SIXTH "VERILY, VERILY."
THE DIVINE NATURE OF THE NEW MAN.
I have already noticed of these reiterated Amens, that, like the Four Gospels, the truths they open of the New Man are all so intimately connected with and overlap each other, that it is impossible to speak of them without some repetition, for all are but varied aspects of the nature or workings of the same one heavenly life. Every truth therefore respecting this life involves some other, and each one really involves all. The first, for instance, that the New Man's home is heaven, necessarily implies the next, of the new birth, and that only by a birth into heaven can man re-enter heaven. This involves the next, that, as a son in the Father's nature, he does nothing from self, but only what the Father doeth. This again supplies the reason for the following witness, as to the New Man's heavenly bread; for as the tree lives upon its root, so can this new life only be sustained by that from which it has come forth. This again lies at the foundation of the teaching as to his freedom, for that freedom is through participation with the Son, who is not a bondman, but the true Heir. These are all in substance one truth, and all involve, if they do not assert, that the New Man possesses a divine nature. Here in the sixth "Verily, Verily," this divine nature of the New Man is distinctly taught. He has "proceeded forth and come from God" (John 8:42). Yea He can say, "Verily, Verily, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). Hence He can be the means of communicating to others the seed of the same eternal life: "Verily, Verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying he shall never see death" (John 8:51).
Nothing higher can be said. All that follows touching the New Man speaks, not so much of His nature as of His work, and of the way in which, through toil and sacrifice and death, He is perfected and made the means of others' perfecting. Here our Lord testifies of this Divine Nature, which He has given to us in giving us Himself.
1. First He says, "I proceeded forth and came from God:" "Verily, Verily, before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:42, 58); while almost in the same breath He calls Himself "a man," and the "Son of Man;" "a man that hath told you the truth" (John 8:40), and "the Son of Man who shall be lifted up" (John 8:28). The preceding Amens, in what they had said of "angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man," who "shall execute judgment also because He is the Son of Man," who "came down from heaven to give to men the flesh and blood of the Son of Man," who even on earth is "the Son of Man which is in heaven," and who says plainly, though it stumbles some, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before," had all implied, that He of whom these things were true, though Son of Man, was indeed essentially divine. In the words before us this claim is only made in plainer words. The Son of Man is both "of God" and also "very God." He is "of God," for He "proceeded forth and came from God." He is "very God," because "Verily, Verily, before Abraham existed, I am." (Note: The marked difference of the words used in the original, which is important, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι, ἐγώ εἰμι, is lost in our Authorised Version.) St Paul only sums up this teaching when he says, "The Second Man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor. 15:47). St John states it more fully in the well-known words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and the Word was made flesh" (John 1:1-14). Christ shows it us in fact. In Him we see man according to God's purpose. And in Him man is Son of God, and the Son of Man is very God. Let us, like Moses at the bush, which burned and yet was not consumed, draw near to see this great sight, of God in man, and man in God, and the Word made flesh, that our vile body might be fashioned like unto His glorious body.
The mystery then here opened is that the Son of Man is God. Such a subject must be difficult to apprehend, and even more to speak of, not only because God's being and nature transcend our thoughts, but also because few ever attempt even to look into the heights and depths here opened to us. We say indeed that God is spirit, and the Son of Man is God. But we little think what spirit is, or what it is to be eternal. All our thoughts are naturally limited by ideas of time and space. And yet, if the Son of Man is indeed God, He must have been, or rather is, eternal. And eternity, properly speaking, is not time. Time, space, and matter, which seem so real, are but appearances of something which the eye of man cannot yet see,—appearances depending on our present rudimental state of consciousness. That cannot be eternal which began in time. There is but one substantial, and therefore eternal, though invisible, reality, underlying all visible appearances, and that reality is God, who is a spirit. There is but one Eternal Being; "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all" (Eph. 4:6). And, "of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things" (Rom. 11:36). (Note: It may perhaps be objected that thus evil is endued with eternal pre-existence in the Mind of God. But it should be remembered that evil is not substantial, but the negation of substance—τὸ μὴ ὄν. To ascribe substantial existence to evil is Manicheism, because it introduces a second and a bad principle into the universe, as Augustine repeatedly points out. For instance, De Moribus Manich. § 11; Contra Epist. Manich. § 29; Opus Imperf. c. Julianum, lib. iii. § 189:—"Vitium non substantiae accidens, sed substantiam, putant esse.")
