HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.-Matthew 11:22
In Jesus, There Was Never Any Hesitancy
There is one element in the character of Jesus which is well worthy of our consideration. It is the element which, in default of a better word, one might describe as His decisiveness. In other men, even the greatest, you catch continually the note of hesitancy. Even in the most dogmatic person, you have the occasional sense of possible mistake. But in the Jesus given us in the Gospels, there is not the faintest trace of such a hesitancy. There is an absolute and instantaneous certainty in the face of every problem and perplexity. In other lives, if such certainty is found, it is found generally in exalted hours. It is found in those rare and elevated moments when the mists are scattered somehow, and we know. But with Jesus this decisiveness was normal. He had not to wait for any glorious hours. It never seems to have left Him for an instant as He moved among the villages of Galilee. From the first recorded utterance of His boyhood, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” on to the last glad triumph on the cross, when He exulted in the thought that it was finished, there is not visible one shadow of perplexity, nor any halting as of uncertain feet, nor any clouding, even for a moment, of the serene decisiveness of Christ.
Christ’s Decisiveness Was Accompanied by Charm
This is all the more notable when we remember how infinitely gracious Jesus was. The mystery of His decisiveness is deepened greatly when we associate it with the beauty of His character. When men have a habit of laying down the law, they may convince us but they rarely charm us. Your citizen who is always in the right may generally reckon on being held a nuisance. And the unique thing about our Lord is this, that He was always laying down the law, yet men found Him infinitely gracious. He was dogmatic and yet they clung to Him. He was intolerant yet infinitely winsome. He was always judging without the slightest hesitancy, and yet men never felt He was censorious. There was in our Lord a constant self-assertion that is quite unparalleled in human history, yet I do not think that any lip was curled when He said He was meek and lowly in heart. It is such antinomies in Jesus’ character that have made men call Him utterly inexplicable. No one would ever have dreamed of such a character, had not such a character actually existed. To be full of grace has been a lot of some, and to be full of truth the lot of others, but to be full of grace and truth is the unique prerogative of Christ.
Christ’s Decisiveness in Regard to Israel
We catch that note of decisiveness in many spheres, and first in regard to the long past of Israel. There is nothing more striking in the Gospel record than the attitude of our Saviour to that past. What thoughts He cherished about the past of Greece we neither know nor are we meant to know. Nor shall we ever know what thoughts He cherished about the magnificent grandeur which was Rome. But how He viewed the glorious past of Israel, with its song of psalmist and oracle of the prophet, all that is written so that all may read. For Christ that story of Israel was divine. It was the revelation of His God. One jot or title of the law was not to pass till everything had been fulfilled. And yet though He reverenced it with a far deeper reverence than any scribe who sat in Moses’ seat, He judged it with the unfaltering decision. He utters His judgments of these old enactments with the perfect freedom of a full authority. This He accepts as something always valid; that He rejects as something only temporary. He moves among these glories of the past not as a subject who has no right to question, but as a king who has the power to abrogate, as certainly as He has the power to endorse. Moses said unto you so and so, but I say unto you so and so. He has the fullest authority to ratify, and He has the fullest authority to cancel. And all this from a Galilean villager who had never had any learning from the schools, and who had been cradled in His village home in intensest devotion to the past. Had Jesus been a reckless demagogue, we could more easily have understood that attitude. There are demagogues who do not care one scrap for all that is highest and holiest in antiquity. But Jesus cared intensely for antiquity, for He saw in it the handiwork of God, and yet He judged it, and praised it, and condemned it, with a decision from which was no appeal.
Christ’s Decisiveness in Regard to Himself
The same striking feature of decisiveness is seen again in regard to His own person. Christ never seems to have doubted for an hour that He was supremely and ineffably great. I have through my life been a reader of biographies, which I take to be the most fruitful of all reading. Well, in all the great lives that I ever read, there is one thing evident and universal. It is that every life has had its faltering hours when vision has failed and inspiration vanished when a man’s confidence in his power and genius has silently and unaccountably deserted him. You find it in every life of men of action. You find it in every life of men of thought. You find it conspicuously and remarkably in the biography of every saint. Yet Christ, who was a man of thought and action, as surely as He was the idea of sainthood, was never visited by an hour like that. Other men rise to the thought of greatness; Christ was possessed with it from the beginning. Other men win it, and in dejection lose it; Christ never lost it in an hour of agony. Rejected by His own people and betrayed, Pilate said to Him, Art Thou king? And Jesus replied, Thou sayest, I am a king. There is something very wonderful in that, and I would give much that you should feel the wonder of it. That is a consciousness not merely notable; that is a consciousness which is unique. And when you have difficulties about the virgin birth, and about miracles, and the resurrection, I beg you to turn your thoughts to facts like these if you wish to feel the mystery of Christ. No one doubted that He was meek and lowly. Everyone saw that He would not strive nor cry. There was a loving gentleness about this man of Nazareth which drew the burdened and the broken to Him. And yet this loving, gentle, lowly Man said, “I am the way–I am the truth–I am the life”; and “Before Abraham was, I am.”
He Declares Himself to Be Greater Than Solomon and the Temple
That unfaltering sense of His pre-eminence is sometimes witnessed by our Lord’s comparisons, and there are two such comparisons so vivid that it is worthwhile to recall them for a moment. To the Jews of our Lord’s time, there was one name in history that stood out glorious above all other names, and there was one building that meant more to them than any other building in the world. The name so pre-eminent was that of Solomon, and the building so solitary was the temple. These two sums up, for every pious Jew, all that was highest and holiest in the past–all that was most magnificent in the empire, all wealth of argosies from distant shores, all near the protection of a covenant God who had His place of rest between the cherubim. No king had ever been so great as Solomon; no building ever so holy as the temple. To it, the heart of every exile turned, and for it, even the exile would have died. And now comes Jesus, and to men and women burning with passionate convictions such as these, He quietly says, “I am greater than Solomon,” and “a greater than the temple is here.” Had He been a stranger with an alien upbringing that would have been easier to understand. But He was no stranger with an alien upbringing; He was the son of Mary and the Child of Nazareth. He had been fed upon the Jewish Scriptures; He had been kindled as a boy with Jewish memories, and yet with a quiet, unfaltering decision He placed Himself supreme above them all.
