Christ Not Hidden
"But He could not be hidden." Mark 7:24
Christ's popularity was in the ascendant when the incident occurred which introduces to us these remarkable words. Delighted with His wonderful and beneficent works, the people sought by force to make Him a King. But that the Scripture concerning Him might be fulfilled- "His voice shall not be heard in the streets" (that is, no popular commotion or excitement shall attend His steps)- He retires into the country round about Tyre and Sidon, and seeks concealment in a private dwelling: "but He could not be hid."
A Canaanite woman who had a suffering child, with a depth and perseverance of love which only a mother knows, tracked His steps and found Him in His retreat. Our Lord, at first, though she had discovered Him, veils from her His pity and power. "Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not right to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs. And she answered and said unto Him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs. And He said unto her, For this saying go your way; the devil is gone out of your daughter."
Such is the touching narrative which suggests and illustrates the interesting subject which is now to engage our thoughts, namely, the impossibility of Jesus concealing Himself from those who are set upon an earnest and persevering search for Him. And yet there is a part of Christian experience which would seem at times to contradict this truth. There may be events in God's providence and stages of the believer's travail in which there is, for the time, the hiding of Christ, as it were, from their view. This is the dark background of our delightful picture which, with a view of enhancing its brighter aspect, it may be profitable for a moment to look at.
But before doing this, let us briefly take a more extended and solemn view of the subject, and remark that Christ is a hidden object to the unregenerate. The world knows not Jesus: He is a stranger in the land. In Him is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled, He is "as a root out of the dry ground: He has no form, nor loveliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." Ignorance veils their understanding, sin closes their hearts, guilt darkens their conscience. And although Christ is lifted up before them in the preaching of the Gospel, until the veil is removed from their hearts they see Him not: so awfully verified in them are the words of the Apostle- "If our Gospel is hid, it is hid to those who are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ should shine unto them."
Earnestly pray, my reader, that this appalling picture may find no resemblance in you! If still unconverted, it most assuredly and solemnly does. Christ is hidden to your spiritual eye; other objects conceal Him; self-righteousness veils Him; the world hides Him; the creature obscures Him. And thus Jesus, the only Being essential for you to know, and worthy of your sight and deserving of your love- in whose hands your eternal destiny is lodged, who can raise you to heaven or sink to hell- is deeply, darkly hidden from your view.
Christ, too, is hidden from the mere religious professor. How many there are holding the oil less lamp of Christian profession, to whom the rebuke of Christ, addressed to one of His disciples of old, will apply, "Have I been so long a time with you, and yet have you not known Me?" Christ has been with you O nominal professor, in the ministry of the Word, in the institutions of His Church, in the examples of His saints, and in the dealings of His providence; and yet you have not spiritually, experimentally, and practically known Him.
He is still, as to any vital saving knowledge, a hidden Christ to you. Awake up from your religion of form, get the oil of converting, quickening grace into your heart, for the Bridegroom is speedily coming and you must go forth to meet Him. Oh terrible meeting, if it be found that until that solemn moment Jesus had been, through all the long years of your religious profession, but a hidden Savior!
In the ministry of how many who profess to preach Him is Christ hidden! I utter the sentiment not in a uncharitable spirit- more in pity than in anger when I assert that all who preach religious duties in the place of faith- all who overlay Christ with the flowers of human philosophy and learning- all who pluck the crown of Deity from His brow, and who either preach His Atonement with reserve, or keep it back altogether- all who heed the popular cry, "Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophecy deceits,"- all who thus, in their ministry, veil the Lord Jesus Christ from the longing eye of His saints, forcing from them the bitter lamentation, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him," -must rank with those who preach a hidden Christ, entombing Him as in a sepulcher, and rolling a great stone at its mouth.
For all such preachers of a "false Christ," let your earnest prayer ascend to God, that the Savior may be discovered to them. And let your fervent prayer also ascend for those who faithfully aim to preach Christ crucified- that they, by His gift of grace, may exalt Him higher and yet higher. O, that there were less criticizing of the ministry and more prayer for the minister! then would our profiting appear unto many.
