(Revelation, Chapter i.)
|Since mine eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I've lost sight of all beside,
So enchained my spirit's vision,
Looking at the Crucified.|
|The Lord Christ passed my humble cot:
I knew him, yet I knew him not;
But as I oft had done before,
I hurried through my narrow door
To touch His garment's hem.
|He drew me to a place apart
From curious crowd and noisy mart;
And as I sat there at His feet
I caught the thrill of His heart-beat
Beyond His garment's hem.
|Rare was the bread He broke for me,
As wine the words He spoke to me --
New life surged in, the old life died....
I cannot now be satisfied
To touch His garment's hem.|
Transfigured by a Look.
No one ever had a sight of Christ's face and forgot. No one ever gets a sight of Him and gets over it. He is never the same man after that. He doesn't want to be the same.
A look into the face of Christ is transforming. You see Him; and you can never be the man you have been and be content. A change comes. You want a change. You must have it. This longing is the beginning of the deeper change. You can never be content again with being the man you have been.
It has always been so. It always will be so. For this is the natural thing. In the dawning twilight of Eden God looked into the face of the man he had fashioned. He drew very close to him, close enough to breathe his own breath into his face. And the man looked out into God's face, and took on God's likeness. So he became his own real self, as originally planned.
But while man was yet young, sin looked him in the face. And the man looked at sin with an evil longing look. And in that look he took in some of what he saw. He was marred. The God image was hurt. He was not the same man. And he knew it. He felt it. His eyes were never the same after that exchange of looks with sin.
But God helped him. He didn't go away. He came closer for the sake of the sin-hurt eyes. And whenever man has looked into that wondrous God-face, even though seeing dimly and indistinctly, something within him makes a great bound. He recognizes the original of his own natural self. And he catches fire at the sight. A holy discontent springs up within.
|Couldst thou in vision see
Thyself the man God meant,
Thou never more couldst be
The man thou art -- content.|
But you have to see Jesus as He was in His humanity to see yourself the man God meant. And you have to see Jesus as He is now to see the God who meant you to be like Himself.
It has always been so. This has been God's simple method with men He would use. He has wooed and then wooed more, and a bit longer, gently, persistently, up and away and apart until at last the man's eyes were trained away from the lower glare enough to see the real things.
Then in some vision of the night, whose darkness helped hold back the lower earth lights, God has looked a man in the face once again. Or, perhaps in open day there came to him that which he could not describe. But in his inner spirit he knew there was One with him whom yet his outer eyes could not see, but who could not be more real if his outer eyes did see.
And in that presence there was a mingling of exquisite tenderness and of limitless power that was overawing. Inconceivable purity and yet such an unspeakable graciousness seemed blended in this presence. And the man seeing was melted in his innermost being with the sense of tenderness, and bowed in awe to the lowest dust in the sense of overwhelming power. Those who have seen will understand how poor the words are to tell the story. And those who have not may wonder a bit until they, too, have seen.
Some Transfigured Men.
This it was that transformed that man of the early dawnlight named Enoch, the seventh from Adam. He was the head of the leading family of the race, the racial leader. He had lived well on into the seventh decade of his life.
Then the change came. He recognized a Presence with him, one day. That One unseen by unseeing eyes became real to him and then more real. He yielded to His wooing. He companioned with Him daily. This came to be the realest thing. And he was transformed by it. He grew constantly less like what he had been, and more like what he was originally meant to be, like his Companion. Constant contact restored the original likeness. He was transformed before men's eyes, changed over from within.
Then one day the transforming forces had gone so far that he was transferred to the upper levels, where all see His face, and his likeness shines out of all faces. He never got over the sight that came to him that early day.
It was this that wooed the man of Ur away from his ancestral home to be a lonely pilgrim, a stranger among strangers. Nothing less or else could have broken the early attachments, the strongest of the East. That winsome wooing Presence became to him stronger than the strongest human attachments of his family and home land.
This it was that steadied him through the loneliness, the homelessness, the disappointments, the long delays, until it was the image of a new man, a transformed man, a faith-begotten man, that at length looked at him out of the eyes of his only begotten. This it was that steadied him through the hardest test of all with that only begotten, the fire test on Moriah. And that made the transformation yet fuller. For so he grew the liker him to whose presence he insisted on yielding as each test came.
So it was with that rare student of Egypt and Arabia. Trained in the best that man could give in the University of the Nile, and then further trained by absence from man in the University of the Desert, alone with sheep and stars, shifting sand and immovable rock, he wasn't ready for his task yet. He was well trained but not yet transformed.
