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GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D.
" / am the Good Shepherd, and know JV[y sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father" S. JOHN x. 14, 15. Or, as it should be translated : " / am the Good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known of fMine ; even as the Father knoweth Me, and as I know the Father." THE idea which our Blessed LORD desires to convey being this : that He has for His sheep that know ledge, that same personal, individual, loving knowledge and care, which the FATHER has for the SON, and the SON has for the Everlasting FATHER. " I know My sheep, and am known of Mine ; even as the FATHER knoweth Me, and as I know the FATHER." " I know My sheep." Few men, I think, must have had more reason to thank Almighty GOD that these words were ever spoken than S. Peter. What a deep pathos there is in the last words of that Epistle for the second Sunday after Easter, when we remember by whom the sentence was first written : "Ye were as sheep going astray ; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." Verily the Apostle Peter had learned, as few men have had power to learn, the tender personal care of that Divine Shepherd. He had in very deed been a sheep going astray, far, far away into the dark mountains. He had been brought
INDIVIDUAL CA RE 137 back again by the Good Shepherd and Bishop of his soul. The transformation of the character of the Apostle Peter has been the subject of many a sermon in wellnigh every congregation. How successfully was the great work of education wrought in his heart by the indwelling Spirit under the personal care of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, is now almost a commonplace : how that impulsive fisherman, that proud, self-seeking man, was transformed into the humble, submissive, lion-hearted Peter ; how the man, who was at the beginning always thinking how much he could receive from GOD, ended at last only with the prayer that all his entire being might be laid at the feet of the Crucified ; how the man, who in early life desired always to be the first of the little band of disciples, ended in his dying hours
by asking only this last favour from those by whom he was to be crucified, that he might not die in so noble a position as CHRIST, the King, had died " Let my cross be inverted, let me die with my head down wards, for I am not worthy to be called an Apostle of the LORD JESUS CHRIST." I say the success of the education is a marked matter of history. I desire rather this morning to point out to you some of the ways by which the great Master, JESUS CHRIST, wrought out in His believing disciple this transformation. " I know My sheep." The LORD JESUS CHRIST, by that strange union of Divinity with humanity, has the power to feel for thousands for all, in fact, who will not reject His love that individual personal care, that tender separating kind of love, which we, with our limited capacity, can only feel and only exercise towards the few, perhaps the one or two, upon whom our affection is specially centred. For every human being ; for the whole company of the baptized ; or, to bring
138 THE MESSAGE OF PAT^DON it nearer home, for every soul in this church, JESUS CHRIST, by the power of His Godhead, can feel that intense personal individualizing love, can exercise that tender individual personal care, which you or I (to repeat the words) can only feel or exercise on the one or two to whom we are specially linked. Now, it is intensely interesting for those who have minds given them by Almighty GOD, to take one after another all the great characters in the New Testament, and to see how the general teaching and the general actions of the LORD JESUS CHRIST must have been an indirect education for each one of those men how different chapters in our LORD S teaching must have affected in different ways men with the diverse characters, for instance, of S. John, S. James, and S. Thomas. This, however, would take longer time than custom allows for the morning sermon. I can only, as it were, in the most superficial manner point out to you those incidents in our Blessed LORD S life, those special words of His, which we know were intended to influence S. Peter, and which drew out from the great Apostle certain changes of his character, certain responses from his heart of trust and love. i. First of all, then, whenever the Holy One of GOD is passing by, whenever the miraculous draft of oil is to be communicated to a human soul, the Vessel must first be emptied. " GOD giveth grace to the humble." So we find our LORD, as soon as ever He was sure
