H. Elliot Tickle
PUBLISHING COMMITTEE OF
CHURCHES OF CHRIST,
Retyped 1996 by
1 Kenilworth Avenue
Reading, RG30 3DL
PREPARED FOR USE ON THE INTERNET BY:
ARCHES CHURCH OF CHRIST, BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND.
IN accordance with Resolution 42 of the GENERAL ANNUAL MEETING OF CHURCHES OF CHRIST, held at Liverpool in August, 1900, the Publishing Committee invited a number of well-known writers to prepare pamphlets on selected topics. On the whole the response has been very encouraging. The writers are all busy workers, who, without fee or reward, have readily under-taken this extra task, in hope of advancing the glorious cause which has for its aim THE COMPLETE RESTORATION OF CHRISTIANITY AS PERFECTED BY CHRIST AND HIS HOLY APOSTLES. It is hoped the Churches and individual members will heartily do their part by purchasing and circulating these booklets. It is with unfeigned pleasure the Committee issues the following by Mr. H. ELLIOT TICKLE, of Glasgow. Theme and writer should secure for it a hearty reception, and we feel sure its careful perusal cannot fail to impart a more exalted conception of "CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP." Nothing more suitable can be put into the hands of inquirers and young disciples.
May be ordered from Mr. J. NORTH, Erskine Street, Leicester.
Single Copies, post free, 1d. Per hundred, carriage paid, 7/-.
By H. E. TICKLE.
DISCIPLESHIP IN GENERAL.
IN almost every period of the world's history there have been outstanding men, who, in virtue, it may be, of their wisdom, learning, eloquence, or sanctity, have possessed and exercised the faculty of drawing away disciples after them. It has ever been that the many have been content to follow the few; and too often it has happened that the few have been ready to exploit the credulity of the many.
The Philosophers and Rhetoricians of classical times had each their "school," in which, or rather, to whom they imparted the peculiar tenets of their philosophy, or the distinguishing graces of their oratory. These "schools" were companies of admiring followers who imbibed and, in turn, promulgated the teaching of their respective masters.
In the times of the Old Testament prophets such "schools" were in existence. In them young men were instructed in the law as delivered by Moses - that great leader of whom through succeeding ages so many were prepared to avow themselves disciples, even to the disparagement of One who was greater than Moses.
It would be interesting to dwell upon some modern phases of discipleship, and note the influence of men of light and leading upon our day and generation, but the temptation must be resisted.
But apart from personal influence, it has to be recognised that principles, systems of thought, forms of government, and what not, attract certain classes of mind, drawing men together while at the same time separating them from their fellows. To recall the Phariseeism and Sadduceeism of the Saviour's time, and simply refer to the innumerable "isms" of the present day, must suffice to show how susceptible the human mind is to such influences.
Our present interests centre, however, in a Person; in One who is acknowledged to be without a peer as leader of men. Moses, Confucius, Gaudama, Mohammed have each had and still have an innumerable following; but, apart form numbers, in all that constitutes a true claim to universal leadership - viz., power to win, power to improve, and power to keep, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, stands without a rival. Moreover, this unique power is manifested among all sorts and conditions of men. The most highly civilised, as also the most degraded of earth, men of all colours and climes have come under its potent influence, with the uniform effect that the bad have been made good, and the good have been made better. Such a fact demands recognition, and invites investigation as to the secret of its thrall. It has aroused wonder and envy among some of the great of the world. That would-be world-ruler, Napoleon I. is reported to have expressed himself, in respect to Jesus and his hold upon humanity, in the following terms:-
"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself have founded empires, but upon what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded His empire upon love, and at this moment millions of men would die for him. Across a chasm of 1800 years he makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; he asks for that which a philosopher may seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart. He will have it entirely for Himself. He demands it unconditionally, and forthwith the demand is granted. Wonderful!"
To the secret of this wonderful supremacy over the hearts of men we have yet to refer.
The word DISCIPLE comes to us from the Latin, and is one of many which we have adopted without taking the trouble to translate. The Latin discipulus signifies one who received instruction from another. In its fuller acceptation disciple may be taken as synonymous with learner, scholar, pupil, follower, adherent, partisan. In the New Testament the Anglicised Latin word disciple, has been chosen by the translators of both Authorised and Revised versions to represent the Greek word matheetees, which is the noun form of the verb manthan", "to learn". The union thus established between the Greek word and its Latin translator, gives prominence to the thought that a disciple is primarily "a learner." But in reducing the word thus to its primary and simple meaning, it is important to apprehend the fact that, everywhere in the Divine testimonies, the presentation of discipleship is altogether opposed to any merely theoretical acquisition of knowledge. The education involved is one of heart as well as head, and its applied results affect every domain of human experience, whether in the life that now is, or that which is to come.
