The Unveiling of the Eternal Word
Notes of Meditations given during Two Retreats, held at Grahamstown in the Chapel of the Resurrection of Our Lord
By the Right Reverend Allan Becher Webb, D.D.
Bishop of Grahamstown
London: Skeffington and Son, Piccadilly, W., 1897.
Transcribed by Alan Stott, 2011
“No man hath seen God at any time;
The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father,
He hath declared Him.”
For the preservation of these Addresses I am entirely indebted to notes taken by some who were present at the Retreats. Under the pressure of Diocesan work and engagements, constantly demanding my attention and occupying my thoughts, I was compelled to give Meditations less fully worked out than I could have wished; nor should I have been at all able to reproduce them from my own recollection. In their manuscript form they have proved helpful in promoting a more devout and intelligent study of the Old Testament, especially in regard to its relation to the New; and in the hope that, however wanting in finish, they may, in a printed form, serve the same end more widely, I have acceded to a strongly-expressed wish for their publication. Being absent from England I am unable to give a final revision to the proof sheets, but I trust that no obscurity or inaccuracy will be found to have been left on these pages.
There can be nothing original in Theology; but it would be uncandid on my part to regard as merely borrowed from others that which has been the leading idea of these Addresses, and which treats of the great Self-disclosure of our Lord as the Lord Jehovah of the Old Testament, coming forth from His Eternity on the way to His Incarnation, and visiting the children of men.
Some may possibly remember that as long ago as the time when I was Vice-President of Cuddesdon, I frequently dwelt in my Lectures on our Lord as the Revealer of God, and as the Divine Person Who sets in order the appointments and institutions of the Old Covenant in preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Incarnation did not come upon men without wonderful and progressive intimations of the great purpose of condescension on the part of the most High.
It seems to me that the best apology, if I may reverently use such a word, for the Old Testament, in the presence of some high and much destructive criticism, is to bring out its unity in the presentation of the character and attributes of the Divine Person, Whose goings forth have been from of old and from everlasting. In the Old Testament, we have not a few chapters of the revealing Life of Him Who alone hath declared Him unto us; Whose delight has ever been to be with the sons of men, and Whose Kingdom has not only been an everlasting Kingdom, but One throughout all the ages and dispensations in its grace and truth.
In conclusion, I desire distinctly to disavow all claim to originality of illustration and treatment; it is quite possible that thoughts and expressions are really due to authors whose books I may have taken up and read before an Address or Retreat. The duty of fostering insight, as the chief lesson of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, was suggested by a paper in the “Expositor”; several points in S. Paul’s life have been brought out in Professor Stokes’ Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles; and so it may rove to be with other topics and suggestions. But I do not remember to have seen the special idea here proposed for consideration, set forth in the same connection for devotional Meditation. There must undoubtedly be treatises which deal much more fully and systematically with the subject and this may possibly be the case with a book which I have not read but seen advertised, under the title of “The Theophanies of the Old Testament”.
A. B. G.
Feast of S. Michael and All Angels, 1896.
I. PRELIMINARY MEDITATION – INSIGHT AND REALITY
II. OUR PRIVILEGE OF FELLOWSHIP WTH GOD
III. THE LOSS OF FELLOWSHIP
IV. THE RENEWAL OF INTERCOURSE
V. THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
VI. GOD’S CARE FOR INDIVIDUAL SOULS
VII. FURTHER LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM
VIII. THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILDERNESS
IX. THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILDERNESS (CONTINUED)
X. THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILERNESS (CONTINUED)
XI. THE MAN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART
XII. THE NEW COVENANT
XIII. THE INTERVAL OF SILENCE
XIV. THE WORD MADE FLESH
XV. THE CONVERSION OF S. PAUL: THE GREAT DISCOVERY
XVI. THE CONVERSION OF S. PAUL: THE GREAT SURRENDER
XVII. S. PAUL. THE WORKER AND TEACHER
XVIII. S. PAUL. THE PRISONER OF THE LORD
XIX. THE VOICE OF GOD TODAY
XX. THE SILENCE OF GOD TODAY
XXI. THE DAILY INTERCOURSE
XXII. CLOSING MEDITATION
INSIGHT AND REALITY
You have come apart in this Retreat, my daughters in Christ, in order to become more conscious of the realities in the midst of which you are living in this special age of the Christian dispensation, and by God’s grace to strengthen the grasp you have of them in your own souls, and to become more real yourselves; to look at these realities (and to look within yourselves) in the light and truth of God’s revelation.
The special verse I should commend to you as the keynote of your Retreat is that referred to in Isaiah 64:4: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what He hath prepared for him that waiteth for Him,” which is enlarged by S. Paul in I Cor. 2:9: “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” God can make the unseen world and its realities real to you. You will, of course, be content to “see through a glass darkly.” Still you will see with a true sight by the help of God the Holy Spirit. There may be, as you will easily understand from your frequent meditations on the sublime Mystery of the Incarnation, a great realty close by, and you may be the very presence of it, and yet, without the help of God the Holy Spirit, you may remain wholly unconscious of it, and pass it by unnoticed. So the world went on its way, nearly nineteen hundred years ago, unconscious of the Mystery of Bethlehem. That Mystery was wrought out in silence for the most part, yet not n such silence that its voice could not be heard by the listening soul. Those heard, who were on the watch, waiting upon God, and trusting His Word ad promise.
In order to apprehend the things unseen and yet most real, you need, first, Insight, and then Thoughtfulness. These are qualities and graces, which perhaps just now the Church requires more than aught besides. For this is an age of hurry; an age also of good works; and even good works may be a distraction. You may do a great deal of very good work in a very impressive way, and yet the inner spiritual sense may be all the while dulled, because you have not given yourselves time to seek the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit.
Now the Parable that seems most helpful in teaching the need of insight and thoughtfulness is that of “The Ten Virgins”, which may form the prelude to your Retreat. It is part of our Lord’s great discourse and prophecy on Mount Olivet. The Saviour sets Himself before us in the aspect of the Bridegroom of the Church. The Bridegroom necessarily implies the Bridge; and the thought of the Bride carries us on to this evening’s Second Lesson (Rev. 21): “The Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a Bride adorned for her Husband.”
The Prophecy of our Lord is on the subject of the great catastrophe which was to take place in that generation, the destruction of the earthly city of Jerusalem, and as He stood and looked upon it from Mount Olivet He saw in His mind how enemies would compass it round about, till every wall should be thrown down. That would be the end of the age, a consummation of the old time, before the beginning of the new age, the age in which we live, “the world to come”, as the Jews used to call it, the day of the New Covenant. The passing away of the old Jerusalem was ideally the prelude to the coming down of the Holy City, the Bride, not indeed in her perfection and glory, but still a real coming down with new Heavens and a new Earth, a real substitution for the old Jerusalem. On the eve of that great crisis in the world’s history, the Apostle had t tell the Hebrews, then standing on the brink of that great ruin, that while all thing around them seemed to be passing away, they had come unto “those things which cannot be shaken”, “unto Mount Zion, and unto the City of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem”. Forty years of grace, of trial and of probation to Israel (typified by Jonah’s cry “yet forty years and Nineveh shall be overthrown”) were soon to ne over, making room for “the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man”, which was not reared up from earth, but was truly coming down from Heaven.
If Jerusalem has not been destroyed, there would have been danger that the Church would have remained more Jewish than Catholic. We know that afterwards when Rome, the world’s capital, was allowed to continue to be as it had been, the centre of the civilised world, it lead away the Church to look to an earthly centre rather than to the Throne of God and of the Lamb. But there would have been still more likelihood of Jerusalem becoming, in a disproportionate way, the centre of the new order, leading men to fix their eyes on a central earthly point, instead of on the Heavenly Jerusalem, the City and Temple of the Living God, wherein we all dwell and worship.
The destruction of Jerusalem was an Advent of the Lord, at once a coming to Judgment, and a coming as the Bridegroom of the Church. But to the sons of Israel it must have seemed a shattering of all things. When we consider their past history, that God had really spoken to them and that their Law had been given to them from Heaven through Angels, we begin to understand how great must have been the shock to their faith. If what had been so given by God Himself had thus to pass away, what could be steadfast? Where could there be found a rock of refuge in the tempestuous waves? It is difficult for us to imagine what the Ancient Church must have gone through in this destruction of Jerusalem, that city of which it had been said: “The Law shall go forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The Word indeed had gone forth at Pentecost from the “New Jerusalem”, but they knew it not. Our Lord had told them it would be so. But how different is listening to the prophecy of a coming event, from recognising its fulfilment when it really comes to pass.
When it did take place, then came the questions: Who will go in with the Lord to the Marriage? Who will see that God is still true, and enter gladly into the new order, the Church of Jesus Christ? Who will share in the life of the Bride? Who, like her, when the sea and the waves are roaring, will lift up their heads, because their “Redemption draweth nigh”? Those who had eyes to see were able to recognise that after all the old order was but giving place to a better, the new Jerusalem. The old Zion must disappear, in order that the new Jerusalem might be established and have her proper place on earth. Earth, indeed, was not yet her home; but even though she did not come down at once in all the fullness of her glory, yet from the very first she had been the Bride of Christ. From the beginning there are the “seven golden candlesticks:, though not until the end will there be found the City whose very streets are of pure gold. This perfecting of God’s ideal must come through the long discipline of the ages, through her Lord’s patience of love for her, and her fellowship in His sufferings. But nevertheless she has been the Bridge in truth and reality from the first.
There was indeed a sad falling away wen the Church began to identify herself with an earthly centre, and to be enthroned where only Jerusalem which is above can be established, simply because in the old pagan days Rome had been “the Eternal City”. But until that falling away, we do really see the Church as the “Holy City” with her sure foundations and her gates open day and night; very, very imperfect from the first, as the Lord Who holds the seven stars in His hand Himself describes her as He beheld so unworthy a type of life represented in such quarters of the Holy City as Laodicea and in Sardis: where He noted the presence of those who were “lukewarm”, and those who were “ready to die”, but notwithstanding the imperfect manifestation of the Heavenly Jerusalem, she was here on earth, “the Holy City“, the Home in which souls were united with the Lord.
But who would see all “the powers of the heavens” shaken and the new order still imperfect and disappointing without being offended and losing faith, without danger of failing to maintain insight and thoughtfulness? How many, so failing, would be shut out into the night, by refusing to enter in through the gates, when the other City they had known so well, was gone from their sight?
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, our Lord brings out this need of insight. The gift of insight and thoughtfulness is especially the endowment of woman. She especially has the capacity for this intuition, this inwardness of vision. The Blessed Virgin “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart”. She saw the Holy Child, and knew and beheld with the inward eye the glory of the Lord. So with the other Mary, who anointed the Lord “for His burying”. It is a strange expression, it is as if she had then, as women often have, an insight into what was behind, what was going to happen, into the principles which underlie some movement or action. It is a quality to be seen in S. John, the Apostle of light and love and inwardness, and yet of practical earnestness and faithfulness. But it is especially in the Blessed Virgin Mother and in Mary of Bethany that we notice this insight into what lies really below the surface, and we know they learnt it by sitting at the feet of Jesus.
In the Parable of the Talents, where the other side of the Church’s life is brought out through the forms of active service and faithful use of gifts, the Church is represented by men, who receive ten talents, five talents, or one talent, and who must give an account of the work they have done, the use they have made of their energies. But this does not imply that active service is confined to men any more than that the gift of insight is confined to women.
When women are naturally endowed with this quality, or acquire it, they are culpable if they do not cherish and nurse it into what is real, eternal, behind the veil, into all that underlies the apparent and outward life. It is just this grace that is apt to be forgotten in an age of hurry and distraction. The busy service is necessary and laudable; woman is responsible for making the most of all the gifts that she possesses; and we know well that she is sorely needed for active service in the world. But are we not often in danger of forgetting the one thing needful, upon which our Lord lays so much stress? Mary had chosen the good part, and would never let it go, whatever he outward calling might be; but Martha’s service, though right and necessary, needed to be checked and guided into a higher channel.
The needful grace insisted on in the Parable of the ten Virgins is watchfulness. The Church has to “wait for her Lord”. But we read “they all slumbered and slept”. It does not seem to have been a fault that they did so, It is apparently mentioned as a necessary fact. What is needed must be accepted. People are not called upon to live the angelic life before the time, the life of pure spiritual service. Everyone ought to eat and sleep, and do all that is necessary to keep up their bodily strength. But the question for you is: Do you sleep in such a way as to be fully awake when it is necessary? When the call came to meet the Lord, all alike were slumbering and sleeping. All must have times of rest and refreshment; all must eat wholesome food. You must not try to take yourselves out of the sphere of natural wants in which God has placed you. The Bride is made up of the humanity which Christ assumed. But when the call comes, a difference, a distinction is at once apparent. Some are bewildered; they do not know what is happening, or what is the meaning of these armies encompassing Jerusalem, of this cloud threatening the Holy City. They all have their lamps; they ought all to have the oil, but the foolish ones have none. For the meaning of the lamp, look to our Lord’s own word: “The lamp of the body is the eye,” the inner vision. “When thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light.” Have you taken care to keep your inner vision prepared and trimmed by prayer and meditation? Has your oil, the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit failed? Nearly every woman has the gift of insight, but she may not have it for those things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard”; so she may be all unready, not having trained herself to see the reality, to answer the summons to awake, the call to go forth to meet the Bridegroom.
There are times in our own lives when we are summoned forth to meet the Bridegroom. There comes such a time when some fresh manifestation of truth, some new vision of Christ is made clear to the soul; there was such a time, my daughters in Christ, when your hearts were first stirred by a desire to give yourselves more entirely to Him, and especially when you became conscious of your own “Call” to the dedicated life.
There comes a day when we have to know, or we fail to know the things which belong to our peace. We have the opportunity to see our rest and peace under the wings of the Almighty, in the life of the Bride. If we fail to see, the opportunity passes. The foolish Virgins appeal to the wise ones, “Give us of your oil”. Alas! No one can give the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit if the soul has refused preparation and training beforehand. When the crisis comes, there is no oil to spare. There is no power of making over to another that result of their own previous preparation which makes the lamp ready. It cannot be manufactured then just because of the need, or even because of the desire for it. They who were ready went in, and the door was shut. It may be that, when the Lord comes, in any way or at any crisis either to judgment on the Church or individually to the soul, we shall not be engaged actually at that particular moment in any distinctively religious occupation. But has there been care to prepare? Have advantages and opportunities been used? Have you the oil, the illuminating Grace of the Holy Spirit giving insight and thoughtfulness, power to see the Unseen, to see behind all temporal catastrophes the beauty and Majesty of God, and the reality of the Kingdom which cannot be shaken.
When the calm and quiet of the soul is disturbed, when some cherished scheme falls to pieces, for instance, the head of a Community is removed, when that which has seemed to keep a whole system together is shattered, when there is such a fall as that of Jerusalem, then comes the question: Have we the spiritual insight to enable us to see the Lord? to go forth to meet Him? to go in with Him to the marriage?
Do not be discouraged if you have not already this precious endowment in its perfection, its beauty and clearness. As women, and as representatives of the Church, you have the power of insight, but you also need thoughtfulness, preparation, the capacity to see and recognise your Lord working within all things and over-ruling all things that shake the Church, the world, or your own order.
You have to do with Him and with yourself. You have to try to apprehend realities; to see things in proportion; to see what is really needful. This year has been one of special discipline and trial to you, as a Community, in which the Lord has stood by and helped you, and for trustfully going through which I am sure a blessing has been vouchsafed. You have tried to be faithful in waiting and watching till such an opportunity as these quiet days should come; now you must use it. Do not look for help merely through the words spoken to you, but chiefly through the old-fashioned way of being quiet, of praying, reading your Bible and meditating; looking above all for the help of God the Holy Spirit, Who is ministered to your by the Lord Who holds the seven Spirits of God. He can minister all the grace you need, that your lamps may be trimmed and ready, that you obey the call, whenever, however, and whether awake or asleep you hear the cry: “Behold the Bridegroom cometh!”
OUR PRIVILEGE OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
I commended to you, as the end of your Retreat, the attainment of Reality; and as the condition of reality, you need to train and exercise the gift of intuition, of insight, of thoughtfulness. You have to cultivate the inner habit of watchfulness, without which you will not be ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, for any word of His, for any vision from Him.
As a help to reality, you are allowed intercourse with God; and in order that you many have intercourse with God at all, you must to begin with be real, so far as you know how to be so. For communion with God means coming into the light. “That which makes manifest is light.” You must be quite simple and true; real, as you can be with Him, communion with Whom and intercourse with Whom is the most magnificent privilege man can have. As a leading idea of your thoughts during this Retreat, I want you to consider what intercourse with God means in the way of privilege, what a magnificent prerogative and power it is. We are much too prone to deal with the great things given us as a matter of course, and not to measure the greatness of the love and condescension, the vastness of the privilege involved in those blessings. You know something of what you are, each one of you; how little, how faulty, what a child in comparison with the great powers around you in the world! – Then think of Almighty God and the Godhead – You will never see how great your surroundings are unless you try to think out what things and words mean. Even the daily breaking of light over the earth after the darkness of night, is a magnificent exhibition of glory and beauty. If we only saw it once in our life, or if we saw if for the first time after years of blindness, we should then feel what a wonderful thing it was, what a manifestation of grandeur. But seeing it every day, we take it as a matter of course, unless we pause and consider what it really is. And so with God. You have used His Name ever since you were children. You had certain vague ideas about Him. As a matter of course you said your prayers to Him. You learnt that He has spoken to you in the Bible. But now think what God is, what you are, what you must be. Think of the wonder of your own being, of the world around you, of the Eternity of God, the Omniscience of God, His Almighty Power ruling the worlds. Then, think of His Holiness, His Purity, the splendour and brightness of His Truth Who dwelleth “in the Light which no man can approach unto”. It is not His greatness, nor His beauty that chiefly impresses those who best adore Him. They do not say “Great”, “Royal”, “Beautiful”, but “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”. All that you can imagine about God seems to put Him at a distance from you. He is so great, it seems impossible for Him to notice you, for you to be able to have any intercourse with Him as would make that communion any sort of reality to you. You can have no communion with a far off shining star or sun. There must be something in common. You must be lifted up to God, or He must come down to you, so that you may be more on the same level, may stand more nearly on the same platform. You cannot have communion with Infinity, with Eternity, with ideas only. That which makes communion possible is the mystery of your personality. You are a person, conscious of being separate, different from anyone else, conscious that you retain your own identity from year to year. However your circumstances, or your way of looking at things may have changed, you are conscious of being the same person. These are the two things which help to give you the idea of personality, the sense of difference from anyone else, and the identity of consciousness. All through the years of your life you are conscious of being yourself; and you will be conscious of being yourself all through the life in Paradise, and after the Resurrection all through Eternity. This personality within you desires a personality outside you. If you are to have intercourse it must be with a Person, and that Person must be defined. He cannot be intangible, nor unintelligible. We say that God is “incomprehensible”, that is, He cannot be comprehended, limited, confined by the mind of man; but He can be apprehended by the intelligence. You can apprehend God, you cannot comprehend Him. But to make apprehension possible to you, it is requisite that He be a Person. And a Person to be apprehended by you needs to be defined and limited. I want you really to see what intercourse with Him means; what it means for you to be able here to have intercourse and fellowship with God. You have used the words, but perhaps you have not thought about them, and have not realised their meaning even as you might have done. It means, first of all, the meeting of two persons, the meeting of your very self – the self that persists through all the changes and chances of life – with God outside you. You are a person dependent on Another: He is dependent on no one. He is not dependent on you in any way. You come from Him, and therefore your personality reaches back to Him. You desire to get back to the source fro which you came without being merged in it, or losing your personal self.
One object of the Bible is to help us to be quite sure that the Lord God with Whom we have to do is a Person, and that He has made intercourse and fellowship with Himself possible. One great interest of it is that it is a record of the meetings between man and God. God steps forth, moves out from His hiddenness, to make us sure that He is a Person; to invite us to intercourse and fellowship; to show us that such intercourse and fellowship is possible. You have this mysterious personality of yours, which is not independent, but is derived from Him and dependent on Him; you desire to move on and up to Him from Whom you come. The question is: Is this merely a desire? a dream? an idea thrown out from your own consciousness? Or is it not rather that He, out of the thick darkness and unapproachable light, steps out, comes forth, that you may be sure He is a Person; that He invites you to intercourse; that He visits man in such a way as to make this intercourse possible?
If you think of it, you will see that, in the nature of things, God must move down to us before we can really meet Him. The rejection of Christianity amounts to a denial that God has thus moved down to meet us, or that intercourse with Him is possible: and assumes that whatever has been created in the way of religion springs form our own minds throwing out this or that image or idea. But the Bible is its own witness. It is so unlike what we could have imagined beforehand, yet so entirely worthy of God when we look at the whole. Take the last result of all God’s communications to us, the coming of His Son. “God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” You might suppose this coming to be unworthy of God and of His Majesty. You might say God could not thus come down to us. But that is a poor, human, limited way of looking at it. If God is worthy of Himself, if “He is Love”, how could He show His love, His wisdom, His omnipotence more than by giving up all for us and giving up all to us? And if hat had to be, how could it be accomplished otherwise than it was? How conceive a nobler, a more divine way than His giving Himself in such manner as was prophesied by Isaiah: “Unto us a Child is born”? Could God be more truly God, more truly love, than in giving himself to man, in letting His glory be seen and disclosed? If these must be an unveiling, a disclosure, a giving of God to us, how could it be done more worthily, more grandly than through the Incarnation and all that it involved? It was exactly what man could not have imagined, but exactly what might be expected from God. Being God, He would do this thing in a way man could not imagine, beyond all our imagining. Yet, when it is done, it is seen to be the most fitting, the most natural the most reasonable, the simplest way. When we look at the latter all round, the very wonder of the Mystery become one of the greatest helps to faith. It is most unlikely in one sense that such a thing should be; and yet, when it does happen, we might almost say: Ought not od thus to have shown Himself and given all for us and to us in this best way in which we could receive Him? All the former movings down to us of Almighty God were the preparation for this Mystery of the Incarnation, through which intercourse and fellowship were established for ever. “God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” But there is a craving at times in the human heart for some other word of God than this, which seems, in one sense, so simple and homely. We imagine sometime in our pride that God might have spoken in a way more worthy of Himself, more majestically Divine, so that we should be compelled to stand, and wonder, and be amazed. We have such an earthly way of looking at God, as if there must be magnitude and size in anything connected with Him. Even in our own hearts, it is astonishing how much of natural pride there is, resenting the way in which God acts and speaks. It is the root of a good deal of the lack of faith and trust and joy which many Christians experience. This resentment against the actual way in which God has spoken, may possible be the secret of the fall of Lucifer from Heaven. The creature in its natural state seems to demand some sort of magnificence, when there is question of the nearness of God. It is in truth a spirit contrary to that of the Psalmist’s question: “What is man that Thou visitest him, or the son of man that Thou so regardest him?” We seem inclined to say: Man is of such importance that God should visit him in more worthy fashion, with more consideration for his pride the natural sense of his greatness and glory. And so we see, in the history of God’s dealings with man, that before He revealed Himself, man’s pride had to be subdued; he had to bow down his head, and go through some sort of discipline, such as Elijah went through in the wilderness: the discipline of loneliness, disappointment, consciousness of failure and of his own lack of energy, want of success with his own people. He had to lie down and all but die. Then, led to Horeb the Mount of God, he begins by supposing that God must come n the earthquake, or the wind, or the fire. At last he hears the “still small Voice”, and wraps his face in his mantle, and in that Voce God speaks. At last the soul is brought into the attitude in which Samuel happily began his life: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant hearest.”
It may help us to see what we have in the revelation of God I Christ, if we consider what it would have been t be without that revelation of God, that great utterance of God in Christ. Think what it would have been if God had been perfectly silent, had never said a word to His creatures; if there had never been “a door opened in Heaven”; if there had been no communication between Heaven and earth. Sometimes, when you are tempted to be impatient, weary, listless when God has a word to say to you in services or meditations, it may be helpful to think what it would have been to go on all your life without a word from God, without an intercourse with Him, without any revelation of His mystery. Even as there would be in Creation, so would there be in your heart, a great want unsatisfied. The world is so made as to suggest the need of a revelation from God. Your own heart within you cries out for it; the Church testifies to it; the word itself bears witness that it must be the voice of God. Imagine, if it had not been so; if God had been quite silent the creature would have been ever wandering up and down, listening to catch some echo of the voice of God, going hither and thither with a restless yearning in its heart for some token from Him. Think of all the millions of human beings who do not know God; and then of yourselves, brought into this life of fellowship; into the very sanctuary of light the Holy of Holies; chosen to be amongst those who all but see God. Consider what might have been and what is; and therefore what your blessedness is, and what your responsibility. Go back to the thought of what this our fellowship means: the intercourse of a person with a Person, of yourself with Him Who is the Everlasting and Almighty God.
THE LOSS OF FELLOWSHIP
I have reminded you that your capacity for intercourse with God is immeasurably your highest glory and noblest dignity; and that if you are to grow in the power of apprehending the realities of the Kingdom, you must cherish the gift of insight and recollection. And now a few thoughts from the first three chapter of Genesis may help you.
1. You will notice that even in Paradise God had made provision, by the institution of the Sabbath, for the guarding and training of the gift of insight. “Let us make man in Our Image.” But man was so made that he might either develop into what he will be after the Resurrection, or might, as actually happened, degenerate. In Paradise he had everything to help him to the development of is higher nature. He was there in the image of God. He was given a work to do, a service to fulfil. “The Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it, and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). “To keep it”, to guard it from the intrusion of evil. To do this, he needed time for quiet meditation and thought, and so the Sabbath was given him. However favourable to the spiritual life our circumstances may be, we need a time of seclusion and of separation from ordinary duties.
2. For exercise of this gift of insight, all the creatures were brought to Adam that, by insight into their nature, he might assign the appropriate name to each. Possibly this means only that he classified them into orders; but even so he must have seen into their nature. Here was a way of developing his powers of insight, his sense of order and arrangement. The world around us is a training school for all gifts of observation and imagination.
