THE ONE TAKEN AND THE OTHER LEFT.
And he went out, and wept bitterly.
S. Matthew xxvi. 75.
And he went and hanged himself.
S. Matthew xxvii. 5.
So God's law was vindicated, and Christ's saying fulfilled: 'I tell you, in that night...two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto Him, Where, Lord?'
'Where, Lord?' The disciples' question is our question also. Where and when and how shall these things be? Does this prediction refer to our own times, our own circumstances? Are we ourselves directly concerned in its fulfilment? Or may we dismiss it at once from our reckoning, as a distant scene which shall be enacted on a foreign stage? 'The one taken, and the other left'—this identity of condition with this separation of destiny, this arbitrary distinction, this unequal distribution, this partiality in the Divine judgments, what does it mean? Where is it realised?
'The one taken, and the other left.' Our thoughts will first revert to some striking physical catastrophe, of which we have read, or which perchance we ourselves have witnessed. We recall with a shudder the terrible railway accident, when our fellow-traveller, seated in the same carriage, with whom just before we conversed familiarly, was silenced at once, and the ghastly vision of his crushed and mangled remains rises before us with all the freshness of that first awful moment of our providential deliverance. Or we think of the terrible lightning-flash, which smote down one of the two friends, wandering together in the forest, and sent the other home, unhurt in body, but awe-stricken in spirit, to live henceforth a changed man. Or we remember the account of the awful avalanche, sweeping down the mountain side and snapping the rope which in all human calculation had bound together the fellow-travellers in a community of destiny, whether for life or for death. hurling this one over the fatal precipice, and sending that other home, stupefied with grief, to tell the tale of his companion's fate.
But no! these are not the true counterparts to our Lord's prediction. A moment's reflection will show that His words must have a far deeper meaning than this. The physical catastrophe is only a type of the spiritual. There is a sense in which the one is taken and the other left, far more awful than the arbitrary action of the railway accident, or the lightning flash, or the mountain avalanche, or the colliery explosion. A separation of moral destiny starting from an identity of moral opportunity—this, this is the infallible sign of the presence of the Son of Man, come whensoever and howsoever He will. For this we must be ever on the watch. This will start the question to our lips,'Where, Lord?'
And so we turn to a wholly different class of facts, as illustrating our Lord's saying. Two school-fellows are brought up together. They have the same natural abilities; they learn the same lessons; they enjoy the same opportunities; they are subject to the same moral influences. The restraints of boyhood end. They become their own masters. They start life with the same hopes. Then the divergence begins. The one rises into merited respect; the other sinks into the abandoned profligate. Christ came to them in the freedom of manhood. The one was taken, and the other left.
Or again; two brothers grow up as playmates. They have the same family interests; they excite the same family sympathies. It would seem that they ought to entertain the same affections and to make the same sacrifices for those affections. But the trial comes. A great catastrophe overtakes some member of the household—a blow to his honour or a blow to his fortunes. The one stands aloof, wrapping himself in his own selfishness, daring nothing, risking nothing. The other is full of generous sympathy. He will share his purse; he will even hazard his good name, confident in his lofty purpose, and resolute at all costs to befriend a friend. In that emergency, that trial of constancy, Christ came—came to those two brothers. The one was taken, and the other left.
Or again; two sisters live in one household. They share each other's confidences; they have the same maidenly pursuits; they are watched over by the same mother's care. We see absolutely no reason why there should be any divergence in after life. And yet, what are they now? The one is a matron, respected and beloved, full of tender sympathy and wise counsels, whose very presence diffuses a radiance of purity and peace and joy around. The other? Ask about her, and there is silence. Her name is not mentioned now. Her existence is a blank. Her memory is an aching pain in all hearts. Christ came to those two sisters in the unrestrained gaieties of society. The one, aye, the one was taken, and the other left.
I have spoken of such critical moments as comings of Christ. I have applied to the familiar trials and temptations of domestic and social life the description of that awful night, when the great surprise shall come, when the Son of Man shall appear, and the separation of destiny from destiny shall be complete. Is it a legitimate use of our Lord's words? Or is it a mere play of fancy, an edifying application possibly, but still a forced application, neither warranted nor suggested by the Gospel narrative itself?