This will be made abundantly clear as we enquire into the methods by which disciples are sought, made, and confirmed.
CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP IN PARTICULAR.
THE mission of the Christ was to seek and save that which was lost. His earthly ministry was avowedly confined to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but, like a brimming river, His love and sympathy ever and anon overflowed the banks of strict nationality. Such overflowings were blessed earnests of that ultimate out-widening of the Divine compassion, which, like a mighty ocean, was to lave the shores of every land, bringing the blessings of salvation to every age.
"There's a wideness in God's mercy, like the wideness of the sea."
The nature of God's love, and the extent of man's need are made abundantly clear in the Gospel of Christ. The redemption wrought at Calvary was race-wide. It was in infinite compassion that Jesus looked on the multitudes going astray, accounting them as sheep having no shepherd. It was with a consciousness of power to meet their deepest need that he breathed forth the invitation, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
In view of these considerations it is manifest that, from both the Divine and human standpoints, the question of the success of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of vital moment. It was one, the object of which was to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number. It must be remembered, however, that there is nothing more difficult than to make a true assessment of the success or otherwise of moral or spiritual enterprises. The world most frequently takes the short and simple method of counting heads. But an appraisement which takes no account of moral force or fibre is ludicrously astray.
Even in the prosecution of the highest aims, the tendency with men is to pander to popularity, and find shortcuts to success. The discovery of the line of least resistance is made a scientific problem; and the theory that the end justifies the means, is made to cover a multitude of lapses from strict rectitude.
But not so with the Lord Jesus. The incidents of the temptation in the wilderness are proof that in being "made like unto His brethren in all things," He was subjected to the very influences to which so many succumb. With Him there was no temporising between absolute right and doubtful expediency. He always calmly chose the longer, harder, but safer, path.
So in this matter of discipleship we find Him deliberately choosing quality rather than quantity. While yearning over men with a Divine longing that would have all men to be save, he was so Divinely wise and loving as to be absolutely faithful to himself and His would-be disciples. Indeed, at times He seemed to press faithfulness almost to the verge of severity, presenting truth with such startling baldness and, withal, imposing conditions calculated rather to repel than attract. In an age when there is so much of the form of godliness, but devoid of power; when a merely nominal discipleship is regarded as a necessary badge of respectability, a careful and prayerful study of Christ's methods in this matter of discipling cannot fail to be profitable.
It will repay us briefly to glance at some of these object lessons. The three cases referred to by Luke (Chap. ix. 57-62) are doubtless typical of many others.
The first is that of a man who had been so attracted by Christ that he would fain become a disciple. "Lord," he said, "I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." Brave words these, and good. But did the man fully understand what was involved in such a decision? If not, then not for one moment was he left in doubt. "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head."
To another the command came in brief, but imperative terms - "Follow me." But the call issued at a somewhat inconvenient moment. With apparent readiness to comply, at a more opportune time, he prefers what seems to be a natural and reasonable request. The remains of a loved father call in silent eloquence for the performance of the last act of filial affection. "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father." We know full well that it was neither callousness to human sorrow, nor indifference to the claims of kinship that made the "Weeping One of Bethany" reply as He did. "Leave the dead," said He, "to bury their dead; but go thou and publish the Kingdom of God." These words become a touchstone whereby we attain to some conception (1) of the honour of co-operating with God in the establishment of His Kingdom on earth; and (2) the all-importance of men being brought into right relations to Him and His reign.
The last of the three was, like the first, well-disposed towards discipleship. But he, too, would fain discharge his filial obligations, not to the dead, but to the living. "I will follow Thee, Lord, but first suffer me to bid farewell to them that are at my house." To this very modest and natural request the Master made no direct reply. In simple parabolic form, however, he laid down one of the basal principles of discipleship. It may be that the All-seeing eye perceived the danger lurking, for this man, in conditions so creditable alike to head and heart. He might not be proposing to consult with flesh and blood with regard to the proposed step, but all human experience testifies to the danger of so doing when the claims of duty hang in the balance. In any case there was the possibility, nay probability, that the tender home-ties and associations of a life-time might prove too strong for him; and his good, and well-expressed intentions be overridden. To him Jesus said simply and solemnly, "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God."
How much we would like to know something of the sequel of these three interesting interviews! Did the one step forward to share the hard couch and scanty fare involved in that "whithersoever"? Did the other set out, at once, upon that great mission, in the discharge of which he would be permitted to stand, as it were, between the dead and the living? Did the last-named forego all the dear claims of home and kin, and firmly grasp the plough-handle? We know not. But this we know, that each of them was the subject of a discriminating wisdom, tempered with Divine love and pity; and of this we are assured that, in so acting, the Master had in view the truest welfare of each individual and the highest interests of His Kingdom.