3. Then the woman was brought to him, and he discerned the mystery of her relation to him. It would seem also from the way in which S. Paul quotes his words, that he saw, behind her and his relation to her, that the mystery of her being his helpmeet, involved her being one with himself (cf. Gen. 2:23, 24 and Eph. 5:31, 32). In assuming for Himself the symbolic name of Bridegroom our Lord claims to stand in a divine relation to His people as the Husband of the Church. The idea was familiar to the Jewish people from the frequent references of Isaiah and the other prophets (see e.g. Isaiah 54:5, Jer. 2:2). All this mysterious relation of God to His people is gradually worked out till it culminates in the relation of Christ to the Church. When S. Paul mentioned it, he was not speaking as for the first time of a strange thing. The idea of the Bridegroom was no novelty, any more than the idea of the Good Shepherd. When our Lord speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom, He speaks as that Divine Person Who had vouchsafed to place Israel in such a relation to Himself as could only be expressed under the figure of marriage.
4. Then came the Fall, which, as you know, took place first of all through the woman. In some way she must have been careless about the gift of insight entrusted to her, and so she failed to see behind the plausible speaker the tempter, the evil one. For insight helps us to see not only the good but also the evil which lies behind some appearance or suggestion presented to us. The ordinance of the Sabbath, with the Divine benediction attached to it, should have helped to keep the eye of her soul clear, that “lamp of the body full of light”. In due course she would have had access to the tree of life. But to train her in trustfulness of will and obedience, she was forbidden to take prematurely the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then came the intruder, the tempter and destroyer. Whether she suspected him or not, we do not know; but she parleyed till the light in her became darkness. And if “the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness”! She did not see. Our Lord, as the Son of Man, saw at once behind S. Peter’s deprecation of the way of the Cross, being the way to the Crown and Kingdom. He answered at once; “Get thee behind me, Satan”; just as in the temptation in the Wilderness, whether Satan was visible manifest or not, He saw Satan. The light of His eye was clear, and He beheld the evil one, and met him as the evil one. It is often only when evil is disguised as good that it has any chance with us. If we saw the evil one as the adversary of all good, we should have nothing to do with him. But he comes as an angel of light, and we listen to his suggestions, and so fail in loyalty to our God. The gift of insight helps us to see the evil one behind his suggestion, and we are not likely to yield to it. The woman had allowed her inner sight to become dim – we are not told how. The story is summarised; perhaps told to us under figures and symbols; but it gives us the truth as we can best understand it. It is all so true to nature: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that is was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” It all looked very attractive and good in its way. She listened and beheld; she did not wait to consider that the suggestion contrary to the plain will of God must mark the speaker as the enemy of her soul and of all good and of God.
5. Then after the Fall came the interview with the offended Lord. When “the Lord” is spoken of in the Old Testament in intercourse with man, it is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity Who is meant; the One Who afterwards “came unto His own and His own received Him not”. That Voice which was heard in the Garden “in the cool of the day” was the Voice which we know as the Voice of Jesus, – of the Word of God. “No man bath seen God at any time; the Only-Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” That voice was heard in the Garden, not for the first time. They knew it to be the voice of the Lord God. He had come down into Paradise before for fellowship and intercourse with them. They knew at once Who it was. He was wont to walk there “in the cool of the day”, the time when they were most disengaged, when their thoughts would be clear for recognising any message He might bring, any declaration of His Will. But this immense privilege of man, his wonderful capacity for intercourse with God, is just the power which seems to be lost after sin. Instead of going out to meet Him, “Adam and is wife hid themselves”. Conscious of guilt, their first impulse was to hide from the Lord God, to shrink from fellowship. To refuse to come to the light, as the world did afterwards, when “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Adam and Eve dealt with the Lord as the world dealt with Christ afterwards. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” “Adam and his wife hid themselves” from Him to Whom they had been disobedient.
We need not go on into the wonderful story of how they were made to stop short, to think where they were, to question themselves. He questioned them, not for His own information, but to reveal them to themselves. “Where art thou?” “I was afraid.” Man is afraid to come to God because he is possessed by the sense of guilt; but he is prevented from stifling that sense by the voice of God, rousing him, forcing him to consider where he is. One of the purposes of a retreat is to enable us to see if we are in any way afraid of meeting God, if there is anything keeping s back from Him. God comes and seeks His children, uses first His voice, but does not show His glory. Man is sought of His Maker, from Whom sin would keep him away. You know for yourselves, how after some fall and failure, when you fear that you have hurt and wounded Him, the impulse often is to keep away. You do not go to your devotions and meditations with the same heart. You come into Chapel formally, feeling that you have no business to come, that there is no use, no pleasure in coming. That is the attitude of fallen man. He keeps away from God at least in heart and will, is afraid of His voice, hides himself from Him. And then God calls him, through His Providence, or through conscience, through the Spirit speaking to and in the Church.
Above all the tumult which sin raises in the soul, the voice of Jesus is heard calling us and we return and find how great our mistake was in not coming at once; for although the voice may be one of rebuke – “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” – it is also the voice of release and absolution renewing the intercourse between the forgiven child and the Father in Heaven.
There is indeed a real danger that we may fail to recognise “the Voice of the Lord God”, and imagine it to be some creaturely sound, through lack of insight and thoughtfulness, because we have not daily prepared ourselves to discern it. “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” We do not keep our perception of the Divine sufficiently sensitive. Our spiritual ear is dulled. Very often our Blessed Lord appeals to us as if a good deal lay in our own hands with regard to the power of hearing the voice of God and being arrested by it, or going on our way unheeding. “He that that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” Our Lord will give the ear, but then comes man’s part: “Let him hear.” To often we hear a sound, but not the voice. Jesus passes by, and there is a sound, a stir, a movement. We know that the Divine is all about us; but nothing comes to us that we can distinguish or lay hold of. Let us make up our minds once for all to be ready, listening for that voice, and following it, not keeping away even after grievous falls, but hearkening “unto what the Lord God will say”. For He will “speak peace unto His people,” unto them that turn not away. He has some special message and word for each one: “I will hearken what the Lord God will say concerning me.” There was a voice for Adam, and a voice for fallen Eve. The Lord’s own word and voice, that “voice as the sound of many waters” (Rev. 1:15), which comes for each one of His people. The necessity for us is not only to place ourselves where we can hear, but to be in such a state of preparedness that we can distinguish His voice, and understand what He has to say. It is not all a question of man’s will – without the help of God, our senses are so dull that we should hear nothing at all; yet our wills must have a real part in letting the voice of God be a voice which will really help, quicken, cheer, comfort and exalt us; in hearing to our soul’s blessing, so as to enter into truer, happier fellowship with God, Who not only desires to speak with us, but that we should listen, and speak to Him in our turn.
You have the capacity for listening; you know you would not be content if while everyone else spoke, God kept silence; if in these days there were “no word of the Lord”, “no open Vision”. Therefore “hearken what the Lord God will say” unto thee.
“Adam and his wife hid themselves.” But the voice of God pursued them till they listened and replied. Fellowship had to be restored through long training and discipline, the coming Cross and the apparent victory of the tempter. But for a while there must be banishment from two great means of grace which man might have possessed: (1) from the glory of the Presence, the special home and sanctuary of the Presence; (2) from the Tree of Life, the point of contact with the Life of God. They were debarred from the tree of Life and from the sphere where the Presence was revealed in all its beauty. For the time the fallen ones must be outside, away from the close and dear and intimate intercourse of the former days. The home in Paradise and the Tree of Life would in the end be restored: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). But not all at once. “Therefore the Lord God sent man forth from the Garden of Eden; and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life” (Gen. 3: 23, 24).
Suppose that you had been there in that state. Think what if would have been to be sent away from Him, away from the Tree of Life, with no mighty quickening influences from His Resurrection Life flowing into your body and soul. Think what it would have been to be shut out from Paradise. As Adam and eve were for a time, as the foolish virgins were for ever. There is no reason why we should not have fallen into that state but for the very mercy and grace of God. Yet what a contrast between it and your life here in this Home, at this Altar, in the Church of God which is the sphere of His Presence, where you ay have fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. All other joy and gladness is nothing in comparison with this. Accept it thankfully, and walk as His “dear children” – as even more than children, for you “are members of His Body, of His Flesh, and of His Bones”, in the “great mystery” and sacrament of union of which S. Paul says, “I speak concerning Christ and His Church”.
THE RENEWAL OF INTERCOURSE
This morning we thought of man as being left outside the special sphere of the Presence, the meeting point of God and man on terms of mutual fellowship. We found also that he was debarred from the Tree of Life. Now that is where you and I might have been. We are not half thankful enough for having been restored to the Paradise of God. We do not half realise it. At least year by year we need to take in more the blessedness of our restoration to the things which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard” …; but which God hath revealed to us by His Spirit.
If there is one thing I especially desire for you, it is that you may see what God has given you in His Church. Seeing the least bit of truth, realising the least instalment of the Presence, will do more for you than you “can ask or think”. Consider what even a tiny fragment of truth has done for many a soul’ and then what we have in our fellowship with God the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. See the cost of our entrance into the Holy of Holies; the long centuries of preparation; the discipline which God has brought to bear on the sons of faith through the varying dispensations. They “received not the promise: God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39, 40). We have entered in where they had to stand without, till the Veil was taken away. If you see this one thing, this great reality, and are real and simple yourselves in thinking about it, if you see what God has done for you in giving you access to the Tree of Life, you will go forth and “make mention of His Righteousness only,” and be glad all the days of your life. Think what has come about in order that you might be where you are, made to “sit together in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” in the Body of Him “Who is in the midst of the Throne”.
We shall now consider the stages of restoration, the instalments of the Presence, the renewal of the gifts lost in Paradise. We learn the character of the dispensation rather indirectly than directly, just as in the Book of the Acts we learn what were the ordinances of the Church, what her terms of fellowship, without their being formally stated. For it is not a treatise, but “the Acts of the Holy Apostles”. We see incidentally how the Church came from Christ, how the Apostles acted in this crisis or in that, and so we gather what were its laws and principles. So in the Book Genesis, after the expulsion from Paradise, from the Presence of God, we learn, from the history of Cain and Abel, in the first instance, what degree of fellowship was restored, how it was maintained, and what the principles of that fellowship were for the Patriarchs. In order that there may be fellowship and intercourse with God, there must be a revelation from Him’ He must come down to meet us. Without a revelation from Him, we should never know how to meet Him, even if we knew there was a Person to meet. God is a Personality. We are made in His Image. Therefore we have in us some shadow of His Personality. But in order to maintain intercourse we need the certainty of His Personality. To pray into impersonal infinity would never bring us strength and comfort. Intercourse with God means chiefly worship and adoration: but it means also that communion which comes from saying out our thoughts to Him. Therefore we need the revelation and certainty of His Personal Being. We need clearly to understand, and constantly to remind ourselves of this. Intercourse must be between person and person. We need to restore this idea in its clearness, if it has become dim, as it did among the nations after the Fall, till “the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us” a Person amongst persons.
A revelation was necessary. (1) Of His Personality. (2) Of His Nature, His Character. Who is this Person? What is His Character? (3) Of the method of approach to Him. For the sense of guilt makes us flee away from God; as Adam did, and as all humanity has done ever since, conscious of the broken law. Therefore we need a revelation of the right way of fellowship, the true method of approach. We fell instinctively that if we draw near solely in virtue of what we are ourselves, and in the power of nothing besides, it might be at least an impertinence, an intrusion; there must be some peril of our being scorched in that consuming fire. Who may abide His Presence? “Who shall stand when He appeareth?” (4) Lastly, in order to perfect this intercourse, we need a power within us, the Eternal Spirit. But on this point we shall say more later on.
A revelation there must have been. It is not recorded, but it is implied. Without it, Cain and Abel would not have known how to bring their worship and offering; there would have been no warrant for such presentation as took place. There s just a hint, a suggestion of the revelation in Gen. 3:21: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them,” implying a sacrifice before.
The two brothers brought their offerings. But one of them seems to have lost the consciousness of sin. Cain came in the strength and power of his own goodness, bringing the fruit of his own toil, without any acknowledgment of sin, disregarding the fact that fellowship with God must be on the basis of grace, with sin confessed and atoned for. Abel was the first martyr for divinely ordered and right principles of worship. He must have acted, not in self-will, but in obedience to a revelation. Cain, proud and self-complacent, did not see why he should not come into the Presence of God in the strength and dignity of his manhood and of his work. “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” It may be assumed that it was brought to the east end of the Garden, where the flaming sword was the token of the Presence from which they were shut out. They were outside the home of the Presence, but they brought their offerings near; they brought them before His Face. “And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.” No doubt Abel’s offering was generous, the best he had, but the point was that it acknowledged that fellowship with God could only be on the basis of sacrifice. The Will of God had been revealed as to the principles of worship and acceptable way of access. Therefore “the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering; but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” Then came the envy and jealousy of Cain, his proud resentment, and the first death.
Now notice that there was not only a way in which man could still worship God, but also a way in which God spoke to men. “The Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel they brother?” Then, as now, the Lord questions the soul that is sinning; brings the sol face to face with itself, as if the soul itself must to itself acknowledge its sin. Not even Almighty God can convince the soul of sin against its will. The soul must behold itself and its own sin, till at length it says, “Against Thee only have I sinned,” and acknowledges its great need of atonement. But Cain stood out in pride: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Have I not a right to do as I will with my strength?
Any sacrifice, whenever and wherever offered, in the Old Testament or in the New is a memorial of the one true Sacrifice for sin, the one great Oblation. A memorial is an act to remind God of the means He has devised to make it possible for sinners to have access to Him, “the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world” in the Counsels of God, and to be actually slain in time. Because of that “Lamb as it had been slain” Abraham and the Patriarchs would be received afterwards in the Presence of God. Cain would not acknowledge this law of access, and became “a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth,” away from the Presence he despised, out of the Heavenly sphere. The contrast is continually maintained, under changing figures, between Heaven and earth, the Holy Land and all outside it, the Presence of God and all that is “without”. Cain’s dread is not the loss of the Presence but the thought: I shall be slain. And so we come to those tremendous words which tell the tale of the impenitent soul: “Cain went out from the Presence of the Lord.” He lost again that measure of fellowship. That measure of access to the Tree of Life which was still the position of those who were called the “sons of God”.
Then follows the history of Cain’s after doings and of his descendants (Gen. 4:16-22) and we see there how humanity godlike in its ruin away from God, relying on itself, is capable of great things of a certain kind. It would even seem as if more vigour may be thrown into material progress, when the thought of God is cast away. The soul can then unrestrainedly fall in with the ways of the world, and do wonders. So at the last Antichrist will do “great wonders” and work miracles in the secular sphere (Rev. 13: 13, 14); and Babylon often towers over Zion, if we consider only the impression of majesty and glory on the sense of men. Among the seed of Cain we find progress and material prosperity. He himself built a city, and from him came “all such as handle the harp and organ,” and the workers “in brass and iron”. There was art among them and mechanical power, with some manifestation of earthly glory. Of the children of Seth, on the other hand, we are only told that they “called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26); and of one of them it is recorded that he “walked with God” (Gen. 5:22). Theirs was not such a life as culminates in Babylon, but one of pastoral simplicity, spent not in cities but in tents, for they knew themselves to be “strangers and pilgrims”. Fellowship with God does not necessarily mean all the good things of this world. From what is said of the naming of Noah we gather that the life of those who “called upon the name of the Lord” was more or less of a struggle: Lamech “called his name Noah, saying, this same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (Gen. 5:29). They were not at home in this world. The seed of Cain, on the other hand, made themselves quite at home without God, as men can now make themselves at home in the material glory and comforts of the world, and do great and wonderful things, for a time. But after all their glory the seed of Cain ended in disaster and ruin. “The earth also was corrupt before god, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11). This is what man comes to apart from God, and by ignoring God. Material and secular comfort seems to do a great deal for him, but it does not control his passions, and after a generation or two, we find corruption and degeneration. So in Rom. 1:18-32 we trace this law of man’s corruption. The degeneracy begins with what seems not to matter very much, You can imagine the life replenished with all that the art and culture of the time could give, having its own grace and attractiveness, the sound of the harp and organ, the manufactures of brass and iron – the city a pleasant place. But then, “when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.” Notice that the fault was primarily negative, just going away from God, not offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving, not giving Him the glory. And so they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened”. They were not so wicked at first; they lost their insight. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” And the end of it all was uncleanness, corruption, as it must be when man lives a life apart from God.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth… and it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created” (Gen. 6:5-7). We see here, as elsewhere, the union of divine wrath against sin with the divine pit for the sinners. We are carried on to the “days of the Son of Man” on earth, when “He beheld Jerusalem, and wept over it” human tears (Luke 19:41-44). He had done and would do his utmost to same men, but He could not save them against their will. Sin unrepented must be the destruction of man, for he is made “on the image of God,” endowed with freewill. And therefore, “I, even I do bring a flood of waters upon the earth” (Gen. 6: 17).
But all this time there had been those who preserved the life of fellowship, who approached God aright. They kept up the true tradition of sacrifice; for Noah, on coming forth from the Ark, knew what to offer, and how to bring his offering. Evidently there had been traditions and laws and principles of worship and sacrifice handed down from generation to generation. “Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake” (Gen. 8:20, 21).
Up to this time, the (1) the faithful had come to know God as a Person; (2) they had learnt how to approach Him; (3) they had had revealed to them His Character and Will They keep up the intercourse between heaven and earth, and for the perpetual renewal of the bond with God the Sabbath appears to have been regularly observed (Gen. 8:10, 12).
Then the covenant of the rainbow is made. The rainbow may, of course, have existed before, but the Lord then pointed to it as the assurance that there could be an agreement between God and man, but a pledge and gift of grace available for men through the mercy of God. This covenant laid down certain laws, and arranged that man should have his portion on earth in peace, as long as he kept the true relation towards God. In this way man was clearly restored to a measure of fellowship with God, and to access to the true Source of life.
There is a great deal in all this for you to think over for yourselves. But above all I would have you again ponder upon the immensity of privilege you have today. Contrast with that trembling hope and distant fellowship your own “Draw near with faith, and take this Holy Sacrament to your comfort,” your union “with angels and Archangels, and with all the Company of Heaven,” as you laud and magnify His Glorious name, saying with reverence and holy fear, “Holy, Holy, Holy”.
THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM
You will read the Old Testament with fresh interest if you try to think of it as a biographical record of events in the self-manifestation of our Lord before the Incarnation, while He was on His way to the fulfilment of the Purpose of the ages; a record of His Life as the Mediator and as the Revealer of God, the Divine Person through Whom God makes a Covenant with His people, through Whom He reveals the purpose which all along has been in His heart. Through this Mediator God discloses the thought of His heart and the secret of His love which was no other than to bring man into fellowship with Himself in a Kingdom of which the Eternal Son should be the head and at the same time one with us. If you think of God with that purpose in His heart, you will then see how, laving this end in view, He trains men, disclosing His purpose gradually, desiring to bring it all about, not without preparation, nor in a way which would demand more faith than it would be possible for men to give. He so educated man as to make him feel the need for the Incarnation, until he gratefully accepts that which satisfies the desire of his soul, a work in which ultimately he is to co-operate.
These movements of God towards man are all administered through the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Only-begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, the Jehovah of the Old Testament. One among many other keynotes to this truth is to be found in S. John’s Gospel: “These things said Esaias, when he saw His glory” (John 12:41), the reference being to the Vision of “the Lord sitting upon a Throne, high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), the King, the Lord of Hosts. One purpose of the Old Testament is to prove that the King of Israel is Divine. It is of course also one purpose of the New Testament: “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). The Jews ever insisted on the fact that their King in Sion was the God of the whole earth, not a subordinate deity, locally confined, presiding over the affairs of one race or one country. “Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King.” The purpose of the plagues of Egypt was to show that He is the King of the whole earth. “In very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My Power; and that My Name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex. 9:16). All that was done in and through the people of Israel was largely to show that the Lord, Who was so near them, dwelling among them as their King, was the Lord of the whole earth. Just so it is the business of the Church to show forth Christ as king of kings and Lord of lords.
Read the Old Testament in the light of this aim and see the wonderful interest of it. See how the wisdom of God prepared the world for His great purpose, namely, that the Lord Jehovah should be born as Man, and be King of the Church in which the final Covenant should be realised. And by a Covenant we mean an undertaking on the part of the Lord to bestow favours on certain conditions. Those conditions in no way merit the favours; they establish a relation of free grace, of unmerited mercy and goodness. But the recipient of the favours must be in a state, at least of will, to receive them. We cannot bestow gifts on a living person as if he were an inanimate machine, an unconscious receptacle. Even when the terms of the Covenant are so expressed as to establish the closest, the most familiar, the most wonderfully kind and loving relation – when the Lord Jehovah declares Himself the Husband of the Church –, the meaning is that He offers Himself to the Church to be all that a Husband can be, on the condition that the Church offers herself to Him to be all that a wife can be and should be. In His love He has chosen her, as we see from many passages in the Prophets (e.g., Isaiah 62; Ezek. 16; Hosea 2), for the Law itself is a system of love, making it possible for sinners, if penitent, to have access to grace. At the heart of the system is the hope of fellowship for Man with God, and throughout we see anticipated the truth that through death comes life and that love can be actively exercised upon man through atonement, fellowship can be realised through sacrifice, always with the great end in view – union between God and man. You remember how that principle is recognised after the Fall in the offering of Abel and of Noah. You saw that a Covenant was made with Noah, and the rainbow appointed as the sacramental sign of the world, preservation with a view to its redemption. In humanity the Son of God would become truly the Mediator for the universe and for mankind. Therefore humanity would never again be destroyed (Gen. 9:9-17).
Noah recognised man’s true relation to God through sacrifice; for Humanity possessed even temporal blessings as a matter of free grace ad favour only bestowed on the race in view of the Divine Person through Whom all life comes, for “in Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men”; and in view of His becoming for us the “Lamb as if had been slain,” the “Propitiation for our sins” and “for the sins of the whole world”.
Then comes the trial of humanity’ and we find the same development as in Cain who endeavoured to do without the mediatorial system. At Babel we find mankind trying to secure itself in strength and unity apart from God. They build the tower of pride, endeavouring to avoid dispersion and separation, and to secure the unity of the race otherwise than under Christ the Head. God’s own way of founding and establishing the Catholic Church is seen in His selecting a family, of whom the promised seed, Christ the Mediator, should be born. The promise, first given to the race and renewed after the Flood, was then limited to the family of Abraham. The family grew into the Church, and then the promise was again limited to the tribe of Judah and the house of David. There it remained till the Son of David came. Always God has this thought and plan, through which intercourse has become what it is now in the City of God. But the plan is not worked out mechanically. Man is allowed to co-operate with God, to undergo a test of his readiness to surrender his will to the Will of God, to undergo a test of his readiness to surrender his will to the will of God, and to trust his Creator. We see this in the case of Abraham, of David, of the Blessed Virgin. Each of them had, more or less through suffering and trial a call to co-operate with God’s Will. He would not use the Blessed Virgin merely as an instrument. She had to say: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” And Abraham had to depart out of Ur of Chaldees, following the call of God, and had afterwards to be tested in a more searching way in the surrender of his son. In the life of Abraham we see God drawing nearer to man, making a further disclosure of His Personality. Strongly impressed on the history of Abraham is the personal character of God, His intimate knowledge of and sympathy with the life of the race, even of a single family. This family is chosen out of the sake of the race. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
It would seem as if the Church, left to itself without special organisation I the Divine way, must be a failure, as indeed it was after Noah. Men took their own way, and made their own plans. They would build a tower. “Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar” (Gen. 11:3). How human it is! They will do it as well as they can. All human energy an thoroughness and cleverness is brought to bear on the plan. But it fails. It is not according to God’s plan, and the work of Babel came to naught.
To create the Church Catholic, the principle of election has to be brought in, and one family chosen. One man is singled out, the elect of God, “the friend of God”, not because God wants to limit the blessing, but because He would guard it in integrity for all, lest it become so attenuated and impoverished, as to be worth nothing. It is not only the extent of Catholic life, but its fullness, that makes it what it is. It is nothing weak, diluted, impoverished, that God wants to provide for humanity, but the rich wine of the Gospel. Therefore He guards the faith by separating a family of whose flesh Messiah would take His flesh in that unspeakable Mystery of the Incarnation, the thought of all Eternity.
In separating this family of whom after the flesh the Son of God should come, God makes a Covenant on the basis of Circumcision, with its sign in the flesh. Then He shows how He touches the secret springs of life by making Sarah, though barren, bear a son, even as the blessed Virgin, though a Virgin, would also bear a Son. The mark of Almighty God was to be imprinted on the flesh; and on the heart the belief that nothing is “too hard for the Lord”. By-and-bye, when He should say: “Behold a Virgin shall conceive”, faith would be helped by remembering how the people of Israel had their beginning through her who was called barren.
God would find a home for the Incarnation. To this end were all His dealings with Abraham. His choice of Abraham was not arbitrary favouritism, nor yet the result of Abraham’s merits. Abraham, without deserving it in the very least, yet had in some way responded to such light as there was among those with whom he lived. There was, as we now know, considerable knowledge and learning among the Chaldees. Abraham had to forsake the civilisation and kingdoms of this world to be a pilgrim and a stranger, going he knew not whither, but “the friend of God”, having some vision of the plan of god mysteriously shadowed out. For our Lord says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day” (John 8:56). “He looked for the City”, not “a city”, therefore he left Ur and all its glories, looking for “the City which hath the foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God” (Heb. 9:10 RV).
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from they father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee; and I will name of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). It is our Lord Who is speaking to Abraham, disclosing His own Mystery, choosing His own Family, of which he should come in the flesh. All that the earth could do had been tried, and had failed. God allows men to see what they can do. Man desires his own way: God lets him take it – and the result is Babel. But notice that God lets the attempt have its venture to the full. The free will of man is always reverenced. Even Abraham is not forced to obey, though there was a Divine urgency of call. Abraham had spiritual insight to discern the voice of God amid all other voices; and he is allowed to share in the honour of being a blessing to others through co-operation. “Thou shalt be a blessing.”
You too have to surrender yourselves, to go where you are sent and to do what is appointed, not as machines, but as bringers of a freewill offering. Thus you have the honour of co-operation, and in the end you will be allowed to see that a blessing has come through you. It is not simply, “I will make thee a blessing,” but, “Thou shalt be a blessing.” And then, “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”. God selects the few for the sake of the many, for the sake of the Church, for the sake of the world.
