This was a word spoken in defense of what seemed to the rulers to be a very inconsistent and disobedient position. These men were sent to apprehend the Person of our Lord, but they could not touch Him, because His hour was not yet come to be taken. The time appointed of the Father had not yet arrived; when that time arrived it would be that He would voluntarily yield Himself up, not merely to them, to wreak out their vengeance, but yield Himself up according to the will of His heavenly Father, as He said, "I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:38,39) That raising up meant that He must suffer the penalty of their sins; that He must die for them, the Just for the unjust; that He must make amends for all their vile transgressions; that He must obey the law for them; that He must rise up again from the dead for them, and that it should be fulfilled that He said; "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:3) He said also: "No man taketh My life from Me, but I lay it down of Myself." (John 10:18) Yea; how gladly He sped forth in that work of mediation! "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?" (Luke 12:50) And we read: "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12;2)
There was such a distinct authority about His utterances, even in His state of humiliation, when set aside and scorned by the Jews. You can realize the sneer, "How knoweth this Man letters, having never learned? But oh, the weight that falls upon our spirits when we listen to His words: "My doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me. If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself." (John 7:15,16) My dear fellow-sinners, can we say that we have sat at His feet and learned of Him? Have we been made to say with the apostle, "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift!" (2 Cor. 9:15) Then we know how to measure the truth of His words. He could say, "I am not like you only to give out that which has been given to you by mortal means. I simply make known the will of My Father; I say the things that He would have Me say."
These officers realized a weight of authority with His words, that made them appear altogether above and beyond any other man's words or teaching. Whatever the rules might say they had to go back empty-handed, and this was their excuse, "Never man spake like this Man." Many true words were spoken of Christ where those who murmured because He went to be a guest with sinners. They said, "This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." (Luke 15:2) How glad we have been to read those words in another sense from what they meant them! Surely the wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath will He restrain.
I am thinking first what a marvelous condescension it was on the part of the infinite Jehovah to cause His words to be spoken by sinless human lips on this earth. We read over these things, I am afraid, far too rapidly. We do not appreciate as we could wish what our Lord said, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth...the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and the are life." (John 6:63) Now I wonder how many times in my life I have read this 7th chapter of John. I daresay it would run into hundreds of times, but as I was reading it this morning, it was so fresh and beautiful, I might never have read it before; that is perhaps why I read the chapter right through. Ah, His words are spirit and life, but you must have life in your soul to appreciate them. It is no use to talk in a foreign language to a man who has no knowledge of that language. It is amazing to me that on one occasion the voice that came from heaven was so tremendous that the people said it thundered, and yet this great, wonderful, inconceivable God caused the thoughts of His heart to be made known through those sinless lips of the Lord Jesus Christ, of Whom it is said, "Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into Thy lips: therefore God hath blessed Thee for ever." (Ps. 45:2) Can you follow me a little this morning? Can you say in your heart?
"Why me? why me? oh blessed God!
Why such a wretch as me?"
We have been looking at men today flying hither and thither in quest of flesh-pleasing, but why are we here this morning? Why are we desirous of hearing that blessed voice speaking to us again as we trust we have heard it, as it is written: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son." (Heb. 1:1,2) May He help us, dear friends, this morning, to have our minds drawn towards Him. May the prevalent feeling be, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth." Religion is such a deep reality. It is indeed as the poet says:
"True religion's more than notion,
Something must be known and felt."
