THE FOUR GOSPELS,
FOUR VIEWS OF CHRIST.
"A river went out of Eden, to water the garden, and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads." -- GEN. 2:10.
WE are told of St Augustine, that on one occasion, when his mind was much engaged in the contemplation of the doctrine of the Trinity, he was walking by the sea, and saw a child filling a shell with the water, which it then carried and poured into a hollow in the sand. "What are you doing, my boy, with that water?" said the Saint. "I am," replied the child, "going to put all the sea into this hole." The Father smiled and passed on; when a voice seemed to say to him, "And thou too art doing the like, in thinking to comprehend the depths of God in the narrow limits of thy finite mind."
The attempt to treat of the Differences of the Gospels within a few brief lectures, may appear to be only a repetition of the child's attempt to drain the sea. But I make no such attempt. I bear a cupful of water, a taste of what is at hand for all who seek and wait to draw it; not that, like Ishmael, any should be content to go forth with but a bottle; for in the dry and thirsty land, if our water is only in bottles, it will soon be all consumed (Gen. 21:14-15); but rather to lead men like Isaac to dwell by the well (Gen. 25:11), knowing that never is the water so sweet to us, as when we draw it ourselves fresh from the living fountain. Those who, like Ishmael, trust to bottles, are not only oft-times faint, but have no eye for the well, which, though they see it not, springs close to them even in the dreary land (Gen. 21:19). But the elect dwell by the waters, and open wells while others stop them (Gen. 26:18-23), that man and beast may drink thereat. If in a day when the human mind seems more than ever alive to extract every possible refreshment from the streams of this world, I can point to a better spring -- if, in a word, by the examples given here, I may lead some to the Gospels, prayerfully and humbly to wait there for the streams of God, these pages will not be in vain. Happy should I be, if the joy my own soul has had in the study could be communicated to others into whose hands this little book may come.
To speak then of the Gospels. As every one knows, there are four. By many these are regarded as merely supplementary or corroborative of one another. That they serve this end, as coincident testimonies, I do not doubt; but this is secondary, the chief purpose being, I am assured, the revelation of the Lord in certain distinct relationships. Even a man's life might be thus written: one biographer giving his public, another his private and more domestic life. Thus one would select one class of facts: another, omitting these, would record others, as better suiting his own purpose. Nay, in the self-same facts, the two would notice different circumstances, without making either narrative imperfect in the particular view in which it was composed. It is just so in the Gospels. Each has its own object: each, therefore, has its own peculiar selection and arrangement of facts recorded.
An example may illustrate this. Take, then, the life of that great man who has so lately been taken from among us. If I wished to shew his skill as a military commander, I might select some word or deed of boldness in the field. Did I wish to shew his kind-heartedness, I might simply quote a letter written after the fight, sympathizing with the sorrows of one whose friend or brother had there fallen. While with another view I might point to the Despatches, so clear and true, as illustrative of the literary ability of the same person. Thus from the self-same scene I might make selections of the circumstances to record, according to the particular end which I had before me in my writing. And so as to the order of the events narrated. If my object is to shew the progress of a certain course of action, chronological order must be adhered to accurately. On the other hand, if I only wish to illustrate the spirit and character of that action, in which various facts all speak the same language, chronological order may be dispensed with without error. In each case the one question is, What is the writer's object? Unless this is apprehended, the writing will, though perhaps instructive, fail to accomplish in us its specific end.
Take again the Code Napoleon as an example. "Did I speak of it as a monument of the genius of him whose name it bears, I might select particular parts in which the bearing of law on society, an intuitive perception of just results in details, and the vast scope of design, were manifest, and shew that these originated in his mind. Did another history seek to shew Napoleon's own power in employing instruments, it might shew the very same parts drawn up by men able in their vocation; and a caviller might find difficulty to reconcile the drawing up of all by these instruments, with the originating mind which had set all agoing and directed it throughout. Were I shewing the progress of legislation in the world, I might allege these very same parts as the necessary consequence of the progress of society, and that they flowed as the evident consequences from the preceding steps in this process, as one idea leads on to another; and, in appearance, Napoleon's originality would disappear. All these histories might be true, yet seem impossible to one who had only these to reconcile them in everything; because he has not the additional elements and a knowledge of the whole order of man's mind and history, which would be absolutely necessary to put them together. Is God's history of His Son in the world less vast in conception, less multifarious in the relationships it speaks of, than Napoleon and a code of laws?" (The Irrationalism of Infidelity, p. 77.)
