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CHRIST VISIBLE TO LOVING HEARTS.
ST. JOHN xvi. 16.
“A little while, and ye shall not see Me: and again a little while, and ye shall see Me, because I go to the Father.”
THIS was a strange saying, and a stranger reason: “A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, and ye shall see Me,” and that “because I go to the Father.” How should His going away be the pledge of their seeing Him again? What wonder they said, “What is this that He saith?” “We cannot tell what He saith.” And yet these words are plainly and divinely true.
There have already been three manifestations of our blessed Lord, and there shall be yet a fourth. The three first ascending to the last, which shall be full, perfect, eternal.
First, He has been seen by the eye, when He came in our manhood: “God was manifest in the 106 flesh.”4747 1 Tim. iii. 16. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory;”4848 St. John i. 14. “That which was from the beginning, . . . . which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon; . . . for the Life was manifested, and we have seen it.”4949 1 St. John i. 1, 2. From His birth to His baptism, from His baptism to His cross, from His cross to His burial; by visible presence, by miracles of power in Galilee and in Jerusalem, in life and in death, He manifested Himself to the sight of men. And so again after He rose from the dead. He did indeed thus manifest Himself to those that loved Him,—to the company of women and to Peter, to the eleven in the upper chamber, to the five hundred in the mountain, to the disciples on the seashore, and to all His Apostles when, for the last time, He led them out to Bethany. They had kept His word, and loved Him; and He loved them, and shewed Himself to them. But this is not the manifestation promised here. That was but local, partial, and transitory; this of which He here speaks is something larger and more abiding.
Again, He has also manifested Himself to the ear. He gave commandment to His Apostles that they should “Go teach all nations.” And “have they not heard? Yes, verily their sound is gone 107out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.” “The earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” He has manifested Himself these eighteen hundred years to all the kingdoms of the earth. The name, the person, the love, the sacrifice, the presence of Christ has been revealed to the ear of all people. Who has not heard of Him, young and old, high and low, wise and simple? But neither is this the promised manifestation; for this too is an exterior revelation, made to all alike, to the good and to the evil, to those that love Him and to those that love Him not.
What He here promises is something special and interior, deeper and more intimate, the peculiar gift of those who “keep His commandments.” It is a manifestation, not to the eye or to the ear, but to a sense above both hearing and sight; a spiritual sense, comprehending all powers of perception, to which all other senses are but avenues. “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him.”5050 St. John xiv. 21. And that “because I go to the Father.” When I am ascended, I will return with a presence, not local, but in and above all place; not transient, 108 but abiding; not visible to the eye, but to the heart, by a power of spiritual intuition. In these words He promises an illumination of the heart: “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” And this presence is no mere figure, but a reality; this manifestation no empty metaphor, but a shewing of Himself to our spiritual sense; a perception which should be equal to the perception of sight in all fulness, vividness, and truth.
Let us therefore take an example. What does the sight of any one, as, for instance, of a friend, bestow upon us? What are its effects?
1. The first effect it produces in us is a sense of his presence. We know what his coming and going awakens. It may be we were waiting for his arrival full of other thoughts, busy or weary, or musing, or all but forgetful. When he came, we were wakened up in every pulse. All our whole heart and mind, with all its affections and attention, fixed upon him. We are called, not only out of our former works and thoughts, but out of our very selves. Our hearts go forth to meet him. He is there before us. We see him, recognise him again; he sees us, and fixes our sight upon himself. Some such effect is wrought in faithful hearts by this promise of our Lord. As God, He is ever present with us. He is in 109all things by His essence, presence, and power. But beyond this, as Man, He is with us still by the indivisible unity of Godhead and manhood in His person, by the perpetual and intimate presence of His mind, heart, and sympathy. The forty days of His tarrying upon earth were a revelation of His abiding presence with the Church for ever. They were a season of training, to prepare His Apostles and all who should believe in Him through, their word, to live by faith in His unseen but personal nearness.
