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Expositions Of Holy Scripture St John Chaps Xv To Xxi by Alexander Maclaren

CHRIST'S SUMMARY OF HIS WORK

'I have declared onto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.' -- JOHN xvii.26.

This is the solemn and calm close of Christ's great High-priestly prayer; the very last words that He spoke before Gethsemane and His passion. In it He sums up both the purpose of His life and the petitions of His prayer, and presents the perfect fulfilment of the former as the ground on which He asks the fulfilment of the latter. There is a singular correspondence and contrast between these last words to God and the last words to the disciples, which immediately preceded them. These were, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.' In both He sums up His life, in both He is unconscious of flaw, imperfection, or limitation; in both He shares His own possessions among His followers. But His words to men carry a trace of His own conflict and a foreboding of theirs. For Him life had been, and for them it was to be, tribulation and a battle, and the highest thing that He could promise them was victory won by conflict. But from the serene elevation of the prayer all such thoughts disappear. Unbroken calm lies over it. His life has been one continual manifestation of the name of God; and the portion that He promises to His followers is not victory won by strife, but the participation with Himself in the love of God.

Both views are true -- true to His experience, true to ours. The difference between them lies in the elevation of the beholder's eye. Looked at on the outward side, His life and ours must be always a battle and often a sorrow. Looked at from within, His life was an unbroken abiding in the love of God, and a continual impartation of the name of God, and our lives may be an ever growing knowledge of God, leading to and being a fuller and fuller possession of His love, and of a present Christ. So let us ponder these deep words: our Lord's own summing up of His work and aims; His statement of what we may hope to attain; and the path by which we may attain it. I shall best bring out the whole fullness of their meaning if I simply follow them word by word.

I. Note, first, the backward look of the revealing Son.

'I have declared Thy name.'

The first thing that strikes one about these words is their boldness. Remember that they are spoken to God, at the close of a life the heights and depths of which they sum up. They are an appeal to God's righteous judgment of the whole character of the career. Do they breathe the tone that we might expect? Surely the prophet or teacher who has most earnestly tried to make himself a mirror, without spot to darken and without dint to distort the divine ray, will be the first to feel, as he looks back, the imperfections of his repetition of his message. But Jesus Christ, when He looks back over His life, has no flaw, limitation, incompleteness, to record or to confess. As always so here, He is absolutely unconscious of anything in the nature of weakness, error, or sin. As when He looked back upon His life as a conflict, He had no defeats to remember with shame, so here, when He looks upon it as the revelation of God He feels that everything which He has received of the Father He has made known unto men.

And the strange thing is that we admit the claim, and have become so accustomed to regard it as being perfectly legitimate that we forget how enormous it is. He takes an attitude here which in any other man would be repulsive, but in Him is supremely natural. We criticise other people, we outgrow their teachings, we see where their doctrines have deviated from truth by excess or defect, or disproportion; but when He says 'I have declared Thy name,' we feel that He says nothing more than the simple facts of His life vindicate and confirm.

Not less remarkable is the implication in these words, not only of the completeness of His message, but of the fullness of His knowledge of God, and its entirely underived nature. So He claims for Himself an altogether special and unique position here: He has learned God from none; He teaches God to all. 'That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.'

Looking a little more closely at these words before us, we have here Christ's own account of His whole life. The meaning of it all is the revelation of the heart of God. Not by words, of course; not by words only, but far more by deeds. And I would have you ask yourselves this question -- If the deeds of a man are a declaration of the name of God, what sort of a man is He who thus declares Him? Must we not feel that if these words, or anything like them, really came from the lips of Jesus Christ, we are here in the presence of something other than a holy life of a simple humanity, which might help men to climb to the apprehension of a God who was perfect love; and that when He says 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,' we stand before 'God manifest in the flesh.'

