The Candor of Christ – Charles E. Jefferson (historic sermon 1860-1937)
“If it were not so I would have told you.” John 14:2
The word “candor” has a modem sense. In earlier times it meant whiteness or brightness, coming as it does from the old Latin word candidus, meaning “white,” the word from which we get our word “candidate,” signifying a man dressed in white, because aspirants for office in ancient Rome always dressed in white togas. But in modem speech candor is openness, fairness, outspokenness, sincerity. It is a rare virtue, one of the most winsome of all the virtues. Many a man does not possess it. He is taciturn, reserved, secretive. He keeps the door of his heart shut. When he says a thing you cannot tell how much he means, for you do not know the extent of his reservations. When he does a thing you cannot tell what he is going to do next, because you do not know how fully his act has embodied all which exists in his heart. He gives himself fully to no one. He is the man with the barred lips and the bolted heart. Such a man may be respected and even admired, but he cannot be loved. Jesus was loved. Men loved him so intensely they were willing to die for him. One reason was that he was a man with his heart open.
One obtains a hint of a man’s disposition by noting the men whom he admires and praises. The trait which one sincerely likes to see in others is likely to be a feature of his own character. John in his Gospel tells us of a eulogy which Jesus passed one day upon a man named Nathaniel. Nathaniel was a citizen of a small Galilean village, Cana, situated not far from Nazareth. As soon as Philip had gotten a little acquainted with Jesus he was desirous of bringing Jesus and his friend Nathaniel together. Seeking Nathaniel he said enthusiastically, “We have found him!” to which came back the frigid answer, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” The two villages, Cana and Nazareth, were close together, and as frequently happens neither village saw much good in its neighbor. Great cities have been known to be bitterly jealous of one another, and this rivalry is sometimes more intense in the lives of competing towns. Nathaniel had a deep-seated contempt for dingy little Nazareth, and all that was in his heart came out in the cynical question, “Can there come any good thing out of Nazareth?” He was nothing if not frank. His friend, not at all daunted, mildly said, “Come and see.” Whereupon the cynic immediately obeyed. He had his presuppositions, but he would not be enslaved by them. He had his prejudices, but he would not be held back by them. It was only reasonable that he should act on his friend’s suggestion, and this he forthwith did. He was willing to investigate for himself. He had an open mind, an ingenuous heart. Jesus had been struck by his frank and noble face not long before when he had seen him praying under a fig tree. As soon as Jesus sees him coming toward him he exclaims in a tone musical with praise, ” Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.” This was the sort of man which won at once the heart of Jesus. There was no craft nor cunning in him, no duplicity nor deceit; he was a man of frank sincerity, and Jesus’ heart immediately goes out to him, assuring him that over his open soul there is going to be an open heaven. Outspoken and frank himself, Jesus was en rapport with souls which were free from guile.
And here we find one of the reasons why Jesus always extolled the disposition of a child. Without the child heart no man can enter heaven. And why? Because the child heart is always the open heart. Where can you find such candor, such beautiful frankness, such surprising and sometimes discomfiting outspokenness as in a little child? He will tell you just what he thinks, all he thinks, nothing will he hold back. He will make known his feelings, all his feelings, and will melt and overcome your heart by the fullness of his naive self-revelation. One of the reasons why Jesus set a child in the midst of the disciples, saying, “This is what you ought to be,” is because a little child is the embodiment and personification of candor.
A man reveals himself in his dislikes as truly as in his prepossessions and praises. Whom did Jesus most dislike? The Pharisees. They were hypocrites. A hypocrite was an actor, a man who wore a mask, the mask representing a personality other than the one inside of it. “Do not be like the actors,” this was his constant exhortation, and he never lost an opportunity of holding up the hypocrites to contempt and scorn. On one occasion he faced them in Jerusalem, calling them to their face “vipers.” It was a harsh word, and yet it expressed the inmost spirit of the men to whom it was applied. They were as venomous and deadly as vipers. It is an awful thing to tarnish the name of God and render religion odious, and to poison the heart of the world. And yet all this these hypocrites were doing, and to the guileless heart of Jesus there were no men so repulsive and deserving of scorching condemnation. He was himself so genuine and open-hearted that the craft of these treacherous actors stirred him to blazing indignation.
He never held back the truth when it was time that the truth should be spoken. His loving heart told him when the hour had come. At the marriage feast in Cana he said to his mother who had come with imploring eyes and pleading tongue asking him to help the host out of the distressing predicament in which he found himself, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” It had been predicted long before that a sword was to pass through Mary’s heart, and here is surely one of the times when the sword passed through. The time has come when the mother’s wishes can no longer be allowed to control the actions of the son. Her importunate requests can no longer determine the course of Jesus’ action. The old days in Nazareth are forever gone, and a new epoch in Jesus’ life has dawned, and in this larger realm the mother is nothing but a woman whose thoughts and feelings and wishes must be subordinated to the will of the man whom she has thus far called her son. What pain Jesus suffered in speaking thus we can only imagine. But he was the man with the open heart, and the warning word had to be spoken.
The Gospels teem with illustrations of this surprising and daring frankness. One day in talking with some Sadducees, the representatives of the aristocratic and influential classes of Palestine, he told them bluntly that they were always falling into error because they were so ignorant. They were ignorant both of the Scriptures and of the power of God. It was a needed word, for people who know little and think they know much are sometimes helped by having their attention called to the limitations of their knowledge; but to give such reprimand is not an easy thing to do. It was by his outspokenness that Jesus attempted to cure some of the infirmities of men.
His love of fairness comes out clearly in his warnings both to the twelve and to all who wanted to be numbered among his followers. He will hold back nothing. The whole terrible truth must be told. No man shall ever follow him without first knowing what risks and dangers discipleship involves. Read the tenth chapter of Matthew as a shining illustration of his candor. He wants the twelve to do his work, but before they start they shall know what sort of experiences they may reasonably expect. “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves,” a figure which meant much to the men addressed who knew both sheep and wolves. Beginning thus he goes on to paint a picture black enough to daunt the heart of the bravest, and the only encouragement he has to give them for facing such awful dangers is the promise that he will confess them at last before his Father in heaven. No disciple shall ever say to him, “I did not know what it meant!” or shall ever chide him with the question, “Why did you not tell me?” When men came rushing to him saying, “Master, I will follow you,” he flashed on them the gloom of a dark sentence, unwilling to accept the allegiance of any one, even in times when he most needed support, without having first revealed to the volunteer the full significance of a place in his ranks. Men’s heads were filled with dreams of supremacy and sovereignty and glory, and more than one heart was chilled by the searching question, “Are you able to drink the cup?” His candor reduced the number of his followers, but it was just like him to hold back nothing which men had a right to know.
But it is in his confessions that his candor reaches its climax. Among his confessions there are three which must here have our attention. He admits without hesitation that there was a limitation of his authority. One day a man interrupted him with the cry, “Speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me,” and the reply was, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” There was a realm then in which Jesus was not ordained to act. This was a surprising confession for the Messiah to make. It had been the dream of the prophets that the Messiah should have authority over, all the kingdoms of life, that every form of injustice should be trampled under his feet. The nation had long pictured a king who should put an end to the cruel inequalities with which the world was cursed, and measure out justice with an even hand. And now the Messiah deliberately turns his back on a man who is pleading for justice, saying that into that realm he cannot now enter. Only a strong man is brave enough to disappoint his friends by candidly admitting that it is impossible for him to do what they have expected of him. Not only did Jesus confess a limitation of his authority, but also of his power. When two of his disciples asked for the chief places in the new kingdom, he frankly told them that he did not have the power to select his own prime ministers, because all such matters were hidden in the deep counsels of God.
More surprising was his confession of ignorance. An ignorant Messiah was to the pious and instructed Hebrew an impossible conception. The Messiah was not only to be able to do everything, he was also to know everything. The tradition was firmly lodged in the hearts of the Samaritans as well as of the Jews, as we see in the words of the woman of Samaria, “I know that Messiah cometh: when he is come he will tell us all things.” But Jesus frankly admitted that there were things which he did not know. For instance, one day he was talking in graphic phrase about the end of the world. He spoke of it so definitely and positively that it was a natural inference that he knew just when it would take place. To the amazement of his hearers he said, “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” There is nothing which so weakens the authority of a teacher with the public as the discovery of his ignorance in regard to a matter on which it is generally considered his business to be informed. There is no confession which a teacher makes so reluctantly and with such hazards as that of ignorance on a point which lies within his province. It shatters popular confidence, and robs his words of authority, and cripples all his subsequent work. Candid, indeed, is the teacher who confesses his ignorance. Jesus confessed his. He knew the risks and he took them. He knew his words could be misconstrued and that they would become to thousands a stumbling-block, but he spoke them.
