#SEEING JESUS ON THURSDAY EVENING, SEPTEMBER 9, 1896.
"Yet a little while, and the world sees Me no more; but you see Me."
- John 14:19
WHATEVER religious privileges men of the world may have, they will lose them. It was a great favor to see Christ in the flesh. Kings and prophets had desired to see His day and had died disappointed because He had not come, but that sight of Him which the generation in which Christ lived enjoyed was taken from them. They were none the better and, in some respects, they were all the worse for having seen Him, whose blood was on them and on their children. So, as a general truth, all the outward religious privileges which any of you may enjoy, if you do not become spiritual men and are not, indeed, Christ’s disciples, will be taken from you, speedily taken from you, leaving no blessing behind, but rather a curse! You are hearers of the gospel today, some of you, though unconverted—but you shall not always hear it. There is a land where Sabbath bells never ring, where the joyful feet of the messengers of mercy are never seen, and where no loving expostulations and no affectionate entreaties will be addressed to you! Now you join in song with God’s people but you will not do so soon—another sound, more strange and full of trembling—will be in your ears! Some of you, it may be, unconverted as you are, even venture to touch the ordinances and have been baptized and have come to the Lord’s Table. There will be another baptism for you and you will eat bread at a far different table from that of the Lord, by-and-by, for unless you are converted, these, instead of being means of grace, shall be swift messengers against you to your condemnation! It is a very sorrowful case when a man is so bad that that which is good becomes bad to him, and a fearful proof of the fall of our race and the depravity of our unregenerate nature—that even the best religious privileges will only become a savor of death unto death unto us unless the grace of God shall change our hearts!
Note, then, that as the text says that the world which saw Christ should soon see Him no more, so it teaches us that there are many outward privileges in religion that even worldly people enjoy that they shall soon enjoy no more, for, as they would not have the inward spiritual grace, they shall not forever have the outward and visible sign to tread beneath their feet! As they would not receive the grace of God into their hearts in the power of it, so shall the very offers of love and the outward ministrations of mercy be withdrawn from them!
With that black foil, the gem of our text may shine the brighter. "But you see Me"—you, My people; you that have believed; you who, by grace, have received the new nature. You who have passed from death unto life—when the world sees Christ no more, you shall see Him in His glory! And even now, while a blind world beholds Him not, you are enjoying a sight of Him. Our first word tonight, after this preface, shall be—
I. SPIRITUAL DIFFERENCES.
The world sees Him no more, but you see Him. The difference lies in the kind of sight. The world’s sight of Christ, in the first place, was only a sight to the eyes and, consequently, the moment Christ was gone out of this world, the world saw Him no more. But when He was gone, there were others who had seen Him with a different sight, which was not affected by His corporeal absence—they continued to see because their seeing had been something other than the sight of the eyes. Now, when Jesus Christ was here upon earth, all that an ungodly man saw of Christ was His outward form—as some think incomparably beautiful, and so I suppose it was at the first. So perfect a spirit must surely have been enshrined within a matchless, outward form! I can conceive Him to have been full of grace, even in the common sense of that term, as well as in its higher meaning. But in later years, such were the griefs of His heart that we know that He appeared to be older than He was, for the Jews said, "You are not yet fifty years old," when He was but a little more than thirty. Such was the decay, probably, such the emaciation that grief brought upon Him that He had no form or comeliness, and when men looked upon Him they saw Him as the man of sorrows and the acquaintance of grief. Whatever the outward form may have been, it was certainly all that the ungodly man saw, all that the Pharisee saw, all that Pilate saw, all that Herod saw—just that outward form. They did not, therefore, see the real Christ of God at all, and in proof that they did not see Him, we find that some of them could only see in Him an impostor, who pretended to be what He was not. Others could only see in Him an ordinary prophet, a remarkable man, but still one of the common of prophets, and no more. They could not see in Him what His disciples saw, namely, His glorious inward character, and the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Now, you do not know a man because you happen to know the color of his eyes, the peculiar curl of his hair, or what kind of features he may possess. You know a man better when you have lived with him, when you know his spirit, when you have traced his virtues, when you have read his secrets. That is the man. The spirit is the man. The body is, after all, but the shrine in which the spirit dwells. The world saw Christ only as to His outward form—and when He was gone they saw Him no more in that respect. But His disciples had seen His inward nature. Some of them had seen what flesh and blood could not reveal to them—they had been made to see, by having their eyes spiritually anointed with heavenly eye-salves and, consequently, when Christ was gone from their natural sight, they continued to see—and I venture to say they saw more clearly than they had done before, for now, when He was taken up from them, they began to read what He had said to them with greater understanding! They began to see some of His actions in a different light—and much that they did not understand at one time when He was with them, because they could not bear it, they began to understand now that He was gone because His Spirit revealed it—their understandings being capable of receiving the deeper truth. They saw the better for His absence, while the world saw not at all!