And yet many speak of Holy Scripture as if its form were accidental, without a thought whether such a supposition be worthy or unworthy of a Divine revelation. Ignorant of God and His purpose and laws, they scruple not to judge His Word. To act thus with heathen poets, and charge them with ignorance, because the form of their verse is unlike ours, would of course be great presumption. But without God's Spirit to judge His Word, is wisdom, the world's wisdom, which is yet utter foolishness. But the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. In His sanctuary some have learned to admire the grace and wisdom of this His revelation; and having given Him credit for having an object in its form, have in due time learned by His Spirit what that object is. They know, as one of old expressed it, that "the living Word, humbling Himself to come in human form, became all things to all men, in a more Divine sense than St Paul, in order that thus He might win all men." (Origen, Comment. in Johan. tom. x.) The human form, therefore, of the Written Word to them is no stumbling-block. They see that it is but part and parcel of the mystery of the Incarnation. They know, too, if the world know not, that the division of Scripture into books, in each of which some particular aspect of the elect's position, and of God's grace to meet it, is given to us, was thus appointed the better to reveal Him, by dividing as with a prism His light, here a little and there a little, as man could bear it. In Paradise this might not be needed. There man might better conceive of God. But though in Eden the river of the water of life flowed in one full stream, when it left the Garden, and went forth into the world, it was seen parted into several channels (Gen. 2:10). Could we apprehend Christ as He is, we should not need the many streams; but being where and what we are, very gracious is the form of the revelation; a witness among many, that the "sundry times and divers manners" (Heb. 1:1) of the communication were all additional expressions of perfect love.
The fact is that our perceptions do not grasp realities, but their forms. If therefore what is seen is to be described, we must have many representations even of the same object; and this not only because the same object may be viewed on different sides, but because the amount of what is seen even on the same side will depend on the light and capacity of the beholder. He who made us knew this and provided for it. Hence of old, in type and figure, we have view after view of Him that was to come; not only because His offices and perfections were many, but also because we were weak and needed such a revelation. Thus in the single relation of offering, Christ is seen as Burnt-offering, Peace-offering, and Sin-offering, each but a different view of the same one offering; each of which again may be seen in various measures, and yet the offering itself be only one. And just as in the self-same act of dying on the cross, our Lord was at the same moment a sweet-savour offering, willingly offering to God a perfect obedience, and also a sin-offering, penally bearing the judgment due to sin, and as such made a curse for us; (For those not familiar with the typical offerings, I may note here that in "the sweet-savour offerings," man came to present an offering, which, as a sweet feast to God, was consumed upon His altar. In "the sin-offerings," man came as a sinner, and his offering, as charged with sin, was cast out, and burnt, not on the altar, but on the ground "without the camp." In the one the offerer came as an accepted worshipper: in the other as a condemned sinner. See Lev. 1-5. Both views meet in the death of Christ.) so in the selfsame acts of His life, each act may be seen in different aspects, for each act has a Divine fulness. It is this fulness which God in mercy presents to our view in the diversities of the Four Gospels.
It is for this reason that a Harmony of the Gospels, though it is interesting and has its use, leads us from the special purpose for which the Gospels were written as they are. For by arranging everything chronologically many passages lose the force which they possess as portions of a distinct series. The Spirit of God, here in historic, there in moral order, has put this or that fact touching the Son before me. The facts are precious, get them as I may; but doubly precious, if I am able to apprehend the purpose of God in presenting them in this or that relation. Then each scene, in its omissions, in its form, in its position in the series, is part of a Divine mystery, which, though hid from the wise and prudent of the world, is yet often by the Holy Ghost revealed to babes.
