Three Great Words of Jesus

The “Three Great Words of Jesus” were taken from the “British Monthly,” 1904.
Written by William Robertson Nicoll.


The most careless reader of the Gospels…

…cannot miss the significance of such great events in the life of Jesus as the Baptism, the Transfiguration, and the Agony. Everyone knows them as the cardinal points in the story of the evangelists; everyone must have sought in them a key to our Lord’s purpose and work. But there are outstanding moments in His life of a more incidental kind,moments which have an interest all their own, because we see in them the sudden emotions of the Savior’s soul. At such times there is an abrupt and, if we may reverently say so, an unusual and startling grandeur in His words ; the thrill with which He saw and spoke of certain things vibrates across all the centuries, and we seem to know Him for an instant with peculiar reality.

One of these high moments was that in which He encountered the centurion, at whose faith He marveled. Unbelief excited His wonder, but it depressed Him and restrained His power; He could do no mighty works in presence of it, and it froze in a manner both His heart and His speech. But the unexpected faith of the centurion was a wonder which moved and exalted Jesus. As He looked upon the Gentile, whose faith had surpassed that of Israel,the air seemed to become clear and transparent around Him; the future broke in upon the present; the magnificent vision rose upon His mind of multitudes coming like this foreign soldier from the East and the West and the North and the South, and sitting down with the fathers of Israel in the Kingdom of God. The word in which He foretold this issue of His work is one of the most sublime and, w-hen we realize the access of feeling under which it was uttered, one of the most moving in the Gospel; it gives us a glimpse into the soul of Jesus of priceless worth. If anything is characteristic of Him, it is this,that He sees in a single instance not merely the possibilities of the individual soul, but something prophetic of God’s kingdom, and that His heart leaps up to hail the glorious outlook.

Despairing views of men and races are often based upon their circumstances, but this great word of Jesus reminds us that circumstances are not omnipotent. Underneath their constant pressure, let it be as malign as it may, as malign as that of paganism in the first century, the soul of man still lives “a soul made originally in God’s image” still in blind dark, striving-seeking God, and capable when it finds Him of immense devotion. The finding does not depend upon outward advantages, and when Jesus meets with faith in unexpected places, it is an unanticipated joy, and uplift seven His speech to a more poetic and prophetic tone. It is a great thing,and it acts with great power upon Him. It evokes the keenest and most triumphant emotion. And though one cannot exactly speak of Jesus as an example in this respect ” for we cannot attempt to copy what can only come into being spontaneously “He is nevertheless a test.

A true Christian will be more deeply moved, he will feel that he is in contact with a far more divine and hopeful reality, when he remembers, for instance, the two boys who carried Livingstone’s body from Bangweolo to Zanzibar, than when he considers the most reckless exploits of fortune-seeking adventurers in Africa. The faithful hands that did that last service for the dead are a prophecy of the future of the dark continent worth more to Christian eyes than any prospectus or report ever issued. Possibly Christ still marvels that He finds in Livingstonia and in Madagascar what He fails to find among us” a deeper penitence,a stronger faith,a more passion and longing for purity of heart, and more self-denying love. Certainly nothing can be more alien to Him than the temper which sneers at the results of missions, but has no knowledge and no conception of what faith can be even to the most degraded of men. There are prophecies of heaven among the heathen, there are black men in whose hearts there is that which unveils to Christ the universality and glory of His Kingdom, and draws from His lips the loftiest words He ever spoke. Who can afford to be on the other side from Him ?

It was another such moment in the life of Jesus when, as He sat by the treasury watching the people cast in their gifts, there came a poor widow who cast in two mites. They were all her living. Her offering was not an act of generosity only it was an act of the most heroic faith. The woman left herself with nothing but God. Trust like this in the Heavenly Father was dear to the Savior’s heart, and He could not refrain from calling the attention of His disciples to it. He had been depressed by the want of faith in those who represented Israel officially; the temple in which He sat, and in which He had just been pronouncing woes on the hypocrisy of Scribes and Pharisees, must have seemed to Him the citadel of all that was irreligious and hopeless in His people. Yet even here faith not only lived but flourished, and, applying the measure of God to what the world passed by as an act too small for consideration, Jesus declared that the poor woman had cast in more than all the worshipers. There was more in her act that spoke of God, more that signified reliance upon Him, more that attested His gracious presence and fatherly providence in the world, than in all the liberal offerings of superfluity; and therefore Jesus rejoiced in it with great joy. Faith like this may be most within reach of the poor.

A man who has money in the funds does not so easily trust in God; almost inevitably he trusts in the empire. But the poor, who have nothing behind them but God, when they are generous at all, are generous on another scale, and at another risk. The help they give to each other has often been remarked, and probably it is the best help which can be given; the sacrifices they have made for the Kingdom of God have never been adequately appreciated. The self-denials of poor people, who at real cost, in small places, have maintained the Christian Church, with its worship and all its ministries, are even yet perpetually disregarded; yet, if the warm praise which Jesus bestowed on the widow means anything, can we doubt that the hardly won savings of laboring men and women, freely given in country chapels, have been a greater joy and hope to Him than most benefactions of pious founders, than all the restorations of cathedrals by millionaire distillers and brewers?

