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24. That They Might Know Thee
"THIS is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God!" (S. John 17:3). No deeper meaning nor more exalted aim can express itself in human words. Indeed it is not spoken by a seer to us men, but by the Son to the Father; a word that must ever be overheard anew by him who seeks God, since for this purpose it was intended, and for this purpose has come to us.
Of the prayers that Jesus prayed here on earth during more than thirty long years, in Joseph's home in Nazareth, on the mount, or in desert places, in the morning and when the sun inclined to set, by day and at night - nothing has been handed down to us save a few outpourings of soul, and the cry of distress in Gethsemane. Here, however, in this chapter of S. John the high-priestly prayer of the Savior is given us in all its sublime tenderness, and He Who has given us the Scripture as a vade mecum on our pilgrim journey, has appointed and ordained that what Jesus here prayed to the Father can evoke an echo from our own praying heart.
Suppose that all the prayers of the Savior had been preserved in book-form, it would be a treasure that could not be exhausted. First the child-prayer from the newly unfolding soul-life which already at the age of twelve had opened up so divinely that, even in its still limited form, it immediately breathed and grasped perfection. Then the period in the prayer-life of Jesus from the twelfth to the thirtieth year, spent in retirement and preparation for the undertaking of the great work of redemption. And then that third period of three years, so brief, so quickly past, and yet by far the richest because of the storms that raged and were battled with through more than a thousand days; and who shall say how many hours of the night were spent in agonizing prayer each week that linked one Sabbath to another.
And yet, of all this wealth of prayers nothing is given us to overhear, nothing has come to us, practically nothing has been recorded, save this one: "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."
And now, here, in the high-priestly prayer, this holy diadem that has been handed down to us unimpaired and unabbreviated. is at heart the selfsame thought: "This is eternal life that they might know thee, the only true God." In S. Matthew (11:25): "Not the prudent and the wise, but babes:" here in S. John (17): "Not the world, but those whom thou hast given me out of the world."
In each case: The knowledge of God, that which has been revealed of the Holy, is taken as the highest.
And in all this the one thing to be adored is the good pleasure of God.
An act of prayer, not as criticism of what is holy, but a receiving, a drinking in of holiness, and by this entering in of holiness into our life, to live not merely eternally, but with a life that in its own nature is eternal.
There is life when something stirs within us and when, from this inward stirring, something enters into being. So it is with the pregnant mother who feels life because she is aware of motion within herself and by this knows that presently life is to he born from her.
So, and not otherwise, it is with our person, with our self, with the inward existence of our soul within us. If everything remains quiet within you, if you hear nothing from your soul, if nothing stirs within your inmost parts, then it remains a secret to you whether or no your soul lives. You have a part in the life of the world, as the undulation of the waters at sea leaves no single drop at rest, but shares constant, restless motion with it. But this is for you no life as yet of your own; no inward stirring, the impetus of which springs from within yourself.
Such undulation in conjunction with the undulation of the world can truly develop warmth within you and enrich you either intellectually or in the range of your affections, but it lacks in you any individual impulse, and therefore can give you no lasting possession. And when at length the moment arrives, in which death lifts you out of the undulation of the life of the world, you shake off this impersonal life that has been lived along with others, and you have nothing.
The individual, personal life in you springs from a germ which God caused to germinate from the seed implanted in you, and this germ demands, in order to be able to develop itself, constant feeding, with nourishment suited to its nature. If this germ in you does not find this food, it becomes impoverished and shrivels. That it is surfeited with food foreign to its nature is no help. This it can not assimilate, can not digest. And in so far as it does enter into it, it is thereby denaturalized.
Neither is it any help that, only once in a while and in certain measure, it receives food suited to its nature. To develop itself in full measure. it must be fed regularly and continuously with proper food; and this must not end until its growth and unfolding is completed.
This is "eternal life" for the soul. Not merely a life hereafter, but an unfolding of your inner being according to its disposition, its nature and destiny; an unfolding whereby whatever poisons the inner life blood is expelled; whereby there is never lack of what the life blood needs; and whereby this inward feeding, strengthening and sanctifying is so constant, so permanent, so essentially eternal, that complete fruition is attained.
This is eternal life.
Eternal life for the inner being of the man created after God's Image.
And this is the word of Jesus, that your soul finds; this feeding for eternal life only and alone in the Eternal Being Himself.
God is the highest good!
"In thy light we see light, with thee is the source, the fountain of my life" (Psalm 36:9).
Undoubtedly, everything is continually coming to us from God, everything is owing to Him, every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of Lights. From Him, through Him and to Him are all things. But the end and aim is that God Himself shall be all and in all.
Glorious is the confession that our God is Lord of lords, King of kings, that He appoints, allows and governs all things; but deeper, infinitely deeper, is the experience of the entering in of God the Holy Ghost, who tabernacles in you, chooses you for His temple, prays in you and prays for you with unutterable groanings.
In this alone the heart finds rest.
All that grace apportions unto us is but outshining of brightness and glory; the burning hearth itself of all heat and glory is in God Himself.
Every drop of the water of eternal life refreshes us, but the Fountain from which these waters spring is the Divine heart of the eternal Being.
And, therefore, throughout the entire Scripture, throughout the whole Church, and in the souls of all saints, it is ever and always this one passionate outburst of song: "It is good for me, it is my blessed lot, to be near unto my God."
Him the eye seeks,. Him the heart desires; and only when the soul within us has found in God its highest good, the germ within us revives from its withering, and the developing, the unfolding begins, whereby from the bursting bud appears the blossom of everlasting life.
This can not be otherwise because of the nature of your soul.
You have not made that soul yourself. The world has not formed its nature. Neither has it become what it is by chance. What the soul of man should be, God alone has determined. And as God has appointed it, so is the soul in its nature, and so it continues to be, irrespective of whether it he the soul of a Judas or the soul of a S. John.
It can develop itself in a holy way, it can also wither and canker away in sin; but whether it develops in glory or by poison becomes corrupt, this development and this corruption both are what they are by reason of the nature of the soul as God has planned it.
From God every creative plan has gone forth; a plan for the stars in the firmament, for the corn in the ear, for the lark that sings among the branches, for the angel that sings the "Holy, holy, holy," in the sanctuary above. But the creation of man's soul was of a different nature.
With charming clearness the Scripture defines the nature of the soul in the single phrase, that you have been created after the Image of God. This includes everything. From this everything explains itself. From this it follows that the soul can never have its "highest good" otherwise than in Him after Whose Image it originated. And for this reason the further truth, that everything that directs the soul to another good, rather than to God, as the highest, wounds, corrupts and poisons it.
It is painful to see that the nations in their seething masses understand nothing of this. More painful it is to see how many there are among serious people, who reach out after everything but God. And most painful it is to see that there are even many Christians who chase and press after everything, but show that they have never enjoyed their highest good.
Yet Jesus does not despair.
He continues even now above to pray for His saints here below: "Father, this is eternal life, that they might know thee, the only, true God," and ever and anon the inner soul-life in a child of God discloses itself, and responds to that prayer an. "Amen, yea, Amen!"
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