that the Apostle Peter was surrendered to Him, as soon as ever that heart was given into the school of the Divine Master, we find Him at once beginning to humble that proud, self-willed man. There is, first of all, the miraculous draught of fishes, which wrung from the Apostle what I may call a general confession,
INDIVIDUAL CARE 139 just like the passionate vague generalities that come forth from an awakened spirit in the earlier hours of its conversion, " Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD." Then afterwards came the teaching on the stormy waves of that Lake of Gennesaret, when the boisterous wind soon dashed away the new-born courage of the Apostle, and, sinking ignominiously into the water, he who desired to be foremost of all and to set an example to the world of unwavering confidence, cried with anxious fear, " LORD, save me ; I perish." And then came still carrying on the great work of humbling and breaking down of the proud spirit then came the open rebuke, which must have stung a man with a nature like S. Peter, when he was brought out into the face of all the Apostles, and told by the Divine Master, " Get thee behind me, thou devil incarnate, get thee behind me, Satan : thou art not a rock upon which I can build a Church, thou art a wretched stumbling-stone (for that is the literal translation of the word), thou art a miserable stumbling-stone ; instead of standing upon thee, thou wouldst make Me stumble over thee ; thou art an offence unto Me, with thy wretched worldly sentimentalism, bidding Me avoid the Cross and turn away from the rough and narrow road in which My FATHER wills that I should walk : get thee behind Me ! " Then, without giving further instances, when the LORD, Who sits as the refiner of silver sits, that is, to watch, that the fire should not be too strong for any of us, Who does not deal with us as many a human pastor deals in his ignorance, giving at the very begin ning of the soul s life the teaching for which it will only be prepared ten years hence when CHRIST saw that S. Peter had faith enough to bear it, when He saw that the man knew enough of the everlasting Kingdom
140 THE MESSAGE OF PARDON to rise up from his fall, then CHRIST allowed his pride to be once and for ever crushed, by the most tremendous fall that is ever recorded in Holy Scripture. This man, this chief of the Apostles, this leader of humanity forsooth, curses, blasphemes, lies ; is frightened at what a maid-servant might say, forgets the love that had been
shown him by JESUS of Nazareth ; false to GOD, false to man, before the cock crew Peter denies the LORD by Whom he had been redeemed. There we will leave that branch of the subject. We leave S. Peter crushed ; we leave the vessel emptied by the almighty power of GOD the HOLY GHOST. 2. Secondly, the work of education would have been miserably incomplete if nothing had been taught the Apostle but this, that he was a poor, weak, helpless sinner. Numbers of us have learned that, thank GOD for the knowledge ; it is the beginning of the Christian life, the fear of the LORD. " I have erred and strayed from Thy ways like a sheep that is lost." But there was a second truth. " Lift up your hearts " is the keynote of the Church, and it is the keynote of the Bible. The Apostle Peter was to be taught by the LORD JESUS CHRIST the glory of that spiritual Kingdom into which he had been admitted by companionship with JESUS CHRIST. And so, in following through the life of the Apostle, you see our Blesssd LORD unfolding to him one after another all the great verities of the Faith, through which the Church leads you year after year in the wondrous cycle of her holy seasons. For example for here again I am obliged to hurry on for example, what a teaching of the world to come and the communion of saints and the resurrection of the body was there in that chamber of death, where S. Peter was specially chosen to hear the mystic words spoken by Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life, to
INDIVIDUAL CARE 141 watch the colour return to that pale face, to see the maiden that was dead rise up and eat. What a mighty teaching, also, in the great Trans figuration scene, when Moses and Elias appeared and the glory of the invisible Kingdom was shadowed forth in the very outward appearance of the Saviour to Whom his life had been devoted. Follow out the thought, and you will see revelations of glory making such an impression upon the Apostle s mind, that in his Epistle he refers to it, " that excellent glory," that abounding majesty, the reflection of which seemed never to pass away from the world in which he lived, and moved, and had his being, so that ever after he seemed to be like a man who lived on earth yet ever had the light of heaven shining around him. 3. But even this second great division of his education would have been incomplete if there had not been something more. The glory of GOD and the