The early Church saw this. And with one voice they testify what they saw, namely, that the Four Gospels contained four different aspects of the Great Manifestation. And though to say that the Fathers so view the matter will not in these days commend the view, it will at least prove that the doctrine here is no novelty. The emblem which they applied to the Gospels was that of the Four Cherubim or "living creatures," conceiving that these four "living creatures" were apt representations of the Four Evangelists or Gospels, or rather, more correctly to express their thought, of those manifestations of Christ Himself which the Four Gospels respectively present to us, Christ himself being one and the same in each, yet seen and set forth by each in a different aspect. (Take one witness, who speaks for many -- Ambros. Prolog. in Expos. Evangelii secundum Lucam. § 8. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Victorinus, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, all refer to the Cherubim in this connexion.) Illuminated Missals, Old Bibles, and the windows of Churches, in which these Cherubic forms are connected with the Four Evangelists, shew that, right or wrong, the Church for centuries has regarded this as a correct application. I believe they were right, and I am content to take the same symbols, finding no others which so well express the general and particular character of each and all the Gospels.
And here, though what I contend for is not the symbol but the fact, it may be well to shew in what way the symbol of the Cherubim can be connected with certain views of Christ's person. For some may ask, Are not the Cherubim angels? If I err not, the Cherubim are always the Divine in creature form, the vessel in or by which the Lord reveals His glory. If He shews Himself in angels, then so far angels may be Cherubim. If He shews Himself in "living creatures full of eyes," who say, "Thou hast redeemed us" (compare Rev. 4:8 and Rev. 5:8, 9), then the redeemed are Cherubim. The Jews say that the Cherubim in the temple were the memorials of God's descent at the giving of the Law. That descent on Mount Sinai was a manifestation, even if "by the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53), of His glory. But that descent, though the Jews never understood it, was itself a pledge of another and greater, when He who then wrote His laws on stone would write them in flesh, and descend to shew His glory in the only begotten Son. For my own part, without pretending fully to explain "the living creatures," I cannot doubt that they are a vessel to reveal the Lord's glory; as such linked to the manifestation made in the flesh of Christ, and again that which shall be made in His mystic body, the Church of the redeemed first-born. For the one foreshadows the other. And just as the work of the potter, before it feels the fire, has on it all those lines of beauty which shall be seen when the vessel has passed through the furnace, though none but the potter's eye can as yet trace the beauty; so, I doubt not, do the Gospels contain hidden within them figures, not only of the revelation once made in Christ, but of that far more wondrous one which shall be made when the kingdom now in mystery shall be revealed openly. But on this I cannot here enter. Enough if I have shewn on what grounds "the living creatures" may be used as figures of the various aspects of the manifestation given us in Christ Jesus.
As to details, the figures are these: -- "The first living creature was like unto a lion; the second living creature was like unto a calf; the third living creature had a face as a man; and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle" (Rev. 4:7). The four camps in the wilderness -- the camp of Reuben, of Judah, of Ephraim, and of Dan -- had, it is said, these four figures on their respective standards (Num. 2:3, 10, 18, 25): (The Jewish traditions declare that Reuben's standard was the man, Judah's the lion, Ephraim's the ox, Dan's the eagle.) for Israel was the elect vessel in which the Lord would be seen; on them, therefore, in a way they little thought, was stamped some figure of that which should one day be seen in the true Israel. (See Isa. 49:3, where Christ is called "Israel;" and compare Isa. 49:4.) And in every age, the lion, and ox, and man, and eagle, have all been seen in some part of the camp of the saints or the beloved city. Of the import of the figures I need scarcely speak. If Christ is seen as "the lion," a heavenly voice tells us in what connexion He holds this form: -- "The lion of the tribe of Judah is the root of David" (Rev. 5:5; 22:16): again, "Judah is my lawgiver" (Ps. 108:8). Under this figure, therefore, I expect to find Him as a Son of Abraham, connected with a kingdom, and so with Abraham's seed. Then as to "the calf." This is the figure for service. So we read, "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn" (1 Cor. 9:9): and again, "Much increase is by the strength of the ox" (Prov. 14:4). Under this figure I expect to see the Lord as the patient labourer for others, if need be offering Himself in His service as a perfect sacrifice. The "man" needs no comment. "The face of a man" bespeaks human sympathy, as it is written, "I drew them with the cords of a man, with bands of love" (Hos. 11:4). Here we shall see the "Son of man," one who can have compassion on the ignorant, seeing He also is compassed with infirmities; who, forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, Himself likewise took part of the same; who took not on Him the nature of angels, but who took on Him the seed of Abraham, and was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin; that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. Very different is "the eagle." Its ways are above the earth -- "the way of an eagle in the air," says the wise man, "is too wonderful for me" (Prov. 30:18, 19). Much on the wing, it often rises where no human eye can follow, and possesses the power of gazing with undazzled eyes upon the mid-day sun. Here, "the Word who was with God," who came to reveal the Father, is seen as the One who is from heaven, and whose home is there. (The following passage from Irenaeus, who wrote within a century from the time of the Apostles, will shew how ancient this interpretation is -- Adv. Hoeres. lib. iii. cap. 11.)
