Christ’s Presence in the Gospel History
The Conjunction of the Presence and the History
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.” Matt. 1:1.
“Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Matt. 28:20.
If the opening words of Matthew’s Gospel — “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ” — might be regarded as a title prefixed not only to the first chapter but to the whole work, they would be equivalent to the more modern expressions — the memoirs, or biography of Jesus Christ. But when we find these memoirs closing with such an utterance from the person who is the subject of them, as this, “Lo, I am with you alway,” we instinctively shrink from speaking of them as the memoirs and remains of Jesus Christ. Such a designation, we feel, would be indeed out of place as applied to the biography of Him who cannot only say, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore,” but who closes the record of His life upon the earth with the matchless declaration, “Lo, I am with you alway.” These are not the memoirs and remains of Jesus Christ; for, lo! he is with us himself.
It is proposed, in these pages, to consider the exact value, the specific and distinct peculiarity, which the closing promise of his presence attaches to the biography of Jesus. For, surely, it not merely exalts this history above all other histories, to a place of unparalleled and unapproachable importance; the subject, the mere theme alone, would secure that. But it assigns to the history a use, a practical improvement, altogether singular and unique.
The biographies of others are valuable — the serviceableness or practical worth of them comes out — when the persons are themselves with us no more; when personal fellowship with them has become, henceforth, in this world, impossible. The biography of Jesus, terminating as it does with the astonishing assertion: Lo, I am with you still — “Lo, I am with you alway” — seems to be the very means whereby we are consciously admitted to his presence, and enabled to maintain with him a personal and living intercourse. I take up the memoir of any other friend with the melancholy feeling: Alas! he is gone, and this is all that remains; and, as I look upon it or peruse it, it reminds me of my loss and makes me feel my brother’s absence. But this memoir I may rather take into my hands as the means of causing me to realize my Elder Brother’s presence; for it breathes the closing promise that He will never leave me. By the necessary omnipresence of his Godhead, but especially by the sovereign and gracious presence of His Spirit, he, whose biography is now before us, is himself with us; and the record of his doings and his doctrines, his life, and death, and resurrection, is thereby no dead history, but a living biography — a biography which, like him of whom it testifies, “liveth and abideth for ever.” Rather, a biography in which he liveth and abideth for ever; “with us alway,” in “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ.”
Let us ponder well the marvelous advantage of possessing this presence and biography unitedly. For, suppose them separate. And consider the two cases that arise. First, suppose that we had the biography, without the presence, of Jesus. And, secondly, suppose we had his presence, but not his biography.
I. Give me his biography alone. It is full of marvels. It is interesting beyond measure. I read and re-read. And if I render it the tribute of my belief, I feel as if I never could have enough of it.
But if this is all, I feel also that I am dealing merely with a history, a record of what is long past and gone — of events that are very interesting in themselves, but in which I can assert or make out no direct, personal, present interest of mine. I may envy those who actually listened to the gracious words, or saw the glorious works of power and mercy, here recorded. And, very specially, I may envy those to whom testimonies or messages of personal love were delivered, or on whom deeds of healing virtue and of sanctifying grace were achieved. Oh! would that I had been there! Thou Friend of grace, thou King of glory, will that also may be clean. Command this evil spirit, this strong corruption, to come out of me and enter into me no more. This, also, I would that thou shouldst do unto me, even that I may receive my sight. Blessed Master, question me also, as with thy searching loving eye, thy piercing tender voice: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me ?” Enable me also to say unto thee, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.”
Alas! it is but a fond imagination. It is but the keen and quickened action of the fancy. At the best, I can only form a very vivid conception of the scene which the record commemorates, and delude myself with the pleasing dream that I was there. And as I awake from my dream, I feel painfully that I am alone, with a dead history of the past in my hands. Give me the biography alone; and the more my heart were adequately moved in reading it, so much the more mournfully would I regret that all these sayings and doings of Jesus are numbered among the things that were.
But give me not the biography alone. Let me have the promised presence, “Lo, I am with you alway”; and I am delivered from all these mournful regrets, and from all reasonable ground for entertaining them. Let me by faith realize that he of whom the biography testifies is himself verily with me while I peruse it; let me, in and with the biography, possess and enjoy the presence of Jesus; and then the biography is no dead history, serviceable at the utmost as a means of quickening my fancy to conjure up, what, to me now, could be nothing more than an imaginary conjuncture, a shadowy, unreal scene. It is itself replenished with all the original historical reality of that which it commemorates; instinct with present life and truth; lighted up with fullness of grace and glory. In the biography now, we have the very Christ himself — the living Saviour — still speaking to us as never man spake, still going about doing good.
