ACCESSIBILITY OF GOD THROUGH CHRIST
by B.H. Carroll
Text: O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come – Psalm 65:2.
The text asserts two propositions: (1) That God is a hearer of prayer, and (2) that he is ready to hear the prayers of all peoples, making it an obligation on all people to come to him in prayer.
Very early in that part of my life in which I began to be interested in the subject of religion came this difficulty: How can I get to God? As Job says: “Oh that I may know where I might find him! If I knew where I might find him I would come before him with my mouth filled with argument and as a man speaking face to face with a friend, I would state to him my case. But turning to the right hand I see his work, but him I cannot see. I feel that he is before me, but when I look there I do not see him. I realize that he is on my left hand and behind me and over me and under me, but when I turn about in any direction I don’t know where to find him.” This difficulty every heart experiences. That difficulty and a desire arising from it grew up together and kept growing among the children of men until it became a desire of all people that in some way God would make himself come-at-able, visible, approachable.
The promise was given in the Old Testament that the Desire of all nations should come, and when he came he would come to the Temple and come suddenly. Other Scriptures showed that when he came he would come as a revelation of the Father; that he would be himself the answer to the ten thousand questions of the human heart in the ten thousand varied experiences of human life, so that when we looked at him we would see as complete a representation of God, as complete a revelation of the state of God’s mind toward men as our fallible and finite nature would enable us to comprehend. He came to show the Father to us. So then when we look at Christ, taking the record of his life that is given to us in the Four Gospels, and studying it carefully with reference to this one point – Christ’s approachableness – we then get a true idea of God the Father’s approachableness in prayer.
The profoundest impression that has ever been made on my life since I began to study the Bible was made on my mind some ten days ago. I say none has ever come up to that. It was past midnight and I was studying the subject. I took the New Testament and read the Four Gospels through at one sitting that night, noticing only one thing, to-wit: The people who came to Christ and asked him for anything or about anything, writing down on a piece of paper each case. Where there was a great group at one time, I called that group case, but there are more than one hundred fifty specific cases recorded. The great multitude were not numbered, but they were referred to in general terms. And when reading the Four Gospels through with reference to that one point only, of Christ’s approachableness, I saw all flesh coming to him; I saw him giving an audience to all flesh, and I contrasted in my mind earthly kings, earthly governors, as to their come-at-ableness and approachableness.
If there were no other argument to prove to me the divinity of Jesus Christ than this one, it is all-sufficient to establish incontrovertibly that he is divine. It is a unique history – “without a model and without a shadow.” I do not believe that all the kings and governors of the whole world, in a hundred years’ time, give as many personal audiences to visitors and applicants as Jesus Christ gave in the three years of his public life. And nowhere else in history can there be found an instance where there was absolute insistence upon this point, that each case that came, whether man or devil, must have individual and personal and continual access. More than once the disciples sought to make themselves intermediaries between other people and Christ, and to become themselves the judges as to the kind of cases that should be presented, and in every instance they brought upon themselves stern and indignant rebuke, and the needy one seeking Christ found him for himself. Between that applicant and God there was nothing.
I say I never had such an impression made on my mind as that. I studied my own case. I thought that I was reasonably approachable, at least up to the average among men, and yet I know how it annoyed me if these applications were so continuous and persistent as to destroy my rest. Over and over again it is stated that in his case there was not time to eat, or rest; and in one instance we may infer from the record that his own mother and his brethren sought to take out a writ of lunacy against him because of this continual approachableness without regard to any personal comfort whatever.
If a devil wanted to say, “We know thee who thou art, thou Holy One of God, do not torment us before our time,” he gave an answer. If the chief of the devils approached him and said, “I request that you let me sift your disciples,” he heard him. If a woman came with a little babe in her arms and requested that he would put his hands upon that child and pray for it, and others would try to thrust her aside and tell her not to trouble the Master, he spoke out and said, “Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” If some selfish man, with his eye fixed wholly upon his own aggrandizement, wished Christ to cause a settlement of a contested inheritance, a purely secular matter, “Lord, make my brother divide the inheritance with me,” he would allow himself to be approached. If a man in a dungeon, far away, and unable to come himself, his mind perplexed with doubt on account of being cut off from public and active life, sends messengers to inquire concerning this perplexity of his mind, without a word of censure he answers the question and sends back the reply.
