The Ideal Christian Life
"He saved others; Himself He cannot save."—Matthew xxvii. 42.
Key Thought: "Thank God, this high and noble life is possible to us. But let us never forget that it becomes possible to us only as we abide in Christ. "He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from Me ye can do nothing." Whilst, however, we can do nothing apart from Christ, in Christ we can do all things. "I can do all things in Christ that strengthened me." There you have the true source of power. Apart from Christ I can do nothing; in Christ, in living union and constant fellowship with Christ, I can do all things."
What did these men mean to express by this taunt? Did they mean to express a disbelief in the reality of our Lord's miracles?" He professed to save others; but we have found Him out at last. We know now that it was all sham, all pretension. He cannot save Himself! How could He save others?" Or is there here an admission of the fact that our Lord did save others, and a faint hope expressed that He might come down from the cross and prove Himself to be the very Christ of God? Did they imagine that, by taunting Him in this way, He might be induced to give this proof of His Messiahship? “He has certainly saved others. Why does He not save Himself? Let Him do so now, and all our doubts will be removed. We will crown Him king, and follow Him whithersoever He may lead." Whatever their thoughts may have been, we know that our Lord did not gratify their vain curiosity.
In this taunt there is a great truth expressed. It is true that He saved others; it is true also that He could not save Himself. But there is another truth, and this other truth was hid from their eyes. Why could He not save Himself? The reason was not obvious to them; but it is perfectly clear to us. He could not save Himself because He would save others. To deliver others He must surrender Himself; to save others He must sacrifice Himself. It must be the one or the other. He could not do both—save others and save Himself also.
And what is true of the Master is true of the disciple. We, the disciples of Jesus Christ, can be saviours to men only in so far as we are willing and ready to sacrifice ourselves on their behalf. Let us then spend a little time in devout meditation on this great truth.
The man who would save others must sacrifice himself. "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" That is God's voice to us, and it rests with ourselves as to whether we will respond to the Divine voice or not. But the moment we do respond and say, "Here am I, send me," that very moment our life must become a life of service and self-sacrifice. Let me give you two or three examples as illustrations of this great truth.
“He Saved Others, Himself He Cannot Save.”
Moses’ Sacrificial Life
There is Moses in the Old Testament. When the time had come to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt, God's voice came to Moses, saying, " Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" It was optional with Moses to go or stay. But the moment he resolved to obey the Divine voice, that very moment his life became a life of service and sacrifice. Having said yes, it was not optional with him as to whether his life should be a life of self-indulgence or self-abnegation. His magnificent position in Egypt had to be renounced; his brilliant prospects of future aggrandizement had to be abandoned; his dire conflict with Pharaoh, and his forty years of suffering with and for his people in that terrible wilderness, followed as a matter of course. He lived for his people, sacrificed everything for his people, and was prepared to die for them at any moment. We know the result. Israel was saved, and God's purposes were fulfilled. Moses saved others, himself he could not save.
Paul’s Life of Self-Renunciation and Suffering
There is Paul in the New Testament. When the time had come to make known to the Gentiles God's redemptive purposes, a fit agent was needed, and God's voice came to Paul, saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" It rested with Paul to decide as to whether he would or would not respond to the Divine voice; but having responded, it did not rest with him as to whether his life should or should not be a life of service and sacrifice. The moment he said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" that moment his life became a life of self-renunciation and suffering. The hunger, the thirst, the fastings, the toil, the stripes, the imprisonments, the anxieties for the churches, and finally his martyrdom followed as a matter of course. We know the result. The Gospel was preached to the Gentiles, many churches were established in the Roman Empire, and multitudes of men were saved. Paul saved others, himself he could not save.
David Livingstone’s Life of Toil and Travail
There is David Livingstone. When the time had come to open up the Dark Continent, and to heal "this open sore of the world," as Dr. Livingstone used to call the slave trade in Africa, God called David Livingstone. It rested with himself as to whether he would or would not obey the Divine call. But the moment he said, "Here am I, send me," his life became a life of toil and travail on behalf of Africa. The long and exhausting journeys, the burning fever, the hunger and the thirst, and finally the lonely death at Ilala, all followed as a matter of course. He could not save Africa and save himself too. "I would forget all my cold, hunger, sufferings, and toils, if I could be the means of putting a stop to this cursed traffic." These were among the last words he ever wrote. David Livingstone saved others; himself he could not save.
Jesus’ Life of Sorrow and Suffering
And there is Jesus Himself. The time had come for the full manifestation of God's redemptive purpose. The time had come "to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness." The voice of God is heard, saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" It rested entirely with the Eternal Son of God as to whether He would respond to that voice. There was no power in the universe to compel Him to leave heaven and come down to this earth to suffer and die. But the moment He did respond, that moment the life of sorrow and suffering, Gethsemane, and the cross, became inevitable. The life of the world depended upon that great sacrifice. Of Jesus it may be said emphatically, He saved others; Himself He could not save.
