Christ the Cause of Division
“So there was a division among the people because of him.” — John vii. 43.
IT seems, then, that even when Christ was the preacher, there was a division among the hearers, so we must not be surprised if the same result follows from our preaching. No doubt, strife has sometimes been caused by a preacher’s harshness of expression, or unwise utterances. He may have spoken unadvisedly, or provokingly; but if he did not, all would not be pleased; for even when Jesus spake as never man spake, all his hearers were not pleased. We truly say, “Many men, many minds;” and, therefore, even when Christ spake, “there was a division among the people because of him.”
Nor was the division to be traced to the subject upon which Jesus was speaking at that time. There are some deep, mysterious subjects which seem calculated to stir up controversy; and you might say, “Whoever shall speak upon such a topic, even if the wise Solomon were to speak, he must create a division in any audience, if that should be his theme.” But, in this case, with Christ for a speaker, the subject was himself. It was concerning him that the schisma — the schism occurred. There was a schism among the people, not concerning predestination or free will, — not concerning forms of church government, — not concerning the modes of observing the ordinances; but “because of him”
So, then, we may not expect unanimity among mankind, whoever shall be the speaker, or whatever may be the subject of address. And I am not quite sure that this is a result that is altogether to be regretted. I have heard of a whole parish in which there were no religious bickerings because there was no religion; there were no religious strifes because nobody had anything worth striving for; and that is not a state of things over which I can rejoice. I dread the peace of the sepulchre far more than the battles of life. Life naturally makes a stir; it seems inevitable that it should do so; and it is better that men should think, even though they think amiss, than that they should not think at all. I am not aware that the cattle in the fields have any diversity of judgment; it is no cause for wonder that there should be agreement where mind is absent. But it seems all but inevitable that, where there is mind, where there is thought, where weighty subjects are considered and discussed, there should be differences of opinion; and it is better that there should be those differences than that there should be the apathy, the indifference, the torpor of death.
And yet, my brethren, I am sorry that there should be any division among the people about the Lord Jesus Christ, because, if there is a point in which all mankind ought to have been agreed, it is concerning him who came to save men, — the unselfish One, who laid aside his robes of glory that he might take upon him our nature, our suffering, and our sin, so that he might redeem us from all our iniquities. There ought to have been only one opinion upon this subject, — “This is the Son of God; let us adore him. This is the Christ of God; let us trust him. This is our God, we have waited for him, let us rejoice and be glad in him.” But it was not so: “There was a division among the people because of h i m a n d, to this day, the greatest division in the world is “became of him.”
I. I ask you to notice, first, that THERE WAS A DIVISION AMONG NON-BELIEVERS CONCERNING CHRIST. A large proportion of those who listened to Christ did not accept him as their Saviour; and, although they all agreed upon that point, there was a division among them concerning him.
First, there were some who rejected his claims altogether, and who even said, He deceiveth the people.” They went so far as to wish to lay violent hands upon him, and more than once we read that they took up stones to stone him; and we know that they did at last compass his death. In like manner, even to this day, there are some who utterly reject the claims of Jesus Christ. They seem as if they could not say anything too bitter and cruel concerning him. They will not have him to reign over them; in downright, terrible earnest, they reject him.
But all disbelievers are not so extreme in their opposition to Christ. We noticed, in reading the chapter, that there are some who admit a portion of Christ’s claims. Some said, “He is a good man.” Many said, “Of a truth this is the Prophet,” — the promised Messiah. They would not shut their eyes— they were too candid to do so, — to the goodness of his personal character, and to a certain grandeur about him which betokened that he was a prophet sent from God. They went so far as that, but they would go no further; and there are many in the present day who act in the same fashion.