Or, secondly: — II. Give me the promised presence alone. Let me know that a living, but invisible person is present with me. And suppose that this is all I have the means of knowing. I am solemnized. I am filled with awe. But how exactly to conceive of him who is thus with me, I am at a loss. Assure me merely of his presence, and all is vague and hazy, very solemnizing, and, if I have confidence in his friendliness, very encouraging and consoling, but very indefinite also, and, withal, somewhat ghostly. A weighty — almost an oppressive — sense of that unseen presence may be upon my heart: no clear, impressive view of it can be before my mind. I am left very much to my own discretion in trying to conceive of him who all the time is actually present with me. But then, it is just from my own discretion that I crave in so solemn a matter to be thoroughly set free. For I cannot consent to invest this unseen One with the forms of my thoughts which are not as his thoughts — my emotions, imaginations, and conceptions, which are not as his. I know that I cannot but fall over into mere pietistic, sentimental conceptions of his presence, and perhaps into fanatical emotions begotten of the belief that he is present with me. The more, therefore, I have cause to adore and love him, the more I need intelligently to appreciate and trust him, so much the more must I shrink from clothing him, to my own apprehension, with any ideal character of my framing — an ideal that could be framed only from the elements of my own character, and that could not possibly transcend the utmost of my own powers of conceiving the beautiful and good. To abstain, on the other hand, from seeking any clear conception of his presence, is to acquiesce in the painful alternative of regarding the most glorious privilege I can possess as the most indefinite, vague, and indistinct of all things.
Oh! would that I had but some means of forming an exact and worthy conception — an authorized and true idea of him! Would that there were but some mirror in which I might behold his glory well-defined; where I might see the exact features of his character; where, especially, I might read the outgoings, in precise and definite action, of his disposition and desire towards me; — some radiant mirror where I might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; some lively oracle where I might hear his very voice in articulate discourse and converse with me!
With his sure and spiritual presence, then, let it be my privilege to possess his clear and definite biography. Give me the presence of the Lord — not vague, indistinct, and ghostly — silent, also, oppressive, and almost appalling — but as uttering the very sayings, and achieving the very works of grace and love that the biography details. Let me hear this Saviour, present with me, saying, as in this history to Peter, and James, and John, ” What I say to you I say to all”; so that I am entitled to hear it as said to me. Let the ever-present Christ make his presence with me definite, intelligible, and most distinct, by proffering to me, as still full of spirit and life, of grace and glory, the very words he uttered and the works he did in the days of his flesh. Let him enshrine his promised presence within the very lineaments and limits of the biography: and I no more complain that his presence with me is indefinite, intangible, vague; difficult of apprehension; destitute of use; incapable of being practically improved, or rationally conceived of and asserted, or validly defended. No, he is present with me now in all revealed distinctness and precision. His own blessed voice speaketh with me in the lively oracles. His own blessed face looks forth upon me from the now living picture of his biography. By an arrangement that leaves nothing for imagination to attempt, and therefore no room for imagination to misconceive, nothing for sentimentalism to supply, and therefore no scope for sentimentalism to pervert; by an arrangement that leaves me no discretion whatsoever, but calls on me simply to receive the heavenly revelation that is given, the Lord is himself with me — not to my fancy, not to my pious sentiment, but with me verily and in very truth; present with me for most intelligible converse, for most distinct and blessed action — to cleanse my leprosy; to cure my blindness; to save me in the storm; to rebuke me when my vigilance slumbers; to reprove me with his silent glance if I deny him; to restore me when I repent, restoring to me, also, the responsibility and privilege of feeding his lambs and sheep.
Thus the presence gives reality, present reality, and life, to the biography: the biography supplies to the otherwise indefinite presence distinct manifestation, action, and utterance. The biography is enlivened by the presence: the presence is defined by the biography. The biography is very life-like; but without the presence it is not living. The presence, on the other hand, is living; but without the biography it is far from life-like. Yet what Christ by his promise hath joined, let not unbelief put asunder. Let the biography and the presence be conjoined and coalesce. The biography, then, is not dead; the Living One liveth in it. The presence is not mysterious and vague; for he is present as in the mirror of the biography, and according to the well-defined, reflected glory there. The biography is more than a biography now. It is — the life of Jesus.
The Presence — by the Spirit
Now, it is by the Holy Spirit that this conjunction, or coalescence, is achieved. The glorious arrangement takes effect, or holds good, by reason of the promise and gift of the Spirit. Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who bringeth Jesus prominently and personally before us in that only and peculiar way in which Jesus can be with us till he come again the second time, without sin unto salvation.
