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The Man in the Garden

On a summer morning, in a seaside village in Wester Ross-shire, an old man who was also a choice Christian suddenly stood still and began to listen. At that moment the sun was pouring its first beams of soft light over the distant Coolin hills.

The early morning boat from the Western Isles had arrived, and was now lying in the stillness of the morning at the pier. And someone was singing a Psalm. It was the most appropriate song that could he sung at that hour. The voice was rich and musical, so that in the deep calm of the dawn it carried far across the bay.

The words sung were from Psalm Nineteen which speaks to all of God’s glory as it may be seen in His creation.

‘The heavens God’s glory do declare,

The skies His hand-works preach:

Day utters speech to day, and night

To night doth knowledge teach.

 

In them He set the sun a tent;

Who, bridegroom-like, forth goes

From’s chamber, as a strong man doth

To run his race rejoice.’

As the old man listened, he was deeply moved not only by the quality of the voice, but by the deeper significance of the words which reached his ear. ‘The Bridegroom,’ ‘The Sunrise.’ Did he not remember Another Whose name is the ‘Sun of Righteousness,’ the ‘bright and morning star,’ and Whose goings forth have been from of old?

He remembered how He had left the chambers of the heavenly world that He might run His race down here and finish with joy the work which His Father had given Him to do. It was He who arose with healing in His wings on our fallen sin-sick world, and Who in a storm of suffering and death sank into the grave, but Who arose again on the third day in the power of an endless life.

The promise that Christ, the light of the world, and the Redeemer of His people, should appear in the fullness of time engaged His people’s prayers and interest in every gener­ation. As Christ rejoiced in the prospect of coming down here to redeem His own, wistful eyes of the Bride were ever turned toward the heavenly world, waiting for the promised day when He should come over the mountains of time and separ­ation.

‘Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the the mountains of Bether.’ The Psalmist also gives voice to the same thought and longing, ‘My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning.’

Sometimes those who wish to enjoy a clearer and more impressive view of the sunrise climb a mountain that they might, with its rising, feast their eyes on the colours and the glories of the sky. In the same way the Bride, during the whole of the first dispensation, speaks of herself as on the mountain of myrrh, and on the hill of frankincense waiting, in prayer and patience, for the dawn of day when her Lord should appear. And He came as was predicted of Him in His Word and in answer to her prayers.

But here we are confronted with man’s deepest tragedy. It is the tragedy of his total spiritual blindness. When, for example, in the physical world we are unable to see the sun our blindness is complete. And not to see the glory of the Lord in His Person, Word and Ministry is the appalling proof that we are not only in darkness, but that we ourselves are darkness.

The extent of our ‘’religious’ light, our intellectual and moral attainments, fail to relieve this state of man; for if ‘the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.’ This is what sin has done. The God of this world has blinded our eyes.

This was why, when He who is the brightness of God’s glory appeared in this world, multitudes passed Him by. They saw no beauty in Him that they should desire Him: ‘The light shined in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ This is how we all are until, by a miracle of grace, the veil is removed from our eyes.

There is a famous picture entitled ‘The Blind Girl’ which has a deep spiritual meaning. In that picture the sky is replete with beauty. A double rainbow spans the heavens, while in the distance the sun is breaking through a cloud. The earth below, with its vivid pastoral touches, is ideally lovely. But the blind girl sees nothing.

She lives in a world of perpetual night. Her companion, whose eyes are full of light, is enrap­tured at the scene, but she can convey nothing of what she sees to her friend. And if she tried to do this, her blind friend would not understand.

The picture could be a parable.

There is another world and a glorious Saviour, whose loveliness we shall never see till our eyes are opened. Those in whose lives God had wrought this miracle of enlightenment could say when Christ appeared in the world, ‘We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’

This too, was the subject of Paul’s prayers on behalf of his Ephesian converts. ‘That the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling . . . . And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.’

And without this unveil­ing of our inner eyes by the power of God’s Spirit we shall never see the beauty of Christ. This should be the subject of our prayers, for He came to give the blind their sight.

These remarks remind me of a brief talk I once had with a stranger in the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. It was summer. The day was bright and warm. The flowers and the trees which feast the eyes of those weary city dwellers who love to relax there for a while were full of beauty and life.

