WHAT is the meaning of all the teaching and preaching, which by our Lord's command is continued day by day both in the Church and in the world? It means that there is something which we do not know, which it is very important that we should know, and which we are all slow to learn. What is it that we do not know, which it is so important we should know, and which we are so slow to learn? Only two things: we do not know ourselves: we do not know God. All teaching and preaching are to make us know ourselves and God.
Do we know ourselves? Some of us have gone through colleges and schools, and have learnt this language or studied that science: nay, we may have gone round the world, and seen its peoples, its cities, and great sights, without, like the Prodigal, ever "coming to ourselves." And even when we have "come to ourselves," and so have "come to our Father" (Luke 15:17, 20), we may still not know our special weakness, and what we might do if tempted, or our strength in Christ, who is our true life, when He is manifested in us. St. Peter, the chief of the Apostles, is one of the many examples which Holy Scripture gives us to shew how true disciples, though they love Christ, and have given up much to follow Him, may be wholly ignorant of their own weakness, and of man's true perfecting through death and resurrection. Who understands the wonderful contradictions which go to make up man? At times almost an angel; at times a beast or devil: now with aspirations high as heaven; now with self-love and envy low as hell. Who knows himself even as his neighbours know him? Well might the old heathen oracle say, "Know thyself." Well might the Psalmist again and again ask, "Lord what is man?" (Psalm 8:4; 144:3).
And then as to God, do we know Him? Do we even know our true relation to Him? What are our thoughts about Him? Is He for us, or against us? Is He friend or foe—a stranger or a Father? Can we trust Him as we trust an earthly friend? Or are those right who call themselves Agnostics, and say, not only that we do not, but even that we cannot, really know Him? Alas—it is too true: men know Him not. But this is not man's proper state. This is not the will of God respecting us.
Does the book we call the Bible throw any light upon our present state of ignorance of God and of ourselves? Does it hold out any remedy for it? One of its first lessons is to tell us how man became what he now is, fallen for a while from God, yet not forsaken by Him. Who has not heard the story, little as it is understood, how a lower creature suggested a falsehood as to God and man,—that God was grudging, in denying that which looked so pleasant to the eyes and good for food,—untrue in saying that if man ate of it he should surely die;—and as to man, that he should be as God, with his eyes opened, knowing good and evil, if only he would act in self-will and disobedience? Who has not heard, how, as the result of believing this lie, man learnt that he was naked, and hid himself from God, and sought to cover his nakedness with fig leaves, and his disobedience with excuses; yet that God sought him with a Call, a Promise, and a Gift,—a Call which is yet sounding in the ears of all, asking man where he now is, and why he is not still with Him who made him,—a Promise also of deliverance from his enemy,—and a Gift to meet his present need (Gen. 3:1-21). It is all in the Old Book: nay—it is being re-enacted every day; for the "old man" in us yet repeats old Adam's folly. Men everywhere believe the lie, and hide from God, and seek to cover their shame with pretexts, which still leave them naked after all their labour. And the natural result is, man has hard thoughts of God, and high thoughts of himself. God's character everywhere is gone with man, who has now more faith in creatures than in God, and more pleasure in them than in his Maker. Man's thoughts of Him may be seen in the idols which he has set up to represent Him—some monstrous Moloch or Juggernaut, who can look unmoved at the destruction of His creatures. Even a pantomime therefore, as Augustine says, can please us more than God. We would not pass a bag of money, if we might have it, because we could get some pleasure from it; but we can pass by God, morning, noon, and night, for we expect no good or pleasure from Him. So we eat without Him, drink without Him, buy without Him, sell without Him, live without Him: if we could, we would gladly die without Him. For does He not restrict and cross and punish us all through this fleeting earthly life, and will He not damn the mass of His poor miserable creatures at last with endless pain and hell-fire? Such is the working of the serpent's lie, which is rankling deep in every heart, till the remedy, which, lies as near us as the lie, is by God's Spirit brought home to us.
For, thank God, there is a remedy, and the remedy is in God. God is God, spite of His creatures' fall from, and wretched thoughts of, Him. All we need is to know God, and what He truly is, and His relation to His creatures. This is the remedy, the only remedy, for the evil. Revelation, that is an unveiling of Him,—for the serpent's lie and its bitter fruits have almost wholly hidden God from us,—in a word, His shewing Himself to us as we can bear it,—is the means, not only to give us peace and bring us to God, but to change us again into His own image. Just as the sun, if it shines upon the earth, changes everything it shines on,—as the light, if it comes upon the fields, makes them partakers of its varied hues and brightnesses,—so does God's revelation of Himself to His fallen creature restore in it His likeness. We become like Him just in proportion as we see Him as He is.