weakness of humanity are two grand truths, but the link was required the link by which the one was to be united with the other. S. Peter was to be taught by a long and gradual education that all the glory of the invisible world, all the majesty of the Resurrection Kingdom, all the beauty of the Mount of Transfiguration, was for him ; that he, the poor wandering sheep who had strayed away, was not merely to be brought back to the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul, but was to be lifted, as it were, on angels wings to be the companion of the redeemed and ransomed ones in Paradise, to be the brother of the angels, to touch in the glorious Kingdom the very hands of the Incarnate GOD. Observe how this was done : it is an old story to remind you of those touching incidents how the first message after the Resurrection was to S. Peter, to Peter
1 42 THE MESSAGE OF PARDON who sinned worse than any disciple except Judas. " Go and tell My disciples, and Peter." It is so touching the silence as to what passed in that first interview. We are told what our LORD said to Mary Magdalene : we are told something of His conversation with the other disciples ; but no ear heard, no pen recorded what passed in the first interview between JESUS CHRIST, the risen LORD, and his repentant disciple, S. Peter. Oh, what a store of divine love, of personal, tender, indi vidualizing compassion, was received by the Apostle in that silent hour. So it had been all through his life. Even when he failed most thoroughly, the LORD ever reminded him, " Thou shalt be a fisher of men ; wicked though thou art, fear not, I will strengthen thee ; I will uphold thee ; I will guide thee with Mine eye ; be not afraid ; be of good cheer ; it is I. O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt ? " Is it too fanciful to imagine that this truth of the personal, individual care of the LORD JESUS CHRIST for each one of His disciples was shadowed forth in that miracle of the tribute money, and the second of the miraculous draughts of fishes ? Would He not say to S. Peter, " If I know each fish that swims in that lake, so that I can tell you precisely where that tribute money shall be found : if I know one by one the whole number that have been gathered in by that miraculous draught, so that I count them, one hundred and fifty and three, must not thou believe, O Simon Bar-jona, that thou art of more value than the fish of the sea, and that I have numbered the hairs of thy head, and that I have called thee by a separate individualizing name ; so that thou shalt not be merely one of the disciples, one of the great company of the saved, but be known in Paradise
and heaven as one separate soul, trained and educated for the kingdom of My glory ? "
INDIVIDUAL CARE 143 And there is just one more striking passage that must not be passed over. There came to S. Peter, about the earlier part, or towards the middle of his life, one of the turning-points that are coming now to thousands of Englishmen. He believed in JESUS CHRIST ; he acknowledged himself a sinner ; he sur rendered his being to that great LORD to Whom his heart was devoted, and then came some deeper teaching about CHRIST giving His flesh to His disciples to eat. We find it in that sixth chapter of S. John, where the LORD told the Apostles that He came not merely to be the Bread of Life, but to give Himself to them that they might feed upon Him : that He came not merely to be the living LORD, but to pour supernatural life into their weak and tempted natures, so that those who ate Him should live by Him. In that mysterious teaching of the sixth chapter of S. John, our LORD shadowed forth the communication of actual life and spiritual strength by the very Body and Blood of Him self, given after a heavenly and supernatural manner ; not in the earthly way, for the bread and the wine, of course, remain unchanged and unaltered ; but, as the old Catechism says, there is given inwardly in a heavenly and a spiritual manner (we learnt it as children if we would only remember it) : " the Body and Blood of CHRIST, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the LORD S Supper." That was a turning-point to S. Peter. Numbers of disciples who had believed, who had acknowledged their sin, went away, and never came near CHRIST any more : just as the sacramental teaching of the Prayer Book drives hundreds away, who yielded themselves up to a certain point to JESUS CHRIST. But the characteristic of S. Peter, in spite of all his utter weakness, was this he could not, he would not, go away from JESUS CHRIST.