This stranger who shared my seat that afternoon was anxious to talk. And the subject of his remarks was what we called ‘true religion’.’ Like everyone of his kind he advanced the view that if we did our best; if we lived ‘the good life’ and loved our neighbour, then surely God would give us a place in heaven at last.

After a short pause I asked him a few apparently irrelevant questions. ‘Do you see the sun up there in the sky?’ ‘Of course, I see it,’ he answered. ‘And you see these flowers which grow in this garden, and the people who walk about?’ ‘Yes, I do,’ he replied, eyeing me somewhat strangely.

‘And do you know why we see these things? Is it not because we are here and that we have the precious gift of sight? Actually, we see these things because we were born into this lower world of nature. If we had not been born we would see nothing. We would in fact have no existence at all.’

I then drew his attention to an incident recorded in the Gospel about a learned Jew who once interviewed Jesus Christ. This very religious and cultured man wanted very much to know who Jesus was, and how He did those miracles which were such a remarkable feature of His public ministry. He wanted to know something about His kingdom and His divine power.

Instead, however, of giving a reasoned explan­ation of His Person, and of ‘the world’ to which He and His followers belonged, our Lord simply said: ‘Ye must be born again.’ In other words, Christ would have him realise that with all his ‘goodness’ and ‘religion’, he could never hope to know anything about Himself, or His power, or of His heavenly kingdom unless he was first born into that world of spiritual reality and grace to which the Lord and His people belonged. It was not enough that he be born within the circle of a church and a member of a favoured people, Heaven required another birth and a higher relationship.

It requires, in other words, a spiritual birth to know spiritual things. Just as any knowledge of the natural world presupposes our birth and normal powers of perception so without this miracle of grace we just cannot know Christ or see His kingdom.

I never saw my friend again, but I hope he took to heart the meaning of our Lord’s words, that the Church in Heaven is, by a deep inescapable necessity, designated the ‘Church of the first-born.’

There is another thing that requires to he said at this point. Those who imagine - as so many do - that they could enjoy heaven without this new nature have to reckon with the terrible fact that, since their sinful nature is hostile to God and to every­thing which is of God, they could not endure Heaven for one half-hour. And Heaven could not endure them.

Such would far rather be elsewhere than in Heaven. No creature can survive in an environment which is hostile and uncongenial to its nature. It would be easier for a man to survive in a con­suming fire than for an unconverted sinner to endure the eternal weight of glory, holiness and love which shall be the spiritual and blissful environment of the redeemed in Heaven forever.

We have, for example, known those on earth to whom God’s Word, God’s people and God’s house were utterly repugnant. And yet some of those people think that they could enjoy an everlasting fellowship with God and His people in Heaven.

This is as impossible as it is irrational and unscriptural. It is not going to happen. ‘Ye must be born again.’

It was this spiritual rebirth that endowed with spiritual insight, and recognition those who beheld the hidden glory of the Lord while He was here on earth. ‘Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’

It was not, therefore, the literary and prophetic beauty of the Psalm, or the quality of the voice, which so much moved the emotions of that man of God as he listened on that early morning to the Psalm. It was his apprehension of Christ’s loveliness and of His great love in leaving the chambers of Heaven to redeem His people, and His returning thither again with the salvation of all His people secured.

He could also thank God that all this had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, and that by God’s grace he was to participate in that glory which shall be revealed in all those who love His appearing. Both Scriptures and experience prove then, that in a state of sin we have no spiritual perception.

The Scriptures also predicted that Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, would, for wise and just reasons, enter our world in disguise. He would appear not only in the garments of absolute holiness but also in the garments of poverty, humiliation and suffering.

It was necessary that He should enter this world without visible glory or outward splendour. If he had appeared otherwise the world could not have endured the sight of His infinite majesty.

In coming as He did we see His loving condescension and His sympathy with our fallen state. He appeared in the likeness of sinful flesh. His face was more marred than any other, and His form more than the sons of men. He came as a man of sorrows - bowed down under the weight of our sins which God had laid upon His heart.

And when He did come He entered our world unobtrusively. Few knew that He who lay in the bosom of a woman unable to walk and unable to speak, was the Creator and Sustainer of all things.

He humbled Himself and ‘took upon Him the form of a servant.’ For thirty years of His earthly life He dwelt in obscurity. Some members of His own family, even, were unaware of the solemn fact that He Who shared their pillow and their table was the eternal God in man’s nature.

