"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? "Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."—John 6:66-68.—
THERE is just a tinge of disappointment in our Master's words here recorded—"Will ye also go away?" Accustomed to look for a reason for every action and word, we inquire, Why did the loss of a number of followers make our Lord feel sad? Was he ambitious for a large following? Did his confidence rest in numbers? Did he say to himself, Now what will the Pharisees say when after three years of my teaching they see me deserted by many of my followers? Was it that he feared the deflection might curtail his revenues? No, it was none of these things; for he had already made himself of no reputation. He had already said to his disciples, Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. He had also the power by which two small fishes and three barley loaves could be made sufficient to feed five thousand people. And he already knew that his faithful followers were to be, in all, but a "little flock," and who of the multitude believed not.—Verse 64.
Why then, did his words express sadness at the loss of a number from his company? It was because he was true and noble and sympathetic, and loved his friends, and seeing the hour approaching when the Shepherd would be smitten and all the sheep be scattered (as it was afterward fulfilled when "all forsook him and fled"), the lonely sadness crept over him and found expression in the words, Will ye also go away? Love of sympathy, fellowship of friends, etc., are not weaknesses, but, on the contrary, are elements of a true character. But it would have shown weakness had our Lord allowed the turning back of his disciples to have influenced or swerved his course from the path of sacrifice marked out for him in the Father's plan. No such weakness ever manifested itself. On the contrary, but a few days after, when Peter who here spoke so nobly, attempted to dissuade our Lord from sacrifice, he promptly [R1710 : page 310] answered, Get thee behind me, adversary, thou savorest not the things of God, but of men.
The Apostle Peter's words, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life," are full of meaning. He had known what it meant to seek God's favor and everlasting life through keeping the Law, and, like most of the Jews of the humbler class, had been discouraged, finding himself condemned both by the doctrines of the Pharisees and by his own conscience. Doubtless, also, he knew something of the various heathen philosophies respecting a future life; and, if so, he knew them to be merely human speculations or guesses.
But for three years he had known Jesus and heard his words on this subject of eternal life. His teaching was not speculative guessing as to what might be. "He taught them with authority, and not as the scribes." Nor did he teach them to hope for eternal life through the keeping of the Law (which they knew to be an impossibility). His teaching, on the contrary, was different from that of every other teacher. He taught them that he had come into the world, not to be served or honored and titled, but to serve men and to finally give his life a ransom or purchase-price for the forfeited lives of all who lost the right to life in Adam's trial and disobedience. (Matt. 20:28.) His teaching was that as a result of this ransom-sacrifice, which, by divine love and arrangement, he was about to give for all, all shall have the opportunity of everlasting life through obedience under the gracious terms of the New Covenant; and that to this end not only they, but also, "All that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, and come forth, and they that hear [obey] shall live"—attain perfect life. (John 5:25,28,29.) Peter had heard this simple and beautiful gospel—this, the only real good tidings of everlasting life; he recognized Jesus as the Messiah sent of God to be the Life-giver to the world, the true light that shall ultimately lighten every man that cometh into the world.—John 1:9.
What wonder, then, in view of this, that Peter answered as he did, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Peter's faith and hope had found in the doctrines of Christ a foundation and anchorage which they could not find elsewhere.
And the same is true of all intelligent believers to-day, in proportion as they have heard and understood the wonderful words of life, of which Christ's death is the central theme, the hub, whose spokes are the love and favor of God, including all his exceeding great and precious promises reaching to the circumference—everlasting life. Having once seen the truth, having once heard the good tidings—the words of everlasting life—for what would they exchange it?
Looking abroad, we still find the philosophies of Confucius, Buddha, Brahma and Zoroaster, but they satisfy us not. We hear the wisdom of this world speculating about an evolution which it surmises has already progressed from a protoplasm to a tadpole and from a tadpole to a monkey and from a monkey to a man and which it hopes, guesses and tries to assure itself will continue to progress to planes of being still higher than man. It assures us that whether there was or was not an intelligent God at the beginning, there will be millions of wise and powerful gods eventually, when they get evolved. But our hearts turn from such wild speculations back to the wonderful words of life spoken by him who spoke as never man spoke before or since. In those words is the rest and peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
Following the instructions of this same great Teacher, we are learning more and more about this eternal life which he has provided for all. As meat in due season he has taught us that this gift of eternal life is only for those that love him;—that a little flock of the ransomed world, called and proved worthy by their loving obedience during the Gospel age, are to be his joint-heirs in the glory, honor and immortality of the divine nature, and that he with these will in the next age, the Millennium, bless all the families of the earth with the knowledge of and opportunity to attain restitution to human perfection with everlasting life conditioned only upon faith and hearty obedience under the New Covenant, sealed with the blood of the ransom-sacrifice. This is the same gospel as of yore: these are the same words [R1711 : page 311] of everlasting life, only amplified and magnified as we get nearer to their grand consummation.
In the harvest of the Jewish age, it was after our Lord had spoken to his followers the "words of eternal life" that he permitted "offenses" to come to sift them as wheat, saying, "It must needs be that offenses come." Those trials came to prove which were ripe wheat and which chaff and undeveloped wheat. Two classes specially were sifted out—the merely curious and slightly interested class, and a consecrated class which had not much depth of character, represented in our Lord's parable (Matt. 13:5,6,20,21) as the stony ground hearers, which received the message with joy, but not having depth of heart-soil and earnest love and consecration to the truth, when tribulation or persecution arose they were at once offended, and turned back and walked no more with the Lord and the faithful.
The same is true now, in the present harvest of the Gospel age. Blessed have been our eyes, for they have seen many of the "deep things" in the divine plan of the ages; and blessed have been our ears, for they have heard with wonderful clearness the lessons of the great Teacher—the words of glory, honor and immortality—words of eternal life. And now in the Lord's order we are to be ready for trials and siftings. Now, again, offenses must needs come to prove all, and to turn back those who are not consecrated and those who have no depth of character, who are unwilling to bear the reproaches and afflictions of the Christ. So it was with Gideon's typical army. All who shall be owned of the Lord as joint-heirs with Christ must be a select class, a peculiarly zealous people;—and no wonder: Marvel not therefore at the fiery trials which shall try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you. In fact, that is the very purpose of the permission of offenses and divisions: "that they which are approved [by God, because they endure the tests and stand fast in the truth] may be made manifest among you."—1 Cor. 11:18,19.
Those who will stand the test here will be just like those for whom Peter spoke in the previous harvest testing. Should any feeling of faintness or discouragement come over them, they will also ask, "Lord to whom shall we go?" Looking about them they see the delusions of Spiritism and various doctrines of devils, and the blindness and contradictions of reason as well as of Scripture among agnostics, and in the various denominations of Christendom. The glance is sufficient for the class which the Lord desires to select. They could not go away, they could not be forced to leave the army of the Lord. Truly, where should we go? Our Leader, and he alone, has the words of eternal life. Since we have heard his words, all other gospels have lost their charm. We will abide with and follow the great Captain of our salvation: in his words and in his love and in his service we live and move and have our being as the elect of God.