George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Apostolic Paradox
As unknown, and yet well known--2Co 6:9
It will at once occur to you how true this was of the apostles. There is not one of that first band of missionaries who were sent out to evangelize the world of whom we might not say in the words of our text, that they were unknown and yet well-known. There are no names in Christendom today more honored than the names of these evangelists. Wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and wherever the Word of God is read and loved, the names of Peter and James and John and Thomas are familiar in our ears as household words --yet how little we know of any one of them! We have a few glimpses of them in their work; we hear them speaking a few words of arguments, or it may be we have a brief writing from their pen. But what their childhood was and who their friends were; how they looked or what befell them in old age--all this, and much more, is shrouded in darkness. Of all the disciples, then, it is singularly true, that they are unknown and yet well-known.
Jesus Was Unknown and Yet Well-Known
Nor does this hold only of the disciples. It is equally clear in the case of our Lord Himself. If our lot had been cast in Galilee while Jesus lived, there would have been few days in which we should not have spoken about Him. Men were intensely curious about Jesus, and every scrap of information was treasured. He was the daily topic of the marketplace; when women gathered at the well they spoke about Him; the dullest peasant in the remotest village had been startled to attention by His miracles --Jesus of Nazareth was indeed well-known. Yet after all how little they understood Him! In what obscurity He lived and wrought! Some thought He was Elias; others that He was Jeremiah; and not a few said "He is beside Himself." And outside of Palestine was the wide and noisy world with its senates and its markets and its armies, and into its voices of business and of pleasure there had never come one whisper of the Savior. You see how true it was, then, even of Christ, that He was unknown and yet well-known.
The Unknown Life
But if the words were true of the disciples and of Christ, they are not without truth for you and me. If we are striving to live the Christian life, this will also be one mark of our endeavor. I wish then to handle that rich theme, and to show how the Gospel carried out in life will make a man unknown and yet well-known.
First, then, "unknown"--I shall suggest to you some of the reasons that make the Christian life an unknown life.
Well, to begin with, Christianity lays its chief stress upon qualities that do not impress the imagination of the world. There is nothing to startle and nothing to arrest in the kind of disposition which it inculcates. The spirit that is enforced in the beatitudes is not the spirit which the world applauds. What are the qualities that men admire? What is it that draws the attention of the crowd? Is it not brilliant gifts, ingenuity, physical dexterity, or audacity? I need not remind you that you look in vain for these in the program of the Galilean. "And He opened His mouth and taught them saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the peacemakers." It is not a moral attitude such as that which makes a man the idol of the street. Our Lord deliberately laid His emphasis on the undramatic qualities of life. With a true insight into what was noblest and a true scorn for what was merely show, He caught the mighty and hurled them from their seat and exalted those of low degree. Instead of pride, Jesus proclaimed humility; instead of revenge of injuries, longsuffering; endurance was to supplant retaliation, and tender mercy the old and passionate hatreds. And it is the crowning of these unobtrusive virtues and the recognition of these voiceless things that make the Christian as a man unknown.
The Private Worship of the Christian
The distinctive exercises of the Christian are exercises which he never can reveal. Among all the differences between the pagan faiths and the faith which is our treasure and our glory, none is more marked or more notable than the change from an outward to an inward worship. It is almost impossible for us to realize how wholly external the old religions were. The idea that a man might move among his fellows, carrying all his religion in his heart, would have been laughed to scorn in pagan Rome. It was under the shadow of consecrated temples, or where the altar stood ready for the oxen, or within the sacred circle of the augur, or in the brilliant procession through the streets, it was in such scenes that the religious life of paganism found its peculiar and distinctive exercises. It knew not the secret of the closed door nor of the head anointed during fasting.
I need hardly stay to tell you how Jesus Christ has come and changed all that. The distinctive exercises of the Christian life are not procession and sacrifice and augury. The distinctive worship of the Christian life is worship which we never can reveal. Could you conceive of anyone in earnest making a parade of secret prayer? Are there not hours of fellowship with heaven which would be tarnished if we talked of them? Do we ever speak of the minute denials or of those strengthening of the will in little things which every honest Christian practices? All that is most distinctive in the Christian--his prayer, his battle, his joy, his cross-bearing--takes place in the mystical room with the closed door. And it is this- the silence and the secret--that makes the Christian as a man unknown.
The Service of the Christian
Again, the distinctive service of the Christian life is not a service that attracts attention.
When a man embarks on a political career, he knows that the reward of eminence is fame. Just in proportion to his genius or eloquence will the eyes of a waiting nation turn towards him. When a man adopts a military career, he hopes for some action that may bring him glory. He dreams of doing some gallant deed and waking to find that he is famous. In the life of politics then, as in the life of war, a certain fame is quite inevitable, and he who wins the laurel in the senate or shows conspicuous courage in the field is certain to attract attention.
