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THE TRUE VISION OF GOD

‘Philip saith unto Jesus, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9. Jesus saith unto Him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father, that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.’—JOHN xiv. 8-11.

The vehement burst with which Philip interrupts the calm flow of our Lord’s discourse is not the product of mere frivolity or curiosity. One hears the ring of earnestness in it, and the yearnings of many years find voice. Philip had felt out of his depth, no doubt, in the profound teachings which our Lord had been giving, but His last words about seeing God set a familiar chord vibrating. As an Old Testament believer he knew that Moses had once led the elders of Israel up to the mount where ‘they saw the God of Israel,’ and that to many others had been granted sensible manifestations of the divine presence. As a disciple he longed for some similar sign to confirm his faith. As a man he was conscious of the deep need which all of us have, whether we are conscious of it or not, for something more real and tangible than an unseeable and unknowable God. The peculiarities of Philip’s temperament strengthened the desire. The first appearance that he makes in the Gospels is characteristically like this his last. To all Nathanael’s objections he had only the reply, ‘Come and see.’ And here he says: ‘Oh! if we could see the Father it would be enough.’ He was one of the men to whom seeing is believing, and so he speaks.

His petition is childlike in its simplicity, beautiful in its trust, noble and true in its estimate of what men need. He longs to see God. He believes that Christ can show God; he is sure that the sight of God will satisfy the heart. These are errors, or truths, according to what is meant by ‘seeing.’ Philip meant a palpable manifestation, and so far he was wrong. Give the word its highest and its truest meaning, and Philip’s error becomes grand truth. Our Lord gently, lovingly, and with only a hint of rebuke, answers the request, and seeks to disengage the error from the truth. His answer lies in the verses that we have read. Let us try to follow them, and, as we may, to skim their surface, for their depths are beyond us.

First of all, then, we have the sight of God in Christ as enough to answer men’s longings. There is a world of sadness and tenderness, of suppressed pain and of grieved affection, in the first words of our Lord’s reply. ‘Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?’ He seldom names His disciples. When He does, there is a deep cadence of affection in the designation. This man was one of the first disciples, the little original band called by Christ Himself, and thus had been with Him all the time of His ministry, and the Master wonders with a gentle wonder that, before eyes that loved Him as much as Philip’s did, His continual self-revelation had been made to so little purpose. In the answer, in its first portion, there lies the reiteration of the thoughts that I was trying to dwell upon in the last sermon, which, therefore, I may lightly touch now—viz., that the sight of Christ is the sight of God—‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’—and that not to know Christ as thus showing God is not to know Him at all—‘Thou hast not known Me, Philip.’ Further, there is the thought that the sight of God in Christ is sufficient, ‘How sayest thou, Shew us the Father?’ From all this we may gather some thoughts on which I lightly touch.

I. The first is, that we all do need to have God made visible to us.

The history of heathendom shows us that, in every land men have said, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.’ And the highest cultivation of this highly cultivated and self-conscious twentieth century has not removed us from the same necessity that the rudest savage has, to have some kind of manifestation of the divine nature other than the dim and vague ones which are possible apart from the revelation of God in Christ. A God who is only the product of inferences from creation, or providence, or the mysteries of history, or the wonders of my own inner life, the creature of logic or of reflection, is very powerless to sway and influence men. The limitations of our faculties and the boundlessness of our hearts both cry out for a God who is nearer to us than that, and whom we can see and love and be sure of. The whole world wants the making visible of divinity as its deepest want. And your heart and mind require it. Nothing else will ever stay our hunger, will ever answer our questioning minds.

Christ meets this need. How can you make wisdom visible? How can a man see love or purity? How do I see your spirit? By the deeds of your body. And the only way by which God can ever come near enough to men to be a constant power and a constant motive in their lives is by their seeing Him at work in a Man, who amongst them is His image and revelation. Christ’s whole life is the making visible of the invisible God. He is the manifestation to the world of the unseen Father.

