S.D. Gordon.

Quiet Talks on John's Gospel online

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But she resolutely put her stout country-boot in the crack of the door,
and her English jaw set in true English fashion, and she said with that
quietness that has the subtle touch of danger in it, "I'll see the
doctor."

And the servant looked puzzled and went to report about this strangely
insistent woman. And the doctor was annoyed by the interruption in the
midst of something that was absorbing him. He said sharply, "It's past
the hours; I can see no one."

"I told her so, sir," replied the man deferentially, "but she insists in
a strange way, sir."

"What's she like?"

"Oh, just a plain country body, sir."

"Well, show her up."

And I am glad to remember that she had a warm embrace of his strong
arms, as he instantly recognized her in the doorway, while the servant
stared. Then he said rather nervously as the servant discreetly
withdrew, "How did yon happen to come? Why didn't you send word? Has
anything happened?" And then as she sat by the fire sipping a cup of
tea, she told the story, in her own simple slow way, and ended up with,
"And now I'm coming to live with you, Laddie." And the old eyes behind
the spectacles beamed, and the dear old wrinkled face glowed.

And he poked the fire, and tried to think You know, our English friends
depend almost wholly on the open grate fire, as we do so largely in the
South. And it's a great thing, is the open grate fire. It's a fire. It
warms your body, at least in front in extreme weather. But it's more
than a fire. It's a stimulus to thought. It refreshes your spirit, and
rests your tired nerves, and it is a wonderful thing to help you unravel
knotty problems. So he poked the fire and thought, while she, quite
unconscious of his embarrassment, went on sipping her tea and talking.

It would never do to have her come there, he thought. And his thoughts
went to the circle of friends at the dinner table in the evening, and to
the critical city servants that ran his bachelor establishment. And just
then his ear caught anew the broad provincial twist on her tongue. He
had never noticed it so broad, so decided, before. And she was talking
the small countryside talk, chickens and an epidemic among them. And
that grated strangely. It certainly wouldn't do to have her come there.

Then the tide began to rise gently on the beach of his heart. He
thought, "She's my _mother_. And if mother wants to come here, here she
comes." And he straightened up in his chair, as he gave a gentler touch
to a blazing lump of coal. Then the tide ebbed. It began running out
again. "No, it would hardly do." And he poked and thought. Finally he
broke into her run of talk.

"Mother, you know it is not very healthful here. We have bad fogs in
London. And you're used to the wholesome country air. It wouldn't agree
with you here, I'm afraid. I'll get a little cottage on the edge of
town, and I'll come and see you very often."

And the dear old woman _sensed_ at once just what he was thinking. She
was not stupid, if she was just a plain homely body. He got his brains
from his simple country mother, as many a man of note has done. But she
spoke not of what she felt. She simply said, with that quietness which
grows out of strong self-control:

"It's a bit late the night, Laddie, I'm thinking, to be talking about
new plans."

And he said softly, "Forgive me, mother: it is late, I forgot." And he
showed her to her sleeping apartment.

"And where do you sleep, Laddie?"

"Right here, mother, this first door on the left. Be sure to call me if
you need anything."

And he bade her a tender "good-night," and went back to his study to do
some more thinking and planning. And very late he came up to his
sleeping-chamber. And he was just cuddling his head into the soft pillow
for the night, when the door opened, so softly, and in there came a
little body in simple white night garb, with a quaint old-fashioned
nightcap on, candle in hand. She came in very softly. And he started up.

"Mother, are you ill? What's the matter?"

And she came over very quietly, and put down the candle on the table
before she answered. And then softly:

"No, no, Laddie, I'm not ill. I just came to tuck you in for the night
as I used to do at home. ... Lie still, my Laddie."

And she tucked the clothes about his neck, and smoothed his hair, and
patted his cheek, and kissed his face. And she crooned over him as
mother with little child. The years were quite forgot. She had her
little son again. And she talked mother's love-talk to a child.
"Good-night, Laddie ... good-night ... good-night ... mother's own boy."
And a little more tucking and smoothing and patting and kissing, and
then she turned so quietly, picked up the candle, and went out, closing
the door so softly, her great strength revealed in her gentleness.

