"THE AMEN," AND "THE DISCIPLE WHICH TESTIFIETH."
(Rev. 3:14; and John 21:24.)
Nothing is more characteristic of the present day than the tone of questioning and doubt, which so widely pervades all realms of thought, and every section of society. Never probably in any former period of the world's history was there such mental activity, division, and anarchy of opinion, as we now see around us everywhere. Science has opened so many fields, in all of which much is yet unsolved,—philosophy has searched so deeply into the nature and origin of man, unsettling much that was once believed, but supplying little certain to take its place,—while the growing complications of society force upon us questions still more practical as to the rights and wrongs of men, to every one of which all sorts of jarring answers are returned from every side,—above all the Church, which should have been a guide and light to men, is so divided and unable to guide herself, much less the world,—that thousands are asking whether there is, or can be, any certainty for man; whether all that has been counted truth is anything more than probability; whether therefore it is not better to confess that we can never get beyond guesses, even upon those points respecting which our inmost souls are constantly and importunately asking for more light.
Now there was another age, which in much of this resembled ours; the age which saw the breakup of the old-world civilisations; when not Greece and Rome only seemed bankrupt, so far at least as truth was concerned, but when even Israel, which had been set to be a light among the nations, was turned like the sun into darkness, and like the moon into blood. But then, as ever, when the night was darkest, the morning was at hand. Into that dark age He came who could meet the doubt with certain truth. He had always been in the world, although it knew Him not; always giving to as many as received Him light and power to become the sons of God. Now He was made flesh, and came with a faith which overcame the world, and with a truth which made the darkness light. He did not argue. He was the Truth, and bore witness to the truth; and those who received His witness could set to their seal that God is true, and has not left His creatures.
The Truth yet lives. What He then said He is saying now. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His words shall not pass away. His creatures need Him, for He formed them for Himself, and He alone can satisfy their need. Their ruin was the lie, which brought them death. Their salvation is the truth, which brings eternal life. In every age therefore He has come, as Prophet, Priest, and King; to teach, to comfort, and to rule; suiting His revelation to our need; warning where warning is required; comforting and helping those who need comfort. Has he no message for a doubting age? Can He give no certainty to those who are like the wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed? He came to Israel perplexed with sects of Pharisees and Scribes; and for those who received Him there was certainty and rest. Is He absent from us now? To the last Apocalyptic Church, which, as many believe, figures the state in which the professing Church is to be found just prior to our Lord's return, and which, if free from certain sins which had so grievously disfigured some earlier churches, was yet more than any other possessed by the spirit of untruth and self-delusion; which said of herself, "I am rich," and "knew not" her true state, that with all gifts she was "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," the same Lord appears, and speaks as "The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God" (Rev. 3:14-17). Does not this title tell us that in Him we may have certainty for doubt, and help for our need, if we will listen to His voice?
For this Amen has Himself uttered some memorable Amens. And of all His words none are perhaps more weighty than those which are thus prefaced by reiterated Amens, by which, as with a trumpet, He calls attention to the truths so introduced, as though He foresaw how slowly we should apprehend them. Of sayings thus distinguished, twelve have been recorded for us, all peculiar to the last Gospel. And if under the law the Amen could seal the judgment of the unfaithful wife, making the very water of the sanctuary to become a curse, if she had played the harlot (Numb. 5:22);—if the Amen of God's people Israel could confirm their curse, should they depart from God and work abomination (Deut. 27:15-26);—if when in the Church men bless with the spirit (1 Cor. 14:16), the Amen closes the blessing;—if in the Book of Psalms, which belongs to both covenants, the first three volumes of its prayers are sealed and concluded by the same redoubled Amen; (Note: In the Hebrew the Psalms are divided into five books. Of these the first three end with the double Amen, which the Septuagint translate, γένοιτο, γένοιτο, and the Vulgate, Fiat, Fiat. Our version keeps the Hebrew Amen, Amen. See Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52. The fourth book ends with Amen, Hallelujah. See Psalm 106:48, where the Septuagint still keep the double γένοιτο. The fifth ends with Hallelujah alone. See Psalm 150:6.)—what shall we think of those sayings of the Lord Himself, which He has thus specially marked with His reiterated affirmation? Can I serve my brethren better than by calling their attention to these Amens of the Amen, the faithful sayings of the faithful and true Witness.