What then is man? What does our Lord here teach of the Son of Man? For He reveals man according to the mind of God. Is he also merely an appearance? I may answer, Yes, and No. What is temporal in him, that is, all that is not divine, may begin, and end, and change. All that is divine in man never had a beginning and can never end. It is quality that constitutes manhood. Love, wisdom, and all divine qualities, never had a beginning, and can never end. Take any of these from man, and he is no longer human; for it is what is divine in him that makes him man. Cut off his limbs, or even take away his outward body, as at death, and he is yet man. There are indeed some in whom no divine quality is yet apparent; but is it not latent still as heat in ice? To put it boldly, therefore, man is man because God is in him in his inmost being; and he becomes manifestly divine when the divine nature has arisen and conquered and brought into unity with itself everything pertaining to our present outward nature.
This is what is revealed in the Son of Man who is the manifestation of perfect humanity. In Him all the outward life is one with the inmost divine life. Most truly could He say, "I proceeded forth from God." "Verily, Verily, before Abraham existed, I am." Jesus is God in the fullest sense. He and the Father are One (John 10:30). And this oneness is higher than equality, for God can have no equals. In the Son of Man dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). But in revealing this to us, He shows us what is God's purpose towards us, that we should return out of our fallen and divided life to that which is revealed as ours in Christ Jesus. The perfect state to which we are hasting is, "that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). The right state now is, that God should be all, for our true being is in Him. All present restlessness is but the fruit of separation from Him, and hell only the non-apprehension of our true being. Not that we are not "in God" even in our present state; for "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28; Col. 1:17). For as the thought of the poet, architect, or artist, is in the thinker both before and after its manifested expression in book, form, or picture, so in the eternal and unchanging One are all: we have been in the mind of God, and therefore in God, from everlasting. But it is one thing to know this as a doctrine or intellectually: another thing to know it in the very life. We may know it as a doctrine, and be lost. The Son of Man knew it in every part of His being, as a living reality. He felt, "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John 14:11). And He came to reveal this to and in as many as receive Him, that they through Him might know their high calling. We seem far enough from all this now. How little of it do we even see; even as a child knows not, and cannot enter into possession of its inheritance, while it is yet a babe. Yet all these things are ours in Christ. We are partakers of the divine nature, joint heirs with Christ, and shall at last be made like Him. All things are ours, though as yet we have not so much as to set our foot on. When we too have overcome, we shall inherit all.
This then and nothing less is the nature of the New Man. In Him the Creator and the creature are indissolubly one; for by the coming of the Eternal Son into man's nature the fulness of the Godhead has dwelt in man, and the manhood been taken into God. Oh, what depths of love are here! The heaven and earth were made; and thrones, and dominions, and principalities, and powers, were made also. But the living God is here before us, made very man for us, that man might be made divine, God's son and heir in Christ Jesus. Nor was this an after-thought of God or brought about as the result of anything which had been unforeseen by His eternal wisdom. Man was in God's mind from everlasting (Eph. 1:3-11). In due time that which from everlasting was in His mind by His Word and Wisdom was brought forth, when man in God's image was set upon the earth to have dominion over every living thing, in that creation which arose out of the dark and formless void of Satan's fallen kingdom (Gen. 1:2, 28). As thus first formed, man fell under the power of death, surely not without a purpose, which is fulfilled and manifested in Christ, who came into man's place, and took upon Him this death, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death (Heb. 2:14), and bring man back in Himself where he should die no more, but should even judge the angels who had brought about his fall (1 Cor. 6:3). For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:29). All therefore that fell in Adam rose in Christ; in whom we were chosen before the foundation of the world, to the praise and glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we were in the beginning, far more truly than Levi was in the loins of his father Abraham when Melchisedek met him; for of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things. And therefore to one of the prophets He says, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee" (Jer. 1:5; see too Wisdom viii. 19, 20, and Rom. 9:11-13). For He is our life. And by His coming in the flesh He manifested that Son of Man, who, as He proceeded forth from God, could do the works of God. In Him God's very life and image were manifested in man, free from all fear of further fall and failure. God in Him for ever had become man, that man might be divine. (Note: The language of the Fathers upon this point is such as we rarely hear at the present day. Athanasius says, Αὐτὸς ἐπηνθρώπησεν ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν. Orat. de Incarn. Verbi, iv. § 22. We find similar statements in his Four Discourses against the Aryans, i. chap. xi. § 39, and ii. chap. xix. § 47, and in his Defence of the Nicene Definition, chap. iii. § 14. The words of Hippolytus, in his Refutation of All Heresies, book x. chap. 30, are quite as strong: οὐ γὰρ πτωχεύει ὁ θεὸς καὶ σὲ θεὸν ποιήσας εἰς δόξαν αὐτοῦ. So too Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, § ix. speaks of ἡ ἐν θεῷ διανομὴ, ἡ πρὸς θεὸν ὁμοίωσις, τὸ ἀκρότατον τῶν ὀπεκτῶν, θεὸν γενέσθαι. So too Augustine: "Homines dixit deos, ex gratia sua deificatos." In Psalm. xlix. So again In Johan., Hom. xlviii. § 9.)