What is that name of God which the revealing Son declares? Not the mere syllables by which we call Him, but the manifested character of the Father. That one name, in the narrower sense of the word, carries the whole revelation that Jesus Christ has to make; for it speaks of tenderness, of kindred, of paternal care, of the transmission of a nature, of the embrace of a divine love. And it delivers men from all their creeping dreads, from all their dark peradventures, from all their stinging fears, from all the paralysing uncertainties which, like clouds, always misty and often thunder-bearing, have shut out the sight of the divine face. If this Christ, in His weakness and humanity, with pity welling from His eyes, and making music of His voice, with the swift help streaming from His fingers-tips to every pain and weariness, and the gracious righteousness that drew little children and did not repel publicans and harlots, is our best image of God, then love is the centre of divinity, and all the rest that we call God is but circumference and fringe of that central brightness.

'So through the thunder comes a human voice
Saying, |O heart I made! a heart beats here.|'

He has declared God's name, His last best name of Love.

Need I dwell for one moment on the fact that that name is only declared by this Son? There is no need to deny the presence of manifold other precious sources in men's experience and lives from which something may be inferred of what God truly is. But all these, rich and manifold as they are, fall into nothingness before the life of Jesus Christ, considered as the making visible of God. For all the rest are partial and incomplete. 'At sundry times and in divers manners' God flung forth syllables of the name, and 'fragments of that mighty voice came rolling down the wind.' But in Jesus Christ the whole name, in all its syllables, is spoken. Other sources of knowledge are ambiguous, and need the interpretation of Christ's life and Cross ere they can be construed into a harmonious whole. Life, nature, our inmost being, history, all these sources speak with two voices; and it is only when we hear the deep note that underlies them in the word of Christ that their discord becomes a harmony. Other sources lack authority. They come at the most with a 'may be.' He comes with a 'Verily, verily.' Other sources speak to the understanding, or the conscience, or to fear. Christ speaks to the heart. Other sources leave the man who accepts them unaffected. Christ's message penetrates to the transforming and assimilation of the whole being.

So, dear brethren! for all generations, and for this generation most of all, the plain alternative lies between the declaration of the name of God in Jesus Christ and a godless and orphan world. Modern thought will make short work of all other sources of certitude about the character of God, and will leave men alone in the dark. Christ, the historical fact of the life and death of Jesus Christ, is the sole surviving source of certitude, which is blessedness, as to whether there is a God, and what sort of a God He is.

II. Secondly, note here that strange forward look of the dying Man: 'I have declared Thy name and will declare it.'

And that was said within eight and forty hours of the Cross, which, if He had been a simple human teacher and martyr, would have ended all His activity in the world. But here He is not merely summing up His life, and laying it aside, writing the last sentence, as it were, which gathers up the whole of the completed book, but He is closing the first volume, and in the act of doing so He stretches out His hand to open the second. 'I will declare it.' When? How? Did not earthly life, then, put a stop to this Teacher's activity? Was there still prophetic function to be done after death had sealed His lips? Certainly.

That anticipation, which at once differentiates Him from all the brood of merely human teachers and prophets, even the highest, does indeed include as future, at the moment when He speaks, the swiftly coming and close Cross; but it goes beyond it. How much of Christendom's knowledge of God depended upon the Passion, on the threshold of which Christ was standing? He, hanging on the Cross in weakness, and dying there amidst the darkness that overspread the land, is a strange Revealer of the omnipotent, infinite, ever-blessed God. But Oh! if we strike Gethsemane and Calvary out of Christ's manifestation of the Father, how infinitely poorer are we and the world! 'God commendeth,' (rather 'establisheth,') 'His love toward us in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.' And so as we turn ourselves to the little knoll outside the gate, where the Nazarene carpenter hangs faint and dying, we -- wonder of Wonders, and yet certainty of certainties! -- have to say, 'Lo! this is our God; we have waited for Him.'

But that future revelation extends beyond the Cross, and includes resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and the whole history of the Church right onwards through the ages. The difference between the two volumes of revelation -- that which includes the work of Christ upon earth, and that which includes His revelation from the heavens -- is this, that the first volume contains all the facts, and the second volume contains His interpretation and application of the facts in the understandings and hearts of His people. We have no more facts from which to construe God than these which belong to the earthly life of Jesus Christ, and we never shall have, here at all events. But whilst the first volume to the bottom of the last page is finished and tolerates and needs no additions, day by day, moment by moment, epoch by epoch Christ is bringing His people to a fuller understanding of the significance of the first volume, and writing the second more and more upon their hearts.

