And Peter said unto him, /Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; arise, and make thy bed. . . .—Acts ix. 34.
Peter . . . said, Tabitha, arise. . . .—Acts ix. 40.
They stoned Stephen . . . and he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, "Lord! lay not this sin to their charge." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.—Acts vii. 60.
YOU will understand why I have ventured to isolate and connect these three fragments, if you will consider that likeness to Jesus is the all-comprehending law of Christian life, and that the thought of being like Christ in death is a pillow on which dying Christians lay quiet heads, and that perfectly to be like Christ is the great hope that fills with radiance the vast, dim future. I have put these texts together, because they have one feature in common—they show us how the first disciples consciously endeavoured to shape their Christian lives and works after the example of their Master, and to mould their deaths so that they should be conformable to His. Thus early had the Christian instinct been developed, that seeks after likeness to Jesus as the all-sufficient aim, and that recognizes Him as giving in Himself the supreme law for life and companionship in death.
The first two of my texts come from the accounts of two miracles wrought in one journey by the Apostle Peter. In both of them the endeavour to assimilate his action to his Master's is plain. He remembered how a palsied man had been brought to Jesus, and been bid, '' Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house." The similar sufferer that Peter healed was already in his house, but the Apostle tries to get as near his Lord's fashion of working as he can, and so he says, "Arise; make thy bed.'1 The commandment was not only intended to demonstrate to the bystanders and to confirm to the patient the reality of the cure, but it was a touching token of how the Apostle's memory had gone back, and how he pleased himself by making even a small detail in his work as like Christ's as he could.
The same intention is equally obvious in the other instance. Peter remembered how our Lord had cleared a death-chamber of noisy, professional wailers, and so he put forth the true mourners from the upper room where Dorcas was lying dead. He remembered the very Aramaic words with which Jesus had raised Jairus' daughter, and which are preserved to us in the Gospel which, in some sense, is supposed to be his; and again, he pleased himself, in a naive and innocent fashion, by copying their very sound, and for that purpose availed himself of the Jewish, rather than of the Greek, name of the dead woman. Thinking of "Talitha cumi," he said to her,'- Tabitha cumi "— the change of one letter. There were differences, of course—great differences, as significant as the resemblances, and I shall have a word or two to say about them presently—but the intentional likeness, the conscious imitation, is unmistakable. So Christ is the example for the life and work of the disciple.
Then, if we turn to our other text, the very same imitative impulse is at work there, in the solemn moment of death. For Stephen remembers how on the cross his Master had said: " Father, into thy hands I commend My Spirit," and he breathes a prayer in which the differences are as instructive as the resemblances: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He remembers how his Model had said; '' Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," and although there was little ignorance to lighten the crime of the mob that stoned the servant, in comparison with the ignorance that alleviated the guilt of the rulers that crucified the Master, yet the servant says: '' Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," and so, shaping his death after the pattern showed him on the Cross, he changes its grisly shape into the soft similitude of quiet slumber, '' and when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Now with that exposition of my purpose, I have really said nearly all that I wish to say. But we may expand the consideration of the two thoughts suggested by these instances, namely, that likeness to Christ is the aim of a true disciple in life, and that likeness to Christ is the comfort and victory of a true disciple in death; and I come now to deal with the former of these, reserving consideration of the latter to another occasion.
Likeness to Christ, then, is the aim of the true disciple in life and work.
One great peculiarity of the Christian system is that it entrusts very largely the task of moral perfection to two things, love and contemplation. We all know how subtly love assimilates, so that two lovers grow more and more like each other, in regard even to small peculiarities of tone and manner and trivial habits. It is not otherwise with regard to the love that is turned to Jesus Christ. We grow like Him in the direct measure of our love to Him. Similarly, contemplation assimilates. "We all, with unveiled face beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.'' If our thoughts are habitually turned to Christ He will habitually diffuse Himself through our lives, and we shall be growingly fashioned after His likeness. The eye that gazes on the sun has a tiny sun painted on its orb. The face that turns to the glowing west is ruddied with a reflected brightness. A man is moulded by his company, and if we keep company with Jesus Christ we shall inevitably, though not without effort, grow like him. Love, then, breeds likeness, and contemplation transforms.