So then, whether it was a demon or the chief of devils, whether it was a hating and malevolent Pharisee, or a Sadducee believing neither in God nor angels nor spirits, no matter who the being was, what the state of the being’s mind, or the motive that prompted him to come, there was no sentinel stationed at the gate or at the door or in the palace that would deny the personal application. No red tape; no going through intermediate and subordinate officials. He stood as a revelation of God. “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.”
I say again that of all the impressions that have ever been made upon my mind from the study of God’s Word, that the deepest one I ever received and it continually abides with me. Its far-reaching signification takes hold of me by day and by night that Jesus Christ, as the revelation of the Father, as the express image of his person, coming to make known God to men, and on the matter of approachableness in every case of difficulty or distress, wrought, in the facts concerning his life, a demonstration of his divinity that is as immovable as a granite mountain, for there is no other such case in this world’s history.
Now I make this point with you particularly, as I know there are some people here today deeply interested in the subject of religion. I do not care how old you are, nor how young; whether you are man or woman; whether you are good, bad, or indifferent. It does not make an atom of difference, the question or degree of your alienation from God. I do say that for yourself you can have instant and direct communication with God himself in settlement of your trouble, of your difficulty, and that all the preachers and all the churches on the earth are devoid of any authority to block your way, to impede your course; that you may yourself go to God and state your case.
That night I jotted down on paper the several points. As Jesus came to reveal God the Father, what revelation of God did he make on the social question, mixing with society? What revelation of God was there in that? And so I took down every case where Jesus Christ accepted an invitation to go to anybody’s house, and I found that he never did reject an invitation, a respectful invitation, to take a meal with any family, and that his acceptance was in no case modified by the moral character of the one who invited him. He received an invitation to a wedding. He went. He received an invitation to make his home in Simon Peter’s house. He accepted. He was invited to stop with a little family in Bethany. He accepted the invitation. Three times over it is stated that Pharisees who disliked him, who hated him, invited him to come to their house for breakfast or dinner or supper, and every time he went – with this very suggestive and indeed startlingly revealing accompaniment – that he never went anywhere where his disciples would be forbidden to come. He never went anywhere with the understanding that his presence in that house was to estop his teachings of the doctrine which he came to teach. He never went to a house except either upon the express or implied understanding that while he was in that house, the door of approach to him by any lost soul in the world should be kept open, and some of the most remark able cases of salvation are recorded of that kind, where he is the guest of the house of an enemy; where they are thinking evil of him, where he sits down and is kind and courteous and accepts the invitations, but yet silently the tide of those desirous of help pours in and comes right up to him, even when he is at the table eating, and while he eats, he hears and dispenses the blessings of life.
On one occasion his friends asked the privilege of giving him a supper complimentary to himself. He accepted on the condition, as brought out in the history, that this same state of affairs should obtain, and so he was just as approachable there as he was at any other time. This is a remarkable thing. I don’t know anything like it in history. Generally the idea is that as a man, if I go to a fashionable person’s house, while I am in that fashionable person’s house I must “do as Rome does.” I must temporarily take upon myself the customs of that house. Isn’t that true? Isn’t it true that there are places where even preachers of the gospel either do not feel free to speak concerning Jesus Christ, or else do not care to speak concerning Jesus Christ? He was never in any such situation as that.
The next thing I marked down while studying the question was that a person who had recently been converted was very anxious that Jesus should come and meet a great many of his class. So he gave what you might call a sinners dinner. Matthew was a publican. He had been a great sinner. Christ had saved him and he found Christ very precious to himself, and he said, “Lord, I want to give a dinner and I want to invite all the sinners you can meet to that dinner, and I want you to come. Will you come? Will you meet them?” When I got to that record where Matthew, the publican, gave this dinner to the publicans, and to Christ in contact with publicans, that they might see him to be the precious Saviour that Matthew had found him, I almost felt like shouting in view of the effect of it.