Still a fourth case bespeaks attention, for, in regard to it, we are left in no doubt as to the result of the Saviour's faithfulness. A young man well-nurtured, piously-inclined, exemplary of life, strongly influenced by a consciousness of the powers of the world to come, such are the characteristics of one, than whom it seems difficult to imagine a more hopeful and eligible disciple. He is possessed with the belief that the secret of the assurance he seeks is with Jesus. "Good Master," he enquired, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" It was with him a matter of seeking the righteousness which is by the law; and when the tests, accumulative and searching, were applied, he stood the ordeal as few could have done. "All these have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" was the response of a conscious integrity that called forth the love and admiration of the Master. How "near to the Kingdom" this young man was we can only surmise; but infinite love and wisdom could not withhold a final crucial test, which at once laid bare the secret of the soul's unrest. "Go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow Me." It was "almost," not "altogether;" and to be almost in the Kingdom of God, whether of grace or of glory, is to be altogether out. The young man went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. The price was too high, even for eternal life. How the Saviour must have sorrowed likewise! but the human soul and eternal life were, in His sight, things far too important to be trifled with, or trafficked in, for all the riches in the world.
In His general teaching Jesus adopts the same uncompromising attitude in regard to the qualifications for discipleship. In the correlative parables of the man intending to build a tower, and the king going to make war against another king, His aim is to emphasise the importance of "counting the cost." He would fain impress upon men in all ages that to be a faithful follower of His may involve much. Whether viewed from within or without, the claims of discipleship are undoubtedly great. In the domain of personal sanctification the fight with the world, the flesh, and devil is certain to be fierce and unremitting. In the realm of service, to be a bond slave of Christ means labour protracted and strenuous. Certainly the disciple does not go to this warfare or engage in this service at his own charges. He would entirely fail if he did. But in order that God may be able to co-operate, to "will and work of His good pleasure," there must be on the part of the individual a deliberate choosing; a preparedness for consequences; a fear and trembling begotten of an earnest purpose. It is therefore incumbent upon all who have the privilege and responsibility of dealing with would-be-followers of the Master, that they direct attention, in all love and faithfulness, to the exceeding importance of "counting the cost." Of course, this must be done with all regard to the advantages accruing to the faithful disciple; and those "aids of heavenly power" which are ever at his command.
Two other brief, but pregnant utterances of Jesus deserve attention. In these He sets forth the minimum of His demands, and this in a manner so striking, nay, startling, as to justify the words of Napoleon already quoted. "If any man come unto Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple." We do well not to seek to minimise the force of these, and other, soul-arresting words of Jesus; but in the light of other teaching, as, for example, His exposition of the two great commandments of the law, we are justified, we think, in concluding that this condition of hating one's nearest and dearest, is a striking metonymic contrast to the love demanded of the true disciple. The Master's demand is for a love so true and overmastering, and not only to far transcend all earthly loves, but requiring the sacrifice of all, even life itself, if the interests of His cause demand it.
Elsewhere the Master indicates with more exactitude the point at which the severest test of discipleship may be encountered. The experience of multitudes has attested the absolute accuracy of the forecast. In one of those strange paradoxes which, ever and anon, flash out in the teachings of Jesus, we find the declaration that He, the "Prince of Peace," came "not to send peace on earth, but a sword." "I am come," he said, "to set a man at variance against his father; and the daughter against her mother; and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household." Strange doctrines these, and strange methods to be adopted on the part of a would-be-leader among men; and He one who would fain draw "all men" unto Himself. Does it surprise us to hear that at one point, during His personal ministry, when men were more observant of the hardness of the doctrine than conversant with the sweetness and power of redeeming love, many who had been reckoned as disciples turned back, and walked no more with Him? So attenuated were the ranks, that Jesus turned to the Twelve and said, "Will ye also go away?" But the reply came as from men who had counted the cost, and had staked their all - "Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
Yes! there must be something behind such claims, presented in such a manner; some powers not of this world; some graces not inherent to man; some rewards that the world can neither give nor take away. Else how can we account for the host of men and women, in all ages, who have cheerfully taken up their cross; forsaken all that was dearest to them in life; suffered the loss of all things, counting them but dung; yea, sacrificed life itself, that they might be counted worthy to be His disciples?
HOW DISCIPLES WERE TO BE MADE.
IT is now necessary to examine more closely into the nature of the impelling or attracting force lying behind the claims which Jesus makes upon His disciples. It is clear there must be an understanding and appreciation of this motive power before there can be any adequate response on the part of the individual. The bond that unites the two parties to this greatest of compacts is a mystery which the world cannot solve on the grounds of pure philosophy. But the solution comes to the individual as a personal blessed experience.
"The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know."
