IT is not a true distinction to differentiate between Jesus of Nazareth, the man of history who figured in His generation similarly to Julius Caesar or Shakespeare, and the Christ of the ages who startled Paul into flaming belief, and whom the exiled theologian, John, saw walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks. You might as well call a man a personality wholly apart from the boy he was and who is still part of him. But it is a mistake, a mistake fruitful of grave results, to fix exclusive attention on the Jesus of the Gospels. It is an aspect of 1 resting in a part as though it were the whole.
There is also a converse error, that of giving oneself up to a contemplation of the Christ of faith and experience to a degree that eventuates in the wildest vagaries of pseudo-mysticism, or claims as development that which has as little affinity to the Gospel seed as a head of wheat has to an acorn. There is perfect unity in all God's operations in time. He has never changed His mind, He has never made a false move, He has never had to retrace His steps. His self-manifestation in pre-Christian days, in the times of Jesus of Nazareth and in all subsequent centuries has been consistent throughout in substance and method. It is all part of a great whole, its only variation being one of degree. He is more to-day than He was yesterday not because He has added to Himself or His efforts but because we have added to the energy and reality of our faith, which is co-operative acceptance of God. Not only does God not contradict Himself but He also does not repeat Himself. The old is ever becoming new under His touch either by coming to fresh maturity or else by transfiguration.
I would make here a passionate plea for a whole Bible, Apocrypha and all. More than that, a Bible which is but the beginning of a Christian library, Divine and human, and which will rest not on a lonely table as a thing apart, but which will rub covers with Dante and Bacon and the sages of the Orient, and be the richer and the more masterful because of its company on a crowded shelf. The Bible, in one sense, is a new starting-point for literature. Its last book launches us out into unlived centuries, just as the Old Testament carries us into past and representative history. The Bible is a prelude, not a conclusion. Its last words are against incompleteness and in defence of wholeness. The context of the Bible is the immortal literature of the ages, past, present and future. The context of Jesus of Nazareth is the God of old times, He of the hoary locks, the Ancient of Days, and the God of now, the Son of Man with eyes as a flame of fire, the Spirit of God and of Christ who animates the Church. God is the same yesterday, to-day and forever, whether we view Him as Javeh or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit or the Triune.
In dealing with the Bible we must remember about revelation that it was not given to a book but to men. The book that contains the record of it is very sacred, but it is, after all, but a book. It can leap into life only when it is poured through man. The Bible without a Divine Society to guard and interpret and vivify it is not necessarily an open or life-giving book.
The Book of Revelation begins exactly as a logically-minded man would expect it to begin from a knowledge of Gospel history. Where the biography of an ordinary man closes or retreats into the unexplored shadows, that of Jesus breaks out afresh. "It is after the Saviour's death that men are mostly saved"--this not by reverting to what He has done but by what He continues to do on the basis of what He has done. A Saviour's march is ever onward, impeded by death as little as by life. The Cross of Calvary saves, yes, but only so far as it is identified with that eternal Cross which is the groundwork of the character of God, that self-giving, that self-identification of God with man, which flows as continually from the heart of God as the spring from a perennial source. Salvation cannot be mechanical, for God is not a machine dealing with machines. He is the source of personality dealing with persons. Salvation may begin with a touch, but it must continue in a relationship where there is a perpetual and mutual flow of confidences, from the Saviour to the saved, and from the saved to the Saviour.
John, the Seer, introduces us to the Christ beyond the veil. There He is, unchanged except for the glory of His cumulative experience! The manhood is there, transfigured as manhood must be transfigured that has victoriously passed through crises like death and resurrection and ascension. He is doing what we would expect Him to be doing. He is moving about among men, commending and nurturing what is good in them, condemning and scorning what is evil, and making the heavens echo with marvellous promises to those who overcome. The mind travels back through the centuries to the God of the Psalmist who is gracious and full of compassion, or to the God of Isaiah who promised to those who would put away their evil doings that though their sins were as scarlet, they should be as white as snow; though they were red like crimson, they should be as wool, or to God the Law Giver who proclaimed penalties for transgression in the same breath with rewards for obedience.
It is an easy and natural journey from the complete understanding by the Figure of Revelation of the character and conduct of the Seven Churches to the complete understanding of the Nazarene who read men as an open book, for He knew all men, and needed not that any one should bear witness concerning man; for He Himself knew what was in man. Repeatedly He connects Himself with His past--He claims to be the first and the last, which was dead and is alive for evermore, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.