There was a third class of persons who went further still. They admitted Christ’s claims, but neglected to follow out the legitimate consequences of them. They said, “When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?” Others said, “This is the Christ.” They were quite certain that he was the Messiah; and yet, when they had said that, they coolly went on their way, and took no more notice of him. They had made a truthful statement, but it did not in the least affect their conduct. Though they believed Jesus to be anointed of God, they did not enrol themselves beneath his banner, or become obedient to his commands, or ask to be instructed in his doctrine. And, alas! we have a good many persons of that sort still in our midst. I suppose that most of the unconverted people here now are persons of that character. You do not deny the Scriptures; you believe in them. You do not doubt the Deity of Christ; you believe it. You do not question his atonement; you believe it. Some of you would not like to hear anything contrary to the doctrine which has been taught to you concerning him. If anyone were to preach error, you would at once say, “This is not the gospel, but another gospel, and we will not listen to it;” yet you have never accepted Christ to be your very own Saviour, you have never committed yourselves to his dear keeping; you have orthodox heads, but heterodox hearts.
It is still true, as it was in our Lord’s day, that there is a division among the people because of him; and I ask you, who love the Saviour, as you look upon those who do not love him, to make a distinction between the one and the other of them. As for those who utterly reject him, pray for them. Do not expect them to love you if they do not love your Lord; and when they speak harshly concerning you, do not be astonished, for Jesus said to his disciples, “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” Do not get angry with them because they do not receive the Saviour, but pray for them, pity them, and love them with a love that will not give them up. Remember that the greatest force in the world is love; it is invincible. You can love a man to Christ, but you cannot bully him into salvation. I never heard of a soul that was scolded to the Saviour, but I have known many drawn to him by love; so love them, dear friends, keep on loving them more and more, until they shall be brought to feel that the love of God shed abroad in your heart has reached their hearts also.
As for those who are prepared to go part of the way with Christ, aid them all you can. If they have not all the light you could wish them to have, be thankful that they have any, and tell them that no man, who acts honestly up to the light he has, will be left in the dark. If a man has a dozen errors beclouding the truth which he sincerely believes, if he is only a true man, he will come out right. I have often conversed with persons who have been as wrong as wrong can be; but they did not mean to be wrong. They had an earnest desire to know the truth if they could find it, and they had an earnest wish to live that truth, too. I am always hopeful about such persons. You remember that our Lord Jesus said, concerning his Father, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” It is the same now; if anyone is desirous to act according to the mind of God, light will come to him sooner or later, and he shall discover the true doctrine of Christ. Try and help him to discover it. Quietly, lovingly, point him to the Son of God, and rest not content till he finds his Saviour.
As for those who do believe everything about Christ, but yet do not savingly rely upon Christ himself, O my friends, what shall we say concerning these people? We have brought them to the water of life, but we cannot make them drink. We put the bread of life before them, but we cannot make them eat of it. It behoves us to weep in secret concerning our fellow-seatholders, and those who come here constantly, or who go to other places of worship where Christ is preached, and who say of what they hear, “It is all true,” yet they do not receive it in their hearts. O my hearer, out of your own mouth you will be condemned at the last, because you will not be able to say, “I did not know the way of salvation,” for you do know it. You will not be able to say, “I did not accept the Bible as true,” for you know it is true, and yet you do not take the practical step that ought to follow as the result of that knowledge. May the Lord, in his infinite mercy, lead you to take it this very hour! If you do not take it, you will be convicted — self-convicted at the bar of God. I must not spend more time, however, over this part of the subject; but you can all see that there was a division among the non-believers concerning Christ.
II. But now, secondly, THERE WAS ALSO A DIVISION OF BELIEVERS FROM NON-BELIEVERS.
There were some who did really and savingly take Christ to be theirs, and “there was a division among the people” on that account, and what a division that always is! How deep it is! How wide it is! Between the poorest saint and the brightest moralist, there is a great gulf; we may not be able to perceive it in the outward character, but there is as deep a gulf as there is between the feeblest form of life and death, — a gulf which only omnipotent grace can cause any man to pass over. The radical difference between the true believer and the unbeliever lies in their relation to Christ. That is the point of divergence: “There was a division among the people because of him.”
For, first, to the unbeliever, Christ is nothing; but to the believer, Christ is everything. To the unbeliever, a mere opinion about Christ is everything. To the true believer, the saving knowledge of Christ has covered up all mere opinions concerning him. He knows Christ, and lives in him, and Christ also lives in him.