Beloved friend, I shall ask you, before I pass on—have you ever had such a sight of Jesus Christ? No, I do not mean, did you ever dream you saw Him? I do not mean, did you ever think you saw a vision? I do not care whether you have or have not. If you saw the devil, that would not send you to hell—and if you saw Christ, it would not send you to heaven. But have you ever had that spiritual sight of Him which has made you to understand His character? Have you ever seen Him as the Christ of God, the God-man, the Only Begotten, the Well-beloved, the Savior, the King of your spirit? Have you so seen Him as to be subdued by the sight and to be at once enlisted in His service? Oh! this is the sight which He gives to His own people, the sight which saves, the sight of which He speaks when He says, "The world sees Me no more, but you see Me"—the difference between the sight of the eyes and the sight of the inner man!
We have a sight of Christ, further, which not only lasts when Christ is gone, but which lasts when our eyes are gone. The world can only see while the eye endures. If the eye should by any means be filmed, or if especially the eye and all the powers of the body should be smitten by death, then there would be to the world no sight of Christ. But in our case our sight of Jesus Christ is one which has been known to be even brightened by the eyes being quenched—a sight which grows more and more clear as the flesh decays, a sight which will be clearest of all when we have done with eyes altogether, when we shall be in the disembodied and spiritual state—then shall we see the King in His beauty to perfection and though, after a while there shall be added to that sight a corporeal sight, when the body shall rise again from the grave, yet meanwhile our sight is such that if our eyes were taken away from us, we thank God it would not dim our sight of Christ one bit! There are some in this place, tonight, whom I remember with affectionate regard, who have not seen the light of the sun for many years, and yet their eyes see the face of Christ almost always, for their love to Christ is so fervent and the communion they have with Christ is so constant that the loss of their eyes seems to be, in their case, almost a privilege! They see the better because that drop screen has crossed the optic glass and shut them out from the world. Yes, and if any of us should be overtaken by the gradual closing of the eyes, heavy as such an death, then, even then, shall we see Him! And while we lie pining there, and friends think us shut out from everything that is happy, we shall but consider ourselves shut in, waiting for the full appearing of the Lord our Savior! The sight, then, which God gives to His people, is a sight which is not dependent upon Christ’s bodily Presence, and is not dependent, in the next place, upon our bodily eyes!
On this matter of spiritual differences we remark, next, that the sight which is here meant is one which is an available thing when everything else goes to the contrary. When everything prospers with a man of the world, even he sees, and says, "Perhaps God is here." If he is an outwardly religious man, though not inwardly so, if he mingles in a congregation where there is some degree of religious excitement, if his own mind is gratified, he will say he thinks Christ is there. But the child of God can see Jesus Christ where nobody else can, namely, in the midst of the storm and the tempest, where everything threatens present destruction! The believer hears Him say, "It is I," and sees Him walking upon the waves—sees Him not only in exciting religious meetings, but in the quiet of solitude. Worldlings in solitude see nothing, have no holy thoughts—but there the Christian perceives Jesus, and if that solitude is attended with much of trial, and temptation, and inward sorrow, and distress, yet faith is fully at work and the believer looks through every mist and cloud, and still sees Jesus, according to His promise—"Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." It is a poor faith that can only see Christ in the sunlight. It is a brave faith that sees Him at midnight. It is poor faith that believes that Jesus is there when all prospers, but it is right faith that knows He is there when nothing prospers except faith, which prospers most when tried. It is glorious to be able to read God’s Word sometimes backwards—not to believe that His hard messages mean unkindness, but to understand that there is love in every stroke of the rod, eternal love in every hard word that falls from the Savior’s lips. Faith, then, not only sees Jesus when He is corporeally absent, and sees Him without corporeal eyes, but sees Him when to sense it seems quite impossible that Jesus should be there! Note these differences, and let us pass on. Now we have here—
II. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT.
