The Triple Life – The Perspective of Service
On An Errand for Jesus
You remember there were four times that Jesus picked out a group of men, and sent them on a special errand. About the middle of the second year of His public life, He chose out twelve men and commissioned them for a special bit of work. Six months before the tragic end, He chose seventy others and sent them out in twos into all the places He was planning to visit Himself. It was a remarkable campaign for carrying the news which He was preaching into all the villages of that whole country through which His journey south lay.
Then the evening of that never-to-be-forgotten resurrection day, under wholly changed conditions, He again commissions ten men of that first twelve. Things had radically changed with Jesus. And there had been a bad break in the loyalty of these men. Two of their number are absent. Judas has gone to his own place, and Thomas was not there that evening. His absence cost him a week of doubting and mental distress. Ten of the old inner circle are commissioned anew. And then do you remember the last time they were together? It was about six weeks later, on the rounded top of the old Olives Mount, the eleven men with the Master. Four times He commissioned a group of men for some service He wanted done.
There are two things in these four commissions that make them alike. The same two things are in each. The first thing is this: they are bidden to “go.” That ringing word “go ye” is in, each time. “As the Father hath sent Me even so send I you.” It is a familiar word to every follower of Jesus then, and now, and always. A true follower of His always is stirred by a spirit of “go.” A going Christian is a growing Christian. A going church has always been a growing church. Those ages when the church lost the vision of her Master’s face on Olives, and let other sounds crowd out of her ears the sound of His voice, were stagnant ages. They are commonly spoken of in history as the dark ages. “Go” is the ringing keynote of the Christian life, whether in a man or in the church.
The second thing found always in each of these commissions is this: they were qualified, or empowered to go. Whom God calls He always qualifies. Where His voice comes His Spirit breathes. If there has come to you some bit of a call to service, to teach a class, or write a special letter, or speak a word, or take up something needing to be done. And you hesitate. You think that you cannot. You are not fit, you think, not qualified. The thing to do is to do it.
If the call is clear go ahead. Need is one of the strong calling voices of God. It is always safe to respond. Put out your foot in the answering swing, even though you cannot see clearly the place to put it down. God attends to that part. Power comes as we go.
The Parting Message
Just now I want to talk with you a bit about the last one of these commissions, the Olivet commission. I do not know just what day it was given or at what hour. But I have thought it was in the twilight of a Sabbath evening. There’s a yellow glow of light filling all the western sky running along the broken line of those hills yonder, and through the trees, and in upon this group of men standing.
Here in full view lies little Bethany fragrant with memories of Jesus’ power. Over yonder, those tree tops down in a bit of valley with the brook—that is Gethsemane. And farther over there is the fortress city of Jerusalem. And just outside its wall is the bit of a knoll called Calvary. Here under these trees every night that last week of the tragedy Jesus had slept out in the open, with His seamless coat wrapped about Him. This is the spot He chooses for the good-by word. It is full of most precious, fragrant memories.
Here is the man who has been Simon, but out of whom a new man was coming these days, Peter, the man of rock. And here are John and James, sons of fire and of thunder, sons of their mother. And there, little Scotch Andrew. At least our Scotch friends seem to have adopted him as their very own. And close by his side is his friend with the Greek name, Philip. And here the man to whom Jesus paid the great tribute of naming him the guileless man.
And the others, not so well known to us, but very well known to Jesus, and to be not a whit less faithful than their brothers these coming days. But somehow as you look you are at once irresistibly drawn past these to Him—the Man in the midst. The Man with the great face, torn with the thorns, and cut with the thongs, but shining with a sweet, wondrous, beauty light.
It is the last time they are together. He is going away; coming back soon, they understand. They do not know just how soon. But meanwhile in His absence they are to be as He Himself would be if He remained among men. They are to stand for Him. And so with eyes fixed on His face they look, and listen, and wonder a bit, just what the last word will be.
What would you expect it to be? It was the good-by word between men who were lovers, dearest friends. The tenderest thing would be said and the most important. The one going away would speak of that which lay closest down in His own heart. And whatever He might say would sink deepest into their hearts, and control their action in the after days.
