The Christian's Witnesses to Character

"Demetrius hath the witness of all men, and of the truth itself."—3 John, 12.

What a strange fate this Demetrius has had! He has narrowly escaped oblivion, and has attained universal and perennial remembrance. His name is known everywhere and in all ages, but nothing beyond the name. All else is swallowed up in darkness, and yet this one bright gleam shines through the obscuring oblivion—that he had "the witness of all men, and of the truth itself." Many a brilliant reputation and fame that fills the world might be well exchanged for such an epitaph. What if he should be our old acquaintance that roused the silversmiths of Ephesus against Paul? The name is so common that the conjecture must be confessed to be unsupported. Perhaps it appeals too much to mere sentiment, but it is tempting to think that "this Paul" had "persuaded" his chief opponent too that "they be no gods which are made with hands," and that he had left his craft and his shrines behind and become a Christian. Be that as it may, John's eulogium suggests the witnesses to character which a Christian should be able to call.

The first is common opinion. Something is wrong if a Christian cannot put the popular estimate of himself into the witness-box in his favour. Of course, there is a sense in which universal commendation is the heaviest condemnation, according to our Lord's dictum that it is a "woe " to be spoken well of by alL But it has also to be remembered that Christ's servants should have "a good report of them that are without." Most men know a good man when they see him. They may not like him, nor wish to resemble him, their recognition of his goodness may take the form of hate and detraction, but it is there. It is nothing uncommon to find the drunkard praising the temperate man, and evillivers of all sorts recognising the beauty of their own opposites. The worst man in the world has an ideal of goodness in his conscience and mind, far purer and loftier than the best man has realised.

It is right that people who are not Christians should have such extremely strict standards for the conduct of people that are. We sometimes see sensational paragraphs about the crime of some minister, or clergyman, or some representative religious man. No doubt a dash of malice is present in these; but they are an unconscious testimony to the high ideal of character which attaches to the profession of Christianity. No similar paragraphs appear about the immoralities or crimes of nonreligious men. They are not expected to be saints; but we are, and it is right that we should be thus expected. The world does not demand of us more than it is entitled to do, or than our Lord has demanded. It is wholesome that Christian people should feel that there are lynx eyes watching them, and hundreds who will have a malicious joy if they defile their garments and bring discredit on their profession.

One wishes that some of us who talk a great deal about the depth of our spiritual life could hear what is thought of us by our next door neighbours, and our servants, and the tradesmen that we deal with, and all those other folk that have no sympathy with our religion, and are, therefore, rigid judges of our conduct. Many good people think that it is their Christianity that makes folks speak ill of them, when it is their inconsistencies and not their Christianity that provoke the sarcasm. If we wrap up the treasure of our Christianity in a rough envelope of angularity, self-righteousness, sourness, censure, and criticism, we need not wonder that people do not think much of our Christianity. It is not because Christian professors are good, but because they are not better, that ninety-nine out of a hundred of the uncharitable things that are said about them are said, and truly said.

Christians should be more ambitious of winning that testimony than they often are. Nothing is more weakening and contemptible than itching for applause. Every strong man must habitually feel: "With me it is a very small thing to be judged of you." But still the judgment of the world is in some respects more accurate than that of our own consciences, and is, in a measure, and with many mistakes, an anticipation of the judgment of God, and therefore it is Christian duty to try to be "living epistles, known and read of all men," who will say when they read: "Well, he is a good man, anyhow, whether I like him or not."

"The truth itself" is another witness. The Gospel witnesses for us, when we witness for it and live according to it. A law broken testifies against the breaker: a law kept testifies for the keeper. If we are approximately realising the Christian ideal, and obeying the Christian precepts, embodying and following " the truth " in our lives, it will witness for us. But to secure that testimony there must be manifest self-surrender to its power. As Demetrius, if he were the silversmith, had to give up a lucrative occupation and to cast in his lot with the iconoclasts, we have each some form of selfsurrender and self-denial imperative on us. If in great things and small our lives reflect the "perfect law of liberty," that law will not condemn but acquit us.

May we give a yet sacreder application to that witness of the truth? It is questionable whether that designation is ever employed in John's epistles to mean only the body of teaching contained in the Gospel. One feels that there is always shimmering through the expression a reference to our Lord's claim that He is Himself the personal Truth. In a very deep and blessed sense, Jesus Himself is witness for His consistent follower. "He that judgeth me is the Lord." That judgment is no faroff future one, but is going on now. In reference to each action, at the moment when it is done, Christ registers His infallible determination of its good or evil. To-day, and all through our earthly days, He will witness by His voice in the inner man, enlightened and made sensitive to evil by His own gracious presence. Conscience is always the irradiation of the "Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world "; but the conscience of the man who is born again by faith in Jesus Christ is in a more special manner the voice of Christ Himself speaking within him. And when there rises in the heart that quiet glow which follows His approval, there is a Witness that no voices around, censuring or praising, have the smallest power to affect.

When we hear Him in the recesses of our hearts saying to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant," then we may venture, with all our imperfections, to look onward to the day when again the Judge will be the Witness for us, even to the surprise of those whose acts He then attests. He Himself has taught us so, when He pictures the wondering servant saying, Lord, when did I do all these things, which Thou hast discovered in me? And He has assured us that never will He "forget any of" our "works," and that at the solemn hour, when we must be manifested before the Judgment-seat of Christ, He Himself will confess our deeds before the Father and before His holy angels. It is well to have the witness of man; it is heaven to have the witness of the Truth Himself.