Jesus is asking you the ...

The Quenching Question

Hulbert L. Simpson: The whole secret of successful evangelism is one burning heart saying to another with the unmistakable accent of conviction, "We have found life's anointed King." That is a message to which every man is prepared to listen, for its bearer is one who has something to say, so utterly different from the religious speaker whom we all have had at times to endure, who had to say something. It is the "personal touch" that tells, so long as it is not the poke irritant nor the embrace sloppy, but the hand-grip of help. If the evangelist can give evidence of the keen mind as well as the ardent spirit, if the clean collar enforce the appeal for the clean heart, happy is he.

There is a pathetic jauntiness to-day which is ludicrously anxious to have us know that it is "the master of its fate, the captain of its soul," and that its "head is bloody, but unbow'd" (W. E. Henley). Well, what of it? Its bloody head may be unbowed - that it is badly swollen is obvious. And yet, even through the protest, you can catch an undertone in the voice of to-day, an inability

"To trust the heart's denying
That somewhere there is crying,
And somehow there are tears."

It was the writer's fortune to be brought up in a home where the masters of science and the princes of evangelism alike were honored and frequent guests. From oratory to laboratory there was a swing-door, and never a hint that God could not freely pass from one to the other, at home everywhere, the unseen Head of the house and all its activities for body, soul and spirit. The ideal ruling there was not more an intractable conscientiousness in relation to revelation, than an unrelenting homage to truth in all its manifestations. The dusty and somewhat tattered habit of evangelism, which still repels eyes that cannot see the glory in the grey, was instantly transformed into the apparel of the princes when Henry Drummond was its exponent, with his debonair grace, or William Booth with his commanding presence, or Hugh Price Hughes with his genial humanity, or D. L. Moody with his sane outlook, or Gipsy Smith with that authentic and inimitable touch of romance, or John McNeill keeping the permanent way free from the blocking snows by the salt of humor.

The young critic was not put off by any awful gulf between platform mannerisms and table manners. "When they were come out of the synagogue they came into the house" (Mark 1:29), and the Presence passed in too. One might make his approach through science, another might emphasize the social aspect of righteousness, while yet another carried conviction by sheer charm, and Christ won because He was winsome: but in each and every genuine messenger (and there were not a few unworthy copies of the original masters), the glory and greatness of the Master of them all was the first and last thing that impressed. Not to be, by instinctive self-election, on that side was to have violated the doctrine of life.

It may be, as some tell us, that the process of redemption to-day must begin with the very name and idea of evangelism. If we are of the true company of passionate souls we shall not be troubled over inessentials, so long as Christ is preached. That lovely word, "the Evangel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), has not lost its lustre even after two generations of the mammoth tabernacle, the inquiry-room, the beat-up trail, the special hymn-book with large profits, the uplifted hand of the "convert" in the heated atmosphere, the downcast spirit of the missioner in the cold reception, and all the other effects and evidences of the religious showman.

The people of this country have been wonderfully hospitable to any one coming to them in the name of the Lord, without inquiring too closely into his credentials. But those who have made the experiment have found that there was a particularly affectionate welcome for one who came to them as a representative of their own Church, a product of her nurture and care, steeped in her peculiar ethos, having received her special training and submitted to her discipline, and enjoying that Christian freedom in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, so essential to an untrammelled presentation of the Gospel, for which his Church has labored and fought and suffered.

The best way to redeem the idea of evangelism, and to save both his own way-soiled and routine-hardened soul and the souls of them that hear him, is for the preacher, as part of his regular business, to do the work of an evangelist, and thus, in making full proof of his ministry, to find and reveal ever-changing lights and fresh sheen in "the many-colored grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10 - Gk.)

"What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42)

Hulbert L. Simpson: The world is for ever busying itself with what it is pleased to call "burning questions." Some of them do not burn very long. Others turn out to be only finger-burning questions. Some of them throw out crackling sparks; some produce little else than clouds of pungent and obscuring smoke; while most burn, while they last, with a good deal of heat, but afford wondrous little light. On the whole, however, it is good to keep asking questions, and it is highly important that people should always feel that they have the right to ask questions. The sluice has a function every whit as important and as vital as the dam.

In no sphere of human thought and activity is this maxim more necessary of application than in the realm of religious experience. The dogma dam may be necessary in order to keep the water of life which has been entrusted to the Church from losing itself in the loose sands of individual opinion; but the Church which asks no questions and permits none to be asked is preparing the way either for catastrophe or for stagnation.

