The Beginning of Service
About a quarter of four one afternoon, three young men were standing together on a road leading down to a swift-running river. It was an old road, beaten down hard by thousands of feet through hundreds of years. It led down to the river, and then along its bank through a village scatteringly nestled by the fords of the river. The young men were intently absorbed in conversation.
One of them was a man to attract attention anywhere. He was clearly the leader of the three. His clothing was very plain, even to severeness. His face was spare, suggesting a diet as severely plain as his garments. The abundance of dark hair on head and face brought out sharply the spare, thoughtful, earnest look of his face. His eyes glowed like coals of living fire beneath the thick, bushy eyebrows. He talked quietly but intensely. There was a subdued vigor and force about his very person.
One of the others was a very different type of man. He was intense too, like the leader, but there was a fineness and a far-looking depth about his eye such as suggests a gray eye rather than a black. His hair was softer and finer, and his skin too. In him intensity seemed to blend with a fine grain in his whole make-up. The third man was a quiet, matter-of-fact looking fellow. He did not talk much, except to ask an occasional question. The three men were engaged in earnest conversation, when a fourth man, a stranger, came down the road and, passing the three by, went on ahead.
The leader of the three called the attention of his companions to the stranger. At once they leave his side and go after the stranger. As they nearly catch up to him, he unexpectedly turns and in a kindly voice asks, "Whom are you looking for?" Taken aback by the unexpected question, they do not answer, but ask where he is going. Quickly noticing the point of their question, he cordially says, "Come over and take tea with me."
They gladly accepted the invitation, and spent the evening with him. And the friendship begun that day continued to the end of their lives. Both became his dear friends. And one, the fine-grained, intense man, became his closest bosom friend. He never forgot that day. When he came years after to write about his hospitable friend, found that afternoon, he could remember every particular of their first meeting. We must always be grateful to John for his simple, full account of his first meeting with Jesus.
His simple story of that afternoon contains in it the three steps that begin all service. They looked at Jesus; they talked with Jesus; forever to the end of their lives they talked about Him. Here are the two personal contacts that underlie all service, that lead into all service. The close personal contact with Jesus begun and continued. And then personal contact with other men ever after. The first always leads to the second. The power and helpfulness of the second grow out of the first.
There is a little line in the story that may serve as a graphic biography of John the Herald. There could be no finer biography of anybody of whom it could be truly written. It is this: "Looking upon Jesus as He walked, he said look." He himself was absorbed in looking. Jesus caught him from the first. He was ever looking. And he asked others to look. His whole ministry was summed up in pointing Jesus out to others.
He was ever insisting that men look at Jesus. Looking, he said "look." His lips said it, and life said it. John's presence was always spelling out that word "look," with his whole life an index finger pointing to Jesus. If we might be like that. Every man of us may be in his life, in the great unconscious influence of his presence, a clearly lettered signpost pointing men to the Master. All true service begins in personal contact with Jesus. One cannot know Him personally without catching the warm contagion of His spirit for others. And there is a fine fragrance, a gentle, soft warmth, about the service that grows out of being with Him.
The beginning of John's contact with Jesus that day, and Andrew's, was in looking. Their friend the herald bid them look. They found him looking. They did as he was doing. Following the line of his eyes, and of his teaching too, and of his life, they looked at Jesus. And as they looked the sight of their eyes began to control them. They left John and quickened their pace to get nearer to this Man at whom they were looking. There never was a finer tribute to a man's faithfulness to his Master than is found in these men leaving John. They could not help going. They had been led by John into the circle of Jesus' attractive power. And at once they are irresistibly drawn toward its center.
The basis of the truest devotion and deepest loyalty to Jesus is not in a creed but in Himself. There must be creeds. Whatever a man believes is of course his creed. Though as quickly as he puts it into words he narrows it. Truth is always more than any statement of it. Faith is always greater than our words about it. We do not see Jesus with our outer eyes as did these men in the Gospel narrative. We cannot put out our hands in any such way as Thomas did and know by the feel. We must listen first to somebody telling about Him.