Another of the lofty words of Jesus had also its impulse in the unexpected act of a woman’s devotion. There is no lovelier story in the Gospel than that of the anointing at Bethany. The feast in Simon’s house can hardly have been a very festive occasion. The end was too near, the shadow of death was
falling too sensibly over the company. The soul of Jesus was never more alone ; there is no point in the Gospel history at which the disciples seem to have been less at one with Him. They were not alienated, but they did not understand the situation in the least ; and though they were not without love, it was not for the moment intelligent enough to yield Him sympathy. But at this very moment Mary came with the alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and broke the box, and poured it on His head. The passionate, loving action needed no words for its interpretation; it was the appropriate expression of an emotion for which words were too weak. And it is characteristic of Jesus that this strong expression of emotion evoked a sublime response from Him. It moved Him as He had been moved by the great and unexpected faith of the centurion. A moment before, He might almost have despaired of His work; now, if we may say so, He felt that its success was assured. Love which could command devotion in human souls like that which revealed itself in the anointing at Bethany might well be confident of the future.

Upon the instant, therefore, the future was unveiled; Jesus saw the Gospel, in prophetic vision, preached in all the world, and wherever it was preached the anointing at Bethany was told for a memorial of Mary. Perfect love never met a more perfect reward. And divine as it is, nothing brings our Lord nearer to us, nothing makes Him more truly human, than this susceptibility so,to speak,to strong and sudden emotions in which a world that is ordinarily more or less latent comes into quick and vivid consciousness. It is not the temperament of the poet which explains this, though probably poetry crystallizes under just such impacts as these. There is more than poetry here. There is faith, the assurance of a divine presence and a divine purpose in the earth, liable, no doubt, to be disheartened by much, but capable also of heavenly visions, and with a power of sublime prophetic speech, when it meets that to which it is spiritually akin.

The Sweetness and Bitterness of the Divine Word


WHEN we cannot see our path clearly across the world…

…when the heart is near breaking, when we faint under the consciousness of our miseries and our wounds, when we feel that it is very grievous to have left behind us the living treasures of the past, nothing will content us short of making the Divine Word part of our being, not to waste with disease or to perish with the earthly existence. We do not then criticise it, question it, stand outside of it. We so lay hold of it and incorporate it, that it is henceforth inseparable from our central personality. We can say when we eat the Divine Word that its verity is no more doubtful: It has been sealed by experience. We have lived through every throb of its strange and tragic story.

Sweeter than honey is the Word of God in the mouth.

What is comparable to the taste of a Divine communication? To know that God is, that is much. One converted soul tells how he “danced with delight” when he realised that there was a God. To know past all doubting that God has spoken, that is far more. To see the darkness which we had thought impenetrable impaled and stabbed through by a living light, is there any ecstasy comparable with that? To those who have exhausted themselves in question and conjecture, how sweetly comes the Voice that speaks with authority and from behind the veil! We can endure the world’s despair if it is possible to break through the mists that hide the Divine kingdom; if it is possible to see deeper into the future than the passing hour; if the “effort of the soul, ever springing up into the eternal light, is not foiled; if the speculations of reason are distanced and rebuked by an authentic voice of God. The very thought warms the heart like sunshine. It is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.

But the word which is sweet in the mouth is bitter in the belly.

The Word of God comes forth judging and making war. As has been pointed out by one of the most suggestive commentators on the Apocalypse, the little book which the seer finds sweet and bitter is the scroll of judgment. It is full of what is tragic and violent, of what spoils and gives pain. Take it as you will, the story is hard and sickening. It tells us of dark clouds over the destinies of God’s creatures; it tells us of agony endured vainly, of anguish which scorches the finer sensibilities and burns up the last remnants of tenderness and humanity. We do not hear, as we hoped, that the forces which make for evil are at once reduced to impotence. On the contrary, we are told of their power and triumph. Much that is dear and sacred is to vanish in flame.

The candlesticks that Christ has lighted in the world are often to flicker unsteadily and sometimes to go out. Nay, the redemption of the world is not to be achieved as we imagine. The Hands that hold the sceptre must first be outspread, in anguish and deaths and over the head of the Crucified King there must break the storm of the Passion. The Son of Man comes not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. The King, the rightful Ruler of mankind, is seen upon His cross, disfigured with wounds and robed in shame; and the homage which He claims from all of us is, after two thousand years, largely denied Him.

But in the end the Word of God is sweet.

True, we see not yet all things put under Christ. His reign is not yet felt in all the order of life. There is no end within sight to the rude experiences of rejection and denial, of bitterness and violence.

He who once refused to be made a King by force, still rejects the impatient expedients by which we seek to hasten His triumph.

But we see Jesus. To endure the visible we must learn to look at the invisible. If we know that Christ is reigning through the disorder and tumult and darkness, it is enough for us. We can then bear life’s burdens cheerful; knowing that the bitterness of the Divine Word will turn to the sweetness of its first taste, that the way is appointed, that the end is sure, and that the issue will be more glorious than our desire.

Written by Dr. Robertson Nicoll,
Published in 1904