Again and yet again his friends and followers, less candid than their Master, have shrunk back from his bold confession and have watered down his words, trying to make them mean less than they carry on their face. Many a tricky interpretation has been given to his declaration by those who have not been willing to think of Jesus as being anything but omniscient, and have feared that men if once told of one deficiency in Jesus’ knowledge might hesitate to give him the fullness of their trust and refuse to bow before him as King of kings and Lord of lords. But men who thus try to evade the plain language of Scripture are not candid. Let us be thankful that Peter was frank enough to tell Mark just what Jesus said, and that Mark was sincere enough to write down just what Peter re- ported, and that Matthew in a book written especially to prove that Jesus was the long-expected Messiah and King of Israel, did not shrink from writing down the great confession of Jesus’ ignorance as to the day and the hour of the end of the world. The New Testament is like its hero, gloriously candid. It points to Jesus saying, “This is the Messiah, the Son of God,” and then it tells us that men spat upon him.
Nothing inspires confidence in a man like candor.
If a man is frank and open in nine points, we may safely trust him in the tenth. Jesus makes his candor a reason why his disciples ought to trust him in those realms of thought and life which lie beyond their sight. “In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you.” Of course he would. It was his nature to tell men everything it was necessary for them to know. He would not allow his friends to go on holding delusions when a word from him would set them free. These men had in them an instinctive belief in the life to come. Like all normal and unspoiled men they believed that death is not the end. They looked forward to a life of larger scope and rapture than any which this world can know. Jesus allowed them to nourish these expectations. He saw the direction in which their faces all were set, and he did not tell them they were swayed by an illusion. He let them go on thinking of heaven, hoping for heaven, working for heaven, and now that the end of his earthly life has come, he tells them more plainly of the nature of this vast world just beyond the shadow.
Carry this thought with you in your reading of the New Testament, and it will give you fresh confidence in many things which we believe about Jesus. We believe that he was sinless. Why? Because of a sentence here and there like, “Which one of you convinceth me of sin?” That foundation might prove somewhat precarious. Shall we think he was sinless because he never committed a sinful act? But how do you know, how can you know, about his thoughts and feelings and motives, and what proof have you that his motives and feelings and thoughts were always altogether just what God would have them to be? The best reason we have for believing in the sinlessness of Jesus is the fact that he allowed his dearest friends to think that he
was. There is in all his talk no trace of regret or hint of conviction, or suggestion of sorrow for shortcoming or slightest vestige of remorse. He taught other men to think of themselves as sinners, he asserted plainly that the human heart is evil, he told his disciples that every time they prayed they were to pray to be forgiven, but he never speaks or acts as though he himself has the faintest consciousness of having ever done anything other than what was pleasing to God. This is remarkable, unparalleled. All the saints beat their breasts saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” The purer the
heart the lower it bows before infinite holiness. Jesus never by word or by act indicates that he is conscious of falling short of the wishes of God. If he had been, would he not have said so? His was the open heart. Would he deceive men on a matter of such cardinal moment? Is this like him to be conscious of transgression, and conscience-stricken because of his sins and never indicate by a word that he like the disciples must pray to be forgiven? They thought he was sinless. Would this man with the open heart and the open mouth allow his dearest friends to be deceived? He was without sin even as the apostle said he was. We are sure of it for the reason that if he had not been he would have told us.
On his candor, then, we have a right to build both for time and eternity. When he says that if we do not repent we shall perish, and that only those who are born from above enter the kingdom of light, we have every reason for believing that these statements are true. And when he says that his disciples are going to do greater things than were ever done in Palestine, and that he will be with us always even unto the end of the world, why should we not believe him?
And since he is so frank and open with us why should not we be open-hearted and frank with him? If he tells us truly the things in his heart, why should we not tell him truly the things which are in our hearts? He has given himself to us: why do we not give ourselves to him?