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


WHERE, then, must we look for Christ as He is Man?

Clearly, in heaven. Christ's manhood, as manhood, is in God's highest glory; as we men put it, at God's right hand.

i. This glorious presence of our Lord cannot be left out of account. For where shall they seek Him who are not yet members of the Church unless He be found external to His members ? His indwelling presence is for the Church alone; the world has no part or lot therein. He Himself is our witness. Yet He is still the Eternal Word who gives light to all, and in whom is all lifeĀ—that is to say. His manhood is the instrument of His own manifold activity, apart from the one highest work of perfecting the Church. We do not direct Moslems and heathens to Christ dwelling in His members through the Spirit. We point them to Christ in His glory.

Again, in teaching our Christian people we do not allow them to concentrate all their thoughts upon the indwelling presence of the Spirit, through and with whom Christ's manhood is their life and power and charity. We insist on their taking a wider view, less dependent on themselves. We show them the same indwelling presence in their brethren. And also we point them to the glorious Christ outside themselves, the one Head of the body of which they are members, the Priest who is external to them as well as within them, the Victim of their corporate sacrifice, the Fount of their corporate life, and the Judge of the brotherhood's corporate attainment.

The Church cannot, in fact, fulfil its true vocation unless it acknowledges a Head whose instrument of ministry it is. Nor can it be prepared as a bride for her husband unless it have learned to love the Bridegroom outside itself. The Head is in the Church, yet external to His members. The Bridegroom and the bride are the Church, yet is He external to the bride.

Without doubt, then, this external presence Is permanently vouchsafed to us on earth. The Guardian has denied it. The Bishop of Oxford has, in this connection, omitted to mention it, although he will not question it; but its recognition is vital to any discussion of the point at issue.

2. We must, then, devote a little time to recalling what revelation and experience have to tell us on this point.

The Gospels prepare us for an external presence by the story of the Resurrection appearances. It is true that they are not normal. Confined to the forty days before His ascension, they may no longer be expected. But they once happened. The Christ whose manhood was one with theirs through the first communion, in the Spirit, was seen by His disciples externally, an objective vision. Pentecost was not yet, and the Spirit had not been given in full measure ; nor had Christ yet ascended to His Father. But, in a real sense) the disciples were both indwelt by the risen Lord and able to behold Him in external presence.

At Pentecost the Christ, external to them, sent the Spirit to them, in whom He Himself already was. After Pentecost the evidence is clear, positive, and beyond doubt. S. Stephen, here on earth, saw Christ in His glory. Saul of Tarsus, here on earth, saw Christ's glory, heard His voice, and held speech with Him: S. Paul the Apostle saw Him, spake with Him, and received mission, revelation, and guidance from Him. S. John the Divine devoted a long book to the one purpose of portraying the activity of the glorious Christ, external to Christians, ruling both the Church and the world. And the authority of the book he bases upon his own real vision of the glorious Christ.

Outside the New Testament, but in the same period, we meet the story of Christ's appearance to S. Peter on his way into Rome to die in His Apostle's stead. The story may or may not find acceptance; it is none the less most valuable evidence to the primitive view of Christ's external presence vouchsafed to men on earth. Again, it is impossible to explain S. Paul's doctrine of Baptism and Communion unless we assume an external presence of Christ vouchsafed here on earth. The candidate for Baptism meets Christ first. By Baptism he passes into the Spirit's sphere of influence because of his new union with Christ's manhood. And the communicant approaches Christ external to Himself. For, according to his faith and penitence, he receives the sacrament either to his health or to his loss, spiritual and bodily.

So revelation speaks. And experience joins its voice with that of revelation.

3. According to our Lord's own promise, He is continually vouchsafing an external presence to those who gather together in His Name. It is our own fault that we generally ascribe to the Holy Spirit the sense of divine presence that our Lord Jesus conveys in His coming to us. We all know this presence of the Master. It sanctifies many a dangerous interview, straightens out a difficult dispute, gives life to what otherwise were a dead conference, breathes heavenly fire into the cold atmosphere of a religious meeting, and is the permanent consecration of many a Christian home.

We recognize Him too in our time of prayer. In no empty sense we hold His feet, we feel His touch, we hear His voice. He makes us penitent and moves with us to where, with His priest, he waits to absolve us. We know He is with us confessing as with the priest absolving.

In temptation we have met Him. Victorious, we have come from the battlefield conscious of His presence without whom we must have fallen. Conquered, we awake sadly to our refusal to hold His powerful hand. Sick and suffering, sad and lonely, we have felt His presence. He never fails us. If He cannot lighten the burden. He carries it with us. Nor are those lacking whose sense of His presence includes actual vision. This war, as others before it, will give its tale of evidence. For the Master is still the soldier's Comforter. The eyes of those who share Christ's agony sometimes see the Christ Himself.

Once more, that Christ still vouchsafes His external presence on earth is proved every day in our missionary work. Take the case of new adherents, whose instruction in the Faith is still in its early stages. They have no interior union, or connection, with Christ's manhood. Yet Christ becomes to some of them a very reality. He makes Himself real to them externally, if not visibly. And for His sake they will surrender much in their heathen life that is dear to them. So real is He that they see Him in dreams that sometimes change their lives. The Christ promised to draw all men to Him: those who come He passes into the mystical body that, in the Spirit, in and through His manhood, they may be made one with God and all mankind. But the preliminary drawing is His own proper work. It is His as external to the convert, external to all Christians. It is His work as King and Priest at God's right hand. His task it is to draw men from the world, so that once within the Church the Spirit may fill them.

Again, we must take account of their experience who detect in the Blessed Sacrament an external presence of Christ Himself.

This is a very delicate and difficult point on which to write. For those who know most of the Lord Jesus are most reluctant to unveil to us their secrets. But we all of us know holy people to whom the external presence of our Lord Jesus in the sacrament, as they approach to receive Him, is as real as anything on earth. And we are also aware that those who have gone farthest in the knowledge of God within them are the most ready to perceive the Lord Jesus as He comes. One such saint, who died not many years ago, was so alive to Christ's presence, in the sacramental mode, that he was able to detect the absence of the sacrament from a tabernacle fully veiled, with its lamp burning. He knew Christ's presence was not there vouchsafed externally. His companion argued, from the veil and the burning lamp, that certainly the Host was present. Inquiry was made. The saint was right. The sacrament had been removed. He knew; he did not require outward signs.

Parallel with this is the evidence of very many well-qualified witnesses that churches in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved have an atmosphere entirely different from other churches. In fact, this is a commonplace. But it depends, for its truth, upon an external presence of Christ vouchsafed to us here on earth.

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