I shall ask you, brothers and sisters, now quietly to look into yourselves to see whether you have the spiritual discernment we shall now speak of. We see Him. We see Him, first, with a trust which hangs all its confidence upon Him. The world does not see Christ as the great foundation stone of its hope. It sees its own works. It hopes in ceremonies and in outward forms. But we see Him. Whenever our faith looks abroad, she sees nothing but Jesus. "No man, but Jesus only." On that dear cross my soul hangs all her confidence—not a rag anywhere else!—
"All my trust on You is stayed,
All my help from You I bring."
This is an essential mark of a Christian, that he sees Jesus with the simple faith that relies alone upon Him. Dear hearer, do you in this respect see Jesus? If so, rest assured that where He is in His glory, you shall shortly be! There is life in that look! There is more than life present—there is life eternal in a look at Him! I hope you are not among those who say, "I did look to Jesus once." No, we still see Him. The life of our faith dwells in a perpetual life-look at Christ! We do not say that we have seen Him and then we have withdrawn our glance, but we continue still to look. Our faith does not depend on something done in the past in us, but on that finished work which abides still for us, and to which we look day by day. We see Him with the look of a simple faith.
We see Him, next, with the look of a reverent worship. Where is He tonight, Christian, do you think? He is yonder as to His body—He is yonder at the right hand of the Father! I will not try to use my imagination to picture Him there in that supernal splendor which far outshines the lamps of heaven, otherwise we might so speak of Him that you might seem to hear Him pleading, now, for you, and see Him wearing your names engraved on the jewels of His breastplate, displayed before the Father’s face for you at this hour. But though we will not thus picture Him, yet we see Him there by faith, and our soul bows and worships! All hail! All hail! Immanuel, Son of Mary and Son of God! Man and God, we worship You with all our hearts! Had we crowns, we would cast them at Your feet, but as these are not ours as yet, we bring You our songs, and our prayers, and our hearts’ love. And here, tonight, in the assembly of Your saints, we look at You and we worship You!
Now, I am conscious in my own heart, tonight, of a clearer sight of Christ than the sight which I take of you sitting in your pews. As I see you in your pews, I do but glance upon the flesh in which you live. As for what you really may be, I cannot see you. Your thoughts and your feelings are all unseen of me. But when I look at Christ, tonight, though I cannot see His flesh, nor behold His scars, nor all the glory of His risen body, yet I can see Him, for I know what He is thinking of, I know what He is feeling, I know what He is looking for, I know what His heart is bent on. He is full of love to His people! He is thinking of their interests! He is pleading for us! He is working for us as an intercessor before the throne of God! We see Him with the glance of reverent adoration, then, and see Him clearly, too!
