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Alone, Yet Not Alone
J. R. Miller
"But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." John 16:32
The loneliness of Jesus while in this world was one of the most pathetic elements of His experience. There are two kinds of loneliness.
One is, when a person is away from all human presences. A man who had been shipwrecked and had drifted for many hours on a piece of wreckage, spoke of the terrible feeling of desolation he experienced when on all alone on the waters, he could see no sign of human life, hear no voice, get no ear to listen to his calls of distress.
But there is another loneliness. One may be in the midst of people--and yet be utterly without companionship. Were you never oppressed with a sense of loneliness in a crowd that surged all about you and pressed close to you on every side? Think of the loneliness of one who lands from a foreign country and enters the throngs on the streets of a strange city--but sees no face he ever has seen before, catches no glance of recognition from any eye. In a surging multitude of human beings--he is utterly alone. It takes more than human presence to make companionships; hearts must touch; there must be love and sympathy.
In a sense, Christ was always alone in this world. His very greatness of character, made it impossible for Him to find real, deep, and full companionship. All great men are in a sense, solitary men. Their exalted life lifts them above the plane in which other people live. They are like the few tall mountain peaks of the earth that lift their heads far above the clouds, and wear their crowns of unmelting snows. The little hills are not lonesome, for there are so many of them--but the giant mountains are lonely in their solitariness because there are so few of them. The world's few great men are solitary, because common people cannot rise into companionship with them in thought, in feeling, in purpose. Christ found no fellow, no equal, no real companion, among men.
Then, in His work as Redeemer, Christ was alone. He had few friends. There is infinite pathos in such words as these, which describe His personal loneliness: "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him--and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own--and His own received him not" (John 1:10, 11). He revealed His feeling of aloneness and sense of homelessness when He said, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay His head." (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). Thus in the midst of multitudes, His own people, too, not foreigners, those also He had come to deliver and save--He was alone because hearts and homes were shut against Him.
Then, too, Jesus had a gentle heart, which craved affection and companionship. There are some men with cold, stern natures, who are indifferent to the coldness they meet in the world. They desire no sympathy. They are not pained by men's rejection. Opposition acts as stimulus to them. They almost court unpopularity. But Jesus craved affection and sympathy. We remember how He welcomed love whenever it came to Him; what a strength the beloved disciple was to Him; what a shelter and comfort the Bethany home, with its love, was to Him; how even the slightest tokens of kindness comforted and cheered His heart. We see also His deep craving for companionship in the Garden, when He wanted His closest friends near Him in His bitter agony and so deeply felt the disappointment when they slept and did not watch with Him. Jesus was not, then, a cold, iron man, who was unaffected by the indifferences and rejection of the people. He suffered keenly from every unloving act and touch. This intensified His loneliness.
Here we have another phase of Christ's loneliness. "You will be scattered, each to his own home." The only human relief to His loneliness, along the years of His public ministry, was in the love of His friends; and this love, we know, was very imperfect. These friends, though loyal and devoted, never fully understood their Master. They had an earthly conception of His Messiahship, yet they were very unspiritual. They hurt Him continually by their lack of gentleness, thoughtfulness, and perfect trust. They grieved Him unintentionally, of course, ignorantly, loving Him still--but giving Him pain every day by the rudeness and harshness of their contacts with His sensitive heart. Very poor and imperfect, indeed, was the companionship which He found even with the gentlest and truest of His human friends.
But now He looks forward to the losing of even this solace and support, "You will be scattered, each to his own home, and shall leave me alone." Even the little company of friends, who had walked with Him along the way, would desert Him in the hour of His supreme trial. We remember how it was. One of those who had eaten bread with Him, dipping His hand in the same dish, betrayed Him! Another, until then His bravest confessor, denied even knowing Him! They all forsook Him and fled. Alone, He was led away to His trial. Alone, He was left to stand before the court and before the governor. Loving and craving love as no other ever loved and craved love, He was left alone--with no pitying eye, with not one friendly voice raised in His behalf. At the close of a life given to love of men and to efforts to save men--He was left with no one confessing to have been helped or saved by Him, no friend, no follower; abandoned to the cruelty of brutal men. Even Barabbas, a notorious criminal, found friends that day, while Jesus, who had given His life to gentle deeds and kind ministries, was dragged away by His enemies through the streets, as if He had been a murderer, with no one to speak a word for Him.