In the first four chapters of the Book of Revelation is the figure of one like unto a Son of Man, and His messages hold our attention. Then with the door opened in heaven Christological thought mounts into pure theology. No more do we see the commanding presence of Christ in glory. Instead there is a throne set in heaven, and One sitting upon the throne. We are ushered into the audience chamber of God Himself. In the midst of the throne and of animated and of intelligent nature there is a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. With the Lamb and with Him alone rests the ability and the right to open the Book of Life and reveal its contents and meaning. The Seer, fearful that there was no one worthy the task, was told that one there was of leonine strength and courage and of royal lineage, who could open the book and break the seals. He looked for this superb being, and lo! it was a Lamb with the marks of past death, violent death, upon it.
The transition is instantaneous and illuminating. It is one of those fine paradoxes with which the lips of Christ were familiar--eternal gain by temporal loss, life by way of death, acquisition by meekness. The Lion of Judah was there in the Lamb. How? Because the Almightiness of God is as much in His meekness and lowliness as in the irresistible force by which He spins the world and upholds the universe.
There is a measure of magnificence in the words of one of the Church's prayers which is brought out only when they are illumined by the Lion that is a Lamb--O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly, supremely [maxime] in showing mercy and pity [parcendo et miserando]. In the presence of the Lion which is a Lamb we can venture on the passionate petition that clamours for a multiplication, a deluge, a superabundance, of mercy [multiplica super nos misericordiam tuam]. [Collect for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.]
God's mercy is not a condescension or a momentary sweeping aside of austerity. It is the towering [maxima] disposition of a Father toward His children. It is fellow-feeling and gentleness. That which is severe is painted in upon, and finds its interpretation in, that which seemingly contradicts severity but which actually changes it from cruelty into beneficence.
God's meekness and gentleness and lowliness did not begin upon earth as new or as temporary attributes. They were simply manifested then by and in Jesus Christ under human conditions. God is meek and gentle and lowly yesterday, to-day, and for ever in heaven and on earth. Love has stern qualities, as we shall come to consider later, but they are all, as I have just intimated, subsidiary to the gentle qualities. It is full of significance that the human form in St. John's apocalyptic portrait of God on His throne does not appear. In its stead is the Lamb, that is the essential, dominating feature of the person and teaching of our lowly Saviour, who was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself and opened not His mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, He opened not His mouth.
It will astonish the reader of the Book of the Revelation, who has not studied the place of the Lamb in its mysterious chapters, to discover how constant and high a position this symbol holds. The praise of heaven and earth is directed to the Lamb that hath been slain; it is the Lamb that alone understands life; around the Lamb the redeemed gather as the saved about their Saviour; the wrath of heaven is the wrath of the Lamb; the holy city coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, is the bride, the wife of the Lamb; the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of heaven; the glory of God lightens the celestial city, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. It would be a natural question to ask why, instead of the Lamb, the Son of Man should not appear? The answer is that the Lamb is the Son of Man in His supreme character, of meek, gentle, forgiving, sacrificial love wherein consists His leonine, His regal strength.
So the meekness and forbearance and lowliness of the God of the Old Testament repeat themselves in Jesus of Nazareth and still again proclaim their age-long sovereignty on the Throne of God and of the Lamb, as the seer leads us to the door open in heaven and bids us look through. It is not only the Lamb as though it had been slain upon which our gaze is fixed, not merely the Christ of Calvary, but also the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the God whose eternal character is self-sacrificial, self-donative, in the form of the Cross.
The Book of the Revelation might be accurately described as being a study of life in terms of the whole. No element that belongs to life is missing, no force that strives and threatens to overthrow it is overlooked, no tie that binds together the myriad parts of the unity of God's perfect plan is neglected. And all the while the self-giving character of Deity is forced on our attention by the Lamb. Though we recognize that we are moving in the realm of symbolism, it is startling to find as the conspicuous feature in the Godhead a lamb, a member of the brute creation, rather than a man, a member of the human family. The explanation, of course, is found in the ancient scheme of Jewish sacrifice. In the Old Testament the lamb is offered by the hands of others. That was the shadow of the reality. But the Lamb of God that beareth the sin of the world, when He was offered was both priest and victim.