The fires had to be kindled, purifying, melting, fusing fires. And only fire kindles fire. The fire of the unburnt bush told him first of a new kind of fire, uncatalogued on the Nile. The fire of a Presence burned daily, not consuming him, but only the dross in him, as he led his race from Egypt to Sinai, out from the slavery of men up to the freedom of the presence of God. And then for six weeks, twice over, he was in the Presence of Flame on the Mount.
This it was that utterly changed him into the strongly gentle, patient, tender-hearted, wise man who taught and trained, lived with and led, the immature men and women whom God would weld into a nation, a God-nation. He never got over those two long visits to the Mount, nor has the world.
It was nothing else than this, long years later, that made the rugged man of the deserts brave the traitorous Ahab in his luxurious, licentious court. Without it, the sight obscured, the vision lost, he is a coward fleeing like a whipped dog before a bad woman, thinking only of saving his own skin. It showed himself, his weak, cowardly self, to himself.
A fresh vision that early morning in the mouth of the desert cave made the yet deeper more radical transformation. That unutterably gentle sound of stillness, too exquisite to be told, only to be felt by a spirit in tune, that left him not a whit less willing to brave danger than before, but made over now into another sort, like him whose Presence in the cave so melted him down.
This new, gentled, mellowed, strengthened Elijah reappears in the man who received the birthright portion of his spirit. We know the new Elijah by the spirit that swayed Elisha. The old spirit, fiercely denouncing, calling down fire, slaying the priests, but with no grief-broken heart under these stern needful things, -- this we think of familiarly as the Elijah spirit.
The new spirit, healing, teaching, sympathizing, leading, feeding, fathering, the greatness of gentleness and patience, these characteristics of Elijah's prophetic heir tell of the deep radical transformation by the wondrous unseen Presence that early morning in the mouth of the cave. This is the birthright gift of Elijah to Elisha. Elijah had a spirit-sight of God, and he never got over it. He became like Him into whose face he looked.
Heart Stimulant for the Brain.
But time fails, and words fail immensely more, to tell this thing. Let him who would know that transforming sight get quietly alone with Isaiah in the temple, and on bent knees linger unhurriedly, and listen, and watch, and breathe out his prayer, and strongly wait until something of the same brooding Presence be discerned that transformed this young Hebrew messenger of God.
Then let him get alone with the Moses of the New Testament. For there is no man who was so utterly transformed, and so quickly, as the man on the Damascus road. The whole course of his character and life was radically changed as by a lightning touch. This is the most striking illustration of all. No man so reveals in himself the tremendous transforming power there is in the sight of the Christ as does this high-strung son of the Hebrew race.
But -- words are such lame things. They cannot tell the story here. They are all one has to use. Yet they'll never be understood except as the light of experience shines upon them. When any one attempts to talk of such a thing as this of seeing God or Christ, his words seem so poor and lame and under the mark by the man who has had something of the vision. And they either are meaningless and uninteresting, or else they seem overstated, and quite beyond the mark to one who has had no inkling in experience of the thing itself.
I recall distinctly the experience of a Danish friend in Copenhagen. She had been trying to read in English a certain devotional book, but said she couldn't seem to grasp the meaning of the English words. They eluded her, and so the book didn't help her much.
Then she went through a time of sore stress of spirit in the sickness and death of her mother. A new experience of the nearness of God came to her. And then happening -- as it seemed -- to pick up the English book again she was amazed and delighted to find how much better and more quickly she knew the words and sensed the meaning.
It is only as the heart is fired that the brain awakens. Experience gives the meaning to language. Without experience it is a dead language in meaning even though it be one's own mother tongue. Only the man who has caught something of the vision of Christ's face can understand the strong words used in talking of such a vision.
It is most striking to notice that even when the glory of God's presence was hidden beneath human wrappings in Jesus it still could be felt. Men felt that presence though they knew not just what it was they felt, nor why. When the glory came yet closer in the coming of Jesus, it must be well covered up for the sake of men's eyes, that they might not go blind at once; but its power of attraction could not be wholly hid.
So really human was Jesus in the outer circumstance of His life that His brothers of the home couldn't believe he was essentially different from themselves. But the attraction of that presence was felt constantly even through the human hiding of it.
John of the Wilderness instinctively recognized that here was more than the man he saw, and so obeyed His word. The crowds gathered eagerly in the Jordan bottoms in even greater numbers than to hear John, drawn by a power they felt they must yield to, and did yield to gladly.
