Greater Works than Christ's

John 14:12.---' Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.'

The more we think about these words, the greater their significance appears. They are rich in suggestiveness; but they are very hard to understand. Did our Lord literally intend to predict that His followers in the centuries to come were actually going to do greater works than He, the Son of God, was then doing? We feel that the statement is one which no one but Christ would have ventured to make, one which men hardly venture to make now, in spite of the fact that they have His authority for it. We certainly have not reached the stage of feeling that we fully understand His meaning. Can we give any explanation of it at all? Can we suggest any way in which it has been, or is being, partially fulfilled?

It has been suggested that the prediction was fulfilled by the experiences which characterized the Apostolic age. But can we regard that as an adequate explanation? The Apostles themselves and some of the other disciples wrought, no doubt, many wonderful works. The primitive Church was filled with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which resulted in strange manifestations, such as the gift of speaking with unknown tongues. The elders of the Church prayed over sick people, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord, and thus healed both bodily and spiritual infirmities. But can one say of any of these things that they were greater works than those which were done by Christ Himself? Again, it has been suggested that He may have been referring to the wider spiritual effects produced by the preaching of the gospel as time went on. Our Lord Himself had merely taught in Palestine: he had appealed, with but few exceptions, to Jews. The Apostles and their successors, on the other hand, were to preach to the Gentiles throughout the world. But does this extension of the area over which Christianity was preached really make the spiritual work done by the disciples greater than that done by the Master?

The reason which Christ Himself gives for these greater works is that He is about to leave His disciples---' because I go unto my Father.' He thus definitely connects His prediction with the increase of power from on high given at Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost these mighty works began. How long were they to continue? Was the promise given only to the Apostles and to the age in which they lived? Or was it to extend to later generations? Much turns on the question, how far our Lord's horizon extended as He looked forward. Was it bounded, as some think, by the fall of Jerusalem some forty years later, that is, before the Fourth Gospel was written? That seems improbable. Did Christ Himself suppose, as many of the early disciples undoubtedly supposed, that His second Coming was not to be delayed very long? To answer that question we can at present give no final answer. Christ's apocalyptic teaching is hard to understand, and there are phrases which tell both ways. But it has been pointed out with great force that much of our Lord's policy during His ministry is difficult to comprehend except on the supposition that He was looking forward to a far-distant future. Consider, for instance, His seeming indifference about the number or the worldly position of His adherents. He discourages would-be followers: He withdraws Himself when His popularity is at its height: He refuses to work signs and wonders to order, as a means of convincing influential opponents. If we regard Him as aiming merely at immediate success, this conduct is inexplicable, but if He felt that He was starting a movement which was to go on working for countless ages, then we can understand why in His eyes the important thing was not the success of the moment, but the laying down of principles which should ensure permanence and progress. A thousand years are with the Lord as one day. "God is patient," says St. Augustine, "because He is eternal."

We cannot presume to determine with any exactness how far the limitations of our Lord's human nature interfered with the clearness of His insight into the future. The mystery of the Incarnation defies analysis. We only know that there were limitations. But we can at least claim for Him a power of anticipation such as all great leaders of thought have possessed. As we look back over the history of scientific progress, we see that the pioneers of any great advance in knowledge have always foreseen that greater works would be done in their department in the future than those which they themselves were doing. They could not, of course, foretell the exact direction from which the new advance was to come, or the precise shape which it would assume. But that it would come they had no doubt. They were sure of this because they foresaw that their successors would have greater advantages than they themselves had had. For at each step forward in any scientific subject the investigator is able to draw upon the accumulated stores of past observation and experience in that subject. He does not start afresh from the beginning: he starts where his predecessor left off. The result is that each generation in turn enters on an enlarged heritage of knowledge.

