"Whom seek ye? . . . Come and see."—John i. 38, 39.
HESE are the first words of Christ's recorded in this gospel. The evangelist had undoubtedly been one of the two disciples of John the Baptist to whom they were spoken, and it is beautiful to see how, after so many years had dimmed other memories, that unforgettable day on which he first heard Christ's voice and felt the charm of His presence, was all sun-clear and bright before him to its minutest detail. But I think that, as in so many other places in this gospel, John would here have us see a deeper meaning than the original one in these words. It is surely noticeable that the first words of Christ's which he records suggest such wide and deep truths as do these two sayings. It is in that higher application that I desire to look at them in this sermon.
I need do little more than recall to your remembrance their occasion. It is the first day of Christ's public ministry. Yesterday John the Baptist had proclaimed Him to be the Lamb of God. To-day he crowns his sublime self-suppression by, in effect, bidding his two disciples leave him and attach themselves to Jesus Christ. No base envy embittered his recognition that he must decrease, whilst Christ must increase. .Rather, like the planet of morning, he rejoiced to "fade in His light and to die." Never was a nobler piece of self-effacement than that which John achieved that day by the fords of the Jordan.
The two disciples heard, and understood, and obeyed. They seem to have followed Christ, as they thought, unobserved, without any further purpose than that of marking where He dwelt, in order that they might seek a future -interview. But He who never leaves unnoticed and unfostered the first faint inclination to follow Him, turned upon them with the question "What seek ye?" They answer, hesitating and embarrassed, hinting rather than daring to speak out their wish for an interview, and more than hinting their purpose to attach themselves to Him, since they address Him as "Kabbi!" Master. He met the two shy youths more than half way, and smiled on them with an invitation which, according to the reading of the Revised Version, is a promise as well as an invitation. "Come! and ye will see."
Surely the words carry a tone of invitation and interrogation far deeper than their application to the comparatively trivial incident of that moment; Surely they are meant for us all. Let us try to profit by them.
I.—Note the penetrating question.
"What seek ye?" In its original application it was the obvious question for anyone to ask, who found two men stealing along behind him. But the whole character of it depended on the tone and look which accompanied it. "What do you want?" might be as harsh as a blow, and equivalent to a refusal beforehand; or it might be icy and indifferent; or, it might pass through all the varying shades of amiability, until it came to be what it was to these two, as commented on by the beaming look that went with the tone, an encouragement to boldness, and more than half a promise to grant their request.
"What seek ye?" It is a penetrating question. It is a question that Jesus Christ asks us all. Now, that is not rhetoric; that is plain, simple fact. For one distinct purpose of His whole mission was to force men to front this question, "What am I living for?" and to look at it in the light of the principles that are drawn from His own personality, His life and His death. By setting forth before the whole world the one true model of what the aims of a man should be, Jesus Christ won the right, and exercises the right wherever that revelation comes, of questioning each man to whom it comes, "Dost thou make thy life run parallel with Mine? Are the things that I sought in My manhood the things that thou dost seek?"
And not only by that past revelation, but in a still deeper and solemner way, by His present action upon all men who come within the range of the Gospel, He is asking them this question, and, as I believe, we might extend the principle and say that wherever there is a man with the bight of conscience and reason within him, that is a spark and effluence from the light which was incarnated in Jesus Christ, and that He Himself, in very deed, does speak in men's hearts, and that it is His solemn voice that sounds to each of us in what we call conscience. And so, brethren, I venture to assert that the question which opens His ministry, in the deepest of all the gospels, is the question with which He fronts the world still, and asks them, " What seek ye?"
And mind, He has a right to ask the question, "for the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son." And you have got to submit a programme of your life to Him which will pass muster with Him before you are right.
As was the case here, remember He knows the answer before it is given. There is nothing more characteristic of these earlier chapters of John's Gospel than the pains which he takes to bring out Christ's knowledge of all the men and women that met Him, before they opened their lips. So do not try to masquerade before Him, but see that your answers be according to truth, when He says, as He is saying to each of you, by my poor word now, " What is it that you really want and live for?"