The Apostle Paul, than whom none paid a higher price for the privilege of discipleship and the guerdon of martyrdom, sums up the whole problem, in its theoretical and mental aspects, in two brief, but pregnant, propositions. "For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died: and He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again" (2 Cor. v. 14, 15). "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now love in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal. ii. 20).
These two declarations go to the root of the subject we are considering. Taken in connection with the concrete example of their author's life and work, they explain the marvellous change that came into that life. They account for the fact that Saul of Tarsus, the arch-persecutor of the Church of God, became Paul the bond-slave of Christ. They reveal the secret of the renunciation of prospects in life such as few of the most favoured may aspire to; the influence that constrained him to a life of absolute self-surrender, a life which was indeed a living death, and which closed with the fiery trial of martyrdom.
Christ's love for Paul called forth Paul's love for Christ. That was the Alpha and Omega of his discipleship.
What was true of Paul holds good throughout the whole realm of genuine Christian discipleship. Various motives and influences, such as fear, gratitude, admiration, may, and do, come into operation in the Christian life, but LOVE must be the vital principle that underlies and binds them together. Calvary, with its manifestation of Divine love is the only power that can move the heart, subdue the will, change the life, and command the service; and all these are involved in an adequate response to the Saviour's command - "Follow me." The Christ is that which alone gives the victory over sin and self, which overcomes the world, and makes fruitful unto every good word and work.
THE ORDINANCE OF PREACHING.
But the question arises: In what way or by what means is this all-conquering love to be awakened in the hearts of man? The question is an all-important one; the answer must be equally important. It is a matter of moment to Christ as well as to men. "The corn of wheat" had been cast into the ground, and had died; but the "much fruit" had yet to be gathered. The iniquity of the world had been laid upon the Christ; how then could he best be assured of the travail of His soul? The answer to these queryings must be found in the fact that the risen Christ gave certain instructions to His chosen ambassadors. It must be assumed, surely, that these commands embodied what, in the Divine wisdom, would prove the most efficient means of securing and conserving the best possible outcome from the two mightiest facts of history, viz., the death and resurrection of the Son of God.
According to Mark's record (Chap. xvi. 15, 16) the Saviour's command was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned."
So this ordinance of preaching the Gospel, the proclamation of the good news concerning a Saviour who died and rose again, is God's method of enlisting man's belief in, and love to, His Son. The apprehension of this fact is important in view of much present-day teaching and praying, which tend to land anxious souls in inextricable confusion, and at the same time detract from a sense of personal responsibility in regard to conversion.
Paul, writing to the Corinthians (12 Cor. i. 21-24) states the position most clearly and emphatically. "For after that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. ... But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God."
But Matthew's version of the Commission more closely affects our enquiry, showing as it does the Gospel in operation in the work of making and confirming disciples. As found in the A.V. it reads "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;" etc. The R.V., however, with greater accuracy of translation, reads, "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations," etc. The discipling then was to be accomplished by a process of teaching which would bring the heart under the influence of Divine love as evidenced in the Gospel, which Gospel "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
CONDITIONS OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
1. - FAITH.
THE command to "make disciples" or "disciple all the nations," is not, of course, a matter independent of the human will. "He that believeth" indicates the position and responsibility of the individual. "He that disbelieveth" is the recognition of man's power to withstand all the drawings of love and reject all the offers of mercy.
Faith is the fundamental principle of all relationship, as between man and man, of a pacific and elevating character. All social, commercial and international intercourse is predicated upon mutual trust and confidence, and these are essential elements of true faith. The same principle governs all true relationship between God and man. In all ages God has demanded, recognised, and rewarded faith, in Himself and His word.
The eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews contains the honours list of the ages, prior to the coming of the Messiah, and demonstrates faith to be the working principle in all that has been found most worthy of note in the world's history. In fact, in verse 6 the great truth is enunciated which is applicable to all time, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."
In the record of the life-work of the Lord Jesus, we find that the lack of faith restrained the out-goings of His healing power. In regard to His own country it is said, "And He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief." But where faith was manifested, whether within the borders of Israel, or by a Roman centurion, or a Syro-Phoenician woman, the response was a prompt and Divinely adequate one. And as in the case of the two blind men who came to the Master for physical healing, so has it been in the experience of all who have come to Him for spiritual eye-sight and soul-cleansing. "According to your faith, be it unto you."
Faith, in its last analysis, resolves into belief of testimony, whether human or divine. (Rom. x. 17.) But the faith involved in Christian discipleship is, as we have already indicated, something far and away beyond a merely intellectual assent to certain facts. It is such a grasp of these facts in their God-ward and man-ward significance as results in a surrender of heart and life in love and trustful confidence.
2. - REPENTANCE.
Those who thus receive the testimony of God concerning His Son; who see in the sacrifice of Christ not only the pledge of God's love to the sinner, but the measure of His hatred of sin, are called upon to Repent.