I cannot think this. The more we read our Lord's predictions of the great and terrible day, the more do they appear instinct with this personal, present, immediate application to ourselves. These trials, these temptations, these siftings, these separations, are more than mere signs and emblems; they are anticipations—to ourselves infinitely important anticipations—of the Advent of Christ. Our Lord Himself has, as if purposely, so combined a temporal judgment with the great and final judgment in one signal instance. The destruction of Jerusalem was such an immediate catastrophe, a great trial of constancy, a great sifting of men. It was in some sense an anticipation of the great day of doom. Hence it is impossible to separate in our Lord's language what refers to the one and what refers to the other. He seems to speak, as it were, through the one to the other. So in like manner our own personal trials are comings of Christ; they are partial, fragmentary realisations of the Great Coming, when all characters shall be sifted, and all hearts laid bare. Hence it is that we are forbidden to say 'lo, here,' and 'lo, there'; hence it is that no revelation of the day or of the hour has been given, but we are commanded to watch; hence it is that in reply to the disciples' question 'Where, Lord?' an enigma takes the place of an answer, 'Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.'
So there are many advents of Christ. Wherever this sign shall be, wherever this condition is fulfilled, there Christ has come. And the sign itself? Not the dazzling glory of omnipotence, not the myriads of attendant angels, not the thunders and the lightnings, not the piercing glare of the archangel's trumpet, not these now; not any emblems of majesty and power, but an image which speaks of an extinct life and a devouring vengeance. We may not think that this prophecy was exhausted, when the eagles of the Roman army gathered about the once holy city, to prey upon the corpse of a God-abandoned people. Of ourselves the words are spoken. This day, this very day, the scripture is, or may be, fulfilled in our ears. Here are the carcases of blessings spurned, the carcases of opportunities perverted, the carcases of warnings neglected and trials misused, the carcases of ruined souls. As in the desert the vultures scent from afar the dying beast of burden, flocking together from all parts of the heaven and hovering over their prey, till the last convulsive throb ceases and the last feeble moan is hushed and the glaze settles on the eye, and then their foul, greedy work begins; just so, when the crisis has come, and the temptation has come, and the soul has yielded and has died, it lies a prey to a thousand evil influences which wreak their vengeance on its helpless carcase. In such a crisis, such an emergency, such a trial, such an opportunity for good or for evil, Christ comes. Then it is that He is found to be set for the falling of one, and the rising of another. Then it is that the visitation which to one is the savour of life unto life, is to another a savour of death unto death. Then it is, that the one is taken, and the other left.
Such an eventful crisis was the passion and death of our Lord. It was the great probation and sifting of the disciples, of the Jews, of all the agents and all the bystanders in this tragical drama. Whatever of good and whatever of evil lay buried in the hearts of any, was brought out, was tested, was exposed by it. The timidity and the scepticism, the violence and the insolence and the avarice and the fraud, the firm faith, the courage, the endurance, the tenderness, the love, all found expression in this emergency.
Hence it is especially a crisis of moral contrasts. There is the central contrast of all. Two men, prisoners together, both accused of sedition, both tried and condemned as disturbers of the public peace; nay both (according to an ancient tradition) bearing the same hallowed name—Jesus Barabbas, and Jesus the Christ. The chief priests and elders persuade the multitude to ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus. Barabbas is the chosen of the Jews and the rejected of God: Christ is slain by the Jews but lives for ever in God. The one is taken, and the other is left.
And around this central contrast are grouped other pairs, all illustrating the same lesson—oneness of opportunity, separation of destiny. Two members of the Jewish Sanhedrim, both held in honour, both (it would seem) present at that fatal council, both bearing the same name—Joseph surnamed Caiaphas, and Joseph of Arimathea. The one incurs the chief S. P. s. 8
guilt of the crucifixion; the other is the honourable agent of the entombment. The one conspires against the King; the other loyally awaits the kingdom. The one is taken, and the other left.
Two thieves crucified together, both guilty of the same crime, both suffering the merited penalty of their guilt, both in their last hour brought into the same proximity with the Holy One. The one blasphemes; the other prays. The one sinks down into darkness; the other is raised up into Paradise. The cne is taken, and the other left.
Two chosen disciples, both belonging to the inner circle of the Twelve, both constant in their attendance on their Master throughout His ministry, both following Him up to the last fatal night, both found wanting in the great emergency, both overwhelmed with an agony of sorrow for their sin; and yet here again, the one is taken, and the other is left.
Of all these severances the last is the most striking. Simon of Bethsaida and Judas of Kerioth had possessed all things in common; common opportunities, common associations, common trials and dangers. They had witnessed the same works, and listened to the same words. They had lived in the same Presence. They had received the same revelation of the same Father from the same hallowed lips. Altogether it might have been thought that their character must have been cast in the same mould. Whence then came this difference?
Whence, but in the use or the misuse of that mysterious, that fatal, that magnificent gift of God to man, his free-will? In whatever other respects their moral capacities or their moral education may have differed, it is here, and here alone, that we have the explanation of the result. This is the secret, silent force, which, working from beneath, produced first the rent, and then the chasm, and then the severance, in their characters and their destinies.