From the first the crowds gathered thick about Him, Jewish aristocrat, Samaritan half-breed and sinful outcast jostling elbows in their eagerness to hear, drawn by a power they could feel, but could not understand any more than they could withstand it. The children loved his presence and touch.
The bad in life were as resistlessly drawn up to a new life as the Greeks were drawn from clear beyond the blue waters of the Hellespont into His presence. The crowds were irresistibly drawn to follow on that last eventful journey to Jerusalem even while they felt |afraid.|
It was the sight of the glory on the Mount that drew faithful John in with Jesus, and held him steady that awful night in palace and courtyard, and that later brought poor blasphemous Peter back for forgiveness. The two walking to Emmaus found their hearts all aflame, though they supposed it was only the chance stranger of the roadway they listened to.
Even those who hated Him were compelled to recognize the wondrous power of His presence. The Nazareth hands that itched to seize Him were restrained by His presence as He passed through their midst. Ten times did the Jerusalem crowds attempt his life, and ten times were they restrained by a power in Him that they could neither understand nor withstand.
The men officially empowered to arrest Him return empty-handed, confessing the overawing power of His words. That last week the leaders that were hotly plotting His death felt the strange restraint of His presence while He quietly sat in their very midst, and swayed the crowds.
In the garden soldiers and priests alike were felled to the ground by the power of His presence. So it always has been. No one has ever had a sight of that Face, and gotten used to it, or gotten over it.
A Fresh Vision Needed.
But the thing we are specially needing to-day is a sight of Christ as He is now. It seems a bit strange that we don't get this more. One historic Church has Him fastened to a cross, never freed from the old fastenings. Another has Him set in picture frame, behind glass. And the multitudes prostrate themselves and reverently kiss the glass.
In widely differing Churches He seems quite covered up out of sight by classical ritual, beautiful music, and impressive stately service. The crowds gather and listen and bow low in hushed stillness. But, apparently, Him they see not, else how different their conduct as they come out, and their lives.
And yet as I have mingled with the worshippers in Catholic Churches in the south of Europe, in Greek Churches in Russia, and in congregations of the Church of England classed as |high,| I have been caught by faces here and there in the crowd that clearly were reaching out hungrily for Him, and were having some sort, some real sort, of touch with Him, too. Yet it seemed to be in spite of surroundings. The insistence of their hunger pierces through these to Him. He seems hidden from the crowd by them.
Scholarly orthodox theologians talk learnedly about Him, but Himself as He walked among us and as He is now, Him it would seem that they see not, at least not enough to burn through and burn out and burn up and send men out aflame with the Jesus-passion. Philosophies about Him that are classed as |liberal| and put attractively, yet have nothing of the burn in them that reveals Himself.
The more modern Church of the more western world seems to have gotten a new lease of aggressiveness in service, a new intensity in activities so numerous as to be a bit bewildering sometimes. The wheels whir busily and noisily. You feel them. But Him, the unseen presence that makes you reverently wrap your face up out of sight, and stand with awed heart to listen, Him we seem not to see.
The wondrous quiet Voice that makes your heart burn within you with a burning that cleanses and mellows and melts down, that we seem to hear only by getting away from the noise of the whirring wheels into some quiet corner.
There are in every Church and nation those who seem to have the close personal touch with Himself. Their faces and daily lives show the marks. Their lips may not say so much, for they who see most can say least of what they see. But the marks in the life are unmistakable.
Yet even here the sight of Christ emphasizes chiefly the personal side, what He is personally to them. And what a blessed side that is only they who know it know. They think of Him as a personal Saviour, and the heart glows. They see Him at the Father's right hand interceding, and gratefully remember that He will forget no name where there is a trusting heart. They think of the Holy Spirit, the other Jesus, Jesus' other self, always |alongside to help,| alongside inside. And they practise letting Him work out the Christ-likeness within themselves.
And all this is blessed, only blessed. They see Him in His personal relation to themselves. But there's something more than this. No one knew more of this blessed personal part than John. But John saw more than this on Patmos. He saw Christ as He is now.
This is clearly a new sight of Christ. It was new to John. It would seem to be new to us. It is new in the pages of this book. It is something different from any sight seen before. In the Gospels we see Jesus the Man. In carpenter shop and little whitewashed stone cottage, in the ministering life clear from the Jordan bottoms to the healing touch at Gethsemane's gate, and in the suffering clear up to the ninth hour of that fateful day He is the Man, one of ourselves, though clearly more even in His humanity than the humanity we are.