Abraham, then, was called and sent forth – he did not know where; to be dealt with – he did not know how, in the spirit of perfect detachment, with no place he could call his own, except that which God told him to make his own for the time being. The reward vouchsafed was not one of getting, but of giving: “Thou shalt be a blessing.”
“So Abraham departed.” It is told so simply. There is not a great note of exclamation after it, as if it were anything wonderful. It is said as it might be of anyone else going from one country to another. Abraham must have been fairy well rooted, first in Ur, and afterwards in Haran, which was probably near Ur, the centre of civilisation and power at that time. He was leaving it all for the wilderness, for a strange land where he would have no home: “So Abraham departed.”
“And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land” (Gen. 12:6). They would be uncongenial people to him. The story of Lot tells us what it must have been to live with them. God is not afraid to set His servants among had people. He trusts them to go on building altars, keeping near to Him. bringing a blessing to a few individuals, till in the end all the earth shall be blessed in them. Only a few at first would receive any blessing from Abram’s presence. Probably most of those among whom he came would be jealous of the stranger and of his ways. The land would not be “the Holy Land” for many a generation, but would become so at last.
“And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, Who appeared unto him” (Gen. 12:7). You will still trace the same laws of the spiritual life; as with Noah, so with Abraham: (1) The disclosure, the manifestation of God to the soul; (2) The recognition and the worship through sacrifice of the Divine Person Who so revealed Himself; (3) The promise of a blessing to come.
After this we pass on to the trials of Abraham. He was not exempt from those. He had to deal with people who could not understand him (Gen. 12:6). He himself was faulty; and when he had to go down into Egypt, he adopted a method which showed a failure of trust in God (Gen. 12:10-13). The whole life of Abraham is a life of wonderful teaching. He is not exempt from the ordinary conditions of life. He has unsatisfactory relations, such as Lot. There are commonplace quarrels among the servants (Gen. 13). He has to go out to battle against Chedorlaomer (Gen. 14). “The changes and chances” of life go on. But amid it all there is the appearing of the Lord; an altar is built; fellowship is renewed (Gen. 13;14-18).
After the defeat of Chedorlaomer comes the great prophecy in act, which is referred to in such an emphatic way in the New Testament. “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine; and he was the Priest of the Most High God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Possessor of Heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:18, 19). There is a wonderful interest in that coming to the man of faith who has left home and kindred, of him who was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:3).
After these things the promise of Isaac is given in a vision (Gen. 15). It seems as if in the life of Abraham the Lord had vouchsafed to disclose many of the mysteries of His Incarnation. Abraham had long had the promise, “In thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed”; but he had had to go childless all this time, without seeing how the promise would be fulfilled. Now comes the assurance that through his own son would be the fulfilment (Gen. 15:4); “and he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” He was content to act as trusting God. The essence of righteousness is in the trustfulness of his will and affection as he meets the prises of God in faith, and acts on the assurance of their being true; and this spirit it is that is counted to him for righteousness. Then the Covenant is made over a sacrifice (Gen. 15:9-21). The idea here is that the old life before the promises and engagements were made, passes away in death, and the new life rises up in the power of those promises. In your case too you have, as it were, died to the old life, and the new life has to be lived on the basis of sacrifice and oblation, in the Covenant made between God and your own soul.
Abram offered the sacrifice as he was commanded; and then, ”when the sun was gong down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him… And it came to pass that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.” The sacrifice represents the old life, which in a way is given over to death; and yet out of it rises the new life, bond and knit together by what the Lord, in His grace and favour, calls a contract. “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (Gen. 15:18). In the “horror of great darkness” and the “burning lamp” we have darkly indicated the Passion and Resurrection, the new life; the Lord shews this glimpse of it to Abraham, His friend.
Then comes the story of the human way in which Abram tries to lay hold of the Promise (Gen. 16). We too are often tempted to make sure in our own way of what we know God has promised, forgetting that we have to go His way and wait His time. The very intensity of our faith may bring the temptation, as it did to Abraham, who tried to secure the promise through Hagar, and as it also did to Jacob, who tried to snatch the blessing through subtilty when it seemed to be just passing away.
The wonderful appearance of the Lord “in the plains of Mare” is so familiar to you, that we need only pause to note the intercession of Abraham on behalf of Sodom with Him Whom he calls “the Judge of all the earth”; and you will remember that afterwards our Lord clamed to be the Judge of Israel, as he was of the whole earth (John 5:22, 27). Here He is the Lord Who rains the fire “from the Lord out of heaven”. The same contrast which is noted between Cain and Abel appears again between the City of God, for which Abraham looked, and Sodom, the city of the world, which falls as Babylon shall fall.
Then, after an interval, we have the final act of Abraham’s surrender in the offering of Isaac. It was not merely the surrender of all that was naturally dear to him in his son. In Isaac all his spiritual hopes, all the plan and purpose of God were summed up. He might have said: At least I may keep this back from God, because he is the child of Promise; even God cannot do without him. But “by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the praises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall they seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb. 11:17-19). We are at times tempted to think that what we are called upon to give up is needed by God for the purposes of His own Kingdom. But if obedience to His Will requires it, we must leave all and trust to Him, remembering “Jehovah-jireh”, “The Lord will see, provide”.
After Abraham’s act of obedience, the promise is renewed to him in the most solemn way possible: “ By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only son: that in blessing I will bless thee… and in they seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My Voice” (Gen. 22:16-18).
God looks for the trustful surrendered will; then when there is absolute surrender no degree of blessing is too great for Him to bestow on your life of worship, and service. But there must be whole-hearted trustfulness of faith, the will given over to e simply at the disposal of God.
Look through the life of Abraham, and see Who it was with Whom he had to do, the one Who afterwards became a “High Priest after the order of Melchizedek”, the true Isaac, the Judge of all the earth, born not after the way of nature, through true Man, born of a pure Virgin. See how the Lord unfolds His purpose and His character; see how God and man meet; man not treated as a mere tool, but as a reasoning creature with a will capable of free surrender. God comes so very near to him, that, if we did not see the grace and beauty of it all, it might almost seem as though He were risking His dignity by coming so simply in such lowly estate to the tent door. But when we see our Blessed Lord talking to Nathanael and the other disciples, we cease to wonder at the strangeness of the grace and condescension which thus visits man, only exclaiming with the Psalmist in simple thanksgiving: “What is man that Thou visitest him, and the son of man that Thou so regardest him” (Ps. 8:4).
GOD’S CARE FOR INDIVIDUAL SOULS
We shall now see how the life of Abraham brings out the fact that the Old Testament is largely a biographical record of the manifestation of a Divine Person, the Second Person in the Eternal Trinity, Who gradually discloses Himself, making it clear that he is a Person, revealing something of His Nature, unfolding the mystery of His plan as far as man cold receive it, preparing the way for the Mystery of mysteries, second only to that of the Blessed Trinity itself, the Mystery of the Incarnation.
In the 15th chapter of Genesis we first find the title “The Word of the Lord”, not necessarily implying personality here. But in the next chapter occurs the title the “Angel of the Lord”, clearly implying personality. He follows Hagar who, you will remember, was outside the Covenant, in her flight into the wilderness, and watches over her. He feels for the forlorn, desolate, and unlearned who yet often have a yearning for the Divine. Abram had “said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy had; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face” Gen. 16:6). Hagar is the type of the bondwoman, yet “the Angel of the Lord found her”, as the Good Shepherd finds his sheep, as Jesus “found” the man whose eyes He had opened, who had been “cast out” by the Pharisees. He “found her by a fountain of water, ” as our Lord afterwards found the woman of Samaria, “and He said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? And whither wilt thou go?” Very often from the Divine there comes a question. The soul is brought to itself and perhaps to some sense of its need of the Divine, by problems in its life by perplexities, by questionings. But few people will pause to give the time to consider what these questions mean. This question to Hagar involves the whole problem of our being, though it had its bearing also on her immediate circumstances. “Whence camest thou? And whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.”
We wonder as we read the narrative, and yet it is not wonderful when we remember Who it is that asks the question and how our Lord shows His interest in the most trifling concerns of life. This incident brings out His Omniscience, His Compassion, His attention to individuals. Before He founds the Church, He shows that He is Lord of individual souls, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – and the God of Hagar too.
“And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that is shall not be numbered for multitude.” It is the Voice of him Who has the nations of the world in His hand; and yet there is all the sympathy with the woman set at naught by her rival and mistress, and cast out. “She called the Name of Jehovah that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” As if she would say, “I might have expected to see Him by the tent of Abraham, by the altars which Abraham reared; but here in the wilderness He sought me, and seeth me”. “If I go down to hell Thou art there also” (Ps. 139:7). There is here an almost human revelation of the infinite nature of “the Angel of the Lord”. See His absolute possession of the future, of the present, of everything of man; and with it all, His care for this poor bondwoman, driven out through jealousy.
The rest of Hagar’s story is given us afterwards in Gen. 21, where we find that the Lord allows things to take their natural course, and Hagar is cast out. “Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.” It is a thoroughly human picture of life, of the difficulties of Oriental life arising through polygamy, and of the terrible perplexities which always arise when people try to bring about the fulfilment of God’s purpose in their own way.
“And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs… And God heard the voice of the lad.” The lad also was cared for by God. Then comes another question: “What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.” It is not Jehovah now, but the Lord in His character as the God of Nature and of the uncovenanted world. The name used is “Elohim”, not “Jehovah”, nor “Adonai”, nor “the Angel of the Lord”. Then we read that God is “with the lad”, and how he grew and dwelt in the wilderness and made his home there; and there is great comfort especially for ourselves in this land when we think of the many heathen around us, that He Who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, cares for all; that His eye is upon them, that He looks after them, that no one is forsaken.
In these incidents we have the gradual disclosure of a Person, manifestly Divine, yet called “the Angel of the Lord”. That is a term of office, not of nature. He is also called “the Angel of the Covenant” by the Prophet Malachi. “I will send My Messenger, and He shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, Whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His Temple, even the [Angel or] Messenger of the Covenant, Whom ye delight in” (Mal. 3:1). And again, Isaiah calls Him “the Angel of the Presence” (Is. 63:9). “Angel” may be a term of nature, but it is also a term of office, and implies that the person so called, whether it be the “Angel of the Lord”, or a created angel, or a bishop of the Church, is invested with a “liturgy”, a service, a ministry and mission. “Are they not all liturgical spirits, and sent to minister?” (Heb. 1:14 RV). This Divine Person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the Angel of the Lord, because He is invested by God with all the ministry of mediation. All God’s blessings to men are conveyed through the Angel, through Him Who is the Word of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord, the Captain of the hosts of the Lord. But the last title given to Him is that used by Malachi, “the Angel of the Covenant”, for Whom the Jews were to look. In the Book of Malachi, as in the Book of Genesis, He is absolutely Divine, and yet He is to be sent.
It is the Angel of the Covenant Who makes to Abraham, after the offering of Isaac, the great unfolding of the plan for the restoration of the world (Gen. 22:11, 15-18). Perhaps that was the day to which our Lord referred when He said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: (John 8:56); on that day when he received his son, as it were, from the dead.
You will, of course, bear in mind that where the Son is, there in mystery and power is the Blessed Trinity. When the Divine Being appears at the tent door in the plains of Mamre, and Abraham pleads with Him for Sodom and Gomorrah, He is sometimes called Jehovah, sometimes the Angel of the Lord. He is attended by two others – “men”, as they are called. So that there is an appearance of the mystic three. He speaks as the Lord of life and death. He will visit Sarah, and she shall bear a son; He will visit Sodom and Gomorrah in judgment, and they shall be destroyed.
All the story of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, is intended to show, among other things, how sure we may be that the Lord will visit us, and help us, and reveal Himself to us individually. It is with individuals first of all that He deals, before we find Him as the Lord Who takes the Church to Himself as His own special possession. It is no difficulty to Him to be all in all to each soul. It is Himself He offers to Abraham: “Fear not; I am thy Shield and thy exceeding great Reward” (Gen. 15:1). Abraham had to be trained to give up all, for the sake of belonging more entirely to Him.
Take to yourselves this thought of God’s care for each soul, and you cannot fail to see how He has looked after you, called you. Disciplined you; regarding you as part of a great whole, yet dealing with you individually too. He calls Himself the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob – three quite different characters: Abraham, the man of faith; Isaac, the man of quiet, trustful nature; Jacob, only learning to be true after long struggle. They were all different; they all had to be dealt with separately; they all try at time to rest on the arm of flesh; they all fail on such occasions. But God never fails to help them with all the love wherewith He chose them at first. The power of their life consist in their personal relation to a personal Lord; in their obedience to Him; in their trust in Him; in their joy to know Him more and more; in their loyalty to Him; in their freewill service, as tested by their readiness to give up all for Him. One point which you cannot mistake is the personal dealing of the Lord with each of them, and their personal relation to Him. He calls them, yet leaves them very much to themselves, to their own will; deals with them in the ordinary circumstances of life, at the tent door, in the field, amid the stones of the plain, through the difficulties of their personal relations, as between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau. The matter-of-fact experiences of everyday life do not hinder Heaven from being as close to us as the Angel of the Lord was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, and even Esau. We see the discipline of their life gradually leading them to a truer apprehension of the Lord Himself as the one great Recompense and Reward. After other things fail. The soul is left face to face with God. With Him these lives begin, and with Him they end. Jacob, after his long, troubled life, gathers himself up to say, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Jehovah.”
In the history of Jacob’s Vision (Gen. 28) the term “Angel of the Lord” is not applied to Jehovah; but Jacob sees the angels of the God of nature and creation ascending and descending upon the ladder. Nevertheless, it is the Lord Jehovah Who stands above the ladder; and in a subsequent chapter Jacob, referring to that Vision, calls the Angel of the Lord “the God of Bethel”. He is shown to be the Lord Who appeared as the Mediator, with the symbol of mediation, the ladder, the symbol of the great plan through which mediation was to be wrought in the midst of the earth. Standing there, the Lord renews the promise: “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land: for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:14, 15). Then after the long year of exile we have the story of Jacob’s return, and the wrestling alone with God (Gen. 32:24-31). It is wonderful how this faulty man, who needed such a long training before he became Israel (a Prince of God), experienced such tenderness from and nearness to the Divine Person. He seems to have been the only one of the Patriarchs who, in agony and conflict, embraced and laid hold of the Divine, even as the disciples clung round our Lord, or as we now may lay hold of Him, refusing to let Him go until He blesses us. It is with a Man he wrestles, with One in human form, yet One Who is Divine: “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” And Hoses, in referring to this incident, says: “By his strength he had power with God: yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him; He found him in Bethel, and there He spake with us; even the Lord God of Hosts” (Hos. 12:3, 4, 5).
From these and other passages we see that the Angel of the Lord is identical with the Revealing Lord, the God Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, Who became the One Whose Advent the Angels celebrated round Bethlehem as Emmanuel, God with us. For hundreds and thousands of years, amidst all differences of revelation, the one great plan runs through the disclosures, whether they have to do with one man, or a family, or the Church, or nations. There is always the Unity of the Person and of the character of God. But the revelations are not made by God the Father, “Whom no man hath seen at any time”; and yet they are made by One in Whom God the Father may be said to be present, because of the Unity of the Godhead. Remember Jacob’s blessing of Joseph: “God, before Whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God Which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel Which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen. 48:15, 16). He completely identifies the Angel with the God before Whom he and his fathers walked, with the God of omniscience and compassion.
It throws a wonderful light on our own relations to God if we take in all this. Consider especially Jacob, who needed so much patience, forbearance, and discipline; who had to suffer so much that he deserved, as for instance, from the deceit and unkindness of Laban, and the suspicion of Esau; who was so far from perfection, but who all along had trust in a Person, and joy in realising his relation to that Person. What kept him true in purpose all his life was this desire to be in fellowship with the God of his fathers. Even his duplicity and double-dealing was a mistaken and sinful attempt to obtain that blessing in his own way (not that his sin won the blessing). He learnt his fault, and he suffered for it. But the redeeming point in his character was his devotion to “the Angel of the Lord”, his belief in the promises, and faith in the reality of the Angel, and in the destiny prepared for himself, as the inheritor of the promises made to Abraham, “that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed”. To realise that unselfish hope was worth any sacrifice; and at last he learnt how to be the true guardian of that glorious destiny, and to be more worthy of the God of truth Who had chosen him.
The life of Joseph will also help you to understand the training which the individual must undergo for the great purpose and glorious ends of the Church of God. His “feet they hurt in the stocks: the iron entered into his soul; until the time came that his cause was known: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent, and delivered him: the prince of the people let him go free” (Ps. 105:18-20).
Look through your life in the light of its relation to the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, Whom we worship as Jesus, God and Man. If He looked after Hagar and Ishmael, He must have been looking after you, watching you. When you went farthest away from Him, His eye was on you, and there was found, even in the wilderness, some spring of water, which kept you from perishing of spiritual thirst, and which kept hope alive in you. With each one He has dealt differently, yet He is the same Lord. He keeps always in view the purpose of Mediation, through such provisions as the sending of Joseph into Egypt “to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).
All these may be revelations to yourselves of the plan and work prepared for you, the blessing appointed for you, the reward promised to you. Then ask yourselves the question: Is this reward sufficient for me? It is the only one for which, as a sister, I have a right to look. “Fear not: I am they Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.” When all is done, you will see in your life the guidance of the Angel Who redeemed you from all evil, and fed you all your life long; of Whom you may say at last with Jacob, “I have waited for Thy Salvation, O Lord”. He looks for your wills to be offered first, before any perfection of character is attained. He wants your will and trust to begin with; He will wait for the perfected character as long as He waited for Jacob’s. This thought ought to give you great hope. Though you may be as unsatisfactory as Jacob to begin with, yet before God has done with you, you may become, a he did at last, “Israel, a prince”, having power with God, and prevailing. It is a ambition worthy of your calling – to have power with God through humility and trustfulness; though it will not be till after much suffering, many rebuke, many humiliations. Think of Jacob’s humiliations in the house of Laban; the difficulties with his sons; the pain when he thought he had lost Joseph. Still, the God of his fathers was his God, and He had said, “Fear not: I am thy Shield, and they exceeding great Reward”.
FURTHER LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM
Abraham’s life is full of teaching for us, not so much because of what he is and does, but because of what the Lord is and does for him. It is the same Lord with Whom you have to do, as you trust yourselves to His guidance and guardianship, to His shepherding all through the days of waiting, wandering, and fellowship. There were in Abraham faults and failings, of which he had to see the mistake and shame, until in the end he became the father and pattern of all the faithful in Christ Jesus. In spite of those failings he was called by the Lord. He did not choose the Lord, but the Lord Jehovah chose him. He was chosen as the Apostles were chosen, and as we pray and trust you are chosen and called. When the Lord called him, it was to renunciation, to a great act of trust, to a venture of faith, to launch out into the deep. He obeyed, not knowing whither he went. Truly, however imperfectly, he knew Whom he followed, and committed his present and future to Him. He had to give up home. Country, and earthly future; to leave behind him culture, civilisation, and social fullness of life. To give up what we are accustomed to and are at home with is always a trial, even if it is only some poor bits of fishing nets. The trial is to leave the known for the unknown. The power that helps us is that we know Him Whom we have believed, and so can follow Him, though He lead us as the blind by a way they know not. Herein is your comfort and strength found, inasmuch as we believe God in His Providence has called you, however quietly and silently. For there is always a margin of uncertainty about a call, leaving room for freewill, for love to do its generous part, and chose, even amid doubt, that which we believe is the way of life and faith.
There was a threefold trial for Abraham as he followed the Call –
1. He had to wait. It was years before God fulfilled His word to him. He looked long for the child through whom the blessing was to come. He had a long waiting.
2. He had to learn detachment by having no certain dwelling place, He had to see Lot go to a settled place, where there was wealth and power, and where the wheels of social life ran smoothly, He had to bear the quarrels of those immediately around him. He had to wander up and down the land as a pilgrim and stranger on the earth.
3. He had to be tested, tried, proved whether he was really prepared to show his faith in the way of being ready to give rather than to receive, whether he was indeed to be the leader and pattern “of them that believe”, of those “that follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth”. He had to prove himself prepared for sacrifice; to surrender his son, his only son, in whom all the promises were gathered up; to give what was more to him than his own life. In that highest act of surrender he found the life of resurrection and the life of union. In patient waiting, in disappointment, in wandering, in not grasping at conditions in which he might have been secure and settled, he manifested the life of faith; not in getting as much as he could from god, but in giving up all he had for God.
But remember that he was imperfect to begin with. When God calls His children, it is not because they have attained to the fullness of faith and love, but because they have a true desire to give up all for Him. A true and whole-hearted will is what is needed to begin with. That is what Abraham and Jacob brought, though they ad to be broadened, deepened, made pure and true and single-hearted, having the single eye. And what is their reward? “I will bless thee.” The blessing from the Lord, not from Ur of the Chaldees, or from the cities of the world, but from the Lord, Who had “prepared for them a City, whose Builder and Maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).
And not only “I will bless thee”, but “Thou shalt be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). That is what the Lord says to each one of you, “I will bless thee”, and then, “Be thou a blessing”, not by being over-anxious to be so, but by being true and humble, by doing His Will for the day, by going on the day’s march. Abraham did not see that he was a blessing; he did not seem to help the Canaanites much, or the Egyptians. Our Lord indeed says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). But he had long to wait first; and even after all the waiting, he had only Isaac to assure him of the truth of the promises. The blessing will not come from over much anxiety and activity, but by being obedient, doing His Will, living as a daughter of the King. Then at last will come the great Promise, if you have eyes to see the glory and beauty of God – “Fear not; I am thy Shield, and thy exceeding great Reward.” “I am your Reward” – not the family life into which you are received, not the consolations that may be yours, not the peace which may come to you, not the freedom from the cares and noises of Ur of the Chaldees or of Sodom and Gomorrah, but “I” – no one else and nothing else: I AM THY SHIELD.” If you fear lest you fail, and so dishonour God, remember “I am they Shield”, in the midst of thy foes, of the spiritual hosts that encompass thee, “and thy exceeding great Reward”.
It is not merely so much spiritual consolation, or so much freedom from distractions, that is offered you by way of recompense for what you have given up, but, “I am thy Reward.” And the days may come for you when there will be nothing else, when you will be left along with Him Whose call you heard, and Whom you followed, to find in Him at last your only and “exceeding great Reward”. May God grant it for each one of you, according to the measure in which you are able to receive it.
THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILDERNESS
We see from the lives of Abraham and the Patriarchs, and from the dealings of “the Angel of the Lord” with them, what infinite pains our Lord Jesus Christ, in the days before His Incarnation, took with individuals, to train them for fellowship with Himself, and for the work they had to do in preparing the way for His Kingdom.
1. Observe the gentleness and tenderness of Him Whom Abraham speaks to as “the Judge of all the earth”, and Who does visit with awful judgments the Cities of the Plain. This care, the pains taken with individuals, is one great disclosure of His ways with us. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were trained as individuals, before we have the establishment or “espousals” of the Church at Sinai, and the covenant with Israel as the Church. You will see in your own work that no pains which you can take with individuals is too great. There is not much hope for the Church unless its members are personally true to their vocation, intelligent in their understanding of it, real in their personal relations to our Lord. It is very wonderful that the God of the whole earth, the Mediator between heaven and earth, Whom we see making the great Promise to Noah, raining fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, should be so gentle with Hagar and her son, so patient with Jacob wrestling with him almost as if He too were man. In all this we see the immense importance n the eyes of our Lord, in view of what He means to do for His Kingdom, of individual training, and of the discipline of individual character.
With regard to the plan of God, there is on God’s side a gradual unfolding of it; on the human side a development, a growing up. To meet the purpose of the Lord. But the whole purpose was contained in the Promise made in the Garden, when the Lord God, speaking to the serpent, says, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). Man should suffer, but ultimately prevail over evil and the principle of evil. You cannot, then, give too much thought to God’s way of training individuals.
2. There is no constant pressure of the supernatural on the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are left to make what they can and will of the appearances of the Lord, of the Covenant, and of the Angel. The story takes up so little space, that we might be inclined to imagine they were almost constantly face to face with the supernatural. But there is not always the Ladder set up visibly, there is not always the voice of the Lord sounding out of Heaven. They have their difficulties and falls. Abraham is afraid in Egypt, and gives way to untruthfulness. And it was the same with Jacob in the time of his servitude to Laban. Then when Joseph was sold into Egypt, and when the great famine came, there was no immediate and direct Divine interposition They were left to meditate and ponder on the divine things already given them. Although all the while infinite trouble was taken to train their characters and understanding, yet they were left free; it is almost sometimes as if they were left to themselves, They were not conscious all the time that they were the favoured friends of God; and yet all the while they were in fellowship with Him.
Now we come to consider God’s dealings with Israel as the Church. He does not cease to train and care for the individual, but He begins to deal with His People Israel as a Body, the Church in the Wilderness. In order to win the heart of His Church, the Lord lets “the iron enter into the soul” of Israel in their bondage in Egypt, when for generations they seemed left to themselves, in spite of all that had been promise to the Patriarchs. They were left to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had hard times in Egypt, and apparently there was a good deal of forgetfulness of God, a material view of life. They thought a good deal of “the fish… and the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic”. Then, losing the sense of the Divine, their character lost also a great deal of its true liberty, dignity, independence. It was very difficult for Moses to stir them u to sufficient enthusiasm to sympathise with his own patriotic plans and ideas.