But our texts have a special reference, and point to the way in which, in the work of the Christian life, the pattern of Jesus Christ tended to reproduce itself. Apart altogether from the comparatively unimportant points of mere detail in which that assimilating tendency was working in the instances before us, and which are interesting mainly as showing how strong the feeling was in the Apostle's own mind, let me suggest one or two points.
The Christian life is to copy Christ's quick compassion.
If we are living in the love and beholding of Jesus Christ, we shall learn from Him what Peter learned from Him, to cherish a swift sympathy with human miseries of all sorts, that does not wait to be asked in order to do its best to alleviate. If you will look at these two instances of Peter's miracles, you will see that in neither of the cases is there any sign that he was asked to do what he did. He '' found" iEneas; they did not bring him as they brought the man to Jesus, and nobody said to him "cure this man, we pray you." But, seeing him there, Peter's heart welled up and welled over. The eye that beheld touched a heart that felt, and the heart that felt immediately moved a hand that healed, and he said, " iEneas ! Jesus Christ maketh thee whole." He had learnt that sympathy, not only from communion with the Spirit of His Master, but from remembering the many times in which the Master Himself had healed unasked.
But let us remember that Christ's external, unbesought spontaneous gifts of a heart filled with love and a hand "open as day to melting charity," were but transient and small symbols of that great love which waited not for man's beseeching, nor tarried for men's cries; but before they called had answered, and whilst they were yet speaking, had heard. For Christ Himself is the outcome of that unbesought, undesired, unexpected, and too often unbelieved, Divine love which is its own motive, and wells up, not because it is drawn out by any pumps and handles of human petitions, but because, deep down in the hidden abysses, there lies that overflowing fountain which must have a way, and must come to the alleviation of the sorrows, and especially of the sins, of us poor men. They who live near Jesus Christ ought to, and will, have a keener sensitiveness to the world's miseries than any besides. They who thus have caught the Spirit of the Lord that came, not because men asked Him, but because He loved them, will not wait to be impelled by anything but the sight of misery and the possession of power to relieve it. Jesus Christ not only came spontaneously, but He has to " pray us, with much entreaty, to receive the gift," and so His servants, who have caught His spirit, have to learn to press upon men that which they know not that they need, and to carry to the world an undesired and unwelcome, and an often rejected, gift. If we are in loving touch with Jesus Christ, we shall look upon men as He did, and he eager to help them.whether they will accept or whether they will not. But if professing Christians go through this sad world with little feeling of its miseries, and little experience of the spontaneous impulse to lighten them, I would fain know what sign of Christianity their lives present.
But, again, the disciple is to copy Christ's care for the body as well as the soul. Peter had gone down to Lydda to look after the little church there, and to teach it the truth. He did not say, " Oh ! I do not look after iEneas and dead women; I am here for a higher and sacreder purpose, to preach Jesus Christ to dead souls," but he recognized that any form of human sorrow, corporeal or spiritual, was equally in his commission—ay, and in his power, to deal with. And so, if we are Christians, we shall not be lop-sided in our sympathies, nor fancy, as some people used to do, (and some of their descendants are alive still), that the Christian Church—or, rather, do not let us shelter ourselves under the vagueness of the collective term "church," but apply the thoughts to ourselves—that the Christian man or woman has little to do with mere physical and external sorrows. Have you and I nothing to do with the drink demon? Is it no part of the responsibility of citizens who are also Christians to have regard to the conditions of life in the slums? Have we no commission to help to alter these conditions which make decency—to say nothing of refinement or Christianity—an impossibility? We ought, by virtue of living near to Jesus Christ, to be foremost in every work that bears on the bodies and bodily conditions, as well as on the souls, of men. And surely we are not so absurd as to fancy that we can chop the inseparable man—the individual—into two, and whilst his body is living like an animal, that his soul has much chance of being saved. Remember the Apostlemissionary who went down to look after the saints, and found his vocation in a palsied man and a dying woman.