Brethren, there can be no greater blessing to men than that they should thus be forced (as I am trying, I hope gently and lovingly, to oblige my hearers) to look this question in the face. For there is nothing in which men's stupidity and gregariousness are more sadly displayed than in the lack of any habitual clear presentation to themselves of what it is that they are living for, and what the meaning of all the hubbub and fret and "business " and anxiety really at bottom is. To live without ever facing this question is the melancholy condition in which millions of men are. And there is nothing more needful, and few things more unwelcome, to some of us than that the sharp point of this interrogation should be driven deep into our consciences, "What seek ye?"
Suppose the question put to some man in this chapel to-night. If he is honest, he says, if I may turn into English the old Latin proverb, "Money! money got anyhow! Money!" Is that your answer? Another man says: "Culture! culture! culture!" Another one says, if he is true: "Lust! That is what I seek— the gratification of the beast that is in me"; the satisfaction of the appetites that are there and are to be rigidly kept in restraint, and so kept in restraint, are elements in perfection and allies of nobleness. And some of you would have to say: "What am I seeking for? Well, really, upon my word, I do not know! I never thought of what the trend of my life was, and what I was really aiming at." Does the cap fit—do any of the caps fit—any of my hearers? In some measure they fit us all, brethren. Do not let us try to wriggle out of the solemn necessity that is laid upon us, because we are rational creatures with a conscience within us, and for whom Christ died, of giving account of ourselves and of our aims to Him.
If, as I am sure is the case, there are some of us who can say: "Well, I seek for the highest, the permanent, the all-sufficient good," then the recognition of what we really do require will go a long way to settle for us the question where we are to find it. "Men do not gather grapes of thorns." The gold-seeker does not hunt in dunghills. If you want to pick roses you will not go into the slums. If you desire treasures, jewels, and precious things you know that they lie up amongst the mountains in the rocks. And if we have once clearly recognised what is the aim of our lives— viz., as I have said, adequate, permanent, supreme good—then, if we seek for good, we must look for it, and find it, in God.
Remember, too, that Jesus Christ will ask a similar question of each of us another day. On earth He says, "What seek ye?" When we stand at His judgment bar, He will ask, "What sought ye?" And, that we may be able to answer that, let us answer this one as these men did. Blessed are they who, when Christ asks "What?" Could answer " Thee!" The "What" that a human heart should seek is a "Whom." And only those who say " Master! we would come and dwell with Thee," have learned the true answer to the question as to what they seek. If we answer thus, then all the weariness and failures of hunting after substances amidst shadows, and groping for diamonds in mudheaps, are at an end; and the dove folds'its wings and rests, and the blessedness of having found takes the place of the unrest and anxiety of continual search and continual failure.
But there is another side to this penetrating question: for, as I remarked at the beginning of this sermon, there lay in it, as it was originally put, more than half a promise that, whatever the request was, it should be granted. Christ's look—and, be sure, the intonation of that voice, into which "grace was poured "—took all the possible harshness out of the interrogation, and made it all but an assurance that, whatever the petition was, it would be fulfilled.
"What seek ye ?" is almost like putting the key of His treasure-house into our hands. And He still says to us, "What is thy petition? and what is thy request? and it shall be granted thee."
The measure of our requests is the working measure of the power that He bestows. We get in and from Jesus Christ just as much, and just that which our desires are wide enough to receive, and our expectations firm enough to retain. The whole Christ is offered to each of us, and whatsoever may be our petition, that we shall get.
Oh, brother, there is only one region of human experience in which wish is identical with fulfilment; only one source from which we can draw exactly as much as we want. It is that great fountain which, like the fountain of oil in the old miracle, flows and fills every vessel that the poverty-stricken and starving widow woman can bring, and only stops its flow when she stops presenting the emptinesses to be filled. "What seek ye?" That is to say, " Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find." Are any of our other aims so sure of accomplishment as this? Why, then, should men be, as so many of us are, and as all of us are, more or less, such fools as to fling away our efforts, and wrack our brains, and torture our hearts, and wear our finger-nails to the stump, in grasping and clutching and driving and scheming and toiling, when all the while a wish for the highest good brings the inrush of that good into our souls?
There are, as the wise old psalm tells us, two ways of seeking. The one of them is effort, which always fails—". the young lions do lack and suffer hunger." The other is turning to the one Source with a great emptiness, and a great desire, and a great trust, and "they that seek the Lord shall not want any good." So, brother, when Christ says to you, "What seekest thou?" answer, " Thyself; 0 Lord."