This is the first-fruit of a true faith - the turning away from the sin that made so great sacrifice necessary. So the believing heart-stricken Pentecostians were commanded to "Repent" of their terrible crime in having put to death the Lord of life and glory. Speaking at Antioch, Paul enforces the duty of repentance from the consideration that "God hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead."
3. - BAPTISM.
This brings us to the consideration of the third and final step in the Divinely-appointed process of disciple-making, viz., the immersion (baptizo does and can mean nothing else) of the believing repentant one "into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," or, as stated by Peter in the first proclamation of the Gospel, "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins."
If, in the consideration of this unit of the Lord's Commission, it be found necessary to elucidate its meaning at some length, the fault, if any, must lie at the door of the many, who, with almost one consent, make light of, or misconstrue this ordinance. Respect for the "analogy of the faith," or in other words, the conserving of all things pertaining to "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" in their respective places and proportions, should preserve us from appreciating on the one hand, or depreciating on the other, any specific doctrine or institution, beyond or below what is its intrinsic value or importance. While agreeing with the many as to the importance, though not with some as to the sequence, of Faith and Repentance, we deem it a matter much to be deplored that the many, as we think, fail to recognise the true meaning and beauty of the institution of Believers' Immersion. The perversion of this ordinance has very largely created, and it as largely perpetuates, the divisions that afflict the religious world.
It needs to be clearly apprehended, in the first place, that the position which baptism holds in the scheme of redemption is purely a relative one, as to importance; and an invariable one, as to sequence. There is no gainsaying the fact that in its scriptural, and therefore solely authoritative presentation, the ordinance is for those only who are of age and capacity to receive the Gospel message; and who, in virtue of their faith in Christ, have become dead to sin. Concerning such the word of the risen Saviour is - "He that believeth, and is baptised shall be saved."
Viewed as an initiatory ordinance, Baptism occupies a clearly defined position and possesses a peculiar appositeness. Human societies and professions recognise the necessity and advantage of initiatory rites, and act accordingly. In respect to the marriage relation, public and formal attestation is demanded as throwing around it the protection of law and morality. Such observances may be purely arbitrary, manifesting no very apparent connection with the object in view, and yet they serve a very important end. They may not in themselves affect the mind, heart, or will of the person submitting to them, but they affect, very materially, the state or relation of that person to the condition of life or organisation to which he aspires. Such acts are regarded as a line of demarcation, separating between those within and those without, and admitting the initiated into all the privileges and pleasures of the state or society to which they are linked.
Under the Mosaic dispensation, for example, proselytes were received into the Jewish commonwealth under conditions which made their standing unassailable. According to the almost unanimous testimony of Rabbinical writers, the recognised conditions of admission were circumcision, baptism, and the offering of sacrifice. But apart from what may, to some extent, be a tradition of the elders, we know that the institution of baptism bulked very largely in the mission of John the Forerunner. To the multitudes who flocked to his preaching, John had but one message, coupled with one command. These are comprehended in the statement - "John came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." John's mission, however, was purely preparatory; and his word to all who submitted to his baptism was, "that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."
Regarding Christ's personal ministry, we have it on record that he "made and baptised more disciples than John, though Jesus Himself baptised not, but His disciples." We have it thus established that all who accepted Him as the Messiah made public profession of their faith, and identified themselves with Him in the act of baptism.
Further, an inductive study of the Acts of Apostles affords this substantial result, that, in every case of conversion fully recorded therein, whether of Jews, Samaritans, or Gentiles, the same relation and sequence of conditions are found, affected only by the position to which the would-be-disciple had already attained. With all these facts before us, we cannot but conclude that Faith, Repentance, and Baptism maintain to each other a Divinely ordained relation, sequence, and inter-dependence, from which none may wrest them, but at peril of grave responsibility.
But a truly scriptural apprehension of this ordinance will make manifest that in virtue of being an initiatory act, it becomes the completing and sealing ordinance in the work of conversion, and fact of discipleship. Upon the principle already enunciated, there may not be any necessary or apparent relation between the immersion of the body in water, and assurance of soul in respect to pardon, such assurance bringing joy and peace to the believer. But power, and pardon, and peace may, and will, be found wherever the risen Christ has been pleased to place them, whether as to conditions or sequence. The words, "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved," are Christ's own words; and never were words more authoritatively or deliberately spoken.
When, however, this act of loving obedience is found to be strangely and powerfully symbolical, we should the more gratefully recognise its value and appropriateness; placed as it is at the threshold of the kingdom, and standing as a test and seal of discipleship. "Know ye not," says Paul, "that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death? therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." (Rom. vi. 3. 4.)
Surely this is a most Divinely beautiful ordinance in the which a believing, repentant sinner is planted and united with Christ in likeness of that very death and resurrection which constitute the only hope of the guilty soul!