But this truth of man's divine nature, though it is nowhere stated as by the Lord Himself, or shown as it is in Him, who said, "I proceeded forth and came from God," and "Verily, Verily, before Abraham existed, I am," was yet in part at least foreshadowed in the Law and Prophets and the Psalms, which speak of man and the Son of Man in terms which seem properly to belong to God alone. For why did the Law command, "Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, who is not thy brother" (Deut. 17:15), but because the Anointed who is set over us, (and "God is the king over all the earth," Psalm 47:7,) is not a stranger but indeed a brother? Why again in the Psalms is one of David's line addressed in words like these, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever" (Psalm 45:6), but because it is God's will that man should be for ever one with Him? And in the wonderful vision of Ezekiel, when "the heavens opened" and he "saw visions of God," when "out of the whirlwind and cloud he beheld a fire, and then a brightness," what was the sight he saw "in the midst of the brightness" but "the likeness of a man." For "above the firmament that was over the heads of the four living creatures was the likeness of a throne, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (Ezek. 1:26, 28). The cherubim or living creatures, who are round about the throne, figure all creaturely intelligence, and all the forms which can be apprehended by such intelligence. But man is more than these, summing up all creatures in himself, the patience of the ox, the lion's force, the eagle's eye, and all the rest, which for awhile through sin may be at strife, though to be all united in the kingdom of the Son, but superadding to all these a mind and will, to know, and love, and hold communion with Him, from whom he came, and whose image he is formed to be. "We are greater than we know." (Note: So Tertullian writes, "Tu homo, tantum nomen, si intelligas te." Apolog. adv. Gent. cap. xlviii.) The Man upon the throne is above all in "the vision of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." This is what our Lord here teaches, not by any vision, but by His reiterated "Amen, Amen." "Before Abraham existed, I am." The divine in Him is human, and the human is divine; yea, the more human, the more divine; because the true life and spirit of humanity are indeed of God, and the Son of Man is very God.
And notice here that the New Man is called distinctively the "Son of Man" (John 8:28; see also John 1:51; 3:13; 5:27; 6:53, etc.). It might perhaps have been supposed, considering the promises made to Abraham and his seed, that the divine nature, which is here declared to be the portion of the New Man, would be his as Son of Abraham rather than as Son of Man. Yet it is always spoken of as belonging to him as Son of Man; for this title goes higher even than that of Abraham's seed, glorious as are the privileges which cluster round this later relationship. Abraham's seed is elect man. But man is more and greater than elect man. For elect man is but a part of man, while the Son of Man is undivided man. The elect is indeed the means, by which, after a fall and division have come in, the blessing lost, first received by some, shall in due time through them come upon others, who are still remaining in the fall. But the election, with all its glories, tells of division. "Son of Man" tells of undivided and united man, as he came forth from God, before separation of any kind has changed the work of God. "Son of Man" is the heir of man in God's image, before the woman was taken out of the man. Christ too, as "made of a woman, and made under the law" (Gal. 4:4), is the "Seed of the Woman" rather than the "Son of Man;" for from her He took our present form in the divided flesh, where the man is severed from the woman, and the woman from the man. And being thus "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3) for us, He needed to be "made perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10), by which He put off the divided form, where He was Son of David according to the flesh, to be declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead, where there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor bond nor free, nor male nor female, but man again is one in Christ Jesus (Rom. 1:3, 4; Gal. 3:28; and cf. 1 Cor. 11:11). In Him, as Son of Man, the breach is healed; and therefore, in the vision granted to St John, when he saw "One like unto the Son of Man, walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks," he distinctly marks, as I have already noticed, the woman's breasts (see the First "Verily, Verily"), testifying that the division of our nature is healed in Him, who, "being made perfect, has become the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him, called of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedek" (Heb. 5:9, 10). And yet even in the body made of a woman, and which was "prepared for Him" (Heb. 10:5), He was always the Holy One of God, showing, even in the likeness of sinful flesh, the amazing powers of the Holy Seed, and that even here He was the Son of Man who is indeed divine.