This new era in the dealings of God with man begins with the appearance to Moses recorded in Ex. 3: “The Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” It is the Angel of the Lord once more, the Divine Person Who is God, yet not God the Father; Who is invested with a ministry and service, Who is called afterwards in the Prophets the Servant of the Lord, the Angel of the Covenant. That He is Divine is seen from what He enjoins on Moses: “Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). It is a very different injunction from that of the created Angel in the Revelation, whom S. John would have worshipped: “See thou do it not; for I am thy fellow-servant” (Rev. 22:9). And then comes the further declaration: “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex. 3:6). You see in the Lord’s dealings through Moses with His people, Him of Whom it was afterwards said, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). To a great extent it was the same when Moses came to them; as Stephen reminded them, they are stiffnecked and rebellious (Acts 7:39, 51). And yet “I have surely seen the affliction of My people, and have heard their cry” (Ex. 3:7), though not apparently attending to them and though letting them feel what it is to be at the mercy of man. He did care; but things have to be done at the appointed time. It is no use to endeavour to help men, if they will not be helped to that which alone will really save them, and be their true redemption. If they will not be put right with God, then it is better, from the Divine point of view, to let them feel what a bitter and terrible thing it is to be left to the mercy and selfishness of man. But not He is “come down to deliver them”; and He declares His Name, whether for the first time or not, we cannot be sure; probably not; but He declares it now with a new significance, just as the Name of Jesus took a new significance when He came to save His people from their sins. As He was to take a new Name then on the eve of the Redemption, so here he claims the Name Jehovah, I AM THAT I AM (Ex. 3:14), or, I AM BECAUSE I AM; that is, “I am Alpha and Omega”; when you reach Me, you cannot get further. I am the ultimate Source of Life; in Me you find all that Life is and means; your reach the End, the Fountain of all life, of all beauty, of all power, of all glory, of all knowledge, of all existence. So when you are brought near to the Lord in Holy Communion, you are close to Him, beyond Whom is no life. There is nowhere further to go in the whole universe. No Beyond. I AM THAT I AM; I WILL BE THAT I WILL BE; THE SAME yesterday, today and for ever; “in Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men”; “for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell”, even “the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 1:19; 2:9). In the world around you see thoughts, suggestions of God slowly spelt out; but in our Lord all is summed up: “Without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Then to show the continuity of the Covenant, He sends Moses with the message from the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; “This is My Name for ever, and this is My Memorial unto all generations.” You still need to know Him now as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. He deals with each one of you as He dealt with them. He cannot cease to be what He has once disclosed Himself to be. When we know something of His dealings with Abraham, we know something of His character for ever and ever. He cannot change. Whatever you know of God is your eternal possession. You recognise in your Lord what you feel to be the eternal Truth: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). “No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten son, Which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him” (John 1:18). The Revelation is always through the Son. Whatever we know of the Father, we know through the Son; though where the Son is, there is the Father, and there is the Holy spirit in the Unity of the Godhead. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity was not disclosed at first. The idea of the Unity had to be so firmly implanted in the mind of the Church that it should never be dislodged; but hints and suggestions of more behind were given, and the way was gradually prepared for the full disclosure. The very Blessing wherewith the Priests should “bless the children of Israel” (Num. 6:24-26), with its threefold repetition of the Holy Name, would still be adequate when the truth of the Trinity was revealed. And se with the “Holy, Holy, Holy”, overheard by Isaiah, and many similar passages occurring in the Psalms (e.g. Ps. 113:1-3): all would fit in with the fullness of Truth.
The establishment of the Church was fittingly ushered in by this great declaration to Moses, making it clear that the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, was the Lord of the whole earth, not simply a local deity, or a family, tribal, national, race deity, but the God of the whole earth. The Plagues of Egypt would shew Him to be Lord over every department of created life, Lord of all the forces that encompass man, Lord in every region of life. In nothing and in no place is His sovereignty excluded. “I will stretch out My hand, and smite Egypt with all My wonders” (Ex. 3:20). Those wonders, wrought in Egypt on a large scale, were the same as would afterwards be wrought at the village of Cana and by the Sea of Galilee. For the water turned into blood, there would be the water changed to wine; for the fishes destroyed, the fishes drawn to the net; for the hail destroying the crops, the stilling of the storm. Our Lord, when He became Incarnate, still did His own works, though in one way He contrasts them with those that had gone before. He kept the best till the last: “Moses gave you not that bread from Heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from Heaven… I am the bread of Life” (John 6:32, 35). So also He showed Hagar the fountain of water, and promised the woman of Samaria the Living Water. No less than Hagar she might have “called the Name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me”; for did He not see her and the book of her life through and through?
The deliverance from Egypt brings us to the “espousals in the wilderness”, the Covenant between God and His People. You will remember that there were at least five Covenants of the Incarnation: namely, with Adam and Eve after the fall with Noah with Abraham, at Sinai, and with David.
1. With Adam and Eve: in the promise of the Seed of the woman Who should bruise the Serpent’s head.
2. With Noah: that God would preserve the race in which the Lord would become Incarnate.
3. With Abraham: that in his family the Christ should be born.
4. At Sinai: that Israel should be consecrated as the priestly nation, and the nation in which all types of the coming Incarnation should be shown; when also a fence was put round Israel to protect the flesh in which Messiah should be manifested.
5. With David: that his house and his kingdom should be established for ever.
Lastly, to Jeremiah and Ezekiel there was given a promise of a “new Covenant”, that Covenant of the Spirit, founded on the Incarnation, under which we live now.
The establishment of the Covenant at Sinai is recorded in Ex. 19. The Lord, Who can be so gentle, comes down in great majesty, showing that in spite of His nearness to us, He is one with Whom we have to deal in all reverence and godly fear. In this connection there is a twofold danger: (1) lest out of fear we keep away from God, saying as it were, Let not God speak to me or I die; and (2) lest we treat Him as one like ourselves, trifle with Him, making our Lord merely a convenience for securing the forgiveness of sins, talking of Him familiarly, almost as if He were on an equality with us. In all His disclosures and revelations to us, He gives us the power of seeing Who comes, and how willing He is that we should come to Him as closely as ever we can, for restoration and for all He offers, if only we put ourselves into His Hands, and learn, perhaps through discipline as long as Jacob’s, meekness and lowliness of heart. Not on any account are we to keep away. We must come in lowliness and holy fear, yet never forgetting that He is no other than Emmanuel, God with us.
THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILDERNESS
The purpose of the Covenant on Mount Sinai was the consecration of Israel to be a nation of priests: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My Covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation: (Ex. 19:4-6). He had done all for the purpose of winning the heart of Israel, that He might affiance her to Himself. Hence the reference of Jeremiah: “Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness” (Jer. 2:2). And again: “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning on her Beloved? (Cant. 8:5). “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me,” belong wholly to Me, be My own possession. “All the earth” indeed “is Mine”; but I desire you to be My own with all your heart’s allegiance and trust, My own possession for Me to bind to Myself for ever, to make you a part of Myself. And one reason why He desires you in this way to be His special possession, is to make the whole world through your ministrations more His own: He would thus more entirely win the hearts of some who, while they might quite lawfully live amongst the pleasures and interests of the world, choose to give themselves wholly to Him.
But with all this tenderness, there is prevision made to secure reverence and holy fear. “Lo, I come in a thick cloud… Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them be ready against the third day… Take heed that ye go not up into the Mount, or touch the border of it… there shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through… And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the Mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud, so that all the people that was in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:9 et seq.). So shall it be again when “the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with the trump of God” (Thess. 4:16).
Then the Great Law is proclaimed; and there follow directions by the Lord Himself concerning the Altar, the Mercy Seat, the vestments, kindness to animals, the arrangement of the Tabernacle. Nothing is too little for Him to notice. He puts wisdom into the hearts and minds of the architects and workers. He appoints the feasts, and gives the promise of His Presence (Ex. 20 to 23). Then He allows some to see His glory. As the Lord would afterwards take S. James and S. Peter and S. John up to the Mount of Transfiguration, so now He says to Moses: “Come up unto the Lord thou, ad Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off” (Ex. 24:1). Just a few souls are called out for that nearer approach to God, that they might for the sake of others behold “the excellent glory”.
Then follow (Ex. 25 to 27) exact directions for the Tabernacle, the tent in which He would live, the tent of the Lord, to be afterwards replaced by the Human Body, the Human Nature of Christ. In the court outside the people met and worshipped. The actual Tabernacle itself occupied quite a small space as the type of the veil, “that is to say, His Flesh”, the Human Nature of our Lord. So it is that a term which recalls this figure of the tent in the wilderness is applied to our Lord’s Incarnation: He “tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). It was the Lord’s tent, not the people’s. The Priests indeed entered in to minister; the High Priest into the Holy of Holies once a year; but it was the outward and visible sign of the Presence of the Lord Who dwelt among them. The Tabernacle therefore would not wholly correspond to our Churches, where people go to worship, and to be edified; but it was the point of contact, the meeting place between God and man, the residence and habitation of the Lord. Now He would have not a mere trysting place among His people, as at the tent door of Abraham, but He would take up His above among them till He would come, “in the fullness of time”, as the Child of Mary at Bethlehem. He would be among them, within an outward, external veil, not wholly one with them, yet still really with them always until the day of His coming in the Flesh.
This tent was to be His dwelling, till Solomon “built Him an House”, and there His Presence abode till the Temple of Solomon was destroyed. After the return from the Captivity another House was built, of which it was prophesied, “The glory of this latter House shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Hag. 2:9) and not till the great rejection of His Presence was that House left desolate and empty (Matt. 23:37-39).
The Tabernacle stood partially, temporarily, and externally in a relation to Christ, corresponding to that which His Humanity should eternally fulfil. It was there, the centre of the redeemed and the glory of His people Israel. “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon Him for” (Deut. 4:8). It acted as a veil for the glory, providing for an outer reserve, and yet defined where His Presence would be effectual for purposes of grace to sinners, and provided a certified point of meeting and sphere of fellowship with Him. When the Tabernacle was set up, there was for some time the Cloud of Glory without and the Light of the Shekinah here He dwelt between the Cherubim within, What could this do but emphasise and accentuate the tremendous fact that it was the glorious prerogative of Israel to be the Home of God’s mediatorial Presence on earth, of the Presence of Him Who visited Abraham at the tent door, but Who was now to have a perpetual dwelling among His people, without break or intermission. So indeed it might have been but for Israel’s apostasy. And therefore no detail of the Tabernacle was too small or trifling for the Lord to speak about. For this was to be a reflection of the true Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies in Heaven. All was to be “according to the pattern shewed in the Mount”, and of the same pattern afterwards would be “the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Heb. 8:2). We have this idea of the Tabernacle from the beginning to the end of the Bible. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the Church has become the Tabernacle, and the Lord Jehovah Himself its ministering Priest (Heb. 8:2; 10:21). For the Body Mystical has become the Tabernacle of His glory, and His glory is extended till the folds of His glorified Humanity stretch over even the Church on earth, and till the whole Church becomes the Tabernacle, and “in His Temple everything saith Glory” (Ps. 29:8, RV; Rev. 5:9). Without reserve and restraint of beauty, and with the Light, in itself unapproachable, streaming through, He that sitteth on the Throne shall dwell among them (Rev 21:3); God with men, and they, His people. This might indeed have been said with truth of the reality brought to pass at Pentecost, but it will only be manifested in all its glory and splendour when the Holy City comes down “from God out of Heaven”. You see the absolute consistency of the whole series of revelations, unfolding (1) the purpose of the Incarnation, and (2) the relation of the Church to Christ as her Head, her Kind, her Priest; the Eternal God, dwelling in the midst of His people Israel, spreads His Tabernacle over them, till the Mystery is finished, and His people with Him become His Tabernacle; the Habitation of God (see Eph. 2:20-22).
We are not surprised therefore at the minuteness of the directions to Moses. The Tabernacle was to be the point of contact with God, but more especially the Altar and the Mercy Seat, separate in place, but ideally one. “An Altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings… I will come unto thee and I will bless thee” (Ex 20:24). And again, after the directions for the continual burnt offering: “I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. And there will I meet with the children of Israel, and the Tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory… And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God” (Ex 29:42-45). When all was done, “the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Ex 40:34). The awful Presence which had rested on Mount Sinai comes down to this tent, which was like any other tent in the camp but for the richer material of which it was composed. So also our Lord’s Humanity was like that of other men, but that “His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men” (Is 52:14), except when the glory breaks through, as on the Mont of Transfiguration.
THE ESPOUSALS IN THE WILDERNESS
Exact as has been the directions concerning the Tabernacle and all belonging to it, so was the obedience of those appointed to carry out the work. “According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel made all the work. And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold. They had done it as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them” (Ex. 39:42, 43). They were absolutely careful to do nothing out of their own heads, or fancies. No doubt, as people are very fond of reminding us nowadays, a good deal of what they were told to do would more or less recall to them things they had seen in Egypt, as, possibly, the Cherubim. But Egyptian an Assyrian forms and figures themselves were probably a reminiscence of the Cherubim of whom the traditions of the Garden had handed down some account, and had been seen in the visions of Abraham and Jacob. It would be no real difficulty in the way of faith if there were a correspondence between symbols in Egypt and in Israel. The discovery of some resemblance is rather a help to faith, showing that traditions had been preserved. All that was good in Egypt was accepted and consecrated: “they spoiled the Egyptians”; “for the earth is the Lord’s”.
“O Lord, our Lord, and Spoiler of our foes,
There is no light but Thine: with Thee all beauty glows.”
Whatever is good in humanity will be consecrated in the Kingdom of God, for it comes from God, the first Source of all life and light, the “Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). So the Cherubim, the fine twined linen, the fine needlework of Egypt, were all consecrated for the service of God. As Moses was trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and had to make use of it in writing the Book of the law and in compiling other literature, so the artistic skill the people had acquired in Egypt, the needlework their women had practised there, was all needed and used. Whatever is good in humanity will be brought into the Kingdom: “The kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it… and they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it: (Rev. 21:24, 26). Nothing that completes or perfects human nature will be cast out, but all will be consecrated. All will come to bear the stamp of the Priest’s mitre: “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex. 39:30 and Zech. 14:20, 21).
Observe, again, that nothing was done out of self-will. The whole Bible is a protest against self-will and fancy, individual liking, private judgements, but when people will take their own way, they are allowed to do so. Cain did so; some of the sons of Noah did so; Ishmael did so; Esau did so; and we see how they all fell from the grace of God.
Every detail of the Tabernacle is in accordance with the Divine appointment, in strict conformity to the commandment of the Lord. Then “a cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.” And thenceforward the Lord took the command of Israel: “When the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that is was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Ex. 40:34-48).
The people remained there at the foot of Sinai for about a year. Every day there sounded out the threefold blessing (Num. 6:24-26). You can understand how this was a gradual preparation for the unfolding of the Mystery of the Trinity, the revelation of God as the Triune God. They would think, too, of the Angel of the Lord, that Divine Person Who is “the Lord”, and yet “the Angel of the Lord”. There is a similar suggestion of the truth in Psalm 110, as the Blessed Lord reminded the Jews: “The Lord said unto my Lord”. Think what all this meant for Israel, and you will appreciate your own glory and privilege in having the Lord in the midst of His Church, of which the centre is His Throne in Heaven, not on earth. There, too, does the Church in Paradise look for her Head and Centre; and we, with the blessed ones at rest, worship round that glory, not further from it than was Israel from the Tabernacle. Our Altars are set round that Altar in Heaven. The Presence moves on to the circumference of the Tabernacle and of the Church. But the central seat of the Presence is the Throne of God, round which and in a line with which our Altars here are set. In the Holy Eucharist we have a real entrance into the Holiest of all. We do not merely come up to the outside, but enter in. The Centre is moved from the earthly to the heavenly Jerusalem, but we are nearer than ever they could be to it. It is not only that the Presence comes down to us; rather we are lifted up to it. For we “are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the City of the Living God” (Heb. 12:22); we have “boldness to enter into the Holiest by the Blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19); we may “come boldly unto the Throne of Grace” (Heb. 4:16).
Think of the ray of glory and of light which passes from the Throne; along it, yet without leaving the Throne, the Presence travels. In Holy Communion we place ourselves in relation to that Presence which is on the Throne. Then from the Throne passes the Holy Spirit as a ray of light touching us. Along that ray travels the sacramental Presence of the Lord. Coming to His Altar, we find Him there. Wherever the Seven Churches are, He is near, as He was near to Abraham, and in a way in which He is not found out of the covenanted sphere. He is present in the Godhead everywhere; He is ruling everywhere. But the Eucharistic Presence and the Presence of grace travels out from the visible corporeal presence of the ascended Lord, and we are lifted up to it. For distance vanishes, and we draw near; we come right up to the foot of the Throne, and in the light of that presence space is annihilated. Israel was appointed to be the people over whom the Presence should brood, till it entered right into human nature in the Incarnation, and Mary became the Mother of the Lord. Then, after three and thirty years on earth, that Presence ascended to the Throne. We are in close relation to it. It meets us whenever we come in the appointed way to be certified and warranted points of contact with it. It is very important that y should be clear about this. People do not understand all the glory of the Church of Christ, because they do not carefully read and follow out the Old Testament teaching, and see how the plan of God is there intimated and gradually unfolded. There, too, we see His patience and forbearance even with utter perversity and carelessness. There, also, we find many lessons against taking all our privileges as a matter of course. In the history of Israel at Sinai we are very plainly shown the need of something more than the voice of God from without. People heard it; were impressed for a time. But soon the impression passed away; the Word was forgotten. No amount of external impression on the senses will make an abiding mark on spirit and character without the action of the Holy Spirit making us see and feel truly, however dimly, that “the Lord is in this place”. Consider the long discipline Jacob needed, before he walked reverently before God in truth and uprightness and trust. Israel “heard the voice”, and yet, after a time, “started away like a broken bow”. It was the voice of song and mirth around the golden calf that was heard, where there should have been reverent obedience to the voice that had sounded in their ears only forty days before.
God may speak: He may Himself speak with accompaniment of majesty and awe: yet unless there is the Presence of God the Holy Ghost within us, though all nature bows and the earth trembles before Him, our own hearts remain hard. It must be so unless God the Holy Spirit helps us to be loving, reverent, obedient, worshipping, when the voice of God comes to us. God has really spoken to our fathers in the olden days, but in few words and at long intervals. The truth of it all is shown in the guidance and history of their lives; but man must make the most of each word that God speaks. He speaks to us as “a man speaketh to his friend”, but still it is out of the depths of Heaven, out of the heights above. It needs a great deal of time and listening and pondering to bring out the meaning of one word of God. He would have us value any word He has spoken. He means a few words to go very far indeed. :He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” … “Unto him that hath shall be given.” A long time is needed to take in the inner meaning of what He says. And it is not enough that He should speak from without. He may speak, and man may turn a deaf ear. We need to use the prayer of S. Paul for his Ephesian and Colossian converts (Eph. 1:16-23; cf. Col. 1:9-17): “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Flory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe.”
THE MAN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART
In our last Meditation we reached the point where the Tabernacle was consecrated, and the symbol of the Presence the cloud and fire, hovered over it while within dwelt the Shekinah, the light of the Presence of Him Who in the fullness of time would be ready to enter into our very human nature, through the flesh which in Israel He would preserve and sanctify. The dispensation of Israel was ordained partly for the separation and sanctification of that flesh in which the Lord should afterwards take human nature to Himself. The Lord was now “with” His people, as in a nearness more awful and blessed He meant to be, when His name should be called “Emmanuel”. We noticed that the Presence now was to be a fixed, abiding Presence, not coming and going as in the days of the Patriarchs, but a continuous habitation. “I will dwell among the children of Israel” (Ex. 29:45). Not only would He dwell in the Tabernacle, but around it there should be a land, a sacred sphere of His Presence, the “Holy Land”.
We shall now consider two manifestations of the Presence which show the continuity of the wonderful unveilings of God to man, and the identification of God’s sympathies and interests with him in an almost human way.
1. The Book of Joshua shows us how Israel was to take possession of the land in preparation for the Lord’s walking up and down in it. His sacred feet would go through the length and breadth of it, and, so far as the days of His flesh were concerned, He had no mission beyond it. As a Child indeed He was carried into Egypt, and on the one other occasion when He seems to have passed just beyond, or to have been on the very borders, He Himself says: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).
That land was to be held like anther Paradise, and, as the outer courts of the Temple, to be kept holy for the Lord. Hence we find that while the Lord led Israel through the wilderness, yet He met His people in a special way on the borders of the Promised Land. “It came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a Man over against him with His sword drawn in His hand: and Joshua went unto Him, and said unto Him, Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries? And He said, Nay; but as Captain of the Host of the Lord am I now come” (Josh. 5:13, et seq.). Notice the new title ere; it is not “the Angel”, but “the Captain”, or “Prince”, of God’s Host, that is, of the Angels. The Angels are in close attendance upon the great Angel of the Covenant, as in Rev. 22:16: “I Jesus have sent Mine Angel.”
This Being Who appears to Joshua does not refuse Divine worship, but claims it, as the Angel of the Lord had done from Moses (Josh. 5:15; Ex. 3:51): the I AM, the Same as He Who would afterwards say, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). This appearance to Joshua was the reception of Israel into the land of promise, and the manifestation of His new relations to the Church. On the eve of the wars of the Lord He presents Himself as the Lord of Hosts. This title, so familiar afterwards, seems to be first introduced here. He is Captain of the hosts of the Lord, as invested in His office of Mediator with the rule and government over all the hosts of the Lord: “I have given into they hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour” (Josh. 6:2). Then follow directions as to the way in which Jericho is to fall: Jericho is the type of the cities of the world, which would take another symbolic shape in Babylon. And against Jericho the Lord of Hosts would go forward at the head of His armies as King of kings and Lord of lords. So, in the Book of Revelation (19), when Heaven is opened we see the same Divine Person riding forth at the head of the armies of Heaven.
2. After Israel’s failure in the Holy Land to keep the Covenant made on Mount Sinai, and to live worthily in that Presence which dwelt among them, we have another manifestation of the Angel of the Lord, or the “Messenger”. The title is an official one, meaning one who is invested with a ministry, a “liturgical service” and blessing for the sons of men. “An Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break My Covenant with you” (Judges 2:1). The Covenant of man with God is always through the Lord, the Mediator. He was the minister of the Old Covenant as He was of the New, when He took the Cup, and said, “This is My Blood of the New Covenant”. So here the Angel of the Lord says: “I will never break My Covenant with you… But ye have not obeyed My voice.” For the time they were brought to repentance: “It came to pass when the Angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice and wept… and they sacrificed there unto the Lord” (Judges 2:4, 5), as a renewal of the Covenant. They enter again into fellowship after repentance, and through sacrifice. This chapter (Judges 2) is a summary of the whole period of the Judges. The Book of Ruth is a Divine story, showing that amid all the wars and troubles, the defection and apostasy of the nation, there were, nevertheless, instances of individual piety; there were faithful and true-hearted families and loyal sons and daughters; women such as Ruth, who, though a stranger, was cared for as Hagar had been, and honoured by becoming a direct ancestress of our Lord after the flesh. We see how all the while God’s Providence was over everything with a view to the Incarnation. All bears upon that great purpose of the ages; even as that purpose of love throws a new light on all that went before.
At the beginning of the Book of Samuel we see how the very presence of God and the Mystery of it does not prevent the wills of men, such as Hophni and Phinehas, from becoming utterly perverse and untrue. Yet when the backsliding people tried to treat the Ark of the Lord, the Home of His Presence, as a fetish or charm (see 1 Sam. 4), they were shown very plainly that “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let everyone that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19). It is not enough to rest on the plea, “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by Thy Name”. There must be truth of life and sincerity of purpose. Even the very Presence of Christ in any particular Church does not ensure continuance of blessing to that Church, unless she is faithful to the Lord, unless after backsliding she repents and does “the first works”, and so takes heed that her candlestick be not removed. It was so with some of the Seven Churches in Asia, as well as with the ancient Church of Israel. The Presence of the Lord did not ensure sanctity even to the Priests who ministered in the Tabernacle. Yet the presence was still real, and still energetic and active. For when “the Ark of God”, the centre of the Tabernacle and that for which the Tabernacle existed, was taken by the Philistines, it brought judgment on those who acted profanely and irreverently by it. But where there was goodness, simplicity, truth, there the Presence abode in blessing, as when the Art rested in the house of Obed-edom (2 Sam. 6:11). The Presence is none the less the Presence of the Almighty and All Holy because those closest to it may be as bad as Hophni and Phinehas were. In the worst times, there may still be truth, loyalty, innocence, purity, as in the child Samuel; faith, as in his mother, and the inspiration which enabled her to sing the “Magnificat” of the Old Testament. In Eli, too, there is faith, and a certain piety, though it is marred by great weakness. We have here features of character which are reproduced in the children of God in all ages, as they were among those who waited for the Consolation of Israel.
The story of Samuel leads us on to David, who like Abraham and Moses was brought into close relations with the Lord and Mediator, and who represents the religious type of character, filled with the sense of the unseen and eternal, and the care for the promises and love of God as the one thing worth living form in spite of fearful falls. It is what we have already noticed in Jacob; and there is the same sort of contrast continued in Saul and David as between Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob. To the natural man Saul is perhaps the more attractive of the two, and we may sometimes have wondered how David could be the man after God’s own heart. Saul had courage and generosity (see 1 Sam. 11). He had the power of winning affection. Samuel loved him till the end of his days, though he had to part from him. David evidently had a strong personal affection for him. the lamentation in 2 Sam 1, wherewith he lamented for Saul as one who had been lovely and pleasant, was no pretence. David clings to him through all, only wanting to be understood and loved (see 1 Sam. 24 and 26). What was lacking in Saul was any real care and love for the one thing which gave meaning ad purpose to the life of an Israelite. We see this even in his anxiety for the offering of sacrifices (1 Sam 13:8-12). His religion was more or less a political expediency and convenience. Reverence for the ordinances of God did not matter, so long as the people were held together, Deep down in his heart there is the fault of Esau. He, too, is a “profane person”. This is quite consistent with his falling into superstition, as when he consults the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28). Man’s heat cannot rest without the Unseen; and if he does not receive “the Angel of the Lord”, and the mediatorial system, he is sure to have recourse to his own method of satisfying the needs of his spiritual nature. In his heart of hearts Saul could not understand that which was the very life of David, devotion to the Presence of God, the love of God, the promises of God. He could not have uttered from his heart the cry which was so often on David’s lips: “My soul is athirst for God.” “Thou, O God, art the thing that I long for; Thou art my hope, even from my youth.” “Send out Thy light and Thy truth that they may lead me.” “O God, Thou are my God; early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth or tee, my flesh also longeth after Thee.” David could never do enough for God. Though not allowed to build the Temple, he prepared for it with all his heart. He was content to be thought a fool for God, to incur the scorn of Michal, when he laid aside his royal robes, and girded himself with a linen ephod, and danced before the Ark of the Lord “with all his might” (2 Sam. 6:14), uniting movement with worship in the manner natural to the Oriental mind. The satirical scorn of Michal shows in her something of her father’s mind. We come across such characters at times. They have at heart no awe, no fear, no love of God; and yet they are generous, strong, brave, often strangely attractive.