But the distinctive service of the Christian life is not a service that attracts attention. There is no glitter and no glamour in it. There is none of the pomp and circumstance of war. It is a quiet and lowly service; it is a work of faith and a labor of love; like the Lord who inspires it, it will not strive nor cry, nor lift up its voice in the streets. It climbs the dark stair and enters the wretched home where the poor wife, perhaps, is lying on a sickbed hoping against hope and praying to God that her husband will not come reeling home tonight, and there it ministers with unwearied patience and with a love that will not let go. It gathers the children into the mission school, prays over them and visits them at home, and in spite of discouragement it perseveres for it hears the Savior saying "Feed my lambs." It visits the fatherless and widows in affliction, it sings in the hospitals, it stands at the prison gates. It comes like a glimpse of sunshine to the poorhouse; it takes the fallen by the hand and calls her sister. All that is going on in this great city. Yet when you open your paper you never read of that. You read of pantomimes and of concerts and of the fiscal question and of the discussions in the House of Commons. The truest service of the Christian life is never a service that attracts attention. The kingdom cometh not with observation. The seed was growing while the farmer slept. It is this lowly and unnoticed service, done for the sake of Him who died for us, that makes the Christian as a man unknown.
The Life Hid With God
But I have yet to mention the deepest of all reasons, and I shall give it to you in the apostle's words. "For ye are dead," says Paul in a great passage, "and your life is hid with Christ in God." Mysterious words--deep beyond our searching; yet boundless in encouragement and hope! For they tell us that if we be Christ's indeed, our true life cannot be seen of men; it is hidden with Jesus Christ in God's pavilion till the day comes when it shall be revealed. When on a frosty night you look up at the Northern star, have you never said of it "unknown and yet well known?" There is not a sailor in our hemisphere but knows it. It is the first star which we point out to our children. There are countless stars whose name we never learn, but the Northern star is well-known to all. But are there mountains in it and are there valleys? Are there lakes and seas or are there living creatures? "Ah," says the sailor when I ask him that, "I don't mean that I know it in that sense." Unknown and yet well-known, you see, and unknown because hung aloft in heaven; and ye are dead and your life is hid in heaven with One who is the bright and morning star. If, then, you are truly following Christ never be anxious to explain yourself; do not be eager to be understood and never grow impatient to be recognized. Take up thy cross; study to be quiet; redeem the time; follow the gleam bravely. Remember that with all the saints you are to walk heavenward as a man unknown.
But in spite of the obscurity of the Christian life, it is true that the Christian is well-known.
First, he is well-known when he little thinks of it. I have often been struck in preaching throughout Scotland with one feature of our church's life. I do not think I was ever in a parish where there was not one elder who stood out from all his brethren as a man of wisdom and of the spirit and of prayer. Those of you who were trained in country homes, perhaps more especially in country manses, will, I am sure, corroborate what I say. The elder may have lived in the humblest circumstances and been utterly unknown to the great world beyond, but everyone trusted him and everyone revered him and knew that he was a man of God. No one had ever seen him at secret prayer, yet no one ever doubted that he prayed. He never whispered what his right hand was doing, yet somehow all the village had the news. He moved about happy to be unknown and yet never dreaming how well-known he was. There is a deep sense in which that holds true of all loyal followers of Christ. Their life is telling where they may never think and their influence is far wider than they dream. The world is full of eager and watchful eyes, and there is not a man so poor but he has his audience. Some one is always helped or always hindered by the kind of life we lead from day to day. Back to thy duty then; take up thy cross. Resume thy service with all its disappointment. There are hearts that are thanking God for thee today--thou art unknown, and yet well-known.
Well-Known in Heaven
Again, the Christian is well-known in heaven. In that great world where God the Father is and where there is one like to the Son of Man; in that eternal home where the angels are and where they watch with profoundest interest this earthly drama, there is nothing of more absorbing interest than the struggle and the service of the saint. Many of our estimates are overturned in heaven. There are strange reversals of magnitude in glory. Things that seem mighty here are trifles there, and the world's least is sometimes heaven's greatest. We often read of deafening applause, and it may be that the applause is deafening in the little area of some city hall. But the same applause given in the Highlands would hardly waken an echo in the valley and not a sound of it would reach the ear of him who was standing on the mountaintop.
So, much of the noisy cheering of the world has died away before it reaches glory, and yet all heaven was watching Jesus Christ who would not strive nor cry nor lift up His voice in the streets. It is the trials and triumphs of the spirit that are of vital interest to the heavenly hosts. It is the cry and the yearning of the soul which echo in the heart of the Redeemer. There is not a prayer that we utter but He hears it. There is not a temptation we master but He sees it. We cannot do the smallest deed of kindness but like a dove it flies back to the ark. Unknown--yes, the Christian is always that, and yet I think he is well-known in heaven.
Well-Known at the Judgment
Then, lastly, the Christian may be unknown now, but he shall be well-known in the last judgment.
If there be any truth in the Gospel which we preach, the day is coming when the books will be opened and the small and great shall be summoned before God. You will be there and I shall be there; we shall be face to face with Almighty God at last. And swift as a flash of thought all that we were and did shall leap into light before ten million eyes. I forbear to dwell upon the awful misery of the man or woman whose life has been a lie. Faced by that God who is a consuming fire, and still more, faced by the love of Christ, what words in the whole range of human speech could tell the horror of that last unmasking? God grant that it be not thus with you and me! But ah! what words shall ever tell the joy of the last judgment if we have really been trusting Christ and fighting heavenward! "Lord," we shall say, "was it I who prayed these prayers, was it I who gave that cup of water to the little one? I had quite forgotten it. It had passed with time." But the Lord shall answer, "Child, I never forget." "Lord," we shall say, "was it I who won that soul in the days when I labored in Sunday School? I thought my work was a failure with the boy." So all that we ever strove to be and do, our secret hope and cry and struggle and victory--all shall be written out and meet us again when we stand before the judgment seat of God. And then we shall understand what our text means, "As unknown, and yet well-known."
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