Those who were looking for a Messianic Prince of earthly power could not reconcile the lowly Man of Nazereth with their own wishful thinking - which had no basis in the pro­phetic Word of God. They were looking for one whose kingdom was to be of this world and who should go forth to subdue all nations.

Although the scriptural and spiritual ‘signs’ of His Messianic character were present in His life and in His works and words, they rejected Him. They had no eyes to see that under those garments He was their God - albeit in disguise.

This homeless Person Whose very followers were drawn from among those who had no social distinction or ecclesiastical status could not surely be ‘the Star of Jacob’ or the ‘King of Israel!’ Thus, there was no recognition of His glory and therefore no acceptance of His claims. ‘There standeth one among you, Whom ye know not.’ Only His Bride, born from above and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, knew His voice and recognised His face.

It is this spiritual recognition and acceptance of His Divine glory and claims that brings unending joy to all His people. But how sad to think that He is still, in the life of many, the unknown and unwanted Redeemer of men. Let me illustrate this fact by the following story.

Many years ago a quaint-looking minister preached in the Church of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen. With his home-spun coat and long, unruly hair his appearance was so odd that an amused smile played on many faces in the large congregation that came to hear him. But as the service continued the smiles vanished and instead many were moved to tears as they listened to his words.

In the life of many present it was a memorable hour. God’s power had touched many hearts. Hundreds were asking the old but all-important question, ‘What must we do to be saved?’

The strange minister went on to quote the words: ‘Behold I stand at the door and, knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him and he with Me.’

He then pictured the Lord of glory, patiently and lovingly, standing at the door of men’s hearts and waiting to be welcomed and received, but still unknown and unrecognised.

In the course of his sermon he told a story. It was that of a young Scottish prince of a bye-gone age who, in disguise, knocked on the door of a nobleman’s palace. It was the day when his only daughter was about to celebrate her coming of age.

Many suitors were waiting for her hand. Leaning on a crutch and dressed as a tramp, this disguised prince asked if he might see the young lady who was being honoured that day. When at last she came to the door she asked him of his errand. ‘I have come,’ he answered, ‘to ask your hand in marriage.’

For a moment she looked into his face and then put out her hand and said,  ‘very well. Here it is.’ The ‘tramp,’ with evident joy, then asked about the day when the marriage should take place. The young lady replied – ‘This day twelve months hence.’

The incident was much enjoyed by her attendants who were looking on, and who thought it a good and easy way of getting rid of such a poor, unbalanced wretch. But the incident ceased to be amusing when, on that day and throughout the intervening months, she refused every offer of marriage on the grounds that she had already given her heart and hand to another.

Her father pleaded with her not to act so foolishly as to tie her life to an unknown pauper. But nothing would move her from her purpose. She had given her word and made her choice.

It was exactly a year from that day that the inmates of the castle heard the sounds of many pipes and drums. And over the crest of a distant hill they saw a procession moving toward them, headed by the king’s son riding his favourite steed.

He was no longer the unrecognised ‘tramp’ in rags, for he came dressed in royal garments. He had come, as he said he would and at that castle door his loved one stood waiting for him. It was then that the astonished company realised who the disguised and ill-clad visitor of the year before really was. She alone had recognised him then, and in recognising him, she had pledged herself to be his forever.

The minister who told this story was the famous Lachlan MacKenzie of Lochcarron. The story was meant to warn his hearers against judging by appearances.

The Lord of glory entered our world in disguise. We little know who Christ Crucified is. Many exclude Him from their lives. The offence of His Cross is still a persistent obstacle in the way of many. For Him there is no room ‘in the inn’. We welcome others, but Him we leave to stand outside. He is still standing at many a door, unknown and unwanted. But what anguish awaits all those who refuse Him when, surrounded by the hosts of the heavenly world, He shall re-appear in all the dignity of His exalted glory.

‘I was a stranger and ye took me not in’ is a fearful judgement to face. And only those who had recognised and welcomed Him when He knocked at the door shall be admitted into His glorious presence to share in the fullness of joy which is for ever more at His right hand. (Psalm 16).

Our salvation, therefore, required not only that He should love and redeem us. It requires also that by a miracle of grace our souls should be quickened, and our inner eyes unveiled and that all barriers between us and God should be removed.