And he was just on the point of starting up and saying, "Mother, you
must stay with me, right here" - no, the morning will do, he thought. But
when the morning came she wasn't down for breakfast. And when he went to
her room she wasn't there. It turned out afterwards that she had said to
herself, "It doesn't suit my Laddie's plans to have me here. I don't
understand why. It isn't his fault at all. It just doesn't suit. And
I'll never be a trouble to my Laddie."

And so with that rare characteristic English trait of independence, she
had quietly gone off early that morning before the house was astir. And
he broken-hearted - I'm always glad to remember that - he searched through
the wilderness of London for more than a year, searched diligently, but
could find no trace of her. And then he was graciously permitted to
minister to her last hours in a hospital where a street accident had
sent her unconscious, and where he was chief of the medical staff.

_She came to her own and her own received her not._ He loved her, but it
didn't suit his plans. _He, Jesus_, came to _His_ own, and His own
received Him not; it didn't suit their plans. Ah! listen yet further: He
_comes_ to His own, you and me, and His own - _you_ finish it. Have we
some plans, too, set plans, that we don't propose to change, even
for - (softly) even for _Him_? Each of us is finishing that sentence, not
in words so much if at all, in the words of our action. And the crowd
reads our translation.



The Oldest Family.


"But," John goes on. That was a steadying "but." It was hard on John to
recall how they treated his Friend and Master. But there is a "but."
There's another aide, an offset to what he's been saying, a bright bit
to offset the black bit. But as many as did receive Him. Some received.
Jesus was rejected, yes, abominably, contemptibly rejected. But He was
also accepted, gladly, joyously, wholeheartedly accepted, even though
it came to mean pain and shame.

_As many as received Him_, John says, _He received into His family_. The
conception of a family and of a home where the family lives, runs all
through underneath here. They would not receive this Jesus because He
didn't belong to the inner circle of the old families which they
represented. They regarded themselves as the custodians of the
exclusive aristocratic circles of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was the upper
circle of Israel.

And every one knew that Israel was the chiefest, the one uppermost
nation, of the earth, with none near enough to be classed second. They
were the favourites of God, all the rest were "dogs of Gentiles,"
outsiders, not to be mentioned in the same breath. To these national
leaders of Jesus' day, this was the very breath of their life.

"And _this Jesus_!" They spat on the ground to relieve the intensity of
their contempt. "Who was He? A peasant! a Galilean! Nazareth!" Nazareth
was put in as a sort of superlative degree of contempt. Of course, they
could easily have found out about the lineage of Jesus. In the best
meaning of the word, Jesus was an aristocrat. Apart from its
philological derivation that word means one who traces his lineage back
through a worthy line for a long way, and so one who has the noble
traits of such lineage. In the best meaning of the word Jesus was an
_aristocrat_. His line traced back without slip or break to the great
house of David, and that meant clear back to Adam. The records were all
there, carefully preserved, indisputable. They could easily have found
this out.

I recall talking one day in London with a gentle lady of an old, titled
Scottish family, an earnest Christian, trained in the Latin Church. In
the course of the conversation she remarked, "Of course, Jesus was a
_peasant_." And I replied as gently as I could so as not to seem to be
arguing, "Of course, He was _not_ a peasant. He chose to _live_ as a
peasant, for a great strong purpose. But He was an aristocrat in blood.
His family line traced directly back through the noblest families clear
to the beginning. No one living had a longer unbroken lineage. And that
is the very essence of aristocracy."

In some circles, they count much, or most, on old families. In certain
cities of our own country, east and south, this is reckoned as the
hall-mark of highest distinction. When one goes across the water to
England and the Continent, he finds the old families of America are
rather young affairs. And as he pushes on into the East, some of the old
families of Europe sometimes seem fairly recent. I remember in the
Orient running across a family where the father had been a Shinto
priest, father and son successively, through forty-five generations; and
another where the father of the family has been successively a
court-musician for thirty-eight generations. I thought maybe I had run
into some really old families at last.

