Box 04-033 THE KING OF FIGHTING MEN
Oct 10 1920
ANNOUNCING HIS OBJECTIVE
(Luke 4: 14-21)
"Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of Him through all the region round about. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And He came to Nazareth where He had been bought up; and, as His custom was He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: for He hath anointed me to bring the good news to the cowering,
He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty them that are bruised,
To proclaim the Lord's year of favour."
Thus Jesus announces the great Objective of His Campaign. As we read these words we wonder afresh at the Pacificist who so confidently denounced the War Waged by the British Commonwealth of Nations, as the negation of all Christ's life and teaching. Almost these very words might have been used by the leaders of the allied armies, which went to the relief of the ravaged countries of Western Europe, to declare the purpose of their campaign. When the armed forces of freedom entered the countries which had been occupied by the enemy, Holland and Belgium, Denmark and Norway, Poland and Czechoslovakia, were they not indeed "bringing the good news" to those who had been daily "cowering" under the brutal treatment of their oppressors? Surely the wild joy with which they were received showed that. And the promise of Deliverance to the Captives was literally fulfilled when the prison camps were opened and their starving inmates staggered out from their gates. In fact the Greek word here translated "captives," actually means "prisoners of war." And what words could better describe the liberation and repatriation of the slave-gangs deported and forced by blows to work in enemy fields and factories than these -- "to set at liberty them that are bruised?"
Nor is this interpretation of the passage fanciful. For was it not written by the prophet for a people enslaved and deported by their Babylonian conquerors in a ruthless struggle for world power-written to encourage them to hope for liberation and repatriation as a result of the military successes of Cyrus, the rising genius of that day?
"The word of the Eternal, your redeemer... 'I am the Eternal, maker of all things... who says of Cyrus, "He is my friend, he execute my purpose!'"
"Thus the Eternal, the true God, hails Cyrus, whom he consecrates -- whose right hand I have grasped, to terrify nations, to open doors before him, to keep gates from being closed.
"I myself will go before you, levelling the mountains, I will shatter the doors of bronze, and cut through iron bars... for 'tis I the Eternal who call you by name... I called you by your name; you know me not, but I delight in you.
"I am the Eternal, no God besides me: kings I disarm, but you I arm, that East and West, men may confess that I the Eternal stand alone -- no other God beside me --
I form light and I make darkness,
I bring bliss and calamity; I the Eternal,
The true God, I do it all.
"Shower down victory, ye heavens, rain it from above ye skies!
Let earth's womb open for the birth of peace, and let her too bear victory --
'Tis I the Eternal who bring this about.
Woe to the man who quarrels with his Maker -- man a mere potsherd of the earth."
(II Isaiah 44:24,28; 45:1-9, Dr. Moffatt's translation.)
Do the Pacifists delete this majestic passage, or do they discard II Isaiah altogether, and that noble anonymous prophet's entire portrait of the Messiah as the "Suffering Servant" of Jehovah?
Moreover it seems as if Jesus deliberately set himself to make the tone of His program militant by omitting the softer notes in Isaiah's original pronouncement, viz., "to comfort all that mourn," "to give unto them an ornament for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Even the single mollifying phrase, "to heal the broken-hearted," which the English Authorized Version includes in the words of Jesus, is omitted in all the best manuscripts. And He went out of His way to bring in from another chapter of II Isaiah, the fifty-eighth, the clause, "to set at liberty them that are bruised," as if He desired to make it clear that He came to do more than "preach" liberty; that He came to strike a blow for it. We have more here than the pious aspirations of a tender-hearted poet. We have the fighting speech of a champion.
Will the Objective of Jesus have been attained then, when the War having been won, all possible precautions are taken against the oppression of one nation by another. No. The words of Lloyd George will still ring in our ears,--
"It is as great a disgrace for a flag to float over slum children as over defeat in battle."