Now those who have most learned Christ, have universally recognised these several views of Him in the Four Gospels. For love is quick-sighted, and delights to dwell on the peculiarities and perfections of a beloved object. But with the exception of St John's Gospel, where no question can arise, Christians have differed as to the particular view set forth in each Gospel. The most common view, and which has been sanctioned by the Church of Rome, following in this Jerome and Ambrose and other Fathers, is that which makes the Four Gospels correspond with the order of the Cherubic faces, as seen in Ezekiel's first vision (Ezek. 1:10); that is, first the man, then the lion, then the ox, then the eagle. For this view there is little to be urged, except the fact that in Ezekiel's first vision the Cherubic faces are seen in this order. Some, therefore, among whom is Augustine, dissent; seeing the man in St Mark, and the ox in St Luke, while the lion and the eagle are the aspects he traces respectively in St Matthew and St John's Gospels. (De Consensu Evangelistarum, lib. i. cap. 6. Augustine does not mention this as merely his own opinion, but as that traditional interpretation which he most approved of. Of those who held the view sanctioned by the Church of Rome, he says, "De principiis librorum ... perscrutanda.") Others, while agreeing with Augustine in his view of St John and St Matthew, see more clearly the ox or service in St Mark, and the Son of Man in St Luke's Gospel. I believe the true order is set forth in the vision of St John, that is, first the lion, then the ox, then the man, and last the eagle. (There is doubtless a reason for the varying order in which the living creatures are seen, by the man by the river Chebar (Ezek. 1:1, 3), by the man in Jerusalem, with the elders of Jerusalem before him (Ezek. 8:1; 10:14), and by the man in heaven (Rev. 4:1, 7). But why should we in these New Testament days, when we are called to "heavenly places," take the view from beside the river Chebar? If we are, like Ezekiel, captives in Babylon, we perhaps must do so; for here as elsewhere our view depends on our position.)
But whence this difference of opinion? The reason is most plain. In Ezekiel's vision of the living creatures, each one had all the four faces. And though I am well assured that each Gospel has one more special aspect, yet each will to those who have eyes give some traits of all the aspects; while to those who have no eyes, or only half-opened ones, it will present something of all the four together. A distant view of a building often confounds its different sides. Imperfect views of Christ's offering continually unite or confuse its different aspects, mixing the sin side of it with what was a sweet savour; while on the other hand a more perfect apprehension shews many views in each aspect; either of which causes will account for the difference of judgment here. And as to the various views of St Mark, where one sees the man, others the ox, a special reason may be found in St Paul's words, "He took on Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man" (Phil. 2:7). The one relation is so close to the other, that one runs into the other: one therefore very easily may be substituted or mistaken for the other. For as it is said of the living creatures, "two wings of every one were joined one to another" (Ezek. 1:9, 11), so in certain places the view peculiar to one Gospel seems to run into another view. And so as to St Luke. I can quite understand, how, seeing the special mercy there to the lost, some have connected this Gospel with the idea of atonement, and taken "the ox," the sacrificial animal, as an emblem of it. Nevertheless I feel assured that, according to the order of the living creatures in St John's vision, the third Gospel shews "the man;" that it is as man that Christ meets the lost -- "the priest must be taken from among men" (Heb. 5:1, 2); -- as man He makes the atonement. And the following pages shew why I prefer the view which regards St Luke's Gospel as the revelation of the Son of Adam. At the same time, while I see how truly all "they four had one likeness" (Ezek. 10:10), I cannot wonder that men with different feelings have thus differed here.
