WILL YE ALSO GO AWAY?
By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The massed disciples
drifting away from Christ, in the first great landslide from the Christian
Faith, are a wonderful forecast of the massed millions who will leave Him in
our closing Age. “In 1965,” says Mr.
H. G. Wells, “the organized
Now what caused the departure? Hard sayings, difficult truths. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, This is a hard saying”: harsh, severe; not necessarily difficult to understand, but difficult to accept – “who can hear it?”; for the Christian Faith has sayings hard to solve, hard to do, hard to bear (Lange). Each disciple is stumbled by a different stone of offence. But is this wonderful? Surely Incarnate Godhead speaking truth out of worlds we have never known must sometime speak fathomless things: both our limited minds and our defective moral receptiveness not only make ‘hard sayings’ inevitable, but a remarkable proof that God is speaking: we are up against mysteries, and therefore up against tremendous and revolutionary truths. The difficulties are dawning on this mass of loose disciples, who, the day before, were ready to accept Jesus as the Messianic King, but who, when they realize that the teachings of Christ are profoundly different from what they had anticipated, abandon Him disenchanted.
But now the Lord Himself makes the crisis inconceivably solemn for us all. For He presses home the decision on every child of God. Not one solitary Christian is out of danger; because it is to the twelve Apostles themselves, summarizing the whole Church - it is the first time ‘the twelve’ are so named - that Jesus says:- “Will ye also” - for no Christian is beyond the peril – “go away?” Every one of us is bound sooner or later to be brought up, sharply stumbled, by some new and deeply disconcerting doctrine falling from the lips of Christ; when some flashlight of truth from His lips, lighting up our whole life, slowly settles on something wrong; and the thought then steals into the heart – “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” At this moment truth after truth is disappearing from the creed of the Church: much of the fine gold from the lips of Christ is silently disbelieved, steadily disobeyed, or openly ridiculed. It is the pathway to apostasy. Partial faith creates for itself difficulties greater than faith ever has to meet, and can end in complete bankruptcy. On a memorial to Bishop Butler in Bristol Cathedral are these words from Origen :‑“He who believes the Scripture to have proceeded from Him who is the Author of Nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of Nature.”
Ponder the Lord’s question further. The Lord Jesus gives us an absolutely free option. He flatters no one, He compromises with no one, He compels no one. Why? (1) Because He always respects the awful gift with which the Creator has endowed us - free will: we can leave Christ. It is the deep principle of all spiritual life, of all destiny, that I settle my own eternity. (2) Because Christ sifts as well as saves. He wants more than merely purchased souls: He wants heroes. The Lord is more concerned about the purity of His Church than about its numbers.* And (3) because our Lord is seeking, then, as now, for a little band which will be impregnable against apostasy. In the raging of a battle a colour-sergeant had carried the colours to a distant knoll, and the regiment was wavering; and the commanding officer cried: “Bring back the colours!” The lonely sergeant shouted back:- “I will never bring back the colours: you bring forward the men!” Times of apostasy are the loudest of all summons to rally to the Lord.
[* Whether the individual apostate is regenerate, or not, only God can declare; but that he can be regenerate is certain from Peter’s words: “I know not the man” (Matt. 26: 72). The modern apostate can repudiate Christ more bitterly, but he cannot repudiate Him more completely, than Peter actually did after regeneration.]
Now it is certain that God will never want splendid veterans, beginning with the Apostles. Jesus finds the faithful (as He hints) by the very way He couched His question: “You will not also go away, will you?” (The Greek expects the answer, ‘No’.) Jesus finds heroes in the Twelve - save one; all eleven - so far as we can learn - were ultimately martyred; and Peter, as ever, voices their responding cry- “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter puts the practical question which every hesitating soul ought to face. Christ’s hard sayings all put together are not so hard, so hopeless, as the mystery of a world without Christ. It is hardly conceivable that one Englishman in a million would choose Buddha or Mohammed or Confucius instead of Christ; and it is highly improbable that anyone who reads this would abandon the Christian Faith for Spiritualism or Atheism or Communism. But mere agnosticism - the lapsing into a mental state where one says that Christianity may or may not be true, but anyway one leaves it - is a drowning man shouting back that he does not deny that the rope can save - he does not know - but he is done with trying it. His action is infinitely more solemn than he knows. When a man goes back who has known Christ, and even walked with Him in professed discipleship, he is showing a power of sin, a criminal dynamic, that can break the most powerful spiritual bonds in the world, and his character and destiny are doomed.