The words of the Lord Jesus Christ, are such when they reach our ears, when they enter into the heart and understanding, there is nothing to compare with them. We may become generally conversant with His marvelous life and perfect obedience, we may think of Him as One who has conquered death and hell, and is henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool; but, do we know what it is to hear Him speak to us? Like those disciples who heard One saying unto them, "Follow me;" and the power of it was so great that the occupation must go, everything must go in order to follow Him. I was talking to a friend yesterday about ministers having been dealt with very severely by the Lord; having been shaken to pieces in the midst of a wild life, and how they have had that word applied, "Pay me that thou owest;" (Matt. 18:28) but we must not lay down any standard by which to judge the people of God as to what is called a law work. The work of the Spirit is so sovereign. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8) We do not read that these men, the first disciples of our Lord, were taught immediately the far-reaching demands of God's holy law, but they came into contact with their Law-fulfiller. He was here to obey the law for them. At the present time they hear His powerful voice saying unto them, "Follow me," and that is enough--they follow Him. I myself have never realized the searching nature of the law as recently, although I had known it before is such a way as to say, "Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall, my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me." (Lam. 3:19,20) The Word of God is a sharp, piercing, two-edged sword, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, (Heb. 4:12) and our later experience is more after that manner, and it will be so to the end. I believe we shall get to see more and more of the nature of God's law. We have to learn increasingly to prize what Jesus came here to do. He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matt. 5:17,18)
Just as we enter into the condemning nature of God's law which reveals His righteous demands, so also gladly we embrace this Way. The drawing voice of Jesus is something very gentle, afterwards we are led further into the mystery of "God manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16) to take away sins. I want us to cling to this truth that the Father sent the Son. We say, "Knowledge is power." Certainly it is; especially to a man who knows how to handle the thing. Experience is knowledge--personal experience. How was it that Christ could speak so authoritatively, and not as the scribes? My answer must be from the Gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;" (John 1:1) and in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews we read: "Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power." In other words, He revealed the character of the inconceivable Jehovah. He could say, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:9)
From all eternity He was in the bosom of the Father. That is a precious verse to me; it becomes more and more deep to me: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." (John 1:18) There is the authority, you see. Again I am lost in wonder, the subject is so great, to think that the eternal Son of God should descend to this earth on my account. I want us to get there in spirit if we can. Paul said, "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."(Gal. 2:20) Do you think we shall ever have done praising Him? No, of course we shall not. Eternity will be too short to utter all His praise.
Think of it. That He should look upon us when our minds were fully made up to gratify ourselves, and have our own way. I used to try and fortify my mind against God's Word in the days of my unregeneracy; I did not mind showing a certain amount of respect, but I did not want the Word to interfere with anything I had in my mind. As one said:
"I ever into ruin run,
But Thou art greater then my heart."
And yet when He looked upon me, and made me realize my need of Him, the bolts and bars were gone; then came the wistful cry, "Lord, look upon me. I fear I have gone beyond the reach of mercy and love." Oh, the power of Jesus! Oh, the wonderful winsome way the Lord Jesus has of drawing poor sinners unto Himself! Have you realized it dear friends? Say you, "We do not expect the Lord's voice to be audible." Of course we do not, but it is known by the work of the Holy Spirit taking of the things of Jesus and showing them unto us. (John 16:14,15) We may have read a chapter in God's Word a hundred times over, we may have admired it, we may have been enabled in some measure to enter into it. But it is another thing when God speaks it with power by the Spirit, not in any way terrifying, but with that "still small voice." If you had a glimpse of the Lord Jesus even now you would not need to disturb your neighbor, it would be your heart flowing out to Him. It is, "Son (or daughter,) give Me thine heart;" and the thing is done.
When the Lord delivered my soul after that long bondage it was done in quicker time than I can tell you. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6) That light does not disturb us. How beautiful the sun-rising is. Oh, the attractiveness and the power of it. Who can attempt then to comprehend the glory of the Son of God? When He says, "Come to Me. Follow Me;" everything gives way, for "Power belongeth unto God."
It is because of His knowledge of the Father's heart and mind and will, because He is the divinely appointed High Priest over the house of God. "No man taketh this honour unto himself, but He that is called of God, as was Aaron." (Heb. 5:4) That is a beautiful verse in Toplady's hymn:--
"But with authority He asks,
Enthroned in glory now."
And then we say:
"And now Thou in Thy kingdom art,
Dear Lord, remember me."
Is that all the religion you have this morning? Well, it is written: "Rememeber me, O Lord, with the favour that Thou bearest unto Thy people: O visit me with Thy salvation; that I may see the good of Thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of Thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance." (Ps. 106:4,5) Is that your religion? My friends, I would rather have it than heaps of what men think is acceptable to the Almighty. The Apostle got down to this; he said, "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things." (2 Cor. 6:10)
The Lord sometimes comes and opens His Word to me, and enables me to join hands with the Psalmist: "O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him." (Ps. 34:8) You cannot have a better plea than your poverty. Listen to His own words: "He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Some of my old Croydon friends will remember my saying, "The poor in spirit is not one who has forgotten his poverty because he thinks he is now rich, but one who continually feels his poverty."