But how has God revealed Himself to man? Even as man yet reveals himself; for man was made in God's image. Man shews himself by his words and works. God in like manner has done this. His Word is the express image of His person and the brightness of His glory; and by that Word, which is perfect truth, He has answered, and still answers, the false word of the serpent, which has been our ruin. By His Word in nature, "for the heavens declare His glory" (Psalm 19:1), though to fallen man there seems "no voice or language" in them;—by His Word spoken through His servants, "at sundry times and in divers manners" (Heb. 1:1), coming to us from without and in the letter, because we could not bear His Spirit;—above all by His "Word made flesh," in Christ our Lord (John 1:14);—God has shewn us what He is, and thus by word and deed answered the lie that He is grudging and untrue, and that man can be as God in independence of Him. Does not God love? Is He not true? Christ is the answer. God is so loving, that, though His creature has fallen, He will come into his likeness for him, and will lift up man again to bear His own image. God is so true, that, if man sins, he must surely die. But God through death can destroy him that has the power of death, and say to death, "I will be thy plagues, and to hell, I will be thy destruction" (Hos. 13:14). Nay, He has already done it for us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Christ shews us man condemned, and yet justified. God has dwelt in man, born of a woman, in all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9); and man, who has suffered and died, now dwells in God, with all power in heaven and earth, to destroy the works of the devil, and to reconcile and bring back all to God for ever (Col. 1:20). This is God's answer to the serpent's lie. The Word has been made flesh (John 1:14). God has taken on Him the curse, that man should be blessed, and bear His image evermore.
The perfect revelation then of God is in Jesus Christ our Lord. But the very fulness of the revelation, like the dazzling brightness of the sun, may keep us for a while from seeing all its wonders; and we may learn, even from the revelation in the letter, that is from Holy Scripture, specially from the varied names under which it has pleased God to reveal Himself to man from the beginning, things concerning His nature and fulness, which, though they are all more perfectly revealed in Christ, would perhaps be beyond our vision but for the help which even the shadows of the letter give us. What have men not learnt from the shadow of the earth upon the moon. So the old revelation which God has given us of Himself in Holy Scripture, as "God," or "Lord," or "Almighty," or the "Most High," though it is "piecemeal" (Heb. 1:1), as the Apostle says, may assist us, to see His fulness; just as the many figures which the same Scriptures give us, in the carnal offerings of the ceremonial law, help us to see the varied and apparently contradictory aspects of the one great perfect Sacrifice. We cannot yet see the things of heaven. God therefore reveals them as we can bear it, with the accuracy of One who sees them as they are, and in a way in which they may be seen and understood by us. And we need all His teaching, even the partial revelations, which represent Him under varied names, by which He prepares us in due time to see Him as He is (1 John 3:2), and to know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12).
I purpose therefore, if God permit, to call attention to the names under which God has revealed Himself to man in Holy Scripture. The first four we find in the earlier chapters of Genesis. They are, first, "God," (in Hebrew, Elohim;) then, "Lord," (or Jehovah;) then, "Almighty," (El Shaddai;) and then, "Most High," (El Elyon.) These all reveal some distinct attribute or characteristic of the same one blessed God. Beside these we have three other names, which describe God's relation to certain things or persons rather than His nature; namely "Lord," (in Hebrew Adonai;) then "The Everlasting God," (El Olam;) and lastly, "Lord of Hosts," (Jehovah Sabaoth.) But the first four names tell us what God is. In every age these first four names have been the rest and refuge and comfort of His people. In the book of Psalms we find them all constantly repeated: in one place we have all four within the compass of a single sentence:—"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, (that is Jehovah,) He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, (that is my Elohim,) in Him will I trust." (Psalm 91:1, 2; so too in Psalm 77:7-11, we have four names.) All these varying names are but the result of His being what He is, so wonderful and manifold, that no one name can adequately express what an apostle calls His "fulness" (Eph. 3:19; Col. 1:19; 2:9). Just as in the Gospels four distinct and varying presentations of the same One Lord, as the Lion, the Ox, the Man, the Eagle, are required to shew the Christ in all His varied aspects or relations, some of which, as we here apprehend them, under the limitations of our fallen nature, seem at times to clash with other no less true views of Him who is both Son of God and Son of Man; while it is no less true that in each distinct presentation of Him we may detect hidden intimations that He contains within Himself all the apparently varying characteristics, which the other Gospels or Cherubic Faces reveal more particularly; (Note: See Four Views of Christ, pp. 2-14.) so is it in the older revelation, which God gave of Himself. He cannot fully speak of Himself under a single name or under one title. And yet each differing name contains, hidden in itself, (for God's perfections are inseparable,) something of the special virtues which the other names bring out more separately. We may see this even in a man of varied gifts. To know David we must be told that he was Shepherd, Warrior, King, Prophet, Poet, and Musician. All these are outcomes of a deep and rich nature. Shall we then wonder that God, the Maker, Judge, and Saviour of all, who in Himself is Love, and Power, and Wisdom, if He is to reveal His nature and relationships to those who know Him not, must be known by many names, each of which can only tell out something of His glory. At all events, God has thus revealed Himself to man, here a little, and there a little; and His children, as they grow up into His likeness, can only bless and praise Him for such a revelation.
