The following is a Devotional Sermon by George H. Morrison.
It was first published on oChristian.com, a source of online resources for Chirstians.
The Intolerance of Jesus
“He that is not with me is against me” Matthew 12:30.
Christ Rejects Accusations Made against Him
Our Lord had just performed a notable miracle healing a man who was possessed of a devil. It had made a profound impression on the people, and had forced the conviction that this was indeed Messiah. Unable to dispute the miracle itself, the Pharisees tried to impugn the power behind it, and in their cowardly and treacherous way they suggested there was something demoniac about Christ. With a readiness of resource which never failed Him, Christ showed in a flash the weakness of that argument. If He was the friend of the demons, was He likely to make a brother-demon homeless? Then moved to righteous anger by these slanders, He said, “He that is not with me is against me.”
You Cannot Understand Christ if You Fail to Notice His Intolerance
I want to speak on the intolerance of Jesus Christ. However startling the subject may appear, and however the sound of it may jar upon us, I am convinced we shall never understand our Lord if we fail to take account of His intolerance. We have heard much of the geniality of Jesus, and of the depth and range of His compassion; nor can we ever exaggerate, in warmest language, the genial and generous aspect of His character. But it is well that the listening ear should be attuned to catch the sterner music of that life, lest, missing it, we miss the fine severity which goes to the perfecting of moral beauty. Wherever the spirit of Jesus is at work, there is found a sweet and masterful intolerance. The one thing that the Gospel cannot do, is to look with easy good nature on the world. And if this passionate urgency of claim has ever marked the activities of Christendom, we must try to trace it to the fountainhead and find it in the character of Christ.
Intolerance Must Be Knowledgeable
Of course there is an intolerance so cold and hard that it must always be alien from the Master’s Spirit. All that is best in us condemns the temper which lacks the redeeming touch of comprehension. When the poet Shelley was a lad still in his teens, he fell violently in love with his cousin Harriet Grove. Shelley was a sceptic even then, and on account of his scepticism his cousin was removed from him. And those of you who have read his letters of that period will remember how they throb with the great hope that he might live to do battle with intolerance. Now Shelley was a poet, with all a poet’s ardour, yet I think that most young men have had that feeling. Nor is it one of those feelings that pass away with youth; it generally strengthens with the tale of years. “One has only to grow old,” says Goethe, “to become tolerant.” As life advances, if we live it well, we commonly grow less rigid in our judgment. By all we have seen and suffered, all we have tried and failed in, our sympathies grow broader with the years. We learn how precious is the grace of charity; how near akin may be the fiercest combatants; how great is the allowance we must make for those of whose hidden life we know so little.
Christ Died Because of His Intolerance
I mention that just to make plain to you that I am not shutting my eyes to common truths. Yet the fact remains that in all great personalities, there is a strain of what is called intolerance. There are things in which it must be yea or nay–the everlasting no, as Carlyle has it. There are spheres in which all compromise is treachery, and when a man must say with Luther, “Here I stand.” And that intolerance, so far from being the enemy of love and sympathy and generous culture, is the rock that a man needs to set his feet on, if he is to cast his rope to those who cry for help. You find it in the God of the Old Testament– “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
He is a jealous God, and brooks no rival. He must be loved with heart and soul and strength and mind. You find it in the music of the psalmist, and in the message of prophet and apostle, and you find it bosomed amid all the love that shone in the character of Jesus Christ.
Never was man so tender as the Lord. Never was man so swift to sympathise. Never did sinners so feel that they were understood. Never did the lost so feel that they were loved. Yet with all that pity and grace and boundless comprehension, I say you have never fathomed the spirit of the Master, until you have recognised within its range a certain glorious and divine intolerance. We talk of the infinite tolerance of Shakespeare; it is a commonplace of all Shakespearean criticism. Nothing was alien from that mighty genius; the world was a stage and he knew all the players. But underneath that worldwide comprehension there is a scorn of scorn, a hate of hate; there is such doom on the worthless and the wicked as can scarce be paralleled in any literature; and till you have heard that message of severity — that judgment which is the other side of love — you have never learned the secret of the dramatist. In a loftier and a more spiritual sense that is true of our Master, Jesus Christ. He loved us and He gave Himself for us. He says to every weary heart, “Come unto me.” But that same spirit which was so true and tender could be superbly unyielding and inflexible. The gentle Saviour was splendidly intolerant, and because of His intolerance He died.
Intolerant toward Hypocrisy
We trace the intolerance of Christ, for instance, in His attitude towards hypocrisy. One thing that was unendurable to Jesus was the shallow profession of religion. You can always detect an element of pity when Jesus is face to face with other sins. There is the yearning of infinite love over the lost; the hand outstretched to welcome back the prodigal. But for the hypocrite there is no gleam of pity, only the blasting and withering of wrath. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” It is the intolerance of Jesus Christ.
Christ Is Intolerant of Sharing His Uniqueness
We trace it again in those stupendous claims that Jesus Christ put forward for Himself. The Lord our God is a jealous God, and the Lord our Saviour is a jealous Saviour. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life” — “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” — “No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” What do you make of these amazing claims, and of that splendid intolerance of any rival? — yet all these words are in the Gospel record as surely as “a bruised reed shall he not break.” Do you say there are many doorways to the Father?