We feel the same, though perhaps less vividly, towards friends with whom we habitually dwell. Daily sight keeps up the sense that they are with us. Even when for a while withdrawn, home is still full of them: it is their home; our haunts are their haunts; the memory of something said or done, intended or desired, hangs about all we see. Every thing has some link with them. We have a living sense that they are related to us, and we to them; that we are one with them, and that they are never far away. Absence is not so much to be far off as out of sight, and to be out of sight is to be even more in mind. The inner faculties become quicker and more intense in those whose natural sight is wanting. They possess a sense above sight, bestowing all the inward perceptions of sight in a deeper way. If it has less of colour and form, 110 it has even more of reality and truth. So it is with the spiritual manifestation of our Lord to hearts that see by love. As in the forty days while He tarried yet upon the earth, before He went up on high, though not always with His disciples, He was always near; though not always visible, yet He was always seen; for the sustained consciousness of loving spirits saw Him at all times by the vision of faith. He was, as it were, always meeting them, and saying, “All hail;” always standing in the midst, breathing on them, and speaking peace; always making their hearts to burn, and their understandings to break forth with new lights of truth.
So it is with those who love Him now. He shews Himself by a secret unveiling of His presence. Their whole life is full of a sense that He is near; and they know, by an inward faculty, that they are living with Him and for Him.
2. Another effect wrought by the. sight of a friend, is a perception of his character. We learn what others are, not so much by hearsay as by intercourse. It is with character as it is with countenance. We may hear a person’s look and figure minutely and vividly described; we may see also a perfect portrait, and know the outline and feature, the colouring and peculiarity of his appearance; but there is something which can never be described 111or drawn; something we call expression in the countenance,—a fineness of meaning in the lines, and change in the play of features; something which, like the tone of the voice, speaks, and alone can speak, for itself. What are all portraits to one sight of the very countenance? Much more is this true of character, which is a thing so complex, so fine, so mysterious, made up of so many parts, or rather of the balance of so many powers and gifts. We may as well try to describe motion or light. Read the fullest and most detailed biographies; imagine the most vivid picture of the subject; but what is all biography to one meeting? Then the moral life which is in the one speaks to the moral sense which is in the other by a language which has no written character. It is of a higher order of knowledge; of a sphere where all communion is direct, by intuition and mutual intelligence; where the alphabet is “Alpha and Omega,—the First and the Last.” So is it in those who love the Lord Jesus. When He shews Himself by the illumination of the heart, then all we have read turns into reality. The holy Gospels rise up into a living person $ they live and breathe before us. Then we understand and perceive, by a spiritual appreciation, His sanctity and pureness, His lowliness and patience, His meekness and tenderness, His love and sympathy. 112 We feel with whom we have to do: what He is in Himself. We perceive that His presence, which was visible once on earth, has dwelt steadfast until now; and that the character of divine compassion recorded by evangelists is a continuous reality. It is as near, as real, and as full of grace as at Nain and Bethany. And our spiritual perception has been wakened by His presence to feel,—if I dare so speak, and why should I not?—to taste His character. We “taste that the Lord is gracious.” Now this is a spiritual perception which only spiritual communion can bestow. And by this communion, in a way transcending the senses of our earthly nature, He manifests His character to those who love Him. This spiritual perception of His character by love is the beginning of His likeness in us. Love likens us to each other, and above all to Him. It is the power of assimilation: and likeness of heart is also an instrument of perception. It is by loving that we see and understand the reality of His perfect character, and are conscious of His compassion, ever present and encompassing us about.