He had been talking to them very insistently, about an hour before, down in the city, about waiting there until the Holy Spirit came upon them. And that word has fastened itself into their minds with newly sharpened hooks of steel points. Now He talks about their being His witnesses, here at home among their own folks, and out among their half-breed Samaritan neighbors, whom they didn’t like, and then—with eyes looking yearningly out and finger pointing steadily out—to the farthest reach of the planet. And now, as He is about to go, this is the word that comes from those lips:
“All power hath been given unto Me.
Therefore go ye,
And make disciples of all nations.”
A Secret Life of Prayer
There are four things in that good-by word. Three are directly spoken, and one is not spoken, but directly implied. First is this, your chief work is to win men. That is directly said. The second is implied—it is the toughest task you ever undertook. That is implied in this that it will take more power than they have. A power that only He has. A supernatural power. And we all know how true that is. Of all luggage man is the hardest to move. He won’t move unless he will. Every man of us that has ever tried to change somebody’s else purpose knows how impossible it is unless by the inward pull. You simply cannot without the man’s consent. The third thing is this: I have all the power needed. The fourth this: You go.
And the Master meant to tell them, and to tell us, this: that a man should lead a triple life, three lives in one. We sometimes hear of a man leading a double life in a bad sense. In a good sense, every one of us should be living a triple life, three distinct lives in one. The first of these three lives is this: a secret life, lived with Jesus, hidden from the eyes of men. An inner life of closest contact with Him, that the outside folks know nothing about.
Notice again the four statements in that good-by word. Your chief concern is to win men. It is the toughest task you ever undertook: it will take supernatural power. I have all the power you need. Instinctively you feel as though the fourth thing should be, “I will go.” That would seem to be the logical conclusion. “No,” Jesus says, “ you go.” Plainly if we are to do something taking supernatural power, and we haven’t any such power of ourselves, there must be the closest kind of contact with the source of power. The man who is to go must be in the most intimate contact with the Man who has the powers needed in the going.
And this is simply a law of all life, given to us here by life’s greatest Philosopher. The seen depends upon the secret always. The outer keys upon the inner. The life that men see depends wholly upon the life that only the Master sees. David had power to slay the lion and bear in secret, away from the gaze of men, before he had power to slay the giant before the wondering eyes of two nations. The closet becomes the swivel of the street.
In crossing the ocean there are two great dangers to be dreaded and guarded against, aside from the storms that may arise. The greater of these is an abandoned ship. One that through some stress of storm has been left by the sailors in the attempt to save their lives. It is most dangerous because it sends no warning ahead of its presence. In crossing the Atlantic by the more northern routes the other danger is from the icebergs that may be met in the steamer’s path. If a fog obscure the lookout the boat is slowed down, and a man kept busy with line and thermometer taking the temperature of the water. The iceberg is kindlier than the derelict, in the chill it sends out. The presence of the danger can so be detected, and measures taken to avoid it.
But the great danger here is not simply in the huge mountain of ice that you see looming up against the sky, great as that is. It is in the unseen ice. Hidden away below is a mountain of ice twice as large and heavy as that seen above the water’s surface. The danger lies in the terrific force of a blow from this hidden pile that would crush the strongest steel steamer, as I might crush an egg-shell in my fingers.
We all admire the beauty of the trees that rear their heads, and send out their branches, and make the world so beautiful with their soft green foliage. But have you thought of the twin tree, the unseen tree that belongs to these we see? For every tree that grows up and out with its beauty and fruit there is another. The twin tree goes down and out.
Sometimes, as far as this we see goes up, the other goes down; as far as the branches go out so far do the underneath branches go out, sometimes farther. This unseen tree is ever busy drawing moisture, and food from the soil and sending it, ceaselessly sending it, up to the upper tree. The beauty and fruitfulness above are because of this secret life of the tree.
I remember as a boy going to the bathroom in our home one day to draw some water. But none came. There were a few drops, and some sputtering—there’s very apt to be sputtering when there is nothing else—but no flow of water. And I wondered why. Soon I found that the main pipe in the street was being fixed, and the water had been cut off at the curb. There was water in the pipe clear from the curbstone up to the spigot, but I could not get it because the reservoir connection under the ground had been turned off.
