(Reprinted from Faith-Life Vol. I, No. 19 (December 24, 1928), back cover)
And for a sign that shall be spoken against.” We wonder when we hear this. We are shocked to hear this. We say in amazement, “What did He ever say or do that He should be spoken against by any man?” He did the very opposite. He went about doing and speaking only good. But that made no difference to those men in that day who spoke so spitefully against Him. Some spoke against Him out of sheer ignorance of Him. They had never seen Him. But in their distant villages they spoke against Him as if He had come there and done some great injury to them and theirs. And many who saw Him every day spoke against Him every day, just because they did not understand Him and would not take pains and pay the price to understand Him and to love Him. Some, again, were poisoned against Him by what other people, and people of power, said against Him. Some spoke against him through envy, and some just because once they had begun to speak against Him they could never give it up. And they went on speaking this way until they were swept on to cry, “Crucify Him!” not knowing what they were saying or why. Take good care how you begin to speak against any man, good or bad. The chances are that once you begin it you will never be able to give it up. Once you have begun the devil’s work of evil-speaking, he will hold his hook in your jaws and will drag you on and will give you a vested interest in lies and slander, until it will enrage and exasperate you to hear a single word of good spoken about your innocent victim. “Judge not,” said our Lord, feeling bitterly how he was misjudged Himself. And Albert Bengel annotates that in this characteristic way: sine scientia, amore, necessitate [without knowledge, or love, or cause]. “I spoke not ill of any creature,” said Teresa, “however little it might be. I scrupulously avoided all approaches to distraction. I had this rule ever present with me, that I was not to wish nor assent to nor say of any person whatever I would not have them say of me. Still, for all that, I have a sufficiently strict account to give to God for the bad example I am in other respects to all about me. For one thing, the very devil himself sometimes fills me with such harsh and cruel temper—such a wicked spirit of anger and hostility at some people—that I could eat them up and annihilate them.” That was the exact case with the detractors of Jesus Christ. They had no peace in their hearts or peacefulness in their tongues, until they had eaten Him up and annihilated Him. This is such a terrible pit of a world that not even the Son of God Himself could come down and do the work of God in it without being hunted to death by evil tongues. Even with this awful warning and after nineteen centuries of His grace and truth, no man of any individuality and talent and initiative for good can to this day do his proper work without immediately becoming a sign to be spoken against. To this day some of the most Christlike of men among us have been the most written against and spoken against, until such speech and such writing may almost be taken as the seal of God upon His best servants and upon their best work. “And for a sign that shall be spoken against,” said Simeon, as he returned the Holy Child to his mother.
Reflections on the Above
This presentation on the psychology of slander reflects sound observation, intelligent reading of Scripture, and likely direct experience. Again and again the saints find themselves at the center of a firestorm of gossip,
distortion, lying, and scorn. Controversy accompanies the Gospel.
In the world and in the outward church alike, the majority will lop off both extremes. They will excise those who are just too bad to tolerate, and those who are just too good. If only Jesus had slipped up now and then, the multitudes and even the authorities of synagogue and temple could have lived with him. But he had not faltered even once. This was the problem. At the end, Pilate demanded of the crowd, “Why? What evil hath he done?” That was just it. He had done no evil. But the noble, sinless presence of Jesus made every man conscious of his own ugly sinfulness. Thus the crowd was left with only one answer to give to Pilate: “Crucify!” Jesus was a stumblingblock just because of his holiness.
Yet his presence among his people as a righteous man, perfect in his obedience to God, was not the whole of it. At the center of the controversy was grace. Jesus was a stumblingblock because he embodied the grace of God. The righteousness of God, manifested in Christ, is the power of God for salvation. But this proves even more infuriating to the sinful human heart. What God gives in his grace is more repulsive to the flesh than what he demands in the Law. Grace is often more offensive to the self-righteous than to the openly unrighteous. Here above all “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7).
Simeon understood this. He knew that the Child was set for a sign which would be spoken against, precisely because this Child was the Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel.
“Whosoever shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God” (I John 4:15). This is why controversy attends those who believe the Gospel and live by its sanctifying power. The Christian will have his glaring faults. His critics will seize on his real sins and register an objection valid in its own right, in addition to their lies, distortions, and slander. A sincere critic, a fellow Christian namely, recognizes those faults as well. But the sincere critic wants his brother to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The opponent of grace, on the other hand, seeks to silence the Christian’s witness, just as Christ’s contemporaries orchestrated his crucifixion. The Christian has received the salvation of Christ, and Christ lives in him. Ever since Christ completed his work on the earth, the sign spoken against is Christ as he lives in his Christians.
There will ever be those speaking against, and those spoken against, for the sake of Christ. The Gospel will never be silenced, and the church will never cease. The curses of men are temporary; the benediction of the Lord is everlasting. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11). FB