3. We may take one more effect of sight. It gives us a consciousness of the love of a friend for us. There is something in his eye, look, and bearing, which is expressive above all words, and emphatic above all speech.113
When God was made Man, He put on human affections and human sympathies. The Divine love is boundless, all-embracing, infinite; human affections are particular, finite, and personal. He became our kinsman, brother, and friend; and He assumed all the affections of these human relations. He loved according to the love of kinsman and of friend. Particular affections, we know, are consistent with perfect love. The very name of “the beloved disciple” is witness enough. Out of His followers, He ever loves with especial love the children of the beatitudes. He loves, with a distinguishing love of friendship, those who are most like Himself. There are deeper things in this mystery of love than we can fathom. He says, “I will love him.” But surely He does already love all His servants,—nay, all sinners, for whom He died—all creatures whom He hath made. But there is somewhat more in these words. There is a love with which, as God, He loved all mankind eternally; and another deeper love, with which He loved all whom He foreknew would love Him again. In His foreknowledge, all His elect people love Him and are loved. But there is a deeper mystery still. The Word was made flesh, and, as man, comes down into this world of time; He sees, one by one, those whom He foreknew made perfect in actual obedience. As, one by one, they love 114 Him, He loves them, and shews Himself to them. When the disciple whom Jesus loved lay on His breast at supper, the foreknowledge of everlasting love had its fulfilment. So with every one who shall love Him unto the end of the world. “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him;” that is, I will receive him, as the love of election is fulfilled in him, and I will make him know My love. “I will manifest Myself to him.” I, who chose him before he yet was, died for him while he was yet a sinner, loved him when he loved Me not, will love him, with a manifold love, now that he loves Me again. “I will manifest Myself to him.” He shall know Me, who, unknown, have done all this for him; unseen, have been ever with him; in childhood, and all ages of life; in sorrow and joy, sickness and health, in happiness and in solitude, in light and darkness, blessing and chastisement. He shall see Me, and feel My presence; know Me, and comprehend My love. He hath heard of Me “by the hearing of the ear, but now” his eye shall see Me.
“A little while, and ye shall see Me.” And this spiritual sight is the very life of faith. Without it, the manifest presence of the Word made flesh would profit nothing. The beholding of His 115person here visibly before us, as in the temple or in the synagogue of Nazareth, would avail nothing to those whose hearts lack love and sight. We should look upon Him as they did, and say, Is not this the carpenter? We should behold Him even upon His cross, and gaze upon His five sacred wounds, with a hard unmeaning eye. To cold hearts they have no mystery or meaning.
We see, then, what is the promise, and who they are to whom it shall be given. It is the benediction of those who love Him. And this love is no dreamy emotion, no weak and fanciful sentiment, but a deep masculine reality, the life of an energetic character. “He that hath My commandments,”—that is, not in the intellect alone, but in the conscience, in the heart and in the will. “And keepeth them,”—makes them his law, and by that law guides his life. There is need of a deeper force than the imagination, of a stronger impulse than feelings and emotions, to form the spirit of those to whom this manifestation shall be granted. Let us, then, take two plain counsels for our guidance in seeking it.
1. The one is, to keep our hearts clear from all conscious sin. Where sin is, there Christ is hidden. Though He be with us from our baptism, yet while we sin He is as the light which “shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth 116 it not.” Sin is the darkness of the soul. Though the whole firmament of grace and love shine above it, yet all is black and shrouded. Sinful Christians have Christ’s commandments indeed, but do not keep them. Better not to have them at all, than, having them, not to keep them. But this is too plain to need more words. We have nearer dangers; for though we do not break His commandments, yet we may be most unlike His spirit. Our character may be the opposite of His, or, as we say, there may be an antipathy between His mind and ours, and then how shall He manifest Himself to us? What fellowship can there be between His humility and our pride, His purity and our soils, His meekness and our wrath, His patience and our fiery spirits, His self-denial and our self-indulgence? Do we not know that men of opposite characters are mutually unintelligible? What does the man who is all for this world understand of one who is living for the next; or the man who never prays, of one who is devout? As these are severed by a direct antipathy, so also are jealous, proud, selfish, vain-glorious Christians severed from their Redeemer. A veil hangs between them, and He is unseen. And hardly less is to be said of those who have unfeeling, apathetic hearts. Alas, are not they the great multitude of Christians, neither decisively holy or unholy, 117devout or indevout? How many there are who approve and commend, but have no delight in a life of faith. Meekness, lowliness, self-denial, devotion, are to them beautiful images, but tasteless realities. The love and the sorrow of our divine Lord have for them neither sweetness nor sharpness. To them He is not “precious.” They are easy, calm, unexcited, unimpassioned. Often they commend themselves for their temperate, reasonable, judicious piety. In their own sight they may be blameless; but in His they are ungenerous, cold, illiberal, unloving. To such hearts He makes little manifestation of Himself. For them “He hath no form nor comeliness,” no beauty that they should desire Him; and to them, therefore, He is veiled.