The Law of Giving
Let us now look at this great truth as an all-pervading, all-embracing law. As a law it pervades the whole of Nature. In Nature, receiving there always means giving here; life there means death here. The animal kingdom lives on the vegetable, and the vegetable lives on the mineral. The mineral must die to itself in order to build up the vegetable, and the vegetable must die to itself in order to build up the animal. The development of vegetable life depends upon the concurrence of certain agents, such as heat, air, moisture, light, and soil. All these must die to themselves if the tree or the plant is to live and grow. In Nature there must be giving wherever there is receiving; this must be sacrificed if that is to be realized.
It is the Law of Natural Instinct
It is the law of natural instinct. No sooner is the child born than natural instinct steps in, and imposes this law of self-sacrifice on the mother. From this moment her life becomes a life of holy ministration, wherein, for the sake of the child, she cannot save herself. It is the law of family, social, and political life. Would you be a father or a son worthy of the name? Would you be a mother or a daughter worthy of the name? Would you be a husband or a wife worthy of the name? Would you be a brother or a sister worthy of the name? Would you be a neighbour worthy of the name? Would you be a statesman worthy of the name? If you would, you must come under this law as the law of your life.
It is the Law of Philanthropy
It is the law of philanthropy. A true philanthropist, a lover of mankind, is a man who cannot save himself, because he will save others. Such was Paul, such was Howard, such was Livingstone, and such have been many more whose names I might mention.
It is the Law of Divine Life
It is the law of the Divine life. It is the life of God. The mother is the queen of the family; and yet, if a true mother, she is the servant of all its members. The father is lord of his household; and yet if a true father, he moves among its members as one that serves. So the Eternal Father, though Lord of all, is the servant of all. In the truest sense, He is the servant of servants. Out of His infinite fullness, He is ever giving forth life, breath, and all things. Let us not fall into the delusion of supposing that, because God is omnipotent, the forthputting of His power costs Him nothing. This is a very common supposition, but nothing can be more erroneous. Even of God Almighty it is absolutely true that He cannot save Himself. He is ever saving others; Himself He cannot save.
It is the Law of the Christian’s Life
It is the law of the Christian life. Service, rising up to self-sacrifice for the good of men, is the ideal Christian life. Every true Christian is a priest, not merely because he stands before God alone, without the intervention of a human mediator to intercede for him, not merely because he offers to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise in daily adoration, but because his life is a life of priestly ministration for others, and that in sacrifices wherein, for the sake of others, he cannot save himself. He presents himself daily to God, on behalf of humanity, in sacrifices which save men from sin and misery. Such is the priesthood of the New Testament and such is the ideal Christian life. Can you imagine a higher life than this? Can you imagine anything more God-like. It is the Christ-life. It is the noblest life possible to man.
It is the Law of the True Missionary’s Life
It is emphatically the missionary's true life. It was the life of Henry Martyn. "Now," said Henry Martyn, as he set out for India, "let my life burn out for God." And it did burn out for God. There you have the true missionary.
It was the life of William Johnson, of West Africa. "Had I ten thousand lives," said William Johnson, "I would willingly offer them up for the sake of one poor negro." There you have the true missionary.
It was the life of Dober. "I determined," said Dober, the Moravian, "if only one brother would go with me to the West Indies, I would give myself to be a slave, and would tell the slaves as much of the Saviour as I know myself." There you have the true missionary.
It was the life of Francis Xavier. "Care not for me," said Xavier; "think of me as dead to bodily comforts. My food, my rest, and my life are to rescue from the granary of Satan the souls for whom God has sent me hither from the ends of the earth. They will destroy me by poison, you say. It is an honour to which a sinner such as I am may not aspire. But this I dare to say, that whatsoever form of torture or death awaits me, I am ready to suffer it ten thousand times for a single soul." There you have the true missionary.
It was emphatically the life of the apostle Paul, the greatest missionary the world has ever seen. If there ever has been a life all aflame with the love of Christ, if any life has ever burnt out for God and for humanity, surely that life was the life of the great apostle of the Gentiles.
This, then, is the missionary's true life. A self-seeking, self-centered, self-indulgent missionary is a pitiable object to behold. He may call himself a missionary, the directors of his society may put him down as one of their missionaries, and speak of him as our able missionary, our highly valued missionary, our well-known missionary, and so on and so on, but in God's sight he is a contemptible hireling. Every missionary ought to be a self-sacrificing man, and every missionary worthy of the name is a self-sacrificing man. Still, the true missionary will not look upon himself as a self-sacrificing man, neither will he speak of his work, and the trials in connection with it, as if he looked upon God as his debtor. His sense of indebtedness to his God and Saviour will make it impossible for him to do that. "Can that be called a sacrifice," asked Dr. Livingstone, "which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to God which we can never repay? Say rather it is a privilege." Then the missionary finds that his best work is very poor and imperfect, and that, try as he will, he can never come up to his own ideal. "My doings! my doings!" said John Elliot, the apostle of the Indians, "they have been poor and lean doings. Oh, child of the dust, lie low; it is Christ that hath triumphed."