i 4 4 THE MESSAGE OF PAl^DON Whatever the LORD taught him, he tried to understand : whatever the LORD told him to do, he prayed and he struggled and repented till it was done. So while numbers went away, he remained. Then in the night when the Last Supper was appointed, the light broke on his heart, and he saw that that LORD, Who had come on earth to redeem him, would live to communicate to him that divine and supernatural life by which he was to be invigorated and strengthened. And so the great work of education was, in a measure at any rate,
complete. He had learned that he was weak. He had learned that GOD was strong. He had learned that the personal individual care of the LORD JESUS CHRIST would so link his weakness with the Omnipotence of the Godhead, that he should no longer be Peter the weak, timid, wavering disciple, but the lion-hearted Apostle, going forth, conquering and to conquer, to the utmost parts of the earth. Thus, my brethren, I trust I have given to you at least some suggestions for thought in your Sunday Biblereading. Two practical considerations alone remain. i. First of all, if it be true and the whole Bible tells us it is true if it be true that our LORD JESUS CHRIST has for you and for me that personal love which separates us off from the other one hundred and fifty-two that knowledge of us which He Himself compares to that knowledge of the Eastern shepherd who calls his sheep by name, and has a separate name for each is there not an intense solemnity added to our lives ? I ask your attention here. 1 am not speaking of great sinners what are called gross sinners at all. If you ever loved any one in your life with a mere natural human love, how could that person have grieved and pained you most ? Would it not have been in this way : that while you were doing all you could for
INDIVIDUAL CARE 145 him, while your heart was full of deep self-sacrificing affection, while you were thinking of him continually, he did not care about you, he did not remember you, he regarded your wishes as almost a matter of indifference ? Would that not pain you more than even an open sin, than even some grievous fall in the child, or the husband, or the wife, or whoever it might be ? Would not, in proportion to the greatness of your love, be the intensity of your pain when that love was slighted or rejected ? Now, dear brethren, I desire to speak to you in all calmness. Do not be prejudiced. In GOD S Name, Who has called you to a glorious life, do not take for granted that everything which is said to-day is exaggerated. You believe (as much as I believe) that our LORD is alive ; you believe that He knows you, and that He thinks about you ; and you believe that human love is given you as a faint shadow of His divine affection for each of us. Our LORD JESUS CHRIST has given to us great ability, perhaps, commanding influence, and a larger fortune ten times over than our parents ever enjoyed. He has given us at the same time Africa and India, only wanting a large outlay of money to be evangelized and brought almost as a nation to the foot of the Cross. He has given us, in the east of London
and other parts of England, great parishes where one clergyman (I saw one the other day) toils on, breaks down exhausted, has to give up the work, or perhaps die in poverty because he is left without the help that a hundred a year would have given him. Now then, my brethren, imagine for one moment calmly our LORD JESUS CHRIST looking down, and knowing us, and knowing that we do desire (as many of you do desire) to do right ; what must it be to Him to find that every arrangement is made (as we do make it, so very often,
146 THE MESSAGE OF PARDON all of us) irrespective of His wishes ? We say we never thought of what CHRIST liked ; we never thought what JESUS CHRIST wished us to do with our money. You hear of this man with this number of thousands a year, and another with that ; you hear of that servant s wages doubled ; and so forth. You wonder what is going to be done with it all ; and you find only larger provision for the children, or greater investments made. You know that the man, or the woman, or the servant, or whoever it is, has common sense, and that if it were put before such, they would understand that their income, or the capital they have received, has been increased by the LORD GOD, that out of their abundance (the Bible says it over, and over, and over again) they might supply the deficiencies of those who lacked. But it is not done. You know as well as I do, that even five women just appearing rather more frequently in the same gown at dinner, having a few gowns less, five gowns less amongst them, would in a moment have got the one hundred pounds so that the man s life might have been spared, and the Church of GOD not disgraced by the whole work being abandoned. You know as well as I do, that there are numbers of men in England whose fortunes have increased so rapidly that their children can be brought up perfectly well, with as good an education as they desire, and be thoroughly well started in life, even according to the world s idea, and yet the ten or twenty thousand pounds in ten years might easily have been raised, so that that great African Mission, that is now dying out for want of that sum, might have been provided for, and those millions in India not be left with only a few bishops for a mighty country like that, linked as it is with England. My brethren, we do not desire to do wrong, but we do not think of it, and I repeat, what breaks the