Nothing to pay, nothing to pay; He does not require it; He has everything to bestow. That verse of Gadsby still holds good:--
"When pockets are emptied, and carnal hopes past,
To Christ they will come, and He'll cure them at last."
The deeper you sink the more you will realize the solidity of the Rock upon which you fall. Do you reply, "Why, I have come to chapel this morning as hard as a stone; surely I am a most unworthy creature; if you only knew what was in my heart." You will not find anything in your heart to recommend you to God. With regard to your conscience before Him you must get poorer and poorer, and then you will know His precious words: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) He has it to give!
Many people say to themselves, "If I only could be this or that." Let it go, dear friends, let it go; there is only One can save you, ever He who said, "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me." (Isa. 63:3) When you can prove to me that there was any bad case came to Him once while He was on earth that He spurned when such approached Him, then I must alter my testimony; but, blessed be God, I need not alter my testimony, for you cannot find one.
We read of one case 38 years' standing. The man himself said, "I have no man when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming another steppeth down before me." (John 5:7) That is the person for Him to bless, whatever may be the chronic nature of your trouble--causing you to conclude, "How dare I confess this again and again?" If you are miserable past expression on account of it, I can tell you that He has already taken away your sins. It was done when He said, "It is finished!" but sin will trouble you. That is where you have to enter into the blessedness of the remedy, by learning the painfulness of the malady.
"This Physician understandeth
All disorders of the soul,
And no payment He demandeth,
When He makes the wounded whole."
"Never man spake like this Man." Oh, to be drawn to His blessed feet! to cling closer to Him, till He says to us one day, "Friend, come up higher!" Amen.
What a fulfilment is here of that passage in Psalm 2: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" With what determination these rulers employed their officers to put an end to the teaching of this Man, whose progress they could not impede! What must they have felt like when these men simply answered them in this way: "Never man spake like this Man?" It was as much as to say, "The very speech of this Man paralyses our courage; He holds us at a distance by the influence which He exercises." Never man spake like this Man."
Now I have been thinking coming along to you this evening, how one could wish one's own speech more resembled His. This morning we were speaking of the Lord's knowledge of the mind and will of His Father: so that we read at the end of Matthew 7: "The people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as One having authority, and not as the scribes." Why was that? Because, as He said to Nicodemus, "We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen; and ye receive not Our witness." (John 3:11) So we must come back to this very practical consideration: As we are brought into contact with Him; as we are drawing our supply from the Root; as we are living in an abiding fellowship with Him; as we are receiving from His fullness; so shall we speak in some little measure as He spoke. You who have been toiling along 50 years or 60 years, are you not inclined to say tonight that there is no preaching in the world like the experimental testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ? When a minister is speaking out of his heart there will be power in it, as John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you." (1 John 1:3)
There is a shocking tendency in our day and generation for men to turn away from the Word of God and fill up their time with that which gratifies their senses, and I fear it is yet to get worse. Nevertheless I cannot but conclude that if the Lord would be pleased to put more sweet unctuous power into the ministry of His word by the Spirit, there would be something like that which was wrought 70 years ago. What makes those books so precious that were written by men in those days? Is it not their feeling of their sinfulness and need of a Saviour? They spoke of Him Who was formed in their hearts the Hope of glory. Those books are as savory as ever to me, perhaps more so now, because I have got a little more helpless in myself. To the hungry man bitter things become sweet, and one is able to obtain help and consolation from reading the troubles through which these old warriors passed.
When a minister knows a thing, and stands up with that knowledge dominating his mind, he does not need to attempt to garnish anything. Many a worldly man will hear a minister speak out of his heart and he will be awed by it. He will say, "Evidently he has attained to his knowledge in a right way." We do not want noise or excitement; the nearer the Lord Jesus draws unto me the more I see the beauty of that which Joseph said when making himself known to his brethren, "Cause every man to go out from me." Then in the ensuing quietness he says, "I am Joseph, your brother. Come near to me, I pray you." That is the religion I want. "Not by might, nor by power (that is, human power,) but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." We long to speak more like our Lord spake. I was trying to speak from that passage a little time ago, "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt." You must not talk too much if you are to come up to that standard; you must look to your words before you speak them.