(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Sunday Afternoon, Nov. 2.)
1 ST. JOHN iii. 2.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.
"WE shall see Him as HE IS." My brethren, I said, I hoped, by the grace of God, to say something to you of these-amazing words. And yet the more I would try to speak, the more I seem driven back into my inward self, to worship in silence what I cannot speak of. How should we speak of what we have not seen? and yet, in the flesh, "no man can see God and live." What could the blessed John say, he who had lain in the Bosom of Him Who, although veiled in our flesh, yet was God? Even he could only say those two words, "we shall see Him," and that, "as He is." And what should we say, who are "of unclean lips, living in a people of unclean lips!" Even when some ray from that heavenly Brightness, Which is God, has streamed upon the hearts of saints, it has been but as a flash which came and was gone; it kindled, for the time, the whole mind, and filled it with light, and seemed to bear the spirit into another world, and left an unutterable sweetness and longing; but it stayed not, and what it was, the soul could not utter. What of the boundless Beauty and Goodness of God could be gathered into one created mind, and that while yet in the flesh, weighed down and clogged by its corruption? "In Thy Light shall we see Light." Through God Alone can we behold God. Yea, in the Ever-blessed Trinity shall we see Itself. "With Thee, O God the Father Almighty, the Fountain of life, was the Coequal Son, Who" in the Beginning "was with Thee and ever was, because He was with Thee, through Whom and in Whom all things were made, and He is the Life of all, and He maketh Thee known to us, that the hearts of men might be enlightened to know Thy Majesty." Of Thee c the Light, Who art the Father, shall we see the Light, the Son, in the Light, The Holy Spirit. Invisible He is in Himself to all created being, The Son as the Father: the brightness of His Presence is the hiding-place of His Power: not Angel or Archangel could bear the brightness of that unapproachable Light wherein He dwelleth, unless He strengthened their sight. To Him darkness is light, and to us His light would be darkness; for His very Brightness would blind us. He dwelleth in Light, yea He Himself is that Surpassing, Unbounded, Uncreated, Ineffable Light wherein He dwelleth, (for He Who is not in space, nor bounded, can dwell in nothing but Himself,) and "yet clouds and darkness are round about Him;" for, as another Psalm saith, "He covereth Himself with Light, as with a garment." The Light, which He is, is to us the covering which hides Him. "Invisible is He for the excellence of His Brightness, and unapproachable through the exceeding abundance of the outpouring of His super-substantial Light." No created being, however high, could, of its own power, and by its nature, behold God. None but God can, of himself, see God; the Ever-blessed Three in One, Which God is, Alone hath beheld from Eternity His own Glory, Majesty, Beauty; Himself resting within Himself, and in Himself finding the One Object of His Perfect Bliss. Whatever else hath seen Him, or seeth Him, seeth Him through the Divine Light; else would not that be true which Holy Scripture saith, that "it cannot be approached."
And this may be some help to us to imagine the exceeding Glory and Beauty of Almighty God, that all created beings must be lifted above themselves and their own nature, and receive of the Glory of God. in order to behold Him. Far less were it, could It be beheld by any natural power. Now not only is the Nature of God Incomprehensible; that is, such that it cannot be taken into the mind and grasped by any the very highest created mind, ("for who," saith Scripture, "can find out the Almighty to perfection?") but even the outskirts of His Glory cannot be seen, unless He Himself give to the mind a power of seeing, above its own nature. So above all created things is He Who created them, such a chasm is there between Him and even those nearest to Himself, that they cannot, as it were, pass over to behold Him, except by Him; they cannot see Him, except by Himself in them. Such is the height and depth of God: the Beginning not to be approached by us, the Compass not to be taken in, by those whom He enables to behold Himself; the deep things of God none can search out, save He, Who is of the Father and the Son, even the Holy Spirit.
As no man knoweth the depths of man, and his secret thoughts, and his heart which is very deep, save the spirit of man within himself, so, Scripture says, "none kuoweth" the "hidden" depths of God, the Abyss of His Majesty, save He Who is within the Eternal Godhead, "the Spirit," Who being God, hath One Godhead, Essence, Knowledge, and Almightiness with the Father and the Son.