Jesus himself in his valedictory discourse — his paschal converse with the eleven — brings this out very beautifully and copiously; very elaborately, one is even tempted to say; certainly with great earnestness of feeling, and great variety of expression. On the one hand, he promises the Spirit, the Comforter, as a compensation for his own acknowledged and now imminent departure. On the other hand, while admitting in a sense his departure, and assigning it as the reason why he shall send “another Comforter” — while admitting his bodily departure, or rather the withdrawal of his flesh, the bodily manifestation of his presence, from the eyes of their flesh — he protests that the removal of that manifestation of his presence shall not be the removal of his presence itself, but he shall be truly with them still. So that while he promises the Spirit as a compensation for his absence, side by side with this he promises his own presence too; and between these two promises a sort of singular action and reaction goes on, not unlike a series of collisions, till in the end they are found to coalesce into a harmony, or rather unity. For ultimately it becomes plain that the promise of the Spirit, the other Comforter, and the promise of his own prolonged presence, notwithstanding his admitted departure, are quite equivalent, or rather identical. The advent and the indwelling of the Spirit, as sent by Jesus, shall fulfill the promise that Jesus himself is to be with them. It is in bringing out this equivalence, or identity, that our Lord’s thought takes, oftener than once in this discourse, a singular train; and such, indeed, that its continuity cannot be traced or evinced, except by recognizing this as the special drift or design of it.
The Presence — in the History
Take, then, into your hands the biography of Christ; and suppose its closing promise, “Lo, I am with you alway,” is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, being given to you. The Spirit of light and truth shines in your heart while you read the biography. God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness shines in your heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He cleanses and purifies your mental eyeballs. He sanctifies and warms your affections. He enables you to see in his own light (Ps. 36:9) the character and doings, the utterances and affections, the mind and heart of Jesus. That eternal Spirit with whom Jesus, as God, is one in the undivided substance of the Godhead — with whom also Jesus, as Messiah, was anointed without measure and above his fellows — is with you inwardly, dwelling in you, searching in you, shining in you. And outwardly, spread out before you, is the biography of him of whom the Spirit has come to testify. And he testifies of Jesus by that written Word, quickened by his own Almighty power, shone upon with his own marvelous light. He invests the record of Christ’s life and character with heavenly radiance, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He leaves no veil on the face of Jesus. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ he discloses to your view; even the glory of the Lord as in a glass — the glass of the Word — with open face (II Cor. 3:18; 4:6). Nor does he leave any veil on your face or your mind: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (ver. 17). With eyes anointed of the Lord (Rev. 3:18), and opened to perceive wondrous things (Ps. 119:18), you are free, without fear, to “look steadfastly” on what the Spirit, in his own light, is unfolding to your view.
And what have you now? What is it that you now see? What do you discover by the Spirit’s light in the biography of the Son of God? Some shadowy semblance of Jesus? Some memorials or mementoes of your beloved? Some fragments and remains? No, verily. A semblance? You behold the glory of the Lord. Fragments? “All that the Father hath is mine; therefore said I, he shall take of mine and shew it unto you.” Remains? No; but Jesus himself: “He shall testify of me”; “He shall take of mine”; “He shall glorify me.” It is the living Saviour himself. “Lo, I am with you alway.”
The precise value and astonishing uniqueness of this result may appear to us more strikingly, and with more conviction, if a simple question be suggested. Does any other biography possess an advantage such as this, that the living Spirit of him whom it commemorates should adjoin himself to the record, and take possession of the mind and heart of those that read it? I trow not. No doubt, in a sense, the spirit of the master in painting or in poetry whom you chiefly study, or of the author you most admire, may seem, as the fruit of that cordial admiration and constant study, to descend upon you. You may insensibly assimilate your state of mind, or style of character, or strain of thought and of expression, to his; in so much that he may seem even to be risen from the dead in his pupil. But all this is ideal, and ideal only. However far it may be carried, and however much the very spirit of your favourite author may breathe in you, it is still after all nothing more than your own mind dealing with its own conceptions, memories, ideas of the departed one. You are, in this process, really solitary and alone.
This communing with the mighty dead, what is it at the best but communing with your own heart in the reminiscences of them which you love to cherish, or in the ideas of theirs which their written remains suggest? The deeds of manly prowess or gentle beneficence they once performed you now recall and admire. The utterances of their noble intellect and tender heart you think you hear again; and they thrill through your frame, and do you good by their inspiration, as of old. Nay, the thoughts and feelings they once entertained and recorded, but concealed from all, until, after death, the hand of affection, intrusted with these rich remains, gave over to the world or the Church a legacy of wisdom which the living voice had never uttered; these thoughts and emotions — most free, familiar, cherished, deep — may pass through your mind now, till your own thoughts and emotions beat in unison with those of the great departed. In this sense, and to this extent, you have communion with them. Intercourse with them you do not dream of now possessing. Their writings and remains are at the utmost substitutes for that.