Of David it has been truly said, that though he was the man after God’s own heart, yet his sins were not. He was the man after God’s own heart in spite of his sins. There was that in the depths of his soul which drew him to God, and made him dear to God, in spite of sin and after sin. God indeed had to make it clear that sin must be put away by repentance and judgment, and in his life there was abundant chastisement for sin. Saul, so far as we know, did not fall into the same kind of terrible sins. There is nothing recorded in Saul’s life like the adultery, murder, craft, of which David was guilty when he took the wife of Uriah. But we feel that it would have been impossible for Saul to have written, or even to have understood, the Fifty-first Psalm. “Cast me not away from Thy presence,” was David’s cry when it came home to him that he had dishonoured God, and that he might indeed lose and be cast away from the Presence that he loved. He felt the true bitterness of sin. But when Saul’s sin was pointed out, his only thought appears to be, “Honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people” (1 Sam. 15:30). Do not let me lose the respect of my people. David’s confession was, “Against Thee only have I sinned”. He had to feel the shame of losing his people’s allegiance, but he grieved most of all that he had made the Lord’s people to blaspheme, and therefore he prayed, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God”.
The era of David (about a thousand years before the Nativity of our Lord) was the point at which a Family had to be selected out of the nation of Israel as a shrine for the presence, a royal House in which Messiah should be born. In David as King and Shepherd of the people a fresh type of our Lord’s office is presented. The royal priestliness of Messiah’s office was indicated now, as well as the House of which he should be born. David was the father of the thirty Kings leading up to Him of Whom the Angels sing: “Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, Which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
In 2 Sam. 7 we have the record of the Covenant. “The King sat in his house,” his heart full of the plan to replace the Tabernacle by the Temple, to make a Home for the Lord dwelling in the midst of His people. As the King had his palace, so that time had come, he thought, to build a palace worthy, so far as man could make t, of the true King, a House of more permanent form and character than the Tabernacle. “I dwell in a house of cedar, but the Ark of God dwelleth within curtains.” Then it was “that night” the word of the Lord came to Nathan, followed by the ratification of the Covenant, and the declaration of the House of which Messiah should be born (2 Sam. 7:1-17). Mark the expression: I “have walked”, reminding us of the similar expression used of our Lord by S. John (see John 7:1). In verse 14 we have the principle of God’s dealing unfolded. The Divine choice is not one of mere favouritism; there is judgment and righteousness in it, as well as mercy and patience. Saul represents the earthly mind, the citizenship of the world, the glory of secular life, which would be independent of God, very grand and attractive in its own way, and an immense power in the world. He is the man who is generous, courageous, loveable, but without any reverent sense of the Divine, without any stay for life and death, and all that lies beyond death. It is not that God chooses arbitrarily to like David more than Saul, but that a character like David’s is capable of entering into fellowship with God, even after grievous falls, if only there is true repentance, whereas there was nothing in Saul beyond a certain superficial charm, nothing that would cry out to the deep that is in the heart of God any more than there was in Esau. In David, as in Jacob, there was the potentiality of a self-surrender to God, and of a character that finds in its relation to God all that makes its true life; and as the sins and falls were not left unpunished, the dealings and mind of God could not be misunderstood. You know how the sword never departed from David’s house; three of his own sons came to terrible ends. Still the word stood fast, “Thine House and thy Kingdom shall be established for ever.” From this time Messiah became so completely identified with the House of David that he is even styled “the Son of David”. Then follows the thanksgiving of humility and profound gratitude, in which we see how David laid hold of the unseen and of the future. And in this lay the secret of his great strength and meekness.
In 1 Chron. 28 and 29 we have the account of his preparations for the Temple. Though he might not build it, and would never see it, he spared no trouble in preparing for it. His was no selfish desire of personal ambition, but a zeal for the honour and glory of God, and a longing to express in some definite form his sense of what it was for man to have God near to man, dwelling with him upon the earth. His thanksgiving here and in 2 Sam. 22 bring out once more his joy in being allowed to see God, to be near Him, and to serve Him. But it is in the Psalms, which, if they be not all David’s own words, are full of David’s mind and spirit, that we most clearly see the heart after God’s own heart, in the reverent and yet passionate love of God there expressed, in the earnest yearning after God, in his repentance, and in the desire to be indeed God’s son. And it is well to remember that if we Christians fall into sins like David’s it is far more grievous because our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and should we ever be tempted to criticise the commendation applied to David, let us ask ourselves: Have we attained to his sense of the goodness and holiness of God, so as to be able to use from our hearts the Psalms that sprang from his lips?
THE NEW COVENANT
We have found that a history of religion, according to the Old Testament, does not merely record an evolution and development from below, out of man himself, but a moving down of God towards man, a drawing nearer and nearer on His part to us. Yet in this nearness there is always a reserve. God is never so plainly revealed but that His Presence can be ignored, set at nought, disbelieved. Whenever he comes down and draws near He requires an effort an attitude of correspondence in the soul, and a real reverence. “Put off the shoes from off thy feet” is always the injunction conveyed in one way or another to the person to whom the revelation is made. Therefore, because of this reserve in God’s Unveilings of Himself, there is needed on your part that insight which results from the training of the spiritual faculty. You must take to heart the warning of the Parable of the Ten Virgins. You must have our lamps trimmed and the oil ready for the coming of the Bridegroom and for going forth to meet Him. “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!” is the announcement of the Old Testament.
In the Covenant with David, the Presence Which had been hovering over Israel, and Which had taken p Its abode n the Tabernacle, is announced as about to make a Home within the family of David. Then, too, is revealed the special character and office which the Incarnate God is to assume, the royal glory of the Kingly Priesthood. On 2 Sam. 7 are based the Messianic Psalms. The vision of “the King’s Son” is always before David after that great disclosure. In the writings of the Prophets this Covenant is referred to as the Promise on which Israel was to rest until “the Son” should be born. In 2 Sam. 23:1-5 there is again brought forward the beautiful ideal of the kingly character of our Lord and the glory of His Government. Notice here also the words, “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me” (v. 2). In the Old Testament the immediate Giver of the Spirit is the Angel of the Lord, He put His Spirit upon the seventy elders who prophesied (see Num. 11:16-30), and in Isaiah He is referred to as the Shepherd Who led Moses by His Spirit (Is. 63:11-14). Occasionally in the Old Testament as in the New, the voice of God the Father is heard, but always in attestation and witness of the royal prerogative of the Son, the Angel of the Lord, or the Angel of the Covenant; apparently this is so in Ex. 23:20-25. So at our Lord’s Baptism the voice of the Father is heard: “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). And again on the Mount of Transfiguration a voice from the excellent Glory is heard in attestation to the Son, “This is My Beloved Son: hear Him” (Luke 9:35). “Hear Him”, because he declares or reveals all that God is. Then again, before the Passion, in answer to the prayer, “Father glorify Thy Name”, there came once more the voice from Heaven in acceptance and encouragement of the Son: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). Both in the Old Testament and in the New the Father glorifies the Son. You see the absolute unity of the whole series of revelations. The Spirit is received from the Father, but always through the Son. Psalm 68:18 connects it all. This Psalm was written to celebrate the ascent of the Ark up to Jerusalem, that is, symbolically the Ascent of the Lord up to Mount Zion. But S. Paul applies it to the Ascent of our Lord to the highest Heaven, where He had to “appear in the Presence of God for us” before gifts could be given to men and the Covenant established in reality. So I the last Book of Revelation, the Lord is seen holding the seven Spirits of God. And on the great Day of Pentecost S. Peter speaks of the Gift as coming in fulfilment of the great Prophecy of Joel, and says: “Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:16-18, 33).
God, then, draws near to man, yet with such reserve that there must be insight and reverence to discern Him. He discloses Himself as a Person, enters into personal relations with men, bearing, forbearing, with infinite tenderness and gentleness, yet with infinite holiness too. There is access to Him on the basis of sacrificial worship; there is the life of fellowship mediated through the Angel of the Covenant.
David in one sense is the head of the Prophets; and in the Prophets there is reference backward to the Covenant with David, and forward to the new Covenant which would be established in the days of Messiah, and administered by Him, and to which our Lord alludes in the words: “This Cup is the New Testament” that is, the New Covenant, “in my Blood” (Luke 22:20).
We shall consider now three disclosures recorded in the Prophets, three unveilings of the Person Who is the Ruler of Heaven and earth, and the King of Israel.
1. First there is the Vision recorded in Is. 6, where the Throne is seen in the midst of the Temple; that Temple into the Holy Place of which Uzziah, not being an anointed priest, had ventured, somewhat in the spirit of Saul, intending to burn incense (2 Chron. 26:16).
There on the Throne, instead of one of the earthly kings with whom there had been so much disappointment, the Lord is seated, high and lifted up. We are helped by S. John (if any help were needed beyond the Old Testament itself) to see and know Who this is. “These things said Esaias, wen he saw His glory” (S. John 21:41). This vision of the Lord is vouchsafed in the Temple, which from the time of Solomon took the place of the Tabernacle. It was still the Tent of Meeting, the Holy House where the people came to meet the Lord. In this manifestation to Isaiah you will notice the nearness of God to man; man conscious of his sinfulness and of the sinfulness of his surroundings; then his purification for the presence through consecration with sacrifice; the live cola taken from off the Altar, where the Sacrifice was ascending in fire and by it the power of the Atonement applied; for only in that power cold the Prophet bear the Presence and have boldness to draw near. Ten comes the great appeal: “Whom shall I send?” It is the Angel of the Lord Who speaks. “And who will go for Us?” He speaks as the Representative of the Trinity. There is significance both in the singular “I” and in the plural “Us”, as also in the threefold repetition in the Tersanctus.
In this Vision the Lord is revealed as the King, and Isaiah constantly refers to Him as the present King Who is, nevertheless, to be revealed n yet more grace, glory and beauty (see Isa. 6:5; 32:1; 33:17, 22; 43; and other similar passages). But the King is also “the Servant of the Lord”: “Behold My Servant, Whom I uphold” (Isa. 42:1). In one sense He is less than king because He is servant; in another sense He is more than king because He is God, of Whom it is said: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together… Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” (Isa 40:5, 9). This King enters into the tenderest and closest relation to the Church (see Is. 54:5, et seq.). “Thy Maker” comes into this close relation to thee as “thy Husband”. He is “the Lord of Hosts”, the old familiar name; “thy redeemer”, to some extent a new name; “the Holy One of Israel, “Whom even the evil spirits identified in Jesus” (Mark 1:24).
Consider this Fifty-fourth Chapter of Isaiah, and mark the exceeding tenderness and gentleness of its promises. There is no amount of tenderness, graciousness, and gentleness which the Lord will not show, if only there is reverence and holy fear, if the soul He approaches in this way does not presume or trifle with Him, and really cares for his approach. But fir the world at large, for those who have no eyes to see, there is always reserve, and sometimes thick darkness.
2. In the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1) there is the same disclosure of the royal Majesty, and yet nearness of Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel. But the manifestation is no longer in the Temple, but on a throne of world-wide movement. He follows the Church into exile. By the River Chebar, in the wilderness, n the “strange land” where they could not “sing the Lord’s song”, the Lord’s grace and truth in the coming Incarnation is revealed. From that Throne He rules the world, and beholds all the powers and nations through whom the Church and world were being prepared for the coming of Christ. “The word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest”, at a time when there was a rush and movement of the nations, a tumultuous murmur of multitudes, and the apparent helplessness of Israel held captive. The Vision itself is by the great rushing river; yet the Throne is there in all its grace, the Throne of Heaven drawing nearer towards the Incarnation: “Upon the likeness of the Throne was the likeness of the appearance of a Man above upon it” (v. 26). In this Vision also we have the Cherubim. They are always in attendance upon the Sovereign and Supreme Person of the Universe, about to assume human nature. “The Lord God Which dwelleth between the Cherubims” had come to be a title of the God of Israel (1 Sam. 4:4; Isa. 37:16). The sight of the Cherubims would assure the Captive Hebrews that this was their own Covenant God, their own Lord. Moreover, while the vision is full of movement (Ezek. 1:4-25), there is that within it which has rest, repose, tranquillity, power. All is moved and animated by the Spirit. Every impulse that has to do with the Incarnation is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit; and Israel would see all these movement and manifestations under the control of their own Lord, their Divine Master, Who even in the days of the Captivity still speaks of Israel as affianced to Him for fellowship (Ezek. 16: 60, 61). Amid all the force and light and life, amid the noise of the wings and the rushing of the wind, “like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, as the noise of an host”, Ezekiel sees “the likeness of a Throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone” – the light mellowed – “and upon the likeness of the Throne was the likeness as the appearance of a Man”, the Lord on His way to the Incarnation. “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” Ezek. 1:26, 28).
Thus to the captive Church is revealed the glory and beauty of the Incarnation, although the words are so guarded. Then follow other visions, and judgments pronounced on the Jews and the nations round about, but all proceed from that Throne and from Him that sitteth thereon. The last verse of Ezekiel’s prophecy (48:35) carries as on to Rev. 21:3. “The name of the City from that day shall be Jehovah Shammah. The Lord is there.” “Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men.”
3. In the Vision of Daniel there is assigned to Messiah a special name, which the Jews accepted as a title of Messiah, and which our Lord Himself used before Caiaphas They knew perfectly well what He claimed when He alluded to the Vision of Daniel: “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the Right Hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven” (Matt. 26:64). This title was a veil, and yet a manifestation of all that He had been in purpose, and of all that he would be for evermore as Son of Man. It is the final definition of the Person we have been considering: the “Son of Man” Who yet reigns as the “Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:13). His Kingdom begins as a shapeless stone (2:34), for that is what the Church looks like to the world: yet it is a kingdom which shall have no end (Dan. 2:44; 7:14. And it is this Kingdom into which we are brought, and which is guaranteed to be perpetual. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). It bears very specially the marks of being human. Humanity is at the heart of it, yet all the while it is Divine.
This too is the Kingdom of the New Covenant, spoken of by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and constantly alluded to in the New Testament. Under this Covenant man is to start on a bass of forgiveness; God is to be served out of love; His law is to be written in the hearts of His people. We have considered the Covenant with Noah, with Abraham, on Mount Sinai, and with David. Now comes the “New Covenant” connected with the reign of Him Who is “the Lord our Righteousness”; our Righteousness without, through which we are accepted, and the spring of Righteousness within, through which we are ultimately to be made righteous (see Jer. 23:5, 6). There is a reference back to the Covenant with David. The Righteous Branch would spring from what was now almost a withered stock (study the description of this new Covenant in Jer. 31:31-34). His people had broken the old Covenant, after they had promised to be faithful. Yet again He took them by the hand as tenderly as a father would a child, to establish another Covenant founded on grace and forgiveness, and the power to love God and to live the life of love.
Ezekiel, in the Thirty-sixth Chapter, goes back to the old Covenant, to the Consecration of the Tabernacle and the sprinkling of the people, and looks forward to the consummation of all things (cf. Rev. 21:3, 4, 5, 7, 27; 22: 3-5. Study also Jer. 31;33, 34, and Heb. 10:16, 17). I feel sure we do not half take in the meaning of this promise. We do not urge in the spirit of faith the plea “Remember Thy Holy Covenant!” as we say the Kyrie after each Commandment in the Office for Holy Communion. Why should we not do so, and so find here the most deeply significant and helpful introduction and preparation for the Service. It refers to the Covenant under which we are now living. The spirit of our service is to be love and affection. We do not do away with the Law, nor dispense with the need of pardon and forgiveness. We still need to say, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” but we use God’s own words when we remind Him of His promise, “I will put My law in their inward parts and will write it in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16), and pray, “Incline our hearts to keep this law”; “Write all these Thy laws in our hearts”.
Consider the promise of the New Covenant in connection with our lord’s words, “This is my Blood of the New Covenant”, referring to the Covenant on Sinai and the blood of sprinkling, as well as to the New Covenant promised to Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This is the characteristic glory of the New Covenant. The Kyries appeal to the promise of God, to the pledge guaranteed under a solemn Covenant. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:27). And this “not for your sakes” (v. 32), but out of love for you, and because I have pledged Myself and My word to you. “I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it.”
The same great Promise of the Spirit is renewed in the writings of other Prophets, as Joel and Zechariah; then comes the last message, that of Malachi. The Angel of the Covenant, the Administrator, will come to make it good (Mal. 3:1). “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” All that is genial, gracious, quickening, healthful, bright, beautiful, is found in His Government Who arises as the Sun of Righteousness to them that fear His Name. Yes – there is again the necessity for reverence. The beginning and end of wisdom is this holy fear of the Lord.
It may be you do not claim with confidence, with faith even as a grain of mustard seed, all God is ready to give you. In every preparation for Holy Communion, go back to this Covenant God has pledged to you. He will give you healing in you, and enable you to welcome the Messenger, the Angel, the king of glory and of grace, with all gladness and trustfulness, yet with that reverence which we must pray for, to the end that the Lord of Hosts as He draws near may acknowledge us as His own in the day that He makes up His jewels, and opens His book of remembrance.
THE INTERVAL OF SILENCE
We have seen how God prepared His people for the full utterance of the Word in Whom He should speak to them, by fragmentary utterances, and words coming few and far between the ages of preparation. Throughout the Old Testament we see how God meat His people, for their own blessing and good, to make the most of the little He gave; little, that is, in quantity, and little at a time. He gave men long years to think over what He said to take to heart and to understand the import of the Revelation He gave them. A great part of the Old Testament is taken up with the history of the way in which men acted in the presence and memory of the revelation, and of the spirit in which they dealt with it. Clearly God would have us value greatly every revelation and utterance of His. He expects a good deal to be made out of what may seem but little; not that the least that he gave was little in itself. Any word of God is too great for man to deal with adequately; each is a “lively oracle”; but it was little compared with what we have, and with the full utterance in which he gives all His heart and mind to man, when the only-begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, is Himself the Revelation. Hundreds of years in the dispensation and economy of God, are not too long a time in which to dwell upon and put to the proof just a few words from Heaven. So after the intercourse with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, there came the silence of Egypt. After the Revelation on Sinai came the period of the Judges. And again long years of silence separated the days of Samuel and David from the chief of the later Visions of the Prophets.
When we think how God has spoken to man we find it a great comfort that He draws near to man, and speaks gentle words, not upbraiding him, or terrifying him, even when he is very full of failings, very imperfect, very far from holy, guilty even of great faults and sins. As, for instance, when the Lord stood above the ladder (where the Angels were ascending and descending) and spoke to the wanderer and the exile, who was leaving his home with a lie still fresh on his lips, even though he was the supplanter and the subtle one. The Lord God stood there and owned this faulty Jacob as the heir of the promise, and gave him that great assurance, in the strength of which he walked for many a year.
And again, after bringing Israel out of Egypt, he reminded the nation, as He had reminded the individual long before, how He had been their Leader and their Guide, how hey had been borne on eagle’s wings, and that if they were obedient, they would be to Him a Kingdom of Priests, a holy nation. But at the time when this further revelation was given with this greater distinctness, when God was willing to take Israel as his own Son, called out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1), to share His glory, to be brought into fellowship and adoption, it was as Israel out of Egypt, that he called His people, with the thought of Egypt clinging to them as a nation, with dull perception of the glory of their inheritance, with at best a trembling, faltering faith.
God does not keep man at a distance because He is full of fault, if only he desires to be rid of them, if only he will put himself into God’s hands and be obedient. “If thou will hearken unto Me”: that is the condition of fellowship. If man comes with an honest and good heart he need not be afraid that God will bring up the past continually. God will take him to His heart, into His love and confidence.
But there are long intervals of silence, as was that after the days of Malachi, which lasted four hundred years, until it was broken by the messages of the Angel Gabriel and by the Gloria in Excelsis. And from the prophecy of Malachi we see what are likely to be the temptations in that time of silence, when the heavens are not opened, and there is no “voice from the excellent glory” sounding in our ears. Both Priests and people in the Church of God are tempted to suppose that no communion between God and man is possible; that God has withdrawn Himself from man, and will no longer care for him. The whole system round the soul in the Church seems impersonal, without a living heart to care, without a voice to sound. The soul listens, and bears only murmurs from the great ocean of eternity – murmurs which are borne in on the soul by the sounds of the time, by the voices of men. God seems to have left His Church to itself. Then comes the temptation to weary of all that is the sign and witness of fellowship between Heaven and earth. The Priests grow weary, and no longer fulfil their offices as for a living King. They put God off with the second best, with gifts that cost them nothing. “What a weariness it is!” Divine offices and services do become a weariness if they are not offered to a present, living God; if they are gone through as though He would not miss them, as though He would as soon be without them, as though he were too far off to care. That is the state of mind to which we are tempted when God is silent: “I keep silence, and hen thoughtest wickedly that I am even such a one as thyself.” The Priests are weary, without heart in their work; and the people ask doubtfully and mistrustfully: “What profit is it to serve God?” The wicked and the righteous are all in the same case. There is no difference in this world “between him who serveth God and him who serveth Him not”. And so God is thought of as practically non-existence , or at least non-resident, in His Church as not being for us the living God. He is not really recognised as taking personal charge of the world, and a living, personal interest in His Church (see Mal. 1; 2; and 3 to 5:15).
To counteract such temptations God assures us that His ear is open to all we are thinking and saying: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord harkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and the thought upon His Name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that Day when I make up My jewels” (Mal. 3:16). In that great Day wen God shall be manifested as a real Person, Who holds this world in the hollow of His hand, cares for each one, notes all that we go through, then shall be seen the difference “between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not”: “I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” As a man spareth his own son! So far from there being just one great mechanical system, He deals with each one as a father with his child (Mal. 3:17, 18).
After the word of comfort, Malachi leaves the people with the warning: “Remember” (Mal. 4: 4-6). “Remember ye the Law of Moses My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” Wait, till I send My messenger before My face to break the silence. In the time of silence God’s ear is open. The word is meant to sound on in our hearts. We are to make the most of it. The words of the Living God do not become dead. The voice of God is still “a glorious voice”.
What God has already given is enough for people if only they would make the most of it. We are apt to suppose we should be more alive, more attentive, more awake, if only God would speak more clearly and plainly, so that we could not be misunderstood. If only He were not so much hidden! If only He came forward from behind the veil a little more! If when the voice came, we could distinguish it as the voice of God, and of no one else, we imagine that we should be more faithful and obedient. But though in that time of silence there was no fresh utterance, enough had been said and done to train in the coming generations faithful, loyal hearts, who, when at last the voice came clearly, were ready for it. Such was the Blessed Virgin, though in some ways it was “a hard saying” that came to her, a mysterious message, an overwhelming word. Still she could answer, “Behold the handmaid of the lord” (Luke 1:26-38). She was ready. So in his own way and degree was Zacharias he pries, among those who waited for the Consolation of Israel (Luke 1:5-25, 57-80). So also was S. Joseph, when God spake unto him in a dream (Matt. 1:18-25).
In divers ways the long Silence was broken jus round the Cradle of our Lord. And all these faithful and true hearts made the most of what had been given them. “To him that hath shall be given.” It was not impossible to maintain communication with heaven. There were the Temple services, the Books of the Law, of the Psalms, and of the Prophets. “Let them hear them,” as our Blessed Lord said later, and God speaking in them. These faithful ones did thus wait on God, and listen to what he had said even in that incomplete way. Here and there, scatted up and down the land, were those who were watching in faith and hope – waiting for the consolation of Israel. There was Nathanael, in whom was “no guile”; there were S. Andrew and his brother, who were ready for the voice, when Christ passed by and said, “Follow Me,” and others.
Then at length, after the long Silence, came the final Word, when God at last spoke in such a way that He could not express more of Himself in the Word than He did. Christ “the Word”, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), and at His Transfiguration a voice was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son hear Him”. Thenceforth, if the world wanted to hear God’s voice, it must hear Christ, in Whom was all God’s Word, all that God had to say to men, and angels, and the whole creation.
But the full Word and Utterance of Christ is not to be found in any one saying of His, nor in any one epoch of His life. All that is in the Word has to be learnt by taking every incident of His life and every syllable and letter of His words – His Birth at Bethlehem, His Life at Nazareth, His Ministry, His Cross and Passion, His Precious Death and Burial, His Glorious Resurrection and Ascension, His Manifestation now in His dealings with His Church, His final Appearing and second Coming. We have not yet heard the whole Word. The Manifestation is not complete until His second Coming.
The wonder of Christmas is that here we see and hear God’s Word to man; here we find the great question answered: Does the God of nature, the God of eternity, the God of the multitude of the stars and the forces of the earth Who has taken ages to develop things as they are, does He speak to such a creature as man? “What is man that Thou art mindful of him” amid the magnitude of the universe? It seems incredible that man should be spoken to at all, Much more incredible that Man should be the organ of the revelation, the voice through which the Word is spoken.
If we could imagine the world arrested by an Angel’s message, or by an Archangel’s trump heralding in every land the news that God was going to speak to men, that the Almighty was about to say a word to His creatures, we think what a hush there would have been! a hush of awe and expectancy, an intense searching of the questions of the heart. We should expect the world to stand still to hear what God would say. But in spite of the long preparation of the Old Testament, and the training and disciplining which the world had had to lead it up to the mystery of the manger at Bethlehem, we know what happened: how few there were to worship and adore round the cradle of the Incarnate Lord, how for the most part He was passed by unheeded, uncared for. If men had then been told, This is the Word, the great utterance; this is what God has to say! we can imagine the scorn, the derision, the disappointment. Is this all? All that God has to say to us?
