George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Coming to Oneself
When he came to himself--Luk 15:17
You Are Not Yourself While Unrepentant
In a few graphic touches Jesus delineates the kind of life the prodigal had been leading. With characteristic delicacy He does not give details. He leaves it for the elder brother to do that. We have the picture of a young man wasting his time and money--and what is worse than that, wasting his life--and like most young men who think to live that way, finding plenty of both sexes to join him. He is self-willed, self-indulgent, riotous--and we are just on the point of calling him contemptible. We are just on the point of thinking how to one like Jesus the prodigal must be infinitely loathsome. When suddenly a single phrase arrests us, and opens a lattice into the mind of Christ, and makes us suspend judgment on the prodigal. "When he came to himself"--when he became himself--then in his years of riot he was not himself. It was not the prodigal who was the real man. The real man was the penitent, not the prodigal. He was never himself until his heart was breaking, and the memories of home came welling over him--till he cried, "I will arise and go to my father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned."
Sin Is Madness
I may note in passing how we have caught that tone in the kindly allowances we often make. This parable has not only influenced thought; like all the parables it has also affected language. When someone whom we love is cross or irritable, we say of him, "He's not himself today." When one whom we have known for years does something unworthy, we say, "Ah, that's not himself at all." And what is that but our instinctive certainty that man is more than his vices or his failures, and that if you want to know him as he is, you must take him at the level of his best. It was always thus that Jesus judged humanity. He was a magnificent and a consistent optimist. He never made light of sin, never condoned it. To Him it was always terrible and tragic. But then the sinner was not the real man; sin was a bondage, a tyranny, a madness; and it was when the tyranny of sin was broken that a man came to his true self.
He Left Home to Find Himself
I would remark, too, about this prodigal, that his one object in leaving home was just to find himself. When he went away into the far country, he imagined he was coming to his own. Life was intolerable on that lonely farm. There was no scope there for a young fellow's energy. And why should he be eating out his heart when the thousand voices of the world were calling him? And youth was short, and he must have his day; and he wanted to go and sound life to the deeps. So in the golden morning of desire he went away to the far country. It was impossible to realize himself at home. He would realize himself now, and with a vengeance. He would live to the finest fibre of his being, and come to his own in the whole range of manhood. And then, with the exquisite irony of truth, Christ shows him beggared and broken and despairing, and tells us that only then, when he was dead, did he come to his true self. It is not along the path of self-willed license that a man ever reaches his best and deepest self. To be determined at all costs to enjoy is the most tragical of all mistakes. We come to ourselves when we deny ourselves; when life has room for sacrifice and service; when the eyes are lifted to the love of heaven, and the heart is set upon the will of God.
Jesus Rebukes Peter for Not Being Himself When He Tried to Dissuade Jesus from the Cross
That our text was no chance expression of the Master's we may gather from many Gospel passages. Think for example of that memorable hour when Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem. Our Lord had begun to speak plainly of His death, drawing the veil from the agony of Calvary; and it was all so shocking and terrible to Peter, that Peter had taken Christ to task for it. "Far be it from Thee, Lord; this never shall befall Thee. While I have a sword to draw they shall not touch Thee." And then the Lord flashed round on His disciple, and said to him, "Get thee behind me, Satan." Only an hour before he had been Peter--"Thou art Peter, and on this rock I build." That was the true Peter, moved of God, kindled into the rapture of confession. But this was not Peter, though it was Peter's voice. It was something lesser and lower than the rock. Possessed by a spirit unworthy of his highest--"Get thee behind Me, Satan." In other words, Peter was not himself then, anymore than the rioting prodigal was himself. There were heights in him that no one saw but Christ. There were depths in him that none but Christ had fathomed. And the glory of Christ is that in these heights and depths, and not in the meaner things that were so visible, He found the real nature of the man on whose confession the church was to be founded. It is easy to measure Peter by his fall. It is easy to measure any man by failure. Vices are more visible than virtues, and form a ready-reckoner of character. But not by their worst does Jesus measure men; not by their lowest and their basest elements. Through fall and sin and denial, "Thou art Peter"--until at last he was Peter in very deed.