I have met some people since then that made me think of that. There is a reservoir of water, clear and sweet, with which they have had connection, and are supposed still to have. But when some thirsty body comes up for a bit of refreshment, there’s some sputtering, some noise, may be a few stray drops—but no more. And folks seem thirstier because they were expecting a cool, satisfying drink that never came.
I think I know why it is so. The secret connection with the reservoir has been tampered with. There must be the secret contact with Jesus cultivated habitually if there is to be a sweet, strong outer life. And not cultivated by hothouse methods. Such plants won’t stand the chilly air outside the glass-house. Cultivated by natural, simple contact with Jesus, over His Word, habitually, until everything comes under the influence of that secret life.
One day a man was standing on a busy downtown thoroughfare in Cleveland waiting for a car. There was a thick, dirty wire hanging down from the cross arm high up of the wire pole. He happened to stop there. And absorbed in thought, he mechanically put out his hand and took hold of the wire. Instantly a look of intense agony came into his face. His arm, and whole body began twisting and writhing. Then he fell to the ground lifeless. The dirty-looking wire had direct connections with the power-house. It was throbbing with a strong current. It was a “live” wire.
Some men who have seemed quite unattractive in the light of some modern standards have been found on touch to be charged with a life current of tremendous power. And some others, outwardly more attractive, have been found to be as powerless as a dead wire. And some there have been, and are, very winsome and attractive in themselves, and charged with the life current too. The great thing is the secret connections carefully maintained with the source of power.
There must be the closest kind of touch with God if His plan through us for a planet is to carry out. We do not run on the storage battery plan, but on the trolley plan, or the third rail. There must be constant full touch with the feed wire or rail. And that “must” should be spelled in capitals, and printed in red, and triply underscored.
A man must plan for the bit of quiet time daily, preferably in the early morning, alone with Jesus; with the door shut, the Book open, the spirit quiet, the mind alert, the knee bent, the will bent too. If it be resolutely planned for it can be gotten in every life. If not planned for with a bit of red iron in the will, it will surely slip out. And the man will surely slip down.
Here is found the spirit in which a man may live all the day long, wherever his feet may tread, in the fierce competition of trade, or in the deadly enervation of some society circles. Out of such a man shall breathe, all unconsciously to himself, an atmosphere fragrant as a mountain breeze over a field of wild roses. This is the first life Jesus bids us live.
An Open Life of Purity
The second life we are to live is the exact reverse of this. It is indeed the outer side of this: an open life of purity lived among men for Jesus. Note again the logic of that good-by word. Your chief business is to be down there in the thick of the crowd, winning men out of the dust and dirt up into a new life of purity. It is the hardest job any man ever undertook. It is practically impossible unless you have a power quite more than human. Jesus quietly says, “I have the power that will do it.”
Again you feel that He must say next, “I will go.” The thing must be done. It is the one thing worth while. It will require a power we haven’t. He has it. You feel as though He must do the going. “No,” He says, with great emphasis. “You go. You be I; you live my life over again, down there among men.” The “Ye” and “Me” in that sentence are meant to be interchangeable words.
He is asking us to live His life over again among men. No, it is more than that. He is asking us to let Him live His life over again in each of us. The Man with the power that men can’t resist would reach out to them through us. He would be touching them in us. Jesus said, “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” He said again, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” Jesus embodied the Father to men. He asks us to take His place and embody Himself to men.
Paul understood this thoroughly. In writing to the friends throughout Galatia, whom he had won up to Jesus, he says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” There is an old dead “I.” “Nevertheless I live.” There is a new living “I.” “Yet not I—the old I—but Christ liveth in me.” He was the new I. There was a new personality within Paul. I never weary of recalling what Martin Luther said about that verse in the comment he made on Galatians. You remember he said, “If somebody should knock at my heart’s door, and ask who lives here, I must not say ‘Martin Luther lives here.’ I would say ‘Martin Luther—is—dead—Jesus—Christ—lives—here.’“
I wonder if any of us has ever been taken for Jesus. I wonder if anybody has ever mistaken any of us for Him. You remember, He used to move among men after the resurrection, and while they would feel the gentle winsomeness of His presence and talk, they did not recognize Him. Has somebody run across you or me sometime, and been with us a little while, and then gone away saying to himself, “I wonder if that was Jesus back again in disguise. He seemed so much like what I think Jesus must have been—I wonder.”