But we reach now our main subject- an interesting page of Christian experience. The saints of God often have to complain of the visible withdrawal of the Lord's presence. The language of God addressed to His Church in the prophecy of Isaiah seems to intimate this- "For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the LORD your Redeemer." Such, too, was the complaint of the Church of old- "By night on my bed I sought Him whom my soul loves: I sought Him, but I found Him not. I opened to my Beloved; but my Beloved had withdrawn Himself, and was gone: my soul failed when He spoke: I sought Him, but I could not find Him; I called Him, but He made me no answer."
Such a dreary path in the Christian pilgrimage he is often called to tread. Jesus is for a while hidden to the longing eye. Like the holy women at the tomb, they seek Him, but He is not there. Like the sad and pensive disciples journeying to Emmaus, they were kept from recognizing him, and He is veiled from their sight. He is, as it were, a hidden Christ. Is this your present experience, my Christian reader? Be not cast down. All the saints, more or less, have left their footprints along this path. Even Jesus Himself has trodden it.
One of the darkest and most terrible pages of His history was His desertion upon the cross- was the hiding from Him of His Father. Listen to the cry, "My God! My God! why have you forsaken Me?" O how completely was Christ one with His people in all the stages of their homeward travel!
And this may be the path you are now treading dreary and lonesome. Jesus is to you as a hidden Savior. Sin may have forced His momentary withdrawal, unbelief may veil Him from your vision, or deep sorrow dim your eye. But be of good cheer! His hiding is but for a moment. He will return again, and restore to you the joys of His salvation, and you shall once more walk in the light of the Lord.
This conducts us to our second thought- the impossibility that Christ should be really hid. "But He could not be hid." In what respects is this true? His essential glory cannot be hid. Veiled, indeed, was His Godhead in flesh: yet even this was but partial. There were occasions in His history when through the veil of His humanity the rays of His deity burst forth with convincing and overpowering effulgence. For example: on the occasion of His first visit in Cana of Galilee, it is recorded that, "He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." Again: on the occasion of His Transfiguration His divine glory shone round about Him, and His disciples were "eyewitnesses of His majesty." Thus His Divine dignity, glory, and, power cannot be hid. Men may deny His Godhead and reject His Atonement, but as well may they attempt to blot the sun from its sphere or to stop the progress of the earth round its center, as to hide the glory of His Deity, or impede the advancing conquests of His death.
The orb of His majesty has arisen, and His enemies cannot extinguish it; the tide of His truth has set in, and error cannot arrest it; His kingdom is established in the world, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. My reader, if you are on the side of Christ and His truth, you are on the strong and the victorious side. There is no neutrality here. We are either for Christ, or we are against Christ. "He that is not with Me is against Me," said the Lord. See that you are with Christ; your heart with Him, your talents, your influence, your time and your worldly substance- all, all for Jesus.
Valiant for His truth on the earth, vindicating the honor of His name, and devoted to the advancement of His kingdom in the world, and, above all, living the holiness of His Gospel, you follow the banner of Him who will lead you from conquest to conquest, and finally to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life! Oh, is not this worth the struggle with sin, the mortification of the flesh, a crucifixion to the world, and a life of self-denying consecration to Jesus?
The love of Christ cannot be hid; His whole life was a life of love. Every word He spoke was the echo of love; every act He performed was the deed of love; every tear He shed was the sensibility of love; every pang He endured was the suffering of love. O how Jesus loved! It was impossible that His love, which blazed out more brightly than the noonday sun, could be concealed: His love is as visible to us now. Satan seeks to conceal it by his suggestions, unbelief would rob you of it by its doubts, sin would wrest it from you by its guilt, even sorrow would enshroud it in some dark cloud. Nevertheless, the love of Christ is too divine and too human, too great and too free to be a concealed and unknown thing.
Behold it, my reader! It unveils its bosom to you; it opens its door to you; it holds out its hand to you; it invites you to approach in the deep consciousness of your sin and misery, your emptiness and poverty, and accept in faith the costliest gift it can bestow, the greatest blessing it can confer, even the present entire pardon of your sins and a full, free justification of your person. Thus will the all powerful love of Christ burst through every barrier of unbelief, lay low every mountain of sin, penetrate every shade of sorrow, and stand before the believing soul, a love unparalleled and unrivaled, which no cloud veil can conceal, and which many waters cannot quench.