Of this Son of Man, who took our place and likeness for us, and who, "being made perfect," is the "priest after the order of Melchisedek," there are many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing that so many yet "have need of milk, and not of strong meat;" but I may perhaps say here, that the priesthood of Melchisedek is the priesthood of the "Son of Man," that is of man as man, as contrasted with the priesthood of Aaron, the son of Abraham, which is the priesthood of the separation, that is of the elect. Typically we see the one in the calling of Israel and Levi; the other in the calling of the Gentiles. Our Lord in spirit fulfils both (Rom. 15:8, 9). He fulfils Aaron's priesthood, which is connected with a temple and a veil, where the high priest enters into the holy place with blood; for "by His own blood He entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:11, 12, 24; 10:19, 20). But He is no less the "priest after the order of Melchisedek," where there is neither blood nor temple, but only "bread and wine" (Gen. 14:18, 19); which latter priesthood is as much greater than the priesthood of the elect, as Melchisedek was greater than Aaron, who, as the Apostle teaches, in Abraham paid tithes to him (Heb. 7:4, 9). And this priesthood belongs rather to the "Son of Man" than to "Abraham's Seed," and rests upon God's eternal purpose respecting man, and upon his being, according to that purpose, a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). It needs but little insight to perceive that a peculiar peril surrounds this truth; for it may cause us to think of God as altogether such a one as we now are, or to look upon our present fallen nature as divine, and so to consider the voice of our passions as the voice of God. And it is a peril which belongs very peculiarly to this time; for every age has its own special truth and testimony; and the peculiar and growing testimony of this present time is to the universal fatherhood of God; surely a most blessed truth, if rightly understood; yet one liable to the grossest abuse, if men living in the divided life of self-love claim in that life that which only belongs to man in the united life of the Son of Man, which shines out in the cross or death to self in Christ Jesus. This, if I err not, will be the sin of the great coming apostasy, when the last Antichrist, whose claim and boast will be a divine humanity, will assume as man, in the divided life, and in independence of God, that which is only truly ours as partakers of the perfect life which is in union with Him. There is therefore peril as well as blessing in the mystery of the "Son of Man," which, as we have seen, is so closely connected with the "priesthood of Melchisedek," who is priest, not of Elohim, or of Jehovah, but of El Elyon, that is "the Most High God" (אל עליון, Gen. 14:18, 19), a name which implies a series of like natures, who may be called gods, as it is written, "I said, Ye are gods, and all of you children of the Most High" (Psalm 82:6), the God of Melchisedek being the "God of gods, and Lord of lords" (Psalm 136:2; and see Psalm 82:1). And yet, until we know this calling, we shall not understand God's purpose towards us, which is to make us partakers of His own nature, joint heirs with the Son of Man, who is "Son of the Most High," and who, as He proceeded forth from God, could say, "Before Abraham existed, I am;" and "When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, ye shall know that I am" (John 8:28, 58). (Note: The mystery of the divine nature of the Son is full of wonders. Athanasius more than once refers to the distinction, and even apparent contradiction, between the titles "Only-begotten" and "First-born," which is closely akin to that which is set forth in the names "Son of Man" and "Woman's Seed." The "Only-begotten" is the Son prior to all division. The "First-born" is "the male that first openeth the womb," (Exod. 13:12,) that is the woman's, not the man's, first-born, who might also, though not necessarily, be the Father's first-begotten; the woman being the figure of nature, in its present state of separation from its proper head. Athanasius' words are as follows: "He is 'Only-begotten.' ... If He is also called 'First-born of the creation,' it is because of the Word's condescension to the creatures, according to which He hath become the 'Brother' of 'many.' For the term 'Only-begotten' is used where there are no brethren, but 'First-born' because of brethren. Accordingly it is nowhere written in the Scriptures, 'the first-born of God,' but it is 'Only-begotten' and 'Son' and 'Word,' that relate to the Father. But 'First-born' implies the descent to the creation, for of it He has been called 'first-born.' If then He is 'Only-begotten,' as indeed He is, the title 'First-born' needs some explanation: as 'First-born' He is not 'Only-begotten.' For the same cannot be both 'Only-begotten' and 'First-born,' except in different relations; that is, 'Only-begotten,' because of His generation from the Father, as has been said; and 'First-born,' because of His condescension to the creation, and the brotherhood, which He has made with many." Discourse against the Arians, ii. c. 21, § 9. So also Theodoret on Col. 1:15.)