Many modern folk have a quite unjustified sense of intellectual superiority over their ancestors because so many evils which our forefathers took for granted we would not endure, and so many social improvements which seemed to them impossible we take for granted. But the difference between us and our ancestors does not lie primarily in individual increase of mental power on our part. There is no evidence that any man's intellect on earth today is equal to Aristotle's, nor do we know with any surety that the brain capacity of mankind as a whole is greater now than it was in the Ice Age. What has happened is mainly the slow accumulation of a social heritage. By long and patient processes of aspiring, thinking, trying, daring, and sacrificing, mankind has accumulated a cultural inheritance.

Let us try to apply these thoughts to our Lord's promise that His disciples, if they believe in Him, shall do greater works than He did. Christianity, also, has its stores of accumulated experience. Ever since Christ came to men there has been a Power at work in the world which has been gradually, if slowly, building up and raising to higher levels the ideal of the Christian life. Our greatest saints now cannot be regarded as holier men or women than the saints of old, but they have before them greater possibilities as to the interpretation of the teaching of Jesus both on its intellectual and its practical side. Each successive generation of Christians, if we put aside periods of actual stagnation, has entered upon a new and wider inheritance of Christian civilization, the outcome of centuries of Christian nurture and Christian tradition. We know, of course, that there is an immense set-off which has been placed against this upward movement of Christianity. We think of the ignorant masses whom Christ's message has failed to reach: we think of the indifference or contempt which it sometimes encounters in educated circles. Yet can we really doubt, not merely that the world is vastly the better and richer for the standard that Christianity has set, but that the uplifting influence of that standard still continues? Those Christians nowadays whose hearts and lives have been really touched by the power of the Spirit of Christ, may be said in some respects to be doing greater works than ever been done before in the history of the Church. Was there ever a time when greater, heartier, wider, better-organized efforts were being made to carry on two works which stand pre-eminent among those which our Master did on earth---the healing of men's bodies and the spiritual uplifting of their souls? And as the more enlightened treatment of disease and sin becomes further developed, we can hardly doubt that the works which men do in these two directions will become greater and greater. That is an encouraging thought, but it need give rise to no self-complacency. However great may be he works done by Christian men and women nowadays, they are only the result of past accumulations of Christian experience, the mere outcome of enlarged opportunity. The thought that the work is one thing while the man who does it is another, that the work may be greater while the man may be immeasurably less, does away with some of the difficulty that we feel about our Lord's prediction. If conceivably men may some day do works greater from some points of view than He did, still His unique supremacy remains untouched.

Is there a danger at the present day of our putting too high a value on the work that is being done by those who believe in Christ? Some people think so. God alone knows the truth about this. God alone sees all thought and study and investigation, all the love and sympathy and pity, all the patience and zeal and devotedness, which are being brought to bear on the terrible problems of our age. We may be sure, at any rate, that our Lord's promise about the greater works that should be done in the future has not yet received complete fulfillment. The promise only serves at present to suggest an ideal that is inconceivably distant. What possibilities my be in store for this and succeeding generations we know not, and conjecture is useless.

For the present let Christians be content to remind themselves that our Lord's promise in the text is made to those who believe in Him. Men will never do the works that He did---still less do greater works than He did---unless they regard Him as the source of all their power of doing good work. The Christian believes that at the back of all the progress made in medicine and surgery stands Christ, at the back of all faith-healing and treatment by suggestion stands Christ, at the back of all philanthropic work stands Christ. No Christian wishes to disparage non-Christian philanthropy. But if we once sever the intimate connection between the Spirit of Christ and human development, sooner or later the work is bound to suffer. We may talk of the blessings of civilization, of the gospel of material progress, of the value of non-religious ideals in the sphere of morals and politics. But none of these things will take the place of work done in the name of Christ and for Christ. They have not the secret of the power which Christ supplies to those who believe in Him. That power we can gain only in one way. It comes only from the simple, direct, close, personal following of Christ. If only each one of us will turn to Him and put ourselves in His charge, then who can foresee the added increase of beauty of character, of nobleness of conduct, and of control over material conditions that will come to us and our children as the generations pass on?

In Christ, timothy. maranatha