Christ Jesus stands and says, “I am the door.” Do you say there are many shepherds of the sheep? Christ stands in His majesty, and says, “I am the shepherd.” Pitiful, merciful, full of a great compassion, Christ is intolerant of any rival; He stands alone to be worshipped and adored, or He disappears into the mists of fable. So far as I am aware that is unique; there is nothing like it in religious history. The ancient pantheons had always room for the introduction of another god. It is Christ alone, the meek and lowly Saviour, who lifts Himself up in isolated splendour. Friend of the friendless and Brother of the weakest, He is intolerant of any sharing of His claims.
Christ Is Intolerant When It Comes to Sharing the Allegiance He Demands from us
Again I trace this same intolerance in the allegiance which Christ demands from us. He is willing to take the lowest place upon the cross; but He will not take it in your heart and mine. When He was born in the fullness of the time, He did not ask for the splendour of the palace. He was born in a manger, reared in a lowly home, and grew to His manhood in obscurest station. But the moment He enters the kingdom of the heart, where He is King by conquest and by right, there everything is changed, and with a great intolerance He refuses every place except the first. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” — “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” That is the word of a King in His own Kingdom, claiming His rightful place among His subjects. And when you speak of the meek and lowly Jesus, never forget there is that imperial note there. He is divinely intolerant of everybody who would usurp the throne that is His right.
Such, then, are one or two instances of the intolerance of Jesus Christ, and now I want to examine its true nature, that we may see how worthy it was of Christ.
The Intolerance of Christ Is the Child of Glowing Faith
The first thing I note in the intolerance of Jesus is that it is the child of glowing faith. The intolerance of Christ is little else than the other side of His perfect trust in God. When one is a stranger to you, bound by no ties of love, you are little affected by what is said about him. The talk may be true, or it may not be true, but it is none of your business, and you do not know. But the moment a man becomes a hero to you, that moment you grow intolerant of liberties. If you believe in a woman, your heart is aflame with anger should anyone sully her name even with a breath. A French poet tells us that when he was a youth he was a passionate worshipper of Victor Hugo. He believed in Hugo with all his heart and soul; he thought there had never been a poet like him. And he says that even in a dark cellar underground, where nobody possibly could have overheard him, he could not bear to whisper to himself that a single verse of Hugo’s poetry was bad. That is the fine intolerance of faith in ardent and eager and devoted natures. That is the faith which Jesus Christ was filled with, in God and His righteousness and providential order. And with a faith like that there can be no compromise; no light and shallow acceptance of alternatives. Under the sway of such a glowing trust a certain intolerance is quite inevitable. It is easy to be infinitely tolerant, if all that Christ lived for means but little to you. An age that can tolerate every kind of creed is always an age whose faith is burning low. And just because Christ’s faith burned with a perfect light, and flashed its radiance full on the heart of God, you find in Him, in all His God ward life, a steady and magnificent intolerance.
Christ’s Intolerance Was Found in His Perfect Understanding
Then once again the intolerance of Jesus is the intolerance of perfect understanding. It was because He knew so fully, and sympathised so deeply, that there were certain things He could not bear. One great complaint we make against intolerance is that it does not sympathetically understand us. It is harsh in judgment, and fails in comprehension, and has no conception of what things mean for us. We have all met with intolerance like that, but remember there is another kind. Take the case of drunkenness, for instance; there are many people very tolerant of drunkenness. They talk about it lightly, make a jest of it; they are none of your rigid, longfaced Pharisees. But sometimes you meet a man, sometimes a woman, to whom such jesting talk is quite intolerable, and it is intolerable not because they know so little; it is intolerable because they know so much. The curse has crossed the threshold of their home, and laid its fatal grip on someone who was dear. They have seen the wreck and ruin of it, and all its daily misery, and the drying up of every wellspring of the heart. So in their grief they grow terribly intolerant, and it is not because they do not understand; they are intolerant because they understand so well. Never forget that it is so with Christ. He is intolerant because He comprehends. He knows what sin is; He knows how sweet it is; He knows its havoc, its loneliness, its dust and ashes. And therefore is He stern, uncompromising, and says to us, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” There are men who are intolerant because of ignorance; Christ is intolerant because He knows.
Christ’s Intolerance Is Based on His Love
Lastly, the intolerance of Jesus is very signally the intolerance of love. Love beareth all things — all things except one, and that is the harm or hurt of the beloved. Here is a little child out in the streets, ragged and shoeless in the raw March weather. Let it stay out till midnight, no one complains at home. Let it use the foulest of language, no one corrects it. Poor little waif, in whom all things are tolerated, and tolerated just because no one loves it! What kind of mother has that little child? What kind of father has that little child? You know them in the street, swollen and coarse, reeking with all the vileness of the city. They tolerate everything because they do not love; when love steps in, that toleration ceases.
Now we all know that when our Saviour came, He came at the bidding and in the power of love; love wonderful, love that endured the worst, love that went up to Calvary to die. And just because that love was so intense, and burned with the ardour of the heart of God, things that had been tolerable once were found to be intolerable now. That is the secret of the Gospel’s sternness and of its passionate protest against sin. That is why age after age it clears the issues, and says, “He that is not with me is against me.” The love that beareth all things cannot bear that hurt or harm should rest on the beloved. Christ is intolerant because He loves.