Look at the difference between the believer and the unbeliever in the matter of trusting Christ. The non-believer trusts in himself, or in his own works, or in his priest if he is a Romanist or Ritualist; but the true Christian trusts in Christ wholly and alone. There is one thing concerning myself about which I am perfectly sure. When I pass myself through many forms of self-examination, I tremble as I do it, lest I should deceive myself; but about this one matter I know that I am not deceived, — I have not the shadow of a shade of a ghost of a confidence as to my ultimate salvation except in Jesus Christ alone. And one reason why I dare not have any confidence except in him, is that I do not know anything I ever did, or ever thought, or ever was, in which I could confide; so I am driven to trust in him, and in him alone. I lie at the foot of his cross because I cannot stand upright; I must do that, for, like Luther, I can do no other. If I search myself and my whole life over and over again, I cannot see anything but what I call a filthy rag, and I fling it all away; good works and bad works — so far as mine are concerned, are not worth the trouble of sorting out; so I tie them all up in one bundle, and pitch them overboard, and just cling to the ever-blessed lifebuoy of the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour. That is what a believer does; he trusts Christ, and the unbeliever does not; and that difference between them makes a division among the people.
The same difference is apparent in the matter of love to Christ. The true believer loves his Lord. He is no fiction to us, — no mere historic personage about whom we read, but of whom we think little or nothing. We love him; the very sound of his name has music in it to us. Some seek their pleasure in the world, but the Christian man does not. If he is obliged to go into the world, he is glad to get out of it very soon. While he is with worldlings, he says, “There is nothing here to suit me;” but let him have his Master’s company for half an hour alone, no matter where, and he says, “This is to me a foretaste of the bliss of heaven.” Rest assured, dear friends, that where your pleasure is, there your heart is. If you find your pleasure in the world, your heart is in the world, and you are to be reckoned among the worldly; but if Christ is your joy, your pleasure, your delight, your very heaven, then there is a difference between you and worldlings.
Further, those who know Christ, and trust him, and love him, differ in character from worldlings, for those who truly know Christ seek to be like him. They take him to be their copy, and try to imitate every line, each down-stroke and up-stroke; but he who knows not Christ takes any model that he pleases, and aims not at copying the excellence of Jesus, and thus again there is “a division among the people because of him.”
This division is also shown in the gradual development of different characters. You may be at a railway station, — an important junction, it may be; there are two lines of rails that run parallel to each other. There is a point, a little distance off, where they begin to diverge, one going to the East, and the other to the West. They will be many miles apart before long; but, at first, how slight is the division! So is it with those who begin life side by side. Two young men may be very much alike, and for years you may scarcely see any difference between them; but, after a while, the ungodly man develops in his way, and the lover of Christ develops in his way. You see them when they have reached middle life; you see them, perhaps, on their dying bed; at what a vast distance they are from one another! What a difference there is between them with respect to Christ! One knows him as his Saviour and All-in-all; the other knows nothing of him. One rejoices in him; the other despises him. One is triumphing in the thought that he will wake up in his Lord’s likeness; the other lies down to die moaning that he is “without hope.” In such cases, truly there is a difference among the people because of Christ.
