The Fewness of Christ's Disciples

Rom. 10:16.---' Who hath believed our report?'

The prophet here quoted by St Paul is complaining of the incredulity of his people. He has foretold the coming of a Deliverer to Israel, who should appear in strange and unexpected shape. Instead of the glorious and triumphant monarch whom the national sentiment and imagination had identified with the expected Messiah, the prophet paints for them one who has no form nor comeliness nor beauty; 'his visage marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.' Instead of a great prince welcomed by the enthusiasm of a ransomed nation, they see one 'despised and rejected,' 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.' Instead of a king ruling as God's own appointed minister and representative, they see one so fearfully 'smitten of God and afflicted,' that 'the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.'

Such is the picture which the prophet is called upon to paint, and which he paints with absolute faithfulness; not a tone is softened, not a color qualified; and there it stands, in all its rigid outlines, a thing of astonishment to the world---a thing utterly and completely different from everything that had been hoped for and expected. And who that has reflected on the strength and tenacity of popular prejudice can wonder when he finds such a reception given to the prophet's words that, in the very midst of his description, he is obliged to break off into the half-indignant and half-pathetic cry, 'Who hath believed our report?'

The pathos of the question did not go unnoticed in a latter day. It is quoted in the Fourth gospel, as well as in this chapter. The great apostle to the Gentiles is setting forth the universality of the redemption which he has been commissioned to preach. 'There is no difference,' he says---in words which must have sounded very strangely in the ears of many of his countrymen---'There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek. . . . For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' There is, he adds, a special reason why he should carry his gospel into other lands. The Jewish people, as a nation, have rejected their Messiah. God has stretched forth His hands to them and they have refused to hear. The message has been spoken and they have neither listened nor obeyed. And then, with a touch of the same passionate sorrow shown by the prophet of old, and with the knowledge of even a sadder rejection and a more terrible unbelief, St Paul recalls and appropriates to himself the very words in which the national apostasy had been lamented: 'Who hath believed our report?'

The fewness of Christ's disciples has been, no doubt, in all ages, as in the time of the Apostle, a cause for wonder. If God did indeed intend His revelation to give light to something more than a fragment of our race, if the Cross is indeed the symbol of a world-wide redemption, if Christ being lifted up does indeed draw all men unto Him, why have so few taken a place, at any rate consciously and deliberately, in the society which He founded?

The Jews of an earlier day were deaf to the prophet's pleading. Why? Because he spoke to them of a despised and rejected Christ, living in sorrow and humility, and bearing the sins of many. But if they had looked a little closer at that visage marred and that form without comeliness, might they not have seen there the traces of the very King in His beauty? If they had watched more patiently that chastisement with which, as a transgressor, He was to be 'smitten of God and afflicted,' might they not have better understood the love of the Father towards a Son in whom He is 'well-pleased'? The Jews of a latter day turned away with contempt from the teaching of St Paul. Why? Because he spoke to them of a Galilean peasant and a crucified Christ. 'Is not this the carpenter's son?' 'Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.' Such was their reply. But had they chosen to think that all great and high things have small beginnings, surely the mystery and insignificance of that birth and life and death would never have baffled them so!

And yet, even today, do we not often see symptoms of the same temper still surviving in our midst? Men will still ask for signs and wonders in Christianity; they look for something miraculous, startling, intellectually brilliant or overwhelmingly convincing; and as this is wanting they remain dissatisfied. or, it may be, within the circle of their own life and conduct, they fancy that they cannot be real followers of Christ, unless there is something heroic or unusual about them. They do not seem to understand that the quiet heroism of daily life is the truest token of the Christian spirit. They do not realize that the God for whom they have listened in vain in the fire, the earthquake, and the wind, may be heard most clearly in the still, small voice.

Once at the Epiphany season a preacher spoke to his people on 'The road of the Star,' a sermon which had to do with the lovely story of the wise Men who followed their heavenly sign on the long, romantic journey that led to the presence of Christ. After it a young mother came to him and said, "Often I should like to go on roads like that, and I cannot. There are Sundays when I want to come to church, and instead I have to stay home and look after a sick child.' Those words of hers made him understand how important it is that the loftiest religious themes must have their feet upon the earth; and on the next Sunday he tried to preach, as though for her, on 'The Road of the Common Day.' On that road most people are walking. They are busy about small matters. They are grappling with obscure temptations. They are going forward to tedious duties where there is no heroic drum-beat to which they can keep step. If they cannot seem to go on romantic spiritual journeys seeking Christ, they need to know that Christ is already with them in whatever beauty of spirit they manifest in the ordinary things they do. Over their small post of duty the star of the meaning of God can shine as truly as it shone once over a stable in a little town.

Again, Christianity may be intended for all mankind; but in practice we see that a principle of selection is, and must be, at work. he call may come to every man; but every man may not choose to receive it. God will make no man a Christian against his will; and where there is hardness of heart, or an over-fondness of pleasure, or a character weakened by careless living or absorption in the cares of this world, may it not easily happen that the Word is crushed, or withered, or made unfruitful?

So we see everywhere in the Gospels this unavoidable selection of men. Christ is perpetually choosing---choosing for His disciples those who are willing to hear and to obey the call. In the very first portrait given of Him, He is represented with a winnowing fan, separating the wheat from the chaff. He does not indeed seem to have ever expected that we would be welcomed by the world at large, or that at His coming He would find His faith triumphant upon the earth.

Christ never expected, or taught His disciples to expect, that His teaching would meet wide acceptance or exercise political influence. 'The world'---organized human society---was the enemy, and was to continue the enemy. His message, He foresaw, would be scorned and rejected by the majority; and those who preached it were to expect persecution. This warning is repeated so often in the Gospels that it would be superfluous to give quotations. He made it quite plain that the big battalions are never likely to be gathered before the narrow gate.

Christ regarded His church as a small society intended to act upon the world about it with a definite influence; comparing it now with the leaven which modifies the surrounding substance, now with the lamp which shines far out into the surrounding darkness. And if this is what He wished Christianity to be and to do, who can deny that He has been and is being successful? The Church has so far transformed the world that, even now, after these few brief centuries have passed, the whole fabric of modern civilization is, partly in practice and still more in theory, built upon Christian principles; and there is no man living who would be what he is today if Christ had never trod this earth. In this sense we may say that, by a secret power and a subtle and pervasive influence, men have been compelled to own His sovereignty, to respond to His call, and to believe the 'report' of those who have preached in His name.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha