FOLLOWING CHRIST — An Address by J. B. Catterall

Luke 9:37 – 52

My desire, as the Lord may help me, is to speak to you of what is involved in following the Lord. The thought of following the Lord must present a very great attraction to every one of us, and I think, too, that the young, whose hearts have been drawn out after Him, must also have some sense of the gravity of such a path. I would say at the outset that it is not a way that will be found easy naturally. The energy of nature, or even the strength that the knowledge of divine things as information can give, will not carry us through. It is a way in which we must find the help of the Lord, if we are to be walking in it for His pleasure, in fidelity, and in spiritual affection. I hope that I may be able to encourage your hearts before Him, as to what it is to Him for us to be found in that way, and to have before us the preciousness and value of following the Lord; and not only what it is to us, bringing light, and comfort, and preservation of mind and spirit, but what it is to Himself, bringing joy and comfort to His heart.

At this juncture I shall refer to a very peculiar and sweet word employed by the psalmist at a time of very great pressure, through the attitude of men in their wickedness towards him. Speaking in the Spirit of Christ, and as a type of Him, he appeals to Jehovah and says, “The assembly of the violent seek after my soul”. Then he lifts up his heart to Jehovah and says, “Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed” (Psalm 86:14, 17). I would impress upon our hearts that in the path of following Christ, we are God’s token for good to Christ. We have been given by God to Him, not only that we may be associated with Him in that scene into which He has entered, but that we might come out in the spirit and character of Christ here. So that in that sense we have been given by God as a token for good to Christ. If we view for a moment the light that has come to us in these broken days of departure from the truth, it is of very great moment to realise that we have been given it for Christ’s sake, not because of faithfulness in us. We have been given it in the faithfulness of God, that we might come out as God’s token for good to Christ, that His enemies might be ashamed.

Now that precious thought is presented in the gospels as applying to us. In Matthew, in connection with the kingdom; in Mark, as connected with the holiness and service of God; in Luke, in regard to the testimony of divine grace; and in John, as connected with the fellowship of God according to the truth. In every case we come out as God’s token for good to Christ, that His enemies might be ashamed.

I desire to raise the question in our souls as to the truth as it is known in Christ personally. The very knowledge of the truth that we possess, if we be unwatchful, may come between our hearts and the person of Christ, who is the expression of it. We may become accustomed to what exists in the company of those with whom we walk. What is clear and concise in the knowledge of the truth is our very heritage, but there is the possibility and the danger of dissociating it from the person of Christ, in receiving whom we have received all. Every one of us is being formed in soul history in relation to God. I do not speak of our public and known history amongst the people of God, but of soul history in regard to God’s things. Let me ask you how far in regard to your apprehension of the Supper, has there been consecutive steps in soul history with God? How easy it is to regard our comings together as that which has to be formally sustained, comings together that may stand upon custom, rather than upon affection! So one would raise the inquiry as to how far, as we gather together from time to time, from the least to the greatest of us, are we working out our true soul history in regard of the things of God, and spiritually and livingly following Christ.

The connection that scriptures in Luke’s gospel have with the thought of following Christ, may not be immediately apparent to you, but in various aspects it opens out with the view that is seen of the glory of Christ on the mount of transfiguration. The Lord, in His own movement, takes His disciples aside from their position here, as connected with the testimony, and as the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He takes them with Himself to the mountain apart, and while He is in prayer, as recorded in this gospel, He is transfigured. The sight of the blessed Lord in that attitude is deeply touching, and to see the glory of God, in the person of Jesus, roll in as the answer to His prayer, is very affecting. It is not the majesty of His Person that we see here, it is His moral glory as the Man who has come to do the will of God. We have in that one blessed Person the answer to every yearning of faith, and to every spiritual desire in the Old Testament dispensation; and the answer to every utterance of the Holy Spirit, “for the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10). The glory that shines there is the glory of the Man Christ Jesus, the One whose “visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the children of men” (Isaiah 52:14). The One of whom the Spirit of God records the sufferings, through which the glory of God would be brought to pass abidingly. You will recall the word He spoke to two of His own who, discouraged by His sufferings, were turning away from the path of the testimony. He appeared to them on the way to Emmaus, searching their hearts and said, “O senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25, 26). Thus the glory of Luke’s gospel, is the glory that is at the end of suffering: “If indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). The beloved apostle, writing to the Philippians, said, “Because to you has been given, as regards Christ, not only the believing on him but the suffering for him also” (Philippians 1:29). The path of suffering is that into which we have been called, and we have not been called there because of any superiority on our part, but by the sovereignty of the love of God, and by the measureless power of His grace. We have been called to it, not that we may shine in any way peculiar to ourselves, but that we might come out in the mind, and spirit, and character of Christ. I do not wish to discourage, but it is possible to have a very great amount of light, and be very clear in our minds as to divine truth, and yet not be following Christ. It is a very serious matter to be in the circle where faith, and separateness of heart are maintained for us, and yet not to be really following the One who by His faithfulness was the Originator of it.

You will observe in this chapter that as the Lord comes down from the mount of transfiguration, a condition of things is discovered which had crept in by reason of the fact that Jehovah, as an Object, had been lost to His people Israel. I apply this in principle to ourselves. There are many of us, young in years and young in faith, and many who are older too, and we are following in one path together, having one blessed and peerless Object. But let us consider together whether we are at this present moment in our soul history in the light of the truth “according as the truth is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). Does that blessed Person hold our hearts as He should do? Is He nearer to us in a spiritual way than ever? Or are we in the spirit of our minds, while perhaps adding to our knowledge, less in nearness to His Person than we have experienced formerly? I have been greatly impressed by this fact, how possible it is to be adding to our intelligence, and yet to be drifting from His own Person. How possible it is to be adding to our store of knowledge, and yet not growing by the true knowledge of God. As we view these possibilities it moves our spirits to exercise.

As the Lord descended from the mount there was brought to Him by one of the multitude, his child possessed of an unclean spirit, or as Matthew describes it, he was lunatic. It is very striking that that statement follows immediately upon the manifestation of the Lord’s glory on the mount, where He is seen in His majesty, His face shining as the sun. Evidently the condition of things that had supervened was the result of the glory of His Person having been lost sight of. But in Luke’s account it is spoken of as an unclean spirit: the blessed Lord speaks of it in that way. It is a spirit that is the result of a gradual process of drifting away from the glory of God in a living Person. Bear with me in a word to my younger brethren. Although you may be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, unless you are sustained in nearness to the Lord, you will become marked by another spirit. Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit does not relieve us of the need of prayer for a supply of the spirit of Jesus Christ; nor does it preserve us from the need of exercise, lest we should be affected by another spirit.

The Spirit of God has been given to us, and His normal ministry is that our hearts may be held livingly, directly, and dependently in nearness to the Lord Himself. So the condition of things which the Lord found in coming down from the mount, had come in typically by reason of the Lord in His glory having been lost sight of. Now, figuratively, in place of the power of the Holy Spirit, there was another spirit that affected the mind and character, and controlled the succeeding generation. If we, who are going before others, do not manifest unquestionable proofs of walking with a living Lord, we are leaving a door open to a contrary spirit in the next generation.

Well, the Lord meets this condition in His own power. He casts out the spirit, which was a spirit of bondage, cowardice, and fear, a spirit that may gradually possess our hearts, unless we are kept by the Lord. Then we have in a very precious way this suggestion as to following the Lord.

If we were asked by the Lord Himself, what we wanted most in the assembly, what should we say? Some might say, I should like to preach; others might like to teach; some, perhaps, would like to be wise; while others might desire to be available to the saints in whatever service opened to them. The greatest thing open to us in the assembly of God’s people is to be like Christ. But there arose a reasoning among the disciples as to who should be the greatest. The power manifested by the Lord undoubtedly underlay their inquiry and reasonings. He, knowing their hearts, took a little child and set it in their midst, as an expression of what He loved best — the thing that was nearest to His own desires, the subject of His most tender approval. Would any one accustomed to man’s ways have expected a way like this, and a word like this? But if their hearts had carried forward the lesson of the glory on the mount of transfiguration, what else could they have expected but that the Lord would take a way that was entirely His own! Man in his greatness, and wisdom, and knowledge is set aside entirely; whereas one who has seen the glory on the mount will never desire to figure anywhere in the assembly, but in the way that Christ loves, and of which He approves.

