Great Texts of the Bible
The Way, the Truth, the Life
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life.—John 14:6.
1. The words of Christ immediately preceding the text seem to have been obscure and puzzling to the Apostles. Apparently they were not yet persuaded that their Master was shortly to die; and, accordingly, when He spoke of going to His Father’s house, it did not occur to them that He meant passing into the spiritual world. His assuring words, “that where I am, there ye may be also,” therefore fell short. And when He sees their bewilderment written on their faces, He tentatively, half interrogatively, adds, “And whither I go, ye know the way.” Unless they knew where He was going, there was even less consolation in the promise that He would come for them after He had gone and prepared a place for them. And when He thus challenges them candidly to say whether they understood where He was going, and where He would one day take them also, Thomas at once replies, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?” This interruption by Thomas gives occasion for the great declaration, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
2. Some people find it hard to trace the connexion between way, and truth, and life; and that difficulty was well expressed by Maldonatus in the pithy saying, “If Christ had been less liberal in explanation, we had less labour in exposition.” The three terms, way, truth, and life, are not co-ordinate, as Luther and Calvin hold, i.e. beginning, middle, end; neither do they express a single notion, as Augustine’s vera via vitae; nor does Reuss seem to express quite accurately their relation when he combines them, by defining the way as the means of arriving at truth and life. The phrase may be interpreted, according to Lightfoot and others, as a Hebraism equivalent to “the true and living way”; but it is better to take the two latter phrases as explanations of the former. Jesus means to say: “I am the means of coming to the Father, because I am the truth and the life.”
Christ the Person
The distinguishing feature and the chief glory of this wonderful declaration of Christ lies in its personal element. The special force of the utterance lies not in the words, “the way, and the truth, and the life,” but in Christ’s resolving their whole meaning into Himself. “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” It is this presentation of a Person, as concentrating within Himself all that can be embraced in the all-comprehensive words, “the way, and the truth, and the life,” that constitutes the grand peculiarity and the chief wonder of the text.
1. Man’s need is satisfied only by a person. If anything is obvious in our everyday experience, and in the history, both secular and religious, of mankind, it is that in the formation of character, in great social changes, in shaping the destiny of our race, the great factor is not abstract truth, system, or form, but living, thinking, willing beings—mind acting on mind, heart on heart, life on life. This is human nature—on the one hand, an obvious and universal susceptibility to the influence of the person; and, on the other, such influence at all times and in all directions at work, moulding character and gradually determining the great changes that mark our history. Take home life. What is moulding the natures there, and day after day shaping the future man and woman? Is it the acknowledged regulations of the house, the teachings out of book, or lip, or is it the teacher—the verbal lessons of the mother, or the mother herself? Take school life. This moulding, this gradual ripening is going on with obvious reality there; and what is doing it? The books, the maps, the desks, the forms, the cane? No. It is the teacher and the companions that are training and stamping the future man. Take a wider view of life, and the same lesson is as clearly taught. Who can calculate the personal influence of Confucius, of Zoroaster, or Mohammed? What may be fairly traced, in the Christian era, to the spirit and life of Paul, of Augustine, of Calvin, of Luther, of Wesley? In politics, what is well done or worth doing without a leader in whom the party fully trusts? In war, who can exaggerate the potency of the captain? What would have been our recollections of Waterloo in the absence of Wellington?
In general the progress of mankind has not been gradual, but sudden, like the burst of summer in some ice-bound clime. Still less has it been a common effort of the whole human race. If we take away two nations from the history of the world; if we imagine further that the six greatest among the sons of men were blotted out, or had never been, the peoples of the earth would still be “sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.” The two nations were among the fewest of all people: scarcely in their most flourishing period together amounting to a hundredth part of the human race. The golden age of either of them can hardly be said to extend over two or three centuries. The nations themselves were not good for much; but single men among them have been the teachers, not only of their own, but of all ages and countries. If the Greek philosophers had never existed, is it too much to say that the very nature of the human mind would have been different? We can hardly tell when or how the sciences would have come into being; many elements of religion as well as of law would have been wanting; the history of nations would have changed. So mighty has been the influence of two or three men in thought and speculation—the world has gone after them.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, 284.]