I come of a rather old family myself. It runs clear back without break
or slip to Adam in Eden. I've not bothered much with tracing it, for
there are some pretty plain evidences of ugly stains on the family
escutcheon, running all through, and repeatedly. And then even more than
that I've become intensely interested in another family, an older
family, the oldest family of all. Arrangements have been made whereby I
have been taken into this oldest family of all with full rights and
privileges. My claims to aristocracy are now of the very highest, with
all the noble obligations that go with it. That's what John is talking
of here. _As many as received Him, He received into His family, the
oldest family of all._

These people refused Jesus because He didn't belong to their set. In
their utterly selfish prejudice and wilful ignorance, these leaders shut
Him out from the circles they controlled. But with great graciousness He
received into His circle any, of any circle, high or low, who would
receive Him into their hearts. To as many as received Him into their
hearts He opened the door into His own family. He gave them the
technical right of becoming children of His Father.

Their part of the thing is put very simply in two ways. They _believed_.
They were told, they listened and thought, they accepted as true, they
risked what they counted most precious, they loved. So they believed.
And so they _received._ The door opened, the inner door, the heart door.
He went in. That settled things for them. When He graciously entered
their hearts, the inner citadel of their lives, that settled their place
in this oldest family of all.



How We Don't Get In, and How We Do.


It is of intensest interest in our day to have John go on to tell, in
his own simple taking way, just how we get into this God-family. First
of all, he tells us how we _don't_ get in. Listen: "_not of blood_,"
that is, not by our natural generation; "_nor of the will of the
flesh_," that is, not by anything we can do of ourselves, though this
has a place, a distinctly secondary place; "_nor of the will of man_,"
that is, not by what somebody else can do for us, though this too has
its place.

These are the three "_nots_"; the three ways we are _not_ saved. And it
becomes of intensest interest to notice that these are the very three
ways that the crowd is emphasizing to-day, some this, others that, as
the way of being saved. The three modern words we commonly use for these
three "nots" of John are, _family, culture_, and _influence_.

Some of us seem to be fully expecting to walk into the presence of God,
and to get all there is to be gotten there, because of the family we
belong to. This is probably stronger in some of us than we are conscious
of. It's a matter of blood with us, our blood, our natural generation.
We take greatest pride in showing what blood it is that runs in our
veins. We trace the line far back to those whose names are well known.
And this sort of thing has overpowering influence in our human affairs
down here.

His gracious majesty King George is King of England, because he is the
child of Edward and Alexandra. His one and only claim to the English
throne is that at the time of accession he was their oldest living son.
But that won't figure a farthing's worth when he comes up to the
hearthfire of God's family. And I think he understands this full well.
I'm expecting to see him there; not as King of England, but as a
brother.

It is not a matter of blood. It's a blessed thing to be well-born. It
makes a tremendous difference to have the blood of an old noble family
in one's veins, if it is good clean blood. But it'll never save us.
Salvation is not by lineal descent, not by family line. It is "not of
blood." John clears that ground.

Some of us put great stress on what we are in ourselves. This looms big
with a great crowd scattered throughout the earth. We know so much. We
have gotten it by dint of hard work. We can do some things so skilfully.
We have worked into positions of great power among men. Our names are
known. Sometimes they are spelled in large letters.

The broad word for this is _culture_, what we have gained and gotten by
our effort, of that which is reckoned good, and which _is_ good. Culture
is one of the chief words in our language to-day. Whether spelled the
English way or the German, it looms big. It is one of our modern
tidbits. It is chewed on much, and pleases our palate greatly. And
culture is good, if it is good culture.

But, have you noticed, that you have to have a thing before you can
culture it? No amount of the choicest culture will get an apple out of a
turnip, nor a Bartlett pear out of a potato, nor make a Chinese into an
Englishman, nor an American into a Japanese. Culture can improve the
stock, but _it can't change it_. It takes some other power than culture
to change the kind. Here we have to be made of the same kind as they are
up in the old family of God. There must be a change at the core. Then
culture of that new stock is only good and blessed.

