Project Canterbury

God With Us:
The Meaning of the Tabernacle

by Frank Weston, D.D.
Bishop of Zanzibar

[London and Milwaukee: Mowbray and Morehouse, 1920. 135pp]

transcribed by Mr. Alexander van Ness Munoz
AD 2000


IT is unfortunate that the controversy about the tabernacle did not begin with commonly accepted definitions of the modes under which Christ's presence is manifest to us.

I. Thus the Bishop of Oxford's article in the English Church Review clouded the issues for us. It seemed to say that Christ's presence within us makes unnecessary any other kind of presence, and that His indwelling in us through Communion is in the sacramental manner. No doubt the bishop will have put this right in the further treatment of the subject he has promised us, if possible, during the summer ; but that will be too late for my present purpose.

The Guardian, in a review of two books on Reservation–one by the late Mr. Freestone and one by Dr. Darwell Stone—reinforces the bishop's apparent opinion in the following words:—

"It is not the revealed will of our Lord to vouchsafe His permanent external presence among His people; and such an idea cuts at the root of the only sort of abiding of Him with us which the New Testament emphasizes namely, the perpetual indwelling of Christ in the members of His mystic Body the Church."

This is quite final, decisive, and dogmatic. And no doubt it represents the belief, or, shall we say the opinion, of a very large number of Christians in the British Empire, and even of the main body of the English Church. But is it true?

Before we answer that question let us ask what exactly it means. Does it mean that our Lord does not vouchsafe to us, permanently here on earth. His external presence? Or does it mean that His permanent external presence in heaven is never vouchsafed to us on earth? The second meaning suits the paragraph from which it comes, and fits in with Dr. Gore's argument that he who has Christ within has no need of the sacramental presence without. But it is, thus interpreted, so entirely incompatible with the act of communion that we may set it on one side.

It remains, then, to discuss whether or no Christ's presence, as external to ourselves, is permanently vouchsafed to us here on earth. That it is not visible to us we will all admit. Even the Blessed Sacrament does not make Him visible. But that it is permanently vouchsafed to us, in addition to His indwelling presence by virtue of which we are members of His Church, it is necessary to confess. At this moment I do not go into the matter; the time for that is not yet come; but I adduce three sufficient reasons for my statement:

(i) We cannot abide in Christ unless He be both external to us and present with us. The Head is external to, and permanently present with, the members of His Body. He is within the Church as Head, and external to the other members ; at the same time that, in the Spirit, He is within us all.

(ii) The sacramental system is evidence to His permanent external presence as well as to His indwelling. His ministry is within the Church ; external to His members, as well as within them.

(iii) The doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews is meaningless unless we have a High Priest in heaven, whose presence there, external to us, is permanently accessible to us here on earth. He is within the Church, but external to His members, as well as within them.

These are sufficient reasons for challenging the Guardians very wide denial of what, to some of us, is a commonplace of religious faith. Further reasons, less briefly stated, we shall set out later on.

At the same time we can cordially agree with the Bishop of Oxford and the Guardian that when we seek the perpetual indwelling of Christ, whereby the Church lives in Him and He in the Church, we shall not go to the tabernacle. For this indwelling presence is ours since we were christened. It is deepened by each communion we make, enriched and extended in its interior operation by grace received. It is made real and fruitful in prayer, in contemplation, and through faithful endurance of manifold temptation.

We have therefore to clear our minds about these two modes of Christ's presence, the external and the internal, and to see in what relation the Blessed Sacrament stands to both.

2. It only remains, for the moment, to emphasize this distinction between Christ's external presence to His members and His internal presence within them. Both are within the Church, as the Head and the other members make one body. But they are quite distinct in manner and meaning.

Christ is God who rules the whole creation, and His manhood is the new organ of His activity as eternal Word.

Christ is God who dwells within us, and His manhood is, through the Holy Ghost, the new organ of His indwelling whereby He fills us and makes us all one.

But where the manhood is, there is the Church. So that the universal Ruler is the Church's Head, our link with the Godhead. And the indwelling Christ is the Church's life and love and power.

Thus are Christ's universal and particular activities unified. An external presence of Christ with us, permanently, here on earth, is a necessity of His purpose and our destiny. So far as I have as yet learned Christ Jesus our Lord, He has a double work to accomplish for His Church. He offers to God what He receives from men, and He creates in man what He will receive from them. In my intercourse with Him, therefore, I sometimes see Him within me creating, reforming, perfecting, or struggling with my sin. And sometimes I see Him as outside me; and, kneeling at His feet, I offer to Him what He has made ready within me. This dual manner of approaching Him is to me quite simple, necessary, inevitable; it does not cause me perplexity, nor does either mode appear superfluous.

For the Christ who, from within, makes me hungry, leads me to Himself outside me, that He may feed me with Himself and empower me to serve His brotherhood. Christ who, from within, creates my penitence, calls me penitent to Himself outside me that He may absolve me and reconcile me with His and my brethren.

And Christ who, from within, makes prayer in my heart, draws me to offer it to Himself outside me that it may be merged in the Church's corporate prayer and in Him reach heaven.

Therefore I have become entirely familiar with this twofold relation with the Christ, enshrined for us all in sacrament. So far from my not feeling need of the Christ outside me, the more I know Him from within the deeper is my desire to behold Him outside me. And, in my experience, I require this dual relationship with Christ in order to maintain myself in the active service of the brotherhood, the Church. I know that I serve others better when I am able to perceive Christ, the Man of Sorrows, bringing them to me. And I would not trust myself at all were I to decide to look only within. I am sure I should, to a large extent, lose my sense of duty to the brethren.

And I am prepared to hazard the guess that our capacity for the Beatific Vision will depend upon our familiarity with the Christ outside us as well as with the Christ within us. And not only so. Externality of vision is necessary because the vision itself is truly corporate. It is our external vision of Him that unifies the whole body in its apprehension of Him.

3. Thus there emerge three meanings of the word "presence" as applied to our Lord. First, there is the presence of Christ within the members of the Church, in virtue of which the Holy Ghost is shed abroad within us. In this meaning of the word, Christ is in us because His humanity is the Holy Spirit's agent and instrument, through which He links us to Himself and to the Divine Being in Himself; through which He communicates to us divine life, love, and power; and in which He makes all one.

And we may reverently guess that thus the relation in which the work of the Spirit in creation stands to the eternal Word's expression of the Father is reproduced in the redemptive activity of the same Spirit through the manhood assumed by the same Word. Secondly, there is the presence of the Christ on His throne—that is, in highest glory, where He lives and reigns, upholding and governing all creation, including the Church, through His glorious manhood.

Thirdly, there is His mystical presence with the individual Christian, in the measure of his faith or of his unconscious claim upon divine love. Christ is mystically and objectively present to His people as they pray, when they use His sacramental rites, when they minister to others, as they suffer, and in the moment of death. He sanctifies Christian homes, His presence is felt continually when two or three will to seek Him, and He is the unfailing comfort of the lonely. To deny this is to give the lie to the Gospel and to Christian experience. And to confuse it with the first internal mode of His presence is a crime against sound thinking.

Where, then, does the sacramental presence fit in to our division of the subject? Into the second mode. The sacrament is that earthly creation which makes real and actual to us, here on earth, the heavenly, glorious presence of the Lord Christ Himself. And, in what I have to say on this point, I propose to speak of the two chief modes of presence as (i) indwelling and (2) glorious. And under the term glorious presence I shall include the mystical and the sacramental. For these epithets are merely descriptive of the means by which the one presence is made real to us.

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