The fact is, the line of following Christ begins in the assembly. My dear young friends, you will find that the Lord will gently lead and direct your hearts to this point — to the assembly, as the place where you are most tested by the mind and Spirit of Christ. If I am in the world — the world that is against Christ and the testimony — and its conduct comes out in a flagrant form, I may present a moral contrast, and I may set upon myself a mistaken value for that reason. But when I come to the assembly where, normally, the Spirit of Christ rules, I am tested by what is according to Christ, not by what is contrary to Him. If the world speaks against Christ, any little syllable of mine for Him is great. In a sense, it stands out great by its contrast, but in the assembly I am tested as to whether I am near Christ or not.

It is where the Lord is enjoyed that our greatest tests are found. The Lord took that little child and put him in the midst. Can we follow Christ in that? It is one thing to follow Him in the world, where there is such contrariety, but come to the centre and look at the position which is Christ’s own — for where else are His joys, His possessions, but in the assembly of His people? In the midst of this company He sets a little child and challenges their hearts, as if to say, This is the starting-point, can you follow Me in this? Can we follow Him in it? Set together in our various localities, as we are under the Lord’s hand, can we follow Him in this? What men love is one thing, what the Lord loves is another. He did not wait until we were like Himself, before He loved us and died for us. It was when we were totally unlike Himself. Yes, we have to do with a loving Lord. What His heart is set upon is that we should follow Him, and learn what it is to be set up here in the power, fragrance and wisdom of His own Spirit, so that we may be found in our little companies following Christ. We should therefore be prepared, in relation to one another, to take the lowest place possible, in order that the pleasure of God may be assured. Anything else militates against it. If I have gift before me unduly, I put gift before others; if service, service. If I have Christ before me as the living, loving object of my soul, I shall put Christ before myself and before everything else.

In this same incident, according to Matthew, the Lord calls the attention of the disciples to the fact that unless they be converted, and become as little children, they cannot see the kingdom of God, let alone have greatness in it! That does not mean a person is not the Lord’s. It means that in regard to the Lord’s own circle, in nearness to Himself as having been converted, and become a little child, you are pursuing the kind of greatness which is greatness in His eye, and in the sight of God. There can be no other greatness. It is that upon which God had already set His approval when He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight: hear him” (Matthew 17:5).

I come to another point — one raised by John. Moving in the path in which the Lord had set them, the disciples encountered a man casting out demons in the Lord’s name, who did not walk with them. We are surrounded with this, and this scripture is not only given as guidance in regard to it, but that we may be helped from pursuing that line. Will you bear with me in asking a question touching this? Have you ever felt inclined to use the power of the Lord apart from Himself? If we move in the light that God has given to us in these days, but apart from communion with Christ, what are we doing? We are using the power that has been given to us, without reference to the Person. But, you say, I am responsible to speak for the Lord wherever I am. Yes, you are the Lord’s wherever you are. But have you ever felt yourself content to use your knowledge, as knowledge, while in your heart of hearts you know you are not walking with the Lord? You say, You are guessing! No, I am not guessing. Then you say, You know me! No, I do not; but I know my own heart; I know what I have done, and I feel that this scripture is given to affect us so that we may be lowly, and in the mind of Christ.

Our business is to keep near to the Lord, to be in our minds and spirits free with Him, that He may use us, but not to seek the Lord’s interference to justify our position ecclesiastically. In what we have from God, be it ever so much, if we are not following the Lord in it, what is it worth? Whatever I know if it be not held in my soul in relation to a living Lord, it is but religion. It may be a good brand of religion, but so far as its power and value go, it is but religion. May the Lord grant, in regard to what we have received from Him, that we may seek grace from Himself to test ourselves as to whether we are walking with the Lord as a living Person.