The words, "to set at liberty them that are bruised," with which Jesus buttresses the paragraph immediately before His eyes, are taken from the sixth verse of the fifty-eight chapter of II Isaiah, and form the heart of a powerful passage in which the prophet strives to awaken the national sense of social responsibility.
The people are represented as saying reproachfully to God, "Wherefore have we fasted and Thou seest not?" To which the Almighty replies, "Lo, in the very day of your fast, ye find a business to do, and all your workmen you overtask... Is not this the fast that I have chosen?-- to loose the bonds of tyranny, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall break forth like the morning thy light, thy health shall immediately spring. Yea, go before thee shall thy righteousness, the glory of Jehovah shall sweep thee on. Then thou shalt call and Jehovah shall answer; thou shalt cry, and He shall say 'Here am I.' If thou shalt put from thy midst the yoke, and the finger of scorn, and backbiting, and if thou draw out to the hungry thy soul, and satisfy the soul that is afflicted, then shall uprise in the darkness thy light, and thy gloom shall be as the noonday. And Jehovah shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in draughts, and thy limbs make lissom; and thou shalt be like a garden well-watered, and like a spring whose waters fail not."
Again and again does Jesus insist upon our responsibility for the welfare of others. One of His fiercest charges against the Scribes is that they "devour widows' houses." The rich man in hell, tormented in its flame, craving a drop of water to cool his tongue, is accused of no other offence than that he neglected the beggar at his gate. And in that solemn and awful portrayal of the Last Judgment which the Son of God left us (Mathew 25:31), it is to those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked, and visited those sick and in prison, that the words of approving welcome, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," are to be spoken; while upon those on His left hand the terrible words of doom: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, are pronounced with the scathing indictment: "I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger and ye took me not in: naked and ye clothed me not: sick and in prison, ye visited me not... Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
Human relationships are today much more complicated than when Jesus walked the earth in the days of His flesh. But the experience of the war years has demonstrated human ability to carry out intricate enterprises of hitherto unimaginable vastness. And Christ demands that this ability be used not for the gratification of private greed in acquiring wealth, but for the general welfare in its more equal distribution.
Nowhere does Christ command the masses of toilers to stand tamely by and permit a handful of rapacious robber barons to control and consume the lion's share of the fruits of His earth and of their fellows' labour, while many of those who work the hardest are deprived of the means to maintain health and decency for themselves and their families.
The King of Fighting Men stands in the forefront of the battle for social justice; and He would win more widespread loyalty from the ranks of the world's army of workers if His ministers would make known more clearly that He is the God-given leader of this very army.
Does the establishment of national liberty and of social justice comprise the whole of the Great Objective of Jesus? By no means. There is a kind of liberty more essential to the happiness or social liberty; and that is personal liberty -- the liberty to do right instead of wrong. The most galling bondage that oppressed the world when Christ came was not the yoke of Caesar, but the yoke of sin. And I believe that when Jesus uttered this clarion call to freedom that it was freedom from the bitter bondage of sin with all the misery that it entailed, which He had most in mind.
It is natural that the great price at which national and political liberty has been maintained during the years of war, and the urgent difficulties involved in industrial reconstruction, should make political and social freedom loom large among the essentials of human liberty. But a clear and complete view of life in its true perspective shows us that it is not the ambitious Hitler nor the rapacious capitalist who is the archenemy of the human race, but sin and Satan. For no servitude which circumscribes a man's outer movements can be degrading as the sin which fastens its fetters upon our very vitals, distorting and perverting our noblest faculties, and tormenting us with the unsleeping relentlessness of a depraved and insatiable appetite.
Those unhappy women of France and Belgium who fell into the clutches of the ruthless invaders were immeasurably less degraded by the outrages inflicted upon them than were the brutes who inflicted them. And the women's servitude of the body was not to be compared in depravity with the men's servitude of mind and will to the loathsome lust which lashed them on to such abominable atrocities. And this is only one of the many forms in which Sin makes men and women the instruments of their own corruption and drags them down to depths of degradation to which no human enemy could reduce them. It is sometimes said of a drunkard, "Poor chap, he is his own worst enemy." Every man is his own worst enemy, and the only enemy who can do him real and lasting injury.