INDIVIDUAL CARE 147
heart of any one, wife or husband, or mother or child what breaks anybody s heart, who has a heart left to break, so much as indifference ? By indifference I mean the not thinking what CHRIST wants us to do with our money ; the not thinking what CHRIST wishes us to do with those abounding resources ; the not thinking why we are cleverer than other people, or have more beauty than other people, or more influence or whatever it may be ; the not thinking, and therefore taking the adornments, and taking the beauty, and taking the intelligence, and taking the whole that GOD has given us, and lavishing it not on sin, giving, it may be, a hundred here, and a hundred there, perhaps a thousand here, and a thousand there but giving it irrespective of ever having realized what CHRIST wanted to be done with it ; spending it on the world and the things of the world. Oh, think what CHRIST feels, when He knows what He is, when He knows what life means, when He knows what eternity involves ! It would be no matter if He did not love you ; it would be no matter if He had not died for you. Then it would not grieve Him. But it grieves Him because He loves you, and because He has given you all this that you may show you love Him, and gladden the heart of the crucified King. He is wounded, not by the outside world that He expects but wounded in the house of His friends. " It was not an enemy that has done Me this dishonour, for then I could have borne it : but it was thou, My friend, for whom I died, to whom I did give a Christian name ; and yet thou didst never think how thou couldest please Me and gladden My heart." Oh, my brethren, there is a life-long teaching in that word, " I know My sheep." 2. And, lastly, how shall we carry out the teaching how shall we, like S. Peter, be educated by the LORD
148 THE MESSAGE OF PARVON JESUS CHRIST ? This way ; the collect gives the answer : let us receive that inestimable benefit, and then we shall follow in the steps of His most holy life. What do I mean? I mean leaving aside just at present though it has its place in the Christian life leaving out of sight the struggling to get near to GOD, the striving to rise up to heaven, the prayers, and all that ; let us take a simpler thought. Remind yourself, morning, noon, and night, that the LORD JESUS CHRIST knows you ; that the LORD JESUS CHRIST is about your path and about your bed, not to condemn you, but to bless you : that the LORD JESUS CHRIST is watching that He may see in you of the travail of His Soul and be satisfied. Thinking of Him in that way as a friend, a brother, a husband, dearer than life itself, and loving you with a love that nailed Him to the Cross on Calvary, receive
the inestimable benefit. Instead of going away, like the other disciples did, keep close to Him as S. Peter did. Study that sixth of S. John : pray over it ; prepare for Holy Communion ; and come to be fed with the living Bread, and to receive the inestimable benefit : to drink of that living water. Now, observe the difference between Judas and S. Peter. They were, both of them, greedy, selfish men. Judas said, " What will you give me ? " S. Peter said, " I have left everything for you, O LORD : what shall I have ? " Both had the same idea, " What can I get ? What can I get ? What will you give me ? What will you give me ? " It is just the idea of the world one class saying, " Give, give " ; the other, "Grasp, grasp: keep, keep"- what can I get? What made the difference between them ? Judas was always accustomed to look downwards ; S. Peter always looked upwards. He formed the habit of never keep ing his mind for any long interval away from JESUS
INDIVIDUAL CARE 149 CHRIST. And so, when they both sinned on that dark night, Judas naturally looked to himself, and he found nothing there but sin, and shame, and failure ; and so he did what numbers of men have done he hanged himself. S. Peter was broken-hearted, but it was the habit of his life to look up to CHRIST directly, whether he had done a good thing or a bad thing, to see what the LORD JESUS CHRIST thought of it ; and so there streamed down into his heart that love unutterable, those fountains of living water were opened for him, and the man arose on the bright Easter morning full of resurrection life : because he looked unto JESUS, and JESUS CHRIST never forgets one of His sheep that trusts Him. If you wish to rise this Eastertide, if you wish to know the higher life, from the habit of reminding your self " JESUS CHRIST knows me ; JESUS CHRIST loves me ; JESUS CHRIST is thinking of me." Then you will soon be ready to take up the Church s conclusion to every sermon, and say : "And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, three Persons and one GOD, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all honour and glory, might, majesty, and dominion, henceforth and for evermore. Amen."
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