On the Transfiguration Mount the favoured inner three, the leaders, see the glory within shining out through the Man. So bewildered are they that the chief impression that remains is of a blinding brightness. Yet this is up on a high mountain far away from the crowd, and from the haunts of men.
As Stephen is being stoned his eyes are opened to see the Son of Man standing in glory up at the Father's right hand. The Damascus traveller sees an overpowering burst of glory out of the blue and hears a voice speaking. In the epistles Paul pictures Him seated at the Father's right hand with an authority greater than any other. All the power He has is placed at the disposal of His followers on the earth. He Himself is above in the glory.
But in this very end of the Book John is given a new sight of Christ. He sees Him as He is now. That is to say, this is the sight of Christ as He is now characteristically. It is the distinctive sight that stands out above all these others.
He is at one's right hand in closest personal relation, through His Holy Spirit. He is at the Father's right hand in glory waiting expectantly till the time is ripe for the next direct move on the earth. But there's more than these. There's a sight of Him that overshadows these. It is the characteristic sight that lets us see Him as He is peculiarly now in His relation to affairs on the earth.
Christ as He Is Now.
This new sight of Christ is the heart and soul of this crowning book, this end-book of the Book.
It was out of this sight that this end-book grew. It is written wholly under the spell of this new sight of Christ. It is a revelation both of Jesus Christ and by Jesus Christ; first of, then by.
John begins his story by telling that he had gotten such a revelation, and of the special blessing attached to reading and fitting one's life to it. Then follows his salutation to those for whom the revelation was given, and the book written. It is peculiarly a Church book. Its message is not peculiarly for individual followers, but for groups of believers gathered together as Churches.
The salutation is absorbed with the One whom he has seen in the vision, what He has done for us in shedding His blood, and that He is actually coming again. |Behold He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they that pierced Him.| The Jew is specifically designated: the coming has special significance for the Jewish nation. And all the people of the earth shall penitently mourn as they see Him. And then like an endorsing signature from the One of whom he is writing comes the sentence: |I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was, and who cometh, the Almighty One.|
Then comes the new sight of the crowned Christ. It was on a Lord's day. John was on the lonely sea-girt isle of Patmos. He was alone, brooding probably over some bit of the Word of God, and about the Jesus of whom he had been so earnestly testifying. It was these that had brought him to his lonely island prison. These ever burned within him, the wondrous written Word, the immensely more wondrous Word made flesh, of whom he had written, the Word that was God and became a Man and walked the will of God.
And as he brooded he became conscious of the Spirit of God overshadowing him, gentle as the soft breeze, noiseless as the fragrant dew, mighty as an enveloping presence that filled his being and had possession of him.
Then a voice spake and the tone of authority in it was unmistakable. |What thou seest, write.| He was to see something. He was to tell what he saw. There's a delightful touch of the simplicity of natural speech here. He turned to see the voice. And he saw Him who was the voice of God to him. Then the sight is told in the same simplicity of speech.
There is a group of candlesticks, light-holders, made of gold. And in the midst of the group there is some One standing. He is in outer form like a man. But there is such an overpowering sense of divine glory that John falls on his face as one dead. Yet through all this overwhelming experience the impression of a man stands unmistakably out.
With keen, quick glance John takes in head and hair, eyes and feet, voice and hands, mouth and face. A simple, natural man in every outer particular like himself, a brother man, wearing man's garb and girdle. This is the first impression indelibly stamped on John's mind.
But there's more, ah, much more than a man in this man! This is the stupendous part. There is some One, other than man, and more than man, possessing this man. The divine fills the human. It is this sense of the glory filling the man that is so overpowering to John.
A glorious presence overshadows the man and shines out of Him, but never obliterates nor makes the man less. That indescribable glory within shining out through the man magnifies every part of His human being. The head and hair are white, not like a pale or painted white, but a transparent whiteness, an intense searching, glowing light shining out from Him through the human head and hair.
The eyes are as a flame of pure fire, the feet like melting metal glowing in fire. And the whole countenance was as the sun in its noontime strength shining out of a rainless, cloudless sky. Humanity enveloped in deity, yet remaining true, full humanity. God within man immeasurably more than man, yet not overwhelming, not disturbing nor obliterating, any part of his humanity, rather making every part stand out more distinctly.