We are just emerging out of a somewhat self-satisfied and arrogant age which had a way of tacitly assuming that it had discovered the right of man to ask questions. The scientist asked some new and striking questions, and the very asking of them, even where they cannot yet be answered, has contributed to the well-being and the efficiency of the race. The social reformer has been asking some loud and startling questions, and there is no saying when these will cease echoing; and pray God that some of them will never be silenced until they are answered. And in this new pride and power of questioning, there were not a few who harbored a kind of resentment against the Church of Christ, more or less overt, because they imagined that she was anxious, not to mother, but to smother, the spirit of inquiry.

1. We cannot too often remind ourselves and everybody else that it was Jesus Christ who, among religious teachers, encouraged men to think for themselves. He it was who first taught them that they had the right to ask questions about all the important things of life, and showed them how to question. If you go through the scanty record of His words and conversation you will be amazed to find how it bristles with points of interrogation. His whole teaching is sluiced with questions.

It was the lack of thought and imagination that the prophets of the Old Testament had recognized to be at the bottom of so much of the prevalent sin and misery. "My people do not consider" (Isa. 1:3).

And, so far from suppressing inquiry and eager pursuit and research, it was a continual marvel to our Lord that men should be so supine. "How is it that ye do not understand?" (Matt. 16:11) "How think ye?" (Matt. 18:12) "What shall it profit?" (Mark 8:36) "Why do ye not yourselves judge?" (Luke 12:57)

We are told that upon one occasion when a young man came to our Lord asking questions and answering them, Jesus gave him the very highest commendation. It was not when this young thinker answered piously, or replied in the kind of way that he might have thought would please our Lord, but when he answered discreetly -"put his mind to it," as the Greek has it, that Jesus said to him, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34).

There spoke, not a servile lover of dogma, not a forger of chains and creeds, but the Pioneer, not only of our salvation, but of our intellectual liberty, of freedom of thought and freedom of speech, and the right of every man to judge for himself.

If I may make a personal confession of faith, I think it was that word, almost more than any other, that, in the dawn of awakening consciousness, when I realized that the time had come for me to determine my position with regard to the great issues which confront us all in this life, attracted me to the person and discipleship of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. I realized with peculiar joy and satisfaction that the Christian religion was one which appealed not merely to my emotions alone or even to my moral sense, but to what I was pleased to call my intellect, and to the whole man.

I suppose that my road to Damascus was just that stage of development when first I understood that although Christianity is a religion of questions, it is not a questionable religion. I felt, as I have never ceased to feel, that here was the one true Lord of life, the Man Christ Jesus, with His great frank questions, and His own satisfying answers to the only ones that really matter in the last resort. I am not so foolish as to blind myself to the fact that there are many unanswered questions which leave certain tracts of life and experience still in the shadow. But I have no doubt that He who has answered the greater holds the key to the less, and that one day I shall know even as I am known. I do not see how a reasonable being can demand more, nor how he can face life with less.

I understand the mind of young Lieut. Simmonds, of Mansfield College, Oxford, who, before leading his men over the parapet, and his death in action on the Somme [in the First World War], wrote, "If Christ were not my strength I would commit suicide to-night. We must just wait in all penitence and humility before His Cross, seeking to hide nothing from Him, and fixing our soul's attention on that symbol of His strength and that symbol of the suffering love of the Father. Then He will come to us (I speak because I know), and He will flood our life with the joy and peace of His Resurrection and glorification."

There are some things that can wait; but not our personal attitude to that. There are some things that can and must be set aside in these days when we are all so busy, but not our communion and fellowship with Him who has the keys of death. This is the beginning of everything and the end of everything, the question of our relationship to Jesus Christ. Not without reason did He call Himself the Alpha and the Omega - the A to Z - of life, for in terms of Him the whole story of life must be written, and the mystery of existence spelled out and reduced to reason.

And in this day when everything is being ruthlessly brought to the touchstone of service, when there is nothing too old or venerable to escape the probing and questioning spirit, the religion of the great Questioner must gain a fresh significance and attractiveness. Christ does not seek to impose something upon us from without, something which is merely arbitrary or conventional, something which we can take or leave. Nor is there anything hole-and-corner about the religion of Jesus Christ. He invites inquiry; He challenges criticism. His books are always open to inspection.