That sin was regarded by the King of Fighting Men as His great antagonist there can be no question. When an attempt was made to provoke Him into denouncing the tyranny of Rome, He replied, "Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's" (Luke 20:25).
He refused to act as arbitrator in the division of property, and His most solemn words about riches dwelt on the danger they held for him who possessed them (Mathew 19:23-24). But before He was born, the word went out to His foster-father, "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Mathew 1:21). He himself declared, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I unto the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37). "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). "If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). And on the last night of His earthly life, He calmly announced that the deliberate purpose of the death to which He was about to surrender Himself was to deliver men from sin, saying, "This is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
It is sin far more than social injustice that makes slaves. And it is sin that spoils the lives of many far removed from the slums. The intellectual and aesthetic culture of Oscar Wilde did not keep him from the most hideous depravity.
Some years ago there lived in the city of Toronto a witty Irishman, said to have been educated for the prioesthood, whose love of liquor was so much stronger than his love of liberty that he spent most of his time in the local jail. The magistrate knew that he was more to be pitied than punished, and on the last occasion on which the old man was brought before him, said to him, "How much shall I make it this time, John?" John replied drearily and without his usual jest, "Make it six months, your Honour." It was late winter at the time, so the magistrate asked kindly, "Why, wouldn't you like to get out when the fine weather comes?" And John replied with a verse of Horace, which he translated, "The year hath no seasons for the broken soul."
The year has no seasons for the soul broken by sin. For him the sun never shines, no flowers bloom and no birds sing. The blinded Samson dragging out his dreary round in the prison mill was not so abject a slave to his enemies or so cut off from all the joy of life, as is the wretched slave of sin, who has become the puppet of the passions he has played with and obeys the promptings of his tyrant appetite long after he has ceased to find any pleasure in indulging it.
It is here that Jesus Christ is not merely the great Liberator but the only one. On the battlefield of the human heart against the habit-entrenched forces of sin and Satan, the King of Fighting Men is at His greatest as the most determined, the most relentless and the most skilful of sin-fighters. He said of Himself with calm confidence, "The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost." One of His first followers declared, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." And more than sixty generations of hell-beset men and women, from Mary Magdalene to "Old Born Drunk" have testified to His conquering power as shown in their own deliverance.
Much has been said in recent years belittling the Christian doctrine of personal salvation, on the ground that a man's interest in the saving of his own soul is an unworthy piece of selfishness. Now the salvation of his own soul may be a man's chief business; but it certainly should be his first business if he is to be really efficient in anything else. Surely it is a mistaken sort of altruism which prompts a man to make frenzied but futile efforts to help other people while his own hands and feet ate fettered, when the key which would set him free and give full play to his powers of usefulness hangs within easy reach.
The motto of the true Christian is "Saved to Serve;" but he must be saved first, before his service can accomplish the utmost possible. It is not by a motley mob of sin-bound free-lance reformers that the world is to be saved, politically, socially and industrially, but by an ordered army of freemen enlisted under the command of their Deliverer, the King of Fighting Men, and watchfully obedient to Him. In this way, and only in this way, will the Great Objective be attained?
But in the very speech in which the Commander-in-Chief declared His Objective, He also "proclaimed the acceptable year of the Lord," He announced that the Day of Release had come. The Zero Hour has struck. The fight is on.
1 The Table of contents of Calvin's book can be found with letter W-MCP2-3b.035.
For chapter 1, see Box 04-028.
For chapter 2, see Box 04-029.
For chapter 3, see Box 04-030.
For chapter 4, see Box 04-031.
For chapter 5, see Box 04-032.