by John H. Jowett
"For to me to live is Christ" (Phil. 1:21).
There are three cardinal words in the passage: "me," "live," and "Christ." The middle term, "live" is defined in the union of the two extremes. The two carbon electrodes of the arc lamp are brought into relationship, and the result is a light of brilliant intensity. And these two terms, "me" and "Christ," are brought into relationship, and there is revealed "the light of life," and I become "alive unto God." The human finds life in union with the divine.
Now this is the only contact which justifies the usage of the term "life." Any other application of the word is illegitimate and degrading. The word "life" stands defined in the relationship of the apostle's words. But we take other extremes, and combine them, and we name the result, "life."
"For me to live is money." Me-money! And we describe the union as "life." We are using a gloriously spacious and wealthy term to label a petty and superficial gratification, which is as transient and uncertain as the ephemera that dance through the feverish hour of a single summer's day.
"For me to live is pleasure!" Me-pleasure! And we describe the union as "life." It is a mere sensation, having no more relationship to life in its reality than the sluggish and ill-defined existence of the amoeba has to the large mental and spiritual exercises of the Apostle John. "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth."
"For me to live is fame" Me-fame! And we describe the union as "life." It is a mere galvanized spasm, and is no more worthy of the regal term "life" than a will-o-the-wisp is worthy of bearing the name of the sun.
Of all these relationships we may employ the New Testament indictment and say, "Thou hast a name to live and art dead." All other combinations fail. Life is the unique product of a unique union. "This is life, to know Jesus." "For me to live is Christ." Such was the rich and inexpressible life of the Apostle Paul.
Conditions of Real Life
The first condition of real life is something to love, and the second condition is something to revere. Each of the elements is essential. Neither can lift if the other be absent. Love without reverence becomes a purely carnal sentiment, and resides in the channels of the flesh. Reverence without love is like cold moonlight, and will never enrich the heart with the presence of gracious flowers. Love without reverence is a destructive fever; reverence without love is a perpetual frost. True love kneels in reverence; true reverence yearns in love. Each, I say, is essential to the other, and both are needful in the creation of worthy and wealthy life.
Now, where can love and reverence be best begotten? Where can we learn to love and revere in such a way that they shall become the spontaneous exercises of the soul?
I sometimes take down from my bookshelves a little book of devotion written by a great mystic 300 years ago. I read an engaging chapter title: "Calvary is the true academy of love." If I want a school where love is taught and revealed, I must seek the academy of Calvary! The teaching is superlative and even the dullest scholar makes progress in the school. Let me quote from my much-sought-after devotional guide:
"The death and passion of our Lord is the gentlest, and at the same time the strongest motive which can animate our hearts in this mortal life; and it is quite true that the mystical bees make their most excellent honey in the wounds of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who was killed, shattered, and rent on Mount Calvary."
It is a very suggestive figure. Out of death, which destroys all things, "has come forth the meat" of our consolation; out of death, which is stronger than all things, "has come forth the sweetness" of the honey of our love. We are to be like bees, and we are to "make our excellent honey" in the wounds of the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Find Time for School
Or, to return to my writer's title figure, we are to go into the academy of Calvary, which is the all-excelling school of love. And what are we to do when we get there? We are to employ the ministry of meditation.
I care not how impractical the counsel may seem in this busy, hurrying, breathless day. If we men and women are ever to attain unto life and make progress in its ways, we have got to find time to go to school and learn.
Even if our time were so crowded that we cannot find a corner of the day for meditation in the school of Christ, then we must take something out of our day and make room for it. I think if we search our bags we shall find many and many a rag which takes up space, but which is of very little worth, and which might very safely be banished.
But even if all the contents were pearls, the Master has declared that the secret of progressive living is to sacrifice the pearl of inferior value for the pearl of transcendent worth. I do not think it wise to cram so many into the bag that there is no room for the Book of Revelation, the title deeds of "the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
No, if we mean truly to "live," we have got to find time for the highest of all exercises, meditation upon the eternal things of God. We have to go to Calvary, the academy of love, and reverently contemplate the unveilings of redemptive grace. How many of the men in our congregations ever open their Bibles for private meditation from Monday morning to Saturday night? We give ourselves no opportunity. Love and reverence are the sure and stately products of thought. If our thought be steadily directed, love and reverence will follow in its train.
