From the e-Sword Study Bible
If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him — Joh_11:48
The Error of the Pharisees
There was a sense in which the Pharisees were entirely wrong. Historically, and in the sovereign will of God, it is just because the Pharisees did not let Christ alone that we believe and worship Him. Had they let Christ alone, I speak with reverence, there would have been no Calvary for Jesus. And had Jesus never been lifted up on Calvary, He never would have drawn all men to Him. They were quite wrong, then, these Pharisees, in one sense. Their interference was a predestined thing. They plotted and schemed and compassed the death of Jesus. And they said, That ends it, none will believe Him now. Yet the King in His beauty is the crucified Redeemer still.
Jesus Left Alone Shows Forth His Glory
But if there was one sense in which the Pharisees were wrong, there was another sense in which they were entirely right. With a meaning they never saw, it was quite true, “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him.” For Pharisaism is not only a sect. It is a spirit. It is living still, disguised, perhaps, but unchanged. And if a sinful world is to believe on Jesus, if men and women are to see His majesty and hail Him as Redeemer, and adore Him, it is a new sight of the King Himself we want: the Pharisee must leave the Christ alone. Truth unadorned is then adorned the most. And “I am the way, the truth, the life,” said Jesus. I would that many a commentator, many a dogmatist, many a highly intellectual preacher even, had learned that simple lesson from our text: “If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him.” For there is a charm, a constraining beauty about Jesus, that draws like a magnet the wandering hearts of men. But tampering hands have been laid upon the Lord. He has been shrouded, hidden, removed from the garden of humanity, till many a simple soul can only cry with Mary, “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.”
And so I am led to our central thought, that of “letting alone,” and I wish to treat it in a Biblical way. First, then, we shall fix our minds on this: there are times when we must leave God alone.
Don’t Leave God Alone When He Wants to Be Prayed to
Now the strange thing is—and I call it strange though to the man who knows his Bible it is quite familiar—the strange thing is, that the times when we must leave God alone are not the times when God appears to wish it. Go back to the story of Exodus, for instance. Recall that sad scene of the golden calf. The people made their idol and they danced around it, and they played the harlot and forgot God around it till the anger of God was like a scorching flame. And what did God cry to Moses? “Let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, that I may consume them.” And Moses simply refused to let God be—he fell on his face, entreated passionately, saved the people, and was never more Christlike than in that splendid disobedience. Or take the cry of the Syrophoenician woman. “Lord, save my daughter, save my daughter, Lord!” And if the silence of Christ meant anything at all, and if His word about the lost sheep of the house of Israel meant anything at all, it meant, “Let Me alone.” But her mother’s heart refused to let Christ alone. She pleaded, she parried, she found a choice argument in His refusal, till Christ was mastered by that most disobedient persistency, and she went home to find her daughter healed.
I think you see now what the lesson is. With a life to live and with a death to die, never let God alone by not praying. “Let me alone,” the God of science is crying, “for I work by my inexorable laws, and I shall not change them at my creature’s bidding.” “Let me alone,” the God of providence is crying, “for your neighbor yonder has not prayed for years, and yet he has all he needs.” But I take sides with Moses and that woman. And if new depth, new insight, new power for the little self-denials of everyday, new cravings for holiness, new humility—if these things rise in me as the tide rises, come to me like a bird upon the wing, I shall thank God that I have learned the lesson of never letting Him alone in prayer.
Let God Alone to Have His Way with You
That, then, is one sphere where the earnest heart cannot leave God alone. And I have thought it right to touch on that to safeguard our topic from abuse. But there is another sphere where God is sovereign. It is the sphere of action. It is the realm of life. And there it is wisdom, it is peace, just to let God alone to have His way with you. I suppose there never was a general, not even Lord Roberts, who was more loved by his soldiers than the Viscount de Turenne, who was marshal of France in the time of the great Louis. It was he who, if he gained a battle, used to write we won, and if his army were defeated, wrote I lost. Well, I have read how one night, going the round of his camp, he overheard some of the younger soldiers bitterly murmuring at the discomforts of the march. And an old veteran just recovering from a wound was saying, “You do not know our father. When you are older, you will never talk like that. Be sure he has some grand end in view that we cannot make out, or he would never allow us to suffer so.” And brave Turenne, who tells the story himself, used to say that that moment of eavesdropping was the proudest and happiest moment of his life. The young men were bitter and angry at his leadership. Things would be different if they were in command. But the old veterans who had fought with their general in many a field and marched with their general many a weary mile, they let him alone because they loved him so.
Do that with God. It is one secret of a strenuous life. The deepest philosophy comes to its crown in that. I have known fathers whose hearts turned hard as adamant when the angel of death stooped down and kissed their children. They are the raw recruits in life’s great army, and they cannot let their General alone. But the trained soldier trusts Him, believes in a life-plan that he cannot see, and prays for submission to the will of God, though the cup be bitter and the cross be sore. O follower of Christ, let God alone. Perhaps it is kinder to bring the rod upon thy back than to put the jeweled ring upon thy finger. He has a path for thee. He has a plan for thee. He has a heaven for thee. Watch, wait, cooperate, accept, but do not insolently interfere.