But what a difference there will be among the people in their eternal destiny! By-and-by, they will awake, and arise; the judgment-seat will be occupied, and Christ the Judge will sit upon his throne. He is the man upon whom wicked men once spat; but his countenance shall be bright as the sun in that day. He is the man whom they scourged; but then he will sway the sceptre of universal sovereignty, and the unnumbered myriads of our race will all stand before him. What an assembly that will be when before him are gathered all nations! They will crowd the land, and throng the very mountain tops, and stand upon the ocean as upon a sea of glass. What a multitude! But there will be one thing that will divide them, and that will be “a division among the people because of him.” Do you hear the songs and shouts of the ransomed? Louder than ten thousand thunders, do you hear them? They are clapping their hands; they are shouting, “Welcome, welcome, Son of God!” The archangel’s trumpet seems to them, as they wake up from the dead, to be the morning summons that calls them up from beds of dust and silent clay to joy and peace eternal; and every note, as it peals out, is one to which they can sing, and they chant in harmony with it the great anthem, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” But what other sounds do I hear amidst those thunders of applause, and that mighty chorus of the redeemed? Hark! sharp and shrill, there come up cries that pierce the very firmament, — terrible sounds that even the glad music of that grand morning hymn cannot wholly drown. I can hear it, though the archangel’s trumpet waxes exceeding loud and long, for myriads of lost souls have risen from the tomb, and they are wailing, wailing, wailing, “because of him” whom they rejected; and above all other sounds there comes up the awful cry to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” There will indeed be a division among the people because of him in that tremendous day. On which side of the King will you be then, my dear hearer? I pray you to answer that question in the quietude of your chamber this very night. Where will you be when Christ shall make the final division between all the vast masses of the human race, “and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats”? Will you be driven to the left hand, among the goats, with the King’s curse thundering in your ear; or will you be gathered with those upon his right hand, and join with them in singing the hymns of angels and of men redeemed, to whom Christ will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”?
III. I cannot give more time to that solemn theme, for I must close my discourse with a brief reference to one other topic which arises out of the text. We have considered the division among the unbelievers “because of him,” and the division between believers and unbelievers. Now, in the last place, I want to show you that, WHEN FAITH COMES, UNITY IS PRODUCED.
Is there any division among believers because of Christ? Is there “a division among the people” — the people of the Lord — because of him? No, beloved. Christ is the cause of the greatest division, but he is also the medium of the greatest union. No force in the world splits as does Christ’s battle-axe. He himself said, “I am come to set a man at variance against his. father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” And it is wonderful how families have been divided, and how communities and even nations have been divided by the coming of Christ. Those who loved and served him would follow him at all costs, and those who would not have him rejected him with the utmost fury. There are some people in this world who are like the chip in the porridge, there is no flavour in them, they are of little or no account; but my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, is not one of that sort. You must either love him or hate him; you must give a verdict for him or against him; you cannot be indifferent; he himself puts the matter thus: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” You are, at this moment, either Christ’s friend or his foe; you cannot be neutral.
Yet, while Christ is the great cause of division, it is also true that he is the great means of union. There is nothing that welds men together as the love of Christ does; it is the most potent force in the universe for gathering together those who are scattered abroad, and making them truly one. In Christ, nationalities are blended. Think of the division between the Jew and the Gentile; what can make them one, but Christ? He breaks down the middle wall of partition, and unites them. Look at Peter, that stiff, unbending Jew; he never ate of an unclean animal, and he never means to do so. He is on the top of the house, praying at noonday, and is very hungry; he hears the command, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat;” and there is let down before him a great sheet full of all manner of strange creatures, but Peter has never touched anything of the kind. He does not like such fare; but, by-and-by, he learns the meaning of the vision. There were certain Gentiles on the way to him, and he was to go with them, and to preach Christ to all who were assembled in the house of Cornelius; and he must eat and drink with the uncircumcised; and, taught of the Spirit, Peter does it, and Paul does it. Never, I pray you, speak disrespectfully of a Jew. The grandest man who ever lived was a Jew; Christ our Lord was himself of the house of David, of the tribe of Judah, of the seed of Abraham. Glory be to God, the Jews shall be brought in with the Gentiles; but they are the old original branches of the good olive tree, and they shall be grafted in again. It is unbelief that has caused them to be cast out; but I am sure that every man, who truly loves Christ, feels that to him there is neither Jew nor Gentile now, that feud is ended once for all, for all believers are one in Christ.
So, too, wherever Christ comes, there are no foreigners. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” Tell me that a man is a Christian, — I do not care to what nationality he belongs, he may be a Dutchman, he may come from Zululand, he may be an Afghan, he may be a Hindoo, — it does not matter what he is so long as he loves Christ. What more do I want than that? He is my brother, whatever is the colour of his skin. He is near akin to me if he is akin to Christ; and all genuine Christians feel that it is so. May there be more and more of this fellow-feeling among believers, for Christ Jesus our Lord has no division among his people as to blacks and whites, race and caste; that is ended once for all.