There is needed a long preparation of the heart, much holy fear, an intelligent appreciation and understanding of the methods of God, such as the Old Testament gives us, to enable man to comprehend God’s language when he speaks at last. When we are trying to understand of the methods of God, such as the Old Testament gives us, to enable man to comprehend God’s language when He speaks at last. When we are trying to understand the Word, the help of the interpretation given us by the Old Testament enables us to see what is “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33). O the wonder, the glory, the majesty of the thoughts of God! “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” The mystery “the Angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12) is very easy to pass by as if it were nothing at all. We have to take pains, we have to exercise careful thought if we would understand it, remembering what paths and care God has taken, what a long time He has given to bring home even the simplest elements of His Revelation to men’s hearts. We must be earnest in studying with our heart’s adoration, with the heart more than with the intellect, all that God has said. It is not greatness of quantity or weight of volume that is necessary for us. A few words tell out God’s mightiest revelations, especially the revelation of the Incarnation, and a little can go very far. More honour is done to God’s Word by making much of a little than to impatience to know all at once, or by supposing we want more than is given us. Our knowledge seems very fragmentary, but we shall be led on and on to know more and more, till the circle is complete. “Line upon line; precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:10) is God’s way that we may know more and love more. We see the fruit in the lives and characters of those who read in this humble, thankful spirit, such as the Blessed Virgin, and S. Joseph, and others – some of them rough, rude, simple hearts – whom the Lord met on His way, and called, one here, another there, to follow Him whithersoever He should go. We see in such as these the fruit of making the most of what God has revealed. In this age there is too much impatience to be assured of all, to have every question in Heaven and earth settled. Some there are who scorn what they have because they cannot be fully assured concerning difficult questions, such as the Inspiration of the Bible or the conditions of the life to come. So far from letting our spirits complain of the Silence of God, let us be sure that there is still need of the “Silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour”, that the Voices and Words uttered once for all, may enter our hearts and minds and awake the New Song, which after all, is the old song of Moses and of the Lamb.
THE WORD MADE FLESH
We have considered how much time, and what a dispensation of ages was needed for man to be prepared to recognise the Word of God, to receive it with awe and reverence and holy fear, with trust and joy. Man’s attitude towards God after the Fall was one of aversion, of trying to get away from Him, instead of coming to listen to His voice. But gradually he was led back to say: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth”; and finally his acquiescence in the Divine Will found its highest expression in the words of the Blessed Virgin: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.” Then man is restored to the state where he may hear the voice sounding from Heaven, revealing the name of One Who is the trusted Messenger, Whom prophets had accredited: “This is My beloved Son; hear Him” (Luke 9:35).
Looking at it all from our own standpoint, we know that those who heard Christ speak, heard the voice of the living God. They were face to face with the living God, with Him Who had spoken in Paradise, on Sinai, or through the Prophets. They heard the voice which had come to Isaiah, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” and to which he had answered, “Here am I; send me” (Isa. 6:8).
Consider this amazing fact: that on this very earth where we are there has been the eternal Word, “the Light Which lightest every man that cometh into the world,” “the Life of men,” “by Whom all things were made” (John 1:1-14; 9:15), Who upholdeth “all things by the Word of His Power” (Heb. 1:3), Whose glory “the heavens declare” (Ps. 19:1). Meditate over this fact. See what it means: that we have at last the Word of God spoken to us by Him Who is Very God of Very God, Light of Light.
Yet not all the world was listening. Just a few hearkened and heard. Only a few considered and beheld. From where we stand, we can see that nothing more worthy of attention could have happened. “The Lord is in His Holy Temple” (the Temple of His Humanity); “let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20). But the world at large saw nothing, heard nothing that seems to it worth hearing and seeing. That is the other great fact that you will notice. The world went on its way very much as usual while He was here on earth, not heeding His Presence.
Consider, further, how much training was still needed for man, even for those who listened reverently, affectionately, before they believed as the Apostles learnt to believe. For the most part, they did not recognise Who it was that was speaking to them. For a time “their eyes were holden”. God is so patient, so unwilling to hurry us because He knows we can only go on slowly, step by step. Of ourselves we would rush on, grasp at things, “rush in where Angels fear to tread”, without going through the preparation and training which would enable us to perceive and know the Will of God, and without having made the most of what we know. The very impatience, the eagerness to know all at once, prevents our making the best and most of what we now have and know. God Almighty has revealed all Truth. All Truth hangs together. Knowing but one fragment of the whole gives us a true instinct for learning more, and makes us desire the whole, because we feel that what we have is incomplete. But in this incompleteness of our progress and our knowledge there should not be impatience.
Then see how the same law, which we have seen at work in the Old-Testament days, holds good with regard to the Revelation in Christ. After the Church had heard Him for a while, He was withdrawn, that it might ponder on the revelation it had received. The Blessed Virgin heard marvellous words of God, but apparently very few. Great as the mystery was, close as was her contact with God, very little was said to her. But she “kept all these things” as a religious treasure, “and pondered them in her heart”, and so entered into the blessedness of those of whom our Lord said: “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it.”
You need patience and humility if you would make the most of what God has said to you, not anticipating or forestalling God’s time, not wishing to hurry God Who knows how much you can bear to your soul’s health. After Christ had spoken He was withdrawn, and ever since, through hundreds of years, the Church has been pondering on the Word uttered then in His Life.
Consider what the privilege must have been, to stand face to face with the Incarnate Word, and to hear His sayings. A human being in that position would have absolutely nothing between himself and the very innermost life and light of God. From the very bosom of the Father the Word came forth and spake. “The Son of Man Which is in Heaven” (John 3:13) was he Who spoke to Nicodemus and to the Woman of Samaria. “I that speak unto thee am He: (John 4:26). “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14), the Same to Whom Moses had to draw near with all reverence, because the ground was holy.
Consider what it was for meant o have absolutely nothing between themselves and the Eternal, and Uncreated, How near they were brought! How closely they were taken up into the glory of Heaven, above Angels and Archangels, into the very light at the foot of the Throne. It was impossible to be nearer to Almighty God than was the Woman of Samaria, of whom Christ asked water; who talked to Him and He to her, revealing Himself and His Presence. Her great question – and that, no doubt, was why even in the midst of her sinful life the Lord came so near to her – was: How could she draw near? Where was the right place to worship? (John 4:20). This was her question, asked partly, perhaps, from curiosity, but partly also from the yearning to draw near to God, her only Hope, in the right way. How could she have access to God? And the Lord spoke to her quietly and simply. There was no voice of thunder, no trumpet of the Archangel; there was no retinue or bodyguard of angels. But just there by the well, amid the heat and dust, amid the wants and questions of earth, amid the strife of tongues between Judaea and Samaria, in thirst and hunger, with much that tried the flesh the Lord spoke as one speaks to another. Nevertheless, Heaven and earth were meeting there; God and the sinner were standing face to face. The same voice that had spoken to the fallen man now spoke to the fallen woman. And the woman listened, and was not driven away; trying at first, indeed, to hide her shame, but at last hiding in Christ, finding shelter in the Word of Peace which He had come from Heaven to say to the weary and heavy-laden.
Consider this one scene. What a preparation had been necessary for it! Even the stepping forth of the Eternal Son from the bosom of the Father, the coming down as Son on Man so that there might be nothing between Him and this single soul, with its burden of sin and weariness, with all its heart-questionings, its shrinking and its doubts, yet so won by the voice that she was constrained to listen until she had found her Saviour and the Christ. That is what it means. That is His immense condescension in the sight of all the Angels. And yet how perfectly simple and natural it all was! How apparently accidental in its character!
After converse like this with one and another, the Word was withdrawn into the ineffable Light, and “the days of the Son of Man” in that sense ceased. We now can see how wonderful, how great those days must have been! If only man had known it!
The reason of His withdrawal He gives Himself: “It is expedient for you that I go away” (John 16:7). “It is expedient”, it is better for you.
1. It is better for us, because we need time to ponder at a certain distance, in the quiet of the temple of our own hearts an souls, the words that have been said. God will have His revelations and words valued and made the most of. He does not say so much that we cannot possibly take it in; but we must have time to realise Who had been with us, and what has been said. “The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” So said Jacob, and so it was with the two going to Emmaus, and so again with S. Thomas.
2. It is better for us, because we need the Lord within in order that we may hear the Lord without. We need the Spirit within, that we may be able to receive the Word, since it is the Word of God and not of man. When the Word comes to us, God only can help us to apprehend the voice as His; God only can give us the spiritual sense to distinguish it from all other voices. He had to go away to make possible this meeting of God within us and without, this close union of the Word in our own lives, like that of the Word Incarnate within the Blessed Virgin. Closer than that; for the Lord speaks of a possibility of our being nearer to Him than the Mother of the Lord in the flesh. In order to this union the Word enters, and the light within receives it. There must be the ear to hear, as well as the voice to speak. It was expedient that He should go away, that we might have the privilege of greater nearness, closer contact, than if we had stood where the Woman of Samaria or S. Thomas stood, or if we had been in the Upper Chamber. “It is expedient for you that I go away.” We need “Power from on high” (Luke 24:49) to receive the Word, to unite it with our very self, our innermost life; that it may not merely strike on the outward ear.
3. It was also expedient for us that He should go away in order that he might come to us all in every part o the world and not to a few only, that He might not have to travel about to Samaria, or to Galilee, or to the Upper Chamber, to speak to one and another.
What we have now to apprehend is the reality of the personal intercourse between ourselves and Him as he makes the revelation of Himself a living power to the Church, and to each soul in the Church. We are quite as truly face to face with Him as was the Woman of Samaria; and we are nearer than she was. That is involved in the mystery of our life in the Body of Christ. Each one of you stands out alone, and that Other over against you. But we need the fellowship of God the Holy Ghost to shed perpetual light upon the Word and to bring it home with grace to our hearts as the Word of a living Person.
To apprehend the greatness of our present privilege of converse with the Personal Word, we have to recall all that has gone before when the Word stepped down from the unapproachable light and the excellent glory to be the embodied Word, speaking human words with human lips. For though we meet Him in the Temple of God and in the sanctuary of our heart, the greater part of men and women fail to realise the truth that it is none other than the Eternal Word Who is speaking, even in the homeliest and simplest occasions of daily life.
There are two perils, one or other of which may beset you.
1. You may miss the voice of God when He speaks to you. So many who have heart it, have heard without perceiving that God has really spoken: people have heard in a way, and yet have not heard. They have missed their opportunity. They did not listen and give ear as they might have done. They have not learnt all they were meant to know. God has spoken, and man would not hear, he would not attend, he would not obey. Therefore “the Word that I have spoken, the same shall judge” you “in the last day” (John 12:48).
2. On the other hand, you must be careful not to imagine that God has spoken when He has not spoken. You must be careful not to make up for God a Word He has not uttered. God will help you to make a distinction in the voices you hear. You may be able to recall in your past life terrible instances, when the voice of self-will, of feeling, that was more or less earthly, has been mistaken for the voice of God. There is undoubtedly a certain margin where you may get quite wrong, unless you are restrained by loyalty of will, by the guardianship of the Holy Spirit, by lowliness and reverence, But you are safeguarded by His revelation in the church, and there ought not to be very much room in your life left for mistaking the voice of earth or of the tempter for the voice of God. Where there is a possibility of mistake, remember that no Word of God can be contrary to the Word given in the Scriptures and in the Church; nor can it be out of harmony with the word that has been written and receive by the Church. When there still remains a certain about and obscurity, remember that there in lies your probation. God will surely help you, if there is singleness of purpose and honesty of conscience, and if you go for guidance to the appointed channels. You need in difficulty and doubt to do this. “Lord, what wilt Thu have me to do?” “Go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). So again with Cornelius: “Send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon whose surname is Peter… he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do (Acts 10:5, 6).
The chiefest and surest safeguard is the honest and good heart, which desires to know the Will God, not for speculation nor for controversy, but TO DO IT.
THE CONVERSION OF S. PAUL: THE GREAT DISCOVERY
In our last Meditation we referred in passing to a detail in our Blessed Lord’s Manifestation to S. Paul. We shall now consider more fully the story of that Manifestation, and its fruit.
This appearance of our Blessed Lord was not the impression of a Vision such as S. John so often had afterwards in the Isle of Patmos. It was one in the series of appearances in which our Lord showed Himself alive from the dead. Just as He was seen by S. Mary Magdalene, by the eleven, by the two disciples travelling to Emmaus, by S. Peter, by the five hundred at once, so “last of all” He was seen by S. Paul, alive after His Passion, ascended as well as risen, yet exactly on the same line of experiences. Though S. Paul once spoke of it as a “Vision” (Acts 26:19), we are not to think of it only as a mental perception or impression without a corresponding fact, but as a glorious reality, affecting his whole being and his bodily as well as spiritual senses. For S. Paul is careful to claim the authority of an eye-witness of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1), and in 1 Cor. 15:5-8 he speaks of this vision as one of a series of those in which our Lord was actually see not only as a Spirit but in His Resurrection Body, as One Who had been dead and was alive, though now, indeed, He came from Heaven, whither He had ascended, from the midst of the light which no man can approach, the light that comes from the Throne of God on which He had taken His seat at the Right Hand of the Father.
It was not merely an idea, however truly corresponding to fact, that was presented to S. Paul. It was a meeting with an External Object, with the Great Reality which fills the Unseen World.
At the same time, there was the action of the Holy Spirit on the mind of S. Paul, and without this the Vision would have brought him no blessing nor help. “It pleased God,” he says, “to reveal His Son in me” (Gal 1:15, 16). The apprehension of our Lord as One risen from the dead without the corresponding work of the Holy Spirit within, would be no abiding spiritual help to any one of us. We are apt to think that if only we had unmistakeable evidence, some startling revelation of the unseen world put before us, we should never be indifferent to that world any more. But our Blessed Lord knows our heats only too well when He reminds us that what every heart needs is not only the impression from without, however forcible and strong that impression may be, by submission of spirit, the enlightening influence of the Holy Ghost enabling us to meet the Vision with the will and to enter into the fullness of the blessing which it brings, making the things unseen which we know, or think we know, real and true to us. So we are told of the disciples, that after the Miracle at Cana, though they had believed before, they believed now with a faith which seemed like faith indeed (John 2:11). So it may be, that faith will come to us so living and quick and true, that it will make the faith we have already seem little or nothing in comparison with that which God in His mercy will grant to us.
No one but God the Holy Spirit can make of the unseen world, the unseen Christ, the unfelt Christ, the partially unknown Christ, the great reality, the living Lord and King. Be very careful to honour God the Holy Ghost in all approaches to the Unseen One and in all meditation on the unseen realities which God has prepared for them that love Him.
There must be this correspondence between the outward and the inward. It was not enough that there should be the appearance to S. Paul. It was not enough that there should be sensation, or emotion, or enlarging of his own powers so as to have his imagination made vivid. There had to be the real sight, actual experience, which he was helped to realise by being blind for three days, and through having the scales fall from his eyes (Acts 9:9, 19).
In our own experience we often hardly know, without such direct help as we may expect through the Sacraments, whether certain impressions are the creation of our own mind or whether we have been brought into touch with the world of unseen reality the world which is independent of our feeling and our faith.
There was, then, the unveiling of the Risen Christ to Saul and the grace of the Holy Spirit acting on him, the might and love of God the Holy Ghost Who had already been dealing with him in preventing grace. Saul had been kicking “against the goads”, against the reasons he had for suspecting that he was not so much in the right as he had thought. Now there was the reality without, and the yielding to the grace of God within.
The great point in the Conversion of S. Paul is that for him there was now a great discovery. And it is not impossible for you yourselves now n this quit time in which you come apart from your ordinary occupations, also to make a real discovery.
For S. Paul there was:
1. The discovery that the great fact of the unseen world is a Person; that the animating spirit of creation is a Person Who is Incarnate. The unseen world is a world of marvellous light and life, a great world of persons, of angels and spirits in ordered and marshalled array. But if that unseen world were suddenly opened out before you, the one great Object that would occupy you would be the Vision of our Lord, the form of Jesus of Nazareth. If the veil which hides the unseen world were drawn aside or lifted up, you would scarcely think of anything else, so necessarily would you be occupied with the sight of Christ. You might be conscious of the Angels, aware of the glories, but you could scarcely help being overcome by the great central figure of the unseen world, the Lamb in the midst of the Throne, the Lamb as it had been slain, the Living Lord, the King in His glory and beauty, Christ in His holiness. It was so on the Mount of Transfiguration when the three chosen ones were drawn into the unseen world: “They saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves” (Mark 9:8). There had been Moses and Elias, representatives of the spirits of just men, an innumerable company, but by-and-bye they were face to face with Jesus only. And the great discovery for S. Paul was that for him the unseen world might be summed up in one reality: Jesus. The light shone round about him, the Lord was in the midst of His holy ones as on Mount Sinai. But Saul’s eyes were fixed, as they well might be, n Him Who had been dead, and Whom Saul had thought of as still dad, but Who was alive for evermore. The unseen world had opened out, and he beheld the Lord Christ.
Now people may be to a certain extent religious, without realising that the great Object in religion is a Person, CHRIST THE LORD; that whatever there is in religion of doctrine, or influence, or glory, or word, or Sacrament, all comes from a Person and leads up to a Person; that at the heart of it all is a Person. It may be for some of you a discovery that your religion means a Person, that the unseen world means a Person, that heaven means a Person. And you come here now to have your relations with this Person made more simple, true, real,
2. Next, there was the discovery that this Person had had dealings with him all along; that our Blessed Lord, “Jesus of Nazareth”, of Whom he had made comparatively little account as not being One with Whom he was personally concerned, was not only alive for evermore but was his Master and Lord, overruling every detail of his life.
It is not unusual for people who are religious, not merely in name, but truly and sincerely so, to fin that their religion has been, ore or less, reliance on some doctrine or emotion, something which is true and real so far as it goes, but which comes short of the realisation of a Person. They may hope that their sins are forgiven, that Christ died for them; they may rest on the Atonement, and yet they may not have come face to face with a Person, One Who is really alive and acting behind the scenes of this world, and with Whom they have now to do. They say their prayers, but rather as a good exercise for the soul, almost mechanically, as they would wind up a watch. Their prayer goes out into the great Infinite, the eternal Unseen, but it is not like intercourse with a Person, converse with a living Person. They do not realise that there is One on the other side, Who has waited for the prayers and who receives them. Their prayer is indeed a good spiritual exercise performed with fitting reverence and feeling within the heart, but they have not prayed as if in simple truth it were a correspondence going on with One Who comes forth and Who as Mediator receives the prayers. So when such persons begin to say their prayers to a living Person, it is very often a great discovery for the soul. Even those who believe in the Presence of our Lord at the altar in the great Service of the Holy Eucharist, often have not realised that behind all the service, at the heart of all the mystery, is this Person. It is not for them a personal transaction: the Lord face to face with the soul, holding and making over His gifts to it. They have the gifts, but they do not realise the Person. They have hold of It, not of Him. The gifts are a great reality, but “Him they see not” (Luke 24:24); Him S. Paul met on his journey, and He became the one reality to him all his life after. This was, then, the Being with Whom he had to do, This One Who called him by name: “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4; cf. Ex. 3:4, 1 Sam. 3:10). By that one word and all that was put into it, He made S. Paul realise, as after His Resurrection He had made Mary Magdalene realise, his own actual personal relation to this living Person, Who knew all his life through and through. It brought the whole of is being into the light, though our Lord simply asked the question, “Why persecutes thou Me?” He condescended thus to come down and stand on the same platform, to let him find his own sol. He willed that he should face self. “Why persecutes thou Me?” Why was he as he was? Why had he done what he had done? On what principles had he carried on his life? What had he done with it? Why had he used it in persecuting this One? Where was the reason of it? And so S. Paul was brought to himself, as well as into the Divine Presence. As our Lord looks down on us He sees our whole life, every moment of it, every action and thought and principle of it. He knows the why, the controlling motive, the hidden springs, the chief end and aim of it, the principle on which it is based, whither it is tending, whether it has any guiding light, whether it has any true explanation in the light of the Sun of Righteousness and in the midst of the realities of the unseen world.
Calling Saul by name, He brings him to himself, and shows His perfect, absolute knowledge of Saul’s own being, and of al that made him different from all the world beside. And in times past – Moses, Samuel, Mary – so now Saul stands not in the individual mystery, the separate loneliness of his life. All he did not himself know was perfectly known to this Person Whom he had ignored and despised as having nothing to do with his life. Now he was face to face with Him, in Whom alone could be found the interpretation of the mystery of his own being.
3. Then, too, there was the discovery that all the faults and sins of his life were real wrongs done to a Person. “Why persecutes thou Me?” Why this great passion of your life against Me? Partly from pride, partly from anger, partly from a bad conscience comes all this persecution, directed against this or that one whom you thought so foolish, so disloyal. But these wrongs were done to Me; they hurt Me. I have come not to meet you, I Who have been watching you all along, not in wrath and vengeance, but in everlasting love. You did not know it, but all the while you were acting against Me, hurting Me. His faults were not merely lawlessness, disorder, wilfulness, which did not concern anyone in particular, except the poor people whom he haled to prison, but he really hurt a real Person, Who felt it all, and against Whom, rather than against His feeble disciples, these arrows of hatred and wrath ere in fact hurled.
So it was, as we have seen already, with another soul that made the great discovery: “Against Thee only have I sinned” – badly enough against my neighbour, against Uriah the Hittite, against my people, so that I have caused the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme – and yet, “Against Thee only have I sinned”.
But the Lord desired to win Saul’s heart, and forgave the past, as He ever does, without upbraiding. The soul must indeed recognise what it has done, and against Whom it has sinned. In the case of sin there has not merely been audacity and presumption against high Heaven, but wrong against a Living Person, Who means only what is good, “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). This it was that bowed Saul of Tarsus to the earth’ the discovery of Jesus of Nazareth alive, as Jehovah, Sovereign of the world, with perfect knowledge of his individual life, a living Person with a living heart and sensibility, Who could be wounded and feel the wound as no other heart can feel it, the wound of sin against Himself. Saul had raised his hand, and smitten the face of Christ, and buffeted Him, the Omniscient and All-holy, and so could feel in its fullness with all his heart what he afterwards declared to be “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), sinners who had sinned the sin of ingratitude and unfaithfulness to a Person.
Dwell on this thought of the Person Who occupies the unseen world, Who is in close relation to us, of Whom we are so dimly conscious as a Person, and yet Who all the while is as close to us as He was to S. Paul. Life in the Church places us within reach of a person, and that Person within reach of us. That is the glory of the Church of God; it places us at the feet and under the hand of a living Person, Who is God and man. So truly Son of Mary that He speaks the Hebrew tongue even from Heaven (Acts 26:14); so truly Man that He uses a common Greek proverb (Acts 9:5). It is Jesus of Nazareth Who brings S. Paul at once into correspondence with the love and holiness of God, Whom S. Paul discovered to be the living Person, with Whom He had directly to do, and of Whom Psalmists and Prophets had sung such wonderful things: “The Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.”
THE CONVERSION OF S. PAUL: THE GREAT SURRENDER
The manifestation or our Blessed Lord to S. Paul was one of a series of His appearances as the Risen Lord. It took place after the Great Forty Days, and was a revelation of our Blessed Lord through the opened heavens, in His immortality and glory seated upon the Throne, and in that light which is the Home of His Presence, the light which in the Old Testament is always associated with the Presence of the Revealer.
After his three days of darkness S. Paul went away whither the Providence of God led him, that he might take in the import of the Visio, and of tis disclosure of His Will. He passed into Arabia and Mount Sinai (Gal. 1:17), where the great revelation had been made to Moses and Israel. The manifestation of God may actually last but a little time; a discovery of the Unseen and Divine may come upon the soul like a flash of lightning, but we may nevertheless need days and months and years to make the most of that revelation, and to find out, each one for himself, its full meaning. Quiet times are needed, that we may take in what we know, and in those quiet hours flashes of further discovery are not seldom vouchsafed to the soul. You will find drawn out in S. Paul’s Epistles all that this revelation taught him. His special message and revelation was the Mystery of the Body of Christ, that Mystery being contained in the words, “Why persecutes thou Me?” When you persecute the members of the Church on earth, it is the Body of which I am the Head, the Body which is related to Me as a human body to its head. So S. Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians speaks of that as the great Mystery of the ages (Eph. 3:1-10).
It is one of the chief elements in the faith delivered to us by S. Paul.
Consider, further, the relation to Christ which S. Paul rejoiced to confess and own as henceforth his for ever, the bondservant of Jesus Christ. Christ had taken him captive on the road to Damascus, and thenceforth he was His slave. Though a citizen of no mean city (Acts 21:39), a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Phil. 3:5), yet he rejoiced in being the servant, or slave, of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:1). The word meant so much more to Greek and Roman ears in days when the slave was so absolutely at the disposal of his master. He had bound himself to be the property of Him Who is the Sovereign of the world, to be used at His good pleasure, to be sent to Jerusalem, to Rome, to the ends of the earth.
The great thought here for ourselves is the central fact of the Personality of Christ, as it becomes the revelation of the unseen world, and constitutes now the religion of the Church. The Church is itself the great mystery or Sacrament through which He is brought into touch with us, in which He communicates Himself to us, and makes us members of Himself. In it He shares with us all the treasures of knowledge and glory and beauty hidden in the life of the risen humanity, and conveys that “power of the Resurrection” which we so often need to quicken us when we are cold and dead, and which streams into us within the Body of Christ from Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:20).
One special lesson to which I would direct your attention this morning is that this great disclosure and manifestation to S. Paul, overwhelming as we might think it to be, did not dispense with the need of a correspondence of his will. Such a manifestation, after all, is no stronger in its evidential force and convincing power than what we have of converging proof in the testimony of Jesus, of Apostolic institutions, and in the whole history of the Church of Christ. On the contrary, we have even more of manifold witness and assurance than S. Paul had, and start without that prejudice against the truth in which he was brought up. We sometimes think that if we had had such a visit or manifestation to ourselves of One risen from the dead, we could not help being more like him than we are in obedience and self-surrender, and that we should then be constrained to believe and love with all our hearts. Yet it is significant that our `lord did not appear to “all the people”. If it would have won the world to allegiance, we may be sure that our Lord, Who did not shrink from the Cross, would have condescended to appear to multitudes of men. But even this appearance which we have been considering did not exercise, so far as we know, any abiding influence on those who were journeying with S. Paul. The revelation of God, though no creation of man’s mind, is conditioned by his preparedness to receive and obey.
