and in the days of Solomon's well-doing He it was that was "altogether lovely." He was Isaiah's child-king with a shoulder strong to bear the government, and a name Emanuel, gathering within itself all excellencies; Jeremiah's "Branch of righteousness; executing judgment and righteousness in the land"; Ezekiel's "Plant of renown," giving shade, and shedding fragrance; Daniel's stone cut without hands, smiting the image, becoming a mountain, and filling the whole earth; the ideal of Hosea, "growing as a lily," "casting out his roots as Lebanon"; to Joel, "the hope of His people and the strength of the children of Israel"; the usherer in of the fulfilment of the vision of Amos, "the plowman overtaking the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed"; of Obadiah "deliverance upon Mount Zion and holiness"; the fulfilment of that of which Jonah was but a sign; the "turning again" of God, of which Micah spoke; the One Whom Nahum saw upon the mountains "publishing peace"; the Anointed, of Whom Habakkuk sang as "going forth for salvation"; He Who brought, to the people the pure language of Zephaniah's message; the true Zerubbabel of Haggai's word, rebuilding for ever the house and the city of God; Himself the Dawn of the day when "Holiness unto the Lord shall be upon the bells of the horses" as Zechariah foretold; and He the refiner's fire," "the fuller's sope," "the Sun of righteousness" of Malachi's dream.
What was the result? He won the victory. They came to new possession of Jesus. while as yet they did not know the One interpreting the Scriptures was Jesus in very deed. They looked back to the Cross, and saw it set in the light of the ancient symbolism, of the ancient prophecy; and the inglorious tree gleamed with glory of which they had never dreamed.
They listened in astonishment, and as they listened, to employ their own word, their hearts burned within them. Coolness gave way to heat, despair to hope, disappointment to certainty; and there flamed within them the fire, not merely of the old and lost enthusiasm, but of a new passion for this very Christ in Whom they believed and Whom they loved, as they learned by interpretation of their own Scriptures at the lips of the Stranger, that all the things which had filled them most with fear, were according to the predictions of those Scriptures.
Thus their burning of heart was the thrill of a new discovery of the old things. It was the shame of past failure. It was the passion of a new endeavor. And this was created by Christ's interpretation of the ancient Scriptures which they knew, with which they were perfectly familiar: the Scriptures which they thought they had understood. They were so familiar with them that they had ceased to make themselves familiar with them.
I pray you mark this carefully; my insistence upon it is repeated because it is the key to the situation. They did not know Who this was Who talked to them; He was quite a stranger; but listening to the old words, giving new attention to them under His guidance they found new meaning, new value, and new power.
What then does the Church need today in order to kindle again the fire, to renew the enthusiasm, to set upon the faces of her members the flaming glory of the morning, and to create again the fervour. She needs the things she possesses should become real to her. The word of our Lord spoken to one of the Asian churches, is what the Church needs to hear and obey today; "Strengthen the things that remain." I might speak of the necessity for strengthening the doctrine -- not of adding to or taking from the doctrine -- but of coming to the realization of the essential truth within the doctrine, and of believing in very deed and with all the heart and soul the very things we think we do believe. I might speak of the ordinances of the Church, of the things we think we do believe. I might speak of the ordinances of the Church, of the things that are still with us, call them if you will, the sacraments of the Church, call them if you please more inclusively, the means of grace; we need to see these things renewed in power, to go back again to the simple meaning of them, and to abandon ourselves to their suggestiveness, and to take out of the letter the heart and spirit and obey it and follow it.
But supremely we need exactly what happened to these men on the way to Emmaus, a new understanding of the Scriptures of truth, a new discovery of them as the Scriptures that set forth the things concerning Christ, a new test of the Scriptures by the study of them; and the abandonment of the life to the law which flames forth from them; and the putting of them to the test in all our work and all our living.
Yet, I have not touched the deepest note of all! The Bible we have, and there is a sense in which it is being studied today as it has never been studied. There were more Bibles published last year than in any prior year in the history of the world; there were more Bibles printed than any other book in all the wide world; they are everywhere, and men are turning back to the study of the Bible with a keen and remarkable interest, as I know full well. Yet we lack the fire; the fervour, the enthusiasm. What then do we supremely need? To gather together around the Bible which we have, recognising that we never can know it, never can understand it, save as we take time to listen to the Lord's interpretation of it to our own souls.
It is possible for a man to analyse the Bible, and lose it in the process; to prepare a synthesis of the Bible and lose his soul at the work; to make himself perfectly familiar with the letter, and to find out that the letter killeth because he has lost touch with the spirit!
The Church supremely needs to learn the secret of listening to the voice of the Master. Oh, but we cannot hear it today as those disciples heart it! If only He would come to the Bible School, or to the Conference, we would gladly sit down and listen while He opened to us the Scriptures! If anyone shall say such a thing as that, it is because they have not yet learned the lesson His vanishing was intended to teach. It is not a question as to whether He will come; He does come; He is always present to teach; but we do not take the time to listen. It is true of our personal life and study of the Word; it is true of the assemblies of the saints; we do not listen for Him.
These men did not say, "Was not our heart burning within us" while we talked about Him, or talked to Him. It is not an evil thing to talk about Him; for in the ancient days when the saints talked together about Jehovah, He hearkened and heard, and the book of remembrance was written. It is not an evil thing to talk to Him; He has bidden us bring words and speak in His presence. But neither of these things wilt bring us into right relation with the truth and values of Christianity, Not by the things we say to each other about Him; nor by the words we speak to Him in praise or prayer; but by the word He speaks to us about His Word is the fire kindled.
Am I not touching the very centre of our need today? Is not this the thing we are not sure about? Are we not inclined to say: Yes, but if God ever did so speak to men, the day of such speaking is past. Is not that the widespread opinion of the Church? The loss of the mystic sense of the actual presence of the Lord and of His willingness to speak immediately directly to the soul; is not that the secret of the killing of our love, the deadening of our emotion, the turning to ashes of our fires?
All this is very general, and perhaps in that sense quite useless; certainly it is if we only hear it as a generality. Therefore come back to the individual and the particular. How much time have we given, not to prayer, not to fellowship with each other, not even to technical study of the Bible; but to listening for His voice? Is it not almost a lost art of Christian experience, this ability to sit still and wait?
In amazement someone is saying, Does the preacher mean that if I sit still and listen I shall hear His voice? Not with the ears of sense, but with the spirit life, yes! Shall I see the form? Not with the eyes of sense, but with the inner spiritual vision assuredly!
If in the life of the Church today we could call a halt to half our endeavour, and consecrate the redeemed time to quietness and waiting, to listening; we should gather again to the next service of the sabbath, men and women with hearts on fire with a burning enthusiasm, and the hymn would not be a song languishing on our tongues, and the reading of Scripture would not be something to which a man may listen or not as he pleases. There would be a great burning enthusiasm, a flaming new fire, a day of new activity and new dynamic.
Thus the one word of application of the evening meditation, a word of application intended for the preacher as well as the hearer, is this: Let us practice the presence of our Lord. Let us take time to listen, waiting at His gates, shutting out the babel of other voices.
I speak now by way of personal conviction. If we will do so, all our doubt about Him will vanish, all our uncertainty as to whether or not He is the Christ will pass away; for not finally by the letter even of this sacred Scripture; but finally, by direct immediate impartation of Himself to the soul will He satisfy the soul and fill it with light and hope and enthusiasm. May He teach us how to listen while He talks to us in the way.
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