Is this incidentally a kind of parable? Is it something like this on an immensely humbler scale that was meant for us men? God the Holy Spirit dwelling in a man. He the chief one, the divine one, yet expressing Himself through the man, and doing it fully to meet the need of the hour. His presence magnifying, vitalizing, and using every human power, yet Himself the dominant personality.
It is most striking to note that this is the same in principle as every appearance of God in the Old Testament pages. Sometimes He talked with men when there is no suggestion made of any appearance or of what the appearance was like. But wherever the appearance is spoken of it is always either fire or some touch of the human kind or both.
In Eden He waits and speaks, two human things. He talks with Abraham as a man talks, and ratified the covenant by passing fire through the pieces of the covenant sacrifice. It is as a simple, natural man appearing at Abraham's tent door that He talks about Sodom. It is a human voice speaking about Isaac, though no appearance is mentioned. Moses sees a flaming bush, and hears a voice in the desert, and sees a whole mount aflame while a voice speaks at Sinai.
And so it was always: the fiery presence-cloud in the Wilderness, Joshua's Captain taking command, Manoah's angel ascending in the flame of the altar, the voice in the night heard by Samuel, the flooding of Tabernacle and Temple with the glory-presence, Carmel's fire descending, Elijah's |still small voice,| Isaiah's vision of glory and the voice, Ezekiel's man of flame speaking, and Daniel's, both of the latter two akin to this Revelation appearance.
But there is a distinctness and a fulness of description here greater than at any previous time, yet the same essential thing as at every appearance of God in Old Testament pages. The coming of Jesus among us has brought God closer to us and made Him mean more. Jesus was God coming closer and in a way that we could understand better and take hold of more easily.
The Identifying Mark.
But let us reverently look a little closer that we may understand yet better. There are certain characteristics of this Man of Fire that are allowed to stand sharply out here. We are meant to look at them. This is part of the purpose in the heart of Christ in letting us see Him as He is here.
The sense of purity is intenser than can be put into words. Fire is pure. There is nothing so pure. It resists impurity. It burns it up. It is most significant that this is the one thing familiar to us that always accompanies the presence of God as He appears to men. It is always in fire whether to speak His message of peace and love or to remove the impurity of evil.
Our God is a consuming fire. Yet fire only consumes what can't stand its flame. The fire reveals purity and makes pure. God is pure. The presence within the man looked out in eyes of flame, in a countenance like the sun, and feet like molten brass glowing in a furnace. There could be no stronger statement of purity than this.
Then there is an overwhelming sense of authority. That seems the human word to use, though the word seems to tell so much less than John felt. John feels it more than he can tell it. He cannot tell it in words. His limp figure lying flat on the earth tells what words never can. He had seen the glory outshining in the Transfiguration Mount, but this is unspeakably beyond that.
There was a voice like a trumpet. It commanded John to write. It says: |I became dead, and, behold! I am alive forever more.| It is an authority over life to yield it up, and over death to put it to death, and call life back, never again to be touched by the finger of death. No such authority is known among men to-day. And this is further emphasized in the quiet words: |I have the keys -- - the control -- of death and of the whole spirit world.|
But immensely more than all this to John was the intense feeling of majesty which completely overpowered him. The sense of authority was overwhelming. The items in the description can thus be catalogued, but it is impossible to get the overwhelming sense of majestic authority that came to John, except as he got it, -- by a sight, something of a sight of this great crowned Christ.
But who is this? Is this not merely Ezekiel's vision repeated? He saw just such a vision, one in the likeness of a man, enveloped in fire, and sitting on a throne. And the effect was the same as Ezekiel lies flat on his face. Is it not the same as Daniel saw? A man clothed in linen, aflame with inner fire, and the same authoritative voice, and Daniel in a deep sleep of awe-stricken stupor with face on the ground? He does indeed seem to be the same. The descriptions tally remarkably.
But listen. He speaks. And the sense of terrifying authority in the voice that spake is gentled to John's tense ear in the quiet words that come. Like the loving words that came to Daniel's quaking heart is the personal message that came to John, -- |Fear not.| And with the words, as ever, come the new sense of stilling peace within. |I am the First and the Last, and the Living One.|
Still it may be Ezekiel's Man even yet, or Daniel's. But listen: |and I became dead.| Ah! this identifies Him. Now we know for the first time that this Man of Flame is Jesus our Brother-man. The cross becomes the mark of identification. The form of the words as spoken fits in with the sense of authority. With great strength of heart in carrying out a great purpose He |became dead.|
This is Ezekiel's Man and Daniel's and more, unspeakably more. The Man they saw has lived amongst us for a generation of time, and then given His life clear out for us. He has become more in coming as Jesus. He has taken human experience and suffering up into Himself. He was Creator. He has become more -- Saviour.