So we have an ever-living Christ, still the active Teacher of His Church. Times of unsettlement and revolutionary change and the 'shaking of the things that are made,' like the times in which we live, are but times in which the great Teacher is setting some new lesson from the old Book to His slow scholars. There is always a little confusion in the schoolroom when the classes are being rearranged and new books are being put into old hands. The tributary stream, as it rushes in, makes broken water for a moment. Do not let us be afraid when 'the things that can be shaken' shake, but let us see in the shaking the attendant of a new curriculum on which the great Teacher is launching His scholars, and let us learn the new lessons of the old Gospel which He is then teaching.

III. Thirdly, note the participation in the Father's love which is the issue of the knowledge of the Father's name.

Christ says that His end, an end which is surely attained in the declaration of the divine name, is that 'the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them.' We are here touching upon heights too dizzy for free and safe walking, on glories too bright for close and steady gaze. But where Christ has spoken we may reverently follow. Mark, then, that marvellous thought of the identity between the love which was His and the love which is ours. 'From everlasting' that divine love lay on the Eternal Word which in the hoary beginning, before the beginning of creatures, 'was with God, and was God.' The deepest conception that we can form of the divine nature is of a Being who in Himself carries the Subject and the Object of an eternal love, which we speak of in the deep emblem of 'the Word,' and the God with whom He eternally 'was.' That love lay upon Christ, without limitation, without reservation, without interruption, finding nothing there from which it recoiled, and nothing there which did not respond to it. No mist, no thunderstorm, ever broke that sunshine, no tempest ever swept across that calm. Continuous, full, perfect was the love that knit the Father to the Son, and continuous, full, and perfect was the consciousness of abiding in that love, which lay like light upon the spirit of Him that said 'I delight to do Thy will.' 'The Father hath not left Me alone.'

And all that love Christ gives to us as deep, as continuous, as unreserved. Our consciousness of God's love is meant by Christ to be like His own. Alas! alas! is that our experience, Christian people? The sun always shines on the rainless land of Egypt, except for a month or two in the year. The contrast between the unclouded blue and continuous light and heat there, and our murky skies and humid atmosphere, is like the contrast between our broken and feeble consciousness of the shining of the divine love and the uninterrupted glory of light and joy of communion which poured on Christ's heart. But it is possible for us indefinitely to approximate to such an experience; and the way by which we reach it is that plain and simple one of accepting Christ's declaration of the Father's name.

IV. And so, lastly, notice the indwelling Christ who makes our participation in the divine love possible: 'And I in them.'

One may well say, 'How can it be that love should be transferred? How can it be that the love of God to me shall be identical with the love of God to Christ?' There is only one answer. If Christ dwells in me, then God's love to Him falls upon me by no transference, but by my incorporation into Him. And I would urge that this great truth of the actual indwelling of Christ in the soul is no mere piece of rhetorical exaggeration, nor a wild and enthusiastic way of putting the fact that the influence of His teaching and the beauty of His example can sway us; but it is a plain and absolute truth that the divine Christ can come into and abide in the narrow room of our poor hearts. And if He does this, then 'he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit'; and the Christ in me receives the sunshine of the divine love. That does not destroy, but heightens, my individuality. I am more and not less myself because 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'

So, dear brethren! it all comes to this -- we may each of us, if we will, have Jesus Christ for Guest and Inhabitant in our hearts. If we have, then, since God loves Him, He must love me who have Him within me, and as long as God loves Christ He cannot cease to love me, nor can I cease to be conscious of His love to me, and whatsoever gifts His love bestows upon Jesus, pass over in measure, and partially, to myself. Thus immortality, heaven, glory, all blessedness in heaven and earth, are the fruit and crystallisation, so to speak, of that oneness with Christ which is possible for us. And the conditions are simply that we shall with joyful trust accept His declaration of the Father's name, and see God manifest in Him; and welcome in our inmost hearts that great Gospel. Then His prayer, and the travail of His soul, will reach their end even in me, and 'the love wherewith the Father loved the Son shall be in me,' and the Son Himself shall dwell in my heart.

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