George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Number of the Hours
Are there not twelve hours in the day?--Joh 11:9
The Disciples' Misunderstanding of Christ
These words were spoken by Jesus at the time when news had been brought Him that Lazarus was sick. For two days Jesus had made no move, but had abode with His disciples where He was. The disciples would be certain to misconstrue that inactivity--they would whisper, "Our Master at last is growing prudent"--and therefore their amazement and dismay when Christ announced He was going to Judea. They broke out upon Him with expostulation--"Lord, it was but yesterday that You were stoned there. It is as much as Your life is worth to think of going--it is the rankest folly to run that tremendous risk." And it was then that Jesus turned upon the twelve with a look which they never would forget and said to them, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" It is on these words that I wish to dwell a little. I want to use them as a lamp to illumine some of the characteristics of the Lord, for they seem to me to irradiate first, the earnestness; second, the fearlessness; and third, the fretlessness of our Savior.
The Earnestness of Christ
What first arrests us, reading the life of Jesus, is not His strong intensity of purpose. It is only gradually, and as our study deepens, that we feel the push of that unswerving will. If you put the Gospel story into the hand of a pagan to whom it came with the freshness of discovery, what would impress him would not be Christ's tenacity, but the variety and the freedom of His life. Never was there a career that bore so little trace of being lived in accordance with a plan. Never were deeds so happily spontaneous; never were words so sweetly incidental. To every moment was perfect adaptation as if that were the only moment of existence. This hiding of intensity is mirrored in the great paintings of the face of Christ. In the galleries of the old masters I do not know one picture where the face of Christ is a determined face. For the artists felt with that poetic feeling which wins nearer to the heart of things than argument, that the earnestness of Jesus lay too deep to be portrayed by brush upon the canvas.
But when we reach the inner life of Christ, there passes a wonderful change over our thought. We slowly awake, amid all the spontaneity, to one tremendous and increasing purpose. As underneath the screaming of the seabirds we hear the ceaseless breakers on the shore, as through the rack and drift of driving clouds we catch the radiance of one unchanging star, so gradually, back of all stir and change and the varied and free activity of Christ, we discern the pressure of a mighty purpose moving without a swerve towards its goal. From the hour of His boyhood when He said to Mary, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business," on to the hour of triumph on the cross when He cried with a loud voice, "It is finished," unhasting and unresting, without one check or falter, the face of Jesus is set in one direction; and it is when we come to recognize that unity hidden amid the luxuriance of freedom that we wake to the sublime earnestness of Christ. I think that the apostles hardly recognized it till He set His face steadfastly towards Jerusalem. Before that, they were always offering suggestions: after that, they offered them no more. They were amazed, we read; they were afraid. The eagerness of Jesus overwhelmed them. At last they knew His majesty of will and were awestruck at the earnestness of Christ.
Christ's Certain Knowledge of His Limited Time
There were many reasons for that wholehearted zeal which it does not fall to me to touch on here. But one was the certain knowledge of the Lord that there were only twelve hours in His day. Before His birth, in His pre-existent life, there had been no rising or setting of the sun. After His death, in the life beyond the grave, the day would be endless, for "there is no night there." But here on earth with a mighty work to do and to get finished before His side was pierced, Christ was aroused into triumphant energy by the thought of the determined time. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." That must--what is it but the shadow of sunset and the breath of the twilight that was soon to fall? A day at its longest--what a little space! Twelve hours--they are ringing to evensong already! Under that power the tide that seemed asleep moved on "too full for sound or foam."
It is always very wonderful to me that Christ thus felt the shortness of the time. This Child of Eternity heard with quickened ear the muffled summons of the fleeting hours. It is only occasionally that we hearken to it; far more commonly we seek to silence it. Most men, as Professor Lecky says, are afraid to look time in the face. But Christ was never afraid to look time in the face; steadily He eyed the sinking sands, till moved to His depths by the urgency of days, the zeal of the house of His Father ate Him up. Have you awakened to that compelling thought, or do you live as if your sun would never set? There are but twelve hours in the day, and it will be sunset before you dream of it. Get done what God has sent you here to do. Wait not for the fool's phantom of tomorrow--Act, act today, act in the living present!