The next thing I noticed was this: That some of the people would say to Christ, “Depart! We do not want you!” and his treatment of cases of that kind. I found that his conduct varied here; that it varied according to the case, and now I will show you two examples to illustrate some cases. Wherever he came his purity was such, his manner was such, that sin felt itself discovered, unmasked, and his holiness was so impressive that if there was an evil heart in the crowd, that heart at once recognized the opposite and conflicting principle of holiness. Now on one occasion he stepped into a little boat and, by one or two incidents following each other, there came a revelation of his absolute spotlessness, of his holiness, a holiness that was awful. One man felt it and got down on his knees and said, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” I noticed that when he was asked to depart in that way he did not depart. He considered that a good sign. He only pressed his company the more upon cases of that kind. But when the Gadarenes, who had been disturbed on account of the loss of the two thousand swine that, being filled with devils, cast themselves into the sea, when they came and implored him to depart, he went without a word. “If you ask me to go for that, I will go.” “That is, I never force myself upon you when you want me to go in order that you may continue in iniquity without rebuke. If you say go, I will go.”
I then noticed this: that while he never did refuse to see any poor man, any sick man, any sin-smitten man who desired to be saved, he did refuse to see the great who simply wanted to look at him from curiosity. Herod was king, and for three years he wanted to see Christ. He heard a great deal about him. He wanted an interview with this wonderful man. He never got the interview until just before Christ was crucified. Christ refused (peremptorily) voluntarily ever to permit himself to be seen by this man, but when he was arrested and brought before Herod, and Herod wanted him to work a miracle, just like you would ask a Japanese juggler to perform some dexterous feat of legerdemain, he answered not a word. The oracle was dumb.
I took a list of the cases of silence: “He answered not a word,” and it brought out a curious contrast, that sometimes his silence was temporary, with a view to develop interest and test faith, as in the case of the Syrophoenician woman. She cried to him and “He answered not a word,” but he was listening. She kept presenting her case and after a while he answered. But in the case of Pilate, in the case of Herod, in the case of Caiaphas, in all cases where there was an endeavor to force him to speak with a sinister end in view, or for the gratification of mere curiosity, he answered not a word. The oracle was dumb. As a sample, I will read you some applications that came to him. This one: “Lord, are they few that be saved?” Now this one, “Lord, when will the kingdom come?” Now he heard these people. He did not deny them access to his person. They presented those cases to him. He declined to answer any of them. They were mere questions of curiosity. They had no moral significance in the world. The parties were not asking when the kingdom would come with a view to adjusting themselves to the kingdom. They were not asking if there were few that would be saved in order that if it was only a few they might endeavor more earnestly to be of the few. He knew what prompted them to make the request and he gave no straightforward answer to any of these, but he would say something like this: “You ask me if there be few that are saved. I say to you, Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many shall seek to enter therein and shall not be able. I answer so far as the case touches you.”
I then noted down every case where people came up to him and asked an explanation either of his kingdom or of a Scripture or of a parable. Now here are a lot of people coming for information. How do you treat these people? Are you approachable on that subject? There is a vast deal of ignorance in the world. The people want explanation of a great many things. Now what was the attitude of Christ toward seekers of information? I I will state a case or two for you to think about.
One of them came to him by night early in his ministry. Nicodemus was very much disturbed about this kingdom of Jesus Christ. There is an honest inquiry, and oh, how honest the answer! Read that third chapter of John, where, though it was only one man, and that man came by night, and în Jesus’ hours of rest, and presented his case and asked explanation upon it, what wonderful revelations of divine truth he gave! Then again, the disciples took him aside out of the crowd. He had been teaching in parables, and they took him aside and said, “Lord, expound unto us this parable.” And how simple, and how lucid, and how like daylight is his explanation. The cases of that kind alone would be sufficient for a sermon.