John was one of peculiar exercise, and I am glad that it was he who raised the question. He was the one who leaned on the bosom of Jesus, who asked the question, Lord, who is it? John is marked off in Scripture, as one who kept near to the Lord personally, and I can understand his difficulty. He was not merely seeking the Lord’s guidance as to their relative positions; he was seeking the Lord’s mind in this matter, for he could not understand how a person who could use the Lord’s name, could do so without following that Person. If our hearts were rightly exercised, we should feel it to be an intolerable and unseemly thing, that we should move on the line of using knowledge without being near Christ. May God keep us!

But the Lord did not interfere. He said to John, Leave him alone. That was enough for John; if his Lord did not interfere, neither should he. Do not frown on anything, even though it be marked by a lack of knowledge, that seems to have little regard for Christ. If you cannot go with it, leave it alone. Our business is to follow the Lord in what we know. Have we not experienced it? I have. One has come into contact with souls who, in regard of knowledge, needed help, but in regard to the preciousness of Christ to them, they put one to shame. Let us follow this line as to being called after the Lord. It is a precious line, one in which there is testing for the spirit, one in which, however, there is great comfort, and realisation of our desires as they are found centred in the person of Christ.

But to pass on, the Lord speaks to His disciples as to the end before Him, not an end of greatness according to man, but of greatness according to God. He was going to Jerusalem, His face set stedfastly to go there, committed entirely to the will of God and His glory. As He moves in that way, a man comes to Him and says, “I will follow thee wheresoever thou goest, Lord”. The Lord says, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven roosting-places, but the Son of man has not where he may lay his head” (Luke 9:57, 58). The Lord pointed out to the man the character of the way. He never indicated to him the character of the end. We start on this way with a very great deal of impetus. We start with the impetus that grace gives, with the sense of relief that comes to our spirits by meeting the Lord Jesus; so we say to the Lord, There is no place where we would not follow thee. Why does the Lord leave the question of the end of the journey when speaking to this man? To test his heart as to what Christ was worth to him. You say, I will not leave the testimony! But you will leave the testimony, if you leave the Lord. There is not a heart among us that can be trusted as to what might transpire tomorrow, if tomorrow finds us out of communion with the Lord. But, blessed be God! The testimony is independent of human resting-places — holes or roosting-places — but we have the blessed love of Christ. We are not expected to stand in the place of exposure, without that love holding our spirits; but so far as nature is concerned, and so far, too, as religious supports are concerned, are they sufficient without Christ? Oh, you say, I have been with the brethren from my early days, and my parents were with them before me! And so were mine, and in the mercy of God, through that provision, I knew what it was to find a resting-place. But I did not know its value, until those who cared for me took another road from mine, and, even though professedly following the same Lord, we had different roads.

God may use what is human in bringing light to our souls, but there is not one thing in God’s system, which stands with natural heredity. In John 9, we get a man’s eyes opened by the power of the Son of God. Jesus having made mud and anointed his eyes, he went to Siloam (by interpretation ‘sent’), and having washed came seeing. You remember what happened; the very day he saw the light for the first time, he had to turn his back on what he saw. Blessed be God, he had the light of another world in his soul, or it would have been too much to leave! He never saw the synagogue until the day that he was cast out of it for the Lord’s sake. He never saw his father and mother, until the day that they denied him! But he proved the truth of the words, “For had my father and my mother forsaken me, then had Jehovah taken me up” (Psalm 27:10). It is not of nature.

You give God thanks for the saints; you give Him thanks for the parents who loved Christ before it became yours to love Him, but you have to learn that the light of Christ in your own soul is the tie that binds you personally to Him. There is no room for natural heredity in the things of God. We do not know what happened to the man in Luke 9. We have this word of the Lord to him, as to His having nowhere to lay His head. There are few men who can do without sleep for more than a few nights; but the simple meaning of the Lord’s words is, Are you relying upon nature? Are you relying upon knowledge, that came to you through the instrumentality of nature, to follow the Lord whatever changes may take place, if He tarry?