But possessing the biography and Spirit of ‘Jesus is very far otherwise — it is very far more. Others may inoculate you, in a sense, with their spirit. It means merely their genius, their enthusiasm, their individual style of thought and feeling. Jesus baptizeth you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And then, you do not deal with reminiscences of Christ — memories and mementoes of him, however accurate — conceptions, notions, ideas concerning him, however true; no, nor even with mere doctrines concerning him, however truly divine and infinitely precious in their own place as these unquestionably are. You deal with him, and he with you. The true and living Christ, present with you — secretly and subjectively present in you by his Spirit — deals with you. And you in the Spirit deal with the true and living Christ, present with you — ostensibly and objectively present with you — in his own holy Word and history.
There is true communion now. There is personal and mutual intercourse. Yea, you have found Jesus. And he speaketh unto you face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend. He reveals his face to you without a veil; and you lift up your face to him without spot, and without fear or tremor save that of reverential awe. For he lifts the light of his countenance upon you; and he is the health of your countenance and your God. Behold! Jesus indeed is with you; shining on you; speaking to you; — shining forth on you from the biography, resplendent now, through the Spirit, with the glory as of the only begotten of the Father; speaking forth to you from the biography, vocal now, through the Spirit, with the Chief Shepherd’s voice. Jesus is with you, and you with him, — the very Jesus of the Gospels; causing you to “wonder at the gracious words that proceed from his mouth,” causing you to feel that “Jesus Christ maketh you whole.”
Thus you have Jesus himself, presently revealing himself to you by the Spirit, as in his biography; so that he brings down to you, along the course of time, all that was essential and of lasting import, all that was of universal and eternal value, in the intercourse he maintained with others, and the services he rendered to them, now so many generations ago, in the days of his flesh. You have not merely what he once thought, and said, and did; but what he thinks, and says, and does now; for, “Lo, he is with you alway.” As revealed in that very record, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, he is with you alway. And you have not merely what he thought, and said, and did concerning others; but what he now thinks, and says, and does concerning you; for, lo, in the visible Church — by his striving Spirit and stirring history — he is verily with you; weeping over you, if, with Jerusalem, you are still rejecting him; rejoicing over you, if, with Peter, you have seen his glory and confessed him as the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Ah! we have not the record of a past, but the revelation of a present Saviour. By the lively oracles and the perpetual presence, we may have true intercourse with Jesus. He will come in and sup with us and we with him, even according to the revelation of him in his history and in the revealing light of his Spirit.
For, without the Spirit you may know much about Christ. But it is impersonal knowledge; Christ himself you do not know, nor see, nor meet with. You may have the means of knowing him; but they are not effectual. You may have the means of intercourse with him; but intercourse itself you have not. You may have his perfect and all-sufficient biography; but without the Spirit of Jesus you cannot appreciate the life of Jesus; for you are not yourself quickened to live in the same spiritual world, or atmosphere and realm, with him. The truths and doctrines concerning him which you pile into your mind may be divine in themselves; but grappling with them in your own spirit alone, practically they are not divine to you; to you their divine excellence and beauty is concealed. From your own spirit they assume the hues and lights in which you see them, — hues and lights, not of the divine Spirit, but of the human mind with its darkening and distorting prejudices, — of your own mind with its peculiar evil set, its own particular bent of error. Higher than the character, or calibre, or capacity, of your own heart and intellect you cannot rise. The very biography and character of Christ, to your view, when seen only in the light of your spirit, will be limited and stunted to the size and tone of your spirit. The natural man will not receive it, for it is spiritually discerned. The very word of God you may put, like fuel, into the furnace of an earnest, excited, anxious mind; and the furnace may be heated seven times; yet, if you be not baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire — if that divine fuel burn only with the strange fire of your own spirit — sparks only of your own kindling will fly from it. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God will not be yours. This only shall you have as the result: you shall lie down in sorrow; you shall still be in solitude; no living person, no personal and present Saviour with you.
But let the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, shine in your heart, and shine on the truth before you; let the fuel of divine truth, in general, in your mind be kindled and glow radiantly with a fire divine; let Christ’s record, in particular, be illumined and opened by Christ’s own Spirit; and then you shall have seen the Lord, — you have seen him and heard him yourself. And have you not embraced your opportunity to claim him, as with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”; to say to him, as with Nathanael, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel”; to appeal to him, as with Peter, “Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee”?
Ah! you are not now paying reverence to the manes and memory of a departed Teacher. You are not bowing before an ideal impersonation of departed moral worth and beauty, how ever ravishing. You are no more labouring merely to form a vivid mental conception of one whose life may well fire your spiritual ambition, and quicken and provoke, while it allures and encourages, your imitation. You are in no figurative sense communing with one of a bygone age. You are with Jesus — that same Jesus who was dead and is alive again; and, behold, he liveth for evermore, speaking to you the very words he spake when on earth; forgiving all thine iniquities; rebuking all thy corruptions; healing all thy diseases; dealing very effectually, very intelligibly and precisely, very tenderly with you. He fulfills his promise. He does not leave you an orphan. He comes unto you. Lo, he is with you alway.