And so, again, may we the more see, how in this life we can form no thought of the real bliss of the life to come, and yet can think how that bliss will fill our whole souls, take up our whole souls, overflow us with Divine joy, and uphold us that we fail not from its excess, and weary not of its fulness. In one word, we (if we be found worthy) shall see Whom we now see not, and we who shall see, shall be other selves, and have other powers wherewith to see, even His, Whom we shall see, God. Now, both God is hidden, and we are weak and unworthy of that Great Sight. Then God shall disclose Himself, and give us sight, that we may see. And this Sight shall be His own. It cannot then fail, because it will be Divine. "In Thy Light shall we see Light." It shall be we who see that Light which is God, yet in His light, the light of Glory wherewith the souls and bodies of the Blessed shall be filled. Even here, where what we love or gaze on, is created, yet as long as we can gaze, our minds are filled the more, the more we gaze. Even in deep human love, the longer the soul dwelleth on that which reflects Heaven in. the object of its love, the intenser and more entrancing is its love. If we gaze stedfastly on the earthly Sun, as long as we can bear it, the sight becomes intenser; not its beauty, but our sight fails. How much more, when that Blissful Beauty shall be infinite, and instead of dazzling us shall give us strength to gaze, draw us into Itself; and yet Its Loveliness is Infinite, so that we shall find no end! In God and through God, shall we see God; in God and through God shall we love God. Which shall fail, that so we should cease to love, the love of God with which He shall fill us or the Love and Loveliness Which He is, Which is Infinite? We fear lest we should change, but there is no change there; because all which is imperfect shall be done away, and "God shall be All things m all." We shall still be, for it is said, He "shall be in all;" all then shall still be: we shall be ourselves and yet shall be other selves; because "God shall be All things in us." The iron6 is still iron, when it has ceased to be cold, and having been steeped in fire, has a heat and brightness not its own, and while it there remains, its light and heat pass not away: the air is still air, whether filled with mists which are breathed forth from this earth, or, as now, with light from above, so that it is, as it were, all one brightness; a drop of water ceases not to be, when in a vessel full of wine it has only the richness and colour of the wine. Even so we shall not cease to be; but God being All things in us, we shall be other selves, and, as St. John says, "like Him;" our powers of mind shall be ours; our substance, ours; but all, full of God. Even here all we have of our own, is sin;, our substance is of God; our will, memory, reason, are of God, though we, through passion, bend our will awry, and cloud our reason, and defile our memory with hurtful things: our power to love is of God, even if we therewith love vanities. But there, shall "God be all things in all;" not as now the Holy Spirit "distributeth to every man severally as He wills," and what each is, he is by His gifts; not only as Christ is to us "Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption," since here we have all things in part only; but "God shall be all things" perfectly in each according to his measure. There shall be no remains of a contrary will; nothing of man's own; else God would not be All. There, says a holy man, "He Who filleth the soul with good things, shall HIMSELF to the reason be the fulness of light, Himself to the Will the abundance of peace, Himself to the memory the lastingness of eternity. O Verity, Charity, Eternity! O Blessed and blessed-making Trinity! To Thee my miserable threefold self miserably sighs, because it is haplessly banished from Thee."--" O wonderful serenity, which the Truth that is God shall shed on us; fulness of sweetness, wherewith God, Who is Love, shall bedew us; eternity of safety which Power most High, that is God, shall give us. So shall God be All in all, when our reason receiveth light which cannot fail, our will peace which cannot be troubled, our memory cleaveth eternally to the never-failing Fountain of all good." How can we ever cease to love, when we love unceasing Love with His own Love? Nought shall there be there without, to draw us from God; for all who shall be there, shall alike be full of God. In all shall we see nothing but God; all shall be as mirrors, flashing forth and back the rays of the Glory and Beauty and Love of God; God shall be All in all, so that in each we can but love God. Nought shall there be there within, to draw us down from God, nothing to care or provide for, no bodily needs, no weakness; for we ourselves shall be full of God.
"We shall see God." Yet this does not yet tell of all our bliss. In some little measure God hath been seen; and yet must that be true, "No man hath seen God at any time." "God appeared unto Abraham," not seen by him by the power of nature, but because God willed to be so seen; and Jacob wrestled with God, and said h, "I have seen God face to Face, and my life is preserved;" and the "Lord spake with Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend;" and this was a gift above all prophets, that him alone the Lord knew face to face; and Isaiah says, "I saw the Lord of Hosts sitting on a Throne," and our Lord hath said, "Whoso has seen Me, hath seen the Father;" and St. Stephen saw Him in His Glory standing at the Right Hand of God; and St. John saw One "like unto the Son of Man, and His Countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength," and when he saw Him, so aweful was the Sight, he saith, "I fell at His Feet, like one dead;" and the wicked shall see Him at the Day of Judgment; yet is it the blessing of "the pure in heart alone," that they "shall see God."