I then considered this: How did Jesus stand with reference to family applications? His own family? Here are the cases that occurred: One when he was twelve years old, in the Temple; one at the marriage in Cana in Galilee; one when his mother and brothers wanted to stop his work because he was allowing his zeal to consume himself; one when his unbelieving brothers were goading him to go to Jerusalem and demonstrate his divinity by a miracle; and one when the woman cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee.” Now these are the cases where family considerations came in. How did he act on these cases? He placed himself, so far as the dispensation of the merits of his kingdom were concerned, absolutely beyond the pale of mere fleshly connection: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” was the first answer. The second answer: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” The third answer: “Who is my mother and who are my brethren? Whosoever doeth the will of God, the same is my father, my mother, my brother, my sister.” To his unbelieving brothers this answer: “My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready.” And the last was, “Instead of saying, Blessed is the womb that bore me, you had better say, Blessed is the one that doeth the will of God.” I don’t know of anything like that in history.
I then wrote down a list of all those cases where he was asked to use his religious influence in order to help out some selfish or secular thing. Hear some of the cases. That demoniac that he cured beyond the sea of Galilee had an intense desire to follow him and be with him. The record says he came down to the boat and wanted to get in, and pleaded to get in: “Lord, let me go with you.” Jesus refused: “No, you stay here. You go home and tell your family what God has done for you. You become my preacher in this community. They are sending me away now. I am coming back. When I come back and find fruit from your work, that will be worth more to the cause of God than if you were simply allowed to get in this boat and follow me and be my companion. The one is more pleasant to you, but the other is duty.” And whoever has studied that history in its chronological order will see that the next time that Christ came to that community (and once more he did come), thousands of people welcomed him, for it was there that he fed the five thousand men, besides women and children, there where he had prevented this restored demoniac from devoting his life selfishly and commanded him to devote it unselfishly.
I then marked these cases: He was at the house of that private family I told you about. There were three people in it, a brother and two sisters. One of the sisters was engaged in getting up what you might call a company dinner, or supper, I don’t know which. The other was sitting at the feet of Jesus, to learn concerning his kingdom. Directly the one who was so much concerned in performing the household part of the matter, the hospitality part, came running in, very much vexed and worried, with this plea: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister leaves all this burden on me?” Now would you think it lawful for you to carry a case of that kind to Jesus? Certainly you may. It makes no difference what the case is, you may take it to him; some little household matter, where you think that one member of the family is not doing his full part, but if you ever take it to Jesus, I would tell you not to be certain in your mind what is going to be his answer. He will let you state it, but when he answers you, he will answer you from no standpoint of selfishness, nor will he in his answer subordinate soul to body, nor will he subordinate religion to secular matters. He may say to you like he said to Martha, “Thou art cumbered with many cares,” as if he had said, “You are taking a great deal of unnecessary trouble on yourself. Mary has chosen that better part. Yours is a good part if you don’t allow your anxieties and fussings and fretfulness to carry you too far, but there is something better than that, Martha. There is something higher than that. It is a thousand times better for you to entertain Jesus in your heart for your soul’s good, than it is that you should cook him a big supper or a big dinner and entertain him with merely temporal pleasures and comforts.”
Then take this case I have referred to: “Lord, make my brother divide the inheritance.” I could tell you some curious things but will not. A minister learns matters under confidence like a physician learns them; but I will state this fact: On one occasion I had a man to ask me to use my recognized influence as a preacher over a certain young man to induce him to marry the applicant’s widowed daughter; and some cases worse than that. “I see religion is a power. I see it has an influence. I have an axe to grind. I have a political purpose to subserve. O religion, come help me out of this.” The Lord Jesus Christ replied in a moment: “Man, who made me a judge over this matter?” And turning around to his disciples, he said, “Take heed that you beware of covetousness.” This man comes to the Son of God and wishes him to use the spiritual power of the kingdom of God simply to better his financial condition.