Oh! to what a singular and matchless utility does this exalt “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ”! What meeting-places with the Saviour does it now afford! What personal meetings with him does it now effect! Not a word that Jesus uttered eighteen hundred years ago, suitable to any poor sinner that made application and appeal to him, but, if my case be similar, and that word be suitable to me, a Saviour still present makes it freely mine as it was free to him that first obtained it, — freely mine; full, also, of all its light, and grace, and power to do me good, undiminished by the lapse of ages. Nor is there any work of mercy and of might which Jesus ever did, “manifesting forth his glory,” but, if it could suit my case, benefit my soul, and promote my salvation and my comfort, that work is being prolonged in unattenuated efficacy up to this moment and on to my needy soul, by a Saviour the same yesterday, today, and for ever, and who in his marvelous biography is living with us still by his Spirit. The element of time is got rid of, and cast out. Jesus is with us. We are with him. In all the spiritual and permanent efficacy of what he said and did on earth, and left on record, he is with us. In the Spirit and in faith we are with him, having companionship with him, and personal interest, in all the doctrines and deeds he uttered, all the grace and glory he revealed, all the invitations he gave, and all the blessings he conferred, in those wondrous days of his flesh.
The Synagogue, and its Perpetual Sermon
“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath-day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias: and when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” Luke 4:16-22.
“He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” John 3:34.
Will the Lord enshrine his presence here? Will he live over again — will he continually live — this part of his biography amongst us? Eminently and manifestly he will. The whole case is singularly fitted to bring out very clearly the evidence of what we have already attempted so variously to illustrate. We behold our Lord in the synagogue of Nazareth exercising his prophetic office. And while all the sensible and temporary circumstantials of the case have vanished, all the essentials survive to this hour.
Take the scene in Nazareth on that Sabbath-day as a manifestation of the Presence of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Separate the temporary from the permanent; and you will find that you have separated the accessory from the essential, — leaving all that was essential permanently present in the Church below still.
For, what are the essentials? 1. First: there is the Word. “He stood up for to read.” And it is the Word of the Lord he is to read. “There was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias.” And he accepts the opportunity thus afforded him of honouring the Word. “He opened the book and found the place where it was written.” That which is “written” is his theme as a Prophet; even as that which is “written” has already been his sword as a King. And what he readeth from the Word has reference to his own preaching of the Word; — his preaching the gospel to the poor, — his preaching deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, — his preaching the acceptable year of the Lord. It is all of the Word, — the Scripture. And how does he comment upon the Word now read? “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
As to instrumentality, as to theme or topic or materiél in his teaching; the Word is the essential.
2. As to efficiency; or spiritual agency reaching the heart, enlightening the mind, making wise the simple; — what is the essential, in this view? Mark the first utterance of the oracle; — “The Spirit.” “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.” He places this in the foreground. He points to this as his great qualification. On this he perils all his expectation of success in his office. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him.
Here is his own “epistle of commendation”; recommendatory of him as able to fulfill the duty of his office; — “For, he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). Here, also, is his hope of having many living epistles of commendation, written in the hearts of his people, “known and read of all men: manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ,” because “written with the Spirit of the living God” (II Cor. 3:1-3). The whole efficiency is of the Spirit. As to spiritual efficiency or agency; the Spirit is the essential.
When, therefore, “all that heard him bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth” (ver. 22); — when “they were astonished at his doctrine; for his word was with power” (ver. 32); — the entire essential of the gracious words and powerful doctrine was of the Scripture; and the entire essential of the grace and power was of the Spirit.
That is to say, Christ executed the office of a Prophet, that day, in Nazareth, in revealing to men by his Word and Spirit the will of God for their salvation. The features of his visible countenance and the pulsations of the air from his audible voice, did not enter into the matter at all. So that his bodily presence, — or, as it ought rather to be called, the bodily manifestation of his presence, — may have vanished; but his Presence is with us in our sanctuaries now, essentially and exactly as in the synagogue of Nazareth then.
A thousand times shall faith assert this claim; and at every time she will deny that there is any trace of illusion or fancy or fanaticism in her assertion of it. She will evermore produce the tangible, unchanging, rigid rule of the Word, whereby all fanaticism is excluded. And she will trust to the guiding light of the promised Spirit, who can neither err nor mislead. And knowing that her prophet is the Christ because the Spirit of the Lord rests on him for ever; and knowing that the Word also liveth and abideth for ever, she will maintain that she enjoys her Lord’s presence in all essentials as fully as the spectators in the synagogue of Nazareth — and far more fully than those who were spectators merely.