The only loser is the departing disciple himself, for Christ wants no hypocrites, and his departure only sifts and purifies Christ’s glorious Church. So one sun fills all Peter’s sky: “Lord, Thou”; as Augustine puts it:- “If Thou wishest us to leave Thee, give us a second Thou.” In all the great universe has not God given me someone to love? and if it is not Jesus, I must despair: for no diviner Christ can ever come - He is God’s only Son; no lovelier life can ever appear, for He is the throbbing heart out of the bosom of the Father; no such saving word can ever be heard again, for there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved. What memories - of happy hours, holy inspirations, heavenly visions, dead possibilities - must haunt the hearts that have turned their last look on Christ! We do well to accept all the hard sayings, even those that wound, for it is the surgeon’s cutting hand that heals.
But Peter now gives
our central personal reason for following Christ, and so incidentally solves the problem of the hard sayings. “Thou hast the words
of ETERNAL LIFE.” By Satan’s words men were lost, by Christ’s
words they are saved. It is deeply
significant that in all earth’s history no one has ever offered eternal life
except Jesus Christ, and those who, obeying Him, have repeated His words. We are all facing death, in a world of death:
we need a Saviour who, by reason of His expiation of our sins, is able to grant
life - glorious life, unending life, divine life; and Christ, and Christ alone, offers
an inheritance which will outlast the sun, and survive as long as God
is eternity?” was a question once asked at a deaf and dumb institution
THE HOLY ONE OF GOD
So Peter, finally, gives the divine reason why we follow Christ, and so closes on what is always the supreme height - not what Christ says, or even what He has done, but that which alone gives value to all the rest - what He is. “We have believed and know” - a past act of faith flowering now into an absolute knowledge – “that thou art THE HOLY ONE OF GOD.” The waves of doubt all hurl themselves only to be shattered for ever on the rock of the person of Christ. All the doctrine is true because the Person is true; and all the doctrine is holy because the Person is holy. It is most remarkable that Peter singles out the title by which the Lord Jesus is known to the spirits of another world, dwellers in eternity, who knew Him long ages ere the creation of man, and knew Him as God’s perfection of holiness. “What have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, THE HOLY ONE OF GOD” (Mark 1: 24).
* * *
The rejection of ‘hard sayings’ in Scripture can lead to apostasy. Here is a letter written by two Japanese Christians of thirty-six years’ standing to a Japanese journal:- “A generation ago we were taught by the early missionaries to believe the Bible to be verbally inspired from Genesis to Revelation: we now hold it to be full of errors. We reject the greater part of Paul’s teaching: we no longer believe in the Virgin Birth, or Everlasting Punishment for unbelievers, nor that God can forgive us only through the mediation and suffering of Christ:- this, a mere Paulinism, is no longer tenable. Many who, thirty or forty years ago, became Christians, have ceased to be Christians for these reasons, and there are more who have left the Church than now belong to it.” The death of the Church lies in the extinction of the Book. In the startling words of Professor T. H. Huxley on the Higher Criticism:- “If Satan had wished to devise the best means of discrediting Revelation, he could not have done better.”
* * *
He will silently plan for thee (Zeph. 3: 17)
Plan not, for all thy plans will fail,
And God looks calmly on;
He holds the helm; and, so, come storm or gale,
His Sun has shone.
Thou need’st not have a fear; He plans:
Wait thou His way to see.
’Tis thine to pray; the issue is with Him
Who plans for thee.
Fear not, thy fears dishonour Him,
Who hitherto hath led:
Hath He not through thy pilgrimage,
With manna ever fed?
- LOUISE F. E. ABRAHAM.