HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.–John 18:20
Jesus’ Words Cannot Be Separated from His Person
In the revived interest which is felt today in the person and character of Jesus Christ, it is inevitable that close attention should be directed to His words. There are teachers whose life you can separate from their words, ignoring the one while you regard the other; but you never can create a gulf like that between the words and the character of Jesus. To His own mind, His sayings and His person were correlated in the most vital way. He carries over from one sphere to the other some of the richest blessings of discipleship. What the flower is to its deep-hidden root, what the rays of sunshine are to the sun, that is the oral teaching of our Lord to His gracious and unfathomable person.
Jesus Was Frank and Bold
Now among the attributes of our Redeemer’s speech one which arrests attention is its candour. In our text, our Lord lays claim to a great openness, and it is a claim which cannot be disputed. The whole impression made by the life of Jesus is that of a Teacher who was frank and bold; of one who would not hesitate to speak, whatever the consequences to Himself might be; of one who rejoiced in liberty of utterance out of a heart that was full to overflowing, as a stream rejoices to make the meadows musical when fed from the springs of the everlasting hills. There is many a reserved and silent man who has to be coaxed and wheedled into speech. There are those who are eloquent in high-strung moods, but almost inaudible in common days. But the impression which Christ makes is not such; it is that of one to whom utterance was a joy and whose words, out of unfathomed depths, well over in the beauty of unpremeditated wisdom.
Christ’s Candor Was Always at the Service of His Love
Of course, this candour of our Lord and Master was always at the service of His love. It was the instrument of a pure and perfect sympathy which knew that there were reasons to be silent. No passion is so free of speech as love and none has the secret of such winning eloquence; yet love, which can unlock the dullest lips, is also the mistress of the art of sealing them. And the perfect candour of our Redeemer’s talk was ever subservient to that noblest love which dares to speak when other lips are silent and to be silent when other voices speak. “I have yet many things to say to you,” said Christ, “but ye cannot bear them now.” New truths were welling up, seeking for utterance, yet remained unuttered at the behest of love. The time was coming when hearts would be established and able to bear the weight of revelation; but until then, in the judgment of the Master, to be candid was only to be cruel. There is a candour which is the child of ignorance, for fools rush in where angels fear to tread. There is a candour which betrays the bitter heart, for it speaks the truth but does not speak of love. But the candour of Jesus goes hand in hand with reticence, and both look up to catch their inspiration from the most loving and sympathetic eyes that ever beamed upon a sinful world.
We may trace this candour of our Lord in many spheres; in His treatment, for instance, of those who came to Him. He scorned to disguise the truth about the future from those who sought an entrance to His kingdom. Think of that scribe who came to Him bubbling over with enthusiasm. “Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest,” was his eager and excited cry. Now had Jesus said to him, “I welcome thee–thou art a child of Abraham indeed,” none would have doubted that the text was genuine. There are seasons of dejection and depression when any disciple seems better than none at all. There are times when the loyalty even of shallow hearts is very precious to a suspected leader. And was not this man a scribe–a learned person–one of the classes who were bitter foes to Christ; and would not his allegiance, once secured, be more important than that of twenty fishermen? All that might have weighed with other leaders; it was light as gossamer to Jesus Christ. His only care was, to be frank, and true to a soul that did not know what it was doing. And so the word of welcome was not spoken; but instead, a word as sad as it was searching: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Christ will have no disciple on false pretences. He issues no rosy prospectus of His kingdom. He never hides from those who wish to serve Him that right in the path of the future is a cross. And this is the candour not of indifference but of love, which shrinks from the least appearance of deception and will have no man say in bitter moments that he was tricked unto discipleship by guile.
Christ’s Candor in His Charges against the Pharisees
Again we note the candour of our Lord in the charges which He hurled against the Pharisees. In the whole range of human utterance, there are no more deadly or awful accusations. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees”–how dreadful is the reiteration of that doom, like the recurring mutterings of thunder over a meadowland of summer beauty. Most of us have had moments when we wished that these dark and dreadful words had not been spoken. They are so hard to reconcile with love and with that gentleness of Christ which makes us great (Psalm 18:35). Yet all these charges, so fearless and so frank and so utterly regardless of all consequence, were part of the battle which Jesus Christ was fighting on behalf of misguided and downtrodden men. There is a deep sense in which it was Christ’s candour that brought Him at last to His death upon the cross. Had He refrained from His speech against the Pharisees, He might have escaped the fury of their hate. But for Christ, such silence would have been a betrayal of the very cause that He had come to battle for, and therefore to be silent was impossible. It was not because the Pharisees despised Him that Jesus flashed on them in splendid anger. Our Lord was sublimely and superbly heedless of indignities that were offered to Himself. But it was because they marred the Name of God and sullied the fair features of religion and changed the happy service of the Father into a burden too heavy to be borne.