And yet to the last moment the difference has not revealed itself. Both put the same question of misgiving, 'Is it I?' Both were tempted. Both yielded to the temptation. The same night was fatal to the one and to the other. Just at this moment it might have seemed as if there were little to choose between Peter and Judas. The sin of Judas was coarser, was more base, was more heinous; but both had failed at the great crisis of all; and both had forfeited their position. How is it then that Peter rises again, while Judas sinks down, sinks suddenly, sinks irretrievably, sinks for ever?
Certainly, it was not the nature of the sin itself, which made his restoration impossible. It was not what Judas had done, but what Judas had become, which prevented his rising. His guilt was great, but had bought his services and were partners in his guilt. He faces shame, faces rebuke, faces contempt, faces their lurking hatred, and their undisguised scorn.
And, thirdly, he makes reparation for his guilt. The main consequence indeed was irreparable. The thing was done and could not be undone. The innocent was condemned. The blood once shed might not be gathered up again. But at least he would do what he could; he would deny himself all advantage of the transaction. He flung back the accursed gain to his tempters. So far as the past was retrievable, he would retrieve it.
The abhorrence of the sin, the confession of the guilt, the reparation of the crime, these three were complete. So far S. Peter could have done nothing which Judas had not done. But just at this point the severance begins. Remorse and repentance part company. The one is taken, and the other is left.
Faith and hope are the two requisites without which restoration is impossible. With these is lifegiving repentance; without these is crushing remorse. Faith in God, and hope for the future.
I. Faith in God. So long as we look only to ourselves, pardon seems wholly beyond our reach. There is nothing in our own hearts, nothing in our past lives, which suggests it. The more we recall our experiences, and the more we examine our motives, the more distant does it appear. A mere morbid anatomy of self will drive only to remorse. It cannot lead to repentance. It is well that we should grieve over our sins; it is not well that we should give ourselves up to overmuch self-dissection. Our failings must be our steppingstones; they must not be our stumblingblocks. We cannot suffer them to cripple our energies, or to bar our path. But this will always be the case, so long as our gaze is directed solely within. For here we find only feebleness, only vacillation, only ignorance, only failure and sin. Our strength, our consolation, our renewal, are elsewhere. It is only then, when we transcend the limits of self; when our heart goes forth in faith to God, the All-wise and Almighty, God the Merciful, God our Father; then, when the finite is forgotten in the Infinite; that the pardon comes, that the clean heart is made and the right spirit renewed within us. This faith Judas did not realise. He knew God only as an avenging Judge. He did not know Him as a loving Father. What could he hope from a Judge? What might he not have hoped from a Father?'
2. The concentration on self is a denial of faith. The concentration on the past is an exclusion of hope. Judas could not face the future. The past had been an utter failure. He had attempted to make reparation; but he could not retrieve the irretrievable, could not undo what was done. Yet the future was all before him; the future was uncompromised. The two great preachers of the Gospel were destined to be Peter the denier of Christ, and Paul the persecutor of Christ. Why should not Judas the betrayer of Christ have made up the triad? Why not, except that having lost faith he had lost hope also. His horizon was bounded by the past. Now, now that the past was lost, nothing remained but suicide. This was the remorseless logic of his position.
Do not believe it, when they tell you that hope is a glamour, an illusion, a phantom-light tempting you into a morass, and luring you to your destruction. Hope is the reflection of God's mercy; hope is the echo of God's love. Hope is energy, hope is strength, hope is life. Without hope sorrow for sin will lead only to ruin. It may not end with you, as it ended with him. His was an extreme case. But it must lead to moral paralysis, and moral suicide. We have no time to brood over the errors of the past, while the hours are hurrying relentlessly by; no time to tell our wounds and reckon up our slain, while the fight is still raging and the enemy is upon us. There is enough to occupy all our energies in this warfare of life, without wasting them on lost opportunities and profitless regrets. Have you been tempted? Have you yielded? Have you sinned? Then go out from the scene of your temptation, as Peter went out, and weep bitter tears of repentance before God. But having done this, return, return at once, and strengthen your brethren. In active charity for others, in devoted service to God, is the truest safeguard against the suicidal promptings of remorse. Be the foremost to enter the sepulchre of the risen Lord; the foremost to pledge your devotion to Him, undaunted by recent failure; the foremost to receive the pastoral charge; the foremost to bear witness of Him to an unbelieving world; the foremost in zeal, the foremost in danger, the foremost to do and to suffer. The past is beyond recall. Put it behind you. The future is full of magnificent opportunities. Endeavour to realise them. Be energetic, be courageous, be hopeful. In the agony of your contrition, from the depths of your despair, listen to the Divine Voice which summons you: 'Let the dead bury their dead; dead opportunities, dead regrets, dead failures; yes even, dead sins j and follow thou Me.'