Christianity is a religion of quest and question, an open door, an endless way. Was there ever a teacher, a potentate, a prophet so great, so frank, so utterly sure of Himself and of His claims that He could calmly and confidently submit His very person to the searchlight of investigation, and say: "What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42)

The very daring of it should make us pause. Majesty and might and the assumption of authority are not such very imposing and terrifying things. But I am afraid of a God who chooses the weak things of this world. It makes me wonder and think. I am afraid of might that is so strong and sure and commanding that it can afford to allow itself to be questioned and put to the uttermost proof. I am awed by One who comes to me as a Babe and as a Crucified Man, and who even in the glory of Heaven has the appearance of a Lamb as it had been slain. This is Divine camouflage with a vengeance, and it must mean something tremendous. It must mean something that I neglect at my infinite risk.

2. That is how this tremendous question, "What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42), which at first sight looks so innocent, strikes me upon second thoughts about it. I have scarcely recovered from my pleasure at the winsomeness and attractiveness of the Man who is so frank and open, when I am overcome with a feeling of awe of One who can afford to speak in this way. That gentleness is terrific. If He were to smite with the sword, or to call down fire, we would know where we were. If He would put a dramatic end to sin and to sinners! If He would assert His authority and stop us in mid-career of our folly and sin, or our carelessness and casual indifference to His Church and Kingdom and commands! But He does not.

Christ will not force Himself upon you. If the inhospitable Samaritans do not want Him He punishes them in a far more terrible fashion than the disciples suggested. They were for calling down fire from heaven upon them. Jesus did something far more awful. He simply passed on and left them. If the Gadarenes prefer their swine to His company, He does not argue the point. He enters the boat again. The viewless wind fills the sail. Slowly the vessel draws out. He goes as quietly as He came. They will never, never be troubled with His disturbing presence again.

Or is it Judas in the upper room, devising deeds of darkness blacker than the night into which he went out? We know that there were two swords in that room, and at least one man who was not slow to draw them and ten men who would have sprung to his help. One word from Jesus, and Judas would never have left that room alive. But that is not His way. Jesus lets him go, just the way He has let you go all these years, using no restraint or compulsion beyond the appeal that He has made, not once nor twice, to your better nature; and the manifold proofs of His forbearance and forgiveness that He has shown you unto this very hour.

3. And so the asking of this old, old question, "What think ye of Christ?" (Matt. 22:42), again to-day reminds us in the third place that an hour will come when we shall never hear it asked again. The sun does not ring a bell when it is sinking in the west. The longest day declines almost without observation. Grey hairs do not have warning tongues. But here and there they appear.

It was at a comparatively late stage in their training that Jesus brought His disciples into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, and there definitely asked them to make up their minds about Him. It was not enough that they should merely acquiesce in the current opinion about Him. "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" was a question of importance for the historian. "But who say ye that I am?" was a question of life and death for the individual soul.

Under the hand of God every man is brought at some time or other in his life into the parts of Caesarea Philippi. These parts may be a pier, or a railway platform, or a bedside, or an open grave, or the arrival of a telegram. There comes a certain definite time or times when a man is brought face to face with the fact of Jesus Christ, and must give verdict upon Him.

Usually there are three ways of dealing with so-called "burning questions." The question may not be a burning one for you, and you can afford to leave it unanswered. Or it may concern you, but you cannot bring yourself to supply the right answer. Or you may answer it and settle the question once and for all.

With this paramount question there are not three lines of treatment open but only one. You cannot avoid answering it. For even if you say you cannot decide, your non-committal is in itself an answer. For you are in the same case as that of a drowning man to whom some friendly bystander throws the life-line, and he replies that he cannot decide whether to seize it or not. He has decided in deciding not to decide. The coroner's inquest next day leaves no doubt of that.

That is the tragic turn, that so many believe that they can linger indefinitely in the parts of Caesarea Philippi. In running by train from France into Italy, unless you know what to look for you cannot tell when you have made the transition. The sun shines just the same. The Mediterranean looks just as bright and blue as it did before. The sights and sounds are similar. But you are in another country, beneath another flag, subject to different laws, under an entirely different form of government.

It is the imperceptibility of the change that misleads us. There always arrives the day when the dear old lady declares that they don't use such clear type as the printers of her young days did; when the ever-green septuagenarian confides to his cronies at the club that public speakers do not take pains to articulate as they did in the good old days. "Some one really should tell him to raise his voice!" Dear souls! how we love them and their innocent delusion.

