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A Soul's Tragedy

And when Jesus had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him.— John xiii. 26, 27.

ACASUAL onlooker would have seen nothing in Christ's giving, and Judas' taking, the moistened morsel but an ordinary act of courtesy or kind1 liness done by a host to his guest. But below the trivial act there was going on a struggle, a momentary hesitation, a grim resolution, and a tragedy—the tragedy of a soul. It was all done in a minute. Not a word was spoken; and yet the moment before, Judas might have abandoned his purpose, —perhaps he half abandoned it while he stretched out his hand,—but ere he had swallowed the bit of bread, he had pulled himself together, and said once more, "I will!" With his own hand he slammed to the door, and the reverberation of it sounded hollow in his soul. A man may ruin himself in a moment, and a little turn in the direction of a life may influence all that comes after it, however far the line is produced. There are two figures, isolated from all the world, M.s. 1 1

in the picture of my text—Jesus and Judas; one radiant with more than mortal whiteness and lustre; one dark—as we sometimes think, though wrongly— with more than human blackness. They had a common secret that separated them from the others. Judas understood what Christ meant by the sop; and Christ understood what Judas meant by the look with which he took it. If we go beneath the mere surface of the act, we find lessons very solemn and of universal application, and perhaps we shall best gather and harvest them if we simply study these two figures, silhouetted against the sky: Jesus making the last appeal of patient, wounded love, and Judas steeling himself against it. Let us look at the two.

I.—Jesus Making The Last Appeal Of Patient, Wounded Love.

Remember the sequence of the preceding scene, for it throws light upon the incident with which we are more immediately concerned. Our Lord had been sitting silent, absorbed in thought of the near end. He broke the silence, suddenly, with the pained announcement that the traitor was "one of you." Then came a universal shock of surprise, and each man scrutinised his neighbour with suspicion, and all assailed Jesus with the question, "Who is it? He answered, and did not answer; for to the general interrogation He simply replied with what was tantamount to, and no more than, His previous declaration, "one of you." For all the token given to the twelve was: "he that dippeth with Me in the dish," and according to the habits of Easterns, all the hands went into the dish at one time or other together. So that the answer was no answer, in so far as their curiosity was concerned, but fixed once more their attention on the sad fact that "one of them" was to be the traitor. Then came John's whispered question, which evidently was unknown to the others, with the exception of the prompter of it, Peter. The answer, too, was whispered, for even after Jesus had said: "he to whom I shall give the sop when I have dipped it," none of those sitting at the table suspected why Judas had rushed out of the apartment. Christ did not give the sop in order to satisfy John's curiosity, but He had made up His mind to do it before John's question, and for a far deeper reason than to supply a means of identification*

What, then, was the meaning of it? What was the meaning of it in ordinary intercourse? It meant kindliness and friendliness. It was a token of special regard and interest. It meant a reminder of past familiarity. It meant all these, when Christ gave the sop into the trembling hand that received it. He was not indicating Judas for John's benefit; He was not acting; but He was giving way to the deep emotions of His heart at the moment, and meaning infinitely more than the common-place act meant in ordinary hands. For Christ infuses a deeper significance into conventional courtesies. He gave His love when He gave the sop, even to His betrayer, whom He knew as such. If one, therefore, thinks for a moment of Who it was that gave, and how entirely He knew the tortuous treachery of the man to whom He gave it, the conventional act towers up into a strange significance and pathetic beauty; and carries with it not only a glimpse into the heart of Jesus, but, because it does give a glimpse into His heart, it thereby reveals the heart of God.

If we try to realize to ourselves what was the human emotion which prompted the Lord's act, we shall read in it, I think, pain and disappointment indeed, that love had been repelled and teaching misunderstood, and that all the blessed familiarities and friendliness of those three years of discipleship had only come to this. But we shall not find one faint, transient flush of anger in His calm cheek, nor one momentarily quickened throb of indignation in His patient heart. Christ pitied, and was not angry. The same tone of compassion for the man that was doing himself so much more harm than he was doing his apparent victim, runs through even the solemn words which He had spoken at a previous time: "Woe unto that man! Good were it for that man if he had never been born!" That is a groan of sympathy, far more than a denunciation of wrath,