We listen either with eyes on the Book, or ears open to some faithful mutual friend of His and ours. What we hear either way is a creed, somebody's belief about Jesus. So we come to Jesus first through a creed, somebody's belief, somebody's telling: so we know there is a Jesus, and are drawn to Himself. When we come to know Himself, always afterwards He is more than anything anybody ever told us, and more than we can ever tell.
Looking at Jesus—what does it mean practically? It means hearing about Him first, then actually appealing to Him, accepting His word as personal to one's self, putting Him to the test in life, trusting His death to square up one's sin score, trusting His power to clean the heart and sweeten the spirit, and stiffen the will. It means holding the whole life up to His ideals. Aye, it means more yet; something on His side, an answering look from Him. There comes a consciousness within of His love and winsomeness. That answering look of His holds us forever after His willing slaves, love's slaves. Paul speaks of the eyes of the heart. It is with these eyes we look at Him, and receive His answering look.
There are different ways of looking at Jesus, degrees in looking. Our experiences with Jesus affect the eyes of the heart. When this same John as an old man was writing that first epistle, he seems to recall his experience in looking that first day. He says "that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld." From seeing with the eyes he had gone to earnest, thoughtful gazing, caught with the vision of what he saw. That was John's own experience. It is everybody's experience that gets a look at Jesus. When the first looking sees something that catches fire within, then does the inner fire affect the eye and more is seen.
You have been in a strange city walking down the street, looking with interest at what is there. But all at once you are caught by a sign that contains a familiar name, and at once a whole flood of memories is awakened.
The little Jericho Jew peering down from the low out-reaching sycamore branch was full of curiosity to see the Man that had changed his old friend Levi Matthew so strangely. But that curiosity quickly changes into something far deeper and more tender as Jesus comes to abide in his own home.
That lonely-lifed, sore-hearted woman on the Nain road looked with startled wonder out of those wet eyes of hers as Jesus begins talking to her dead son. What love and faith must have been in her looking as Jesus with fine touch brings her boy by the hand over to her warm embrace again!
Looking at Jesus changes us. Paul's famous bit in the second Corinthian letter has a wondrous tingle of gladness in it. "We all with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are changed from glory to glory." The change comes through our looking. The changing power comes in through the eyes. It is the glory of the Lord that is seen. The glorious Jesus looking in through our looking eyes changes us. It is gradual. It is ever more, and yet more, till by and by His own image comes out fully in our faces.
We become like those with whom we associate. A man's ideals mold him. Living with Jesus makes us look like Himself. We are familiar with the work that has been done in restoring old fine paintings. A painting by one of the rare old master painters is found covered with the dust of decades. Time has faded out much of the fine coloring and clearly marked outlines. With great patience and skill it is worked over and over. And something of the original beauty, coming to view again, fully repays the workman for all his pains.
The original image in which we were made has been badly obscured and faded out. But if we give our great Master a chance He will restore it through our eyes. It will take much patience and a skill nothing less than divine. But the original will surely come out more and more till we shall again be like the original, for we shall see Him as He is.
The old German artist Hoffmann is said to visit at intervals the royal gallery in Dresden, where he lives, to touch up his paintings there. Even so our Master, living in us, keeps touching us up that the full beauty of His ideal may be brought out.
How often a girl growing up into the fullness of her mature young womanhood calls out the remark, "You are growing more and more like your mother." And the similar remark is heard of a young man developing the traits and features of his father.
There is a law of unconscious assimilation. We become like those with whom we go. Without being conscious of it we take on the characteristics of those with whom we live. I remember one time my brother returned home for a visit after a prolonged absence. As we were walking down the street together he said to me, "You have been going with Denning a good deal"—a mutual friend of ours. Surprised, I said, "How do you know I have?" He said, "You walk just like him." What my brother had said was strictly true, though he did not know it. Our friend had a very decided way of walking. As a matter of fact, we had been walking home from the Young Men's Christian Association three or four nights every week. And unconsciously I had grown to imitate his way of walking.
That sentence of Paul's has also this meaning, "We all with open face reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are changed." We stand between Him and those who don't know Him. We are the mirror catching the rays of His face and sending them down to those around. And not only do those around see the light—His light—in us, but we are being changed all the while. For others' sake as well as our own the mirror should be kept clean, and well polished so the reflection will be distinct and true.