II.—Note here the universal invitation. "Come!" And if we adopt the other rendering to which I have already referred, "Come, and ye shall see."
Now, I suppose I need not vindicate my purpose of putting away altogether the original simple application of these words, and reading into them a deeper meaning. I take it that then- place in this gospel stamps upon them such a significance as being intended by the Evangelist.
"Come "—a universal invitation. Now, do not let us have any misunderstandings about metaphors. Jesus Christ is gone away. That is no reason why you and I should not come to Him. What is "presence"? Is it the juxtaposition of material atoms? or is it the union, as of two polished plates of metal, of soul with soul and heart with heart? "Where a man's treasure is, there shall his heart be also." And where his heart is, he—the best part of him—is.
So through the mists of nineteen centuries, and through the clouds of the lower sky and the upper strata of glories, we to-day can come to Christ, more really by far, than these two men who knew so little about Him, and clung so closely to His skirts.
What is the meaning of the metaphor? A very threadbare meaning. Jesus Christ shall be His own commentator when He says: "He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger; and He that believeth on Me shall never thirst." So, then, you may put the one phrase for the other wherever it occurs. Coming is trust and trust is coming. And where the mind is occupied believingly with Jesus Christ and the truth that lives in Him and flows from Him, and where the heart twines its tendrils round that perfectly loving and infinite heart, and the will, in contact with His supreme will, is supplied and made docile for, and strengthened by, obedience, and where the conscience is cleansed from guilt by the touch of His finger laid on the believing soul, there, even here and now, we may be "present with the Lord."
There is no mystery about that beyond the mystery of love. The path is plain, the requirement is reasonable, and the reward is great. Come!—that is, trust yourself body, soul, and spirit to Christ; and, having come, keep beside Him by the exercise of the same faith, meditation, outgoing of affection, submission of will, and practical obedience; and though you are present in the body, you will not be absent from the Lord.
Brethren, that invitation is given to the world, because it is given to each individual soul. It is given to thee. You would not refuse an invitation from a prince. Why do you turn away from this one? By His own word, by His voice in your hearts, by the very make of your spirits, He is calling to you to come. By sorrows, disappointments, experience of the illusions of earthly search, and the vanity of earthly findings, He is at least saying to you, " Go! this is not your rest," and in the "Go!" there is a " Come!" And oh, brethren, surely it is not the part of wise men and women, nor of people that have regard to their own supreme good, to turn a deaf ear, as so many of us do,, to that gracious invitation.
It was almost His first word to the world—" Come, and ye shall see." It echoes all through His earthly ministry: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink." With open hands of invitation, like the great statue of a modern sculptor in the pediment of a church, the Christ stands, beckoning all to come to Him, and ready to fold the extended arms, when they come, and clasp them to His bosom; "come unto Me, all ye that labour." And all but the last word which this same evangelist records as having heard Christ speak from heaven, in the Book of Revelation, is, "Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely."
Just as in the earlier interrogation there was a promise couched and half concealed, so, if we adopt the reading already referred to, in this last invitation there is another promise: "Come, and ye shall see." Yes! faith is the condition of vision. Trusting Him we have experience of Him, His preciousness, His power, the veracity of His promises, the faithfulness of His fulfilment, which they who do not exercise faith in Him can never possess.
The verification of Christianity requires a Christian. That is perfectly reasonable. You cannot tell the savour of any food till you have eaten of it. You donot know what the meaning of love is till you have loved No words nor demonstrations of any sort can teach any of the emotions of life to a man until he himself has passed through them. You cannot make & blind man know the glories of the sunshine, nor a deaf one understand the magnificent roll of the thunder. No more can you judge of Christianity, in its greatness, its sweetness, its reality, and its power, until you have "tasted" and then "seen" that "the Lord is good." Come, and you will see, here and now, how great and precious Jesus Christ is.
No man that has come has ever gone away and said, "It is a delusion; there is nothing to see." The language of all who have trusted is, "Once I was blind; now I see."
That has been the experience of millions, and it will be yours, until the day comes when the promise shall receive its sublimest fulfilment, and our coming to Christ amidst the dusk and the darknesses of earth shall lead on to the full vision of the undying day in ■the heavens.
I beseech you, dear friends, to answer Christ's invitation as promptly and as fully as these two did; and then their blessed experience will be yours. "He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see." "And they ■came, and they saw."