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]
pp 28-43

transcribed by Mr. Alexander van Ness Munoz
AD 2000


DIFFICULTIES, however, meet us if we try to see these different modes of presence in a unity. We seem, even to our selves, to be setting out phrases that express mutual contradictions. How can Christ be in heaven, externally present on earth, and within us as the Spirit's vehicle and temple, at one and the same moment? And how do these various conceptions fit our notion of the mystical body, the Church?

Answers to these questions depend on our power of contemplating God and His eternal activity, apart from too definite a notion of time or of space.

We had better begin with the truth about the sphere of our Lord's manhood. His manhood was seen on earth because we men live under conditions of earth. But our Lord Himself told us that from its beginning it was truly in heaven. "He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man."

I And with this teaching we may rightly class such words as these: "The Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth," and "The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do." And in this S. John follows His Master when he says that in heaven is "the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," and that he saw "a man-child, who was to rule all the nations . . . caught up unto God, and to His throne."

The manhood of Christ is in God from its creation in Mary's womb. It is in heaven. But it is also seen and handled by us on earth. Where is its most real existence, then? It is independent of place, because it is outside man's localizing mind as well as within it. Its real existence is in God; its appearance on earth in concrete form is our means of entering into God in whom we find it.

From this point we may take a further step, cautiously, as befits men bound in space and time, yet faithfully as befits sons of God and heirs of heaven.

The Blessed Trinity is perfect God: He changes not. So that all ideas perceived in Him at different times by us men, under earthly appearances, are eternal. They are just aspects of His one eternal mind. They are God Himself variously conceived. Two main ideas are apprehended by all believers. The first, creation, is involved in our existence. The second, redemption, in our consciousness of sonship. And we are able to connect, dimly and with reverent mind, the revelation of creative purpose with the eternal idea represented in the procession of the Holy Ghost, Divine Love and Life, from the Father by way of Him who is His Reason, Word, and Son. Similarly, the revelation of redemptive purpose we associate with the Eternal Word Himself, through whom the Spirit of Love gives forms to the Father's thoughts, and in whom the same Spirit will bring those forms to perfection.

We acknowledge, with adoring praise and loving gratitude, the eternal notions of creation and redemption in the divine mind. We imagine them ever-present within the Godhead. And we perceive that all that remained was to provide them with material forms, that we might consciously respond to them. For we too are included in the notions themselves. We may confidently rest this doctrine upon the authority of S. John (i. 1-14.) and S. Paul {Ephesians i. 14. ; Colossians i. 12 ff., etc.). .

And it is necessary to inquire how God's eternal notions that include us are, in fact, made real to us. In other words, how we become present to Him, and He to us.

i. The Blessed Trinity, our God and Creator, is revealed in Him who is the Father's Image, Word, and Utterance. And His manhood is the articulation of the Word in terms of creation. The manhood of the incarnate Word is God's means of self-revelation, of close contact with His creatures, and of raising creation to its predestined level. Thus the Christ is one with the Father, whom He reveals and for whom He is; and also one with the Spirit, in co-operation with whom He made and now redeems all things.

Hence all men who are united with the manhood, whether they be on earth or beyond the grave, are in the presence of the Word, the Spirit, and the Father; that is, of the one eternal God; and He is present within them. Space may be neglected. The manhood is God's; and, in God's manhood, He dwells with us and we in Him. It is a mere accident of our present state that some members of the manhood are still on earth : the essential truth is that they are in His manhood, and His manhood is in heaven, because it is His who is God.

Thus we may say that the presence of Christ, in respect of His co-operation in our creation, is essentially independent of time and space. Accidentally, that is, by reason of our human condition and need, it was once localized on earth for some thirty-three years. But essentially it is dependent on the interior union of our manhood with His. For, once united with His manhood, He dwells, not as sole agent, but in and with and through the creative Spirit of Love; to whom Christ's manhood is the necessary temple of His presence, vehicle of His activity, and instrument of His unifying life and love.

2. Equally is Christ's presence in respect of His redemptive work independent of time and space. He Himself is the eternal utterance of divine love that is capable of varying expression, while never itself changing. He is the very Image of Divine Love—love that is self-oblation. He is, because self-oblation is divine. He receives all; He is all that eternally is; and He exists in and for Him who, in giving all, makes Him to be His own Image. Love such as this is essentially—timeless, beyond spatial measurement. Love is God Himself. And it is accidental to love that He once lived on earth. That is to say, so far as we can judge. His incarnation was necessary to Him just because it was necessary for us. Be this as it may, Divine Love, in the person of the Word, makes His presence real to us; and expresses, under created forms, the self-sacrifice which is His nature. How does He do it? In modes that have varied according to our human requirements.