This is John's second "not." It seems rather radical. It completely
undercuts so much of our present day notions. If John is right, some of
us are wrong, radically, dangerously wrong. Yet John had a wonderful
Teacher whom he lived with for a while. And after He had gone, John had
another Teacher, unseen but very real, who guided, especially in the
writing of the old Jesus-story. The whole presumption is in favour of
John's way of it being wholly right. And if that makes us wrong, we
would better be grateful to find it out _now_, while there's time to
change. Being saved is not a matter of what we can do, of our culture,
though this has its proper place.

And some of us put tremendous stress to-day on _influence_, what we can
command from others, in furtherance of our desires. Influence is spelled
in biggest type and printed in blackest ink. Whether in political
matters at Washington or at London; in financial, whether Lombard Street
or Wall Street; or in the all-important social matters, or even in the
educational, the university world, the chief question is, "Whose
influence can you get?" "What name can you quote?" "Whose backing have
you?" Influence and culture are the twin gods to-day. The smoke of
their incense goeth up continuously. Their places of worship are
crowded, with bent knees and prostrate forms and reverential hush.

Have you noticed that _Jesus_ hadn't enough influence with the officials
of His day to keep from the cross? No: but He had enough _power_ to
break the official emblem of earth's greatest authority, the Roman seal
on the Joseph tomb. Rather striking that; intensely significant for us
moderns. _Peter_ hadn't enough _influence_ with the authorities to keep
out of jail. Sounds rather disgraceful that, does it not? Aye, but he
had enough _power_ with God to open jail-doors and walk quietly out
against the wish of those highest in authority.

Influence has its proper place. It's good, _if_ it is. But we are not
saved by it. We are not saved by what some one else can do for us; "not
of the will of man." Your mother's prayers and your wife's, and the
influence of their godly lives will have great weight. It's a great
blessing to have them. They help enormously. But the thing itself that
takes a man into the presence of God, saved and redeemed, is something
immensely more than this, some action of his own that goes to the roots
as none of these other things do.

One time a deputation waited on Lincoln to press a matter of public
concern. But his keenly logical mind discerned flaws in their
impassioned and carefully worked out arguments. He waited patiently till
their case was complete. And then in that quiet way for which he was
famous, he said, "How many legs would a sheep have if you called its
tail a leg?" As he expected, they promptly answered "Five." "No," he
said, "it wouldn't; it would have only four. _Calling_ a tail a leg does
not make it one." So a simple bit of his homely sense and accurate logic
scattered their finely spun argument.

Calling either family or culture or influence the chief thing doesn't
make it so. These are John's three tremendous "nots." They rather cut
straight across the common current of thought and belief and conduct
to-day. We may indeed be grateful if a single homely drop of black ink
from John's pen put into the beautifully cloudy-grey solution of modern
thought clears the liquid and makes a precipitate of sharply defined
truth that any eye can plainly see.

This is how we _won't_ be saved. This is how we _don't_ get into the
family of God. It is "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of
the will of man"; not through family connection, nor by what we can do
of ourselves simply, nor by what we can get some of our fellows to do
for us, simply.

"_But of God_," John says. It is by Someone else, outside of us, above
us, reaching down from a higher level, and putting the germ of a new
life within us, and lifting us up to His own level. He puts His hand
_through_ the open door of our will, what we do in opening up to Him,
_through_ "the will of the flesh." He walks along the pathway of the
earnest desire of those who would help us up, "the will of man." But it
is what _He_ does that does the one thing that all depends upon. His is
the decisive action, _through_ our choosing and our friends' helping.

I said it isn't a matter of blood, of lineage. Yet it is. That statement
must be modified. Family relationship is of necessity a matter of blood.
That's the very blood of it. This _is_ a matter of blood; but not _our_
blood; _His._ There has to be a new strain of blood. Our blood is
stained. It is at fault. It is impure. There's been a bad break far back
there in the family record, a complete break. We were powerless either
to purify the stock, or to get over that gap, even if we admitted the
need.

There had to be a bridging of that gap. It had to be from the upper
side. The other fell short. The gap was still there. There had to be a
new strain of blood. This was, this _is_, the only way. We get into that
old first family only by the Father of the family reaching over the
break and putting in the new strain of blood, the germ of the family
life, and so lifting us up to the new level. And Jesus was God doing
just that.