But read what He says of this hour of abandonment: "You will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me." There was One whose companionship never failed Him for a moment. Through the years when His infinite divine nature found such meager, imperfect fellowship even in the best love of human friends--He had but to turn His face toward His Father to have His hungry heart filled. When His affectionate nature met only misunderstanding, coldness, rejection, and antagonism among the people for whose love and trust He so hungered, He would go away at nightfall, apart from men, and on some mountaintop or in some deep garden shade, He would commune with One who was all love, who never misunderstood Him, and in whose blessed companionship all of the hungers of His heart were satisfied, and all the hurts of love were healed.
One of the most touching incidents in the Gospels, described what occurred at the close of one day in the temple. "Every man went unto His own house; but Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives" (see John 7:53-8:1). It was evening night was gathering. It was time for all to go away. But nobody asked Jesus home with him. They went to their own fine houses on the great streets, leaving Him there. Then He, homeless, with no place to go, no place to lay His head that night, climbed the Mount of Olives, and there stayed alone--alone, but not alone, because the Father was with Him.
We may apply the words to experiences in our own lives. We, too, have our times of loneliness. In a certain sense, all life is lonely. Even with sympathetic friends all about us, there is an inner life which one of us lives, in which we are solitary. We must make our own decisions and choices. We must meet our own questions and answer them ourselves. We must fight our own battles, endure our own sorrows, carry our own burdens. Friendship may be very close, so close that it seems to us there is no part of our deepest life, which our friend does not share with us; yet there is an inner sanctuary of each human life, into which even the most perfect friendship may not enter.
Blessed are those who in this aloneness can say, "Yet I am not alone, because my Father is with me!" God is the only friend who can really enter into the inner sanctuary of our life. God's is the only companionship we can really have in the inner experiences of our hearts. God's is the only friendship that can really meet all our soul's deep needs and cravings. Human love is only a little trickling stream; God's love is a great river, broadening into a shoreless ocean! Human companionship helps us at a few points; the divine fellowship flows all about us and enters into every experience of ours. We never can be left alone--if we still have Christ. When other helpers and comforts flee--He will abide with us. When other faces fade out of view--His face will appear, shining out with perfect love, pouring its holy light upon us. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
There are special times when we are alone. Pain sets us apart. We have to endure it alone. In any pain or grief of yours, you may have truest friends surrounding you--but none of them can bear one pang for you. Sometimes we almost blame our friends because they do not come near to us in our trouble, because they do not appear to feel for us or sympathize with us. We say they do not understand us. We think they ought to help us more. But the truth is--we have to live all our inner lives alone. Our friends love us and want to help us, but they cannot. None can fully understand us. None can really help us in any deep and efficient way. Those about us, even those who are our truest friends, who sympathize with us most fully, leave us alone because they cannot share our suffering. But we can always say, "I am not alone--because the Father is with me!"
There is a loneliness which is made by the breaking up of homes. A true home is an incalculable blessing to the young lives that nestle in it. It is a shelter where they find protection. It is a school where they are educated, where they learn life's lessons. There is guidance also in a true home. Many of life's hardest questions are answered by wise parents. Blessed is that young man or young woman who takes every perplexity, every mystery, every fear and doubt, every heart-hunger, to the sacredness of love's sanctuary at home and gets wise counsel and guidance!