The willingness and ability of Christ to save sinners cannot be hid. The world is filled with too many witnesses for this. Every truly converted sinner, every loving gracious soul is a lasting monument of the salvation of Jesus- a living witness to His power and His grace in saving to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. With so great a cloud of witnesses, then, to Christ's reception of poor lost sinners, need you, my reader, despair of being saved? What! will you be the one solitary exception? Will you be the first to perish at His feet- to die suing out your pardon beneath His cross- sent empty and unblest away from the door of His mercy, at which you have so long anxiously and beseechingly knocked? Oh no! never! Arise, and go into the royal presence of the King of grace, exclaiming,
"Perhaps He will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my prayer;
But if I perish I will pray,
And perish only there.
"And if I die with mercy sought,
When I the King have tried,
This were to die-delightful thought!
As sinner never died."
And who are they who really find Jesus? First, the sin-burdened find Him. To whom else can they go? To whom more fitly? To whom more immediately? Jesus is the Sin-bearer of His Church. God the Father laid upon Him the transgressions of His people, and for them He made His soul an-offering for sin. And when the Holy Spirit convinces the soul of its sin and guilt and condemnation, under the guiding of the same Spirit it sets itself upon the work of seeking Christ; and, seeking Him earnestly and perseveringly, it finds Him- for, He cannot be hid. Press on in your inquiry and search, O sin-troubled soul, through all difficulty and opposition and discouragement- for you shall find Him. It is impossible that He can hide Himself from you. His invitations and His promises assure you of this- "Seek, and you shall find."
The soul-distressed and perplexed believer finds Him. The Lord permits soul-trouble that we may be set upon seeking Him. You are anxious about an assured interest in Christ; you are filled with fear and alarm lest this new discovery you have made of indwelling sin should prove from past experience a deception, and your present hope a lie. You are perhaps troubled with vain, sinful, blasphemous thoughts, and you know not how to reconcile their existence and assault with the divine nature in your soul and the love of God in your heart.
But this experience have all the saints; all have trodden this path to glory. No saint has arrived there without a fearful struggle with sin; no believer has reached the realms of bliss without many a shaft from the adversary, and with the scar of many a wound, which shall go with him to glory to testify to the zeal, faithfulness, and love with which he fought the battles of his Lord. All such shall find Jesus a merciful and faithful High Priest, succouring those who are assailed, delivering the godly out of temptation, and quieting the fears of His saints with the assured truth that the spiritual warfare they discover within is the result of two opposite principles- sin and grace; of two diverse natures- that of the first and that of the Second Adam.
The tried and afflicted find Jesus. Where can we repair with our sorrows but to Him? They are sent for this end. We have, perhaps, been insensible to Christ's attractions, and have not yielded to His drawings; and now He has sent the rod that drives us to Him! Oh how often does He visit us with trouble, that it may stir us up to seek Him. It is recorded of Manasseh that, "when he was in affliction, he sought unto the Lord his God." Blessed discipline that sets us upon the search for Christ!
He has, perhaps, for some time been to us as a hidden Christ. We have followed Him, like Peter, afar off. Our love to Him has chilled; our zeal for Him has waned; our desires for Him have lessened; our heart has gone after other loves. But, bent upon our restoration, He sends pining sickness, or crushing adversity, or heart-breaking bereavement, -the rod of correction in one or more of its many forms; and then we discover the real state of our souls- at what a distance we have been walking from God, how little of our hearts Jesus possessed; and, like the Church of old, we arise and go about the streets, and inquire, "Have you seen Him whom my soul loves?"
Blessed discipline, we again exclaim, that results in setting us upon the errand of searching out and finding Christ. To whose love so tender, to whose sympathy so compassionate, to whose support so effectual, and to whose power so mighty can we disclose our sorrow as Christ's? There is not a being in the universe who so loves and cares for you as Jesus, and into whose precious presence we have such immediate access as His.
The poor penitent, returning backslider finds Christ. And who more needs to search and find and experience His restoring grace than one who has felt the love of God, has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and who has fed in the green pastures where Jesus leads His flock and causes them to lie down; but who, yielding to the devices of his own heart, the allurements of the world, and the temptations of Satan, has departed from the Lord into bypaths and forbidden ways of sin and folly, walking no more with Jesus.