I am jealous for the word sacrifice. Its Old Testament significance is ordinarily too prominent in Christian teaching. Pain and death are there, if not as chief, at any rate as conspicuous features. I am not saying that self-sacrifice always or usually dispenses with them. That is not so. But surely they hold a subsidiary, or, better still, a conquered place in self-donation as considered in the light of the sacrificial character of the life of God, whose bliss is supreme. They are the discords that are necessary to harmony. The Puritan conscience makes men suspicious of a duty whose chief characteristic is its pleasantness or which is not actually distasteful. The thought is as dangerous as its converse, that we have already reached a stage where joy is its own security, and that everything we want to do, it is our duty to do because we like it. Self-giving must always give at least a twinge to undue self-love, but viewed as the perpetual flow of God's life it is the consummation of joy. [Self-love is wrong only so far as it is incomplete or exclusive or disproportionate. Self-love is not selfishness.] Our Lord incorporated pain and death into His self-giving because they blocked His path, but He would have had the cup pass from Him had it been morally and spiritually possible. The mind of the self-giver is set on saving. It never gives merely for the sake of giving or without reference to a set purpose. Nothing is more demoralizing than to give carelessly and without a purpose supported by the pillars of principle. Herein consists the difference between waste and sacrifice. The one--I speak in the terms of Old Testament thought--is, as it were, the slaughter of a lamb because one chances to meet it; the other is the solemn offering of a sacrificial victim at the appointed hour in the Temple for the sins of the people. The former seeks mainly for that which is self-disciplinary; the latter for opportunity to serve others in the most effective way, be the pain great or the joy great. The one is self-conscious, the other is other-self-conscious.
Think of the wonderful heroic women of Belgium who "have not taken a day's rest since the beginning of the war. How should they, since every day thousands of hungry children wait at their gates to be not only fed but weighed, watched, medically examined." They are saving others, therefore themselves they cannot save. Their sacrifice is of the Christ sort. A great purpose looking toward a great end anticipates the joy of achievement so that the pain of effort, or the suffering involved in the process of achieving, is more or less smothered by the coming joy. The Lamb of God, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame.
To sum it all up--would it not be truer to bid people look for the joy in self-sacrifice rather than for the suffering? They are both there, and the former is the higher as well as the stronger. This I say with the picture of the trenches before my eyes. As Julian Trenfell's Into Battle, written by him after he was a seasoned soldier, with death in full view, makes clear, there is a passionate joy in the white souls of the unsmirched manhood that daily goes "over the top," in both senses, which neither the ripping shrapnel can rend nor the poisonous shroud of gas can smother. If the superior joy is not always coincident with the inferior suffering, it is the latter's prelude and cadence.
Space will allow me to do no more than touch upon the one further feature of the Lamb with which I shall deal--His wrath. In the light of the Old Testament teaching and the unchangeable character of God as written across the face of human experience, the wrath of the lamb contains in it the scourging, punitive element from which there can be no escape. Patience, meekness and self-giving do not forfeit for their possessor the right or the power to become terrible in denunciation and condemnation here or hereafter. The wrath of outraged righteousness may be restricted to a last resort and confined within narrow channels, but because of the fact it is all the more terrible when its clean white flame leaps forth. The punishment of Cain and the cleansing of the Temple were performed by the same Being. The same mind framed the penalties attendant upon sin, whether in the Mosaic code or in the woes of the New Testament.
But I think there may be another interpretation of the wrath of the Lamb. I dimly conceive of it as being a fury of forbearance, to use a paradox as legitimate as the one which it aims to elucidate. The emphasis is thrown on the last rather than the first member of the phrase. After all it is the fixed character of the agent which determines the quality of his temper, and not vice versa. Was it not the wrath of the Lamb that looked upon Peter so that he, went out and wept bitterly? Was it not the same wrath that later said: Feed My lambs: tend My sheep, so that the rebuke of his sin struck into the quick of the penitent disciple's soul as it would never have done had austerity been substituted for understanding gentleness?
I can understand God showing such a superabundance of considerateness and tenderness and mercy as to make the soul cry aloud for the thunder of rebuke. In more ways than one God is a consuming fire, for in Him is the wrath of the Lamb. The thought of the terrors of the Lord terrify me and make me want to flee away; the thought of God's patience and sympathy brings me to my knees and to Him. If the end of wrath is redemption, then I can understand how the punitive and purgative effect of the wrath of the Lamb exceeds any other wrath, and how there is wrath in its seeming opposite.
I doubt not that among the major surprises awaiting us on our arrival in the world beyond this, will be the melting rather than the crushing power of the wrath of the Lamb. It will scorch and scald as all the woes pronounced by almightiness never could. And it will draw us to Him purified and healed. Whatever that wrath will be, it already is.
HYMN OF REDEMPTION
Worthy art Thou to take the roll,
And to open the seals thereof,
For Thou wast slain,
And didst buy to God in Thy blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And didst make them a kingdom and priests,
And they reign upon the earth.
Worthy is the Lamb
That hath been slain,
To receive the power,
And riches and wisdom and might,
And glory and honour and blessing.
All Creation's Chorus
To Him that sitteth upon the throne,
And to the Lamb,
Be the blessing and the honour,
And the glory and the might,
To the ages of the ages.