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The Courage of the Saviour

JOHN, xi. 7, 8.

"Then after that saith He to His disciples, Let us go into Judea again. His disciples say to Him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again?"

We all admire a brave man. And we are right. To be brave is God's gift. To be brave is to be like Jesus Christ. Cowardice is only the devil's likeness. But we must take care what we mean by being brave. Now, there are two sorts of bravery--courage and fortitude. And they are very different: courage is of the flesh,--fortitude is of the spirit. Courage is good, but dumb animals have it just as much as we. A dog, a tiger, and a horse, have courage, but they have no fortitude,--because fortitude is a spiritual thing, and beasts have no spirits like ours.

What is fortitude? It is the courage which will make us not only fight in a good cause, but suffer in a good cause. Courage will help us only to give others pain; fortitude will help us to bear pain ourselves. And more, fortitude will make a fearful person brave, and very often the more brave the more fearful they are. And thus it is that women are so often braver than men. We, men, are made of coarser stuff; we do not feel pain as keenly as women; and if we do feel, we are rightly ashamed to shew it. But a tender woman, who feels pain and sorrow infinitely more than we do, who need not be ashamed of being frightened, who perhaps is terrified at every mouse and spider,--to see her bearing patiently pain, and sorrow, and shame, in spite of all her fearfulness, because she knows it is her duty--that is Christ's likeness--that is true fortitude--that is a sight nobler than all the "bull-dog courage" in the world. For what is the courage of the bull-dog after all, or of the strong quarrelsome man? He is confident in his own strength, he is rough and hard, and does not care for pain; and when he thrusts his head into a fight, like a surly dog, he does it not because it is his duty, but because he likes it, because he is angry, and then every blow and every wound makes him more angry, and he fights on, forgetting his pain from blind rage.

That is not altogether bad; men ought to be courageous. But, oh! my friends, is there not a more excellent way to be brave? and which is nobler, to suffer bravely for God's sake, or to beat men made in God's image bravely for one's own sake? Think of any fight you ever saw, and then compare with that the stories of those old martyrs who died rather than speak a word against their Saviour. If you want to see true fortitude, think of what has happened thousands of times when the heathen used to persecute the Christians.--How delicate women, who would not venture to set the sole of their foot to the ground for tenderness, would submit, rather than give up their religion and deny the Lord who died for them, to be torn from husband and family, and endure nakedness, and insult, and tortures which make one's blood run cold to read of, till they were torn slowly piecemeal, or roasted in burning flames, without a murmur or an angry word,--knowing that Christ, who had borne all things for them, would give them strength to bear all things for Him, trusting that if they were faithful unto death, He would give them a crown of life. There was true fortitude--there was true faith--there was God's strength made perfect in woman's weakness! Do you not see, my friends, that such a death was truly brave? How does bull-dog courage shew beside that courage--the courage which conquers grief and pain for duty's-sake, instead of merely forgetting them in rage and obstinacy?

And do you not see how this bears on my text? How it bears on our Lord's whole life? Was he not indeed the perfectly brave man--the man who endured more than all living men put together, at the very time that he had the most intense fear of what he was going to suffer? And stranger still, endured it all of His own will, while He had it in His power to shake it all off any instant, and free Himself utterly from pain and suffering.

Now, this speech of our Lord's in the text is just a case of true fortitude. He was beyond Jordan. He had been forced to escape thither to save His life from the mad, blinded Jews. He had no foolhardiness; He knew that He had no more right than we have to put His life in danger when there was no good to be done by it. But now there WAS good to be done by it. Lazarus was dead, and He wanted to raise him to life. Therefore He said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." They knew the danger; they said, "Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?" But He would go; He had a work to do, and He dared bear anything to do His work. Ay, here is the secret, this is the feeling which gives a man true courage--the feeling that he has a work to do at all costs, the sense of duty. Oh! my friends, let men, women, or children, once feel that they have a duty to perform, let them once say to themselves, 'I am bound to do this thing--it is right for me to do this thing; I owe it as a duty to my family, I owe it as a duty to my country, I owe it as a duty to God, who called me into this station of life; I owe it as a duty to Jesus Christ, who bought me with His blood, that I might do His will and not my own pleasure.'--When a man has once said that HONESTLY to himself, when that glorious heavenly thought, 'IT IS MY DUTY,' has risen upon his soul, like the sun upon the earth, warming his heart and enlightening it and making it bring forth all good and noble fruits, then that man will feel a strength come to him, and a courage from God above, which will conquer all his fears and his selfish love of ease and pleasure, and enable him to bear insults, and pain, and poverty, and death itself, provided he can but do what is right, and be found by God, whatever happens to him, working God's will where God has put him. This is fortitude--this is true courage--this is Christ's likeness--this is the courage which weak women on sick beds may have as well as strong men on the battle-field. Even when they shrink most from suffering, God's Spirit will whisper to them, 'It is THY duty, it is thy Father's will,' and then they will find His strength made perfect in their weakness, and when their human weakness fails most God will give them heavenly fortitude, and they will be able, like St. Paul, to say, "When I am weak, then I am strong, for I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me."