I mention only one other case of this kind that I noted. A woman, and a Christian woman, one who had been exceedingly kind to him, had two very good boys, of whom she was very proud, and she had a right to be. I don’t know any two boys of the time that would stand ahead of those two boys, and she knew that Jesus was very kind to both of them. Now the sacred history is about this: The boys, ashamed to ask for themselves, got their foolish mother to intercede. That is what the records show. They dared not look him in the face and say, “Lord, give us these privileges” – they did not dare to do it. But they stated their cases to their mother and got the mother to represent them. You remember the case. The mother of Zebedee’s children came up to Jesus and said substantially, “Lord, give my son John the place on thy right hand in thy kingdom, and my son James the place on thy left hand in thy kingdom.” Strange that they would ask that, if it had already been given to Peter, as some affirm, and stranger that he should say, “What you ask is not mine to give.” And then he commenced to comment. “The lords of the Gentiles, the kings of the Gentiles, exercise lordship over them. Oh, let it not be so with you, not with you. Call no man master. One is your Master, even Christ, and you are brethren. When you talk about the primacy, who is the first? If any man would be first, if any man would be great in the kingdom of God, let him be your servant.” O what other teacher taught like that!
Now I ask you to notice this point, for I am near the conclusion of all that I shall say this morning. I wrote down in parallel columns all the cases of this kind: the people who of themselves came to Christ, and the people who were brought to Christ by others, sometimes not interested themselves – the people that came, and the people that were brought. What about them? There was a difference in his treatment of these cases. Not that either one was rejected. For example, Bartimeus presents his own case, and that too when they were trying to keep him from getting to Jesus; when they were telling him to hush, he was troubling the Master, but he kept on presenting his own case: O Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” The answers of Christ in cases of that kind were overwhelmingly and instantly gracious.
But if a man was brought to him it was still gracious, but not so quick. Before he would be gracious, something had to be developed. Compare the instantaneous healing of Bartimeus who came, with this case: “And he cometh to Bethsaida, and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town; and when he had spat on his eyes and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw aught. And he looked up and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up; and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.” This man was brought. See the effort to arrest his attention and excite a personal faith.
Now take the case of the deaf and dumb man. He did not manifest an atom of interest. Probably he was born deaf and dumb, and having those two channels cut off, his ideas were necessarily limited. They brought him. The record does not say that he did anything. Now mark that Jesus, in this case as in the case of the blind man cited, took that man off away from the crowd – took him by the hand, led him off. Now here the two stand alone. He is looking right in the eyes of this deaf mute, but how on earth can an idea be conveyed to him? Jesus puts his fingers to the deaf man’s ears. Maybe that deaf man will infer from this action that something will be done to his ears for his hearing. Maybe he can be interested by touch and sign. He then reaches out and touches the man’s tongue with his finger, as if by that sign to say, “I want to make that tongue speak. Are you getting interested? Are you taking hold?” Then without saying anything he lifted up his eyes to heaven and the man saw him. Now see how difficult to communicate an idea to a deaf and dumb man. Yet it must be done. This man was brought to Christ. Christ determined to help him, and by those three singular and yet appropriate methods, putting his fingers to his ears, touching his tongue, lifting up his eyes to heaven, and seeing that he had gotten his attention, he gazed right into his eyes and said, “Be opened,” and the ear was opened and the tongue was loosed, and the man was healed.
I will close what I have to say today by referring to just one other class. Remember what the theme is, that Jesus Christ is to reveal the Father, that he is to reveal to you God’s approachableness; that God is accessible, and that anybody may come to him; that he hears prayer, and that all flesh may come; that you may come for yourself; come sick or well, rich or poor, great or small, man or woman, human or devil, for yourself, you may come directly and state your case.
Now I wrote down on my piece of paper a class of cases that touched me so that I sat there in my chair and wept; I could not help it. I don’t know what happened to me. I felt, I suppose, somewhat like Paul felt when he said he didn’t know whether he was in the body or out of it. I do know that to my mind the pictures of the scenes, all of them, passed before me as if I were an eyewitness. And what were they? The cases of silent appeal, where the situation was itself the petition, and no voice was heard and no written communication addressed to him, but just utter wretchedness, appealing to God’s sight and compassion and mercy.