The disciple is to copy Christ's self-surrender.
Is my work in any measure, or in any respect, worthy to be said to have been touched with that holy fire of Christ's example which purges all that it touches, and transforms dead rubbish into its own likeness? When I think that the climax of Christ's work was a Cross, I may well shrink from saying that my love to Him has moulded my work into any resemblance to His. Brethren, the thought is too solemn, and has too sharp a sting for each of us, to be much spoken about. I pray you, take to it your own hearts, and remember that unless our Christian life and our Christian activity are, in some measure, assimilated to our Master's, they have little right to the epithet of Christian.
I need only say a few words with regard to the divergencies, which are as striking as the resemblances, between the servant's work and the Master's. "iEneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole. Never mind about me, Peter." Jesus Christ never pointed to anyone else, in heaven or on earth, as being the source of the power of which He was merely the channel; the apostle had to do so. So let us hide ourselves behind our Lord. The prop, that holds up some great trophy to the eyes of the world, is behind the trophy, and hidden by it. The herald is not to blow his own name or praises through his trumpet, but his King's, and is forgotten when the royal progress has come. "He must increase, and I must decrease." Minister, teacher, Christian worker! do not obtrude yourself in front of your Master. Never mind whether anybody sees you or not, as long as they see Him. It is blessed
"To fade in the light of the planet we love;
To fade in its light, and to die."
In like manner, when Peter was with Dorcas, "he kneeled down and prayed " before he dared to speak the word of power, and, instead of copying his Master in laying his hand upon her before she came to life, which would have looked, as it did in the Lord's case, as if the hand communicated the vitality, he only put it out to help her like a brother, when the life had come. But yet, with unfaltering confidence, before he had made the experiment, he was so sure of the power that Christ had given him that he said, " Jesus Christ maketh thee whole." So, brethren, if you expect other people to believe your word, speak it out as if you believed it yourself. For men, who, having little personal experience of Christ's healing power, have but little confidence in announcing it to others, will have the fate of the seven sons of Sceva, on whom the spirit that they tried to exorcise turned, and said, "Jesus we know; and Paul we know "—the mighty Source of salvation, and the unhesitating, unfaltering proclaimer of it—" but who are ye?"
Likeness to Christ is the aim of the true Christian's life and work. You see in shops poor little plaster casts of the great statues that enchant the world; caricatures they sometimes look like, and they are wrought in a worthless, perishable material. Well, if we cannot do better, let us try to make such a cast of the serene perfectness of Christ's life in our little lives. The original is marble; our copy is plaster of Paris. All the sharp lines may be blunted in our attempted reproduction, and the beauty all but gone, and yet there may be a faint hint of likeness. People whose aesthetic perceptions are but slightly cultivated do not see much difference between Michael Angelo's tremendous statues and the little copies of them that you can buy on the quays at Florence. And some people who cannot look at Jesus Christ, or who will not look at Him, and have not, perhaps, grown up enough to appreciate the Divine perfection of that life, may have their defective power of appreciation stimulated by looking at us, and may be brought to say, "If the copy is fair, so much fairer than the average men around us, how fair must the Original be; and how mighty must be the power which out of such worthless, cheap material, can fashion that which has a hint of Jesus, though it is so incomplete a likeness!" We are here in the world to make Him apprehensible, admired, believed and trusted, by our brethren. Let us keep near Him in the secret place that our faces may shine with reflected lustre, and then come down into the camp to let our light so shine that men may glorify the Uncreated Light at which it was kindled.