There is the same purity and authority speaking out here as there. But here is love speaking out as never was spoken out before. Here is love lived out; aye, here love is died out, and never living so much as when dying. Here is love putting death to death for us. Purity and authority fastened on a cross! This is love such as man had never known, and God never shown before. Calvary lets us see the love that burned in the purity and controlled in the authority.
John's Man is Ezekiel's and Daniel's, but with the love shining out through purity and authority, and outshining both. Yet that love is the purity and authority combined in action. We don't know love only as we know God. And we don't know God only as we know Jesus not living merely but pouring out His life for men. This is love -- that Man, that God-man, but with the God-glory hidden within, using all His authority over His life to fasten His purity on a cross with the thorns of our sin, and then throttling death and bringing up a new sort of deathless life for us. This -- He -- is love.
The Outstanding Characteristic.
But we haven't gotten to the heart of this yet. There is immensely more here than even this. The distinctive thing, the characteristic thing in this sight of Christ, is yet to be noticed. All of this can be gotten from other sights of Christ. But notice now keenly where this Man of Fire is. For this is the distinctive thing. He is not up in the heavens, as in Ezekiel. He has not come on a special errand, as in Daniel's experience. He is walking down on the earth. His whole concern is about affairs on the earth.
But note where He is on earth: not in Jerusalem, the Jew centre; not in Rome, the world's ruling centre, nor in Athens or Corinth, the world's culture centres. He is seen walking among a small group of candlesticks. This is the centre of earth action for Him. This is the significant thing of this new sight of Christ. Let us look at it a moment to get at the simple significance of the scene.
The candlesticks, we are told, are the Churches, the little groups of followers banded together here and there. These small groups of Christ's followers are called candlesticks or lampstands.
There is no suggestion yet of their giving any light. No lighted candles nor oily wicks are burning and shining. They are only candlesticks. They are of gold, the most precious metal, but they can give no light, they can only hold the light some one else supplies. The Man standing amongst them is the light. The whole effect of the sight of Christ here is that He is the light. The presence within the man shines out through head and eyes and limbs, as light, intense dazzling light, even as the sun in his strength.
Here is the distinctive thing. Christ's whole interest centres in the earth. All heaven is bending over watching the run of events down here. The intensity of His suffering and death tell the intensity of Christ's interest in the movement of things on the earth. He has a plan. He has put His very life into it. It centres wholly in the affairs of us men down here. And it centres in His Church.
This quite upsets our common ideas about the centre of things down here. We class London and New York as the great financial centres; Paris and Berlin as the great fashion and military centres. Rome is the centre of authority of the Catholic Church, and St. Petersburg of the Greek Orthodox. The Man who holds all power in His hands, and on whose word everything depends, quietly brushes all this aside with scarce a move of His hand. The earth-centre of things is the Church. That is, the groups of his followers banded together in various parts of the world.
Sometimes it is seen as a magnificent organization intimately connected with the machinery of government. Sometimes as very small groups of persons with no social standing, despised and reckoned as not worth reckoning with. But this is the thing He is depending on for getting out to His world. All His plans centre here.
He is the light. The light He gave and gives through nature, and within every man's breast, has been awfully darkened through refusal and neglect to use it, through stubborn self-will. It is so darkened that ofttimes it seems to have been quite put out. His coming amongst us as one of ourselves, living our life, dying on our behalf to free us from sin, rising again victorious over death, sending His Holy Spirit to make all this real and living to each of us, -- this is the light at its full shining, the flood-light.
He has made a plan for sending this flood-light to every one in every part of the earth. That plan centres in His followers. He is the light. The Church is the light-bearer, the candlestick. It is to hold Him up in such a way that men everywhere can get in direct touch with Him. When He is held up, the darkness goes. The darkness can't stand the light. This is the immensely significant thing here. This is the sight of Christ needed to-day, a sight of Him as He stands waiting on the Church to carry out His plan for the earth.
The faithfulness of the Church is not measured by compact organization, costly houses of worship, impressive services, eloquent scholarly preaching, and a ceaseless round of organized activities. It can be told only by how much of the spirit of the Christ who died is carried, in the daily life of its individual members, into home and social and commercial circles until men are compelled to feel its power in conviction of the sin of their own lives.