And when as here He says, "I am," thus claiming the name, that is the nature, of Him who is "I am that I am" (Exod. 3:14), by this very name He shows what fallen man has lost, and what is restored to him, in being made partaker of Christ, and through Him of the divine nature. For that which above all things marks the fallen creature is its unceasing change. Never for a moment does it continue in one stay. It fleeth as it were a shadow. What it was yesterday, it is not to-day. Even the very mountains and the rocks witness that they are not what they were, and that they will be one day other than they now are. And by this change they prove that their existence is not true being. As Augustine says, "Anything whatever has not true being, if it change. If that is not which was, a kind of death hath taken place. Something is made away with there, that was, and now is not. Something is changed and is, that formerly was not. O Truth, Thou only art. For in all the movings of the creature I find two times, past and future. I seek the present. Nothing stayeth. What I have said, now is not. What I am going to say, as yet is not. What I have done, now is not. What I am going to do, as yet is not. Past and future I find in all the motion of things. In the Truth which abideth I find not past and future, but only present, and this without fear or possibility of change. Take point by point the mutations of things. Thou wilt find Hath been and Will be. Take God, and thou wilt find I am, where Hath been and Will be cannot be. Then that thou also mayest Be, mount beyond time. But who shall do this in his own strength? Thither let Him lift us, who said to the Father, 'I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given me may be with me.'" (Note: Tractat. in Johan. xxxviii. § 10.) Blessed be God, this is His will; and He is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," and "as He is, so are we in this world" (Heb. 13:8; 1 John 4:17).
But He not only says here, "I am." He further adds, "I know." Thus in reply to the question, "Whom makest Thou thyself?" His answer is, "If I honour myself, my honour is nothing. It is my Father that honoureth me, of whom ye say that He is your God. Yet ye have not known Him; but I know Him:—I know Him, and I keep His word" (John 8:53-55). Here we have fellowship with God, as well as participation in the divine nature. The Son of Man not only is God, but also is with God. To know fully is to have. He therefore that knows God possesses Him, and in due time shall be possessed by Him. To this even are we called, yea to "know that we know Him" (1 John 2:3). For God is love, and love is not content unless it gives itself, with all it has, to the beloved. The Incarnation shows how absolute is the union and communion with Himself to which He calls, and will bring, the sons of men. Higher far therefore than the serpent's lie, "Ye shall be as gods," is our Father's purpose; for to "be as gods" would mean at most equality with God, and in effect implies separation from Him. God's purpose, as our Lord teaches, is to make us one with Him, in "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
This indeed is the end and purpose of the truth here opened by the Lord, that we should apprehend that divine nature which He has for us, and in and by it "know," that is, have fellowship with, God. That which was wrought in Christ, when man in Him was made divine, was wrought in Him that through Him it might be wrought in us also. As many therefore as receive the Word, receive the seed of God, and by it a life which has proceeded forth and come from God, which restores God's image in the creature, in and by which it may rise again to re-possess its lost inheritance of fellowship with Him. If we are Christians indeed we must live the life of Christ and God, because Christ Himself is formed in us, and we are called to manifest Him. We are to be one with Him. This is His will, for which He prays, "that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us,—yea, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; that the world may know that Thou hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me" (John 17:21, 23). Thus are we brought out of the "Hath been" and "Shall be," to the "I am what I am," and from "not knowing," to "know and to be known" (Gal. 4:8, 9); so that we can say with Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10), because "it is not I that live, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). The life is all of God; but of this life He makes us partakers, even with Him who said, "I live by the Father," and "do nothing from myself" (John 6:53; 5:19, 30). Oh, mystery of eternal love! Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know, that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
2. The divine nature of the New Man being thus declared, we have next the marks by which it may be known. For men are easily deceived, accepting gilt for gold, and that which is of Satan for that which is of God. Thus Barabbas was preferred to Christ (John 18:40). Thus the brutal Caesars were worshipped as divine. (Note: Gibbon's Rom. Emp. vol. i. chap. iii. p. 111.) Thus when Herod made an oration, the people gave a shout, saying, "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man" (Acts 12:21, 22). And thus when the last Antichrist shall come, and the beast which has been wounded unto death by the sword is made to live, that is, when the death and condemnation of the beast-like old nature seems healed by the magic of hell,—tokens and preludings of which, if I mistake not, are even now abroad, in the manifested materialisations of departed spirits, who are brought again as from the dead into contact with the living here,—when this culminates, as it will do, in the assertion that man without God is divine, all the world shall worship the beast, which had the wound by the sword and yet lived (Rev. 13:3, 4, 14, 15). Not without reason therefore does our Lord again refer here to the marks of the divine nature of the New Man, by which he may be distinguished from all counterfeits.