Again, we see the Lord Jesus Christ tonight—I trust we do—with the eye of sanctified obedience. We believe that He is here. We believe that when we go to our homes He will be with us in spirit. That when we go to our business or to our work tomorrow morning, He will still be with us. Now we could not sin in His presence as other men sin. We dare not plunge into the common customs of the world. We could not use the world’s talk. We would not yield to its maxims, and why? Because Jesus is there and a sense of His presence is always a check to us against temptation, and oftentimes it is not only a negative force, but a sense of His presence compels us to serve Him as best we may! I wish we saw Jesus more usually in this sense, and yet, my brothers and sisters, I hope some of us do, as a general rule, see Him daily thus, as though He were overshadowing us. I know I often do when I am sitting and thinking of what I shall say to you, and I start, as though I could look up and see Him looking down on me. And as I am walking by the way it often happens that I almost seem to check myself as though I heard His footsteps at my side. I know it cannot be, but I am conscious of His presence, conscious that He talks with me and I with Him. Is it so with you? I know it is with many of you. Oh, cherish this more! Some of us lose His presence by the week or the month together, and it is very sad, sorely sad, to be living in such a world as this, far off from Christ. Oh, sheep, you cannot afford to be so far off from the Shepherd when the wolf is so near! Child, you cannot afford to be so far away from your Elder Brother when the pestilence is walking in darkness and the arrows are flying by day, and none but He can shield you! Oh, try to get into the fullness of this thought—we see Him, not only up there, reverently to be worshiped, but here to be worshiped by our feeling the restraints and the constraints of His presence, feeling with regard to Him as Hagar did with regard to Jehovah in the wilderness when she said, "You God see me"—You Christ see me. You Crucified One, You are with me. You exalted Lord, I tread in Your footsteps. How can I consent to sin when You are so near me? Still we see Him!
We see Him further, dear friends, oftentimes with a trust which consoles us in hours of difficulty. Mark what I mean here. Oftentimes the servant of God, when he sees how ill things go in the world, and especially in the religious world, is apt to think that Jesus is not there. Indeed, it needs a great deal of faith to see Jesus when things are sluggish in the church, when there are ministers who do not seem to care about souls being saved, when there are churches that fall asleep, and when the world seems to grow more wicked, more lascivious in its amusements and more blatant in its atheistic blasphemy! But faith learns to know that Jesus is still here, that He cannot be away from the army. He is the Prince and He is concerned in the victory. He cannot be away. The whole of what goes on in the world is still under His direction and His control. Life has not put away the keys, blessed be His name! Nor has He left them to the devil, but they are at His belt. There they hang—the sovereign keys of death and hell, still entrusted to Him, alone! He has not left the chariot for some diabolic Jehu to drive, and bring confusion upon this world. The government shall be upon His shoulder! He shall be called the Wonderful, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Still—
"He everywhere has sway,
And all things serve His might."
When He allows, for a while, the powers of evil to have a longer tether than usual, it is that afterwards He may pull them in again and prove His power and lift them up to scorn by defeating then, even with all the advantages they seem to gain! Have confidence, child of God! The Church of God is safe! There is no danger to that. The pillars of that house no Samson shall ever remove! The house goes on building, stone by stone, both by night and by day, most surely and most certainly, and the top stone shall be brought forth with shouts of, "Grace, grace unto Him." We see Him, then, with the eye of a confidence
And, brothers and sisters, I trust we see Christ oftentimes with a joy which enlivens us. Do you not think that a believer ought to be ashamed to be sad? "Oh," says one, "we have a great deal of trouble." Yes, I know we have, and what a mercy it is that we have! I have a great many things that God has given me that I much value, but of all the things I ever had, next to His dear Son, that which I value most is the cross that is the heaviest. I have got more good out of my affliction than out of all my prosperity! I would not be without a cross for the entire world! Blessed be God, one loves to learn to bear his sorrows, for one does not seem to need faith to see that it is good. One gets by experience to see how good it is and to love our Father’s cup, out of which He gives us the gall every morning which is so bitter, but oh, it has done us so much good! Like the man subject to fever, walking through the malaria districts, he does not shudder to drink the quinine as the child does who thinks it is so bitter—the man feels the tonic effects of it, so that at last he comes to accept that cup with thankfulness—so, brothers and sisters, our afflictions ought not to make us sad! When they come to us we should remember that their ordinary tendency is sadness, but their extraordinary tendency, when they are rightly used, is to make us rather rejoice because our Father pleases to send us these things! An old German writer tells us of some birds which were in the house of a neighbor of his and which were being taught to sing. Some were bullfinches, I think, and they were teaching them to pipe, but there were some other birds—larks, and nightingales, and so on, and these were in the dark. It was very cruel—the poor little things were in the dark, and could see no light. But, he said, these were they that could sing the sweetest. And oftentimes the child of God, when he gets a sense of the Lord’s presence, is one of the birds that can sing best in the dark. Why, when it is all light, you know, there are plenty of things to distract our attention. But when it is all dark and Christ comes in, and He is the only thing to be seen, why, then He is better than all the things we do not see and His light is brighter than all the stars that have been put out! And now we can sing more clearly about His presence than we could about all the world’s gifts, and about all the outward joys that have been taken away. Do but let a child of God know that Christ is with him, and his joy will be unspeakable and full of glory!—
"Since Christ is rich, while I am poor,
What can I need beside?