Nor yet is it told by transplanting the western type of civilization to far-away lands, with schools and hospitals and innumerable humanizing influences. All this may be blessed. And it will be blessed and blest. But it is the incidental thing. It is sure to follow where the Jesus light is allowed to shine clearly through and out. It is quite possible to have these good things without getting the real Christ. It is quite impossible to have Christ Himself without such influences coming, too.
The emphasis must be not on these things, but on Him, Christ. Men need Him. He answers the heart longing, and only He can. He changes the nature, and nothing else is enough. The Church is to take the loving, healing, personal Christ to men in the fulness of His power, and to all men. This is the measure of its faithfulness.
What Christ Sees.
The tremendous question that crowds in here is this, What does this Man of Fire see as He stands among His followers? And He tells us. This is why the vision is given. He wants us to see things as they look to His eyes of flame.
The Man and His message are one thing here. Chapters one, two, and three belong together, and should be held together in our minds. We have put the Man and His message as separate talks to get a clearer grasp of each. But they are one.
Now we recall enough of the message to note this. Five-sevenths of the light-holders are in bad shape. The lamps are smoky, badly smoked, and cobwebbed. The light is dimmed. It can't get out through the lamp. The crowds are standing in the darkness and falling into the ditch by the side of the road.
Two-sevenths let the light clearly out. The others are an intermingling of light and light obscured, but with the obscurity overcoming the other. The net result is an irritating smokiness. And the movement unhindered would naturally be toward a steady increase of smoky irritation and obscurity until no light can get through. This is what He lets us see that He sees.
Now the instinctive thing to do with a smoky lamp irritating nostrils and eyes is to put it out. That is the first instinct. The second is to trim the wick and do whatever else it needs to correct the smokiness. Yet He waits. That first natural instinct is restrained. The candlesticks are not yet moved out of their place. The light still tries to get out through them. The human candlestick may yet do the needful trimming and cleaning. With marvellous restraint He waits.
It is a tremendous scene that is stretched out here before us, -- purity and authority combined in One who is standing in the midst of impurity and failure. The purity is more intense than we can grasp. The authority is greater than any one can realize. The impurity, the failure, are bad clear beyond what we can take in. The whole natural instinct here would be a cleansing, instant and radical, a correcting of the evil. Yet He waits. The purity would act through the authority; the authority restrains the purity. Love quietly, strongly holds both in check. This restraint, this inaction is tremendous.
Why this inaction? this restraint? And the answer is simple, and as sweeping as simple. His plan at this stage shall have fullest opportunity. His followers will be given full opportunity to the last notch of time and the latest possibility of their being yet true.
All the intensity of His love, all the eagerness of His expectancy, all the fulness of His plan for the earth, yes all the millions of the race, all the misery and ignorance, the sin and darkness, the millions of babies being born into wretchedness, and the millions of non-Christian women being held in slavery, and the countless numbers in every land groping along in a darkness that not only can be felt, but that is felt to the hurting point and then past that to the insensitive stupor, -- all this waits.
With a heart that feels all that any man is feeling and that breaks under it, He waits that fullest opportunity shall be given His followers to be true. If His Church is set aside it will be only at the last moment when her failure is utterly hopeless. If the candlestick is removed out of its place, it will be only after it has completely removed itself out of all touch with the Light. A candlestick holding out no light is an utterly useless thing to the man in the dark.
It is possible for the Church to be a magnificent organization, an honoured institution, exerting immense influence in national politics, enormously rich in gold and in scholarship and in traditions, and even in carrying forward an aggressive missionary propaganda, and yet be faithless to its one mission. If the Church should fail in this its one mission, then the waiting time is over. The way is clear for the next step in the world plan. And a momentous step that would be, beyond our power to grasp. But the waiting time still holds out.
This is the simple, tremendous plea of this new sight of the crowned Christ as He is shown here. The centre of the universe to Him is this earth. The centre of things on the earth is His Church. The centre of things in the Church is its giving Jesus the Light out to all the earth.
And if this be the way things looked to His eye at the close of the first century, how, think you, do they look at this beginning of the twentieth? Has that momentum of movement toward increasing smokiness slacked? Is the waiting time nearly run out?
The present is a momentous time. Even men of the world speak of the world-wide restlessness as pointing to some impending event of world size. And he who is in some sort of simple touch with the spirit world can feel the air a-thrill with the possibility of world events impending, even while he wonders just what and when.