The same writer, in his letter to the Galatians, sets forth the manner in which the blessed change of state is effected by which those who once children of the devil, had become children of God, and heirs of eternal life. "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus; for as many of you as have been baptised into Christ, have put on Christ." (Gal. iii. 26, 27).
With such examples and such teaching before us, what can we say in view of the prevalent perversion of this institution, but that the change, as to subject, from the believing penitent gladly submitting to a Divine ordinance, to an unconscious or consciously resisting infant; and as to action, from the burial of the whole person in a grave of water, with an ensuing resurrection to a new life, to the sprinkling of a few drops of water on the face, is as dishonouring to its author, as it effects have been disastrous to His cause?
NATIONAL V. PERSONAL DISCIPLESHIP.
It is important just here to emphasise the fact that all that has been advanced in relation to this question of discipleship has been predicated of the individual, and not of the community. True it is that Jesus commanded that the Gospel was to be preached to "all the world," or the "whole creation," but the accruing blessings are limited in the phrase, "He that believeth." With respect to Matthew's version of the Commission, any ambiguity which presents itself to the English reader is entirely absent to the student of the original. The two commands, viz., (1) "Go, disciple all nations," and (2) "Baptising them," agree neither in case nor number, so that, while related, they are quite distinct. The "nations" who were to be taught with a view to discipling, are referred to as of neuter gender; while the "them" who were to be baptised, being individuals, are of masculine gender, nevertheless, according to well-recognised rule, comprehending both male and female. All, then, who would accept the teaching, and take upon themselves the duties and responsibilities of discipleship, became one in Him in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female.
"Thus is the Christ put on in faith,
His name to wear, His yoke to bear;
Our joy, if faithful unto death,
His immortality to share."
THE FACT OF DISCIPLESHIP.
To this point we have been considering the successive steps by which the willing individual becomes the avowed follower of the meek and lowly Jesus, He who is now made both Lord and Christ. The process and the result are alike of Divine ordering, and constitute the first step in the realisation of God's eternal purpose towards men. The love of God in Christ, made known through the Gospel, takes possession of the heart, subdues the will, transforms the life to the extent that it can be said of every true disciple, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold all things have become new." There has been a change of state - a translation out of the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of God's dear Son. Instead of being alienated from God by wicked works, the believer is brought nigh by the blood of Christ. As a child of God and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, the newly-made disciple is constituted free of all the privileges of the family of God, and liberties of the kingdom of grace. It is now for us to seek to understand something of the duties and responsibilities of this high and honourable position.
THE YOKE OF CHRIST.
Let it, in the first place, be clearly apprehended that discipleship means yoke bearing. His gracious invitation makes this quite plain: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and My burden is light." And so it has been found in the experience of the faithful of all generations. The exchange of the yoke of Satan for that of Christ is the wisest and happiest choice that a man can ever make. The one grows heavier year by year; the other the lighter the longer and more faithfully it is borne. Indeed, by a paradox of Divine grace, the burden of Christ is lightest when to the world it seems heaviest; and the yoke is easiest when it has galled the flesh to its death.
But this anticipates much. The position to which our enquiry brings us, is simply to the beginning of things. The disciple stands at the threshold of a life of great responsibilities and grand possibilities. To be a worthy disciple of Jesus calls for the continuous exercise of every power of mind, soul, and body. It taxes manhood and womanhood as nothing else in this world.
THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST AND CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
THE COMPLETED COMMISSION.
WE may now bring into review the second section of the Commission as recorded by Matthew, viz., "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with your alway, even unto the end of the world" (age). The complete Divine arrangement stands thus:- "Go teach" (matheeteusate - make disciples of) "all nations, baptising them," etc., "teaching (didaskontes) them to observe," etc. Teaching, by means of preaching, to induce men to become disciples in regard to all matters pertaining to the duties of their new position. The word used in the latter connection is related to didaskalos, so often used as a title of Christ, and as generally translated MASTER; and also to didaskalia, which in the English version is almost invariably rendered "doctrine." We thus arrive at the thought of authoritative dogmatic teaching, as that which is enjoined as necessary to the development of the disciple life.
THE LORDSHIP OF CHRIST.
Two words used by Christ demand passing, but earnest and reverent attention. The "I" of Christ, and the "all" in relation to the things commanded.