Since my Beloved is mine, and I am His, I will even sit down by Babel’s stream and sing the Lord’s song, for the land is not strange where He is. Even Kedar’s tents are bright as the silken embroideries of Solomon when Jesus comes there, and Meshech is no longer a name of lamentation and of sorrow, but a name of joy and gladness when Jesus sojourns with us, a pilgrim and a stranger, as we also are! We see Jesus with the joy that enlivens us. And so once more, beloved, we have learned to see Jesus with the hope that inspires us, for, having seen Him once, here, we do not believe that He is teasing us. We cannot, we will not be led to imagine that if we have lived to see Him here as in a glass darkly, we shall be denied that for which we have been educated—even a face to face view of Him! No, beloved, the day is coming—every winged hour is bringing it nearer—when we shall see the King in His beauty for ourselves, and not another for us! Did you ever try to put yourselves into that happy condition when you shall see Him? I have sometimes been on the top of a Swiss mountain to see the sun rise. I must confess I was never successful. I have strained my eyes in watching to see when the sun should rise, but the clouds have generally concealed it. But a sunrise is always a glorious thing, and what will the everlasting sunrise be, when, from the top of Pisgah we shall see Him, when from the top of Nebo we shall see our Savior? Beloved, it is well that we shall not be in the body, then, for surely, that sight of Him would be too much for us! It is well that when this body shall see Him, it shall be a risen body, strengthened and accommodated to such an excess of bliss, for if He were to reveal Himself, now, to us, as He does to the saints in heaven, I suppose we would die with the excess of brightness! But do you ever try to picture to yourselves that you see Him? Christiana asked Mercy what made her laugh. "Did I laugh?" she asked. "Yes, last night you laughed in your sleep." Then Mercy told her dream, of how she had seen the land, had been within the gates of pearl, and seen the King. And Christiana said that well she might laugh. And have you never laughed at the thought that your eyes shall soon see the Christ of God, the Man that died for you, that these weeping eyes shall weep no more, but shall look full on Him? Oh! ‘tis well worth the pilgrimage. When Godfrey had led his troops up to Jerusalem, they had not yet captured the city, but the very sight of it made their hearts leap for joy! But what will it be to see, not the new Jerusalem only, but the King of the new Jerusalem, to have Him forever as ours, and to lie in His embrace without fear of banishment, world without end? Come, you disconsolate, pluck up courage! Come over the thorny way, for the end is sweet and it will make amends for all the toil of the road! Oh! that we were but looking at Him now, and that the kisses of His mouth were ours forever and ever!—
"My heart is with Him on His throne,
And ill can brook delay,
Each moment listening for the voice,
‘Rise up, and come away.’"
