The Hand That Reaches Down
We of the Occident are accustomed to plain, unadorned speech, but in the Orient, metaphors and pictures are used very liberally. It was therefore no matter of surprise to a little group of Chinese Christians when one who had lived among them all his life, and who had never traveled away from his own community, stood up and gave his testimony as follows:
“I found myself down in a deep pit, in the slime and mud at its bottom. My distress was great, my plight was terrible, and the more I struggled, the deeper I sank in the mire. Then there came one who stood on the solid ground above the pit, looked down upon me with unpitying eyes, and said, ‘The very fact that you are in trouble proves that you are a sinner. They who sin must suffer, and the only virtue is in one’s suffering without complaint. If in time you suffer the full demerit of your sins, you may find a way out of this pit. But until then, there is nothing that can be done for you, and nothing that should be done.’ I recognized this as the voice of Mohammed, the false prophet, and his words brought me no relief.
“But in time, the emissary of salvation by merit went his way, and in his place another stood. This one looked down upon me, and said, ‘Your trouble arises from your struggling. The way to deliverance is the way of the renunciation of self. If you will quit struggling and just settle down to your fate, you will become less and less miserable as you become less and less contentious. In time you will be absorbed back into the great All-being, and then you won t be unhappy any more because, as an individual, you will cease to exist. Salvation is by the way of annihilation.’ This I. recognized was the voice of Buddha, and neither did his words bring me any help or any deliverance.
“By and by the prophet of Buddha went his way, and another came and stood on the solid ground above me. This one looked upon me with eyes that were full of pity and compassion. There were thorn wounds on His brow, blood and spittle on His face, marks of nails in His hands and feet; and when the breeze blew His garment aside, I beheld the place where a spear had pierced His side. I recognized this one as Jesus Christ. In measured words, and with gentle tones, He called to me, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ But to me in the pit, these seemed but the words of one who mocks. So I made reply, ‘Ah, yes, you promise me rest if I come to you. But Thou art up there on the solid ground and I am here in this muddy pit. You promise rest, if I will come; but seeing I cannot come, your promise means nothing to me.’ To indicate further the hopelessness of my plight, I reached up the hand in the direction of the much-scarred One, even though I knew He was far beyond my reach. But to my surprise and delight, He reached down and grasped my outstretched hand, and gently drew me from the mire and the pit to a place right by His side. Immediately there crept into my soul such peace as I had never known before. When I thought of my filthy garments, I thought of them with shame in the presence of One so pure as He. But when I looked, my old garments had disappeared, and in their stead I found myself clothed with linen pure and white. And that is how I became a Christian and why I am one today.”
May we not all recall the words of Paul in connection with this wonderful picture? “And what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” It is the hand of God in Christ reaching down that splices out our reach sufficiently to bring about that touch that transforms. It is not in any sense the merit of our reach that saves, but still our reach is a condition. It is the hand that reaches down that lifts us up. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).