If there be one fact, more than another, that needs to be apprehended by present-day disciples of Christ, whether as individuals or communities, it is the Lordship of Christ. In delivering His Final Message, we find the risen Jesus advancing the most stupendous claim imaginable. "All authority," said He, "hath been given unto Me, in heaven and on earth." The first Gospel sermon reached its heart-piercing climax when Peter declared that the same Jesus who had been crucified, had been made "both Lord and Christ." The same great truth is enunciated, by the same speaker, in the first proclamation of the Gospel to Gentiles. Parenthetically, but with all emphasis, Peter exclaims, "He is Lord of all." Paul, writing to the Philippians concerning the Christ's voluntary humiliation, and His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, proceeds, "Wherefore God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him the name which is above every name: that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow. ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." The authority of Christ in His Kingdom is that of an absolute monarch; and the understanding and acceptance of this fact is essential to true discipleship. If this fundamental truth was duly recognised, there would be much more robustness and beauty in individual life; much less of will-worship and lawlessness in regard to church polity and operation. If the will and law of Christ were the sole standard of life and service, how much there would be done that is now left undone; and how very much would be left undone, of what is now done, and done in the name of Him who is dishonoured in the very act.
Surely the personality of the One who commands implies obligation to attend to the "all things" which He has enjoined. The element of human choosing is excluded. Discrimination between things essential and things non-essential is precluded. To the faithful disciple a "Thus saith the Lord" is an end to all controversy. Or, failing such distinct indication of the Divine will, the loving heart will seek to order all things according to the spirit of the Master, to the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.
THE KING'S AMBASSADORS AND CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
THE agency by which this great mission of discipling the nations was to be accomplished is a most important factor in the Divine arrangement. The mission originated, as we have seen in a commission - a charge committed by Christ to His twelve chosen ones. That the Apostles were peculiarly fitted for this work is abundantly manifest. Their personal knowledge of Christ, and of the facts concerning which they were to be witnesses, constitutes their primary qualification. thus John is able to write, "That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked (gazed) upon, and our hands have handled of the World of Life, ... that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you."
If the Apostles were thus qualified for their work as testifying witnesses, they were not less so for their duties as teachers and expounders of the principles of the Kingdom of heaven. During the three years of their personal intercourse with the Master, they were, we might say, steeped in Divine revelation. Jesus could say of them, when about the leave them, "I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from Thee, and they have believed that Thou didst send Me."
Moreover, during the forty days intervening between the resurrection and the ascension of Christ it is recorded that "He through the Holy Spirit gave commandments unto the Apostles whom He had chosen ... speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
That the Apostles failed to understand many of the things their Master spake to them, and that they forgot much that they did understand, is undeniable. But they were to be equipped for their important work by the aid of supernatural power. The very expediency of Christ's ascension to the right hand of power arose from the fact, as explained to His Apostles, that if he went He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. As regards the Apostles, the coming of the Paraclete was to have great results. "He," the Comforter, was to "lead them into all the truth," and "bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever He said unto them."
In this endowment we have their supreme qualification for teaching the "all things" commanded by Christ. Under the guidance, by the power, and in the wisdom of the unerring Spirit of Truth, these men went forward in their great mission of making and instructing disciples. How unassailable is their position we gather from the Saviour's declaration to the Seventy, "He that heareth you, heareth Me: and he that rejecteth you, rejecteth Me: and he that rejecteth Me, rejecteth Him that sent Me." (Luke x. 16.) And again to the Apostles, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent me." (John xiii. 20.)
In the light of this declaration it must be insisted that if the apprehension of the Lordship of Christ is essential to discipleship, the acknowledgment of the status and authority of His Apostles is not less vital. The status of an ambassador is even as that of the throne itself. Such delegated authority may not be disregarded save at the risk of doing despite to the One from whom it is received. The writer to the Hebrews states the position thus: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation: which at the first began to be spoken to us by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them (the Apostles) that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His will."
It was in the power of "the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven" that the Apostles went forth to proclaim the Gospel of God's grace in Christ. In that Gospel was revealed the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now made known unto all nations (Gentile as well as Jew) for the obedience of faith.
By the same power they formulated and promulgated that "form of doctrine" which has ever since borne their name - "the Apostles' doctrine;" and which, in very truth, is the Magna Charta of the Church of Christ. It is surely noteworthy that there is no record of Jesus ever having written a book, or indeed of his having written anything beyond a few fugitive letters in the dust. He founded no college; nor did He, while on earth, establish a Church. When, at Caesarea Philippi, the Apostles through Peter as their mouthpiece, made confession of the Deity of the Christ, the response came, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." The foundation had yet to be laid. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God had yet to die, and be buried, and be raised again from the dead. These had to be accomplished ere the "tried Stone" could be laid in Zion. The first Gospel sermon that was preached secured material for a glorious beginning in spiritual house-building upon this foundation, for we read, "They then that received his word were baptised; and there were added unto them (the few disciples of Jesus' personal ministry) in that day about three thousand souls."
The succeeding statement made regarding these new converts is of deepest importance and interest to every true-hearted disciple. What did these newly-made Christians? How were they guided and governed in their newly-formed relationship and newly-realised joys? We are briefly but explicitly informed, "And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine, and (the) fellowship, and in the breaking of (the) bread, and in (the) prayers."