And, truly, wherever Christ is known in his saving power, there is a wonderful uniting force among all genuine Christians. Look at Pentecost: “All that believed were together, and had all things common.” They loved each other so much that, if one was poor, his rich brothers helped him. They felt as if they were all fused into one body by the intense heat of love to Christ; and there axe many, many, many similar cases now, (I speak what I do know,) in which believers have received help and succour, which they never would have had if it had not been for the name and love of Christ. Many of you here know that there is much true Christian love in the world; and you could speak of it if it were the time to do so, but these things are not to be blazed abroad.
In Christ, personal peculiarities cease to divide. We do love each other; let us love one another more and more, “for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Did you ever notice how true Christian workers love each other? When there is little doing for Christ, a man tries to get all the fish he can into his own net. He says, “We must get the people inside our chapel, — try and make Baptists of them, or Wesleyans;” but if ever the Spirit of God comes with mighty power, they begin to beckon to their neighbours, who are in the other ship, to come and help them because their boat will not hold all the fish; and they forget all their little differences in the one grand point of unity, for all are agreed about Christ. Notice what happens in a real, earnest prayer-meeting. Christians do not agree about everything; perhaps we never shall; possibly it is well that we never should, or else we might make a great big church, and have a pope over it, and do nobody knows how much harm. We are sometimes best apart; some people love one another all the better because they do not all live in the same house. Sometimes, it is a cause of disagreement when two or three sets of husbands and wives, who are related to each other, come to live under the same roof. But you get together a number of people who love Christ, and set them praying. What was that brother who prayed just now? He was a Wesleyan. How do you know that? Why, because he prayed a Calvinistic prayer! Who was that last brother that prayed? He was a Strict Baptist. How do you know that? Why, because he prayed a prayer that was full of generosity and Christian love! Here is another; who is he? He is an Independent, I should say. How do I know that? Why, because his prayer was so full of dependence on Christ, and trust in him. We can sometimes even fight with one another for what we believe to be the truth, and rebuke each other to the face if we think there is an error; but when it comes to Christ and his dear cross, give me thy hand, brother. You are washed in the blood, and so am I. You are resting in Christ, and so am I. You have put all your hope in Jesus; and that is where all my hope is, and therefore we are one. Yes, there is no real division among the true people of God because of Christ.
Let us try, moreover, to make the world see that it is so by everyone endeavouring to magnify Jesus more than his neighbour does. Let there be no strife, except to see which can deny himself most for Jesus, which can labour most for Jesus, which can lift the grace of Jesus higher than others.
And, oh! what unity there will be in heaven, where Christ will be the centre of the redeemed, where all shall sing of him, and where all shall equally behold him! All of us, who believe in Jesus, will be with him where he is, and so we shall behold his glory, the glory which his Father gave him. Certain brethren think that they will have a place all to themselves. Well, they have not been very amiable down here, and therefore I should not be sorry if they were going to have a place to themselves; but, at the same time, I pray the Lord to have mercy upon them, and to enable them to give up all idea of having a place for themselves, and all thought of having anything different from the rest of the Lord’s family, for I do believe that there will be no division among the people of God because of Christ, or concerning the glory that Christ will give them; but they shall all for evermore behold him, and for evermore call him theirs, and rejoice in him world without end. I am quite satisfied to share the lot of the poorest of his people; and if there is a saint in heaven who has to sit by the door, I will sit with him for ever; and if I shall have a right — as I am sure I shall not, — to a higher and a better place than he has, I will ask my Master to let me sit among the lowliest of his servants, and I am sure that you, brethren and sisters, will add, “And so say all of us.” Let others say what they like, I feel certain that there will be no division among the people of God in heaven because of Christ; to whom be praise for ever and ever! Amen.