Such is the Christian's true life. Such emphatically...
is the missionary's true life!
The Sad Lack of This Life
But how far is this life from being fully realized by Christians generally? How far from being fully realized by ministers at home and missionaries abroad? How far from being fully realized by any one of us? Some of us may have lofty ideals as to what we should be in this respect; but is there one among us who has realized his ideal?
Acknowledging Selective Sacrificing
Some will sacrifice much in one direction, but not in another. They will sacrifice in the line of their liking. But can that be called a sacrifice which a man does in the line of his liking? Ask them to step out of that line, and you will find that the idea of the Cross has never entered into their conception of the Christian life. For instance, some will talk much, and talk eloquently, but are slow to do. They are born preachers, and their Christian life begins and ends in telling others what to do. Then some will work hard, but are slow to give of their means. And some will give freely, but are slow to work. They will gladly pay others to do the work for them; but they will not touch the burden themselves. Then some will work and give; but will not suffer pain or endure trial. And some will suffer much when called upon to do so; but they will not take trouble. They have no patience for the drudgery and worry inseparably connected with all true work. The pin-pricks torment them, and spoil their best efforts. All that is disagreeable they shirk, and make the agreeable and the congenial the main considerations in their choice of service. To realize the life of which I have been speaking in all its fullness, the sacrifice must be an all-around sacrifice. We must be prepared to sacrifice in all directions. The element of self-pleasing must be cast out, and the will of God must become to us the one law of our being.
What some seek in the Christian life is the salvation of their own souls. This is a worthy aim. What shall I do to be saved? That is a question which the soul naturally asks when it first turns to its Saviour. The soul is a pearl of priceless value, and the salvation of my own soul is a matter of infinite moment to me. It is something gained when a. man begins to recognize the fact that he has a soul, and that its salvation is a matter of importance. Most men are interested in their bodies only. What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we put on? With the vast majority of men these are the all-absorbing questions from year's end to year's end. No man can be a Christian who does not rise far above this, and to whom personal salvation, the salvation of the soul, has not become a matter of supreme concern. But the Christian life does not begin and end with concern about one's own soul. Are there not other souls in the world needing salvation? Are they not as precious as my own? Has not Christ taken possession of my sinful soul, and redeemed it in order that I might yield it up to Him a pure and free-will offering on behalf of the perishing souls around me? Of even the soul, it is solemnly true that "he who findeth his soul shall lose it; and he that loseth his soul shall find it."
Looking Beyond Our Needs
What others seek in the Christian life is their own salvation from sin. This is also a worthy aim. It is a good step in advance when a man begins to realize that the salvation of the soul means salvation from sin, that the real hell which he has to dread is sin, and that there is no true heaven for him, either in this world or in the world to come, whilst under its dominion. But the Christian life does not begin and end in anxiety about one's own sin. Is not the world full of sin? Am I to feel no concern about the sins of others? If you are in Christ Jesus, you are free from sin—free from its curse, and free from its power. Jesus has set you free, and He has done so in order that you might take your stand by His side as one of God's anointed ones, to preach good tidings to the poor, and to set at liberty them that are bound. As free men in Christ, the question with you now should be, not What shall I do to save my own soul from sin, but What can I do to save a world perishing in sin?
Becoming Dissatisfied with a Sentimental “Enjoyable” Religion
And what some seek in the Christian life is the enjoyment of religion. They are sure that they are in Christ Jesus, and that to them there is now no condemnation. They are delighted with the assurance of their own safety, and straightway sit down to enjoy themselves. I am not speaking of the joy of the Lord, which is the Christian's strength. I am not speaking of the peace of Christ, which He called His own peace, and which He promised to every one who would follow in His footsteps. I am speaking of that kind of enjoyment which begins and ends in mere sentiment. I am speaking of that sentimental craving for the sweets—the sugar and plums—of religion. I am speaking of that type of the religious life which finds its fittest expression in the words enjoy, enjoyable, and the like. How I did enjoy that sermon? It was so eloquent. I do enjoy the prayers of Mr. So-and-So! They are so beautiful. Have you heard Mr. So-and-So preach? It is such a treat to hear him at his best. I do enjoy conventions! Have you been to Keswick or Llandrindod? I wish you would go this year. You would so enjoy it. And so on, and so on ad infinitum. Now all that sort of thing is very well in its way. It is quite right that we should find joy, and abundance of joy, in the religious life. But the vital question is: What are we doing for the salvation of men? What are we doing for the advancement of God's kingdom in the world? That is the solemn question for you and me to consider. What does the enjoyment lead to? Does it take me out of myself, and make me less selfish and less slothful in my Master's service? Or does it not the rather feed the self within me, and make me less and less disposed for life's real work? Enjoyment! God has not called us to a life of ease and enjoyment, but to a life of self-renunciation, self-crucifixion, and entire devotion to His will and redemptive purposes.