Now there are times in every life when it takes a certain courage to be quiet. To every man and woman there come seasons when the path of duty is the path of silence. All that is basest in us bids us speak, for there is a candour that is the child of hell; but all that is noblest in us check our speech lest to someone we do irreparable harm. But remember, if it takes courage to be quiet, it also may call for courage, to be frank. To speak the word that we know ought to be spoken may rob the eyes of sleep through a long night. And when the heart is sensitive and tender and shrinks instinctively from causing pain, the duty of candour becomes doubly difficult. All that ought to be borne in mind when we consider the candour of our Lord. No one could charge Him with being hard or cold. He was gentle-hearted and exquisitely sensitive. Yet frankly and fearlessly, not in a blind fury, but as a duty that had to be discharged, He swept the Pharisees with withering scorn. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Christ’s Candor of Confessing He Knows Not the Hour of His Return
Again we note the candour of our Lord in saying that there were things He did not know. Think, for example, of the account He gives of the final coming of the Son of Man. It is a wonderful and awful picture, fresh from a heart that had a vision of it. Clothed in the imagery of the ancient prophets, it is yet something mightier than the prophets dreamed of. But immediately, having described that hour, our Savior adds that He does not know that hour–“Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the Son, but the Father.” To me, there is nothing startling whatever in the mere fact of such an ignorance. Was it not part of that humiliation to which our Lord had voluntarily stooped? Surely the humiliation would have been incomplete had the mind of Jesus been excluded from it by still retaining, in all its height and depth, the perfection of knowledge which is God’s. It is not the ignorance that is so wonderful. It is the frank confession of that ignorance. It is the way in which Christ, who made such mighty claims, said to His followers, “I do not know.” And it seems to me that such a splendid candour, with all the inevitable risks it brought, is a mightier argument for trusting Christ than many which the theologians adduce. When a man who is a master in some science says to me candidly, “I do not know,” I am always readier to trust that man when he unlocks the riches of his knowledge. And so when Jesus, quietly and frankly, says to His own, “I do not know that hour,” somehow it makes me readier to believe Him when He speaks of duty, of heaven, and of God. People who only know a little are the people who are afraid to show their ignorance. Those who know most are always the readiest to tell you frankly what they do not know. And so when Jesus Christ declares His ignorance, and does so freely and without compulsion, I feel I am in the presence of a Master whose statements can be absolutely trusted. There is a lack of candour in some Christian teachers which is utterly alien to the Master’s spirit. If they would only tell us what they mean, it would be easier to know what they don’t mean. It is not the mark of the greatest and the best to be tortuous and “irrecoverably dark.” In all the greatest there is a certain candour akin to the simplicity of Christ.
Christ’s Candor in His Fellowship with His Disciples
Then the last sphere in which I note this frankness is in His intercourse with His disciples. With an open and overflowing heart, Christ gave Himself to the friendship of His own. It was said of Cardinal Newman by one who ought to know, that he had the capacity for whole-hearted friendship. It is not such a common capacity as we imagine though the name of a friend is often on our lips. But certainly, it was possessed by Jesus and exercised in such fullness towards His own that life and death, and love and pain and joy, were different ever afterwards to them. Now one of the marks of the capacity for friendship is the power to give oneself in happy confidence. There is the opening towards a friend of many a door that is fast barred in the presence of the world. Heart goes out to heart in simple trust, and mind is kindled at the touch of mind, and the reserve and coldness which the world necessitates are quite forgotten in that tender intimacy. No man can ever hope to be a friend who looks on candour as a doubtful virtue. There is no friendship worthy of the name for the man who wraps his nature in reserve. And the very fact that Christ was such a friend that His friendship made all the difference to the twelve is the best proof if proof were needed, of the glorious frankness of the Saviour. Read over again the Gospel of St. John which is so full of His conversation with His own. Compare and contrast it with the other Gospels that are the record of His public ministry. Do that, and you will speedily discover how “frank” was the self-disclosure of our Lord when in the company of those who trusted Him and whose hearts “burned within them while He spake.”
In closing may I say a single word about the response this should evoke from us? Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby says this, “Among men who have any sound and sterling qualities, there is nothing so contagious as the pure openness of heart.” Christ, then, opens His heart to you; will you not respond by opening yours to Him? Christ wants to deal with you in perfect frankness; will you not be frank and honest in return? Make no concealment. Do not excuse yourself. Trust Him, and tell Him all the story. A confidence like that He always honours a blessing which is heaven begun.