The intense devotion which the Vaishnavas feel for Rama is merely another proof that, East and West alike, the greatest moulding force is a great personality. In the former days of the British Raj great personalities, especially in the army, had free play. They remained long years in the country, and won not only the loyalty, but, as in Nicholson’s and Sir Henry Lawrence’s case, the devotion of the natives. The almost universal complaint now is that natives are not brought sufficiently into personal relations to their rulers, but are governed too much by red tape and machinery. The importance which the natives attach to personality was seen, as Sir Bampfylde Fuller points out in his Studies in Indian Life and Sentiment, in the great loyalty felt by millions of natives towards Queen Victoria, of whom most of them knew nothing more than the name. But she was a Person, and embodied the idea of the British Raj in a way that appealed strongly to them. They recognized gratefully her sympathy shown in comparatively trivial acts, such as her learning Hindustani in order the better to understand her Indian subjects.1 [Note: C. Field, The Charm of India, ix.]
2. Christ supplies man’s need of a leader. He is a person. His teaching is unique, because of the personal authority which He claims for Himself. Other teachers have been content to obliterate themselves that they may magnify the truths they come to teach, but Jesus speaks of Himself. He tells us who He is and why He is come. He puts Himself before His teaching. He did not only preach the gospel; He was the gospel. In this thing Jesus sets His religion over against all other religions. Buddhism, as has often been pointed out, is the religion of a method; Mohammedanism is the religion of a book; Christianity is the religion of a person. It is Jesus. Whosoever enters it, enters Him; whosoever would learn its lessons, learns Him; whosoever would feed upon its nourishment, eats His body and drinks His blood. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
Plato is not Platonism; Platonism might have been taught though its author had never lived. Mohammed is not Islam; the Koran itself would warn us against any Buch confusion between the teacher of its doctrine and the substance of the doctrine itself. But Christ Himself is Christianity; His teaching is inextricably bound up with His Person; and it is not merely because He taught what He did, but because He is what He is, that through Him we can come to the Father.2 [Note: Canon Liddon.]
3. Christ would not be so great a person if He were not more than man. It is by reason of His Divinity that He is Perfect Man. By Him things were said which were never before and never have been since ascribed to any other being on earth—things which it is impossible to reconcile with any theory short of His perfect humanity and essential Deity. No wonder those who heard Him were astonished at His teaching, struck by the authority with which He spoke. None among their prophets, not even the greatest, Moses or Elijah or the Baptist, had ever dared to say, “I am,” as Jesus so often did. “I am the light of the world”; “I am the bread of life”; “I am the good shepherd”; “I am the door” of the fold; “I am the resurrection and the life”; “I am the true vine.” What did He mean as He spoke thus? There is only one explanation. It certainly was not in a spirit of self-assertion, for He was “meek and lowly in heart.” He, in coming to earth, “made himself of no reputation”; He came not to be a master but to be a servant. Why was it, then? It was because He was a Divine as well as a human Teacher.
In very truth the claims of Christ are more eloquent of what He is than any assertions that can be made about Him. Wonderful to tell, it is His very greatness that is our security. If He were less than He is, we might be afraid of Him.
But greatness which is infinite makes room
For all things in its lap to lie:
We should be crushed by a magnificence
Short of infinity!1 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 45.]
4. Every word in the text is emphatic and remarkable. It is not, “I teach the way; I declare what is true; I reveal or announce the life to come.” Not that; but “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. I am all this, in a sense quite distinct from My prophetic teaching. I, personally, am the way to God. I am Myself embodied truth. I have in Myself the source and springs of immortal life.” That by “the way” He means “the way to God” is clear from the relation of the last clause of the verse to the first. “I am the way;—no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Jesus does not simply assert, then, that He reveals and opens this way to the eye of the reason by an authoritative message; that He sets it forth in His discourses: that, by word and speech, in sermon and parable, He makes known to man in what way he may approach God, have communion with Him, enjoy His favour and friendship, and be ultimately admitted to His presence and glory in the upper world. It is not that, or that only, that He does. All this He may do, but there is something else and something more. He does not merely teach the way, He is the way. He not only says what is true, He Himself is the truth. He does not merely utter, in the Divine name, the promise of eternal life, He is the life.