But first a remark or two suggested by this form of words itself, and by the fact that in one only of the four Gospels is it recorded for us.
As to the words, "Amen, Amen," or, as our Authorised Version translates, "Verily, Verily,"—for Amen means simply "True" or "Truth," (Note: See Isa. 65:16, "God of truth;" in the Hebrew, "God Amen.")—does not the form of expression itself reveal something both as to our state, and the grace of Him, who, if we cannot hear the whispers of His love, will yet choose other and more unusual forms of address, if only He may arouse and bring us to communion with Him? "True, True, I say unto you," says the Truth. Does not the language imply that we need light, and are but dull hearers, who require something startling to awaken our attention? Is it not like saying, I must speak as to one who will not believe me but upon oath, or as a witness in a court of justice? For this is not the language of friend to friend. What friend need say to another, Amen, Amen, Verily, Verily? It rather tells of distance,—that we know so little of Christ's mind, and can learn so little from His example, that we need unusual and even repeated and solemn asseverations to make us listen to Him. It is as if His oath and bond were required by us, before we could believe Him. (Note: So Augustine, Tractat. in Johan. xli. § 3.) But it tells us also of Him, that He will stoop even to this,—that no false pride or shame will keep Him from exposing the true state of things, if there is any breach or distance between us,—that He will still meet us where we are,—and if indeed the whispers of His Spirit are drowned by the clamour and cravings of our flesh, He will not therefore leave us to ourselves, but will condescend to words, which, if not such as He would, or such as best become Him, are yet required by our necessity. Therefore He says "Amen, Amen," that being roused by such a witness, and receiving His words at first simply on His authority, and without any due sense of their eternal truth and blessedness, we may in due time come to know their power, that "they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63), and prove in our experience that "he that believeth on the Son hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10), and that "he that hath received His testimony can set to his seal that God is true" (John 3:33).
This "Amen, Amen," is only recorded in the Gospel of that Apostle, who describes himself as "the disciple which testifieth" (John 21:24). And this fact may in some degree modify our thought as to the implied rebuke which the use of this peculiar form of speech appears at first to carry with it. It may be that the truth thus introduced, because it so much transcends our fleshly apprehensions, must ever be first received on testimony, before it can be seen or felt or lived in by us. Certain it is that St John presents Christ to us in a relation far higher than that which is set forth by any of the other Evangelists. St John tells us of the Word, who was with God and was God, the Only-begotten Son, who brings again God's own eternal life into our fleshly nature; in His own person first revealing and declaring it to men, that of His fulness we might receive and manifest the same. Of such an One there must be much which will transcend man's natural thoughts; which, therefore, if spoken here, must at first appear both dark and mystic; which can therefore only be declared to carnal men as a truth, the reason of which may be understood some day, but which will always have to be first received by faith upon authority. Such words as, "Ye must be born of water and of the Spirit," and "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you," though by long use we have become more or less accustomed to them, must have seemed like riddles to those who first heard them. We know how even a true enquirer was pressed by them to ask, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9). They may explain why St John calls himself "the disciple which testifieth." Others may argue like St Paul. St John, with the truth he has to teach, can only testify. For the things he tells us are of the Word made flesh; God's life in human nature; things above man's understanding; to be seen indeed, if we have an opened eye, but till so seen to be received on testimony. The reiterated Amens all speak of this, each of them taking up some distinctive peculiarity of this heavenly life, whether as seen in Christ, the eternal Son of God, or in those who by grace are called to be His members.