Looking at Jesus changes the world for us. It is as though the light of His eyes fills our eyes and we see things all around as He sees them. Have you ever gone out, as a child, and looked intently at the sun, repressing the flinching its strength caused and insisting on looking? You could do it for a short time only. It made your eyes ache. But as you turned your eyes away from its brilliance you found everything changed. You remember a beautiful yellow glory-light was over everything, and every ugly jagged thing was softened and beautified by that glow in your eyes. Looking at the sun had changed the world for you for a little.
It is something like that on this higher plane, in this finer sense. That must have been something of Paul's thought in explaining the glory of Jesus that he saw on the Damascus road. "When I could not see for the glory of that light." The old ideals were blurred. The old ambitions faded away. The jagged, sharp lines of sacrifice and suffering involved in his new life were not clearly seen. A halo had come over them.
I recall a bit of a poem I ran across in an old magazine somewhere. It was one of those vagrant, orphan poems with fine family lineaments that find their way unfathered into odd corners of papers. It told about a man riding on horseback through a bit of timber land in one of the cotton states of the South.
It was a bright October day, and he was riding along enjoying the air and view, when all at once he came across a bit of a clearing in the trees, and in the clearing an old cabin almost fallen to pieces, and in the doorway of the cabin an old negress standing. Her back was bent nearly double with the years of hard work, her face dried up and deeply bitten with wrinkles, and her hair white. But her eyes were as bright as two stars out of the dark blue, it said.
And the man called out cheerily, "Good-morning, auntie, living here all alone?" And she looked up, with her eyes brighter yet with the thought in her heart, and in a shrill keyed-up voice said, "Jes me 'n' Jesus, massa." But he said a hush came over the whole place, there seemed a halo about the old broken-down cabin, and he thought he could see Somebody standing by her side looking over her shoulder at him, and His form was like that of the Son of God.
How poor and limited and mean her world looked to him as he rode up. But how quickly everything changed as he saw it through her seeing of it. With the keen insight into spirit things so often found in such simplicity among her race, she had gotten the whole simple philosophy of life. Her world was changed and beautiful in the loneliness of the woods by reason of her Master's presence.
This removes the commonplace at once clear out of one's life. There is no drudgery nor humdrum nor hardship, because everything is for Jesus, and seen through His eyes. Whatever comes in the pathway of his work is gladdest joy, whether an obscure narrow round of home work or shop or store, or leaving home for a strange land far across the sea with a peculiarly uncongenial spirit atmosphere. Contact with Jesus, seeing Him, changes all for us.
These two men in the story went from their first looking into closer contact. They looked at Jesus. Then they talked with Jesus. It was at His own request. He wanted them. He wanted their friendship and their help. Having started, it was easy for them to go. Having seen, they naturally wanted more. At least two hours they talked, maybe longer. Judging by what they did as soon as they got away, it was a most wonderful talk for them.
This Jesus took them at once. His face, His presence, His talk, Himself filled all their sky. Everything swung around into a new setting. He was its center. All things began to adjust themselves for these men about Jesus. He was irresistible to them. These two men went through some most trying experiences as a result of the friendship formed that evening hour, but these counted not in the scale with Him. They never got over the talk with Him that twilight hour.
That two hours' talk lengthened out into many another during the years immediately after. They got into the habit of referring everything to Him, and of judging everything by what He would think. It was so clear to the end of their lives. For a little over three years did they keep Him by their side actually, physically. But the habit of keeping Him there was fixed for all the longer after years. The looking at Jesus and talking with Jesus ever went side by side clear to the end of the years.
It will be so. Getting a good look at this Master draws one off into the quiet corner with the Book to listen and talk and learn more. And out of this naturally grows (if one will give a little attention to good gardening rules) the habit of talking with Him all the time. In the thick of the crowd, in the solitude of one's duties, with hands full of work, the heart talks with Him and listens, and sometimes the tongue talks out too. Our common word for it is prayer. Prayer precedes true service, and produces it, and sweetens it. Only the service that grows up naturally out of this personal contact with Jesus counts and tells and weighs for the most.