God's Surpassing Love
Let us go, then, into the School of Calvary, with eyes and ears alert and quickened, that we may see and hear. We shall get into the secret places of the Most High, and we shall behold the marvelous unveiling of Infinite Love. We shall hear that wondrous evangel that Pascal heard, and which melted his heart, and hallowed all his years: "I love thee more ardently than thou hast loved thy sin."
I cannot describe the tremendous impact which that sentence makes upon my life. I know how I have sinned. I know how I have clung to my sin. I know how I have yearned after it. I know what illicit pleasure I have found in it. I know how I have pursued it at any cost. And now, in the School of Calvary, my Master takes up this, my so strenuous and overwhelming passion for sin, and contrasts it with His passion for me: "I love thee more than thou has loved thy sin." If in some quiet moment that grand evangel swept through our souls in heavenly strains, we should fall in love with the Lover, and our love would imply our entrance into eternal life.
And as for reverence-no man can go softly and thoughtfully into the School of Calvary without falling upon his knees. He is awed by what he sees, as well as by what he hears. "They gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall, and when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink." "And they that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads." "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." "Now, from the sixth hour there was darkness over the land, until the ninth hour." "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" "And when He had cried again with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost." I say, go into that school-quietly, privately, and you will soon be on your knees!
The old mystic is right-in Calvary's academy we are wooed by the vision into surrender and spiritual fellowship, and through the gracious ministries of purification and illumination we pass into perfected union with the Lord. Love and reverence for the Highest are the conditions of true life, and in love and reverence for the Lord we attain unto eternal life, and become partakers of the divine nature. "I live, yet not I, Christ liveth in me." "For to me to live is Christ."
Now, let no one suppose that this mystical union with Christ drives men into fruitless reveries and idle dreams. There is no one so practical, no one so splendidly energetic, as the advanced mystic. And in truth, any one who knows the history of the saints knows that they are efficacious; their energy is directed to definite and practical ends.
The Apostle Paul was a mystic. Read the middle chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, the whole of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and all of the Epistle to the Colossians, and you will learn how profound and mystical was his union with the Lord-yet his life was characterized by "vigor and efficacy."
John Tauler was one of the greatest of the mystics, living in profound union with the Lord. Was he practical or was he a dreamer? When the Black Death raged in Strasburg John Tauler disregarded the Interdict, and worked day and night among the plague-stricken people. Surely there is something vigorous and efficacious about this man's fellowship with his Lord!
John Wesley was a mystic. For him to live was Christ! Did John Wesley pass his years in reveries and dreams? We cannot survey the practical life of the century without meeting him at every turn.
General Gordon was a mystic. His soldiers knew the meaning of the white handkerchief when it floated outside his tent, and the sacred privacy was not disturbed. Was he practical? The slums knew the sound of his feet, and the little waifs and strays found hospitality in the sunny rooms of his grace-blessed soul.
In all these examples the mystical union with the Lord resulted in marvelously practical energy, which issued in multiplied services for the race. "He that believeth on Me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water."
When "to live is Christ" everything is claimed for Him. Everything is sealed with the King's seal, and used for His exclusive glory. Said the saintly Bengel, "Quicquid vivo Christum vivo-Whatever I live, I live Christ!" Through whatever I am to live, I live Christ; I set upon everything the imprint of my Lord! Nothing is allowed to become an alien minister. No circumstance is allowed to raise the flag of revolt. Bengel made every circumstance in his life pay tribute to Christ.
Let me quote a little extract from an exquisite little book of Thomas Boston, a Scotch mystic, whose life was abounding in labors: "Learn that heavenly chemistry of extracting some spiritual thing out of earthly things. To this end endeavor after a heavenly frame, which will, as is recorded of the philosopher's stone, turn every metal into gold. When the soul is heavenly, it will even scrape jewels out of a dunghill."
All of this just means that a man in Christ can make his adverse environment ideal. He can make his disappointments his ministers. He can make his adversities the King's witnesses. He can make his very bereavements glorify his Lord. Whatever he lives, he lives Christ! If he lives through a season of sorrow, he lives Christ. If he lives through a season of commercial ruin, he lives Christ. If his path take him past a grave, he lives Christ! For him to live is Christ.
Abridged from the author's sermon, made available by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.ccel.org
John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) was born in Halifax, England, and educated at Edinburgh University and Oxford. He pastored large congregations on both sides of the Atlantic, serving many years at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. A master-craftsman of sermons, Jowett was called the greatest preacher of his time in the English-speaking world. Along with his numerous books of sermons and meditations, J. H. Jowett is known for his commentaries on the Pauline Epistles.