Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
A PRACTICAL EXPOSITION OF JOHN 13-17.
By Rev. D. J. Burrill, D.D., LL.D.
THE CLOSING HYMN.
(Matthew xxvi. 30.)
On the night preceding the Passover the Jews were accustomed to sing the Great Hallel, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: his mercy endureth for ever. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Bind the sacrifice with cords fast unto the horns of the altar. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: his mercy endureth for ever"
The disciples probably sang this hymn at the close of their service in the goodman’s house: and without doubt Jesus joined in singing it
Why should He not sing? Though He was passing under the dark shadow of the Cross, He foresaw the joyous outcome beyond it. His heart was in sympathy with all things pure and lovely and of good report. He was the happiest of men.
The town of Nazareth is overlooked by a precipitous hill, six hundred feet above the level of the sea. No doubt He had often, in His boyhood, climbed there to commune with God. The mountain flowers were about His feet; and every one of them was like a swinging censer of praise. All about Him were orchards and vineyards and verdant pastures; every grass-blade was inscribed with His Father’s name. His heart gave thanks with the leaping of the brooks; the birds sang, and He sang with them.
Why should He not sing? His conscience was clear. He went to His rest at eventide with no confession of sin. There was no guile in His heart, no guile on His lips. For Him there were no vain regrets. He was now about to die; yet he shrank not, murmured not. "Lo, I come," said He; "in the volume of the Book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will !"
Why should not Jesus sing? He knew the ultimate triumph of truth and goodness. "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame." He watched the sun go down in golden glory. Red banners waved; the spearpoints of the heavenly host shone with golden splendour as they came forth marching to Armageddon, the consummation of all things. In the prophetic skies He heard the clash of arms, and the cry, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen !" and the rattle of chains as the great enemy fell headlong into the abyss; then a rolling back of the mighty gates and the glad acclaim of welcome, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in I" He thus saw the end from the beginning. He knew that His blood was destined to water the world’s wildernesses until they should bloom like gardens of roses. He knew that, whatever rebuffs and reverses might occur, truth and righteousness were sure to triumph after all.
And the disciples sang with Him. I seem to hear the voices of the two Sons of Thunder, deep and round, accustomed to shouting amid the turmoil of the stormy lake; and the voice of Peter, hoarse and strident, but making a joyful noise unto the Lord; and that of Thomas, timid and tremulous, as of one not quite sure of himself. While these and the others were singing, perhaps a watchman or some belated Jerusalemite paused under the window and wondered who could be making merry in this manner at dead of night.
Thus began the history of the singing Church. Tacitus says that the early Christians were wont to rise at daybreak and, in retired places, sing to the honour of Him whom they worshipped as God. The Church has come down through all the ages like a carolling bird with the dew of morning on its wings.
It is meet and proper that we should sing in the sanctuary. In Solomon’s temple, when the sons of Asaph raised the tune, accompanied by the great orchestra of harps and cymbals, and followed by choirs shouting back from gallery to gallery in antiphonal service, the cloudy presence came forth from behind the fine-twined curtains and filled the sacred place. Thus when we worship in the great congregation the doors of the sanctuary move upon their hinges and He enters whose presence brings fulness of life and joy.
It is meet that we should sing in the discharge of duty. The carpenter does better work when he whistles at his bench. The Puritan girl in The Minister's Wooing, humming the old psalm tunes, might well make her lover "think of heaven and angels." The soldiers of France, at the foot of St. Bernard, tugged vainly at the great guns until the flutes struck up the Marseillaise. We lift our burdens the more easily, meet our sorrows the more resignedly, perform our tasks the more joyously, when God’s praise is ringing in our hearts.
It is written of Bunyan’s pilgrim that he went singing all the way from the City of Destruction to heaven’s gate. He sang as he dragged himself out of the Slough of Despond, as he climbed the Hill of Difficulty, after his fight with Apollyon, past the entrance of the Giant’s Cave, in the Pleasant Meadows, by the River of Life, when he escaped from Doubting Castle, as he journeyed through the Delectable Gardens of the land of Beulah, and so until he entered the Celestial City. Nor did his singing end there; neither shall ours.
Could we see into heaven, our eyes dazzled by the effulgence of the glory which gathers about Him who sitteth upon the throne, we should hear the four-and-twenty elders lifting their voices in the Great Hallel; and the circle of angels and archangels, ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands, swelling. the anthem, "O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever and ever"; and the still greater multitude which no man can number of saints triumphant adding their voices to the general praise, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing for ever and ever !"
The meeting in the goodman’s house is over. At the Master’s word the disciples rise and follow Him down the outer stairway. Whither? To Gethsemane, the Judgment Hall and Calvary. After that they will meet Him, with the glow of triumph on His face, at Olivet; where, as He lifts His hands in blessing, the heavens will open to receive Him. Then whither? To the glory which He had with the Father before the world was!
Presently one of those disciples will pass on by the red path of martyrdom to rejoin Him; then another and another until none remains but the aged John, who is also destined to "climb the steep ascent to heaven ’mid peril, toil and pain." Thus the circle is again complete. What a reunion?
They assemble no more in the goodman’s house, but in the Father’s house of many mansions. Home, sweet home! What happy memories they recall; what vast campaigns they plan! For there "his servants do serve him." The mists that clouded their path have cleared away. They see the just proportion of things, as once they could not. They know now — as we shall presently — that the earthly life is but the preface of an endless serial, time but the threshold of eternity, and service here a mere apprenticeship for unending usefulness in the kingdom of God.