In his Jottings from the Pacific (p. 83), Mr. Gill speaks of a native preacher in Rarotonga who referred to the custom at a great wedding for the bride to walk to her new home over the prostrate bodies of her husband’s clan, whilst the bridegroom made a similar progress over his wife’s people. Then came the application: “Tread boldly, brethren, on the prostrate body of Jesus: for He is our only way to the Father. Trust your entire weight with all your burdens on Him; He will not wince or cry. Only thus shall we safely arrive at the home of the redeemed.”
A beautiful story is told of Agassiz. When he was a boy his family lived on the edge of a lake in Switzerland. One day the father was on the other side of the lake, and Louis and a younger brother set out on the ice to join him. The mother watched the boys from her window. They got along well till they came to a wide crack in the ice. The taller boy leaped over easily, but the other hesitated. “The little fellow will fall in,” the mother said, “and drown.” But as she watched a moment she saw Louis, the older boy, get down on the ice, lay himself across the crack, his hands on one side and his feet on the other, and make a bridge of his body. Then the little fellow climbed over him in safety to the other side, and both the boys ran on to find their father.1 [Note: J. R. Miller Our New Edens 27.]
Christ the Way
“I am the way.”
1. The necessity of a way.—(1) To be taught the way to God is man’s supreme need. We instinctively use the figure, even though we know that it is but a figure. Moral distance is naturally represented by spacial distance. The sinner is pictured not only by Christ but by himself as in a far country; and though God be not far from any of us, men feel after Him, like the blind who have lost their way, if haply they may find Him. To reach God is the confessed goal of human life. To know the way to Him is our chief necessity. So testifies the history of all religions that have ever held sway over humanity. So testify the longings and felt needs of every thoughtful heart. God is necessary for our happiness. Life is unfinished until it is in harmony with God. Only in God can we be satisfied and saved. And so the cry of all earnest, awakened souls the world over is for God.
Livingstone, who waded waist-deep through pestilential marshes for weeks, to die at last in a miserable hut by the lake shore; the traveller, who has to cut his way for hundreds of miles through tangled forest and jungle at the rate of half a mile a day; the emigrant, who has to cross the trackless alkali plain, and who may perish midway; the military commander, who has to carry his forces over mountains, some sections of which are almost perpendicular,—know how a well-engineered path is the first condition of successful movement.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 248.]
You remember the character of Calista in one of Cardinal Newman’s finest tales, the story that contains the wonderful picture of the locust plague in northern Africa, and her cry, “Oh, that I could find Him! On the right hand and on the left I grope and touch Him not. Why dost Thou fight against me, O First and only Fair?” And you remember the same longing expressed in one of Matthew Arnold’s essays, in which he quotes—Mr. Hutton says he could not have been the first to use them—the words of Israel: “Thou, O Eternal, are the thing that I long for. Thou art my hope, even from my youth.” And you remember the passionate expressions of this longing in the Psalms: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” “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.” And nothing appeals to us quite so much, I think, as we read the lives of good men as those great experiences in which they have entered at last into the fulness of the consciousness of God.2 [Note: R. E. Speer, The Master of the Heart, 211.]
(2) If, then, man is so desirous of coming to God, what stands in his way? He is estranged by sin from filial fellowship with the Father. A few false and fatal steps have served to separate him from the fountain of eternal good. Every proud, unaided effort he may make to return only increases the intervening distance. Man and his Divine Father are lost to each other, moving in diametrically opposite planes. The Father mourns the alienated trust, love, and service of His rebellious child. The child no longer feels the rest, strength, rapturous awe once realized in the manifested presence of the Father. All the restlessness of ambition and all the disappointment that lurks in achieved success, all the fever that burns in the gold-hunt, and all the sickness of heart that leads man, after he has exhausted the last ambition on his programme, to lie down and long to die, are the inarticulate cries of this bitter orphanhood. Sin hides the Father’s face.