The three essentials for the revelation of God would seem to be:
1. The unveiling and disclosure of Truth or Reality by one acting from without on the spirit or vision of man.
2. The Power of the Holy Spirit in the heart to make the Truth real to him as the seed of life and grace, so that he may go on from grace to grace, and from glory to glory, as the Spirit reveals Christ in him.
3. Obedience of the will; for the will is left free. Though there may be this tremendous revelation from Heaven, and though an Almighty Being, no less than God Himself, is working within, yet God acts so gently, with such little apparent pressure, always respecting man’s liberty and freedom of choice, that the issue really rests with his own will. No one is compelled. God wills to have a free-will service. The child must freely give herself to be the handmaid of the Lord.
There is, indeed, ne other condition, which we must think of as preceding all the rest in point of time: namely, God’s Election, God’s Choice, in eternity. S. Paul was hosen to be the one to whom this special Revelation should be given, just as you have been chosen out of ten thousand times ten thousand, to whom no Revelation has been given. He had been “separated” from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15), and prepared to receive the Revelation of the Mystery of the Counsel of Eternal Love. But, as with the Blessed Virgin, so with S. Paul, it came to be a question of obedience of will. He was separated, “a chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15). He might have been disobedient. He might have put it aside, or explained it away, as so many do with the mighty evidence and converging testimony to the truth of Christianity. There is nothing in Heaven or earth of which man may t lose the impression, as Israel almost at once lost the effect of the Revelation made at Sinai, and only a few days after began to ask, Where is this Moses? And set to work upon the molten calf (Ex. 32). So, too, the overpowering impression of our Lord’s Life and Miracles faded away from the minds of too many, who had been amazed. It might have happened so with S. Paul, as perhaps it did with his companions in the way. We may remember ourselves how impressions and sensations fade which at onetime seemed as though they would last for ever. Not only does the feeling become dulled, but the reason explains them away, so far as their personal relation to ourselves is concerned, “This,” we say, “is meant for others, but not for me. It held good in a former age, but the influences flowing from the Personality of Jesus Christ have lost power now.” It is possible for everything in the world to be explained away, and for every impression to die out.
There were two questions for S. Paul to answer:
(1) Would he come into the Light?
(2) Would he obey the Voice?
1. Would he enter really into the light? Would he let his life come into the light? Would he face God’s purpose concerning him? Would he take as his standard of truth the new light which had shone upon him? Would be henceforth take Jesus Christ for his light, and see all in the light of that Light? He was led to do so, and came to the Light, even though his deeds were reproved thereby, and he was shown to be in the wrong at the cost of his pride, but not of his character. After all, the great contention and quarrel for almost every soul gathers round the pride of the heart. Is there willingness to let God show us in some way that we may be very much in the wrong, perverse and self-willed, instead of being so entirely right as we supposed? S. Paul had been proud and self-willed, and even when qualms of conscience assailed him, he had recourse to a passion and zeal not according to knowledge. But he yielded to the light when he asked, “Who are Thou, Lord?” Possibly there had been some fear in his sol that the answer would be, “I am Jesus, Whom thou persecutest”. Possibly he had had some presentiment that it must be Jesus. He may have remembered S. Stephen’s face, “as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15); how he had heard him say, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and had listened to his exclamation, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the Right Hand of God”. He may have been prepared for, and yet afraid of the answer to his question, “Who art Thou?” Art Thou really that Jesus of Whom I have thought so meanly, and Whom I have persecuted? But notice that, however afraid of the answer, he did not shrink from honestly asking the question, the answer to which put him entirely in the wrong, and proved his whole life to have been on a false basis. He came to the light, and let his life pass into the very central home of light, where everything was seen, not as he thought it ought to be, but as it is; where he saw his own ideal of religion shattered; where, instead of a King mighty in battle, he had to own Jesus the Crucified, Jesus the Nazarene, the `name he had used with such contempt, at which he must henceforward bow the knee, worshipping Him as Lord. It was a great deal to risk, so far as his pride and self-satisfaction was concerned. A man may be broken all to pieces, and yet hold fast to his pride. When a man of strong will and determined character, with great gifts and considerable knowledge, pride of birth and ancestry, integrity of life and righteousness of conduct, is called upon to surrender his fortress and entrenchment of ride, he may, and often does, fight for it to the last. But S. Paul gave in. The first step was to come to the light and allow himself to be seen by the Lord as he was, to allow the principles at the root of his life to be laid bare.
Would be come to the light? That was settled when he asked the question, “Who art Thou, Lord?” and waited for the answer.
2. Next, would he obey the Voice and Will of God in the present and for the future? That problem he solved in his next question: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” simply placing himself in the hand of Him Whom he now knew as his Master, his Saviour, and his King. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He asked without any reserve, and without making any conditions, or arranging any contract or bargain. He made no condition that he should be only asked to do certain things while allowed to have his own way in other things, but he wholly offered himself for any plan of life the Lord might appoint, only wishing to know what the Will of the Lord was for him. The question showed that he was ready for any venture, for launching out into the deep, if only it was according to the Will of Him Whom he now at last owned as having the right to rule and determine his whole life.
The answer of the Lord was not perhaps what he would have expected: “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” It made him over to others to begin with, put him under human authority, assigned him to human ministry. In one sense it would have been easier to receive directly from Heaven whatever the Lord might have settled for him. It may seem to us that if only a clear voice, with unmistakeable meaning, cam to settle any point, or to determine our general course, then obedience would be comparatively easy. But S. Paul was sent to learn from others. “Go into the city,” into Damascus where you were going already. It was not as if the Lord would stay Himself to teach him, or would at once take him up into Paradise. He was to learn what might be learnt on earth by the aid of his own faculties, and through the ministry and guidance of the Church, and through those whom the Lord had appointed to instruct him. We may learn something from this fact that Christ, when dealing with one soul, often has some servant of His ready, who, though he may not outwardly seem so is the one best able to help that soul. Such an one as Ananias, of whom we have not heard very much, and of whom we do not hear afterwards. He may not have been a great leader of the Church in Damascus; he is called “a certain disciple”. The Lord sets human ministry to work. He does not Himself do all that is necessary to help and illumine and guide souls. He arranges this ministry to bind His Body together, and discipline `his people in humility. It is easy enough comparatively to take some order of Providence from the hand of God, for that does not hurt our pride; we cannot help ourselves. But if it comes through man, pride is often up in arms. We do not know why it should come through a fellow-man – this disagreeable experience, this humbling dispensation, this rebuke, this cold acceptance as a matter of course of what costs us a good deal. In a hundred ways our Lord brings us into submission to Himself through others, tames our pride, lays low our vanity and self-conceit, which are often the greatest hindrance in the way of his light ad live penetrating and subduing the soul. What shall I do? I am ready to do anything, to lay down my life if need be. “Go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.”
This Ananias, though he had probably no remarkable gifts, had spiritual insight into the unseen world. He tells the Lord the difficulty he has in his mind about Saul, who seems to him a very impracticable sort of person to deal with. He had come in pride and pomp to hale men and women to prison. Ananias rather shrank from the task of grappling with such a character. But he does not hesitate when he know his Lord’s Will. “He went his way, and entered into the house” (Acts 9:17). Saul had received some intimation of his coming (see v. 12), and was in the proper posture to receive from others – on his knees, in the attitude of surrender.
This, then, is how our Lord works for and upon us. The question is, are we willing to let the light stream into our hearts, and show us what our real self is, and what God means us to believe and accept I the way of revelation? Next, are we ready to surrender our wills, not only for God’s work, but to do God’s work in God’s way, which is sometimes a peculiar difficulty to the soul which has entered into the light, and thinks itself ready to do anything God pleases? But will that soul do God’s own work in God’s own way, and through God’s own humble means, which do not look great enough for us, any more than the waters of Jordan seemed sufficient for Naaman’s trouble? That which helps us in the conflict with our pride is that the Lord Himself is guiding us, through whatever commonplace means. He Himself has us in hand. “I will shew him.” “I will send thee.” S. Paul did not in the least know what was before him. He might have thought that he would be sent to his own people. He, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, would do anything for them. His devotion to them was so intense that he could wish himself “accursed”, at a distance from Christ, if only they might be brought near (Rom. 9:3). He was patriotic and national to the utmost extent of his nature. But he was sent to the Gentiles, to far-off places, with which he had never dreamed of any connection at all. So the Lord in His wonderful providence arranges our lives. He had it in his mind to send His Apostle, even though a prisoner in chains, to bear witness at Rome. He would show him day by day what to do, what to suffer. It was not the fiery martyrdom of a single hour or day that lay before him. The weeks and months and years would unroll the volume of trouble, humiliation, suffering, all the weariness in store for him, that he might “fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” (Col. 1:24). “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). There is the key to his after life, the secret of its strength and peace. “For My Name’s sake.” He would bear anything and everything for Christ’s dear sake.
The question as not, What would he go through? But, Would he do the particular thing Christ needed? No one can go wrong who makes himself over into Christ’s hands, even though He should say: I will send thee far hence and shew thee what thou must suffer, it maybe bitter tribulation, grievous rebukes and mortifying humiliations. But I will show thee all as thou art able to bear it, and give thee strength day by day. “My Grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
S. PAUL: THE WORKER AND TEACHER
We have noticed in connection with S. Paul’s Conversion, that however powerful may be the manifestation from without and the grace of God within there is needed also the correspondence of the human will. If the good pleasure of God is to be fulfilled in us.
It is also important to remember that the human element in our life is not destroyed, not absorbed by the light that comes from the Divine. If you consider the life of S. Paul, its characteristics and features are disclosed in the book of the Act and in his own writings, you will see how entirely human he is to the end. You might have supposed that he would have lived in a dream, after he “was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4), and after he had received manifold revelations from God. You might imagine that his life would have been more stamped with the supernatural and unearthly, that the natural and human would have been lost in the divine glory into which he had been taken up. Many take it for granted, too, that the Church around him was, on the face of it, much more divine than it is now. It was not less divine than the Church always has been, but some are apt to suppose that it was much easier to live as a Christian then, because of the visible beauty of the Lord God in the midst of His Church, and the glory resting on her from the face of Jesus Christ.
But neither idea is true to the facts. S. Paul was human to the end, a man of like passions with ourselves; and the Churches he founded as Apostle, or watched over as Bishop, were troubled with just as many difficulties and infirmities as the Church o Christ today, though it is true that Christians of that time stand out against the world more as one body (and how much this means) in spite of the dissentions in articular Churches.
I reminded you that S. Paul was made to depend on human ministry in spite of the appearance of the Lord from Heaven. He was sent to Ananias to receive help from him. He had to become a member of the Church by Baptism. “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). He had to receive the Holy Ghost by Baptism, as others have done since. Hands were laid on him, and he was sent to his work (Acts 13:2, 3).
It is quite evident, moreover, that he did not live as if whenever he chose he could work a miracle, or as if a miracle were an easy and ready way out of a difficulty. Where the power of Satan was very strong, where the devil and his angels seemed to have held their own a long while, where the “strong man armed” had kept his good in peace, there in contact with the heathen world, miracles were wrought in accordance with God’s Will (Acts 19:11, 12). But at other times we read of S. Paul as sick, and dependent on the ministry of others, of his friend Epaphroditus being sick nigh unto death (2 Tim, 4: 9-11; Phil. 2:17). It was not as if S. Paul was kept in a state of perpetual consciousness of the supernatural in a way which is not possible for us. The miracles which often accompanied the Apostles’ teaching are not necessary now when we have the great miracle of the survival of the Church, the witness of so many faithful lives and deaths since our Lord’s time, and when there is so much to fulfil the twofold function of miracles: (1) to arrest the attention of the world; (2) to confirm faith in Christ’s `presence in and with the Church. They were given to show that a new thing was in the world, a new creation, the Body of Christ. The attention of the world had to be arrested and the faith of the elect confirmed. The miracles did not produce faith, but they confirmed the faith of some, and fixed the attention of others on the self-witness of the Church long enough to bring about the result of faith and trust. But S. Paul did not go about the world as if a miracle might be wrought by him on every occasion, or at any moment.
You will notice, further, that all he had passed through, and all God had done for him, did not save him from the need of watchfulness, nor from faults and inconsistencies. We read of two great quarrels in which he was concerned. The first, when “Peter was come to Antioch”, and S. Paul “withstood him to the face” (Gal. 2:11-14). It was a quarrel in the face of the Church, and the matter was not hushed up. Now this open public difference of opinion and action was not prevented by any such clear demonstration of the Will of God as a voice from Heaven, saying: “This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21).
Then there was the great quarrel with S. Barnabas, which went so far that it reached a paroxysm (“contention”, Acts 15:37-40), and the two friends parted. The controversy, as you know, arose about S. Mark. He went with Paul and Barnabas to minister to them, probably to see to the more temporal matters of their journey, to look after their luggage, to take their places in the ships and make arrangements for their lodging. He need not have made this engagement, but he did make it, and then broke it (Acts 13:13). The ordinary commonplace difficulties and troubles of the road, as well as the threatening opposition of some communities, were perhaps too much for him; and so he deserted them, left them in the lurch. They had relied on him, but he could not be depended on. S. Paul apparently felt that S. Mark needed a lesson, and put down S. Barnabas’ gentleness towards the young man to a weak partiality for a kinsman (Col. 4:10). So in the face of the whole Church the Apostles parted, quarrelled about an attendant who had left them. This quarrel was perhaps overruled for good. Possibly in consequence of the separation more work was done; S. Mark, too, learnt his lesson. S. Paul afterwards found him “profitable for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11), that is, for waiting on him as a young man on his elder. The trouble all came right again, but there it was, and it shows that perfect sanctity of character is a matter of slow growth even in S. Paul’s case, after all the revelations vouchsafed to him, and that offences and difficulties are caused even by good men. It is often the case that the faults of good people give more trouble than the unreasonableness of wicked man; this last, indeed, is only what we expect: but we might have thought that at all events a Paul, a Barnabas, would work together smoothly, that there would be no difference of opinion, much less a strain of friendship to the point of breaking, an open quarrel. The question is not whether there is a faultless state of things in the present stage of the Kingdom of God, as if faultlessness were the only proof of the Divine, but whether faults are being dealt with in the right way. The way in which a fault is dealt with by the man himself helped by the Spirit of God and by the ministry of the Church, makes all the difference between a S. Mark and a Demas, a David and a Saul: as it does between Zion and Babylon.
Again, we might have supposed that anyone who had been for a while with S. Paul could not fail to be influenced for good by him. But in particular Churches, while some were passionately devoted to him (Gal. 4:15), yet others, as the majority in Corinth, were critical. They found “his bodily presence weak and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). He was not to be compared with Apollos for eloquence, nor with S. Peter for majesty of presence. He did not bear down opposition all at once. He had to argue, to stand on his defence, to plead with tears, to entreat.
Still we might suppose that individuals. When once they were attached to him, would stay with him to the end, and that if only they were brought under his controlling personal influence, there would be no temptation to leave the right way. But it was not so. S. Mark broke his engagement, leaving the Apostles perhaps at some time of strain or stress. The “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12) seems to have made S. Paul in some sense dependent on others. He needed their help. Yet at one crisis of his life, his first defence at Rome, he was alone (2 Tim. 4:16). And S. Paul had his grievous disappointments with individuals. It was not all smooth sailing, even with his friends. He was not accepted as a great saint, and he does not seem to have made the grandeur of his character ad intellect felt everywhere and by everybody. And he seems to have felt depression and loneliness very much at times (see 2 Tim. 4:9-21). He needed human helps and alleviations; he wanted his books and favourite manuscripts; he felt the cold and asked to have his cloak sent. S. Paul remained very human to the end, in spite of his having been the man who was caught up to Paradise, and who wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians. He had to struggle along in the battle of life, with commonplace difficulties, temptations, faults, infirmities. He was not so supernaturally sustained by direct help from Heaven as to remove him altogether from our level. As a matter of fact, too, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was extended and established to a great extent through influences which we should call human. S. Paul, for instance, seems to have influenced in a very special way the sailors and soldiers with whom he was brought in contact. The centurion Julius, who “courteously entreated Paul” (Acts 27:3), doubtless spoke much of him in Rome, and so helped on the founding of the Church there.
It would be interesting also for you to consider S. Paul’s view of the place and work of women in the Church. In the economy of the Kingdom women are allowed a great deal to do in their proper place. The first European convert was a woman, Lydia, a seller of purple (Acts 16:14), probably of some means and position. S. Paul became her guest, lodged I her house. She provided a home for him, and helped him, as a woman of influence would be able to do, through the operation of ordinary human circumstances.
Then we have the remarkable case of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-3). They both helped to instruct Apollos, the great preacher in Corinth (18:24-28), whom many suppose to have been the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Priscilla had a had in instructing this man, so “eloquent” and “mighty in the Scriptures:, who shook and stirred a great part of the European and Asiatic world.
Then we have the four daughters of Philip the Deacon, virgins, dedicated to God’s work, who “prophesied” (or taught) in Caesarea, then a great political centre (Acts 21:9).
S. Paul had strong views of the due relation of woman to man, who is the “image and glory of God”. He would not suffer a woman to teach in the Church (1 Cor. 14:34), but he would be the first to insist that she has her own proper place of right in the Kingdom of God; that she is not admitted on sufferance merely as a creature of man, but for co-operation and as a help-meet, a fellow-worker and fellow-helper, though in subordination. She is not there to have a piece of Church work found for her, to interest and occupy her, but she is to be recognised as divinely intended to have a true real place and ministry in the Kingdom.
S. Paul, moreover does his work for the Church with the help both of the married and of the unmarried, with Aquilla and Priscilla as well as with the four daughters of Philip. He claims dignity both for the married and unmarried state. So far from exalting one at the expense of the other, he lifts up both into the heavenly places in Christ. In the married state he finds the mystery of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). Amongst the unmarried he looks for those who are called to wait on the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7: 32-34).
In the salutations of his Epistles he mentions women as well as men (see Rom. 16:1-15). The first person he commends to the Christians at Rome is “Phoebe, our sister, which is a servant of the Church”.
It is important to see both sides of S. Paul’s view of woman and her work. Her rights are not the same as those of men, but she has her own rights and privileges, and her own great work to do in the foundation and stablishing of the Church of God.
You will see, then, that the conditions of S. Paul’s life were so human that he needed the same ministry and help which are needed in the Church in these days, and in the course of his life he had to use his gifts of cheerfulness and common sense. In the great storm (Acts 27), though the Angel of God stood by him and promised him safety, yet he urged others to employ, and took himself, all practical precautions. Then when they had landed, we find him doing the best thing that could be done for people drenched with rain and shivering with cold. He is helpful and cheery, gathering sticks to make a fire (Acts 28:1-3). It is all so thoroughly human, without strain, simple and natural.
You will notice, too, that it is S. Paul’s way to associate in thought and practical application the human and the divine. Thus woman must have a covering on her head “because of the Angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). “She shall be saved in childbearing” because of the great Childbearing (1 Tim. 2:15), because of Him Who was born of a woman. The little things seem to fall into place and order in harmony with the great realities. The whole earth and life of man is illuminated with the eternal splendour of the Kingdom of God.
The humanness of S. Paul’s life is helpful, as well as its union with the heavenly and supernatural. Because the Divine has come down to take your life up into the City of God, you must not therefore look for constant extraordinary signs of the reality of your having entered the Divine order, and for the natural elements of your human character to be done away with. The touch of the Divine makes man and woman more truly human. The true woman is the daughter of the Great King, the fellow-helper of the King’s Servants in the Kingdom of Truth and Love.
S. PAUL: THE PRISONER OF THE LORD
We have found that the mystery of the Kingdom of God is not merely the manifestation or coming into our midst of the Divine, nor only an elevation of the human to the Divine, but a blending of the Divine and human. You are fellow-workers, therefore, with God, and have Christ in you, “except ye be reprobates” (2 Cor. 13:5), and are made to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6), yet you need all that S. Paul needed, and like him have to go through long discipline and training in the work which God the Holy Spirit carries on within you, as he conforms you to the image of the Son. Through the human, the divine will fulfils its purpose, and carefully perfects all that is according to the mind and order of God in humanity.
So S. Paul lived and worked on, “finding, following, keeping, struggling,” until we see him at the close of the Book of the Acts a prisoner “two whole years”, and still as ready to do anything the Lord appointed for him as when he asked long ago, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” How improbable would it have seemed, when he asked that question, that just when he was most helpful and useful through his experience in the work of teaching and organising, the Lord would say to him: Go to prison, and for five long years be laid aside. We all have to take care, when we make ourselves over to god, that it is to be what God wills and to do God’s Will in God’s way. It was probably not the way S. Paul would have chosen. He was only human in his wisdom. Yet perhaps he did more through his prison life than he could have done in any other way. We scarcely realise that his first imprisonment lasted about five years, including he two ad a half years at Caesarea, about nine months of the tedious voyage, when they “sailed slowly many days” and were “driven up and down,” losing so much time, as we should say, to no end and purpose, ending with the two years in Rome. So God had His own way in making S. Paul a witness for the love and sovereignty of Christ the Lord. Perhaps the Church owes as much to Paul “the prisoner of the Lord” (Eph. 4:1) as to S. Paul the active founder of so many Churches. God uses us under the limitations He arranges in His Providence, even when He puts people aside, and bids them wait, and binds them hand and foot, in order that they may be more useful in the end, and perhaps in their weakness and helplessness may do far better work than in the years of the old activity. The imprisonment of S, Paul was for the furtherance of the Gospel. Consider how much he must have done by conversation with visitors and by dealing with individuals, though he could not preach in any synagogue or public place. One great trial of his imprisonment must have been that he was never alone, but with “a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16), with one end of is chain always on the soldier’s wrist. Sometimes, no doubt, the soldier on this duty would be a friendly man; sometimes, it may be, a rude and rough companion. But all through, S. Paul was the “prisoner of the Lord,” not of Roman power, nor of Jewish envy, but “of the Lord”. He looked through the bars and walls of his prison house to Him Who had once said to another Apostle: “When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). The Lord was that Other. It was the Lord Who had bound him. He was “the prisoner of the Lord”; and meanwhile to individuals be preached the Kingdom of God, and taught the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a large subject, and he treated it largely. The Word of God had free course, and went up to Caesar’s household, and was heard among the Praetorian guard. No one can tell how much work can be done through talking things out with individuals, in that converse which goes on wen they that fear the Lord meet together (Mal. 3:16).
S. Paul’s imprisonment, moreover, was a time of enforced quiet for himself. His life had been one of great activity, of much hurrying to and fro. Now, all that he had received, all that had been revealed to him, would sink into his own heart and soul. In spiritual perception, I suppose, it was a time of great growth to S. Paul. Contrast the early Epistles, those to the Thessalonians, or the Galatians, with the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Epistle of height and depth, treating of the deep mysteries of God. What it is to be a Christian, and baptised into the Church of God, seems to have been newly unfolded to him; not necessarily as a new thing, for it was all contained in that first question, “Why persecutes thou Me?”; but in the first three chapters of that Epistle we feel that he enters, as never before, into the heart of the mystery of Divine Love.
There had been growth in the apprehension of revealed truth, such growth as S. Paul prayed for. Though he had learnt so much in a wonderful way, he felt how much more he needed to know, and how much better he ought to know what he had once learnt. “I count all things but loss… that I may know Him and the Power of His Resurrection” (Phil. 3:8, 10). And so far as we can see, his prayer was answered by his being kept in prison. And so to turn to yourselves, my Sisters, your prayers for humility, love, charity, truer conformity to the Will of God, will be answered, but it may be in unlikely ways, for which you are scarcely prepared. S. Paul came through his trial of imprisonment to be more what God meant him to be. See the Second Epistle to Timothy what a depth of humility there is, and yet of trustful acquiescence and hopeful confidence. In the earlier Epistles he had not lost the fear of being a castaway. But see what he says in 2 Tim. 4:6-8. What an immense gift to the Church are these Epistles written from prison! Humanly speaking, it was because he was a prisoner of the Lord that he was led to write them to the Churches which he could reach in no other way. God has His own way of extending His Kingdom and the knowledge of His Truth, of making us useful after a plan and purpose of His own, and He knows what He will have us to do, and shows each one Himself “what he must suffer”. It is our business to be what He wills, and not merely to do what He wills. S. Paul had asked for something to do, and the Lord gave him something to suffer, and in suffering he did more than he could have done in any other way, as the Master Himself, when fastened to the Cross, did a far greater work than in the days of His active ministry. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” We, too, must trust God, when we are laid aside and obliged to wait, when we are put back, when we are tempted to think that some other step than that which we are told to take would be best, not only for ourselves, but for the glory of God. And let us then remember S. Paul the prisoner, who by his conversation with individuals, and trough his letters, spread far and wide the truth of Jesus Christ.
And now let us try to look behind all that S. Paul did, said, and preached, into his innermost soul; to apprehend the controlling motives of his life. These were –
1. Love based on gratitude, personal love of Christ as the spring of all his life, being, and action. The love of Christ sufficed him as his reward, as it was the constraining motive of his ministry (see 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; Gal. 2:20). There was in S. Paul a real passion of love and gratitude, an inspiration and energy of love. It was not an undisciplined, unintelligent love, but growing with knowledge, yet a very passion of love, an entire self-surrender, an enthusiastic abandonment to Him Who was his Lord and Master everywhere. It is well to remember that his love for Christ was inspired by his apprehension of Christ’s love for him – love undeserved yet individual. The love wherewith He loved the world had fastened itself on S. Paul, had called him by name “in the Hebrew tongue”. It was the love revealed to him then which S. Paul dwelt on, and which created his own love for his Lord. He thought, not so much of his love for Christ, as of Christ’s love for him. He felt as another Apostle said, that “we love Him because He first loved us” (S. John 4:19). He knew indeed that so far from having always loved his Lord, he had even hated Him, and perhaps had often pronounced the name, “Jesus the Nazarene”, with scorn and loathing. But the Saviour of sinners had loved him and sought him, so that S. Paul might well say, “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”.
2. Another motive governing S. Paul’s life was love for the Church, out of love for the Church’s Head and for His dear sake; generous, uncalculating devotion to the Church, “filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for His Body’s sake, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24). Anything we give up for the Church of God is worth the sacrifice. The Church is worth living for and worth dying for, the Body of which Christ is the Head, the Bride He purchased with His own Blood. It was not merely the ideal Church. “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” but the great, suffering, and often erring Church, which he loved, and for which he spent himself, even though the more he loved the less, in some cases, he was loved (2 Cor. 12:15). He had to go on loving, in some cases, with no hope even that his love would be returned.