Are we to be in such bondage — so deliriously intoxicated and enslaved, — to the senses of this vile body, as to maintain that whatever has vanished from the eyes of our flesh is lost to us? Are we to subordinate and to subject thus shamefully the things that are unseen and eternal to the conditions of space and time and the body of our humiliation? And are we never to be satisfied that “the King Eternal, immortal and invisible” is near, unless he submit a proof that shall be cognizable to those eyes and hands which have soon to be hidden in the grave? “Thomas; because thou hast seen me thou hast believed: blessed are they which have not seen me, and yet have believed.”
With adoring reverence let a supposition be made. With adoring reverence — For we “beseech thee,” O Emmanuel, “shew us thy glory”; till, like Elijah, we wrap our face in our mantle (I Kings 19:13), — till, like Moses, we make haste, and bow our head toward the earth, and worship (Exod. 34:8). One thing have you desired of the Lord; that will you seek after; that you may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of your life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
Let it be supposed, then, that, on the first day of the week, when you are assembled to worship God in the Spirit in the name of Christ, — the blessed Christ who is with you from the first, if even two or three have truly met in his name, suddenly reveals his presence to the eyes of your flesh; and he who alway walketh, unseen, among the seven golden candlesticks, appears unto you, standing in the midst — as he appeared unto the disciples on the evening of his own resurrection-day (John 20:19), — saying “Peace be unto you.” He interrupts not your worship. He takes the conduct of it. He will make known his Father’s name unto his brethren; in the midst of the congregation will he sing praise unto him (Ps. 22:22; Heb. 2:12). He stands up to read. And there is delivered to him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he has opened the book he finds the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” And he reads it with the “still small voice.” And as he reads, you wrap your face in your mantle. For the Word is with power, and with the demonstration of the Spirit. And while he penetrates your heart with his Spirit, he turns all your thought to the Word, — saying, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears:” — Would this be the presence of your Lord?
But suppose that having thus seen the Lord, you cannot but wrap your face in your mantle; that you smite upon your breast and cannot so much as lift up your eyes unto him; or that some veil or curtain descendeth and hideth the Divine Reader from your view; while still the gracious words proceed from his mouth: — Have you not your Lord’s presence still?
But suppose again that, ceasing to use his own voice, he gives the book unto the minister and sits down; leaving your pastor to minister the Word, himself continuing to minister to you the Spirit; continuing, that is, to give you the Word and Spirit still; while he himself, hidden from your view and now silent, still sits in your assembly: — Have you not your Lord’s presence still?
And now an ambassador for Christ, as though God did beseech you by him, prays you in Christ’s stead — “Be ye reconciled to God.” And the Word is the matter of his commission; even the word of reconciliation which Christ has thus committed to him. And the Spirit is the agent in commending it, in his own light, to you. And the Prophet of the Church — his countenance unseen by you, his literal voice unheard by you — is present in the body. In what are you advantaged thereby? It is by his Word and Spirit that he is advantageously, really, profoundly present with you. Let him ascend to his Father and your Father, to his God and your God: — Have you not your Lord’s presence still? Yea; — “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” “They have seen thy goings, O God; even the goings of my God, my King, in the sanctuary.”
Even though Jesus were with you in the sanctuary bodily, he would bring no new revelation: he would read from “the book.” He would speak of “this Scripture, this day fulfilled in your ears.” And he would cast no spell of amazement upon your soul from his visible person or audible voice: He would seek no such poor triumph over his audience — no such factitious influence upon their mind. He would peril all the effect of his Word on the demonstration of the Spirit. His own Word and your soul he would leave in the hand of the Spirit. By the Word he would send forth his truth. And by the Spirit he would send forth his light. “O send forth thy light and thy truth.” But does the bodily manifestation of his Presence at all enter into the essence of this great transaction? No, verily. And, therefore, verily and essentially you have Christ’s Presence in your sanctuary, even as in the synagogue of Nazareth.
O send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me, let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory — even the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, — so that I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
If we have the Word and the Spirit of Christ, we have the Presence of Christ in the sanctuary. But it is manifest that this train of thought lands us on the verge of a very great enlargement or — to use the language of geometry — extension of our theorem. The coalescence of the Presence and the History is merely a limited case, though no doubt the most interesting case, of a wider and grander principle — the coalescence of the Spirit and the Word in general.
This is a coalescence or conjunction set before us in Scripture in many interesting lights. In one view, and most practically, it constitutes in fact God’s covenant, established with the Mediator, and, in him, with the Church his seed, and all her seed or children: — “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my Words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth even for ever” (Isa. 59:21). Practically this is God’s whole covenant; for all the purchase and provisions of the covenant are stored up, and conveyed to us, in the Word; and it is the Spirit who takes of that purchase and those provisions — which are just the things of Christ — and shows them to us (John 16:14). And, it is because of the covenant taking this form and taking effect in this manner in the Church, that the Church is called upon in the very next utterance: — “Arise, shine; for thy light hath come, and the glory of the Lord hath arisen upon thee” (Isa. 61:1). The Word and Spirit of the Lord are the light and the glory of the Church.