The old tradition as to the Lord, that He appeared very different to different men, (Orig. Tractat. 35 in Matthaeum.) seems to me in point here, and quite probable. For something of this sort must be true of the Word in all His manifestations. Take an instance from the Written Word. Paul saw in Hagar and Sarah what an unbeliever could not see. I look into the Gospels: how infinitely different do they appear to me, and to the sceptic who only sees in them certain exploded myths; and yet how very far does my view come short of that of angels and saints within the veil. So with the formed Word of creation; "the heavens which declare His glory;" how different is it to a Newton and to a New Zealand savage! So with the Word made flesh. To one He is but as "a root out of dry ground" (Isa. 53:2); to another He is "the chiefest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely" (Cant. 5:10, 16). It is so on all points. The Word must appear different to different men, because each sees, and can only see, with his own measure, and from his own standing point.
And this leads me to notice the writers of the Gospels; for the view of each is wonderfully connected with his own character. Each sees from his own ground. Matthew, a Jew and publican (Matt. 10:3), one who, though by birth an Israelite, by his office as publican had been an official of the Roman empire, and so had been accustomed to contemplate a vast kingdom, sees our Lord both as Son of Abraham and of David, connected with Abraham's seed, and also with a kingdom. Mark was the Apostle's servant: "They had John, whose surname was Mark, for their minister" (Acts 12:12; 13:5; 15:37-39); and Paul says of him, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11). This is the man, living to serve, who sees the Lord as Servant; his own service being probably, not only the result of what he had seen in the Lord, but also a means for better enabling him to appreciate the perfections of that blessed ministry. Luke, apparently a Gentile, as he is distinguished by St Paul from "those of the circumcision" (Col. 4:14), the friend and companion of Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles (Acts 16:11; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philemon 24), whose ministry respected neither Jew nor Gentile, but addressed itself to man as such, is the one who sees Christ as the Son of Adam or Son of Man, not so much connected with a kingdom, or the Servant of God, as the One whose sympathies as a Man linked Him with Adam's fallen and ruined children. John, who leaned on the bosom of His Lord, sees Him as the Son in the bosom of the Father, not of the world, though for a season in it, to draw a heavenly people upward from it to the Father's house above. In each case the vessel used by the Spirit was fitted for the special task. He knew, if they knew not, His own purpose in thus variously tuning His chosen instruments. The result is full harmony to the instructed ear. I know indeed that some, who have presumed to judge here after the flesh, complain of dissonance. I know, too, that to the savage ear our full chord is confused and strange; and how a note which seems like a discord could add character and tone, would be utterly incomprehensible. But the harper, whose music satisfies the instructed, can afford to be judged by the untaught. The Lord did not lack perfectness, because some on earth saw no beauty in Him that they should desire Him.
I would yet add a word as to the order of the Gospels, for I am well assured that the order of Scripture, as we now have it, involves deep teaching. (Augustine says of the order of St Matthew and St Mark, "Hoc fortasse non sine aliquo sacramento." -- De Consensu Evang. lib. i. c. 3.) Here as well as in all things God has had a hand. And indeed it needs no special light to see that in the Four Gospels, the character of the revelation increases in depth, or at least changes its form, as we proceed. The first thousand cubits the waters were to the ancles; the second thousand cubits the waters were to the knees; the third thousand cubits the waters were to the loins; afterwards it was, waters to swim in, a river which could not be passed over (Ezek. 47:3, 5). The King is the first view we get of the Lord. The Son of David is head of a kingdom, of which we all are, or should be, subjects. In this relation He gives His commands, repealing old laws with His, "I say unto you;" while (for His kingdom is one of grace) He invites the weary to come unto Him, and He will give them rest. At the same time, like a righteous judge, He utters the woes which must attend contempt or rejection of this His rightful claim. All this we get in St Matthew; and this is ever the view which an awakened soul first gets of the Lord Jesus. Soon I get a further view. I see that in His love this Lord has actually become for us a true Servant; not only that He has given commands, but that He has Himself toiled for us. How He toiled comes out with wondrous beauty in the second Gospel. Soon we see even further; not only that He has served, but that verily and indeed He took our place and became a Man for us; a wailing child, bound with swaddling clothes, under human restraints, obeying parents; and then, oh wondrous vision! that He is the heavenly One, the Son of man in heaven. He grows as we look upon Him. Like