Let us learn this together, that our power to continue in the testimony lies in being kept near the Lord. Where is the Lord with you tonight? It is not a question of what we did five, ten, or twenty years ago. Has the Lord moved since then? Oh, you may say, I am in the same room and in the same locality. Where is God’s room and God’s locality? Where is the Lord in matters, and where am I with Him? Am I as near the Lord? Is He a name to me, or a Person? Is it doctrine, or the truth in a living Person who died for my soul? He gave Himself for the church, and to accomplish the will of God — the living, blessed Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. To follow Him, is not to follow a line, or a system; it is to follow all that is of God. The foxes have holes, the Lord says, and the birds of the heaven roosting-places; it was just as much as to say, If you think you can follow Me, you will have to move in the path that I am in. Are you in it for Christ’s sake? May the Lord grant that it be so. I do not know why the youngest lover of Christ here, may not step out confidently, lowlily, and dependently on a path even like this, having regard to the fact that the blessed person of Christ will be their object and support in it.

Now I come to another point; the Lord calls again. He says to another, “Follow me”. This one answers Him, saying, “Lord, allow me to go first and bury my father”. Then Jesus says to him, “Suffer the dead to bury their own dead, but do thou go and announce the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59, 60). Things connected with our lives here, natural objects, live long with us. I once came in touch with a brother who seemed to be under a shadow. I inquired as to what was the cause. Well, he said, I have never got over the matter of a brother’s defection some eighteen years ago. It had taken him eighteen years to bury his father, for it was the brother’s father, and for eighteen years he had been under a shadow, because, looking back upon it, he thought that his father had not been rightly handled. It had taken him all those years to bury his father — nor was he buried then. If we are not very careful, often what we think to be our rights, our own ways, and thoughts, will hinder us in the things of God. Is there any brother or sister here tonight, who feels that in their companying with the saints they have not been treated as they might have been? Is it not buried yet? Some one may say, ‘Yes, but then you know it was wrong’. Well then, I say, for Christ’s sake, make it a matter of sacrifice, not of disappointment, but keep in the path of following Him. May we who feel that we have anything outstanding in our minds in connection with natural links, or of our own rights, seek grace of the Lord to bury it; for the sake of Him who is our Object in the path, the One who has died for us. Put it under ground, get it out of sight. It may cost you tears, but you will be able to enter into your relation with the saints happily, and without shadow to follow the Lord.

And now I come to the closing word. Another said to the Lord that he would follow Him, but wanted first to return to those who were at home. He wanted to save a rupture, and to preserve a reputation. He wanted to follow the Lord in a way that would carry an element of nature with it. He was not prepared quite, to set out in the reproach of Christ. He was carrying forward elements of danger, of going back. My friends, we need not stretch our imagination. Our history as brethren has proved it, that there have been things carried forward in times of crises, which have well nigh wrecked the saints and dishonoured the Lord. What is reputation in the things of God? Do you want to be reputed as a follower of the Lord Jesus?

You can leave your reputation; it will hinder you in the race. Your reputation lies before. Keep to the Lord’s reputation, His honour, and yours will be all right. Make up your mind, as the Lord gives you grace, not to sully His name and yours will be cleared. Consider not your reputation now, it lies on before, and the day will declare it. No man can be a true lover of Christ, who tends to look back. “No one having laid his hand on the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Let me close with a word for all our hearts, especially those who are younger: that he who thinks to follow Christ, must see to it that he is not easily turned aside by a word, by a threat, or by an attraction. Such an one must keep his face in one direction only.I remember, as a boy in Scotland, watching what is not seen in these parts, a ploughing match. In ploughing matches they do not usually set the furrow where all the ground is seen; they contrive in setting the men to plough, that they shall finish their furrow perhaps over the hill, so that the end is not seen at the commencement. The man who ploughed the most straight furrow was the man who kept his eye upon one thing, and one thing only. He fixed his own mark, and never watched what his neighbours were doing, and you do the same. The greatest power that can be found amongst us in following Christ, is to be attached to Him with undivided affection. I do not get in your way, nor you in mine, if we are both following the Lord. May He help us, for His name’s sake!

 

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