Home has also its blessed companionships. It is one place where we are absolutely sure of each other, where we need never suspect anyone, where we do not need to be on our guard. Youth has its unexpected longings, its deep cravings, its hunger for affection, its inexperience needing direction. A true home is the very shadow of Gods wings, the very cleft of the Rock of Ages, to those who abide in its love. But sometimes the home is torn down and its shelter broken up. Sore indeed is the loss when a young person, used to all that is gentle and satisfying in home tenderness, is driven out to homelessness. Other human friendships are very sweet--but they never can give back home with its rest and comfort. But blessed is he who in earthly homelessness can say, "Yet I am not alone!" Who can look into the face of Christ and breathe out the psalm of peace, "Lord, You are my dwelling place; You are home to my heart!"
Another time of special loneliness is that of old age. Old people often grow very lonely. Once they were the center of large groups of friends and companions. One by one the beloved associates slipped away. Now the old man or the old woman stands almost entirely alone. The streets are full, the church is full; but where are the faces of forty or fifty years ago? There is a memory of empty cribs, of vacant chairs, of little graves, of marriage altars--and then the starting of new homes, perhaps far away. But the old faces are gone. It is young life that now fills the home, the street, the church. Only here and there perhaps, is a companion of forty, fifty years ago remains. The old people are lonely.
Yet Christian old age can say, "I am not alone!" No changes can take Christ away. Other companions scatter, leaving them humanly alone--but He never departs. Indeed, Christ becomes more and more real to aged Christians--as other friends drop off and become fewer and fewer. While human friendships filled the life, Christ was not turned to very often, though He was believed in and loved. The joys that were needed were found so easily in the human loves that were always at hand, that Christ did not seem so indispensable, so necessary. But as one by one the earthly loved ones dropped off and slipped away, and could not be turned to in the time of need, then Christ began to be more necessary and was turned to more frequently. As the years went on, and more and more of the old friends were missing, Christ grew every day more precious, until now He is almost the only one left. Blessed is the aged Christian; he is now drawing near to glory. A little while longer--and he will enter heaven! Soon the old people will pass over, and find again, waiting for them, those who were once their friends here, companions once more, inseparable now, in heaven!
But it is not old people only, who are left lonely by life's changes. Sorrow touches all ages. There is a continual breaking of human companionships. Blessed are those who can say with every bereavement, "Alone, yet not alone, because Christ is mine, and He never leaves me!" Then in Christ also, our human ties are made inseparable. We never really can lose each other if we are united in Christ. In Christ we never lose a friend.
But this is not all, nor the best. Human loneliness here, is filled with the divine presence of Christ. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me!"
There is no other loneliness in all human experience, like that of dying. We cannot die in companies, or in groups, nor even two by two. We must die alone. Two may walk together for long years, never divided in joy or sorrow. But they cannot die together. Human hands, however long they have held each other, must unclasp as the friends enter the valley of shadows--one taken, the other left. Human faces that have looked into ours through the years, must fade from our vision--as we pass into the mists of the valley of death.
"I cannot see you," said a dying friend the other night, as the beloved ones stood about His bed. "I cannot see you." So will it be with each of us some night. Human friends cannot go beyond the edge of the valley. "You shall leave me alone." Yes, that will be true of each of us in our turn. But we need not be alone, even in that supreme moment. When the hand of human love unclasps--the hand of Christ will take your hand and lead you through the dark valley of death. When human faces fade out--Christ's face will be revealed, with its welcome of infinite love. When you must creep out of the bosom of human affection, and pass into the mystery of death--it will be into the clasp of the Everlasting Arms! So death's loneliness will be filled with divine companionship! "I am not alone, because the Father is with me!"
Thus the one great need of life--is Christ. If we do not have Christ--what will we do in life's crises? When human joy fades--what will be left? When human companionships are stripped off--who will walk with us the rest of the lonely way? When death comes, and we must drift out from all we ever have known, from earth's refuges and trusts and from earth's familiar places and friends--where shall we go? In whom shall we trust? Who will receive us and lead us home? If we have not Christ, life is hopeless and the universe is homeless for us. But if we have Christ, then, no matter what is taken, He will remain--and He will suffice!
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