Because of this coalescence of the Word and Spirit, long before he came in the flesh, was Wisdom’s presence in the world; yea, “in the streets; in the chief places of concourse: in the openings of the gates; — saying, Turn ye at my reproof: behold I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my Words unto you” (Prov. 1:20-24). And when, in the fullness of time, he is made of a woman, and speaketh with human lips, — “he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God, because God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:33).
So intimate is this conjunction; — testified as it is, by John, concerning Christ in the days of his flesh, as true anent him then; by Solomon, as true, even in his days; and by Isaiah, as true — “from henceforth even for ever.” In the language of one whose eloquence and subtlety of thought are oftentimes as marvelous as his massiveness and grandeur — “the Lord hath so knit together the certainty of his Word and his Spirit, that our minds are duly imbued with reverence for the Word, when the Spirit, shining upon it, enables us there to behold the face of God; and, on the other hand, we embrace the Spirit with no danger of delusion when we recognise him in his image, that is, in his Word.” (Calvin, Institutes I.ix.3.)
It would be out of place to enter on any of the manifold trains of fine and fertile thought opened up by a theme so rich as that of — the Word and Spirit. But we may repeat and extend a question which occurred at an earlier stage of our inquiries. In reference to the coalescence of the Presence and the History we were led to ask; — Does any other history or biography possess an advantage so marvelous as that he whom it commemorates should adjoin himself to the record and take possession of the mind of him who reads the record? And the analogous question, of course, arises; — Does any other work of authorship possess an advantage similar to God’s Word generally, when God’s Spirit dwells in him who humbly reads the Word and shines upon it with the light of God? Is it enough to say that this really is equivalent to the Presence of the Lord? Nay; ought it not rather to be confidently affirmed that this is the Lord’s Presence most intimately, most profoundly, most intensely; — even so as the presence of any fellow-creature can be with us?
I give you, let us say, my written word. I send a most carefully written letter to you. I have watched and laboured every sentence of it, to secure the utmost possible simplicity and accuracy; and to make my meaning not only most intelligible, but, as far as possible, unavoidably and unmistakably plain. You give my carefully written word an equally careful perusal. You watch and labour to understand every sentence of it; to take up my very meaning with perfect accuracy; to avoid fathering on me any thought which I did not mean — or failing to apprehend any thought which I did mean — to convey. And yet, with all this, is it infallibly certain that we shall understand each other? Or, more precisely; is there any provision in this arrangement for securing that you shall infallibly understand me? There is not.
But suppose that, with my written word, I could convey, into your mind or spirit, my mind or spirit; and that my spirit had such command over your spirit as to secure that the action of your intellect and heart in reading my letter should fit in exactly, and harmonize, with the action of mine in writing it. Then, though we might be separated by the diameter of the globe, or, though one of us should be in heaven above and the other on the earth below, I am present with you by my word and spirit; and very real and intimate and intense is our communion, — more so, by far, than if we were merely face to face in the flesh.
Is it necessary to point out that this is the very arrangement which actually subsists under Christ’s present method of instructing you, while he is in heaven above and you are here upon the earth; very beautifully illustrated, yea literally exemplified, by his letters to the Churches? “These things saith he”; — so do these epistles open: they are the Word of Christ. “Let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches”; — so do these epistles close: the Spirit of Christ is in them, and with them. It is the very arrangement which we have supposed; only freed, as between you and your God, from all the imperfections to which even this arrangement, as between you and a fellow-creature, would be subject? So that you shall even infallibly be put in possession of the Lord’s meaning. You shall assuredly “have the mind of Christ.” And Christ’s most intimate Presence shall be with you — not to the eyes of your flesh, but to the now heaven-bright eyes of your spirit. But we must resume and extend a former inference also.
The Inspiration of the Scriptures
If the Presence of Christ in the Gospel History inevitably infers the Inspiration of the four Gospels, the analogous presence of the Spirit in the Scriptures generally, infers, by similar necessity, the Inspiration of the entire Scriptures too. On the presupposition that the Spirit enshrines himself in the Word, even as Christ in the Memoir, the whole Word must be as perfect and infallible as that special portion of it. With the perfection of that portion, Christ’s perfection is imperiled, if Christ livingly conjoins himself with it, and looks forth from it, in all ages, upon the sons of men, as in a living picture there. But if the Spirit in like manner cleaves to the Word, by a divinely guaranteed connection “from henceforth even for ever”; then the infallibility of the spirit is periled on, and identified with the infallibility of the Word.