the vine seen by Pharaoh's butler, which, as he looked, "was as though it budded, and shot forth, and bore clusters" (Gen. 40:10), Christ grows before those who see Him; one relation after another comes out, and comes out, I believe, very much according to the order of these Gospels. Sure I am that in the books of the Old Testament the order is most marked. We first see what comes out of Adam, the different forms of life growing out of the root of "old Adam." This is the book of Genesis. Then we see that, be it good or bad which has come out of Adam, there must be redemption: so an elect people by the blood of the Lamb are saved from Egypt. This is the book of Exodus. After redemption is known, we come to the experience of the elect, as needing access, and learning the way of it, to God the Redeemer in the sanctuary. This we get in Leviticus. Then in the wilderness of this world, as pilgrims from Egypt, the house of bondage, to the promised land, the trials of the journey are learnt, from that land of wonders and of man's wisdom and art, to the land flowing with milk and honey. This is the book of Numbers. Then comes the desire to exchange the wilderness for the better land, from entering which for a season after redemption is known the elect yet shrink; answering to the desire of the elect at a certain stage to know the power of the resurrection, to live even now as in heavenly places. The rules and precepts which must be obeyed, if this is to be done, come next. Deuteronomy, a second giving of the law, a second cleansing, tells the way of progress. After which Canaan is indeed reached: we go over Jordan: we know practically the death of the flesh, and what it is to be circumcised, and to roll away the reproach of Egypt. We know now what it is to be risen with Christ, and to wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers in heavenly places. This is Joshua. Every instructed Christian has felt this progress; and the books, and their order exactly answer to it. And so, I believe, it is with the Four Gospels. Nor here only. There is Divine order and progress, I am assured, in the Epistles. There is first Paul's truth, then James's truth, then Peter's truth, and then John's truth: (The thought that Peter and John are types of different forms of Christian life is very common in the old writers; John being taken as the type of the life which is by vision of Christ; Peter, of that life which is by faith and conflict. See Augustine, Hom. in Johan. cxxiv.) the same truth in substance, but given in different forms, meeting the advancing needs of God's elect people. Few now ever really get beyond Paul's form, the first side of truth, giving the first aspect of the application of heavenly mysteries. We are more at home in his arguments, addressed not a little to the mind, than in some of John's simple testimonies; as a proof of which I may say, that for one comment on St John's Epistles, we have twenty on St Paul; and this, not because the latter is the most difficult, but because he is more on ground where intellect can find its own. John's line of things in his Epistle is in its simplicity beyond us, even as his Gospel (if indeed Christians knew what it spoke) is not so near and easily apprehended as the view of a kingdom, and that we, with Christ, are members of it. But on this too I forbear: nevertheless the subject will repay the fullest meditation.
But some may ask, Where is the proof that this difference really exists? May I answer, proof is not so much needed as an opened eye. The Jews of old asked signs, instead of the removal of the veil. They could see no proof that Christ was a Divine Person. In questions of sensual things, the senses will yield the proof. Sense proves that fire is hot, and ice cold. Intellect is needed to receive intellectual proof. The senses will not prove a mathematical proposition. To feel as a man, you must be a man; and to feel and see with God, you must possess God's Spirit. "Who knoweth the things of man, save the spirit of man? So the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). And this is my answer here. Truth is revealed only to the true. The pure in heart, and they only, shall see God. The impure will see the world, or themselves, or their sins. Holiness is needed, if we would see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Barnabas, who was so surnamed by the Apostles, because he was "a son of consolation" (Acts 4:36), when he came to the brethren at Antioch, "saw in them the grace of God; for," adds the inspired penman, "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 11:23, 24). Pilate, had he gone thither, would never have seen the same. And so of the Gospels. Like the book of nature, they are "the open secret;" open to all, but opened to few. Like the holy city, though the gates shall not be shut at all by day, and there is no night there, yet shall there in no wise enter in thither anything that defileth or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the Lamb's book of life. The nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light. By such, the proof, when it is submitted to them, will, I am assured, not be judged lacking. But, oh! how few consider what a tale is told in what we see! how few remember that by it, like the mariner on the ocean, we may find out where we really are!
