Project Canterbury

A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter IV. What Does Christ Demand?

IF Jesus Christ be indeed the Eternal Son of God, sent from the Father to declare His will to man and to provide for his spiritual needs, before we approach the question as to what Christ demands two or three considerations should be borne in mind.

In the first place, we should be fully prepared to expect that any revelation coming from such a divine Authority would be adapted to man's needs, as those needs are known to One who, as the Author of our being, is utterly familiar with our nature.

In the second place, as we think of God as One to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, the contemplation of His nature should predispose us in reason to accept in advance whatever He prescribes as best for our spiritual good.

In the third place, our highest reason would lead us to anticipate that, while His demands should not do violence to our sense of justice, yet, as His thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways, those demands might transcend our understanding and go beyond our knowledge. In other words, we should expect most humbly and reverently to accord to the Divine Being His undisputed prerogative to deal with us as in His infinite wisdom He should deem best. Even for the relief of our bodily ills we are accustomed to exercise our best available reason when we leave absolutely to our physician to prescribe for us such remedies as in his judgment he may consider wise. The mystery of our physical mechanism is such that we do not pretend to know what treatment is best for us nor the chemical processes through which the medicines we take must pass to accomplish the desired result. With a faith that would be truly amazing were it not so common we place our lives absolutely in the hands of our doctor, although he does not claim omniscience, and generally our faith is justified by the results.

Is it therefore an unwarranted demand on our faith if the divine Physician, who is omniscient and in His own realm completely cognizant of our spiritual maladies, should ask us to trust Him when He administers to the relief of our spiritual ailments?

Let us now turn to the record of our Lord's teaching and see how fully the reasonable expectations entertained as to what His revelation should be have been verified by all His precepts.

He opened His great campaign of good news from God by assuring His hearers everywhere that His Heavenly Father had sent Him to declare, first of all, that He loved men with a tender, yet strong, personal and eternal love. This message to many a sad, weary, and anxious heart was indeed a revelation with all the freshness of novelty and full of hope. This inspiring truth He illustrated by many beautiful parables, of which that of the Prodigal Son is a notable type. He reminded them that God was a Father, and all men His children, and that He loved them all, good and evil, despite their sin and unworthiness. If they felt that God was far away from them, and knew that no man had ever seen Him, He made Him real and present by declaring that He who had seen Him, had seen the Father; that He and the Father were one. This truth, so startling, He brought home to them by such infallible proofs as showed that He was complete Master of the world and the forces of nature; nay, that even the powers of death yielded to the spell of His divine command. He stood forth and bade all who were weary and heavy laden to come unto Him and He would give them rest. Thus He won the implicit confidence of men. He knit and tied them to Himself in the bonds of an affection which even death could not break. But this was not all, for after a life of sinless perfection, abounding in deeds of mercy and relief, He sealed His devotion by a death upon the cross of ignominy and shame. Finally, by rising from the grave in fulfilment of His oft-repeated assurance, He again demonstrated that He was verily the Son of God. Then; after forty days, being seen of men, and going in and out among them, and assuring His Disciples beyond all doubt of the reality of His risen life and His complete victory over death, He returned to His Father from whom He came. This very brief outline, so familiar to us all, would be entirely incomplete were we to forget the main object of His coming. That object was to establish upon earth a spiritual Kingdom which should endure to the end. Early in His ministry He prepared His Disciples for His return to the Father. That His work might go on forever He established His Church. Against that Church He said the gates of hell should never prevail. He promised that He would be with it through the ages.

It is vitally important that we should remember that the Christ was not content to sow the seed of His message here and there and let that seed bear fruit at random. His coming into the world was not intended to be a momentary and brilliant display of divine power. His appearance among men was not simply to give them a brief manifestation of the Divine Nature, to dazzle them with a glimpse of supernatural glory, and then to leave the world in darkness. Nothing is more evident to one reading the Gospels than that our Lord contemplated from the beginning the perpetuation of the great work which He had inaugurated, and that it should go on increasingly after His bodily presence had been withdrawn. To this end He deliberately gathered about Him twelve men as chosen Apostles. With these men He lived for well-nigh three years. He had them about His person, He prayed with them, He talked with them. With painstaking and prophetic vision He instructed them. He examined and cross-examined them. He infused them with His own spirit. He communicated to them the genius of His own unique personality. He breathed into them the fire of His own enthusiasm. Then He ordained them. He gave them their solemn commission. He said to them: "All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." After our Lord had ascended to Heaven we see these twelve Apostles setting forth on their mission in obedience to their Master's command. They teach in His name. They baptize disciples. They gather into the fold of Christ a great multitude of believers. On the Day of Pentecost, on the occasion of the preaching of Saint Peter, three thousand persons were baptized and added to the Church. Our Lord had already spoken of Baptism as the door of entering the Kingdom. To Nicodemus He said: "Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." Again, in the upper room on the night before He was crucified, in the presence of His Apostles, He instituted the Lord's Supper, or the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, bidding His Disciples to observe this feast of the breaking of bread in remembrance of Him.

If we again ask ourselves, "What does Christ demand?" in the way of faith and obedience, we have His own great summary in these words: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

To enable us to keep this broad and comprehensive law, appealing at once to our intelligence as reasonable and just and to our hearts as but a fitting response to our Saviour's love, He has provided in Holy Baptism a means of entering His Kingdom, thereby receiving grace and spiritual regeneration, and in the Holy Communion heavenly food to nourish and sustain us and make us partakers of the merits of His death and passion.

Christ demands, then, on the part of those who accept and desire to serve Him that they shall confess their belief in Him, and be incorporated by Holy Baptism into His Kingdom, purposing to lead a life agreeable to His will.

He has provided for us in the most comfortable Sacrament of the Holy Communion a means of grace whereby, unworthy as we are, He condescends to refresh and sustain us.

If with earnest faith and true repentance we approach Him, we are assured of His pardon and peace.

Project Canterbury