Consecrated to Save Others
What, then, must we, as followers of Jesus Christ, seek to be? We must seek to be true priests of God on behalf of humanity. Who is the true priest? The true priest is a holy man, forgiven by God, separated by God, consecrated to God, and filled with the peace of God, and with power for service. Thank God, the Christian Church has never been wholly destitute of such men. Thank God, there are in the world to-day true priests of God. There are consecrated men and women who cannot save themselves, because they are absorbed in the Christ-like work of saving others. Their grand aim in life is to save men, and therefore they do not and cannot spare themselves, do not and cannot save themselves. And the world is growing richer in such men every day. In no past age have there been so many as are to be found to-day.
May God fill the world with such men, and let us seek to be among them. Let us seek to be filled with true enthusiasm for God and humanity. Let us beware of the false enthusiasm which professes to burn for God, but is indifferent to the claims of our brother man. Let us seek to be filled with the Christ-in-us enthusiasm which burned in the heart of the great apostle of the Gentiles—the enthusiasm which compelled him to look upon himself as a debtor to all men, and which made him the mighty spiritual force that he was in his own day, that he is in our day, and that he will be to the end of time.
Pursuing This Sacrificial Calling
Would we enter fully into this Christ-like life of which I have been speaking? Then we must believe in it. We must believe in it as the life indeed; we must believe in it as the highest and noblest life; and we must believe in it as a life possible to us. A distinguished preacher, speaking of the death of Christ, said: "We cannot follow Him there. He is an example for us in His humility, in His patience, in His friendliness of disposition, and so forth. But when He hangs upon the cross we cannot follow Him there. Self-preservation is the first law of life." That is one view of the matter, and a very low, secular, contemptible view it is. To the man who holds it, the life of which I have been speaking is and ever will be impossible.
But there is another view of the matter, and it is given by the apostle John. "Hereby know we love; because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Not "hereby know we the love of God" but hereby know we love, that is, love in its character and essence, love as it has been manifested by God for me, and as it ought to be manifested by me for my brother man. That is the apostle John's view of the Christian's true life, and no one knew the mind of the Master better than he. Yes, dear friends, we must be ready to follow Him even when He hangs upon the cross. We must be prepared for even this, if we would take our stand by the side of the "Great Martyr," and be saviours to men.
Young Voltaire, having completed his studies, was standing before his father in the library. "My son," said his father, " have you determined upon what career you would prefer to enter?" "I should like to be a reformer, my father," replied the young man. "And have you, my son, considered the fate of reformers?" "And what may the fate of reformers be, my father?" For sole answer to young Voltaire's query, his father gravely pointed to a painting representing Jesus on the cross.
Yes, thank God, this high and noble life is possible to us. But let us never forget that it becomes possible to us only as we abide in Christ. "He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for apart from Me ye can do nothing." Whilst, however, we can do nothing apart from Christ, in Christ we can do all things. "I can do all things in Christ that strengthened me." There you have the true source of power. Apart from Christ I can do nothing; in Christ, in living union and constant fellowship with Christ, I can do all things. "If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you." Ask whatsoever ye will as my disciples; ask whatsoever ye will in union with me, as one with me, and it shall be done unto you. Do you need power? Ask for power. Do you need wisdom? Ask for wisdom. Do you need guidance? Ask for guidance. Do you need grace? Ask for grace. "Ask whatsoever ye will." Only abide in me, and let my words abide in you, and nothing will be impossible to you.
Yes, this glorious life is possible to every one of us; for Jesus, the author and perfector of our Faith, has made it possible. He has taught it, He has lived it, and He has shown us how we may live it too. His voice to us to-day is: "Follow Me." "Take up thy cross and follow Me." "Deny thyself and follow Me." "Learn of Me." "Abide in Me." May God help us to hear and obey that voice; may it be an ambition to follow the Christ and become, in our measure, veritable saviours to men.
The great need of the age is men, not rich men, not wise men, not learned men—we have them in abundance—but men of deep convictions, men who are conscious of the all-consuming power of the love of God, men with whom it is a passion to save men, men who are prepared to dare all things and endure all things, in order to finish the work which they feel in their inmost soul that God has given them to do.
May God make us men and women of this stamp, and may we so live that those who know us best may be able to say of each one of us when we have passed away, "He saved others; himself he could not save. She saved others; herself she could not save."
John, Griffeth, A Voice From China, (London: James Clarke & Co., 1907), pp. 53-68.