These two men went away from Jesus that evening only to come back with some others. They went from talking with Him to talking with others for Him. Their personal contact was the beginning of their service. This is one of the famous personal work chapters. There are three "findeths" in it. Andrew findeth his brother Peter. That was a great find. John in his modesty doesn't speak of it, but in all likelihood he findeth James his brother. Jesus findeth Philip and Philip in turn findeth Nathaniel, the guileless man.
That word findeth is very suggestive, even to being picturesque. It tells the absence of these other men. Their whereabouts might be guessed, but were not known. There was in the searchers a purpose, and a warmth in the heart under that purpose. As Andrew looked and listened he said to himself, "Peter must hear this; Peter must see this Man." And perhaps he asks to be excused and, reaching for his hat, hastens out to get his brother and bring him back to the house. He wants more himself, but he'll get it with Peter in too. And so it would be with John likely.
Peter had to be searched for. Most men do. He was probably absorbed with all his impulsive intensity in some matter on hand. May be Andrew had to pull quite a bit to get him started. But he got him. Andrew was a good sticker: hard to shake him off. His is a fine name for a brotherhood of personal workers. And when Peter once got started he never quit going. He stumbled some, but he got up, and got up only to go on. Most men need some one to get them started. There's need of more starters, more of us starting people moving Jesus' way.
I think the memory of this evening's work with Peter must have come back very vividly to Andrew one morning a few years afterwards. It's up on the hills of Judea, in Jerusalem. There's a great crowd of people standing in the streets, filling the space for a great distance. There are some thousands of them. They are listening spellbound to a man talking. It is Peter. And down there near by, maybe holding Peter's hat while he talks, is Andrew. His eyes are glowing. And if you might listen to his heart talking, I think you would hear it saying softly, "I'm so glad I brought Peter that evening I met Jesus." Peter's talk that day swung three thousand men and women over to Jesus. Somebody has said that if Peter were their spiritual father, certainly Andrew was their spiritual grandfather. And I think God reckons the thing that way, too.
There is a great deal of good talk these days about regenerating society. It used to be that men talked about "reaching the masses." Now the other putting of it is commoner. It is helpful talk whichever way it is put. The Gospel of Jesus is to affect all society. It has affected all society, and is to more and more. But the thing to mark keenly is this, the key to the mass is the man. The way to regenerate society is to start on the individual.
The law of influence through personal contact is too tremendous to be grasped. You influence one man and you have influenced a group of men, and then a group around each man of the group, and so on endlessly. Hand-picked fruit gets the first and best market. The keenest marksmen are picked out for the sharpshooters' corps.
One morning with a friend I walked out of the city of Geneva to where the waters of the lake flow with swift rush into the Rhone. And we were both greatly interested in the strange sight which has impressed so many travellers. There are two rivers whose waters come together here, the Rhone and the Arve, the Arve flowing into the Rhone. The waters of the Rhone are beautifully clear and sparkling. The waters of the Arve come through a clayey soil and are muddy, gray, and dull. And for a long distance the two waters are wholly distinct. Two rivers of water are in one river-bed, on one side the sparkling blue Rhone water, on the other the dull gray Arve water, and the line between the two sharply defined. And so it continues for a long distance. Then gradually they blend and the gray begins to tinge all through the blue.
I went to the guide-book and maps to find out something about this river that kept on its way undefiled by its neighbor for so long. Its source is in a glacier that is between ten thousand and eleven thousand feet high, descending "from the gates of eternal night, at the foot of the pillar of the sun." It is fed continually by the melting glacier which, in turn, is being kept up by the snows and cold. Rising at this great height, ever being renewed steadily by the glacier, it comes rushing down the swift descent of the Swiss Alps through the lake of Geneva and on. There is the secret of purity, side by side with its dirty neighbor.
Our lives must have their source high up in the mountains of God, fed by a ceaseless supply. Only so can there be the purity, and the momentum that shall keep us pure, and keep us moving down in contact with men of the earth. And we must keep closer to the source than is the Rhone at Geneva, else the streams flowing alongside will unduly influence us. Constant personal contact with Jesus is the beginning ever new of service.