My desire, then, in considering the names under which God has revealed Himself, is by them to lead some of His children and His creatures, if it may be so, to learn to know Him better. But indirectly and incidentally our study of this subject may also answer the objections of certain critics, who, from the varied names of God in Genesis, have argued that the book is a merely human composition, based on and compiled from several earlier and conflicting records, the differences and divergences of which shew that they are only the views or speculations of fallible minds as to the nature and character of God. If these critics, whose criticisms I may say are continually destroying one another, instead of so confidently judging that "Scripture," which our Lord says "cannot be broken" (John 10:35), could have only more deeply considered the question how God can reveal Himself to fallen creatures, and whether it is possible, while they are as they are, to make them know Him fully as He is,—still more if they could have been "disciples," that is learners in the school, of Christ, before they set up to be teachers,—they might, and I believe would, have learnt the reason for the form of the revelation which God has given us in Holy Scripture. Surely from the beginning, seeing what man had become, God must have desired to make Himself known; and being All-loving and All-wise, He cannot but have taken the best method of doing it. But how could He do it, man being what he is? What can we shew of our nature to an infant child? What can we make a beast understand of our inward thoughts and feelings? Was it not a simple necessity of the case that God should shew Himself under many forms, and according to the limitations of the creature in and to whom He sought to reveal Himself? Was it not necessary that the revelation should be in creature form and grow from stage to stage, even as Christ, the Word of God, when He was made flesh for us, grew in wisdom and stature unto the perfect man? (Luke 2:52).
The fact therefore, supposing it to be a fact, that those portions of the book of Genesis which speak of "Elohim" were part of an earlier or a later record than those which tell us of "Jehovah," can never prove that in its present form and order this book and the rest of Holy Scripture are not divinely given to us. In an elaborate mosaic the bits of stone have come from different quarries, but the pattern or figure which is formed by them shews that the work is not a mere chance collection of discordant atoms, but that a superintending mind has arranged and planned it with a special purpose. The fact too, which chemistry has proved, that the substances of which our flesh and bones are formed were all in the earth, and then in animal or vegetable forms, before they became parts of our present earthly bodies, is no disproof that these bodies are the work of God, or their form and arrangement the result of His purpose. So with the Bible. Even if it could be shewn that some portions of it have come from a record treasured by those who knew God only as "Elohim," while some other part was originally the vision granted to those who knew Him rather as "Jehovah," (which is not impossible, though it has not yet been proved,) such a fact, if it be a fact, would militate nothing against the unity or Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture as we now have it, but would only shew, what Scripture itself asserts, that God has spoken to man through partial revelations, till he could receive a more perfect knowledge of the truth through Christ and His Spirit.
Of course in such a case, if men are not aware of their state as fallen from God, and as such unable to see Him as He is, it is easy to object that one partial presentation or revelation of Him contradicts or clashes with another. But all nature is full of similar apparent contradictions, which are found to be no contradictions, as its secrets one by one are opened to us. Is not the one white light made up of seven differing rays and colours? Is not the order of the heavens, so quiet and so firm, the result of forces, centrifugal and centripetal, which seem directly antagonistic? Is not the balance of the heart's life preserved by systole and diastole? Is not the unity of mankind made up of man and woman? In the moral world it is the same. Truth seems often opposed to love; yet are truth and love both outcomes and manifestations of the same one Blessed God. Christ, the perfect image of God, reveals to us the unity of all apparent antagonisms. While however we remain in the flesh, we can only "know in part" (1 Cor. 13:12), and to meet us with such knowledge, He, whose fulness fills all things, has revealed Himself in a way which men may call imperfect, the very imperfection of which, if it may be called so, is its perfection, shewing its perfect adaptation for its appointed end. If we can but see what the differing names of God declare, we shall be forced, I feel assured, like all who have seen this great sight, to fall down before Him, crying, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God, Almighty, Most High, heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory."
I will only add here, that, as these names of God speak of His nature, none can ever rightly see their import but those who are partakers of that nature; "for who knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." Mere intellect therefore will never open what these names contain, nor will even the desire for light, unless that desire is joined with faith and prayer and humility. On the other hand a walk of faith, a life of love, a daily waiting upon God for His Spirit, a humble treasuring of His words, even when at first they seem dark and mysterious, these things, as they come from God, will lead to God, and to a fuller knowledge of Him, and of His fulness, as He has revealed it in His written and in His Incarnate Word. He has made us to know and love Him, and to bear His image, and so to reveal Him to a world which knows Him not. And just as by grace that image is restored in us, by the indwelling of Him who is the image of the invisible God, we may see what eye hath not seen, and hear what ear hath not heard, even the things which God reveals by His Spirit. There is indeed a stage of our experience, when the one question which occupies the soul is, How can a sinner be brought to righteousness and peace? But there is no less surely another, in which the soul hungers after God, to know Him and His perfections, in the deep sense that to know Him is the way to be conformed to Him. The names of God serve both these ends. In the beatific vision God will be all. Even here, in proportion as His redeemed see Him, they are made like Him. May our meditations on His names serve this end, to His glory and our blessing evermore!
Table of Contents Chapter 1 Home The Writings of Andrew Jukes