There is then one sense in which holy men have seen God; another sense in which no man in the flesh hath seen Him, or shall see Him, but which shall be our joy, when we shall be "like unto the Angels," who in the unbroken repose of that bliss-giving Sight, "do alway behold the Face of the Father." Holy men have seen Him, as He was pleased to shew Himself unto them; but not, "as HE IS." For then had they seen Him all in one way, not in different Forms, for He changeth not, but in Ones simple Essence. And when God was speaking unto Moses Face to face, he still prayed', "I beseech Thee, shew me Thy Glory," and He shewed him not Himself, but some fainter parts of His Glory, not Himself Who "hath no parts." And so all who saw Him saw yet through a glass, darkly, what He vouchsafed to discover of Himself, not His Very Divine Nature. And they who saw our Lord in the Flesh, and to Whom the Father revealed that He was God, did in Him see the Father, with Whom the Son is One; yet not with the bodily eyes, but with the mind, did they see or acknowledge either the Son or the Father. In His Divine works, they to whom the Father gave eyes to see, beheld the Divinity of the Son; and in the Son Who was God they saw the Father, who in Nature and Operation is inseparable from the Son. Outwardly they saw (which alone the wicked shall see) the form of a servant: with the eye of faith, they discerned that He was God; yet the Form of God, of which He had "emptied Himself," they as yet saw not. It was kept in store for them and us (if we will) in bliss.
This, then, is the Bliss of the Blessed, that we shall see Him as HE IS. This has in itself all bliss; all through this shall flow into us. We shall, as it were, while keeping our being, be changed into Himself, for so Scripture says, "we shall be like Him," and how can we be like Him, if, in all which He can impart, we are in any way unlike Him? His own Being and Substance none can have, save Those Who are of Him, but Uncreated, The Son and The Holy Ghost. But all, which He can give and we can receive, He will give; and this, through the Sight of Him; "we shall be like Him," "for" Scripture says, "we shall see Him as HE IS."
Yet although "we shall see Him as HE IS," still this is even a part of our blessedness, that no created being can see Him wholly. For He is Infinite. Thus we repeat in the Creed, that "the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are One Incomprehensible," i. e. that They cannot be wholly taken in by any mind. There is a fulness of knowledge, which lies in the Bosom, (as Holy Scripture calls it,) or the Depth of God," Which enfoldeth and embosometh1 all things, Itself boundless," which none can know, but Who is One in Nature with God. "The Invisible, Incomprehensible, Trinity" can be known perfectly, as HE IS, to Itself Alone. But less blessed were it to behold God, were His Perfections not infinite. Now, says a father, "the mind whether of Angels or of men, as it pants after that Light which knows no bounds, shrinks together, as too narrow, in that it is a creature; it stretches onward above itself by its advancement, yet not even when enlarged can it compass His Brightness, Who encloseth all things, at once surpassing, upholding, filling them." He filleth, yet overfloweth; containeth all things, is in all, and yet contained by none; "filling, He surroundeth, and surrounding, He filleth; upbearing, He transcendeth, transcending, He upbeareth."
And so may the soul the more for ever delight itself in the Sight of God, because it shall see Him truly, yet cannot grasp Him wholly. Where shall be an end of loving, where love is endless, infinite? or of gazing on Beauty Infinite, where that very Beauty by our longing and its Sight shall draw us more into Itself; where is no weariness, no satiety, but a blessed union of thirst and satisfying fulness; where desire shall have no pang or void, and fulness shall but uphold desire; for both shall be Perfect, Unfailing, Love, unfailing through God's Gift, as the Very Essence of God, Who is Love. If God, Who is the Source of Love, can fail, then might the bliss of those fail, Who see Him, love Him, in Himself.
"Thine eyes shall see the King in His Beauty," yet not then, as far off, but brought nigh, yea within God. Even now "in Him we live and move and have our being;" both by nature since He is every where, and there is no place out of God; and more blessedly by His Providence which compasses us around, and by His Grace dwells within our souls; "and we live in Him, as in life Eternal." But how much more there, where is the fulness of His Presence, and we shall see Him, Who now also is around us, although we see Him not. "For," says an early father p, "as they who behold the light, are within the light, and partake of its brightness, so they who behold God are within God, partaking of His Brightness. For the Brightness gives them life; they then shall partake of life, beholding God. The beginning of life comes from the partaking of God; and to partake of God is to know God, and enjoy His Goodness. Men then shall see God, that they may live, by that sight made immortal and reaching unto God."