Our Tented Neighbour.


Then John begins a new paragraph. He goes back to tell just how the
thing was done. Listen: _the Word, this wondrous One, became a man, one
of ourselves, and pitched His tent in close amongst our tents._There's
only a stretch of canvas between Him and any of us. He wanted to get
close, close enough to help, yet never infringing upon the privacy of
our tents, only coming in as He was invited. But He has remarkable
ears. A whisper reaches Him at once. And He is out of His tent into ours
to help at the faintest call. That was why He pitched His tent in
amongst ours, to be one of ourselves, and to be at hand in our need.

And then a touch of awe creeps into John's spirit as he writes, and the
light flashes out of his eye with the intensity of an old picture
surging to the front of his imagination again. There was more than a
_tent_ here, more than a _man_. Out of the man, out through the tent
doorway, and tent canvas, flashes a wondrous, soft, clear light, that
transfigures canvas and tent and man. John's face glows as he writes,
"and we beheld His _glory_."

I suppose he is thinking chiefly of that still night on white Hermon.
This despised Man had called the inner three away from the crowd, in the
dark of night, and had gently drawn aside the exquisite drapery of His
humanity, and let some of the inner glory shine out before their eyes.
So the way was lightened for them as their feet were turned with His
down towards the dark valley of the cross. I suppose John is thinking
chiefly of this.

But this is not all, I am very sure. There's more, even though this may
have been most. Glory is the character of goodness. It is not something
tacked on the outside. It is some native thing looking out from within.
So much of what we think of as glory and splendour in scenes of
magnificence is a something in the externals, the outer arrangements.
Splendid garbing, brilliant colours, dazzling shining of lights, seats
removed a distance apart and up, magnificent outer appointments, - these
seem connected in our thought with an occasion and a scene being
glorious.

But John is using the word in its simple true first meaning. Glory is
something within shining out. It is the inner native light that goodness
gives out. "We beheld _His glory_." I think John must have been thinking
of Nazareth. Thirty out of thirty-three years were spent in homely
Nazareth. Ten-elevenths of Jesus' life was spent in - _living_, simply
living the true pure strong gentle life amid ordinary circumstances,
homely surroundings. This was the greatest thing Jesus did short of
dying. He _lived_. Next to Calvary where the glory shined out
incomparably, it shined out most in Nazareth. He hallowed the common
round of life by living an uncommon life there. This was a revealing of
His glory. So He revealed the inner spirit of simple full obedience to
His Father's plan for His earth-life.

If we would only rise to His level! The way up is down. We are likest
Him when we live the true Jesus-life _regardless of where it is lived_,
on the street, in the house, amidst the ideals - or lack of ideals - of
those we touch closest. It was a wondrous glory John beheld. And the
crowd - no wonder that crowd couldn't resist Jesus. They can't even yet,
when He is _lived_.

Then John goes on quietly to explain about that glory, how it came. He
says it was "_glory as of an only begotten of a father_." The common
versions with which we are familiar, the old King James, the English and
American revisions, all say "the," "_the_ only begotten of _the_
Father." I suppose the translators wanted to make it quite clear that
Jesus was in an exceptional way the very Son of God. And so they don't
translate quite as John put it. They try to help him out a little in
making his meaning clear.

But you will notice that this old Book of God never needs any helping
out in making the truth quite clear. When you can sift through versions
and languages down to what is really being said, you find it said in the
simplest strongest way possible.

Here John is saying, "glory as of _an_ only begotten from _a_ father."
It is a family picture, so common in the East. Here in the West, the
unit of society is the individual. The farther west you come the more
pronounced this becomes, until here in our own land individualism seems
at times to run to extremes. Custom in the East is the very reverse of
this. There the unit of action is not the individual, but the _family_.
The family controls the individual in everything. We Westerners think we
can see where it runs to such extremes as to constitute one of the great


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Online LibraryS.D. GordonQuiet Talks on John's Gospel → online text (page 6 of 14)