May we have such a sight as this, then, inflaming our hope, inspiring our desires and making us long for the bright day when we shall see Him face to face! I shall close these fragmentary thoughts with two or three—
III. WORDS OF SPIRITUAL ENCOURAGEMENT.
My brothers and sisters, some of you, perhaps, have been following me while I talked about a sight of Christ, and you said, "Yes. Well, I hope I know something about these things—not what I want, or what I wish, or what I hope I shall know—but still, I know something of them." Well, then, please remember that if you see Jesus, the Holy Spirit made you see Him. You would never have seen Jesus in that spiritual way by the power of human nature, or if you had been left to yourselves. Here is a clear mark, then, that the Holy Spirit has begun to work in your soul! Be grateful tonight, oh, be grateful that ever He should come to those bleary eyes of yours and open them! That ever He should come to that dead soul of yours and make it live! Tens of thousands who are wiser, greater and, perhaps, better than you in some respects, are left as blind as bats, while you, through sovereign grace, are made to see! Will you not praise Him? Have you no music for Him? Are there no good works that shall be like palm branches, with which you can strew His pathway in your joyful adoration of His grace to you tonight?
Please remember, too, that if you have received this sight, this sight will lead you to other sights. We see Him. Lay the stress there a moment. There are some here who do not see the doctrine of election. My dear brother, I wish you did, but if you can see Him, be glad for that. There are some who cannot see the mysterious doctrines of the Word of God. They are often puzzled with the higher mysteries which belong to men in Christ. My dear friends, you shall see all these, by-and-by, if you see Him! See Jesus first, and in Jesus, and through Jesus, you shall be led into all the truth! "What body of divinity," said someone to me the other day, "do you recommend?" I answered, "I have never heard of but one." "But there are several." No, there is only one—the only body that divinity ever had was the body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and the study of that body of divinity will make you systematic theologians of the best kind! Begin at the center, with the sun, and you will understand astronomy! And if you put anything in the center of your system, except Christ, you will be sure to be in a thousand muddles and will never be able to understand the things of the kingdom of God! A sight of Jesus secures a sight of other things. He that has seen Him has seen the Father, seen the Spirit, and shall see all the rest!
Let us encourage ourselves with the thought that a sight of Jesus Christ makes amends for a great deal else that we do see. And what do I see? I see wars on all sides. I see sin in my members, but I see Him and, therefore, I know that He will subdue sin. "You shall call His name, Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." I see a thousand imperfections and weaknesses in my daily walk and conversation, but when I see Him, it covers all, for His blood and righteousness shall cover all the iniquities of Israel, and if they are searched for, they shall not be found. My dear brothers and sisters, perhaps some of you see poverty tonight. Some of you brothers see many difficulties in your calling— some brother minister here, perhaps, sees much disappointment about his sphere of labor. But, my dear friends, if you can see Him, you shall find that that one sight will make amends for all the black and dreary visions that rise before you—and you shall be content and look on them with holy cheerfulness if you have fully learned to look on Him!
To look on Him, again, is, as we have said before, to prepare our eyes for the greatest sight that ever eyes can see. If we see Him today, it is a small thing compared to that. It is a small thing to see angels, as we shall see them, hovering about our dying bed. It is a small thing to see the shining ones, as we we see Him, it will be, comparatively, no very great advance to see the innumerable company of angels and the glorious church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, for in seeing Him we have had the earnest and the pledge of all these wondrous sights! We shall not fear to see the world on fire, though the elements dissolve with fervent heat. We shall not fear to see the graves all opened and the myriads of the saints departed starting up from their graves. We shall not fear to see the dread assize and the judgment-seat, and the King with the balances in His hand, weighing out the fates of men! We shall not fear to look upon yonder hell, with all its horrors past conception dire, nor on yon eternity, through which the terrors of divine justice shall blaze forth as consuming fires! There is nothing that can alarm the man who has seen the Lord! No, there shall be little that shall astonish him, for the sight of Jesus is the glorious sight of all things in embryo. It is the sight that shall make a heaven within us, while teaching us, by His Spirit, what the heaven shall be in which we shall dwell hereafter! Press forward for more of this sight of Christ. Get your eyes clear, and God grant that you may continue to see Him and only Him.
If any here have never seen Jesus, let me remind them of this one text, "Like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." To believe on Him is to trust Him. If you trust Him, you shall have everlasting life, but if you trust not in Jesus Christ, you shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on you! May these words never be forgotten by you till you have, by His grace, looked to Christ. Amen.