New Testament Christianity by J B Phillips







That this is a Visited Planet was the heart and core of the Young Church's faith. Many of the very early Christians had of course actually seen the young Prince of Glory during His earthly life. They had by no means always known Who He was, but after the resounding demonstration of the Resurrection, and after the unforgettable reassurances of His appearing and disappearing thereafter, they knew beyond any doubt that the Visit had taken place. Since almost all the early Christians were Jews, the fact which they had observed fitted, after their initial incredulity, into the pattern of their thinking. The Old Testament Scriptures which they knew so well foretold again and again the Personal Visit. The "Greater Prophet", the "Holy One", the "Righteous Servant", and all the other hints and pre­visions had come true in Jesus of Nazareth. They went out with gay and unconquerable courage to declare that the hope of Israel had come true ‑ Jesus was indeed the Christ of God. It was not long before they saw that the Hope of Israel was also the Hope of the World, and that the Visit was not merely the fulfilment of a promise to a chosen nation but the coming into the world of "the Light that lighteth every man" (John 1:9). Therefore, they preached Good News, the Good News that men were no longer fumbling and groping after God in the darkness. He had focused Himself in a Person, the Man Jesus, and by faith in this Man men could begin to live.


Naturally as the message spread and as time went on, the number of those who had known the Son of God per­sonally grew relatively few. But even though the new converts in their thousands believed by faith and not by sight, yet the central fact remained the same ‑ God had paid His Visit. From now on the centre of changed lives, of new loyalties, was Jesus Christ Who was both God and Man.


If New Testament Christianity is to reappear today with its power and joy and courage, men must recapture the basic conviction that this is a Visited Planet. It is not enough to express formal belief in the "Incarnation" or in the "Divinity of Christ", the staggering truth must be accepted afresh ‑ that in this vast, mysterious Uni­verse, of which we are an almost infinitesimal part, the great Mystery, Whom we call God, has visited our planet in Person. It is from this conviction that there springs unconquerable certainty and unquenchable faith and hope. It is not enough to believe theoretically that Jesus was both God and Man; not enough to admire, respect and even worship Him; it is not even enough to try to follow Him. The reason for the insufficiency of these things is that the modem intelligent mind, which has had its horizons widened in dozens of different ways, has got to be shocked afresh by the audacious central Fact­ - that as a sober matter of history God became one of us.


This primary Fact is the foundation of all New Tes­tament certainty about God and life. But there is a second conviction which is almost equally important. For while it is true that the earliest Christians had personally witnessed the break‑through of Eternity into Time, they did not regard this as a solitary isolated action. The Young Church lived in the daily demonstrable con­viction that this world was continually interpenetrated by the world of the Spirit. Indeed, though some of them had seen the Man Jesus ascend into the clouds before their astonished eyes, yet the fact that He was with them and in them became an increasing joyful certainty. To anyone who studies the book we call the Acts of the Apostles it becomes quite plain that the Holy Spirit is not a vague influence for good, not even just a powerful Wind of Heaven, but a Person with a purpose and ideas of His own. The earth was once visited for a few years, visibly, audibly, and tangibly, by God in human form, but thereafter it was (and of course is) continually sub­ject to invasions by the Spirit of Jesus. Happily, the Young Church was sensitive, alert, and flexible, and we can read for ourselves to what miraculous triumphs the Spirit led them. Again, if we are to regain the buoyant God‑consciousness of New Testament Christianity, we must not only accept afresh the planned Personal Visit, but be ready for any number of subsequent invasions of the Spirit.

It seems to me that it is well worth our while to study the leading characteristics of New Testament Christians. These men and women, when all is said and done, were as human as we are. God cannot conceivably have changed in His Nature or Purpose over the centuries, but we may find as we compare the life‑attitude of New Testament Christians with our own that a subtle but dis­astrous change has come over us in the intervening centuries. We may find that our timidity and rigidity, our prejudices and preconceived ideas, are most effectively blocking the Purpose of God. We must take the risk of being wide open on the God‑ward side.


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