by G. Campbell Morgan
Burning of heart is the supreme need of the church today. We have principles, but we very largely lack passion. I believe that our understanding of Jesus Christ is more correct than ever before in the history of the Christian church. Yet sometimes I am afraid that our sense of emotion and fire was never less. We are afraid of anything in the form of passionate enthusiasm. I am sometimes inclined to think that the "Jesus, Lover of my soul," of whom we so often sing, is standing in the midst of His people sighing after their lost first love.
I am not pleading for anything like an attempt to manufacture passion which is not genuine. Painted fire never warms anyone. What I am saying is that the church sadly lacks burning of heart, fire, fervor, passion, devotion.
Christ as He appeared to these men on the road to Emmaus was the same as before His crucifixion, and yet utterly and forever different. We are the followers of that selfsame Christ in the identity and disparity which characterized His relation to men after the cross. Thus this episode has a very great value for us, because these men were exactly in the condition as so much of the church is today. They had lost their devotion—not their love altogether, not their faith, save in some senses, but their devotion—their passion, their fire.
Looking back, then, to the road that leads to Emmaus, and to the two men, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, I ask you carefully to observe what they still possessed. They still loved their Lord. They still believed in Him. Jesus had said to Peter not very long before His crucifixion, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you"—that is, the whole of you, for there the pronoun is plural—"that he might sift you as wheat, but I made supplication for thee." Though "thee" is singular, no one imagines that all the rest were outside the prayer of Jesus—"that thy faith fail not."
I am bold to say that that prayer of Jesus was answered. Peter's faith never failed. The saving faith of none of these men failed. Their faith in Jesus did not fail. Their journey to Emmaus was not one of forgetfulness. They were still talking about Him and the things which had happened. Amid bitterness and disappointment, amid the darkness of disgrace, they still spoke a kind word for Him.
When Jesus joined Himself to them they did not know Him; they supposed that He was a stranger journeying the same way. He entered into conversation with them, and asked them what they were talking about, because they looked so sad; and they answered: "Dost thou alone sojourn in Jerusalem and not know the things which are come to pass there in these days?" In order to draw them out to confession, He asked, "What things?" Listen to their answer: "The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word."
That is their testimony to Him. They had not lost their faith in Him. And even though He had been beaten, crucified, and was, they assumed, dead, they loved Him. They loved His memory. They believed that He meant well, that He did good, that His ministry was a blessed ministry, and they were journeying toward Emmaus with faith in Him and love for Him still in their hearts.
Yet listen to them for another moment, and you will discover what they lacked. They had lost their hope, and they had lost their confidence in His ability to do what they thought He was going to do. Their attitude toward Jesus was the attitude of men who would say, "We had hoped that it was He which should redeem Israel."
Mark carefully the past tense. Their hope was gone. Jesus, they thought, had been defeated. He tried but He failed. The hope which had been burning like a beacon before them in the days when He was still amongst them had died out into gray ashes. They love Him still, and still speak a tender word for Him. "He was a prophet mighty in deed and word, but there were things to which He was not equal. We had hoped that He would break the chain of our oppression and redeem Israel and set up the Kingdom—but it is all gone. We have lost our hope."
Consequently, there was a cooling of enthusiasm. The fire was burning low. There was no passion, no vision, no virtue, no victory, no force, no fervor.
That is the picture of these men as they set their faces toward Emmaus, and it is largely the position of the church today, it seems to me. Personal loyalty to Jesus Christ is undoubted. It is impossible to meet with assemblies of God's people, or to meet with individuals anywhere, without finding men who still believe in Him personally. Yet there is manifest a very widespread cooling of the church's passion, and a dying down of the fires which make for victory.
We are not quite confident in His ability to do what we thought He was going to do. The chariot wheels are tarrying, and the victory does not come. We are inwardly pessimistic, and this pessimism manifests itself in the prevalent consent to compare Him with others. We say, "Of course, He was easily first. We love Him. We admire His ethic. We admire His ideal, but He was sadly mistaken, and He took His way in semidarkness toward failure."
We are modifying our conceptions of His victories. We are even allowing ourselves to read and discuss magazine articles which suggest that perhaps, after all, the religion of Buddha is more suited to Eastern lands than the religion of Jesus Christ. And all unconsciously the church's fire is cooling. She is not so passionate as she used to be in her endeavor. She does not break into song so often, or sob in tears in the presence of the world's agony.
We are not quite sure whether the ancient psalmists were right who sang of His Kingdom extending to the ends of the earth. We are not sure, and are not perfectly at rest. He is so near to us, and yet we do not see Him. He is walking with us along the shadowy pathway, but our eyes are veiled. There is today an appalling lack of the clear vision of the Christ which makes the step elastic and the spirit buoyant, and the heart burn with fire and fervor and passion.
How does Christ deal with these men? For, after all, we shall have to reduce this to individual application. We go back again to our story. If I am surprised at the attitude of the men, I confess I am far more surprised at Jesus. I am surprised at the wonder of His coming to these men. If I may turn aside from the main line of my argument I would like to say to you, Be very much afraid of yourself if Jesus Christ is ceasing to surprise you. If you are losing that sense of amazement that startled you in the olden days there is something wrong in your life. He is always surprising us if we will but follow Him simply.