First, a case of despair. You remember the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, who so long had been helpless, until at last despair had taken possession of him. There he lay without a hope, so helpless that he did not even turn his head when Christ came up; so hopeless he did not even ask for anything. But the case spoke for itself, and Jesus came up to him and asked him why he was in that condition. You have heard me tell about the Irish beggar. A rich English lord was driving through Ireland in his chariot and he passed the beggar on the roadside, who had evidently been sick for a long time – in rags, emaciated – and he expected that beggar to step out before the carriage and hold out his hat, but the beggar no more moved than a statue; he no more spoke than the sphinx, and his stillness and silence made the Englishman ask, “Why on earth don’t you ask me to give you something?” With Irish eloquence the reply came, “Your honor, if me rags and me bones sticking out ask nothing, what more could me voice ask? O me rags and me bones make their silent appeal.” So that case at Bethesda.
So of that woman whom Satan had bound for eighteen years. Nobody thought about her. Nobody interested himself in her behalf, and she never had a thought that anybody ever would. Bowed down until she looked like a beast going on all fours, hopelessly crippled, and Jesus saw it – the case spoke for itself. It was its own interpretation. The wretchedness and despair of it were a silent appeal to him, and he healed her.
Then the case of that widowed mother. Jesus and his crowd were going up the hill to a city on top of the hill, and just before his crowd got to the top of the hill, a funeral procession came out of the town, coming down the hill, and there was a mother who was a widow, and whose only son was dead. She never said one word to Jesus. The case spoke to the compassionate heart of the Son of God, and he raised that boy to life. “Here, Mother, is your son!”
Take the case of Zaccheus. He had no more idea that Jesus would condescend to speak to him than he had that an angel from heaven would come down and stay all night in his house, but he wanted to see him and he climbed up that tree. The thought in that man’s heart was: “I know I am bad. I know I have been an extortioner. I know that I have lived wrong in the sight of God, but I have heard about Jesus and I want to see him. I do not suppose he will condescend to look at me; I have no idea that he will speak to me, but I want to see him.” But there in that tree, silently looking at Jesus, the case spoke for itself, and Zaccheus was startled when Jesus looked up and with a voice sweeter than the chime of a marriage bell, said, “Zaccheus, come down. I am going to your house today.” O what a revolution in that man! “Jesus speaks to me. Jesus is not ashamed to come to my house. Jesus will come and stay with a wretched, miserable sinner, and without one word of upbraiding.” And salvation entered that house that day.
You know I cannot quote all the cases of approach to Jesus. There are over one hundred fifty special instances, as I told you, besides many groups, but I ask you to look at this one picture. He had been teaching and healing all day, and when it was sunset, great crowds came, bringing their sick and all that had any disease and laid them down. The yard is full, the streets are full, all out around the house, wherever you look, here are sin and sorrow and suffering brought to Jesus as to God. “O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.” And he goes around and with a touch and a word and a look, healing and saving, until that city is filled with joy.
What unjust ideas I once had about God! What ideas I have now about God since I studied Jesus! I now know the Father; I know his approachableness. I know that he is not confined to Jerusalem, nor the mountains of Samaria, but everywhere on the face of the earth, a soul, any soul, no matter how sinful, may for itself come directly to Jesus and say, “God be merciful to me, a, sinner,” and salvation comes to that soul. Will you try it? I know that if any poor prodigal, homeless, helpless, ragged and wretched, will but arise and go to the Father, from afar off the Father will see him and run to meet him, and tenderly embrace him and kiss him much and welcome him with joy to light and home and melody and happiness.
Let no man dare to block the way to God. Let neither priest, apostle, nor devil forbid any petitioner direct access to God through Christ. Stand back, thou self-appointed peddler of the divine favors! Withdraw thy baneful shadow from the path of the comer to God! Come on, ye supplicants! Hear the Master: “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Him that cometh to me will in no wise cast out.” Come on, mothers, with your babies! Come, blind Bartimeus! Come, thou prodigal! Come, Zaccheus and Matthew! Come, ye Magdalenes! Come, dying thieves! The door is wide open by day and night. No sentinel blocks the way. No disciple may forbid. Come your self to God himself. O sinner, dying sinner, do come!