From Notes of an Address
We begin of necessity by looking at discipleship from its negative side. Certain things there are which must be taken up, and certain things which must be forsaken, if ever we are to become disciples of the Lord Jesus: as is set before us in such a passage as Luke 14:25-35. We must not however make the mistake of overlooking the positive side of this great matter.
The positive side is brought before us in the gospel of John. In his eighth chapter we read of those who are “disciples indeed,” and of what marks them. Such are graduates, if we may so put it, in this great school which is under such a Master.
Let us follow out the illustration. There is a matriculation test which we must pass before we can enter the school, and this is brought before us in the gospel of Luke. Then in John’s gospel, chapter 6, we get examples of those who failed to matriculate and of those who passed, together with the how and why of it all, before we come to the marks of the graduate in John 8.
In John 6 we find the Lord announcing to His disciples His approaching death. His flesh, He said, He was going to give for the life of the world. Then He intimated that they too would have to accept death, for they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood. They however had followed Him as King and expected that He would at any time take His kingdom. He now speaks not of the kingdom but of the cross, whilst they were prepared for a place in the kingdom without a cross. Ascending the throne of David in Jerusalem was one thing: ascending “up where He was before,” and that practically from a cross, was quite another.
Many had accepted the path of followers in view of His kingdom, but now they discover it is going to lead to death and the cross. They could not take up the cross. They could not stand sharing the reproach of Christ. “This is an hard saying,” they said, who can hear it? The result was that, “from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.” In this we see the “cross” test and its result. The crowd melts like snow before the sun! They failed in the matriculation and did not reach the list of those who are disciples indeed!
Yet there were those who did pass the matriculation. “Will ye also go away?” said the Lord to the rest. Peter was foremost with the answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” The one company was charmed by the attractions of the kingdom; the other was charmed by the attractions of the King. One company was affected by what they could have; the other by Whom they could have. Only the latter stood. It indicates to us at once, that only those who follow Christ for His own sake can successfully take the path of discipleship.
Bartimaeus furnishes us with a shining example of one who passed the test. We have the record of how he got his sight at the end of Mark 10, and he illustrates for us the power of personal attraction over all other considerations. He had heard the voice of Jesus as He called him to Him: now his eyes were open, and for the first time a new Object struck his sight. He saw the One who had saved him from dying in physical darkness. Their eyes met and Jesus said to him, “Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” His reply was in effect, “Thy way is my way.” This he said by his action rather than by his words, for he “followed Jesus in the way;” the way that led Him to the cross, for Jericho was only about twenty miles from Jerusalem and Calvary.
Home and friends were but little to Bartimaeus compared with Christ. The sights of Jericho had no interest for him. He could well have sung with us,
“I have heard the voice of Jesus,
Tell me not of aught beside.
I have seen the face of Jesus,
All my heart is satisfied.”
He not only passed his matriculation at the first attempt but he passed with distinction, and it is easy to see how it came about. The grace that had brought him sight and salvation so effectually touched his heart that his love and devotion found a natural outlet and expression in taking the path with Christ. Constrained by love he became a “disciple indeed,” a graduate in the school of a new Master.
Who asked him to take that path? No one. Did he say—I will follow Thee after I have said farewell to them at home? No. He might have argued—If this person were really God-sent, surely more people would be following. But he did not; and as a matter of fact the Lord Himself always distrusted the crowd. The disciple is not compelled into the path, but rather constrained, and only that constraint will keep him in that path. He is not hedged about by musts and mustn’ts, nor by oughts and oughln’ts, but he is charmed, lured into the path; and his reason could be given in four sweet and telling lines,
“But ah! the Master is so fair.
His smile so sweet to banished men,
That they who meet it unaware,
Can never rest on earth again.”
It was said that the personal charm of Prince Charlie, of historic renown, was such that when one, who thought he could influence him to pursue a different course, sought an interview with him, he was dissuaded from it by friends. They said to him “Don’t you go and see him, for instead of persuading him you will find that the moment you see him you will do all that he asks you.” Happy it is for us when we come under the sweet constraint of Christ.
Having entered the school of Christ we go through it in order that we may become graduates or “disciples indeed.” What are the characteristics of true disciples? We may sum these up under three heads.
In John 8:31 we read, how Jesus said, “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed.” Notice that here it is not, “My commands” nor, “My words” but, “My word.” His words are His communications, His word is His testimony. We may note the same difference in the way the Lord used these terms in John 17. There He says, “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me” (v. 8), and also. “I have given them Thy word; and the world hath hated them” (v. 14). All the communications which He had received of His Father He had handed on to His disciples, all the details of the privileges which were to be theirs He communicated to them. But then He gave them also the whole testimony which He had received of His Father, and this carried with it great responsibility. The word was the testimony for which He stood, and both it and He were rejected by the world. The disciples having accepted that testimony, and continuing in it. would get the world’s hatred too.
We are to continue in Christ’s word or testimony. That which He stood for must be continued in us if we are to be truly His disciples. What the Master stood for the scholar must stand for. Like Master, like pupil! The ideals and methods and spirit of the Master must be pursued and perpetuated by the scholar.
We are to “hold fast” His word, as the Lord says to Philadelphia in Revelation 3, and we must not shirk the responsibilities connected with it. People will crowd your meetings and nod their heads approvingly and smile, while you discourse to them on Christian privileges and yet make no hint at the responsibilities that attach to every privilege. If you bring them face to face with their responsibilities you may find them absenting themselves and complaining that the meeting is too long, or the seats are too hard, or the weather is too cold or wet, or something of that sort!
In John 13:35 we find another word which says, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” That is the great feature which evidences our discipleship without question. It is not to be seen so much in what we know of the testimony, but in what we show of the Master’s spirit. The public witness lies here, and so we find it recorded of the apostles in the Acts, for even their bitterest enemies “took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” Men may approve your Christian life and love even if they don’t exactly love you. Love displaying itself in action is what men can see, and is the external proof of true discipleship.
Lastly, in John xv. 8 we read, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.” The fruit that we can bear is given to us in all its details in Galatians v. 22, 23, and we find the details to be just those features which in all perfection characterized the Lord Jesus Christ. Fruit therefore is exactly the reproducing of the features of the Master by the scholars. Thus there is not only testimony to men but fruit to God.
These things marking a believer he has not only passed the matriculation test but he has become a graduate—a disciple indeed. May this be the aim of every one of us!