Such being the burden of these Amens, it may at first seem strange that the Church, as such, is never named in any one of them. But the reason doubtless is that they speak rather of the peculiar virtues of the eternal life, than of the outward form or body in which this life is manifested; virtues which may shine brightest when the outward vessel in which this life has dwelt is marred and broken; which therefore may most appear in the very break-up of the Church, whose full glory, even as her Lord's, only comes through that cross, and suffering here, which lifts her up from earth and opens heaven. Christ's own fleshly body is the witness of this truth. Not in His greatest works on earth was the eternal life ever so manifested in Him as by His cross and triumph over death by resurrection. The change of the dispensation, from flesh to spirit, from the Jewish nation to the Christian Church, was a shadow of this same mystery. For the Church came into being or manifestation by nothing less than the ruin and condemnation of the fleshly dispensation, though the same spiritual life which is in the Church existed all along, though not at so advanced a stage, in the saints under the old economy. And so does that eternal life, which these Amens speak of, come into yet fuller manifestation by the very fall or passing away of the Church or Christian dispensation. Just as with Christ's own body, there is a first and fleshly form, before that form through death is raised and glorified; so in His mystic body the Church, Christ in the flesh, precedes Christ in the spirit, for "that is not first which is spiritual" (1 Cor. 15:46). Therefore the peculiar witness of these Amens says nothing of the outward Church as such, but only of the New Man and his eternal life which grows and works within it, which will not only outlive the Church's apparent failure and shame, but is never so fully seen as in that failure. For, as Paul says, "We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:10, 11). Thus the omission of any reference to the Church in these Amens is itself a lesson, full of comfort and instruction for those, who, like the disciples of old, are perplexed and troubled at the cross and shame, which must ever attend Christ's true body. Such may learn here the appointed way, in and by which alone the eternal life is fully manifested.
Now this teaching as to the eternal life, and its varied works and manifestations, though implied in all the writings of the New Testament, is yet in some sense distinctive of St John: for he dwells upon it with a persistence which makes it the one idea of his Gospel, his Epistles, and his Apocalypse. In each he shows in different forms the workings of this one life, first in Christ's flesh, then in believers, then in the course of this world. First in his Gospel the eternal life is seen in the beloved Son, rather than in those whom He makes sons and heirs with Him; but surely seen in Him, as Firstborn and Firstfruits, that it may be received by others through Him. Therefore he testifies of Him, "in whom is life" (John 1:4), and that "God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Then in his Epistle, written when the other Apostles had already been gathered home, and when St John remained the sole survivor of the favoured twelve who had walked with Christ on earth, the one thing he presses upon his brethren is, that the eternal life, which he had seen on earth in Christ, was a life which was to be continued and manifested in all believers. Did any fear that, when John was gone, the last undoubted link with Christ would be taken from the Church, and that it would be left to a second-hand tradition, which is uncertain, or to a letter or writing, which, as it would require interpretation, might be misunderstood or even falsified. The Apostle's answer is that he has told them of an "eternal life," which he has "seen," and even "shown" before them; that they are called to share it, because God gives us this life, and invites us, not to fellowship with an Apostle only, but with Himself, even "fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:1-3); no longer therefore to live our natural selfish life, but to "walk even as Christ walked" (1 John 2:6); for "now are we the sons of God" (1 John 3:1), and therefore, "as He is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17); that therefore as "He laid down His life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16); for "if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). The whole of the Epistle is but a reiterated declaration that "God hath given to us eternal life," and that the elect are called to live in and manifest it (1 John 5:11, 12). And what is his Revelation but the opening of the mystery of the manifestation and development of this same life in the wider sphere of a fallen but redeemed creation, out of which evil is to be at last for ever put away by the coming in and revelation of the life and glory and kingdom of the Son of God (Rev. 11:15; 21:1). In each and all John's witness is of the same eternal life, which is to conquer and inherit all.