We Are Responsible for Our Actions Even When We Are Not Ourselves
Of course in such a hopeful, splendid outlook there is no lessening of responsibility. A man is not less guilty for his failures, because they do not represent his real manhood. I have seen children playing with one another, and one would slap the other and say, "I never touched you." And when the other said, "You did, I saw you," the reply was, "It wasn't me, it was my hand." There is not a little in the maturer world of that ungrammatical and infant hypocrisy. It is so easy to make excuses for ourselves, and to say, "We were ill--we were worried--it was not really me." But perhaps in all the circle of bad habits, there is no habit more fatally pernicious than the habit of making excuses for ourselves. We should always have excuses for our neighbors. We should never have excuses for ourselves. To palliate and condone our own defections is the sure way to rot the moral fibre. A man should make allowances for everybody, for we know not what is the secret story; but heaven help the man, and help his character, when he begins to make allowance for himself. You will note that the prodigal made no excuses. He never said, "Young men must be young men." He never said, "My passions are my heritage, and you must make some allowance for warm blood." What he did say was, "Father, I have sinned--I have been a selfish and good-for-nothing reprobate"; and it was then, when his worst was in his own eyes, that his best was in the eyes of Christ. In spite of His wonderful sympathy and pity, there is a note of intense severity in Christ--"If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off. If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out"--and in every life that is inspired by Christ there must be the echo of that same severity, urging itself not against any brother, but against the wickedness on its own bosom. I never find Jesus making any allowance for the man who makes allowance for himself. Just in proportion as you are stern with self, will the Redeemer be merciful with you. Not through the meadows of easy self-excuse, but down by the very margin of despair, does a man come, as came the prodigal, to the reach and the reality of manhood.
Christ Wants to Make Us Ourselves
I would further remark that when He was on earth that was one great aim of Jesus' toil. It was not to make men and women angels. It was to make men and women their true selves. They could do nothing without faith in Him, and therefore He was at all pains to quicken that; but away at the back of their dawning faith in Him, was His magnificent and matchless faith in them. "Ye are the light of the world; ye are the salt of the earth"--did you ever hear such wild exaggeration? All this for a little company of rustics, provincial, unlettered, undistinguished? Ah yes, but under the warmth of such a faith in them these natures were so to grow and so to ripen, that every syllable of that audacity was to prove itself literally true. The boys at Rugby used to say of Dr. Arnold, "It would be mean to tell him a lie, he trusts us so." All that was best in them began to germinate under the influence of Dr. Arnold's faith. And if it was so under the trust of Arnold, what must have been the influence of Christ, when a man felt that he was trusted by those eyes that saw into the depths. Christ aimed at more than making people better; His aim and object was to make them themselves. He saw from the first hour all that was hidden in Simon and Matthew, Lazarus and Mary. And then He lived with them, and showed what He expected, and hoped undauntedly and never wearied, until at last, just like the prodigal, they came to their true selves. It took far more than their faith in Christ to do that. It took the superb faith of Christ in them. The sheep was still a sheep though in the desert. The son was still a son although a prodigal. And it was this--this faith of Christ in men--that drew them to their highest and their best, as a flower is drawn into its perfect beauty by the gentle influence of the summer sun.
When We Are Ourselves, We Are Free
And that is the reason why the follower of Christ is the possessor of the largest freedom. The nearer a man is to being himself, the nearer is he to sweet liberty. We go into certain companies, for instance, and we speedily feel that we are not at home there. What is the word we use to express that? We say we are constrained--that is, imprisoned. But by our own fireside, and among those who love us, we are not constrained, we have a perfect liberty; and at the basis of that social liberty there lies the fact that there we are ourselves. It is the same in the deeper world of morals. When we are ourselves, then are we free. It is not freedom to do just as we please in defiance of all the laws that girdle us. Freedom is power to realize ourselves; to move unfalteringly towards the vision; and the paradox of Christianity is this, that that comes through obedience to Christ. Think of the schoolgirl practicing her music. Is not that the weariest of bondage? Is this the happy face we saw so lately, flushed with the eager merriment of play? But set down the musical genius at the instrument, and get him to interpret some great master, and the thoughts which he utters are the master's thoughts, and yet he is magnificently free. The child is in bondage, the genius is at liberty. The child is unnatural; the genius is himself. The child is slaving under an outward law. The genius has the spirit of the master. And "if any man have not the spirit of Christ," then, says the Scripture, "he is none of His." "When he came to himself." My brother and my sister, the pathway to that is coming to the Savior. Jesus believes in you, and in your future, and in a best that is higher than your dreams. Respond to that splendid confidence tonight. This very hour say, "I will arise." The past is disgraceful; but the past is clone with. Thank God, there will be a different tomorrow
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