So, dear brethren, believing, as I suppose most of us do, whatever metaphysical explanation of the fact may lie behind it, that in Jesus Christ and His human emotions and acts we have the clearest revelation of the heart, and the authoritative explanation of the acts, of God Himself, may we not see here, in that sop, the token of amity given to the traitor—the great and blessed message that no sin, no transgression against love and gratitude, can turn away from a man the love of God? Most of us, I suppose, are accustomed to think that "Heaven heads the count of crimes" with that traitorous act. I question that. But though Judas were the worst man that ever lived—if there is a worst—the love of God in Jesus Christ hovered round that man in the moment of his supreme sin. Sin is mighty; it can do awful things in the way of disturbing the relation between man and God. But there is one thing it cannot do; it cannot make Him who loves us, not because of anything in ourselves, but because of what He is in Himself, cease to love us. The sunshine falls equally on a dunghill and on a diamond. The great ocean washes over the blackest and the barrenest rock as lovingly as it kisses the smiling strand of fertile lands. The air and the light stream into foetid alleys of the city as willingly as they sweep over the purity of the mountain side. And the love of God is not turned away by transgression, howsoever the manifestation of that love must be modified thereby. So, then, here is one lesson for us,—Let no sin ever lead us to think that a man is parted from the seeking love of God.

But then, again, let me remind you that not only was this gift of the sop the token of kindliness and friendship, but that it was a direct appeal, seeking to win Judas back by the manifestation of the Saviour's love to him. Judas was not past the possibility of yet being won. He had been to the High Priest, he had settled his plans, but until the deed was actually done, there was a possibility that it might never be done. And disregarding for the moment all wider questions, we may say that Jesus had only the thought in His heart, " Can I save this man from this great sin? Let Me try once more." So He appeals to him by that familiar and pathetic act, as if He would say to him, "Have you forgotten all our memories, all the past associations, all the sweet friendlinesses and private communions of these years? Will you not come back, and give up your mad purpose of betraying Me?" There, too, brethren, is a revelation for us; for there, too, we have mirrored forth, set before us in a concrete example of such a nature as that it may seem to be the very superlative of the appealing love of God, the great fact that Jesus Christ never gives up any as hopeless, that there are no outcasts in His view, to whom the moral and quickening influences of His manifested love cannot do any good. There is some spot, He believes, and He would have us believe, sensitive to good in the most hardened bad; there is some little cranny, He believes, and He would have us believe, in the most close-knit strength of a steeled heart, through which the love-making message of His love may find its way. Therefore, He appealed to the betrayer. Do you say: "He knew it was of no use "? And is there not some strange apparent contradiction between what we believe of God's fore-knowledge and what we know of God's unwearied patience and persistence of appeal? Use or no use, the heart of Jesus forced Him to make this last attempt* He made it, and it failed, so far as Judas was concerned. But the act stands recorded, as one pathetic and permanent proof that that Divine Lover, in Whose humanity we all of us recognize the highest revelation of the heart of God, fulfilled the ideal of Love which His servant afterwards portrayed, in that He "suffered long, and was kind," in that He "hoped all things," even at the moment before the treachery was consummated, and in that when His enemy hungered He gave Him bread, when he was athirst He gave him drink, desiring thereby to heap coals of fire upon his head, that might melt the obstinate ore and cause it to flow forth. He gave the sop, a token of love, and an appeal to Judas to return.

And now, dear friends, I have been saying that Christ in this instructive act of patient love revealed the heart of God. Ay! but He does more; He reveals the pattern for us men. It is hard for us not to meet hate with hate and scorn with scorn. It is hard for us to keep the narrow line that separates legitimate pain and sorrow at an enemy's enmity from non-legitimate enmity and wrath. We are apt to give back to the world, and to men around us, the face with which they look upon us. But Jesus Christ has bid us— and there is no wriggling out of the duty, hard as it may be—to meet enmity with love, and wrong with patient endurance, and to answer the spurt of the fires of hatred with the gush of the extinguishing water of love. That is our duty. We forget it. We break it; we formulate reasons against it. But for the individual and for the nation Christ's pattern has to be followed, and Christ's principles to be obeyed. We must remember not only that " force is no remedy," but that hatred is no remedy either. An enemy crushed is tenfold an enemy; an enemy won is a hundredfold a friend. There is the law for us.

And there is another lesson here. Never despair of any man. Do not drop into the fashionable way of regarding certain classes and certain races as outside the pale and the power of Christ's Gospel. There is no man whom His arm cannot reach; there is no man, and no class, whom it is not the duty of His servants, to try to reach.