Many, doubtless, of those who deny the plenary inspiration, or perfection, of the Word may not think they suffer any loss when made to see that the imperfection or fallibility of the Word cuts the tie of living union between the Word and Spirit. For they will, probably, not value, nor feel interested in asserting and defending, that union, as the friends of plenary inspiration do. Nevertheless it is of some consequence to set it clearly forth that the relation in which the Holy Spirit can stand to Holy Scripture, and the kind of use which he can possibly make of it in his dealings with men, must be wholly — specifically and fundamentally and wholly — altered, if it is not literally — his own Word.
Even supposing the Scriptures were not inspired of the Holy Ghost as we contend, to such specific and peculiar effect as renders them his Word — his published works — even as Butler’s Analogy and Calvin’s Institutes and Augustine’s Civitas Dei, are published works of Butler and Calvin and Augustine; — though the Scriptures were merely good and holy writings, as those of Augustine and Calvin and Butler are — holier, it may be, and better far, than the best of these, yet in the same category with them; written by good men, as these were, with the same kind of help and influence from heaven — doubtless in larger measure yet the same in kind; — in such a case we do not say that the Holy Ghost would refuse to stand in any relation to them whatever, or utterly refuse in any way to use them. We do not, by any means, say so. We do not say so, just because we do not say that he refuses utterly to use the works of Augustine and Calvin and Butler — or withholds his blessing from the use of them. But we contend that in this case, the relation in which he must stand to the Scriptures, and the use which he will make of them, must be the same in kind — in no respect specific or peculiar or unique, but the very same in kind — as when the works of these human authors are concerned.
But is that the relation in which, seeking certainty in the things that belong to my eternal peace, I am content to see the Spirit standing to the Scriptures; or the use which I am content to hope he will make of them in instructing my never-dying soul? Let that relation be supposed as intimate and excellent as possible, in the nature of the case; and that use as great and constant; yet the Spirit can in no respect identify himself with these writings. He must stand outside and apart from them. He cannot enter into them; and make them his own. For his own they are not. And it would dishonour and degrade the Holy Spirit to adopt them as his own, and become responsible for their errors and imperfections. It simply cannot be. He may make some use of them; but not such as making them his own would imply. He may use them. He may work by means of them on my mind; as he may do me good by the works of Augustine or Calvin or Butler. But mark the specific, awful issue: — the Spirit of God is silent.
Yes! There is eternal silence in the Church; on this scheme, so far as any voice of the Spirit, any voice Divine, is concerned. He may work. But he does not speak. The plastic movements of his hand may be upon my heart. But he does not speak to me. He and I have no intelligent communion. My God is silent to me.
And will my Father never speak to me? Will he persist in giving me my daily bread amidst this awful silence? I protest that I cannot eat it. Will he offer to make the published works of mere men useful to me — including among them these writings of Moses and the Prophets and the Apostles — while he himself is still awfully and ominously silent? I protest that I cannot hear them; for my heart breaketh for the longing that it hath unto my Father’s voice.
Yes! And he is not silent to me. “The mighty God even the Lord hath spoken.” To speak — is pre-eminently his. “I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.” And “the Spirit speaketh expressly.” And “let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.”
For the Spirit enters into his own Word. He expresses himself by means of it. He can do so without compromise of his own mind, or constraint upon his own thoughts or feelings, because it is his own Word. It expresses what the Spirit of Christ doth “signify” (I Pet. 1:11). It does full justice to his meaning. He will not disown it, therefore. And it will not dishonour him. He and his own utterances — the Spirit and the Word — are wholly consentient. Their living coalescence, therefore, is possible. And it is guaranteed. Their division is, in fact, inconceivable. And the Word is thus quick and powerful by the Spirit. The Spirit is intelligible by the Word.
Without the Spirit, the Word is dead. Without the Word, the Spirit is dumb. The one a dead letter: the other a dumb power. Like the ivory palaces, if the King never entered them, — the cold, drear, death-damp of centuries in all their noble halls, so were the Word to me, if the Spirit were not there. O let the Spirit and glory of the Lord fill the house. Like when the Spirit dumbly brooded on the face of the waters; — they could yearn after no acquaintance with his mind and heart; — so were the Spirit’s work on me, if he disowned and set aside his Word. O let him count me his intelligent companion. Let him explain himself, and speak with voice articulate, intelligible. Let him not deal with me as with matter, inert and dead. Let him deal with me as “a living soul”; for he himself is “a quickening Spirit.”
Let the Spirit give life to the letter of the Word. Let the Word give expression to the mind of the Spirit. And so hath the Lord arranged. But the whole arrangement, with its glory, so unique and perfect, must vanish, if the true and proper inspiration of Holy Scripture be abandoned.