In the innermost part of the tabernacle—the Holy of Holies—the visible symbol of God’s presence rested between the cherubim, and over the mercy-seat. This part of the tabernacle was divided from all the other parts by a thick and curiously-wrought veil. Through that veil, none might pass but the high priest, and he, only once a year, and with blood. The Holy Ghost this signifying, that sinful man may not approach a holy God.
2. Christ is the way from man to the Father.—The great difficulty is—How is sin to be put away? Many attempts have been made to remove it, but there is no way of escaping from the guilt of sin except by Jesus Christ. Some have hoped for pardon from future good conduct, but the payment of a future debt can by no means discharge a past debt, so that even the perfect future obedience of man could not touch his past sins. Self-righteousness, therefore, even if it could reach perfection, would not be “the way.” Some hope much from the mercy of God, but the law knows nothing of clearing the sinner of guilt by a sovereign act of mercy—that cannot be done; for then God’s justice would be impugned, His law would be virtually annulled. He will by no means clear the guilty. Every transgression must have its just recompense of reward, so that the absolute mercy of God as such is not the way out of the guilt of sin, for that mercy is blocked up by avenging justice, and over the face of that star of hope called absolute mercy there passes an eclipsing shadow, because God is righteous as well as gracious. There is no way by which a sinner can escape from the guilt of sin but that which is revealed in Jesus Christ.
In proclaiming Himself “the way,” Christ pronounced Himself able to effect the most real union between parties and conditions as separate as heaven and earth, sin and holiness, the poor creature I know myself to be and the infinite and eternal God who is so high I cannot know Him.1 [Note: Marcus Dods.]
Thou art the way.
Hadst Thou been nothing but the goal,
I cannot say
If Thou hadst ever met my soul.
I cannot see—
I, child of process—if there lies
An end for me,
Full of repose, full of replies.
I’ll not reproach
The way that goes, my feet that stir.
Art Thou, time, way and wayfarer.2 [Note: Alice Meynell, in The Mount of Vision, 31.]
(1) Christ is the way for all.—Unless there be a road which the many can travel, unless Christianity can in a very real sense be made easy and popular, it fails of its purpose. If the treasures of its truth are at the disposal of only the wise and the clever, they need hardly have been revealed at all: there must be a way into the heart of them open to all, so that even the wayfaring man need not err therein, so that even the simplest need not despair of attainment.
A road is an essentially democratic thing: all ranks and kinds meet and jostle there; there are few explorers, few excavators, few mountaineers, few aeronauts, but there are many wayfarers, and the road is for them all.3 [Note: J. M. E. Ross, The Self-Portraiture of Jesus, 189.]
Astronomers tell us that, inconceivably vast as is the distance of some of the fixed stars, there is no point in the universe to which the influence and attraction of our sun does not extend. Christ’s mediating and restoring influence overflows every circle of conscious life, and touches the last extreme of degradation.4 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 249.]
(2) Christ is the way now and for all time.—The mind of man always seeks in the distance what the word of God presents close at hand. Thus Martha relegated to the far future the hope of her brother’s resurrection, and Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” So here, Thomas claims that he does not know the way although it is there before his eyes, and Jesus has to explain to him: “I am the way.” But Christ was not the way only to Thomas and the other disciples. As is often the case with the words of Christ, we can hear beneath them a more general truth than the disciples recognized. Jesus was the present way for the disciples, and He is the way for us for all time. All that Christ said to the Apostles on the eve of His Passion He has said and still says to men in every great crisis of history. The trial to which the first disciples were exposed was peculiar in its form rather than in its essential character. It was the trial which belongs to every period of transition. It was the trial which presses and will press most heavily upon our generation. And if we in our turn would face it, and come out victors from the contest, it can only be by listening with absolute devotion to the revelation of Christ which makes clear to us that there is a purpose running through all the ages and broadening upwards to the threshold of a Father’s home; that there is an abiding reality underneath the shifting phenomena of the world which cannot be lost: that there is a law of coherence, of progress, of growth uniting in a harmonious whole movements, efforts, energies which appear to us to be broken, discordant, conflicting: it can only be by claiming for our own direct instruction, as charged with a new meaning and reaching to new realms, the words with which Christ answered the appeal of St. Thomas: “I am the way.”