He surprises us now by the fact that He comes to these men. He knows them to be " foolish men, and slow of heart to believe," yet He joins Himself to them, and walks at their side, and deals with their foolishness, and stirs up the slow heart until it burns and flames. That is the grace of God, and I am amazed. It is a radiant revelation of the tenderness of His heart and of the strength of His love for us.
Why does He come? Because He is seeking love. It is there in those doubt-shadowed hearts, and He knows it, and He will come and renew it. Jesus can always see something of beauty and glory, which other eyes cannot see. In the case of these men He saw personal loyalty underneath the hope abandoned and the confidence shaken, and He joined Himself to them in order that He might fan to flame the fire which was dying out upon the altar of their hearts.
Mark how He did it. He made their hearts burn by talking to them, as He gave them a new interpretation of familiar things. Their hearts did not burn within them while they talked to him. Their hearts burned within them when He talked to them. When they were silent and listened, then the fire burned. "Was not our heart burning within us, while He spake to us in the way?"
What were the things He said? Nothing new. I am increasingly impressed that He did not bring them any new message. It was the old message, but as they had never heard it before. "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets He interpreted to them in the scriptures the things concerning Himself."
He showed them how all the prophets gave witness to Him, and all the symbols of the ancient ritual found their fulfillment in the work that He had done. They saw a new meaning in the Scriptures concerning their long-hoped-for Messiah and His relation to the cross. They began to see a new light and glory flashing back upon the cross where their hopes had been blighted, and the fire seemed to have been put out. But they did not realize the Man talking to them was the One of whom He was talking.
As they listened to Him they would realize that He was David's King, "fairer than the children of men"; and in the days of Solomon's well-doing, it was He that was "altogether lovely." He was also Isaiah's child-king, with a shoulder strong enough to bear the government, and a name, Emmanuel, gathering within itself all excellencies.
He was Jeremiah's "Branch of Righteousness." He was Ezekiel's "Plant of renown," giving shade and shedding fragrance; He was Daniel's stone cut without hands, smiting the image, becoming a mountain, and filling the whole earth. He was the ideal Israel of Hosea; and "the hope of His people" of whom Joel prophesied. He was the usherer-in of the great vision of Amos of "the plowman overtaking the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed."
He was the "deliverance upon Mount Zion and holiness" in Obadiah; the fulfillment of that of which Jonah was but a sign; the "turning again" of God of which Micah spoke; the One whom Nahum saw upon the mountains publishing peace; the Anointed of whom Habakkuk sang as "going forth for salvation." He brought to the people the pure language of Zephaniah's message; He was the true Zerubbabel of Haggai's word, rebuilding forever the house and the city of God; He Himself was the dawn of the day when "holiness unto the Lord shall be upon the bells of the horses" as Zechariah foretold. He was the "refiner's fire, the fuller's soap, and the Sun of righteousness" of Malachi's vision.
All these things passed in rapid survey as He talked. He was unlocking the prophets, flinging back the shutters and letting the light stream in. He talked to them and there broke upon them a new vision of the truth, a new understanding of things with which they were already familiar, and in this new vision they found new understanding. Their burning heart was the thrill of a new discovery of their Lord and the passion of a new endeavor which should set their feet in the pathway which led to ultimate victory.
All this came when they listened as He spoke. Here, then, is our supreme need of the hour: that we should "strengthen the things that remain"—the doctrines which we hold as true, the ordinances of the church, the service which so often becomes dull as mere routine duty. We need that these things should flame with a new meaning.
Jesus' last words were "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age." We have recited those words, we have sung them, and once or twice we have felt them burn; but in the majority of days we do not feel them burning, driving us.
That declaration was made in connection with His command, "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations." If you want to know why we are not moved with the fire and fervor of the promise, it is because we have been attempting to appropriate the promise without fulfilling the condition, because we have not sat still and let Him tell us His deepest meaning about this thing.
If once we sit in His presence and listen quietly, we shall feel moving in our heart His own great passion for the nations of the earth, and we shall hear His "Go," and then we shall know that the supreme thing to hear is, "Lo, I am with you alway." When He whispers it, it will be to us as the driving force of God sending us out upon the pathway.
However, these things have become so familiar that we are not at all familiar with them in their actual power. The cooling of our passion is due to the fact that we have attempted to spell these things out for ourselves, to explain them by our own philosophy instead of sitting down while He talks to us. The peril of the age in which we live is that we discuss Him in our colleges and theological halls, and all the while, as we discuss Him, the fire bums low. Again, we may be so busy running on His errands and attempting to do His work we never sit still and look into His face.
I beseech you, at all cost, make time to sit still while He speaks to you. We supremely need a little more sitting still, a little more silence, a little more time of listening to the voice of Jesus.
Ask yourself, How long have I taken today to listen to Him? Listen in the morning, listen amid the babble of other voices, listen at eventide for Him. Listen for Him in the Scriptures, through which He spoke to men of old. The study of the Bible will curse us if we are not careful. Unless in your study of the Bible you hear the imperial tone, the voice of the living Christ talking in your inmost soul, your Bible knowledge is a mere technique that will burn you and ruin you.
Listen, listen for His voice. Cease petition sometimes, cease praise sometimes, cease your questioning every now and then, and listen. No man or woman, young man or young woman, youth or maiden, who will cultivate the habit of waiting to listen for the direct message of the Christ will be disappointed. Then your Bible will be a new book. Then your organization will throb with a new power. Then the missionary fire will blaze and drive you out upon the path of service.
May God give us all opened ears that we may hear what He says to us, for His Name's sake.