The Character of Christ

To all of us who are grown up, to most of us who are still growing up, there have come times when we have found the service of God no easy matter. To be steadily faithful to Him in our prayers, to keep His commandments as we know He would have us keep them, and that from day to day without yielding for a moment, these are no light undertakings; without His grace to help us they would be impossible. And when these hours of trial have come, perhaps the thought has occurred to us that if only we could have lived in the lifetime and in the company of our Divine Saviour, if even now we could but see Him for a moment as He is, it might have been, and it might be, so much easier. A word from Him had power to break the heart of a hardened sinner like the Magdalene; if we could have heard that word with our own ears, perhaps we should have sinned so much less, perhaps we should have been so much more penitent. A single glance of His truth-compelling eyes forced hot tears of repentance from Peter; if we could only feel those eyes upon us, it might be so much easier to understand Him, so much easier to love Him, so much easier to give ourselves to His service.

And yet it must be remembered there is another side to the picture. Even of those who had this privilege, and they were many, the number that recognized and acknowledged Him was small. Many saw His wonderful works, many felt the influence of His words; yet they followed Him, as He was forced to tell them, not because of Himself, but because of what He gave them; and in the hour of trial they fell away. "Amen, Amen, I say to you," He said on one occasion. "You seek Me, not because you have seen miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves and were filled." Even His own disciples, who had been with Him from the beginning, who had seen all that He had done, had drunk in all the sweetness of His words, had learnt to love the eager glancing of His eyes, had gone so far as to profess that though all the world forsook Him they would not, even they could not stand the trial of the Crucifixion. "Then the disciples all leaving Him, fled away."

"He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Are we, then, sure that we should have stood by Him? Are we sure that we should not have come under that bitter complaint pronounced by our Lord against His generation: "Having eyes, they see not, and having ears they do not hear, nor do they understand I" After all, it may be better for us that we can look upon Him and study Him only at a distance. We cannot, indeed, now with our own eyes "see the things" that the disciples saw, but we have a picture, a portrait of those things in our keeping. And as a portrait of an absent friend keeps his memory fresh with us, so the picture of our living Lord, "ever living to make intercession for us," brings Him to our mind; nay, more, if we study it carefully, may stir us to an even greater affection and devotion. Let us look at this picture for a minute and renew an old acquaintance.

We are walking along a country lane in the fertile upland of Galilee. The hills rise up on either side, green with pasture, the valley between teems with corn. There are men labouring in the fields, shepherds tending their sheep along the hillside, men and women here and there along the road. Presently, at a turn in the road, we come upon a group, made up for the most part of simple country folk from the farms and cottages about. In the middle is a young man, tall and lithe in appearance, with an eastern turban on his head, his dress of white, and with a mantle over his shoulder. He is seated on a stone by the roadside, and is talking quietly, but with words that are clearly full of interest to the simple folk gathered around him. In his eyes there is a strange glitter, a mixture as of joy and pain, of laughter and tears, of hope and disappointment, which cannot be described. And over all is a cloak of enduring gentleness; gentleness in the eyes, gentleness over all His face, gentleness in the movement of His hands, which are resting on the heads of little children that have crept close to Him; gentleness, instinctive and therefore very true, in the order of His thoughts, in the tone of His voice, in the deliberation of His actions - this is the one leading feature of the picture.

We take up His words, and they have the same tale to tell: "Come to Me, all you that labour and are burthened," He says, "I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is sweet and My burthen light. And learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls." He points to the sheep gathering round their shepherd on the hillside, and says: "I am the Good Shepherd, and I know Mine and Mine know Me, . . . and I lay down My life for My sheep." He hears the shepherd call his flock together, and sees him lead them to a fresh pasture; and He adds: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting; and they shall not perish for ever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand." He points to the bright sun overhead, filling the valley with light and glory, and He says: "I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life." He looks along the road that leads to the city in the distance, and cries: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." He sees the simple folk around Him with their simple food in their wallets, and tells them: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger, and he that believeth in Me shall never thirst."

And then He will go on to teach them how they, too, should imitate His enduring gentleness. "As often as you do it to the least of these My little ones," He says, as the little children clamber on His knee - "as often as you have given a cup of water to the least of these My little ones, you have given it to Me." "Love your enemies, do good to them that injure you and persecute you; and your reward shall be very great in Heaven." Gentleness, forgivingness, He tells them, is the nature of God the Father; and He repeats to them the story of the Prodigal Son. Gentleness, forgivingness, is His own nature; and He proves it by the story of the Good Shepherd. And gentleness, forgivingness, He would have to be the nature of every Christian; and He brings this lesson home by the story of the Good Samaritan.

Presently He rises, and passes through the group that presses close around Him. He seems to know them all; He has a kindly word for everyone; obviously all are dear to Him, for His interest is not official and no more. There they are, poor country-folk from the hillsides, who have left the plough to listen to Him; poor labourers from the town, who find in Him relief from unrest; poor fishermen from Galilee, who have left their nets and their boats to share His lot. There are the lame and the blind, the deaf and the dumb, even the sick from the neighbouring cottages. What a motley congregation! What a weird group on which to waste so finished a work of art as that discourse! But He does not think of that. He gives what He has to anyone who will have it. As He passes along, one He will touch with His gentle hand, and will heal him; to another He will merely speak some word of comfort, and the sufferer learns that which turns his pain into delight; to a third He will grant a favour greater than was asked for, and will say: "Son, go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee." But to whomsoever He speaks, no matter how few words He utters, whomsoever He touches, no matter whether He heals them or not, all alike know the consolation of His presence, and are contented with their lot for His sake. "And they all did wonder," Saint Mark tells us, "saying: He hath done all things well; He hath made the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."

It is not possible to make too much of this enduring gentleness of Jesus Christ. So kind was He, that strong men were tempted to despise Him, as did Simon the Pharisee. So gentle was He, that His own disciples complained, as did Judas Iscariot, and all with him." So enduring was He, and in consequence so varied was the company He drew around Him, that His enemies called out against Him as the comrade of drunkards and sinners. And such is the Jesus Christ who lives on today; the same, but, if possible, with a yet wider sympathy and feeling. For the arm of the Lord is not shortened. Having once risen, He dieth now no more; and that same enduring gentleness marked the risen Jesus Christ as much as, more than, it marked Him before His death. That same Lord stands still in our midst, with us "all days, even to the consummation of the world," ever living to make intercession for us, ever healing, ever forgiving, ever making the same appeal to us for our affection in return - with the certainty of our faith we know it.

"Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see. For I say to you that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that you see and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear, and have not heard them." At the beginning we were tempted to envy the Jews of Palestine; do we ever think of those who envy us for what we see, and perhaps with greater reason? How many thousands, how many millions, are there who desire to see the things that we see, and to hear the things that we hear, and who, if they did see and hear, would turn what they learnt to better account!