And this, as it seems to me, is the teaching which more than any other is required both by the church and world at this day. For many things show us that "it is the last time"; and the "last time," as it is marked above all others by "many antichrists" (1 John 2:18),—powers which would take the place in us which of right belongs to Christ and the eternal life which He has brought us,—needs very specially that testimony respecting this life, of which St John is the peculiar witness. The other Apostles have each their special truth, suited to some stage of the church or individual. Of these Paul's truth comes first, and stands to the church and to each soul, as it stands in Scripture, as the first teaching which we need to set us at peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus. He meets us as we start; and at this stage his words, as to our ruin and the righteousness which is by faith, are those which are most suited to, and therefore naturally most prized and dwelt on by us. At such a stage John's teaching, though we may read it, does not really meet us. Paul is our guide, and with him we are occupied with our own acceptance before God, and with churches and church questions; in a word with those truths, or rather with truth under those forms, which Paul ever ministers to us. If we advance we soon come to the truth which the Apostle James teaches, touching the moralities which belong to and must accompany Christian doctrine. We go on again, and come to Peter's truth, addressed not to churches or church-teachers, as with Paul, but to the "strangers scattered" (1 Pet. 1:1-4) on earth, who yet are "elect to an inheritance reserved in heaven for them." His words, so full of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow, and of our sufferings and glory, if we remain faithful, are now the teaching which seems most needful for us. Once more we advance, and so come to John, and to his witness as to the eternal life, which has dwelt in man, and which the sons of God are called to manifest. This is the teaching which seems peculiarly fitted for a time when the outward Church is fallen, and when, as in the "last time" which St John speaks of, carnal church rule prevails, so that, though John writes unto the church, Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, receiveth him not, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth the brethren out of the church (2 John 9-11). John soars up heavenward, like the eagle, (Note: By universal consent the fourth cherubic form, that of the eagle, (see Rev. 4:7,) has been assigned to S. John and his gospel by the church in all ages.) when all that can only walk on earth appears to fail. At such a stage something beyond mere church-teaching is needed by us; for the trouble is that men are in high places in the church who seem unable to recognise Christ's life and works, when these are manifested as a present reality in His despised yet living members. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved becomes the witness of the eternal life, which shines only the brighter even though the church be betrayed and her outward form be broken by man's wickedness; that life which is God's own, to be most fully seen, not in escaping the cross, but in triumphing over it. This teaching will last us to the end; and like John will tarry till Christ comes; as He said, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me" (John 21:22).
It is this teaching which the reiterated Amens sum up, showing us the course and stages of that eternal life which is given us in Christ Jesus. I have already said, that there are twelve sayings of our Lord's, which are thus introduced. In some of these sayings, the reiterated Amen occurs but once; in others, twice; in others, thrice; in two instances, no less than four times; the number of reiterations in each instance depending, if I mistake not, on the special importance or apparent strangeness of the testimony to which they are appended. But there are only twelve sayings which are thus distinguished from the rest of our Lord's words. The first tells us of the Sphere or Home of the New Man: heaven, long shut to man, is now re-opened to him (John 1:51). The second shows how alone we enter this home, by a New Birth, involving a passing through the waters, that is a death to present nature, in the power of God's spirit (John 3:3, 5). The third tells out the Law of the life of this new man; that he does nothing from self, but only what the Father doeth; that therefore, instead of losing a life and being judged, like the corrupt old man, who does all from self and ruins all, the new man quickeneth whom he will, and hath authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man (John 5:19-22). The fourth tells us of his Meat, the living Word, that bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat and not die (John 6:26-58). The fifth shows us the Liberty which he has and gives; even to be free from sin; for whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin, and the servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth ever (John 8:31-35). The sixth declares his Divinity, that, as he "proceeded forth and came from God," he is partaker of God's nature, and can truly say "I am" (John 8:48-58). The seventh describes his Service, as a shepherd with his sheep, first walking with them where they walk, and then laying down his life for them that they may live (John 10:1-18). The eighth more fully opens his Sacrifice, and its results, showing that except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit; that therefore he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal (John 12:24-26). The ninth shows us his Lowliness, and that disciples are cleansed, and God is glorified by his humiliation (John 13:1-32). In the tenth we are shown his Glory, that he reveals God, so that he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also (John 14:8-14). In the eleventh we have His Sorrow and Joy (John 16:16-25). The twelfth and last shows us his Perfecting; the end, even as the beginning, of this wondrous life, being still marked by the same entire surrender of self to God in everything (John 21:15-23).