Two are given: first truth; then love; the very marks of God, who is Himself both Truth and Love.
(i) First, the New Man hears and tells the truth. He hears it, for he is "of God" (John 8:42), and "he that is of God heareth God's words" (John 8:47). And then He tells it; as He says, "I tell you the truth, though ye believe me not" (John 8:45); and again, "Ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth" (John 8:40). And He often dwells upon this mark, that He both hears and tells the truth:—"I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me I speak these things" (John 8:28). And again, "The words I speak unto you, I speak not of myself" (John 14:10). And again, "I have not spoken of myself, but the Father which sent me, He gave me commandment what I should say, and what I should speak; and I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak" (John 12:49, 50). Thus He tells also what He hears:—"All things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you" (John 15:15):—"I have given them the words which Thou gavest me" (John 17:8):—"To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (John 18:38). This is the first mark of the divine nature of the Son of Man. He "hears God's words," which are "the truth;" and then "tells" to others what He has so heard and learnt from God.
Now this capacity to "hear God's words" is distinctive of the New Man. The old man is so sunk in sense that he cannot hear God speak, but is only reached by some outward voice or sign, either through angels or through men, that is some appeal from without and coming through the senses; while yet the Word is very nigh, even in his heart (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8), and is ever speaking, though fallen man perceives it not. But "he that is of God heareth God's words." This has ever marked the saints. If faithful, the word of the Lord has come expressly to them. So "the word of the Lord came" to Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:3), and to Elijah (1 Kings 17:2), and to John (Luke 3:2). But let men live after the flesh and be unfaithful, then even saints need a message from without, because if we live after the flesh we cannot hear God. Thus when David is obedient, the word of the Lord comes to him, so that he could say, "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue" (2 Sam. 23:2; see also 1 Sam. 23:2, 4, 11, 12; and 2 Chron. 22:8); and "the pattern of all that he had by the Spirit, the Lord made him to understand, by His hand upon him, even all the works of the pattern of the house" (1 Chron. 28:11, 19). But when he falls, the word of God can only reach him through another. "Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad" (2 Sam. 24:11), or "to the prophet Nathan" (2 Sam. 12:1; 1 Chron. 17:3), for David, to tell him what he would have heard himself, had he been in fellowship with God. Only the man of God hears God's words, of which our Lord here adds, "Ye hear them not, because ye are not of God." The words of the world men hear, because they are of the world; or the lie of the serpent, because that lie has generated a nature in them which is more akin to falsehood and evil than to truth and God. They do not hear God's word, because in their life they are not His. Hence man's inability to understand Christ's speech. "Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43). The Church is full of proofs of this: men everywhere professing to understand Christ's speech; commenting on it, preaching about it, even fighting for their interpretations of it; who too often only misinterpret and misunderstand it, because they cannot hear His word. And yet they think that they understand His speech. They only understand who hear His word.
And as this New Man hears God's word, he speaks it:—"As I hear, I judge," and "tell you the truth." His hearing God's word is the very reason of his speaking it; even as the falsehood of the old man, who "delights in lies" (Psalm 62:4), is the inevitable result of his listening to the serpent, who "is a liar" (John 8:44). As we hear, we speak. If we hear English, we shall speak English. If we hear some other tongue, that tongue naturally becomes our own. The New Man speaks God's word, because he hears it. The dumb are so only because they cannot hear; even as the dumbness of all the "dumb dogs" in the Church comes from their not hearing: because they are "sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber" (Isa. 56:10). He that hears God's word must speak. "The word is as a fire in his bones" (Jer. 20:9). He is like one full of new wine (Job 32:19). He must declare the truth. Others may utter clever or pleasing things. The mark of the divine nature is that it must speak the truth. And the New Man speaks it, even though for speaking he is denounced as a deceiver. Let the current doctrine of the Church be, that God either cannot or will not help the lost,—that He leaves His prisoners in their bonds for ever unvisited,—and that His wrath will never cease to punish men for sins committed in a span of life, which He Himself tells us is "but for a moment,"—the New Man cannot but be witness both for God and man, because His own ear is opened to hear God.