Apart from the Christian revelation we perceive Him, as with His chosen people who were to prepare His way, so with those who yet have failed to accept His Church, revealing God's presence to such as will receive it, working in and through the minds of a few responsive men. Lives a little nobler than the average, philosophies redeemed of their worst follies, ethical systems purged of their grosser vices, and religions shorn of their more degrading superstitions, are means of partial revelation that He can use. For He is so truly perfect Love, that even our fallen manhood is congruous with His essential nature.

None the less. His presence, in the degree that we Christians call real, depends upon the taking of our manhood into God. It is God's presence ; yet in human form, it was within the Mother's womb. It is God's presence; yet in human form, it was seen in the agony at Gethsemane, and in the death on Calvary's Cross. Herein lies the mystery: God in Christ, and Christ born, working, dying, and dead. So too in resurrection and ascension. The presence is still the presence of God, yet it has visible, tangible form: a form perceived by chosen witnesses for forty days on earth, and in the moment that it passed from earth's last conditions to possess the Christ's personal glory in heaven. Yet the most vital reality is not the form, but that in Godhead of which the form is the expression in terms of humanity. The Eternal Word is He whose presence we perceive; the Word who is Love, and as Love gives all He is for us; even as the Father gives all He is, and sees in what He gives His own Reason, Word, and Image.

Why, then, should it be thought incredible that this eternal idea of redemption should still find visible expression here on earth? Why do we hesitate to receive from the Eternal Word, incarnate, in glorious manhood on God's throne, a still further expression of Himself here and now? Can an eternal idea, that includes us and our union with God, remain without visible form so long as men remain unredeemed or unglorified? Not if the idea be God, who is Love.

The Blessed Sacrament, therefore, takes its place among the forms Divine Love wills to use for the expression of Himself as Love poured out. It is the latest expression of the eternal love: latest in time, and latest in development. Latest in time, that is, in man's apprehension of it. For divine love is revealed under successive forms, because mankind thinks successive thoughts. And latest in development, for the consecration of manhood by union with the Word comes, in the succession of ideas, before the taking, by the same Word, of the lower creation into Himself, through the representative creatures bread and wine.

The essential truth of this sacrament is that it makes real to faithful souls the presence of God as He is our Redeemer. It makes real Eternal Love whose nature it is to give Himself. It makes real the Love that took flesh, the Love whose Body was broken and Blood shed, the Love who makes all men one, confirming them in common sonship and mutual fellowship; the Love who is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

And also, by reason that Love has taken manhood into Himself, the sacrament conveys to us who receive Him the very virtues of His own manhood.

Thus God, who is essentially redemptive Love, makes His presence so real to us that we are enabled actually to dwell in Him and He in us. For in the Christ we see Him who is Blessed Trinity, and through Christ's manhood we have, in the Spirit, access to Him. The divine life which the Father ever gives, and the Word ever receives, reaches us through the sacred manhood. The self-oblation of the Eternal Word, in which He ever gives to the Father what He also receives, is expressed to us in the Christ's one, sufficient sacrifice; and we are permitted to share it. In Christ, with Christ, through Christ, we are made part and parcel of that which is offered: caught up into His filial self-oblation, into the inward movement of Eternal Love Himself; while the unity of mankind's association with the divine love is pledged, safeguarded, and enriched down the ages, because Calvary's sacrifice, which most fully expresses the depth of divine love, is continually represented under the sacramental forms. The Body broken, the Blood shed, are symbolically shown under bread and wine; the very manhood now in glory is made real to the eye of faith; while the human will of Christ, that triumphed on Calvary, is evermore the one basis of this mode of God's presence, and the unifying force that subdues all men to His will, and draws them to His heart.

3. Thus the two modes of presence, to which we give the titles of "indwelling" and "glorious " (the presence of God within us in the Holy Ghost by and with and in Christ's manhood, and the presence of God outside us in and through the Incarnate Word by and with the Holy Ghost), are truly only different modes of one presence ; and that, namely, the presence of the one God. They are distinct in thought because God is both Creator and Redeemer. They are distinct because of the richness of divine love. Yet they are one, for God is one.

4. If now we go on to ask how these separate conceptions fit in with the notion of the one body, the Church, the answer is not far to seek.