Well, if it were so, of course we would not be conscious of it. A Jesus-man is never absorbed in thinking about himself. He is taken up with Jesus, and with folks. A man is always least conscious of the power of his own presence and life. Everybody else knows more about it than he does. Plainly this is the Master’s plan for each of us. And more, it is the result when He is allowed free sway.
The controlling principle of His life was to please His Father. The pervading purpose and passion was to win men out and up. The characteristics of His life were purity, unselfishness, sympathy, and simplicity. We are to be as He. He was the Father to all the race of men. Each of us is to be Jesus to his circle.
Please notice I’m not talking about lips just now but about lives. The life is the indorsement of the lips. It makes the words of the lips more than they sound or seem. Or, it makes them less, sometimes pitiably less, little more than a discount clerk ever busily at work. The words ever go to the level of the life, up or down. Water seeks its level persistently. So do one’s words, and they find it more quickly than the water, for they go through all obstructions. And the life is the leveler of the words, up or down.
So far as this second life is concerned a man’s lips might be sealed, and his tongue dumb, but his life in its purity and simplicity, its unselfishness and sympathetic warmness will ever be spelling out Jesus. And He will be spelled out so big and plain that the man hurriedly running, or lazily creeping, or half blind in a cloud of dust, will be stopping and reading. If there were but more re-incarnations of Jesus how folks would be coming a-running to Him.
Do you remember that prayer in blank verse of the old Scottish preacher and poet and saint, Horatius Bonar? He said:
“Oh, turn me, mould me, mellow me for use.
Pervade my being with Thy vital force,
That this else inexpressive life of mine
May become eloquent and full of power,
Impregnated with life and strength divine.
Put the bright torch of heaven into my hand,
That I may carry it aloft
And win the eye of weary wanderers here below
To guide their feet into the paths of peace.
I cannot raise the dead,
Nor from this soil pluck precious dust,
Nor bid the sleeper wake,
Nor still the storm, nor bend the lightning back,
Nor muffle up the thunder,
Nor bid the chains fall from off creation’s long enfettered limbs.
But I can live a life that tells on other lives,
And makes this world less full of anguish and of pain;
A life that like the pebble dropped upon the sea
Sends its wide circles to a hundred shores.
May such a life be mine.
Creator of true life, Thyself the life Thou givest,
Give Thyself, that Thou mayst dwell in me, and I in Thee.”
An Active Life of Service
The third life is a life of active service, of aggressive earnestness in winning men. I say aggressive. That word does not mean noise and dust, shuffling of feet, and bustling confusion. It means rather the steady, steady movement of the sun which noiselessly, dustlessly, moves onward, hour after hour, day in and day out, regardless of any storms, or disturbances. It means the quiet, peaceful, but resistless uninterrupted movement of the moon rising night after night, and going through its circle of action. Earnestness means the burning of the inner spirit. Its fires dim not, for they are fed continually from secret sources.
This third life is spoken of directly: “Go ye and make disciples.” The going is to be continued until folks farthest away have heard. Some people are bounded by the horizon of the town where they live, some by the particular church to which they belong, some the denomination, some the state, or even the nation. Jesus fixes the horizon of His follower as that of the world. Jesus was visionary. He talked about all nations, a race, a world.
All are to go. They are to go to all. Some may be made wholly free, by arrangement with their fellow-followers, to give their full strength and time to the direct going and telling. These are highly favored in privilege. Some of these may go to deserted darkened places in the home land. Some may go to the city slum, which in its dire need is of close kin to the foreign-mission land. These are yet more highly favored in privilege.
Some may go to those far distant lands where Jesus is not known, where the need of Him is so pathetically great. These are the most highly favored in the privilege of service accorded them. Many others have been left free of the necessity of earning bread and home and clothing and so have a rare opportunity of devoting themselves to the going, as the Spirit of Jesus guides. Many are given the talent to earn easily, and so, if they will, may give much strength to service.