Such is the series, each stage of which unveils some further truth or new aspect of the distinctive life of "the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). The first six are mainly doctrinal, the latter six are all practical. Throughout it is, as I have already said, not so much the outward form, in which Christ first comes, which here is drawn; that form which is our likeness rather than His own; the veil under which the real man is hidden, for He was made "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3), "made flesh" (John 1:14), nay even "made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21); but rather the "new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17) which lies hid under and breaks forth from that outward form, when, as it must be, it is marred and broken to put on its true glory. And what a sight it is! The whole universe contains no wonder equal to this of man reformed by God into His own image. Such a man belongs to heaven and earth; nay more, heaven and earth belong to him, for he is "heir of all" (Heb. 1:2; Rom. 8:17; and 1 Cor. 3:21-23). He is indeed the image of all worlds, for the essences of all things, matter and spirit, seen and unseen, temporal and eternal, all are hidden in him. He is even the "image and glory of God" (1 Cor. 11:7; Col. 1:15); for there is nothing in him which does not show something of God, nor anything in God which may not be seen in him, even while he is in this world. Thus linked with all; in spirit with God and all good spirits; for his will is in union with the will and purpose of God, the Father of spirits, who is a spirit; and in body with the world and all its creatures and powers, which shall in due time be re-headed and reconciled in him; for this new man shall draw and bring all things to himself, as a loadstone draws iron; he is able to act with and have power upon all, not on creatures only, but on God Himself also. The shadowy body of sense, our raiment of humiliation, for a season hides this new man from us; yet there are times, as we see in Christ's transfiguration, when an earnest of his glory is seen even here by some of those who are his fellow-heirs. And though the appointed way for this new man, now as of old, must lie along the highway of the holy cross; though shame and sorrow are his portion here, for he is ever a "stone which the builders disallow" (Matt. 21:42); though he finds scant welcome, few knowing what he really is, or, if they know it, confessing him in his humiliation; though he seems shut up and shut out from much which others enjoy, having it may be less of this world than some of the poorest here; yet all things serve him; all things are his; nor can anything in the end resist his rightful authority.
Of course, according to the law referred to by St Paul, we cannot expect to understand all that is written of this life, unless we have it quickened and growing and working in us; for who can know the things of a man, unless he have first received a man's spirit? (1 Cor. 2:11). Even possessing this life, if we are only babes, if heaven is not yet open to us, we shall find many things said of the new man which must be hard to be understood, though these same things may be the daily experience of others of our brethren. Only let us follow on to know the Lord; and then the things which we cannot now receive will one day be plain, and where we cannot now follow we shall follow hereafter. God has provided for every stage, even as He has provided for all. Not without a purpose has He given four Gospels, three of which show us the Christ, that is the new man, either as Son of Abraham, or Son of Adam, or as Servant of God, that is in His earthly, rather than His heavenly, relationships, that we, as sons of Abraham, and of Adam, or as God's servants, may see what we can of Him in these lower aspects and relations, till we are able to see Him as Son of the Father also, and, so seeing, learn to walk as sons of God with Him. The life in each case is the light of men. Just in proportion as we do the works we understand the doctrine.
This, then, is our subject, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested unto us. Most men are now content with the bare tradition of this life, and look upon it as a thing well nigh unattainable, or to be attained only in the world to come. But the life has been, and may be, and shall be, manifested here. Seeing is not being; but seeing may help us, not only to understand what man's true life really is, but also to draw nearer to Him who is our life and ever near us, that so, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image. Amen.
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