George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Christ's Teaching On Man
How much then is a man better than a sheep?--Mat 12:12
The Expression of Compassion Originates with Christ
Not very far away from where we sit there are gleaming the lights of our great city hospitals. We can see with the mind's eye the quiet wards, and the nurses moving in their gracious ministry. There the poorest citizens are treated with all the appliances that riches can command. There are they tended by night and day, with a skill that is as wise as it is kind. And if we ask ourselves, as thoughtful men, to what it is that we owe such institutions, the answer is not very far to seek. It is not enough to say we owe them to the generous support of a compassionate public. We want to find the source of that compassion, which is peculiar to the Christian era. And we find it, without any question, in the new conception of what man is, which we owe to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Christ Brought a New Estimate of Man
Indeed if one were asked the most distinctive feature of those ages which we call the Christian era, I do not think we should much err in answering that it was just that altered thought of man. We divide the history of the world into two parts, the one before Christ and the other after Christ. That in itself is an unequalled tribute to the centrality of the Redeemer. Well, among all the differences of these two eras, I say that none perhaps is so remarkable as the difference which is known to every student in the accepted estimate of man. It has breathed a new spirit into literature. It has created a passion for social service. It has built those splendid palaces of healing, where is the hand of science and the heart of mercy. All this, and a vast deal more than this, has been wrought by the new idea of man which Christendom owes to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our Doctrine of Man Is Determined by Our Doctrine of God
There are one or two preliminary things I want to say, and the first of them is this, that the doctrine of man, whatever it may be, is always the other side of the doctrine of God. As is the thought of God in any faith, so is the thought of man in that same faith. The one controls and dominates the other, giving it its colour and its content. Tell me the kind of god a people worships--tell me their thought of the being in the heavens--and I shall tell you what they think of man in his value and his freedom and his destiny. Now we are not dealing with Christ's thought of God tonight, but we all know something of the wonder of it. We know how infinitely rich in personality was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I throw out the hint that knowing it, we shall expect to find in Jesus' view of man a grandeur, a freedom, and a depth that are without parallel in any teaching. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Act 17:28).
Jesus' View of Man Was a Spiritual One
Again it is well that we should bear in mind that Jesus laid down nothing about man's origin. His view of man is a spiritual view; it is in no sense a scientific one. That man as such was a child of God, and that he owed his being to the Creator's hand is a truth which Christ never stays to prove--He assumes it, taking it for granted. (Editor's note: The word child is used with the connotation of creature needing redemption.) But beyond that, practising a silence which is as wonderful as any speech, He leaves the utmost freedom for inquiry. His view of man is not bound up with any theory of man's physical origin. It can be held by the most advanced of scientists as fully as by the humblest peasant. The one man by whom it cannot be held is the man who makes a jest of human nature, and who, so scorning it, sets a stumbling block before the feet of one of these little ones. That Christ in His infinite humiliation may have shared in the current beliefs of His own day, is not only possible, but as it seems to me, adds to the wonder and depth of His abasement. But that He should have thought to lay on us these limitations which He assumed in mercy, must be something wholly and forever alien from the spirit and mind of Him who is the Truth. Christ has involved us in no theory here. He has not barred the door on scientific progress. He has left it open to every earnest seeker to follow the truth wherever it may lead.
Christ's View of Man Was Based on Observation
And another thing it is well to remark is that Christ's view is based on observation. It was not the dreaming of a doctrinaire; it was fashioned in closest contact with humanity. I have read some learned books dealing with children, and been entirely humbled with their learning. But the strongest impression made on me by some of them was that the writer had never known a child. So are there certain theories of man that are entirely admirable and excellent, save for the one unfortunate detail that the man they analyse is nonexistent. There are people who are enamoured of humanity. They will talk to you by the hour about humanity. Christ did not care one farthing for humanity; He cared with all His heart for men and women. And the great glory of His view is this, that it is not elaborated in any solitude, hut is wrought out in daily loving contact with actual sinning men and sinning women. He did not come to them with any creed, determined to find that creed in every bosom. He came with a single eye, and with a heart of love, to find what was there, and only what was there. And so He saw in man such height and depth, such light and shadow, such infinite variety, as never had been seen on earth before. He knew that the eye might be so evil that the whole body might be full of darkness; and yet He knew there was a cry for home in the soul of the prodigal among the swine. He knew that out of the heart there spring adulteries, and all the lust that dwells so hard by hate, and yet He knew that we who are so vile can give good gifts unto our children. Now the real worth of any viewpoint depends on the range of facts that it interprets. If it be broad enough to embrace all contrarieties, the chances are it is the view of God. And the view of man that Jesus Christ has given us shall ever stand conspicuous in this, that it was wrought out, not in dreams of solitude, but in daily loving contact with His kind.