The Church is manhood united with God. The Christ is at once the Head and, in His members, the Body of the Church. He is at once its Ego, or Self, and, in His members, the new, corporate personality which we name the redeemed humanity. He is at once the Bridegroom, the object of its adoration, and the Priest who gives voice to its praise. There is no relation between Christ and God, or Christ and His members, that does not involve the whole Church. Christ in highest glory is within the Church. His presence, external to the other members of His body, is the presence of the Head of the Church. And they sadly err who distinguish otherwise between Christ external and Christ internal. Ultimately, the two realities are God and His mystical body. And what is not God is within the body. So that Christ's Manhood is within the body. And the body is God's, just because the Christ is, at once, eternal Word and Subject, Ego, Self, of a created manhood in which all men have become members.

5. What exactly is the relation, for the Christian wayfarer, between the external Christ and the indwelling Christ?

Very few words will show it sufficiently for our purpose. The catechumen has no indwelling Christ when he comes before the glorious Saviour for Baptism. He comes empty before his King; and the King, joining him to His manhood through the Spirit, fills him with the Spirit, as with His own life and power. The newly-baptized has the indwelling presence of God. Yet he must continually have recourse to Christ outside himself. Not only when he prays, worships, and adores is he sometimes gazing at God above as, sometimes, at God within. But in every sacramental rite he goes with Christ in him to Christ outside him. And never more strikingly so than in the Holy Communion itself. So that the external activity of Christ appears to be concentrated on deepening and enriching the interior union in which a man is being made one with God.

In other respects, Christ's external activity, as we have already noted, is concerned with the government of the universe and the care of the individual life. Thus He works upon us from without and from within. Just as, in the great day, we shall see God in Him because He is within us, our power of vision, and the source of our own likeness to God. And He, who is without us, will judge us for our treatment of Himself within us.

6. We may, then, accept as revealed by Christ two chief modes of His presence:

(a) First, by Baptism, is made real to us God, creative Love. Through union with Christ's manhood, in the life of His that is made ours, we are filled and dominated by His Spirit, God the Holy Ghost. We dwell in God and God in us. We are new creatures. In Christ's manhood we are on a new and higher level, we taste divine powers, we see divine visions, and are linked up with the movement of Divine Love Himself. We find ourselves in God's household, at one with all mankind in the Spirit, as in the Word Incarnate. God is indeed present; and to this mode of His presence we give the name of mystical indwelling.

(b) Secondly, Christ in highest glory expresses God as He is redemptive Love. There are yet many sheep who have not reached His fold, and need the Saviour's care. And as of old, so now and through eternity, He has His own proper function in upholding creation, of the unity of which His glorious manhood is now the pledge and centre. It is His to win men to enter the mystical body; it is His to preserve, strengthen, and perfect the individual relation in which each member of the Spirit's brotherhood stands to his heavenly Father. He has given us the Spirit that we may all be one in Himself with God. Yet He Himself also comes to us according to His promise.

And under this second mode of Christ's presence we place two subdivisions.

For, sometimes. His presence is made real to us in manners, and by means, that we cannot easily classify, as we saw above. We perceive Him really with us, we have an unswerving conviction of His presence ; but we can hardly give a name to the means by which He makes us recognize Him. The world calls these means illusions, delusions, subjective visions, and the like. We know they are not to be so described. And, for the want of a better term, we name them mystical. The mystical presence is real, its mode escapes our definition. Thus the name will serve, for it signifies a reality in the process of becoming plain.

At other times His presence is made real to us by means He Himself created and defined. "This is My Body." "This is My Blood." So that the Sacrament, blessed above all others, is in strict fact Christ's own chosen means of making real, to His children, His presence in God's glory.

It reveals to us God the Blessed Trinity as He is expressed in the Word lncarnate—that is, it reveals God's redemptive love as it is without material form or expression, and also as it is expressed and made clear to us in the manhood. And the manhood bears all the essential marks of the conflict in which Eternal Love bought us for His own. The Blessed Sacrament reveals the eternal idea of redemption, clothed in glorious manhood that is, it reveals the idea and all the consequences of expressing that idea in human love in a sinful world. It reveals Divine Love that pours Himself out, together with the Vessel that He used in the pouring, a Vessel for evermore marked with the finger-prints of His resisting children.

To this manner of His presence we give the title sacramental. It stands alone in our experience. It is sui generis. And that because it must always express what men did to God Incarnate, and also provide the means by which the forgiving God may lift His rebels up to the level of His love. The first of these conditions is required that the all-sufficient Sacrifice may be enriched by the oblations of each succeeding generation. The second lest any man be left without knowledge of the path that leads to His Father's home.

return to Project Canterbury