And there is yet another lesson, and that is, that the only way to win men to love is to show that you love them. That is the omnipotent way; that is Christ's way.

Now, let us turn to the other side, II. That Black Figure That Stands There, grim and silent, possibly hesitating for a moment, but fixed at last in his determination.

"When he had taken the sop, Satan entered into him." That was no magic; it was the certain result of what went on in Judas' heart, when he took the sop. He refused the love that gave it, whilst he took that which the love gave. There we are brought face to face with the mystery and the tragedy of humanity. A man can thwart all the influences that redeeming, seeking love can bring to bear upon him. The flower can shut up its calyx, and keep out all the sunshine. The earth can drink in the rain, and then it gets a blessing, or it can fling it off, and then it inherits cursing, and is nigh to be burned. Nobody can explain what everybody knows, and, alas! is himself an example of—the possibility of the tiny, impotent human will, perking itself in the face of God, and saying, "I will not." "How often would I . . . but ye would not." But, if the power is strange, surely the fact that we so commonly exercise it is stranger and sadder still,— that any man should, as so many of us are doing, put away from himself the influences that are being brought to bear upon him, as truly as Christ's seeking love was brought to bear on the traitor. Day by day, by all the various providences of our lives, by many a voice in our own consciences, by many a strange drawing of which we are conscious and which we resist, and above all by the revelation of Himself in the Word, and— dare I say ?—by this poor presentation of it by my lips, Christ is still seeking to draw us to Himself. And some of us are neglecting, and some of us are resisting and none of us are yielding as we ought to yield.

For whenever some high thought comes to us, and we put it away; whenever some nobler conception of duty and life is revealed to us, and we are unfaithful to it; whenever between two courses of action we choose the baser, and turn away from the nobler, then we are doing what the traitor did when he took the sop. And whenever any of us are brought in contact once more with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, and dismiss it lightly, or yield to it partially, or forget it when we go out again into the world, then I know not whether of the two is the more guilty, the man who did not know what he was doing when he betrayed the Christ, or the man who, by neglecting His message from heaven, "crucifies the Son of God afresh, and puts Him to an open shame."

But turn, before I close, to the other thought that lies here. We have seen that in Judas there is an eminent instance of the strange and wicked steeling of the will against the love of God. Mark the consequences of that steeling—" Satan entered into him." Why? Because he had not let Christ enter into him. Shutting the door against the love of Christ opens the door for the devil. Where Christ is not, Satan is, and "brings seven other spirits, and they enter in and dwell there, and the last of that man is worse than the first." Every appeal to the conscience that is put aside makes the next appeal less likely to succeed. You fire a shell against an earthwork; that brings down the face of the earthwork and makes debris which guards the core of it against the next shell. A man may be so casehardened by his own resistance as that conscience cannot drive its lance through the tenacious surface. Every base choice makes subsequent noble choices less likely. Every time that a man is brought into contact with Jesus Christ, and fails to yield full obedience and trust, that man is less likely ever to yield. Something the giving of the sop did. If it did not melt, it hardened. There is no ice so tough, so slippery, as ice which is melted on the surface by the few hours of the winter sun, and then locked again in the bonds of the frost when night falls. Half-melted hearts frozen again are frozen harder than ever.

We are accustomed to think of Judas as almost outside the pale of sympathy. Dante puts him alone in hell, shunned and loathed even there. But he was no monster, and he became what he was, and did what he did, by yielding to ordinary temptations and ordinary motives. What his motives may have been is a problem. He was with Jesus Christ, and he was not made better thereby; therefore he was made worse. He companied with the Teacher and Lover of souls; and he did not learn the teaching or accept the love, and therefore he hated Him that gave them both. As for his guilt, it is in better hands than ours. As for his fate, we had better imitate the reticence of the Apostle who said: "He went to his own place," the place that he was fit for, wherever that was. As for his growth in sin, let us remember that he reached the goal by a path that we may all take, and that it culminated when he did what we may all do, accepted the token of Christ's love, and rejected the love that gave the token. Therefore, "Satan entered into him." "And having received the sop, he went out, and it was night"; himself carrying a blacker night in his black heart. May we learn the lesson, and accept the love, so that we may be not of the night, or of darkness, but the children of light, and of the day!