One in the Midst.
It is most striking how it came about that John got this sight of Christ. The change was not in Christ's presence, but in John's eyes. Christ did not come. He was there. John's eyes were opened. Then he saw Him who stands watching and waiting. Christ is here. The Man of Fire and of restraining love is here on the earth in the midst of His Church looking and longing, listening, and feeling.
If only our eyes were opened to see! There standeth One in our midst whom we recognize not. Wherever any company of believers banded together as a Church to worship and pray and break holy bread are gathered, under whatever local name or in connection with whatever Church communion, He stands in the midst, this crowned Christ of the Patmos Revelation.
Our eyes need treatment. The hinge of the eyelid is in the will and in the heart. A bended or bending will opens the eye. A brooding heart opens it yet more in spirit vision. Then we shall see Him, as He is now in our midst, waiting our obedience.
Those forty days between the resurrection and the ascension are seen to be illustrations of this. One can see through this Revelation sight that this is one of the chief things the Master is teaching as He still lingers on earth in His resurrection body.
Along the old Emmaus road, gathered about the evening meal in the twilight, twice in the upper room at Jerusalem, He appears to little groups of His faithful followers. Their hearts are burning with the thought of Him, they are talking with both tongue and eyes about Him. But that He is in their midst is the last thing to come into their minds. Then their eyes are opened to see Him in their midst. It was a forty-days' session in their training school. Then He said quietly as His bodily presence goes up into the blue: |Lo! I am with you all the days until the end.| Their mission and His presence are inseparably linked.
And it is striking again to note how John's Gospel ends. The others describe the Ascension. John begins his Gospel with Jesus in the bosom of the Father before the world was, and ends with Him walking and talking with a little group of fishermen along the shore of the waters of Galilee's Lake.
This is what the Church needs to-day, a sight of Christ as He is now. Nothing else can save its life. And nothing less can save its mission from utter impending failure.
And yet while the distinctive message here is for the Church, it is an individual message, too. It is for each of us. I am the Church, as much of it as I am, counted as one. You are the Church. The Church is made up of you and me and the rest of us. I must take this message for as much of the Church as I am. The Man of Fire is depending on me to be a candlestick for His light. It is on me He is patiently waiting to obey as fully as He means I should.
And on you.
A recent incident is told of a man whose name is a familiar one in the financial world, who died a few years ago. He was the executive head of one of our country's great railways. And a man of remarkable largeness of insight and grasp, and of unusual power of execution. He dealt in hundreds of millions as easily as most of us deal in dollars, and his rugged honesty has never been brought into question. His greatest achievement bulks big in the material structure of one of our great eastern cities.
But his gigantic tasks ran his strength to ebb tide, and then it was seen that the tide was running out. As he lay in the sick chamber a minister called, whose ministry had touched large numbers of the men in the railroad of which the sick man was head, and in the course of conversation tactfully asked:
|Are you a Christian, Mr. Blank?|
|Yes,| was the quiet, prompt reply that rather surprised the minister.
|How long have you been a Christian, Mr. Blank?|
|Two days,| came the answer as promptly and quietly.
Feeling that there was an interesting story under these answers, the minister gently pressed the question. Then the story came out.
|You know William, who handles freight out here at -- -- ?| the sick man asked.
|He showed me the way.|
|William| had been a worthless, drunken man of the |down and out| sort. He had been converted at some mission and been radically changed. He had gotten employment at one of the freight-handling stations of this railroad system. It was rough, hard work, but he had gone at it earnestly in his purpose to live an honest life. And in his quiet, earnest way he was always seeking a chance to speak to men of Christ as a personal Saviour, until he became known throughout that part of the system for his simple, earnest piety.
As the sick man realized the seriousness of things for him he had sent for this William. The president of the road whose capitalization ran into hundreds of millions sent for the rough-handed freight handler. And William in his simple, earnest way had pointed the sick man to Christ. And the man of millions had made a new sort of transaction. Christ and he had an understanding.
And as the sick man told the minister the story he paused, and then added, |I have given my strength to the secondary things.|
This was the judgment of this shrewd man of big affairs as the new light had come into his life at its close. Happily he had gotten the readjustment of values in time for readjustment of personal relationships. But his life's strength was gone.
If we might get the readjustment that would put secondary things in second place, and put wrong and useless things clear out, in time to be of some use to our blessed Lord.
William Norris Burr.
Notably Ephesians i.20-23.