Now such as some of these we shall find ourselves to be; and so long as there is upon us any conscious sin, we cannot receive this special gift.
Let us, then, search our hearts day by day, and see what it is which hides Him from us. If we have never yet seen Him by His promised illumination, it is a sign that something in us must still be cleansed away. Morning and night let us seek it out; convicting our hearts by the perfection of His heart. There are two sure ways to keep the soul clear from conscious sin: the one is, uniform 118 obedience; and the other, prompt confession. Let us suffer nothing to harbour and fester in our hearts, but at once cast it forth at His feet by a pure and penitent confession. Even sins of the lighter kind, of thought and temper, if they are allowed to linger, make up by duration what they want in magnitude. They taint and estrange the heart, and make us shrink from His presence, until we have confessed them. This is the remedy of our imperfect service and our many infirmities. We may cast them all out before Him as our sorrows and our burdens, and He will not impute them to us. It is specially to hearts cleansed by confession that He shews Himself by His inward coming. Mary at the tomb is the pledge of His appearing to sinners who are penitents. And who can fear or shrink from laying open their hearts to such miraculous love, or of speaking the worst of themselves at the feet of His absolving pity?
2. The other counsel is, to ask, day by day, that He will shew Himself to you. For this manifestation of His presence, character, and love is not to be obtained by power of intellect, or by vividness of imagination, or by any effort of ours. We cannot reveal Him to ourselves. All that we can do is, to cleanse our hearts of their films and darkness, that He may shine into them. Nothing can we do more, but say, “Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy 119countenance upon us.” We cannot make the sun to rise upon the earth. But “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”5151 2 Cor. iv. 6. We must ask of Him without fainting, that He will shew Himself. And there are three ways of seeking this great gift. One is by habitual prayer, another by quiet meditation, and a third, which is above all, by frequent communion. It is then that He specially fulfils His promise. As at Emmaus, so now, He is known in the breaking of bread. This is that commandment which we have of Him, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Happy are they who keep it well; to whom the altar is the centre of their worship, the object of their desire, the source of strength and peace. Blessed are they who say, “I will go to the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy;” to our God manifest in the flesh, but veiled in that pure mystery. The holy sacrament of His love and passion is the fullest realisation of His presence unto the end of the world. “Lo, I am with you.” Let us so live, as to be ever drawing near. For what is so like to the days when He went in and out among them that loved Him? What so fastens upon us a sense that He is here; that He is come to us, 120 and that He calleth for us? They who so live know what it is to be awakened and quickened as by the presence of some one greatly loved; or if they complain, as many do, of distant and cold hearts, even at the altar, it is often because their consciousness of how loving and how near He is, acts by an opposite effect, revealing to them, not what they have, but what they need. The more we know what He is, and feel Him near, the more we shall accuse ourselves, and see our own unworthiness. For His presence at the altar is all that we can endure in this life of earth. To behold more would be heaven, for which we are not meet. He is teaching us, little by little, to see His face unveiled. “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” In heaven they shall be most blessed who have known Him most fully here. They here shall know Him best who see Him with greatest clearness. They see Him clearest now whose hearts are most like His own.
At His appearing to the disciples in Galilee, on the mountain where He had appointed them, “when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.” They doubted not that He was their Lord, nor that He had suffered agony and death upon the cross, nor that He had risen from the dead; but they doubted their own certainty of 121sight, like as they who believed not for joy, and wondered; or as when they saw Him at the sea, and none durst ask Him, “Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.” So it is now with you. It may be you are doubting, not of Him, but of yourselves; not whether He is with you, but whether your hearts have ever seen Him. Only believe for a little while: “a little while, and ye shall see Me.” And there shall be no doubting then; when He shall be visibly revealed in the kingdom of the resurrection, and you shall be pure in heart to behold Him in the beatific vision.
What is a little while? A little more sickness, sorrow, mourning, and solitude; a little more of striving and persevering. A little while is soon over; and then we shall be changed into a changeless joy. Then “we shall see Him as He is.” What, then, is “a little while,” if in a little while we may see Him for ever?122
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