O what shall be the bliss of those who shall enter into that boundless Ocean of everlasting joy, that Goodness which is the Source of all good, that Beauty of which all things fair are but the shadow, and hide It from us rather than reveal It, that Light of lights, which lighteneth the eyes not of men only but of Angels; to behold in His own Wisdom, the causes of all things that have ever been, the orderings of His Providence, by which He "sweetly disposed all things" for good; to behold by His own love, the love wherewith He hath loved us; to know in Himself His "love which passeth knowledge," and that "peace which passeth all understanding;" in His Holiness to be hallowed as He is holy, and in His Perfection to be perfected. What joy shall it be beyond all joy, besides which there is no joy, to see that great Sight, for which Moses longed, which comforted Job in his sufferings, for which our whole nature has fainted and groaned until now; "with our eyes, and not another's," to see the Living God! to see Him in Himself," know Him" perfectly "even as we are known" of Him; that nothing of His Glory or Majesty or Love should be hidden from us; for" we shall see Him as He IS," in His own unchanging Essence, and be freed from death and change and corruption by beholding Him Who is Life unchanging and incorruption. What, my brethren, must be the greatness of that bliss, wherein the Ever-Blessed All-Holy Trinity rests in all eternity, even Its own everlasting joy, to which nothing can add, nothing can lessen it, for all things exist by It and out of It! And yet He, our Saviour, the Coeternal Son, shall bid those who love Him, to "enter into" that His joy, "the joy of our Lord." Him, before Whom the Seraphim veil their faces, shall we behold, eye to Eye; know Him Who in the depth of His Being is known only to the Coeternal Son and the Spirit of both, "see the Everlasting Father and His Consubstantial Son, equal to Him in Goodness and Eternity and Glory and Majesty; Begotten without beginning, or lime, or end; and the Holy Spirit, proceeding from Both, and embracing Both, the indissoluble Bond of Love, the Blessed Embrace of mutual charity."
"We shall see Him as He IS." He saith not, "was" nor "shall be," but "as He IS" unchangeably, in Whom there is no "Was" nor "shall be," but "IS" in His own unchanging Essence; not as things here which "are" not, because they "never continue in one stay;" but "IS," because He abideth, changing all things, Himself unchanged, and the endless Rest of all which now changeth. So shall His blissful Vision abide, and we abide in it, because He changeth not. HE IS, and we shall be in Him. How shall our joy pass away, when He Who shall be our Joy, abideth ever? "When," says a holy man1, "shall that longing eagerness be cloyed, or that sweetness withdraw Itself, or Truth defraud, or Eternity fail? But if that longing and power to see last for ever, how shall bliss not be full? Nothing shall be wanting to those who ever see, nothing too much for those who ever long."
Yet although we shall see Him, as He IS, Unchangeable, and thereby ourselves become free from change, still must there ever be in Him new and exhaustless treasures of Wisdom, Power, Love, unfolding to us; since, although we shall,--not in mirror, or by aid of any other thing, nor dimmed by any thing between,--see Him Who is Infinite Wisdom, Power, and Love, no created being can see Him infinitely. Nothing shall He hide from those who love, nothing withdraw; they shall see Him in His Simple Being; see, Whom we now believe, "the All-Holy Trinity, Father, Word, and Holy Ghost, One God, in Persons distinct, in Substance Coeternal, in Power Equal, in Operation Inseparable, in Will Harmonious; and through that Vision," continues the holy man "shall the reason be ever filled with the light of Truth, the will overflow with most burning love, the memory, ever cleaving inseparably by one simple act to Him Who IS, shall be satisfied with a blessed fruition." Still may we truly see Him, and yet must we be unable wholly to take Him with our souls. Else, we should be Himself. As a holy father has used the likeness of earthly things, "if through a very slight opening we see the sky, we say truly that we see it," yet we see it not wholly, or "if from a high mountain we behold the sea," we see it truly, yet we see "neither its breadth, nor length, nor depth, nor hidden recesses, nor the effects which it produceth," so and much more must there be in Him, the Cause of all causes, the Infinite Source of all which is or can be, in Whom lies hid all which can be, even though it never be, a depth of Wisdom, and Power, and Love, whose being we shall know, but whose marvels shall be ever new. We shall, if we attain, love and admire and praise and cleave to Him the more, because we shall see Him Infinitely to have all worthy of praise and love and admiration, yea Himself to be Infinite Perfection and Beauty and Love, yet be ourselves encompassed by, not compass, His Infinity.
