The Discovery of the Living Christ

Luke 24:28,29.---' And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us.'

Jesus had talked to these men by the way and had made their sad hearts burn, kindling a flame of faith where there were only the dull ashes of a smoking fire. And then a strange thing happened. When they came to their home 'he made as though he would have gone further.'

Perhaps we have never thought of that side of His character and His way with people, yet it was His habit all through. He never forced an entrance to any man's house. He never tried to intrude into any man's life. You remember that exquisite story of His day with the woman taken in sin: when Jesus was left alone with her and a confession was just trembling on her lips, He did not allow her to make it. He would not intrude, or ask any questions, or invite any confessions that might bring a blush to her cheek, when there was no need of words, for He knew, and she knew that He knew. The only house to which Jesus ever invited Himself was the house of Zaccheaus. But He saw that Zacchaeus was just burning to ask Him, yet dared not, and so the invitation was already there.

The message this story has for us is that Christ comes, and if He be not welcomed and constrained He goes. We may not recognize Him as Christ---that is the point---not just at first. There is an old saying that God comes without a bell. We may not know that we have been visited by Christ, but get behind the scenes, and the real story is that He has come, and because He was not welcomed He went. We all know something like that in the inner life of our spirits. We have an hour when God seems near, and then somehow the moment passes and we seem to be left alone. Most people have had in their experience a time when Jesus was the biggest figure in history, the hero of heroes. We have missed our true development if we have missed that. There is a time in life when it is as natural to love Christ and want to follow Him as it is to love our mother. But the moment pass. Or it may be the impulse goes and we feel quite differently. Or there is an hour when our hearts are burning with the flaming miseries of other people's lives, and then the hour passes. And though we feel we have lost something, we take it as a bit of life, and come to imagine our hearts as a kind of Aeolian harp, hung out the window for life to play upon while we give ourselves to the sterner business of life. But the question is whether the real explanation of those experiences is that Christ came and joined Himself to us on the way, and made our hearts burn for a moment as He lit up a fragment of life, or duty, or the love of God, and then He made as though to go further, and we let Him go!

That was Jesus' way in life, and it is His way still. That is the reason why religion seems so elusive a thing. It is because God will not force His way. Many people still cannot get past the question why God does not compel them. They seem to think that if God be a reality He will force Himself in on us in some startling and recognizable form. They do not see the truth that God cannot compel. He treats us as His friends. No one can force his way into a human heart. Faith is a thing you cannot compel. You may force a man's lips, but he becomes a hypocrite. You may dominate his mind, but then you have taken away his manhood. And God's great business with us is to train us into manhood, free and sincere, seeing the truth with our own eyes and claiming it with our lives, and seeing goodness for ourselves and choosing it with our own wills---there is no other way for God to take.

And so the truth comes and whispers itself to our conscience, or the light dawns and gently touches our inner eye, or the love steals in and knocks at our heart's door, and if they be not laid hold of and when they go they leave the heart more desolate than before.

But we do not need to dwell on that side of the picture. Thank God, we have the assurance that God never finally leaves any man, though ears may grow so dull that His knocking cannot be heard till some stroke of circumstance shatters the house about our ears! Let us rather turn to these two disciples with the risen Christ beside them, whom they did not recognize, and see how they reached the knowledge of the great reality of His presence! The Scripture tells us that they constrained Him, saying, 'Abide with us.'

What does that suggest to us in dealing earnestly with our best moments?

In the first place we ought to recognize them for what they are---the touch of God upon our life, the whisper of God within our souls. There are many people who have a good deal of religious experience, though they have never recognized it for what it is, or linked it up with any thought of God. They have never seen that the Spirit who makes their hearts burn with aspiration and with compassion is the same Jesus who lived, and died, and rose again. What they need to do is just to recognize their experience for what it is, and realize that it is God with whom they have to do.

This unconscious fellowship with God, if we call it so, does not reach its full development or its full power with us till we become conscious of the real Divine source of what is moving us. If we knew it is God who comes to us in every fine moment, and not just a passing emotion like a fitful wind, would it not make a world of difference? To recognize the grace of God, to affirm it, is to be aware of the very scent of God, and to be drawn by it the more powerfully because we know what it is. What new light sprang into the world, what new meanings came into those conversations by the road, when they became aware they had been touched with Christ in one in whom they had taken for a stranger!

We can describe the experience of finding God real in words that might be used by thousands upon thousands: It is as if we were touched at every point by a being akin to oneself, but sympathetic beyond measure. It is like standing side by side with one whom we love deeply and trust completely. The moment may come when we are alone in the darkness under the stars, or walking along a country road, or when we sit and muse; but when it comes our lives are changed. There is no longer any doubt of God.

In the second place we need to take Him definitely and with patience into our lives. 'They constrained him, saying, Abide with us.' This word 'constrained,' says a great scholar, is the strongest word in the New Testament. We must take Him in: that means effort, deliberate.

One of the main reasons why religion remains an unreality is that we miss this side of it. We think of God as waiting His chance to break into our life, once we open the door. There is a truth in this. often it needs only a surrender on some point or other for faith to become an overwhelming experience that takes control of our life. But there is another side to it, another demand religion makes. It demands to be thought out. God needs to be sought, to be definitely brought into life. We need to think out, with the shadow of Christ upon our life, the implications of our Christianity. The love of Christ is like any other love. If it is to be real experience we need to think out its meaning and its demand upon our life in every kind of way. Those disciples took Him into the house, they constrained him saying, 'Abide with us.'

What does it mean to take Him in? It means taking Him into the home, for one thing---into the family secrets, into the household troubles and cares, asking what He has to say or suggest. It means taking Him into the place of business. There, again, everything would come under His light and be brought to His counsel. And it means taking Him into the place of pleasure. There is nothing like a real religion for teaching a man when art is good and when it is only a cloak for an appeal to the passions. There is a kind of mirth in which people could not indulge, and jokes they could not make, when He is near. As Wesley put it, "Whatever makes it more difficult for you to pray, or to think of God, or to hold a high moral standard, that kind of reading or amusement is wrong for you."

In short, religion will be real only in the measure in which we face everything with the living Christ and let His light shine into it. But it will mean taking Him in, definitely thinking out life with Him. And that means effort and sacrifice. It means study and prayer, and a new examination of ways of living and acting that have become habitual, and that have never been condemned because we have tied up the work of true religion to saving us from a few outstanding sins which are already under the ban of any decent public opinion. We have to let in the light into everything---old ways of thinking, and customs of every day that are so familiar that we do not realize how wrong they are. We have to take Him in, facing the problems He raises and the tasks He sets, and working them out with Him.

The solution of our problem is not merely a matter of wisdom, it is a question of power. He will not lift the burden, but He will fill our hearts with a new purpose, which will make the burden no longer a crushing load, but a kind of inspiration, a burden we carry for Him and for His world. Many things that seem hard to do, many changes that seem hard to make, become no longer difficult because He changes us. And so bit by bit He comes to fill the texture of life with new meaning, and in all its work and joy and love He stays with us, the abiding Presence, the unchanging Friend.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha