The Burning of the Heart

by G. Campbell Morgan

"Was not our heart burning within us, while He spake to us in the way, while He opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32).

Burning of heart. That 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 spacious and correct than ever before, yet sometimes I am afraid that our sense of emotion and fire was never less.

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 real. Painted fire never warms anyone. There may be a great deal of noise; there may be a great deal of protestation of love, while the overwhelming and majestic passion is absent. I am not suggesting that a single person in this audience should go away to talk more of love for Jesus Christ. I do say that the church sadly lacks burning of heart, fire, fervor, passion, devotion.

The story from which my text is taken, is most interesting in the light of these opening words. It is one of the post-resurrection stories, and we are still living in post-resurrection times. Christ as He appeared to these men 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. These men had lost their devotion-not their love altogether, not their faith, save in some senses, but their devotion-their passion, their fervor, and their fire.

Think with me first of what this story reveals to us about these two men as to their possession and their lack. I shall then ask you to look with me at Christ's quest, His method, and His victory-in order that we may find its present, living application to our own souls.

What They Still Possessed

Looking back, then, to Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple on the road that leads to Emmaus, 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 he might sift you as wheat"-that is, the whole of you, for there the pronoun is plural-"but I made supplication for thee"-and though this pronoun 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. This journey to Emmaus was not one of forgetfulness. 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 was their testimony. Even though He had been beaten, crucified, and was dead, they loved Him. They loved His memory. They believed that He meant well, that He did good, and that His ministry was a blessed ministry.

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. "We had hoped," they went on, "that it was He which should redeem Israel."

Mark carefully the past tense. Their hope was gone. He meant to redeem Israel. He meant well, but He has 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 loved Him still, and still spoke a tender word for Him. "He was a good man. He was a prophet mighty in deed and word, but He could break the chain of our oppression and lift us out of our ruin, and redeem Israel and set up the Kingdom. We hoped-but it is all gone. We have lost our hope."

Consequently, the fire was burning low. There was no passion, no vision, no virtue, no victory, no force, no fervor remaining.

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, and yet there is a very widespread cooling of the church's passion-a dying down of the fires which blaze in the day of the conflict which makes for victory.

We are not quite confident in His ability to do what we thought He was going to do. The movement seems so slow. The chariot wheels are tarrying, and the victory does not come. We are inwardly, if not confessedly, pessimistic, and this pessimism manifests itself in the prevalent consent to compare Him with others. We put some picture of Him in our galleries beside the pictures of other men, and we say, "Of course, He was easily first. We love Him. We admire His ethic. We admire His ideal, but He took His way in semidarkness toward failure."

In comparing Him with others, we are modifying our conceptions of His victories. We even consider suggestions that perhaps, after all, the religion of Buddha is more suited to Eastern lands than the religion of Jesus Christ. We are asking whether, after all, another and a finer ethic is finding its way into the thinking of our age.

And all unconsciously the fire of the church 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.

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 holden. There is today an appalling lack of the clear vision of the Christ which makes the heart burn with fire and fervor and passion.

How Christ Dealt with Them

I confess I am surprised at the wonder of His coming to these men. And if I may turn aside from my argument briefly, 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 came to these men. Listen to His own estimate of them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe." Yet He came and walked at their side, and dealt with their foolishness, and stirred up the slow heart until it burned and flamed. 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? He comes because He is seeking love. It is there in those doubt-shadowed hearts, and He knows it, and He will come and renew it. He always seeks the beautiful. He sees it, and therefore seeks it, where you and I would never look for it. Jesus can always see something of beauty and glory which other eyes cannot see.

Perhaps a few of you do not know what I am driving at. Some do. I have lost the fire in my life, my passion and my fervor. I want to say here-out of place if you like-that Christ sees the little that remains, and will say to me today, "I have come to seek that. Strengthen the things that remain." In the case of these men He saw personal loyalty underneath the hope abandoned and the confidence shaken, and He went and joined Himself to them in order that He might fan to flame the fire which was dying out upon the altar of their hearts.

How He Did It

Mark His method. He made their hearts burn by giving them a new interpretation of familiar things. He made their hearts bum by talking to them. Their hearts did not burn within them while they talked to him, nor while they talked about him. Their hearts burned within them when He talked to them. That puts everything I want to say into a few words: 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 did He say? He did not bring to them any new message. It was the old, but spoken as they had never heard it said before. "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets He interpreted to them in the scriptures the things concerning Himself."

Have you not felt as I have, that you would have given almost everything to have walked to Emmaus and heard Him interpret the Scriptures? He talked of the Scriptures with which they were perfectly familiar, of Moses, of the ancient history and the Law, of the prophetic writings in which they had been instructed from childhood, and tracked for them all the pathways that culminated in the Man whose crucifixion they were mourning. 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 did not know who was talking to them. But they did see 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. He interpreted in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. I have often felt that it would have been worth a whole lifetime to have walked with Him and heard Him tell how the shadow of the Mosaic economy found its fulfillment in Him.

Then when He took their prophets one by one, how wonderful to hear Him explain, and how marvelous the rapture of their heart as they heard Him tell how all the prophets led up to the Messiah who died, just as they had seen their Leader die.

As they listened to Him they found out that He was David's King; and in the days of Solomon's well-doing He it was that was "altogether lovely." He was Isaiah's child-King, with a name, Emmanuel, gathering within itself all excellencies. He was Jeremiah's "Branch of righteousness"; Ezekiel's "Plant of renown," giving shade and shedding fragrance; Daniel's stone cut without hands, smiting the image, becoming a mountain, and filling the whole Earth; the ideal Israel of Hosea; to Joel "the hope of His people"; the usherer-in of the great vision of Amos of "the plowman overtaking the reaper"; and of Obadiah the "deliverance upon Mount Zion and holiness"; 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 who brought to the people the pure language of Zephaniah's message, the true Zerubbabel of Haggai's word, rebuilding forever the house and the city of God; Himself 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.... The Sun of righteousness" of Malachi's vision.

All these things passed in rapid survey as He talked. He was taking their own prophets and unlocking them, flinging back the shutters and letting the light stream in. He talked to them, and they were silent; and there broke upon them a new vision, a new understanding of things with which they were perfectly familiar.

What was their burning heart? 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.

Their Need Is Ours Also

All this came when they listened when He spoke to them. Here, then, as it seems to me, is the supreme need of the hour, that we should "strengthen the things that remain"-the doctrines which we hold as true, the ordnances of the church which we observe as mere routine duty.

We need that the doctrine we hold as true should flame into passionate vision, driving us into genuine service. What do I mean? Let me give you one small quotation from Jesus' last words. He said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age." We have recited it, we have sung it, and once or twice we have felt it burn; but in the majority of days we do not feel it burning, driving us. That declaration of Jesus that He was always with His disciples 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. 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. 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 hearts 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 always."

What, then, is the message I bring to you today? It is this: I beseech you, at all cost, make time to sit still while Christ 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. I am speaking as much to my own heart as to the heart of anyone in this house. We may be so busy running on His errands and attempting to do His work we never to sit still and look into His face.

It is not true that men cannot hear Him as they did of old. We do not listen enough. Listen in the morning, listen amid the babble of other voices, listen at eventide for Him. In the Scriptures, those selfsame Scriptures through which He spoke to men of old, listen for Him.

Listen, for, unless as a result of 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 for His voice. Cease petition sometimes, cease praise sometimes, cease your questioning every now and then, and listen.

No man or 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 the propulsion of a new power. Then the missionary fire will blaze and drive you out upon the path of service.

From Westminster Pulpit, volume 1, chapter 7

Thanks to Capstone Books

George Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) was born in Gloucestershire, England. Because of his frailty, he was taught at home by his parents and tutors. He had a quick mind and an insatiable desire for knowledge. At the age of thirteen he preached his first sermon, in a Methodist church. He became a powerful Bible commentator and the greatest expositor of the Word in the early part of the twentieth century. At age 35 he was called to preach at the Fifth Presbyterian Church in New York City. But it was at the Westminster Chapel in London that he preached his famous sermons later published in the eleven volumes of The Westminster Pulpit.

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