Oh what shall it be to range freely within that boundless bliss, to be admitted into its very depths, or (to speak" with holy men) "to be translated into the glory of God;" to move, to think, to see, within God; in Himself and by Himself to see Himself; "clearly to see, love, and by eternal fruition possess God," and by God in turn to be possessed"; "by love to comprehend, and by love to be comprehended;" "to know Him in everlasting brightness, love Him with everburning desire and delight," "to have y Him present within us, as our Life, to feel in the substance of our souls the Godhead, indwelling, overstreaming, a torrent of pleasure for evermore," and, "united with Him, to rest with Him, in" His unutterable "bliss." And, within God, united with the Eternal Word, what shall it be, (which we can more think, though above all thought,) to see the Glorified Manhood of our Divine Redeemer; to see His Face, shining above the brightness of the Sun, yet in rays of love; to see that look which brought us to ourselves and Him; to hear the Voice of love, which called us, and we followed Him; to see all bright and pure and radiant with light and Divine lustre, the glorified Scars which for us and for our salvation tie received, and which ever since have in the Presence of the Eternal Father been pleading witnesses of His Love and Suffering for our guiltiness, withholding His anger from us; and, in that sight, "to have our heart and all our senses filled with His glory, and for joy and love dissolved," but that the Love which melteth shall sustain us. And because no created heart can contain such love, we shall joy in the bliss of others, as our own. Nothing is there but love; and so, such as one's self, of all the meanest, if by His gift, he may attain thither, shall in the higher joy and love of all the rest of the saints in bliss, joy as if it were his own. In all we shall behold, in all love God.
For that we may from Him be blessed, He is possessed by us; but not, that He may be blessed, doth He possess us. He both possesseth us, and is possessed by us, to this only end, our bliss.
The praise of all shall gladden us; each voice, which has learned the new song, shall -swell with its own special beauty, the everlasting harmony: the glory of each several star in that more blessed firmament, shall shed its own special lustre. While all joy in those "unfailing" streams of Mercy, Goodness, Majesty, and Love, and sweet Peace," which shall issue forth from the Redeemer, "all shall encompass Him with longings of burning love, and shall render all thanksgiving and praise," thanking Him that they are His and of Him, and casting their crowns before Him, joying most of all that "they are justified by His grace, redeemed by His Blood, saved by His love, glorified by His merits."
And shall we not then, my brethren, while yet in the flesh, turn aside, if not to see, as Moses, the shadow of it, yet with Him to long after this" great Sight?" shall we not long to be hid in the shadow of the Rock, the Word made Flesh for us, and there, apart for a while from the noise and tumult of the world, the strife of the camp below, "the voice of them that shout for mastery, or the noise of them that sing" but not "the songs of Zion," long and pray to have our eyes cleansed that we may see but the outskirts of His glory, see His Presence reflected around us, see It in our brethren, receive some gleam of It in our souls? Shall we, "having this hope," not "purify ourselves," not cleanse our hearts, and pray that He would cleanse them? Shall the eye again wander among forbidden things, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of life," which is to behold God? Shall the heart fill itself with the pomps and vanities of the world which it renounced when the Name of the Trinity was named over us, with which, if it be pure, we shall see God, which is formed for God, to receive the love of the Infinite God? Beautiful is the glistening of gold, the sparkling of gems, or wine when it giveth its colour in the cup, or countenances which deceive the 'heart of men to its perdition' dazzling is the possession of wealth, or power over others, or eminence in this world's station; soothing our luxury and ease; but what is the fleeting beauty of all created things to the Infinite Beauty of God? what is all gladness to the Joy of our Lord? what all riches to the treasures in Heaven which fail not, His everlasting Love? what all which sight could grasp in Heaven and earth, compared to Him Whom as yet we see not, but Whom, if we be found worthy to stand before Him, we shall, when heaven and earth shall have passed away, "see as He IS?" Oh waste we then ourselves and our hearts no more in the busy chase of this world's cares and riches and pleasures which abide not, nor, if we could keep them, could fill our hearts. Mourn we in our inward hearts that we ever followed them; pray we that God will forgive us the past; that He would cleanse our memories of the stains we too sadly know; empty we our hearts of all beside Him and what we love in Him and for Him. Long we that He may enlarge our hearts, and enlarging, indwell them, and indwelling, purify them, that we may one day see Him, Who vouchsafeth Himself to be the exceeding great Reward and joy of the blessed. Many of us have this day answered, "we lift up our hearts unto the Lord." "Oh be that true which we have said!" Grovel we no more on earth; seek we not the things of earth; bury we not in earth, by seeking "our treasure" here, the hearts, which we have owned should be in Heaven; but with hearts and eyes, and faith and hope and love, follow Him, whither He is "gone to prepare a place for us," that "when He, our Life, shall appear, we may appear with Him in glory," and "may be like Him, for we shall see Him as He IS." Now unto Him that loved us.
O God, Who by the leading of a star didst manifest Thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant, that we, which know Thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of Thy glorious Godhead; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.