That vision is enough—enough for mind, enough for heart, enough for will. There is none else that is sufficient, but this is. ‘How sayest thou, Shew us the Father?’ If we can see God it suffices us. Then the mind settles down upon the thought of Him as the basis of all being, and of all change, and the heart can twine itself round Him, and the seeking soul folds its wings and is at rest, and the troubled spirit is quiet, and the accusing conscience is silent, and the rebellious will is subdued, and the stormy passions are quieted, and in the inner kingdom is a great peace. The sight of God in Christ brings rest to every heart, and, Oh! the absence of the vision is the true secret of all disquiet. We are troubled and careful, and tossed from one stormy billow to another, and swept over by all the winds that blow, because we see not God, our Father, in the face of Jesus. ‘Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,’ is either a puerile petition, or the deepest and noblest prayer of the human heart. Blessed are they who have learned what it is to see, and know where that great sight is to be seen!

Our present knowledge and vision are far higher than that mere external symbol of God which this man wanted. The elders of Israel saw the God of Israel, but what they saw was but some symbolical manifestation of that which in itself is unseen and unattainable. But we who see God in Christ see no symbol but the Reality, and there is nothing more possible or to be hoped for here. Our present manifestation and sight of God in Christ does fall, in some ways unknown to us, beneath the bright hopes that we are entitled to cherish. But howsoever imperfect it may be, as measured against the perfection of the vision when we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known, it is enough, and more than enough, for all the questionings and desires of our hungering spirits.

II. Our Lord goes on to a further answer, and points to the divine and mutual indwelling by which this sight is made possible.

‘Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.’ There are here, mainly, two things, Christ’s claim to the oneness of unbroken communion, and Christ’s claim, consequently, to the oneness of complete co-operation. ‘I am in the Father’ indicates the suppression of all independent and therefore rebellious will, consciousness, thought and action; ‘And the Father in Me’ indicates the influx into that perfectly filial Manhood of the whole fullness of God in unbroken, continuous, gentle, deep flow. These are the two sides of this great mystery on which neither wisdom nor reverence lead us to dilate; and they combine to express the closest and most uninterrupted blending, interpenetration, and communion.

And then follows the other claim, that because of this continuous mutual indwelling there is perfect cooperation. This is also stated in terms corresponding to the preceding double representation. ‘The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself,’ corresponds to, ‘I am in the Father.’ ‘The Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works,’ corresponds to ‘The Father in Me.’ The two put together teach us this, that by reason of that mysterious and ineffable union of communion, Jesus Christ in all His words and in all His works is the perfect instrument of the divine will, so that His words are God’s words, and His works are God’s works; so that, when He speaks, His gentle wisdom, His loving sympathy, His melting tenderness, His authoritative commands, His prophetic threatenings, are the speech of God, and that when He acts, whether it be by miracle or in the ordinary deeds of His life, what we see is God working before our eyes as we never see Him in any human being.

And from all this follow just two or three considerations which I name. Note the absolute absence of any consciousness on Christ’s part of the smallest deflection or disharmony between Himself and the Father. Two triangles laid on each other are in every line, point, and angle absolutely coincident. That humanity is capable of receiving the whole inflow of God, and that indwelling God is perfectly expressed in the humanity. There is no trace of a consciousness of sin. Everything that Jesus Christ said He knew to be God’s speaking; everything that He did He knew to be God’s acting. There were no barriers between the two. Jesus Christ was conscious of no separation—not the thinnest film of air between these Two who adhered and inhered so closely and so continuously. It is an awful assertion.

Now I pray you to ask yourselves the question: If this was what Christ said, what did He think of Himself? And is this a Man, like the rest of us, with blotches and sins, with failures to embody His own ideas, and still more to carry out in life the will that He knows to be God’s will? Is this a man like other men who thus speaks to us? If Jesus had this consciousness, either He was ludicrously, tragically, blasphemously, utterly mistaken and untrustworthy, or He is what the Church in all ages has confessed Him to be, ‘the Everlasting Son of the Father.’

III. Lastly, our Lord further sets before us the faith to which He invites us on the ground of His union with, and revelation of, God.

‘Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.’ Observe that the verb at the beginning of this last verse of our text passes into a plural form. Our Lord has done with Philip especially, and speaks now to all who hear Him, and to us amongst the rest of His auditors. He bids us believe Him, and believe something about Him on the strength of His own testimony, or, in default of that, and as second best, believe Him on the testimony of His works. I gather together what I have to say about this point into three remarks.