Decisive about Human Character
The same decisiveness is very marked again in our Lord’s handling of the character of others. There is a ring of finality in all His judgments which is very arresting and impressive. Every age has its own problems with which it must wrestle and seek to answer. But there is one problem common to all ages, and that is the problem of a human life. And men are always trying to solve that problem, and are always baffled in their attempts to solve it, there is such intertwining of evil and of good in the most commonplace and ordinary mortal. If all that was noble in a human character stood out apart and separate from the base, how easy it would be to judge a brother and to classify him, and assign him to his deserts. And it is just because in actual human life there is no such cleavage between light and darkness, that men are so baffled in their attempts to judge. Sometimes all that is fairest in a character is perilously akin to what is foulest. Sometimes all that is basest in a character is irradiated by gleams of heaven itself. Until at last in the common lives around us we meet so much that is awesome and inscrutable, that we feel how impossible it is to judge. There are people, many of them women, who have a wonderful intuition into character. They seem to detect, as by a kind of instinct, the innermost nature of the folk they meet. Yet even they can never be quite sure that they have solved the secret of a character, for something always may emerge tomorrow that contradicts the impression of today. It is not the great only who are misunderstood; every one of us is misunderstood We baffle each other, and perplex each other, and are insoluble enigmas to our dearest. We are a little better than the most loving thing, and a little worse than the nastiest imagine; and if one thing is certain in this mortal life, it is that no one has ever seen us as we are.
Christ Was Never Baffled by Any Problem of Human Personality
Now it is just here, I say with the fullest confidence, that Jesus of Nazareth stands unique. There is not one trace that He was ever baffled by the haunting problem of human personality Born in a remote and quiet village, He went into the world of men. There, with an utter freedom from convention, He mingled in every circle of society. And if one thing is certain in that unfettered intercourse, which brought Him into touch with rich and poor, it is that His every judgment was decisive. One hour He was disputing with the Pharisees; the next He was in the company of Mary. Now it was a rich young ruler who was at His feet, and now it was a woman who had been a sinner. And always, without one trace of hesitancy, you have the Saviour praising or condemning with an authority from which there is no appeal. One man, He commands to follow Him; another He bids go to his home again. One man, He overwhelms with woe unutterable; over another, He pronounces pardon And all this He is doing every day, and in the course of His ordinary ministry, and with people whom He has never seen before, till suddenly they are forced into His presence. There is something very wonderful in that; there is something quite unparalleled in that. And if you have doubts about the resurrection, I want you to give your thoughts to facts like these. Do not brood upon your resurrection difficulties; brood upon these great facts in Jesus’ life, till it comes home to you, as it has come to many of us, that this is none other than the Son of God.
Christ’s Decisiveness in Regard to the Future
Then lastly, this decisiveness of Christ comes to its climax as regards the future. You find no shadow of doubt upon His heart as He looks forward to the coming ages. There are men who have started out with flowing hopes, and then their hopes have gradually died. For sorrow has come, and very bitter enmity and they have lost the vision of the morning. But on that night on which He was betrayed, when everything was dark and spoke of treachery, Christ was certain that He would be remembered. He had no hesitancy about the past, handling its content with a swift decisiveness. He had no hesitancy with any human soul that rose up out of the crowd and stood before Him. And equally certain of these facts is this, that He knew no hesitancy about the future, nor about the absolute power that He would wield when the small and great were gathered before God. You remember what Danton at the French Revolution cried out with all the passion of his heart. He cried out–and he meant it from the depths–“Let my name be blighted, but let France be free.” And that is a cry that has echoed down the ages from the lips of every patriot and prophet, with the one exception of the Lord Jesus Christ. Others have been content to die if only the cause for which they fought should triumph. Others have been content to be forgotten if only their message should inspire mankind. But Christ was never content to be forgotten, and never dreamed that He would be forgotten, but in the very centre of all coming ages knew that He would bless and would condemn. While we must be on our guard against interpreting literally the poetic and pictorial language of the Master, there can be no question that Christ anticipated a day of judgment when the secret of every life would be revealed. And the amazing thing is that in that day of judgment it is His presence that is to search the character and His estimate that is to turn the scale of heavenly blessedness or awful loss. Whenever Christ speaks about a day of judgment, it is He Himself who is the central figure. It is He who separates the sheep and goats. It is He who says Depart, I never knew you. And that magnificence of royal authority, which is interwoven with the whole Gospel story, is the climax of the decisiveness of Christ. Did you ever think how different it was from the outlook of the old Jewish prophets? They had their vision of a coming day, but in that day you never light on them. Then Christ took up that old prophetic vision, and glorified it, and touched it with eternity, and in the centre of it all He puts one figure, and that one central figure is Himself. My brother and sister, either that is blasphemy, or it is something different from humanity. Either it is wild, defiant atheism, or else in the sweep of it, it is divine. And as reasonable beings you have to ask yourselves, knowing the tenor of the life of Jesus, which of the two conclusions is more likely. For myself, it is such facts that are determinative. They lead me in Christ to the very feet of God. Though it were proved to me that Jesus never rose, Jesus would still be more than a man for me. Down in the depths of His moral and spiritual being, I light on things I cannot understand unless that solitary lowly figure was different from us children of mortality.