Christ Made the Individual the Object of Divine Regard
Coming now to the teaching in itself, the first thing to be said is this, that in His thought, as in His love, Christ made the individual the unit. He did not regard men as on the scale of fifty. He did not think of them as on the scale of ten. He thought of men, and lived for them, and died for them, upon the scale of one. Now to you and me, brethren, that is such a commonplace that we can scarcely conceive of any other reckoning. But one of the primary lessons of all history is that our commonplaces were once incredibilities. And though of course there never was a time in which men did not live their individual lives, yet it is no exaggeration to declare, as one has done, that Jesus Christ discovered the individual. To the ancient Jews, among whom Christ was born, in relation to God the nation was the unit. At an earlier period we have a time when it was the family who took the eye of heaven. But Christ as it were disrobed the individual, disengaged him out of all relationships, and revealed forever the truth that in Himself man was the object of divine regard. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; it is not God's will that one of them should perish. It was for one coin the woman swept the house; for one sheep the shepherd left the flock; for one son, and him a sorry prodigal, the father in the home was broken-hearted. If you go back into the ancient world I shall tell you the kind of feeling you discover. You discover men claiming divine protection because they were members of a tribe or family. And the wonderful thing in Jesus Christ is this, that from such relationships He disengaged the soul, and, never despising the family or the state, flashed all the light of heaven upon the one. That is what is meant when it is said that Christ discovered the individual. It does not mean that there ever was an age when the separate heart had not its separate sorrow. But it means that Jesus, out of all societies, disentangled the individual being, putting a crown of glory on its head, and the staff of the Good Shepherd in its hand. In what innumerable ways that has affected Christendom I have not time to dwell upon. It has given a new note to literature. It has breathed a new spirit upon art. It has shown itself in the ward of the infirmary where there may be fifty patients under one surgeon, yet each of them, as an individual being, is tended with an individual care.
Christ Taught That the Individual Was of Infinite Value to God
But there is something deeper still in Jesus' view, for Christ did not only discover the individual; He taught us also that the individual was of infinite value in the eyes of God. There are some secrets for which men have toiled, and when they have found them they have been broken-hearted. What they discovered has proved itself so tragical that they have prayed to heaven to make them blind again. But Christ, discovering the individual, found in that secret such a wealth of glory that the name He chose for Himself was Son of Man. They say that a diamond which today is blazing upon the crown of a European monarch lay for weeks upon a stall in Rome, labelled "Rock crystal, one franc." And may we not reverently say that Jesus Christ, purchasing the rock crystal for His own, has found something more precious than a diamond. For it is not man as rich that Jesus thinks of. It is not man as learned or as powerful. The ancient world was quick to recognise the value of the learned or the powerful man. The differential of Christ is this, that He stands up and faces that old world, and says that the thing of infinite worth to God is not man as powerful but man as man. Strip him of all the art of Greece. Take from him all the might of Rome. Call him a prodigal, and let him feed the swine; call him a sunken creature of the street. Yet even then, disrobed of every grace, sunken into the mire and trampled on, even then, says Christ, in God's eyes man is a being of a worth unspeakable. There is a great deal of talk today about the mystery of personality. Men are giving their deepest thought to that, and already there are signs of a rich harvest. But the deepest mystery of personality, if you will only sit down and think about it, is just that at its shallowest and worst, it should be of infinite value in the eyes of heaven. I tell you it is an overwhelming thought. It is enough to make one thrill to realise it--that the sorriest wretch whose every breath is vile, is precious because he is a man. And that is the great truth which Christ hath taught us, and which is so inwrought into our scheme of life, that not only in the church but in the world today it has the accent of the commonplace.
Jesus' Concept of God as Father
Now I said at the beginning that the thought of man is always relative to the thought of God. And I said it because I was looking forward to the point of the argument we have now reached. You know--all of you know perfectly--what was Jesus' controlling thought of God. From first to last our Saviour thought of God under the deep and tender name of Father. And you see at a glance, do you not, how this new doctrine of the infinite preciousness of every man springs from the thought of the Fatherhood in heaven? Does a father wait to love his children till they have come to discretion or maturity? Does he wait until one son has risen to honour, and another has become a prosperous citizen? On the contrary, he never loves them more than in the happy and helpless days of childhood, when there is never a scrap of learning in the brain, and never a jingle of money in the purse. Nay, if among that little family there be one that is sickly or weakly or deformed--one with a twisted limb, or with a shrunken arm, or with an intelligence arrested strangely--is not that the very child the father loves with an ineffable and yearning tenderness, so that he often prays for it, and sometimes quietly weeps, in the long silent watches of the night? That is the mystery of human fatherhood, and Christ has taught us when we pray to say, Our Father. And we lift our eyes at the command of Jesus, and lo, there is a Father on the throne. And so do we learn that man as man, simply and solely because he is a child, is infinitely and forever precious in the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. For remember that the son is still a son, though he have wandered away to the far country. He may be a prodigal--he may be lost--but he has never ceased to be a child. And just because, through all his degradation, nothing can cancel that filial relationship, there is a welcome for him in the father's home, and a yearning in the father's heart.