In the next place, our text illuminates Christ's fearlessness, and that indeed is the textual meaning of it, for it was when the disciples were trying to alarm Him that Jesus silenced their suggestions so. "Master," they said, "It is a dangerous thing to show Yourself at Bethany. Remember how You were stoned on Your last visit; it will be almost certain death to go thither again." And it was then, to silence all their terror and with a courage as sublime as it was simple that Jesus asked, "Are there not twelve hours in the day ?" What did He mean? He meant, "I have my day. Its dawn and its sunset have been fixed by God. Nothing can shorten it and nothing can prolong it. Till the curfew of God rings out, I cannot die." It was that steadying sense of the divine disposal which made the Christ so absolutely fearless and braced Him for every "clenched antagonism" that rose with menace upon the path of duty. When Dr. Livingstone was in the heart of Africa, he wrote a memorable sentence in his diary. He was ill and far away from any friend, and he was deserted by his medicine-carrier. But he was willing to go anywhere provided it was forward, and what he wrote with a trembling hand was this: "I am immortal till my work is done." That was the faith of Paul and of Martin Luther, the faith of Oliver Cromwell and of Livingstone. They had caught the fearless spirit of the Master who knew there were twelve hours in the day.
The Strength in Knowing That God Appoints Our Times
Now it is always a source of buoyant strength when a man comes to see that his way is ordered. There is a quiet courage that is unmistakable in one who is certain he is led by God. But remember, according to the Master's doctrine, our times are fixed as surely as our ways; and if we are here with a certain work to do which in the purposes of God must be fulfilled, no harm can touch us nor is there power in death till it draws to sunset and to evening star. What is it that makes the Turk such a brave soldier that with all his vices we cannot but admire him? It is his conviction of a relentless fate which he cannot hasten yet cannot hope to shun. In the name of freedom, Christ rejects that fatalism; but on the ruins of it He erects another. It is the fatalism of a love that is divine, for it includes the end in the beginning. Never shirk dangers on the path of duty. On the path of duty one is always safest. Let a man be careful that he does his task, and God will take care of the task-doing man. For always there are twelve hours in the day, and though the clouds should darken into storm, they cannot hasten the appointed time when it is night.
And just here we ought to bear in mind that the true measurement of life is not duration. We live in deeds, not breaths--it is not time; it is intensity that is life's measurement. Twelve hours of joy, what a brief space they are! Twelve hours of pain, what an eternity! We take the equal hours which the clock gives, and we mould them in the matrix of our hearts. Was it the dawn that crimsoned in the east as Romeo stood with Juliet at the window? It seemed but a moment since the casement opened, and--"It is my lady, O it is my love." But to the sufferer tossing on her sickbed and hearing every hour the chiming in the dark, that night went wearily with feet of lead, and it seemed as if the dawn would never break. "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" said Jesus--yet Jesus died when He was thirty-three. The dial of God has got no minute hands; its hours are measured by service and by sacrifice. Call no life fragmentary. Call it not incomplete. Think thee how love abbreviates the hours. If God be love, time may be fiery-footed, and the goal be won far earlier than we ever dreamed.
Then lastly, and in a word or two, our text illuminates Christ's fretlessness. For never was there a life of such untiring labor that breathed such a spirit of unruffled calm. We talk about our busy modern city, and many of us are busy in the city, but for a life of interruption and distraction, give me the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some of us could hardly live without the hills--a day in their solitude is benediction; but when Jesus retired to that fellowship of lonely places, even there He was pressed and harassed by the crowd. Every day was thronged with incident or danger. There was no leisure so much as to eat. Now He was teaching--now He was healing--now He was parrying some cruel attack. Yet through it all, with all its stir and movement, there is a brooding calm upon the heart of Christ that is only comparable to a waveless sea asleep in the stillness of a summer evening. Some men are calm because they do not feel. We call it quiet, and it is callousness. But Christ being sinless was infinitely sensitive--quick to respond to every touch and token. Yet He talked without contradiction of His peace--"My peace that the world cannot give or take away"--and down in the depths of that unfathomed peace was the thought of the twelve hours in the day. Christ knew that if God had given Him a twelve hours' work, God would give Him the twelve hours to do it in. To every task its time, and to every time its task, that was one great method of the Master. And no man will ever be calm as Christ was calm who cannot halt in the midst of the stir and say, "My peace"; who cannot stop for a moment in the busiest whirl and say to himself, "My times are in Thy hand." God never blesses unnecessary labor. That is the labor of the thirteenth hour. All that God calls us to and all that love demands is fitted with perfect wisdom to the twelve. Therefore be restful; do not be nervous and fussy; leave a little leisure for smiling and for sleep. There is no time to squander, but there is time enough--are there not twelve hours in the day?
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