3. And thirdly, there was his love of individuals, strong and true affection for the men and women to whom he ministered. We see it in the Epistles to Timothy and Philemon. We see it in his remembrance of his people in his prayers. That love was cherished in S. Paul’s heart through intercession. Intercession is not to be measured by the minutes given to it, but by the reality of the prayer offered, by which we place others at the feet of Christ, in union with the Church’s oblation. It is in this that the power of intercession consists. It is extraordinary to see how much thought S. Paul gave to his converts and friends. Over and over again he assures them that he does not cease to pray for them (see Rom. 1:9; 1 Thess. 1:3. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:3). No one can tell how much the world owes to the intercessions of S. Paul, while he was chained night and day to a soldier in prison. How often he was allowed to celebrate the Eucharist we cannot know. He seems to allude to it in his Epistle to Timothy as the great bond between earth and Heaven (1 Tim. 2:1). He asks that intercession and “giving of thanks” (and the Eucharist is the great thanksgiving), may never cease in the Church. Through that he linked himself on to the Master sitting on the Right Hand of God. While the Church of God was fighting the battle of the world outside, S. Paul in prison was lifting up his heart for those for whom he cared, who were so much to him always and everywhere. This care for individuals, shown in presenting them to Christ, was a ruling principle of S. Paul’s life and character, a special energy of his being. Love of his Lord, love of the Church, love of individuals known by name, thought of by name, brought before God by name: here was the inner secret of S. Paul’s life. He knew it was not a love which could be perfectly satisfied here on earth. The crowning of his love would be in the Day of the Lord Jesus in the Presence of the Father (see Phil 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19, 20).
Corresponding with this threefold love, we have the three lines on which S. Paul’s life proceeded, so far as his work for the world was concerned.
1. He was a witness. He stood out as one known to be the servant of Jesus Christ, known to belong to a Master in Heaven, and that Master, Jesus Christ. A witness of His Resurrection and sovereign claim, an Apostle, the servant and slave of Jesus Christ.
2. He handed on the light of life to others, whether through preaching or conversation, quiet communing with individuals or such other opportunities as were afforded him; he spoke of the Kingdom, doctrine, practice, and all else.
3. He brought down blessing from on high through intercession on behalf of his people. That threefold work of S. Paul is open to us all:
1. The witness of consecration to our Lord, making it felt that we belong to One unseen, to Him Who is in His Church, and Who is the Head of the Church.
2. The ministry of teaching, of help, of sympathy. Think how S. Paul’s people went out from him to Rome, to Ephesus, or in some ship of Phoenicia to the Islands of the West, perhaps to Britain. You can never know what lives you may be touching through your ministry.
3. The ministry of intercession. The Church in this land needs the lifting up of your hands on its behalf, and the bearing in your hearts of those who perhaps pray little for themselves. Pray above all, that God’s Holy Spirit may come down on the Church, deepening its life, and making all troubles and difficulties and distractions fulfil the great ministry of furthering His Kingdom. What you may do in this way will only be known in that Day to which S. Paul looked for the crown of all his efforts, “the Day of the appearing of Jesus Christ”, when he would meet his Lord again, and all His saints with Him; the same Jesus, Whom he would remember so well, Whom he had met first on the road to Damascus.
THE VOICE OF GOD TODAY
We have been going back in our thoughts to ages long ago, to the days of Abraham, to the time of the Law and of the Prophets, then to the great days of the Incarnation, “the days of the Son of Man”, and lastly, to our Lord’s revelation of Himself to S. Paul. We come now to our own day and to ourselves.
We know that the voice of the Lord is the voice of One Who is alive for us today, and Who has His own way of speaking to us now. It is wonderful to think this of ourselves, and of what has been an experience for each one of you. In some special hour of your life, as well as in many ways and at divers times, God has called each one of you by name. Without audible speech or language the voice of God has sounded in your heart, has come to each one of you as individually as it did to S. Paul. For our Lord had this time in His mind, as well as the age in which He spoke, and all other ages when He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away.” If He could not personally commune with us, it would have been better for us that He should be in some place which we could have reached, at whatever cost and difficulty, even as the Crusaders sought to reach Jerusalem, at all risk of life and ease. Had this been son, how gladly would we then have given all our living, and have gone on pilgrimage to the most distant shore, to win one word from Him, one whisper in our ear, one look, one tone, one accent, to last us all our life. We feel we should never have forgotten that one word; it would always have made music in our soul. We should have kept some link or association with it for recalling it to our mind; for keeping it ever sounding in our ears, even as a shell in some sense recalls the murmur of the ocean, so we would have had it be with the voice which is “as the sound of many waters”. If only one note of the great melody had come to our ears – just one in our whole life – we think we should always have cherished the impression once made; we should have dwelt on it constantly, and on the way in which it reached us. Yet not once or twice only, but every year, every day of our life, Christ has really had communication with us. We know that a message from Himself really comes to us, in the voices of nature, in the providence of our lives, in the history of the world. And more directly within the Kingdom of Grace, in His own Temple, from above the Mercy-Seat, and in the Holy of Holies, His word comes to us “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword”.
But how can we distinguish the voice of the Lord? How can we be sure that He speaks to the world and to us? Ultimately, I believe the assurance rests on the same ground as the assurance that anyone else has spoken, or that anything else has taken place which we believe to have really happened. There is a sense by which we can recognise the voice of God, if we are true in trying to do His Will. There is something in the voice of God, in `his Word, “the Testimony of Jesus”, making us feel that there is a difference between this and all other voices. As we can distinguish the harmonies of earth, so we learn to know the voice of God, if only the heart be true. The sad thing in that man has grown dull of hearing, and lost the power of distinguishing the Divine Voice. For many, the history of Jesus is nothing more than an ordinary story of the past, a tale that is ended. Around us are many brethren for whom there seems nothing but a great silence, the awful silence of Heaven. For them no voice of God has ever broken the silent immensity that surrounds the world. Or else, perhaps, there seems to be for some only a sound as of the roaring of great billows, of the tempests and storms of nature, thunderings and lightnings of blind forces, deepening the vague impression that there is nothing else, that there is no one really to speak, or that if there be indeed someone behind it all, He has not spoken. But if the voice comes to you after the preparation and discipline which God gives, and then you read some chapter of S. John, some word of Isaiah, or go through all the records taken together from the beginning to the end, you know that this is the sounding of the voice of God, that these are the true sayings of God. You cannot but feel some response within your soul, that soul which was made in the image of God, and which has a power of recognising God, derived it may be fro, the far-off springs of life in Paradise, making you feel sure that there is a God, and that He has spoken even in this world. He comes to His own, and they feel that it is He. “Never man spake like this Man”: here is the utterance of very God.
This assurance of the voice of God is not, of course, altogether dependent on your individual consciousness. You are born into the consciousness of the Kingdom, into the great life which God the Holy Ghost has poured into us. We “have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). And “the Spirit bearest witness” to the voice that God has allowed to come to us (Rom. 8:16); it is no other than the voice of God.
Still, sometimes there are difficulties. And then we have to be careful that we do not mistake other voices for the voice of God. Let us remember that the voice, if of God, must be in harmony with His own voice once clearly uttered in Revelation, in the Church, in His Word, and also with what He has written in the law and constitution of nature; it cannot be inconsistent with its own proclamation to our conscience, or do violence to what we call the natural virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, Justice, or with the Words from Heaven of which our Lord has said: “One jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). And the voice of God cannot be contrary to the testimony of the Spirit and the Bride, nor to the Words which our Lord Himself has uttered. If you are doubtful as to any practical matter, and it is not your plain duty to do what you honestly feel you are moved to do, even by the voice Divine, then you may be safer in not doing it at once, in waiting a while, in waiting as Samuel waited, not being at first quite sure, until the voice came for the third time.
But if you think how the voice once came to you in your early days of childhood, or in the years of girlhood, or as woman’s life began; if you think of those voices all leading up to the voice that has called you to come apart and belong to the Lord in the special life of dedication which He has appointed for you and others, and to which He called some in His own days on earth with His own natural human voice, you will feel that though there is a margin of uncertainty necessary for probation, something left for liberty of love, and faith, and generosity, yet in spite of doubts, you thank God that you listened, obeyed, followed. It may have come to you as it came to Isaiah, as a voice of appeal to the whole Church: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isa. 6:8). That seems quite general. It is left to the individual to reply: “Here am I, send me.” It is left to each one, when he as heard it, to ask himself: Why should I not be the one to offer? Why should I not take it upon myself to give myself? You hear the voice of the Lord from above the Cherubim, amid the voices of Heaven and the silences of Heaven: “Who will go for Us?” The whole world is full of voices of appeal. When we read what our Blessed Lord says about His disciples, the question is rather, not, Why should `I go? But, Why should I not go? Then may come our Lord’s command to “forsake all”, and “follow” Him. Except men do so, they “cannot be” His disciples. Each must understand that saying for himself. But the natural, primary meaning (mind, I say primary meaning) seems to be literally to give up all and follow Him (see Luke 14:25-33). And this, not as if you were doing something strange, extraordinary, exceptional, but just what is natural to do. If Christ has thus appealed to you, you need not disturb yourselves for having listened and obeyed. Disquietude is for those who have heard the voice, and who have not obeyed; who have not said, when called, “Here am I, send me”; who have not taken up the cross and followed Him. We have rather to ask: Why should I stay away? What is there to keep me back from following? There can be no doubt of the appeal of God to us in the Church and in the world. He has stood in our midst and said: Who will gather round Me? Who will follow Me to supply the great need of humanity, the cry that comes up from the weary world, the wants of the Church, My Body? “Who will go for Us?”
In he matter of vocation, you know how I would impress on you, as I have already done again and again, the need of great care and caution. Yet I think that one reason why so few give themselves to the Ministry, or in any way to the dedicated life, is because they insist too much on having a very clear and unmistakeable vocation to begin with. There seems a danger of forgetting that vocation may be a much more general thing than we suppose. We must rather give a good reason why we should not respond to the appeal God makes to all. Why do I decline? What good reason is there why I should not give myself? It is quite possible there may be a good and a right reason, which will be made clear by God’s good Providence; but the first question to ask is not. Why should I think of giving myself? But, What reasonable ground have I for not giving myself?
There was the general invitation to all the weary and heavy-laden: “Come unto Me… take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.” But when He came across a soul honest, and good, and true, then for the most part, I do not say always, but for the most part, there came also the call, “Follow Me”, without any intimation that it was at all a strange or extraordinary thing He was asking man or woman to do. “Follow Me.” That is the appeal He most often makes. There may be good reason why we should not leave all to follow Him. He may show a better way for us. His word for us may be: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee” (Mark 5:18). But if those who have once given themselves in this way and followed Him should want to leave Him, He does seem to feel it as a real pain. “Will ye also go away?” Will you not bear it, even though it is “a hard saying”? Will you not put up with it patiently, till you see the meaning of it? It is true we are of unclean lips; we dwell among a people of unclean lips; we are unworthy in the very innermost depths of our being. Yet the appeal of the Lord of Hosts sounds forth from above the Cherubim, and amid the songs of Heaven: “Whom shall I send? And who we will go for Us?” And when that appeal reaches us, when “the Spirit and the Bride say, Come,” who that has any sense of the Divine, or any sympathy for the world, can help at least facing the question: Why should I not say, “Here am I”? Send me to this people. Or make me worthy to take my part even here on earth amongst those whose work is prayer and adoration, and so help to maintain the worship of God, and the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy.
You, my daughters, have heard that voice. It is really come to you. You need not doubt, though some of you have yet to consider very carefully what it is that God means you to do. The voice is a living voice, coming not once for all, but every day. “Today if you will hear His voice.” For each one there is a voice that is meant for herself and for no one else. It may be a voice of remonstrance, or a voice of forgiveness. It may say, “Peace be unto you,” or it may say, “I have a few things against thee, I that thou hast left thy first love”. Or it may be a voice of promise: He that keepeth his garments “shall walk with Me in white”; for he “is worthy”… “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of My God”. Blended with the voice of the Spirit and the Bride is the voice of Christ Himself, That voice has spoken to each one of you. If you had listened more attentively from the first, you would be more alive to it now. You mourn your dullness, which, even when the voice is sounding, makes it seem more like a dream or echo than the voice of the living One. You are puzzled how to make sure that it is not the voice of your own heart. But God does not deceive or trifle with us. He does not deceive us in Nature or in Providence, if with an honest heart we desire to be led by Him. We cannot understand His Word all at once. We must take it, and keep it, and ponder it in our hearts. Surely we have had enough to make us respond in the very spirit of the Magnificat. Our perplexity is not because He has not said enough, but because we have not thought enough of what He has said, and have not taken His Word into the sanctuary of our hearts. The voice of God does not come to delude or to upbraid, though it may be to chasten and rebuke, to show what is wrong, what ought to be better what must be put away, how we can serve Him better. But it is a voice to cheer and comfort you, as the voice of Him Who is more than glad to say, as He said of old, “Daughter, be of good cheer. Go in peace.”
THE SILENCE OF GOD TODAY
I have tried to bring to your minds the times and occasions when the voice of God has sounded from Heaven, and has been heard by man. And I have reminded you that the voice of our Blessed Lord, as Son of Man, is still heard by the spiritual ear, by the Church, and by the individual members of His body. It still come sand speaks to the world, which is in some sense obliged to hear His voice. “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” If we hear, we live.
But it is not only the voice of God to which I have referred you. We have spoken also of the silence of God. I remember seeing as the title of a book of sermons, “The voices and silences of God”. The title is a very suggestive one. The voices ad silences of God. The silence of God is as eloquent as the voice of God. The voice of God was heard in the Passion. The Seven Words from the Cross were great words, short though they were. They did not take a long time to say. Yet we know how the conscience and heart of the Church had drawn out volumes from those Seven Words. The Passion was not wrought out in such silence as the other mysteries of redemption. The Passion and Crucifixion were very much more in public than the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. The voice of the Lord was heard during the Passion. And it was sometimes a loud voice. As when He “cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost”; or again, when He “cried with a loud voice, saying, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” That gives you an instance and illustration of how the voice comes, and then there follows a time of silence, in which to dwell on what has been said, and to make the most of it. Many of the fathers speak of the great mysteries which are wrought in the silence of God, as, for instance, the Incarnation. They suggest that the devil, the enemy of mankind, was not aware of these mighty works being wrought because of the great silence. Great things go on in the silence of God, especially after a word has been spoken. Of all Christ’s early words, we know just the one or two uttered “when Jesus began to be about twelve years of age”. Then follow eighteen years of the silence of God. Then the three short years of the ministry ending with the Passion. Then comes the Resurrection, wrought in silence, and then the Ascension, so quietly carried out so far as this world was concerned. There was not, indeed, silence in Heaven. The angels gathered round to welcome Him Who had fought the good fight, the Lord mighty in battle, the King of Glory. But the world was not told about that. God “kept silence”.
From time to time in your life it seems to you that you hear the voice of God. Your soul is full of it. It sounds persistently, and like the voice of a trumpet. It seems to fill your heart, to swell in your soul. Your whole life seems full of God. Everything speaks of God. Everything has a special message. There is a conscious and realised fellowship with God, as if there had come again that reverent intercourse of which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had now and then a foretaste. Then perhaps comes silence, long intervals of silence, in which you are left to test and prove the reality of the voice that has come to you, of the appeal to which you have listened, of the instructions given by God to your heart and soul. This time of silence is a time of growth, in which the mysteries of God are wrought out, a time for receiving the highest and most quickening influences of God. You need during such a time the spirit of holy expectation and holy patience – above all patience. “My soul, wait thou still upon God.” In the spiritual trial which the silence may bring, “Wait thou still upon God”. In the silent time you must take home the promise: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” We are too apt to suppose that God must be always speaking, always manifesting Himself, as it were, or else we must needs be put to disadvantage in the world; and things will go wrong with us, while God seems to take no notice, utters no message. He keeps silence, and we in our weakness think of Him as if He were one of ourselves.
Silence, then, is a time for pondering, for keeping things in the heart. It is also a time for God’s making good the promise, the great, characteristic promise of the Gospels, that Word which is a difficult Word, a “hard saying”, and yet is repeated over and over again: “Unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have in abundance; but for him that hath not (does not value, does not make the most of what is given), shall betaken away even that which he seemeth to have”. In the times of silence we have to make our own, a part of our very self and being, what has been given. The Word has to become the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. The voice of the Son of God has to be so heard that they who hear may live.
THE DAILY INTERCOURSE
It is only just a few words more that `I have now to add to the things I have tried to put before you, by way of preparation for once more adoring the goodness of God and the mystery of the Incarnation.
We have seen the wonder and marvel and glory of the great historical fact which we commemorate at Christmastide; the fact that is lasting on in Heaven, our Lord in His Human Nature being the Utterance of God, His Word. If you had lived before the Incarnation, you would have been told by the Prophets of Israel that in some way, at some time, God was going to speak a Word to the world (Heb. 1:1, 2). You might have heard the Angels as the shepherds did. You might have been brought to Bethlehem, led to the manger, and there looked upon the Christ. The Angels might have told you: This is the Word God speaks to the world. This is His Utterance, final and complete. To be completed, indeed, but in itself complete, for God can say no more than He says here. When all that is involved in the Incarnation is developed, when the Passion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the Intercession, have been wrought out, even God Himself can say no more; because here is the Word made Flesh, the express Image of God.
We saw how, after an Utterance of God, there is an interval of silence, during which we are to take in the meaning, learn the value of the Word; see the strangeness of God’s visitation, of His coming to us, speaking to us.
And now you have heard the voice of God in the appeal He has made. It has sounded in your ears in some form or other, and has led you to be what you are and where you are today. It is not the discovery of anything extraordinary in yourself, or in the circumstances of your life, that is required to give you a vocation for the life of special dedication to your Lord. It is more simple and true to say that it is the natural thing to be all for God and only His, unless I see clearly that God means me to be something else, You need not cast about for reasons or signs, but consider yourself as having obeyed a summons. It is more simple, more trustful to think thus; you re less likely to be disturbed; there is less danger of your falling into spiritual pride, as if you had to profess some extraordinary spiritual experience, setting you apart from the rest of the world. After all, it is the natural thing, though as things are at present it is only meant for a few. It is natural for the Bride of Christ thus to surrender herself to be His own, Who has in infinite condescension unveiled His glory and His beauty to her eyes.
And now you are called to a daily intercourse:
1. There must be daily meditation on what God has said in the past during this comparatively silent time.
2. You will listen to His voice day by day. In the Word of God you have fellowship and intercourse with a personal Christ. He makes the Word He has once spoken a living thing. He quickens His Word so as to be for you His voice today; He puts a new Song in your mouth, which is yet the old one, the Song ancient as Moses, yet the new Song of the Lamb Which is in the midst of the Throne. But all this would be without life if He were not there, the living Christ behind, and with His Word and precept for you.
3. Day by day Christ speaks to you as truly as He did to the woman of Samaria, or to Mary of Bethany. But He wants each one of you also to be a voice sounding out for Him, a voice through which His voice may be heard. When the Jews asked S. John the Baptist: “Who art thou? What sayest thou of thyself?” he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” You may be voices for our Lord, heralding the approach of Christ; voices through which the Spirit and the Bride may say, Come. The voice is to be uttered through your life, instinct and penetrated with the life of Christ. You are refreshed and quickened from that Word. Your daily recitation of the 119th Psalm reminds you of this. “O Lord, what love have I unto Thy law; all the day long is my study in it… In Thy law is my delight… I see that all things come to an end; but Thy Commandment is exceeding broad… My soul hath longed for Thy salvation; and I have a good hope because of Thy Word… O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat; yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth.” That word renews and quickens you day by day, so that in your life you may be a voice for Christ, as S. John the Baptist was. Through you He gives the invitation to the world and the promise too. “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.” You are a part of the Bride that your life may say, Come, in its manifestation, even if no actual, articulate word is uttered.
How is Christ to be heard in the world except through the Spirit and the Bride? You may not be a “voice crying in the wilderness”, but you are a voice sounding from the very heart of the Bride, and the Spirit is the breath through which the sound is uttered. You may have much greater power than you imagine possible, if through you the voice of the Lord truly sounds out. It is always “a glorious voice”. It is the voice that moved the Prophets. “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send?”… “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.”
Let that voice be heard through you, in your life, your “joy in the Lord”; through the gentleness, truth and purity of your life.
4. As the last thought for you to dwell on, remember that each one of you will one day hear the voice of the Bridegroom. The voices of His Messengers, crying, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him,” are only a prelude to the voice of the Bridegroom himself. Each one of you will actually hear His voice, not through any instrument or channel, organ or ministry, sounding in your ears, but from Himself. Come, My daughter, even now. Well done, true and faithful heart! “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” The very voice that S. Thomas heard, that Mary heard, the voice that was heard in the unseen world of Lazarus, and the daughter of Jairus, and the young man of Nain – in some way or other you will hear and know that it is the voice of Jesus and not any other, the voice of Him Who is the Bridegroom of your soul. And I pray God you may each one hear it with joy, as the Bride hears the voice of the Bridegroom.
Let this thought be your comfort and stay in all trial; that you will one day really hear the actual voice of the Lord. It will even then carry you back to the voices heard here in His Presence and Sanctuary; to the voice which came to you in remonstrance, in your hours of carelessness and wilfulness; to the voice which just struck on your ear for a moment, and was forgotten; to the voice which continued to sound in your ears, till at last you listened, and obeyed, and gave your life to Him; to the voice by which He has guided you, helped you, rebuked you, comforted you; to the voice which will at last summon you away, as He opens for you the door of entrance into Paradise; to the voice of sacred intercourse continued there, till you hear its sound in all its grandeur and glory, yet with a special tone ad note for each one of you, as there was for Mary Magdalene when she stood in the garden weeping. It was the voice which led her to recognition and glad confession.
And remember, the voice that you will hear will only be the beginning of that converse and intercourse lasting through all the ages of His love, when there will no longer be any fear of misunderstanding or disobeying it, or of dying down before the terror of it. But it will sound clear, and strong, and musical through all the coming ages, when you will be with Christ, and Christ with you; when the Marriage of the Lamb will be something to look back upon, and yet will be going on for ever in your union with Him. That voice is so strong and yet so gentle; very tender, and yet such that you dare not do otherwise than as Elijah did, when hearing it, amid the mountains and strong foundations of the earth, he wrapped his face in his mantle, to listen to “the still small voice”, yet the all-subduing, all-conquering voice of the Lord God Almighty.
The end of all will be the endless intercourse with your Lord in the endless union of undivided life. God grant that the little intervals of quite you have, the silent times of waiting upon your Lord, may prepare you for that exceeding and unspeakable joy.
Meanwhile, so open your hearts to listen for the special message He has for you this Christmastide, that it may not be lost, nut made the most of; that it may give you power, and strength, and cheer, and comfort, for, possible, some trying time of silence, some days of doubt and difficulty, when you have to force yourself to remember that God has spoken, and that you have heard; that God does not deceive us; that you are willing to bear anything rather than be separated from Him. Let this time of Retreat renew the love of heart with which you gave yourself to Him that day when you listened to the voice which spoke to you in some such words as these: “Hearken, O daughter, and consider; forget also thine own people and they father’s house; so shall the King have pleasure in thy beauty; for He is thy Lord God, and worship thou Him” (Palm 45:10, 11).
I trust and believe that this quiet time has brought to you more knowledge of the love and grace and majesty of Him with Whom you have to do, and a more simple spirit of wonder at His amazing grace and condescension in visiting you, and choosing you. You will be less inclined to take as a matter of course all that you inherit in the Kingdom. You will be more thankful for having been brought to know Him, not merely as the shepherds knew, who visited the Babe in the manger, worshipping before Him as the God of their fathers, the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord of hosts, but as having access now to Him Who is in the very midst of the Throne. Even the days of the Son of Man on earth were a preparation for the greater glory into which we are to enter. Though He was then visible revealed in His Incarnation, He had not come to the end of the mystery of His love, the height of His purpose of exceeding glory. He had still to die and rise again, and ascend to the Right Hand of the Father, to give us that Spirit through Whom we learn to know the Unseen, Who reveals “the good things God has prepared for them that love Him”. You have a far greater measure of privilege than was given even to the shepherds or the wise men, or to any of those who came near to our Lord and touched Him before He died and rose again.
You will remember that the one great blessing which you owe to Him is the knowledge of the Father and access to the Father. Our Lord’s mission on earth was to reveal the Father, and to enable us to have fellowship with Him. It was the Son for the most part to Whom the Saints of the Old Covenant came. They had access to His Tabernacle, and to the Presence of the Son as the God of Israel, Who had been made known to them as “the Lord God Almighty”, “Jehovah”, “I am that I am”. Now in this Dispensation we draw near to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as in Holy Communion. The whole service of the Holy Eucharist is a great sacrificial Memorial before the Father. We must be careful not in such wise to worship the Son as to withdraw our homage and love from the Father. In the power of the Holy Spirit we come before the Father in, and through, and by, and with the Son. This is a truth and a reality which it rests with you to keep and maintain through the spirit of insight.
And do not forget in all failures, through all discipline, amid all coldness of heart, that He on His side will deal with you as He dealt with those whom He had much to teach, and who had much to learn from Him, in long waiting and through manifold manifestations. “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him… If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:21, 23). Christ is the Revealer of God. He will first manifest Himself, and then all the grace and power of the Blessed Trinity will follow. “We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.”
All we can ask on your behalf is that you may be able “to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” of full comprehension, but which may grow “from more to more”: that the Holy Ghost may be graciously pleased to manifest it all as a reality for you, a reality the power of which will suffice for eternity.
All this has been said that you may have fellowship like that of the Apostles: “and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Once more we commit you to the blessing and the loving charge of God the Holy ghost, Who is able, first to help you to see what you have, and then to shed abroad the love of God in your hearts, that the light may bot consume and judge you, but may be to you indeed the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, and shine with healing in your heart and spirit more and more unto the perfect Day.