And now, remember that there was no pride, no want of feeling to keep up our Lord's courage. He has tasted sorrow for every man, woman, and child, and therefore He has tasted fear also; tempted in all things, like as we are, that in all things He might be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,--that there might be no poor soul terrified at the thought of pain or sorrow, but could comfort themselves with the thought, Well, the Son of God knows what fear is. He who said that His soul was troubled--He who at the thought of death was in such agony of terror, that His sweat ran down to the ground like great drops of blood,--He who cried in His agony, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,"--He understands my pain,--He tells me not to be ashamed of crying in my pain like Him, "Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me"--for He will give me the strength to finish that prayer of His, and in the midst of my trouble say, "Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Remember, again, that our Lord was not like the martyrs of old, forced to undergo His sufferings whether He liked them or not. We are too apt to forget that, and therefore we misunderstand our Lord's example; and therefore we misunderstand what true fortitude is. Jesus Christ was the Son of God; He had made the very men who were tormenting Him; He had made the very wood of the cross on which He hung, the iron which pierced His blessed hands; and, for aught we know, one wish of His, and they would all have crumbled into dust, and He have been safe in a moment. But He would not; He ENDURED the cross. He was the only man who ever really endured anything at all, because He alone of all men had perfect power to save Himself, even when He was nailed to the tree, fainting, bleeding, dying. It was never too late for Him to stop. As He said to Peter when he wanted to fight for Christ, "Thinkest thou that I cannot pray to my Father, and He will send me instantly more than twelve legions of angels?" But HE WOULD NOT. He had to save the world, and He was determined to do it, whatever agony or fear it cost Him. St. Peter was a BRAVE man. He drew his sword in the garden, and attacked, single-handed, that great body of armed soldiers; cutting down a servant of the high-priest's. But he was only brave, our Lord was more. The blessed Jesus had true fortitude; He could BEAR patiently, while Peter could only rage and fight uselessly. And see how Christ's fortitude lasted Him, while Peter's mere courage failed him. While our Lord was witnessing that glorious confession of His before Pilate, bearing on through, without shrinking, even to the cross itself, where was Peter? He had denied his Master, and ran shamefully away. He had a long lesson to learn before he was perfect, had Peter. He had to learn not how to fight, but how to suffer--and he learnt it; and in his old age that strong, fierce St. Peter had true fortitude to give himself up to be crucified, like his Lord, without a murmur, and preach Christ's gospel as he hung for three whole days upon the torturing cross. There was fortitude; that violence of his in the garden was only courage as of a brute animal,--courage of the flesh, not the true courage of the spirit. Oh, my friends, that we could all learn this lesson, that it is better to suffer than to revenge, better to be killed than to kill. There are times when a man must fight--for his country, for just laws, for his family, but for himself it is very seldom that he must fight. He who returns good for evil,--he who when he is cursed, blesses those who curse him,-- he, who takes joyfully the spoiling of his goods, who submits to be cheated in little matters, and sometimes in great ones, sooner than ruin the poor sinful wretch who has ill-used him; that man has really put on Christ's likeness, that man is really going on to perfection, and fulfilling the law of love; and for everything he gives up for the sake of peace and mercy, which is for God's sake, God will reward him sevenfold into his bosom. There are times when a man is bound to go to law, bound to expose and punish evil-doers, lest they should, being unpunished, become confident and go on from bad to worse, and hurt others as well as him. A man sometimes is bound by his duty to his neighbours and to society to defend himself, to go to law with those who injure him,--sometimes; but never bound to revenge himself, never bound to say, 'He has hurt me, and I will pay him off for it at law;' that is abusing law, which is God's ordinance, for mere selfish revenge. You may say, it is difficult to know which is which, when to defend oneself, and when not. It is difficult; without the light of God's Spirit, I think no man will know. But let a man live by God's Spirit, let him pray for kindliness, mercifulness, manliness, and patience, for true fortitude to bear and to forbear, and God will surely open his eyes to see when he is called on to avenge an injury, and when he is called on to suffer patiently. God will shew him--if a man wishes to be like Christ, and to work like Christ, at doing good, God will teach him and guide him in all puzzling matters like this. And do not be afraid of being called cowards and milksops for bearing injuries patiently--those who call you so will be likely to be the greatest cowards themselves. Patience is the truest sign of courage. Ask old soldiers, who have seen real war, and they will tell you that the bravest men, the men who endured best, not in mere fighting, but in standing still for hours to be mowed down by cannon-shot; who were most cheerful and patient in shipwreck, and starvation and defeat,--all things ten times worse than fighting,-- ask old soldiers, I say, and they will tell you that the men who shewed best in such miseries, were generally the stillest and meekest men in the whole regiment: that is true fortitude; that is Christ's image--the meekest of men, and the bravest too. And so books say, and seem to prove it, by many strange stories, that the lion, while he is the strongest and bravest of beasts of prey, is also the most patient and merciful. He knows his own strength and courage, and therefore he does not care to be shewing it off. He can afford to endure an affront. It is only the cowardly cur who flies out and barks at every passer-by. And so with our blessed Lord. The Bible calls Him the Lion of Judah; but it also calls Him the Lamb dumb before the shearers. Ah, my friends, we must come back to Him, for all the little that is great and noble in man or woman, or dumb beast even, is perfected in Him; He only is perfectly great, perfectly noble, brave, meek. He who to save us sinful men, endured the cross, despising the shame, till He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, perfectly brave He is, and perfectly gentle, and will be so for ever; for even at His second coming, when He shall appear the Conqueror of hell, with tens of thousands of angels, to take vengeance on those who know not God, and destroy the wicked with the breath of His mouth, even then in His fiercest anger, the Scripture tells us, His anger shall be "the anger of the Lamb." Almighty vengeance and just anger, and yet perfect gentleness and love all the while.--Mystery of mysteries!-- The wrath of the Lamb! May God give us all to feel in that day, not the wrath, but the love of the Lamb who was slain for us!


THE END.

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Charles Kingsley