Worth of Man Strengthened by the Incarnation
May I say, too, that this thought of the worth of man is enormously strengthened by the incarnation? Christ took on Him not the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. If there is one truth to which all thinking leads me it is the pre-existence of Christ Jesus. To me the Bible is an unmeaning riddle if Christ began to be when He was born. But if He came from heaven--the eternal Logos--to tabernacle with us for a little season, then in the circumstances of His coming I learn the infinite worth of man as man. One of the most curious books that was ever written has been lately translated by one of our professors here. It is the life of one Apollonius of Tyana, who was for long regarded as a kind of rival Christ. For he too healed the sick as Jesus did, and he too raised the dead as Jesus did, and he too, as the people of Tyana had it, was the son not of a mortal but of God. But there is one difference which is overwhelming. For Apollonius was the child of a vast wealth and the scion of a very noble family. But Jesus was the Son of a poor mother, for whom there was no room in Bethlehem, and who, where the dumb beasts were in their stalls, brought her firstborn Child into the world. That does not mean that God entering humanity was bringing down the mighty from their seats. But it does mean that the incarnate God was showing forth the worth of man as man. Not manhood in any might or splendour, but manhood at its lowliest and its least, was the tabernacle of the eternal Son.
Jesus' Thought of Man Explains His Thought of Sin
Is it not true also that this thought of man sheds a great light on Jesus' thought of sin? It helps us to fathom that intense abhorrence with which our Saviour contemplated sin. There were things that Jesus took no notice of, and there were others He treated as supremely petty. But there was one thing which always stirred Him to the deeps, and that was the spectacle of sin. And He abhorred it in its guilt and power not merely because it was a grief to God, but because it wrought such irreparable havoc on a being who was so infinitely precious. If I spill the ink bottle on some cheap novel, that is a matter of very small concern. But if I spill it on some priceless manuscript, then the pity of that blot is great. And it is just because man is precious in Christ's eyes--more precious than any priceless manuscript--that He felt the infinite pity of it all, when He looked on the disfigurements of sin. Whenever you have low thoughts of personality, you have low conceptions of the power of evil. Whenever you have lofty views of man, sin stands out there positive and terrible. And if you want to understand Christ's thought of sin, and all the passion of His abhorrence of it, I say you must bear in mind that in His eyes the poorest wretch was of a worth unspeakable. He was always pitiful towards the sinner; He was always pitiless towards the sin. He hated it with all the hate of heaven, which is far more terrible than all the hate of hell. And He hated it because it spoiled the beauty, and marred the strength, and slew the joy and peace of the most wonderful and precious thing in the whole universe of God.
Jesus' Thought of Man Involved His View of Man's Immortality
Then the third point I wish to note is this, that such a view involves man's immortality. The immortality of man in Jesus' eyes rests on the fact that he is the child of God. In one of the most exquisite of all his dialogues Plato handles the theme of immortality. And he discusses it and argues for it, and builds up lofty reasons for its certainty. But Jesus never discusses immortality for Him it is a thing to be assumed--He cannot conceive of any other destiny for a being so infinitely dear to God. If man were a trifle in the eyes of heaven, then like a trifle he might cease to be. But if man is infinitely dear to God, then it is impossible that he should cease to be. Girt with a love so mighty in its tenderness, able to look up and say My Father, it was simply impossible for Christ to think that the coffin and the grave should be the end. If one of your little children lay dying, and looked up at you and smiled, and said My Father, would you not barter everything you had for the power to bring that child to life again? And God in heaven always has that power, and He is our Father with a father's heart, and we, even the sorriest of us all, have never ceased at our worst to be the object of His fatherly love. It is that filial relationship, in Christ's eyes, which makes the thought of extinction quite impossible. To be what we are within the heart of God, must mean and can only mean to be forever. For love is loath to lose what it holds dear, and wants it not for an hour but forever, and only says farewell when forced to do it, which forcing has no place in the divine.
All Doctrine Has an Influence upon Conduct
Such then is the teaching of Jesus about man, and now in closing let me say this to you. All doctrine has an influence upon conduct, and we see this perfectly in our Redeemer. Holding such a view of man as that, He was always reverent and always courteous. If the meanest life was of an infinite value it was not likely that Christ would be contemptuous. And so you find Him reverent and courteous, quite independent of any social station, and you find Him kindly when other men were harsh, and hopeful sometimes when all the world despaired. And it all sprang from His undying faith in the infinite preciousness of man as man. He never could scorn the most degraded creature, when He thought of what that creature meant for God. So you and I who name the name of Christ, must see to it as we take our journey, that we are looking out on men and women with somewhat of the look of our Redeemer. We are not called upon for any easy tolerance, as if moral distinctions were to be obliterated. We are not called upon to think of evil lightly. But we are called upon to think that every man, however lost, is still the Father's child, and is so precious to the heart of God that He will never leave him nor forsake him. Remembering that, we also shall be reverent, and always pitiful, and always hopeful. Remembering that, we shall delight to serve and count it a glad thing that we are brothers.
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