Altogether Lovely

All other greatness has been marred by smallness, all other wisdom has been flawed by foolishness, and all other goodness has been tainted by imperfection. The Lord Jesus Christ remains the only One of whom it can be said “Yea, he is altogether lovely” (Song of Songs 5:16).

   It seems to me that this loveliness of Christ relates particularly to His perfect manhood. In saying this I do not mean that He was a perfect man (though true), but that He was perfectly man. In everything but our sins, and our evil nature, He is one with us. He grew in wisdom and stature. He laboured, He wept, He prayed, and He loved. He was tempted in all things as we are, though “sin apart” (Heb. 4: 15). With Thomas, we confess Him Lord and God and we adore and revere Him (see John 20: 28), but we also recognise that there is no other who establishes with us such intimacy and who comes so close to these human hearts of ours, and that there is no one in the universe of whom we are so little afraid. He enters as simply and naturally into our present–day lives as if He had been reared in the same street as us. How wholesomely and genuinely real His manhood is! Martha scolds Him and demands that He speak to her sister (see Luke 10: 40–42). John, who has seen Him raise the dead, still the storm and talk with Moses and Elijah on the mount, does not hesitate to make a pillow of His breast at supper (see John 13: 23). His disciples ask Him foolish questions and rebuke Him, then venerate and adore Him—all in one breath. He calls them by their first names, and tells them not to fear, assuring them of His love. In all this He seems to me to be altogether lovely. His perfection does not merely glitter, it glows. This holy manhood of the Lord is so warm and real that it attracts and inspires. We find in it nothing austere and inaccessible, like the supposedly great of this world. Christ receives sinners—all kinds of sinners. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel—the moral, religious sinner—and Mary of Magdala “from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8: 2)—the shocking kind of sinner. He comes into sinful lives like as a bright, clear stream enters a stagnant pond. The stream is not afraid of contamination but its sweet energy cleanses the pool.

   I remark again, and as connected with this, that His sympathy is altogether lovely. He is always being moved with compassion. The multitude without a shepherd, the sorrowing widow of Nain, the dead child of the ruler, the demoniac of Gadara, the hungry five thousand—whoever suffers touches His heart. Even His wrath against the scribes and Pharisees simply reflects His sympathy for those who suffered under their hard self–righteousness. Did you ever find the Lord looking for ‘deserving poor’? He “healed all that were ill” (Matt. 8: 16). And what grace in His sympathy! Why did He touch that poor leper (see Mark 1: 41) when He could have healed him with a word? Because for years the wretch had been an outcast, cut off from family and de-humanized. He had lost the sense of being a man. It was defiling for any to approach him. Well, the touch of Christ made him human again—and, furthermore, that touch is just as operative today. A Christian woman, labouring among the moral lepers of London, found a desperately ill street girl in a bare cold room. With her own hands she ministered to her, changing her bed linen and procuring medicines and nourishing food, finding fuel for a fire, and generally making the poor place as bright and cheery as possible. At last she said to the poor wretch ‘May I pray with you?’ ‘No’ said the girl ‘You don’t care for me—you are only doing this to get to heaven’. Many days passed, the Christian woman continuing unwearily kind, the sinful girl remaining hard and bitter. At last the Christian said: ‘My dear, you are nearly well again now so I shall not come again. But as it is my last visit, I want you to let me kiss you’—and the pure lips that had known only prayers and holy words met the lips defiled by oaths and unholy caresses. It was then, my friends, that that hard heart broke. That was Christ’s touch.

   Can you imagine the Lord calling a convention of the Pharisees to discuss methods of reaching the ‘masses’? That leads me to remark that His humility was altogether lovely, and He, the only one who ever had the choice of how and where He should be born, entered this life as one of ‘the masses’. What meekness, what lowliness! Again, “I am in the midst of you as the one that serves” (Luke 22: 27) … and He “began to wash the feet of the disciples” (John 13: 5). Can you think of the man Christ Jesus demanding His rights? “As a sheep dumb before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth” (Is. 53: 7) … “who, [when] reviled, reviled not again” (1 Pet. 2: 23).

   It is in His way with sinners that the supreme loveliness of the Lord is most sweetly shown. How gentle He is, how considerate, how respectful! Nicodemus, candid and sincere, but fearful lest he should imperil his position as the teacher in Israel, comes to Jesus “by night” (John 3: 1). Before he departs “the teacher” has learned his utter ignorance of the first step toward the kingdom, and realised the awful truth that “men have loved darkness rather than light; for their works were evil” (v19). But he has not heard one harsh word or one utterance that can wound his self–respect. Again, when Christ speaks to that silent despairing woman taken in adultery He uses the same word for “woman” as He used when addressing His own mother from the cross (see John 8: 10; 19: 26). See the grace in his rebuke: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8: 11). Follow Him to Jacob’s well and hear His conversation with the woman of Samaria (see John 4: 1–30). How patiently He unfolds the deepest truths, how gently yet faithfully He presses the great ulcer of sin which is eating away her soul! Truly, He is altogether lovely. And how many other wonderful features of this blessed man I could speak of! All the elements of perfect character are in lovely balance: His gentleness is never weak, His condemnation is never brutal. My friends, you may study these things for yourselves. Follow Him through all the scenes of outrage and insult on the night and morning of His arrest and trial. Behold Him before the high priest, before Pilate, before Herod. See Him browbeaten, bullied, scourged, smitten on the face, spat upon and mocked. How His inherent greatness comes out! Not once does He lose His self–poise, His high dignity.

   Let me ask some unsaved sinner here to follow Him still further. Go with the jeering crowd. See Him stretched upon that great rough cross and hear the dreadful sound of the hammer as the spikes are forced through His hands and feet. As the yelling mob falls back, see the cross lifted up, bearing this gentlest, sweetest, loveliest man, until it falls into the socket in the rock. Hear Him ask the Father to forgive His murderers—indeed, ponder all the cries from the cross. Is He not altogether lovely? This, dear unsaved soul, is my beloved, and this is my friend. Will you not accept Him too as your Saviour and friend?