There is yet another question. Granting the proof, what is the use? What is gained by seeing these distinctions? Such a question -- alas! too common -- only shews where many now are, and how little God's secrets are prized and treasured by us. Is it nothing to increase in the knowledge of Him, whom to know is life eternal, and "through the knowledge of whom are given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3)? Shall earthly objects attract, and ignorance be accounted shame, and is it no shame that we so little apprehend the wonders of this blessed revelation? If it be true, too, that "we shall be like Him, when we see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2), is it no gain to grow in intelligent knowledge of Him? He that has seen the great sight will not ask, What is the use? He has seen and believed, and all questioning ends in worship and adoring praise.
The fact is, we need an object. God knows this, though we forget it. He knows that to this day the colour of the flocks is changed by the rods put before their eyes in their drinking-troughs (Gen. 30:37-39). He knows that, spite of our boastings, the creature cannot be self-existent or self-supported. He therefore gives an object -- a revelation of Himself -- by the contemplation of which we may rise out of self to bear His image. And just as this revelation is permitted to reach us, it impresses us. We are like Him, when we see Him as He is. But the god of this world, knowing well how the vision of God will transform the creature, strives by another vision, of the glory of this world, to "blind the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4). But the pure in heart see God. And, such as see Him are changed from grace to grace, into the same image. Let but the light shine on them, and like the moon they must reflect it. The very pool in the street will flash back the rays of heaven, if they do but fall upon it. And we all, "with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).
But there is another answer. The Church, as Christ's body, must set Him forth. She is called to be His letter of recommendation before a world that knows Him not (2 Cor. 3:3). In her relations to those who are the seed of Abraham, and yet not all children, "for in Isaac shall the seed be called" (Rom. 9:7); -- in her relation as the Lord's servant in ministry here -- in her relation to Adam's seed, or all mankind -- in her relation to the heavenly family -- is there nothing she has to learn? Those who know the most feel how much instruction they yet need in each and all of these relations. Very blessed is it to see how Christ once filled them; for "as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Who has had his eyes in any measure opened to the state of the professing Church -- of that body which calls itself, and in one sense is, the seed of Abraham, and the Lord's kingdom -- but has felt the need of special teaching how he should walk towards it? This teaching will be found in that Gospel which shews Christ in connexion with the kingdom and with Abraham's seed. Again, in a day like the present, when so many new schemes are being forged of philanthropy to renovate and save a groaning world, is it nothing to have before us the details of that service by which, as God's Servant, our Lord perfectly pleased and glorified Him that sent Him? But every question on this head may be fully answered, as we contemplate the Gospel dedicated to reveal the service of the Lord's Servant. Again, we are Adam's sons: we are in the world as well as in the Church: we have a link which binds us to all mankind. Is it nothing to know how far that relationship should hold us -- how we should sit and walk with publicans and amongst lost sinners? I look in St Luke, and I see a Man, in every stage of life, meeting all men, and yet in all well-pleasing God. And so of the Son of God, the begotten of the Father. We, too, as His begotten, have a place in His bosom, called to rise above the earth; as such, to be misunderstood and rejected here, and yet while judged, by a heavenly life to be continually judging things around us. Do I want to know the rule here, how, as a son of God, Passovers, Sabbaths, and feasts of Tabernacles, may be all fulfilled in me? I look in St John, and I receive the answer. Oh! for grace, more grace, to walk something more like that most blessed Pattern. In such a walk the world will see nothing -- it saw no glory in the Lord. What was there in His relation to the Kingdom, or in His Service, or in His walk as a Man, or as the Son of God, worth noticing? The world saw no beauty. It will see none in us, and yet another Eye shall see the earnest of glory and of everlasting joys.
There is, however, a misuse, as well as a use, of this truth. Intellect may be exercised without conscience. Truth may be used to exalt self, (what is there the flesh will not spoil?) and so bring on its possessor a worse judgment. Nothing really profits but what sanctifies and humbles. If, like Judas, we use the Word, or our knowledge of Him of whom it testifies, to minister to self, better would it be had we never known Him. If, on the contrary, in the midst of weakness, we use His glorious likeness to humble us for the little measure in which we are as yet conformed to it, and by that Pattern judge in us all which is unlike Him, our knowledge of Him, and His glory, shall not be wholly vain. May these pages, through His grace, serve this end in us! Amen.
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