I believe, too, that there is a wider sense in which we are called to let God alone. For I am conscious in the religious life of our time of a certain fretful anxiety and unrest and the absence of a quiet and solemn dignity that gave a grandeur to our fathers’ piety. I am amazed, indeed, to note how men and women can be engaged for years in so-called Christian service, and it never seems to dignify their characters, and never lifts them an inch above the world, and never sweetens their so unkindly tongue. Do you remember Uzzah? Do you remember how the ark of God on the new cart was jolted and shaken by Nachon’s threshing-floor? And Uzzah, in terror lest the ark should fall, put out his hand, took hold of it, and steadied it. And the anger of God was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there, and he died. Happy for Uzzah had he let God alone! And the spirit of Uzzah is abroad today. There is an irreligious anxiety for God. And while I thank Him for all loyal service, and praise Him for all consecrated hands, I want men to believe the ark is holy, and I want men to believe that God is sovereign, and I want a little of the reverence and of the wonder and of the awe brought back again that befit the creature serving his reigning King.
Times We Must Leave Men Alone
If there are times when we must leave God alone, there are times when we must let men alone. And that is our second thought; there are times when we must let men alone.
And here again, as was the case with God, these times are rarely the times when men would like it. The very hour when a man cries to be let alone may be the very hour when I dare not do so. The Bible is full of instances of that. One notable one springs up, and it is this. It is the morning when Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum, and there was a man with an unclean spirit there. And the man cried, “Let us alone, what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?” And Jesus? Jesus rebuked him saying, “Hold thy peace and come out of him.” It was impossible for Christ, just because He was the Christ, to let that devil-ridden soul alone. And wherever men are living on in sin, helpless and bound, strangers to peace and God, the Church of Jesus cannot let them be. A sinful soul may cry, Let me alone! But with a sweet and masterful intolerance, Christ is still deaf to that; and we must help, and we must save mankind, even against their own wishes.
This grace, then, of letting alone, frees no man from his moral responsibility either towards his wandered or his heathen brother. Where, then, does it enter into human life? We shall take another Gospel incident and see. I find Christ sitting at Simon the leper’s table, and the woman who was a sinner is kneeling there, and she has broken the alabaster box and is pouring the precious ointment on the feet of Jesus. And the disciples murmur and are indignant. They cannot understand this gross extravagance. “Might not this ointment have been sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?” Let her alone, says Jesus, why trouble ye the woman? Let her alone, you do not understand. She is serving with a service of her own, moved by the passion of an all-pardoning love: there is one work; there is one character for her; there is another service and another life for you.
And that is one glory of the Gospel. It does not crush men into one common mould, but it gives the greatest freedom to individuality and perfects and crowns each struggling soul uniquely. You are never yourself till you are Christ’s, and woe to that preaching of an exalted Lord that forces men’s service into a common type! It is not because I want to be original, it is because I want to be a Christian, that I say to all murmuring disciples, let me alone; I have my box to break; it is not yours. I want to see the keen man, the man who is honorable and Christian in his business. And I want to see the philanthropist, the man who is eagerly bent on doing good. And I want to see the dreamer, the man who feels the beauty of the world, and never does anything, perhaps, except reflect it. And I wish to say to the philanthropist, Do not upbraid the merchant. And I wish to say to the keen man of business, Do not despise the dreamer. Let him alone. He too is serving God. There is need for the purification of the market. There is need for heroic work among the poor. There is need that the beautiful should be interpreted. And when all is over and the morning breaks and the manifold service of a million hearts is unified in Christ, you will be thankful that you let others alone, for there will be more “well dones” than you have ever dreamed!
Pray That God Never Lets You Alone
There are times, then, when we must leave God alone. There are times when we must let man alone. I just want to say this in closing: Heaven grant it that God never lets you or me alone.
There is a terrible text in the Old Testament: “Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone.” I have pleaded with Ephraim, says God, for years. I have pleaded with Ephraim as a father with his child. But Ephraim has spurned Me; he has given his heart to his idols; and Ephraim is reprobate. His day of grace has set. “Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone.” Drive on thy chariot, Ephraim, to thy hell. There is a terrible text in the New Testament. It is when Jesus says to Judas, “What thou doest, do quickly.” For I have pleaded with thee, O Judas; I have prayed with thee. And now his doom is sealed; let him alone. Out, Judas, get it over, get it done, and to thine own place, hastily. The hour may come when God lets us alone.
Do you say that hour will never come to you? Watch! For it is not by a desperate career, and it is not by one black and awful deed, that a man shall sin away the grace of God. It is by the silent hardening of our common days, the almost unnoticed tampering with conscience, the steady dying-out of what is best under the pressure of a worldly city; it is by that the spiritual dies, it is by that men become castaways. Better the harshest discipline than that. Great God of mercy, let none of us alone! Deal with us, lead us, chasten us as Thou wilt, if only we be sanctified, ennobled, and drawn out of self into the light of Him who is chiefest among ten thousand and altogether lovely.