But do not smile. You may be suffering from a more vital disability. Your ability to discern may become weakened. Too much and too long contact with the world and its lower standards may have vitiated your taste. The spiritual faculty is the most delicate of all and the first to become blunted, as the rare blooms are the first to suffer in a vitiated atmosphere. You dare not tamper with it.

I have seen scales used for measuring lead by the rough hundred-weight. You might bang them with a sledge-hammer and make no impression. I have seen others so delicate that a hair sufficed to tilt the beam, and the touch of a clumsy finger threw them out of gear.

It was a heathen philosopher who said, "I ought to take care that the eye of my soul does not become dim" [source?]. It was a greater who said, "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness." (Matt. 6:23)

4. "What think ye of Christ?" Not only may your ability to answer that question go, but let me warn you in all earnestness, in the last place, that this question judges you. The thoughts of a man are the index to his character, and estimates are ever two-edged.

Thomas Carlyle complained to Thackeray that he was tired of hearing praise of Titian's wonderful coloring, and that he saw nothing in his canvases to be so enthusiastic about. To which Thackeray replied "That's a severe judgment on Tom Carlyle, not on Titian."

If you tell me that you have no taste for Beethoven's Sonatas, that his music bores you, and that you would rather have a swinging two-step any day, your opinion of the great musician does not affect his position in the slightest degree. No, but you have given me some fairly damning evidence about yourself.

If you cannot read Wordsworth, think him dull, and would rather spend an hour with the latest trashy novel that would find its fittest place in the waste-paper basket under your table, it is not really so rough on the poet as it may sound; but it classifies you.

I have sometimes listened to the gentleman who plays poker in the smoke-room of a liner on the subject of Foreign Missions, but there were certain reasons why I never could feel that he was really the expert on the subject that he posed to be.

Everybody knows Dr. Johnson's wise reply to the man who thought fit to inform him that he was not a gentleman: "Sir, you are no judge." There comes a time when a man loses the ability to judge of spiritual things. How can he, if he neglects to cultivate that within him which alone can give him the right and the power to judge?

In answering this momentous question as to the person and claims of Christ we are thrown back upon all our faculties. It is not merely an affair of the intellect: it is a matter of a right heart also, and a sound will. That is why the judgment of so many who pose as sincere doubters and honest skeptics is valueless.

On a summer day a few years ago [July 20th, 1905] the Glendale was wrecked off the Mull of Kintyre. The circumstances were peculiar. The trustworthy captain knew every inch of the coast, and at first there seemed to be no explanation of the mysterious catastrophe. But at the inquiry it was found that a load of iron pillars which the vessel was carrying had been placed in too close proximity to the compass and had deflected it. [Another explanation is the mistaking of a lighthouse on Sanda for one at the Mull of Kintyre.] So a man may imagine that he is steering by the trustworthy light of reason and sound judgment. His logic may be accurate in its working. But all the while there is something in his life which nullifies the guiding of the compass. He may think he is holding a true course, while he is heading straight for the rocks.

"What think ye of Christ?" They answered and said, "He is worthy of death" (Luke 23:15). These men thought they were judging Christ, when all the time they were judging themselves. They were convicting themselves of short-sightedness, of bigotry, of jealousy, of total inability to discern the spiritual when they were in its presence, or of knowing the truth when they saw it. He whom they condemned as worthy of death has been deemed worthy of all honour and glory by saints and angels, by all the succeeding generations of men and by Almighty God. But their own answer to that question is their condemnation for all time.

If other questions are burning questions, this is the great quenching question. It silences all others, for it is itself the answer to everything. We all think that we have the right to make certain demands of Almighty God. We are ready with many questions, questions with a touch of complaint in them, with a note of self-excuse, with more than a hint of self-satisfaction. God is ready with His answer: "What think ye of Christ?" That is His Word, His last word. And silence falls at once upon all the questioners. After that, as we read, "no one ventured to ask Him any more questions." (Matt. 22:46)

Are you blazing with wrath? Hot with indignation? Burning with a sense of fancied injustice? Look at God's answer in Christ, and then try to put any of your questions. You dare not.

If you cannot reply to the great question, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28), you must remain at any rate decently dumb. If God has not satisfied you He has silenced you. This Christ who began by appealing to our attention ends by compelling our attention.

There is, after all, a burning question, and there is only one: "What will Christ, the Judge of all, think of me?"

Sermon preached by Hulbert L. Simpson, Scotland, 1925

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