The great majority everywhere and always are absorbed for most of the waking hours of the day in earning something to eat, and something to wear, and somewhere to sleep. Yet where there is the warm touch with Jesus there will come the yearning for purity, and the life of service. With these as with all there may be the service, strong and sweetly fragrant. There is always some bit of spare time, with planning, that can be used in direct service in church, or school, or mission. And the secret life of prayer will give a steadiness that will guard against the over-use of one’s strength.
There can be a personal going to some in words tactfully spoken. There is the life of sweet purity and gentle patience always so winsome, that speaks all the time in musical tones to one’s circle. There is an enormous, unconscious aggressiveness about such a life. Then there can be the going through gold. And the entire planet can be brought under one’s thumb of influence through the strangely simple power of prayer.
I have been running across some new versions of this last word of Jesus. A sort of re-revisions they are. I have not found them in the common print, but printed in lives, the lives of men. The print is large, chiefly capitals, easily read. These lives are so noisy as to quite shut out what the lips may be saying. There are variations in these translations.
Sometime the message is made to read like this: “All power hath been given unto Me, therefore go ye, and make—coins of gold—oh, belong to church of course—that is proper and has many advantages—and give too. There are advantages about that—give freely, or make it seem freely—give to missions at home and abroad. That is regarded as a sure sign of a liberal spirit. But be careful about the proportion of your giving. For the real thing that counts at the year’s end is how much you have added to the stock of dollars in your grasp. These other things are good, but—merely incidental. This thing of getting gold is the main drive.”
Please understand me, I never heard any of these folks talk in this blunt way with their tongues. So far as I can hear, they are saying something quite different. But what their tongues are saying is made indistinct and blurred by some noise near by.
Other translations I have run across have this variation: “Make a place for yourself, in your profession, in society. Make a comfortable living;—with a wide margin of meaning to that word ‘comfortable’—belong to the church, become a pillar, or at least move in the pillar’s circle, give of course, even freely in appearance, but remember these are the dust in the scale, the other is the thing that weighs. All of one’s energies must be centered on the main thing.”
May I ask you to listen very quietly, while I repeat the Master’s own words over very softly and clearly, so that they may get into the inner cockles of our hearts anew? “All power hath been given unto Me; therefore go ye, and make disciples of all nations.” These other translations are wrong. They are misleading. The one main thing is influencing men for Jesus.
The Perspective of True Service
It is not the only thing by any means. There is a multitude of things perfectly proper and that must be done and well done. But through all their doing is to run this one strong purpose. These other things are details, important details, indispensably important, yet details. The other is the one main thing toward which the doing of all the others is to bend and blend.
Please mark keenly that there are three lives here; three in one. The secret life of prayer, the open life of purity, the active life of service Not one, nor the other, not any two, but all three, this is the true ideal. This is the true rounded life. And note sharply that this gives the true perspective of service. The service life grows up out of the other two. Its roots lie down in prayer and purity. This explains why so much service is fruitless. It isn’t rooted. There is no rich subsoil.
It seems to be a part of the hurt of sin that men do not keep the proportion of things balanced, and never have. In former days men shut themselves up behind great walls that they might be pleasing to God. They shut out the noise that they might have quiet to pray. They thought to shut out the sin that they might be pure, forgetting that they carried it in with them.
In our day things have swung clean over to the other extreme. Now all is activity. The emphasis of the time is upon doing. There is a lot of running around, and rushing around. There is a great deal of activity that seems inseparable from dust. The wheels make such a lot of noise as they go around. Doing that does not root down in the secret touch with Jesus, may be quite vigorous for a time, but soon leaves behind as its only memory withered up branches. This is a practical age, we are constantly told. Things must be judged by the standard of usefulness. That is surely true, and good, but there is very serious danger that the true perspective of service be lost in the dust that is being raised.
The imprint of this disproportion or lack of proportion can even be found in the theological teaching of long ago and now. At one time religion was defined as having to do with a man’s relation to God. That was emphasized to the utter hiding away of all else. In our own day the swing is clear over to the other side. Definitions of religion that make everything of helping one’s brother and fellow, are the popular thing. There seems to be a sort of astigmatism that keeps us from seeing things straight. Though always there have been those that saw straight and lived truly.