And in thus telling the truth, the New Man communicates to others the same divine nature. Therefore He adds here, "Verily, Verily, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death" (John 8:51). (Note: I observe that the Jews slightly misquote these words, as if our Lord had said, "If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death." (John 8:66.) A man perhaps may taste of death, without seeing it, even as (to use another's words) "he who walks toward the sun sees not the shadow behind him.") We have already touched this truth (in the Third "Verily, Verily"), in considering the gift of quickening others, which is one result of the New Man's "doing nothing from himself." Here we are brought back to the same teaching. The New Man speaks what he hears of God. Therefore "he that keeps his saying shall never see death."
(ii) The other mark of the divine nature is its unselfish love. The New Man says here, "I seek not my own glory" (John 8:50). He makes himself of no reputation, that by his thus emptying himself, others may be made partakers of his glory. Therefore he becomes a Jew to gain the Jews, and under the law to gain those under the law, taking even the form and place and curse of others for them; that in so doing, and even at the cost of drinking their bitter cup, lost ones may be found, and reconciled to God. All this comes out more fully in the following reiterated Amens, which open the Service, Sacrifice, and Humiliation, of the Son of Man, which are but manifestations of God Himself in man's nature. For what is it that makes man give his strength for those who love him not,—nay, even lay down his life for those who do not understand him,—which in the midst of neglect or misrepresentation fills him with peace,—strong to bear and to forgive all,—gladly spending and being spent, as the Apostle says, though the more abundantly he loves men, the less they love him in return (2 Cor. 12:15),—what are all these but unfailing marks of God's own life in flesh and blood, and witnesses that even here man is indeed divine.
This then is the nature of the New Man. He must speak truth: He must show love. And by these He delivers man from him who holds the world captive. For the devil, as our Lord adds here,—thus marking the contrast,—was "a liar, and abode not in the truth," and further, "was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). The New Man's truth overcomes the lie: his love overcomes the hate; for greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. The whole world yet lieth in the wicked one. But its deliverance is assured. For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
(iii) And yet this divine nature is rejected here. Even God's people understand it not, but reply, "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil" (John 8:52). "Then took they up stones to cast at Him," saying, "Why hear ye Him?" (John 8:59). For a beast is as good a judge of what befits a man, as a fallen man is of what befits a Son of God. The Son of Man therefore is cast out. This is the calling of the elect:—"If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). A divine life still meets poor welcome in this world, for a usurper reigns. But the true heirs will not stumble at this stumbling stone.
Such is the New Man's nature; such are its marks; such his reception here. And as the smallest spark contains the whole principle of fire; as the least fragment of the loadstone has its two complementing poles; so is each son of God a partaker of God's nature, with its innate truth and love, and of all the powers, though as yet unmanifested, which belong to that nature. If then He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (John 10:35), what shall they be, who by the word are made partakers of His nature, in whom God's life even now is hid, and in whom that life shall grow, until they are conformed to the image of His beloved Son. When one thinks of such a calling; that this is man's true place; that heaven is his home; and the blood of God his life, and the spirit of God the power that worketh in him; and that he is called to be free indeed, and to be God's heir, and to inherit all; and then think of what he is tempted to desire and to become; how the devil ofttimes holds him; so that he is content to be a beast, a slave, a very devil; and even glories in all this, and can see no glory in the divine life, and is ready, again and again, like Esau, to sell his birthright for some momentary joy; one can only wonder at the riches of the grace, which can bear with him and bring him out of his fall, to be made again like unto the Son of God. Well may those around the throne cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Well may they cast themselves in adoring worship at His feet, saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power, for Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:10, 11). Well may they "sing the new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign upon the earth" (Rev. 5:9-11). For this is the work to which the sons of God are called; a service which our Lord opens in the next "Verily, Verily."
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