The true bond of union between men and Jesus Christ is faith. We have to trust, and that is better than sight. We have to trust Him. He is the personal Object of our faith. In all faith there is what I may call a moral and a voluntary element. A man believes a proposition because it is forced upon him, and his intelligence is obliged to accept it. A man trusts Christ because he will trust Him, and the moral and voluntary element carries us far beyond the mere intellectual conception of faith as the assent to a set of theological propositions. Faith really is the outgoing of the whole man—heart, will, intellect, and all—to a person whom it grasps. But the Christ that you and I have to trust is the Christ as He Himself has declared Himself to us. ‘Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.’ There is a bastard, mutilated kind of thing that calls itself Christian faith, that goes about the world in this generation, which believes in Jesus Christ in all sorts of beautiful ways, but it will not believe in Him as the Personal Revelation and making visible of the unseen God. Jesus Christ Himself tells us here that that is not the kind of faith which He invites us to put forth. If we put forth that only, we have not yet come to understand Him. Oh, dear friends! Christ as here declared to us by Himself is the only Christ to whom it is right to give our trust. If He be not God manifest in the flesh, I ought not to trust Him. I may admire Him as a historical personage; I may reverence Him for His wisdom and beauty; I may even in some vague way have a kind of love to Him. But what in the name of common sense shall I trust Him for? And why should He call upon me to exercise faith in Him unless He stand before me as the adequate Object of a man’s trust—namely, the manifest God?

And then, further, note that believing in the sense of trusting is seeing and knowing. Philip said, ‘Shew us the Father.’ Christ answers, ‘Believe, and thou dost see.’ If you look back upon the previous verses of this chapter, you will find that in the earlier portion of them the key-word is ‘know’; that in the second portion of them the key-word is ‘see’; that in this portion of them the key-word is ‘believe.’ The world says, ‘Ah! seeing is believing.’ The Gospel says, ‘Believing is seeing.’ The true way to knowledge, and to a better vision than the uncertain vision of the eye, is faith. In certitude and in directness, the knowledge of God that we have through faith in the Christ whom our eyes have never seen is far ahead of the certitude and the directness that attach to our mere bodily sight; and so the key to all divine knowledge, and the sure road to the truest vision of God, is faith.

Further, faith, even if based upon lower than the highest grounds, is still faith, and acceptable to Him: ‘Or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.’ The ‘works’ are mainly, I suppose, though not exclusively, His miracles. And if so, we are here taught that, if a man has not come to that point of spiritual susceptibility in which the image of Jesus Christ lays hold upon His heart and obliges him to trust Him and to love Him, there are yet the miracles to look at; and the faith that grasps them, and by help of that ladder climbs to Him, though it be second best, is yet real. The evidence of miracles is subordinate, and yet it is valid and true. So our Lord contradicts both the exaggerations of past generations and the exaggerations of this, and neither asserts that the great reason for faith is miracles, nor that miracles are of no use at all. Former centuries in the Christian Church reiterated the former exaggeration, and thus partly provoked the exaggeration of this day. Let us keep the middle course: there is a better way of coming to Christ than through the gate of miracles, and that is that He should stamp His own divine sweetness and elevation upon our minds and hearts. But if we have not reached that point, do not let us kick away the ladder that may help us to it. ‘Believe Him for the very works’ sake.’ Imperfect faith may be the highway to perfection. Let us follow the light, if it be but a far-off glimmer, sure that it will bring us into noontide day if we are faithful to its leading.

On the other hand, dear friends, let us remember that no faith avails itself of all the treasures laid up for it, which does not lay hold upon Christ in the character in which He presents Himself. The only adequate, worthy trust in Him is the trust which grasps Him as the Incarnate God and Saviour. Only such a faith does justice to His own claim. Only such a faith is the sure path to vision and to knowledge. Only such a faith draws down the blessing of a questioning intellect answered, a hungry heart satisfied, a conscience, accusing and prophetic of a judgment to come, cleansed and purified.

To each of us Christ addresses His merciful invitation, ‘Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.’ May we all answer, ‘We believe that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’

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