Has the Holy Spirit enkindled in your heart godly grief, holy, tender contrition? Are you God's repentant Ephraim, bemoaning yourself, ashamed and confounded, exclaiming, "Turn unto me, and I shall be turned"? Are you like Christ's Apostle, Peter, "weeping bitterly" at the sad remembrance of your backsliding? O betake yourself to Christ, who, though He may long have been to you as a hidden Savior, will yet be found of you again, receiving you graciously, loving you freely, and turning His anger away from you.
O the joy of Christ's heart over one stray sheep returned to the fold! Wandering child of God! backsliding believer, return! This is His own invitation. "Return, backsliding Israel, says the Lord; and I will not cause my anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, says the Lord, and will not keep anger forever."
"Return, O wanderer! Return,
And seek an injured Father's face;
Those warm desires that in you burn
Were kindled by restoring grace."
In conclusion, let us not forget that we would never have found Jesus, had He not first sought and found us! If you have taken one step towards God, it is because He has taken ten thousand steps towards you. His language is- "I am sought of those who asked not for Me; I am found of those who sought Me not." He first began the work of grace in your soul, inspired the first desire, created the first throb of life, and kindled the first spark of love! O give Him the praise due to His great and Holy name; and ever acknowledge by your holy walk, your loving return of obedience, of service, and of patient endurance of suffering, your eternal indebtedness to the grace that sought you out in the cloudy and dark day, and brought you to Jesus.
Be watchful against everything that would hide Christ from your view. The world is a very Christ-obscuring object- guard against its encroachment; you cannot, in your march to heaven, take Christ in one hand and the world in the other. You and the world must part, however self-denying the struggle, if you would walk with God.
Sin is a Christ-obscuring object: pray against its power. Nothing is so Christ veiling as tampering with sin, as a willful dallying with unholy temptation, as guilt upon the conscience, unconfessed, uncleansed, unforsaken.
Distance in our devout walk, the restraining of prayer, the unfrequent visits to the place of sweet fellowship with God, will obscure the Savior from our view. Some disciples follow Christ so far off, that they can scarcely distinguish His form from that of a stranger!
Another word of caution. Enter not into places, or society, or recreation, as a Christian, where Christ is excluded. "Surely the fear of God is not in this place," exclaimed Abraham of Abimelech's house. If this is your experience, flee from the place as unsuited to one who desires to rule his life and his home by the fear of God. You will not find Christ's approving, sanctifying presence in scenes of worldly gaiety, in haunts of carnal pleasure, or amid the excitement of political, social, or ecclesiastical strife. You will not find Him at the card-table, nor at the theater, nor in the dance, nor on the playing field. You will not find Him where error is preached, or false worship is offered, or religious formalism maintains its cold and lifeless reign. Oh no! not here, not here, beloved, will you find the Lord. In all these places, and amid all these scenes Christ is hid!
But you will find Him in the midst of His saints, met together in His Name. You will find Him among the poor in spirit, the broken of heart, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, -to whom His name is as ointment poured forth, and who, in their emptiness and poverty, live upon His fulness. You will find Him in the home of mourning, amid the scene of adversity, in the chamber of sickness, by the couch of suffering, at the bed of death, and at the grave that unveils its bosom to receive the ransomed dust of a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Most of all, you will find Him in the retirement and solitude of the closet, shut in alone with God, in sweet "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son, Christ Jesus." Heed not the popular cry, "Lo! here is Christ!" Believe it not, and go not after it, for He is not there. Our Lord has forewarned us of this as one of the signs of the last day. Even now are there many "false Christs." But inquire after and walk in the old paths, shaded with His cross, traced with His feet, and trodden by His saints. Look forward to the great day of His personal, visible, and illustrious manifestation. "Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him."
Then, when the dead in Christ shall have been raised, and the living saints shall have been translated, and the millennial reign shall have terminated, Christ will sit upon the great white throne, and before Him all nations shall be gathered. And then shall every eye be riveted upon His glorious and ineffable countenance, each gazer waiting to hear from His lips, with joy or sorrow, with hope or fear, the blessed word, "COME!" or the terrible word, "DEPART!"
"But, before the trumpet wake
The mansions of the dead,
Hark! from the Gospel's gentle voice
What joyful tidings spread!
"You sinners, seek His grace,
Whose wrath you cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of His cross,
And seek salvation there!"