Mark keenly that true touch with God always brings the longing to be pure, and the loving of one’s fellow. The nearer one gets to God the nearer will he find himself getting to men. Often we find ourselves getting new wonderful glimpses of God as we are eagerly helping somebody. Up seems to include out, as though the line that drew us up to God led through men. Yet with that always goes the other fact that touch with God makes one long to be alone with Him.
There are always the three turnings of a true life, upward, inward, outward. Upward to God, inward to self, outward to the world. The more one knows God the keener is the longing to get off with Himself alone, the deeper is the yearning to be pure, and the stronger is the passion to help others regardless of any sacrifice involved.
A Long Time Coming
There is an old story that caught fire in my heart the first time it came to me, and burns anew at each memory of it. It told of a time in the southern part of our country when the sanitary regulations were not so good as of late. A city was being scourged by a disease that seemed quite beyond control. The city’s carts were ever rolling over the cobble-stones, helping carry away those whom the plague had slain.
Into one very poor home, a laboring man’s home, the plague had come. And the father and children had been carried out until on the day of this story there remained but two, the mother and her baby boy of perhaps five years. The boy crept up into his mother’s lap, put his arms about her neck, and with his baby eyes so close, said, “Mother, father’s dead, and brothers and sister are dead;—if you die, what’ll I do?”
The poor mother had thought of it, of course, What could she say? Quieting her voice as much as possible, she said, “If I die, Jesus will come for you.” That was quite satisfactory to the boy. He had been taught about Jesus, and felt quite safe with Him, and so went about his play on the floor. And the boy’s question proved only too prophetic. And quick work was done by the dread disease. And soon she was being laid away by strange hands.
It is not difficult to understand that in the sore distress of the time the boy was forgotten. When night came, he crept into bed, but could not sleep. Late in the night he got up, found his way out along the street, down the road, in to where he had seen the men put her. And throwing himself down on the freshly shoveled earth, sobbed and sobbed until nature kindly stole consciousness away for a time.
Very early the next morning a gentleman coming down the road from some errand of mercy, looked over the fence, and saw the little fellow lying there. Quickly suspecting some sad story, he called him, “My boy, what are you doing there?—My boy, wake up, what are you doing there all alone?” The boy waked up, rubbed his baby eyes, and said, “Father’s dead, and brothers and sister’s dead, and now—mother’s —dead—too. And she said, if she did die, Jesus would come for me. And He hasn’t come. And I’m so tired waiting.” And the man swallowed something in his throat, and in a voice not very clear, said, “Well, my boy, I’ve come for you.” And the little fellow waking up, with his baby eyes so big, said “I think you’ve been a long time coming.”
Whenever I read these last words of Jesus or think of them, there comes up a vision that floods out every other thing. It is of Jesus Himself standing on that hilltop. His face is all scarred and marred, thorn-torn and thong-cut. But it is beautiful, passing all beauty of earth, with its wondrous beauty light. Those great eyes are looking out so yearningly, out as though they were seeing men, the ones nearest and those farthest. His arm is outstretched with the hand pointing out. And you cannot miss the rough jagged hole in the palm. And He is saying, “Go ye.” The attitude, the scars, the eyes looking, the hand pointing, the voice speaking, all are saying so intently, “Go ye.”
And as I follow the line of those eyes, and the hand, there comes up an answering vision. A great sea of faces that no man ever yet has numbered, with answering eyes and outstretching hands. From hoary old China, from our blood-brothers in India, from Africa where sin’s tar stick seems to have blackened blackest, from Romanized South America, and the islands, aye from the slums, and frontiers, and mountains in the homeland, and from those near by, from over the alley next to your house maybe, they seem to come. And they are rubbing their eyes, and speaking. With lives so pitifully barren, with lips mutely eloquent, with the soreness of their hunger, they are saying, “You’re a long time coming.”
Shall we go? Shall we not go? But how shall we best go? By keeping in such close touch with Jesus that the warm throbbing of His heart is ever against our own. Then will come a new purity into our lives as we go out irresistibly attracted by the attraction of Jesus toward our fellows. And then too shall go out of ourselves and out of our lives and service, a new supernatural power touching men. It is Jesus within reaching men through us.