It is foreign to our purpose to discuss the several items here named as claiming the steadfast observance of the first, and, as we take it, model-Church at Jerusalem. Suffice it to emphasise the fact that first and foremost is placed "THE APOSTLES' DOCTRINE."
Given orally, as was natural, in the first instance, the teaching of the apostles, sufficed for, as it was indeed the only source whence guidance could be received in respect to the "all things necessary to life and godliness." The faith, ordinances, and ministry of the Church were set forth, ordered, and established under the immediate supervision of the Apostles.
But, as men, the Apostles were subject to the same limitations of time and space as their fellows; and in due course they paid the debt of nature, or relinquished their lives in the service of Christ. Some of the, however, in the good providence of God and under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, addressed letters to Churches or individuals; and these have in all ages been the inestimable treasure of disciples, whether in their individual or collective capacity. In conjunction with the Gospels, which set forth the Christ of God; and the Book of Acts, which shows the Gospel plan in operation; the Epistles constitute the ultimate revelation of God to man. In them are set forth the great and vital doctrines of the Christian faith; the privileges and obligations of the Christian life; the glorious verities of the Christian hope. The ages have added nothing to the Apostles' doctrine. All the attempts of schoolmen to simplify or improve have only obscured or defaced. In things to be believed, in duties to be performed, and in the elements of his hope, the Apostles' teaching must constitute the disciple's vade mecum. Having that, he can safely relegate all human creeds and confessions to the moles and the bats. "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." This declaration was written by the great Apostle in view undoubtedly of that completed revelation of which his own letters, and those of others, his fellow-Apostles, form so important a part.
HALL MARKS OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP.
NOW, in conclusion, we must touch, but with brevity, upon the spiritual aids vouchsafed to the disciples of the glorified Christ: and in the Master's own words register the hall marks of true discipleship.
Once again we fall back upon the thought that discipleship of the Christ is more than a profession - it is a life, a living union with a living Saviour. The believing, repentant, obedient follower has become a "new creature;" has been "made a partaker of the Divine nature;" "old things have passed away, all things have become new." This spiritual and constitutional change was emphasised by Jesus in words which so much mystified Nicodemus, with his purely fleshly conceptions. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." The agency by which this new life is begotten in the unregenerate heart, is clearly revealed to us elsewhere. The "incorruptible seed" is the "word of truth;" which same word, when used for offence or defence, is described as "the sword of the Spirit." But, the great change, however effected, whether as by "seed" or "sword," is not the less the work of the Spirit of the living God.
THE INDWELLING SPIRIT.
It seems only in keeping, therefore with the marvels of God's great scheme of redemption in Christ, that the third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, should deign to dwell in the hearts of those who have thus been quickened and born again. so at the great Pentecost the promise was made in clear and set terms, "Repent and be immersed every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." This "gift" indicates something distinct from those "gifts" by which the testimony of the Apostles was authenticated - "the signs and wonders, divers miracles and gifts" referred to already.
This "gift" is the witness to the great fact of forgiveness through faith in the finished work and obedience to the words of Christ - "the Holy Spirit which God has given to them that obey him." (Acts v. 32.) It is the Spirit of adoption shed forth in the heart of the adopted one, whereby he is enabled to cry "Abba Father." He is the helper of his infirmities, the exponent of his needs - for "likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered." Finally, the Spirit is the earnest (a part payment in kind) of that inheritance in store for all faithful followers of the Lamb, when, freed from the flesh with all its trammels and temptations, they enter upon the higher fellowship and service, which are essential elements in the "rest that remains."
But meanwhile a work has to be accomplished, the sequent stages of which are often slow and painful. How is the Spirit grieved when despite is done to His gracious promptings and pleadings! At the best, how cold and intermittent are the responses made to the calls of duty, and the higher intuitions of an enlightened conscience.
But provision has been made for every need of every saint. Self and sin, the world, the flesh and the devil have all been taken account of. "Strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man," and standing clad in the panoply of God, the weakest disciple may stand against the wiles and fiery darts of the great adversary of souls, and having done all, yet stand.
Now let the Master Himself, in His own words, indicate some of the characteristics, tests, and blessed rewards of faithful discipleship:-
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them to me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John x. 27-9).
"The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord." (Matthew x. 24, 25).
"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John xiv. 23.)
"If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John viii. 31, 32.)
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John xiii. 35.)
"Herein in my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John xv. 8.)
"If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: If any man serve me, him will my Father honour." (John xii. 26.)
"Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which Thou hast given me: for Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." (John xvii. 24.)
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. ... I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. ... I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out, and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God ... and my new name. ... I will grant him to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne." (Revelation, Chaps. iii. and iv.)