It is a way that never has been broken up, and never will be. All the fioods of all His people’s sins have never made a swamp or bog-hole in this blessed way; all the earthquakes and upheavals of our rebellious natures have never made a gap or chasm in this glorious way. Straight from the very gates of hell, where the sinner is by nature, right up to the hilltops of heaven, this glorious causeway runs in one unbroken line, and will for ever and for ever, till every elect one shall be gathered safe into the eternal home.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
(3) Christ is the only way.—“I am the way.” The saying has a negative as well as a positive aspect, an excluding as well as an assertive force; yet there is nothing arbitrary in this assertion, nor is it a warning against presumption. Christ is not announcing conditions on which a man shall be allowed to approach the Father, and threatening with rejection those who fail to observe them. He does not declare that no man may, but simply that no man does, come to the Father unless it be through Him. He is not a kind of angel standing at the gate of the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword, saying, “You cannot come to the Father and the happiness of heaven unless you come in just the way I point out.” We are mistaken if we interpret this text in any such narrow and exclusive way as this. Christ does not say, “You must not come unless you come by Me.” He says that, in point of fact, no man does come except by Him. It is the broad and general declaration that there is no coming to the Fatherhood except as men come through the knowledge of the Son; that men have not come to a knowledge of the Father unless they have come through the revelation made by Jesus Christ His Son.
A pupil applies for admission to the Packer Institute, and asks to study logarithms. And the President answers, “You must begin with arithmetic.” “But I don’t like arithmetic; I don’t want to study arithmetic; I want to study logarithms.” “You cannot study logarithms unless you first study arithmetic.” The pupil says, “I think that is very mean. I think it is a narrow and bigoted rule that I cannot study logarithms unless I first study arithmetic.” The President replies, “There is no other road. It is not possible for you to come to an understanding of logarithms unless you take the only way men ever will enter into that knowledge—namely, the way of arithmetic.”1 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]
I am the way!
Lo, as of old, one Voice is ever speaking;
Yet, all the day,
Still earnest souls another way are seeking.
Who, save the Son,
Our condemnation in His body bearing—
With us made one—
Our likeness in His Father’s presence wearing—
O who, save He,
Could lead us safely through the night of sadness,
With Him to be,
Through an eternity of rest and gladness?
Lord, we have heard:
Thou art the Way, and in Thyself confiding,
We trust Thy Word;
We trust ourselves in all things to Thy guiding.1 [Note: E. H. Divall, A Believer’s Rest, 14.]
(4) Christ is the way and the end.—Here a question arises, which has often been asked: How can Christ be the way? The way is the means to an end. When the end is gained, the means may be discarded. In common material things this is so. What we desire is the end; we choose the means solely with a view to the end; there is no significance or value in the means except as introductory to the end. But in higher things we cannot thus sharply distinguish means and the end: the search after truth has a worth in itself, the way to life is itself life; the way and the end are one.
Here in Cambridge we are scholars all; teachers or learners; or rather teachers and learners at once. Learning is no doubt a mean—a mean whereby we may be enabled to serve God and our country in Church and State. Yet learning is not only a mean even to this high end, much less to those low grovelling ends which, by a corruption of language unknown to our founders, are called the rewards or prizes of knowledge. No single result is the satisfying fruit of labour, but the labour itself, steadily moving onward day by day, and proving itself not to be in vain, is the best proof that God’s blessing is upon us. The work of education is the end and the reward: and that teacher and that student will labour restlessly and slavishly, not with a free and hearty enthusiam, who do not lose themselves and all distant ends in the engrossing enjoyment of the work itself.2 [Note: J. E. B. Mayor, Sermons, 9.]
Christ the Truth
“I am the truth.”
1. Were these words merely equivalent to “I speak the truth,” it would be much to know this of One who tells us things of so measureless a consequence to ourselves. The faith of the disciples was being strained by what He had just been saying to them. Here was a man in most respects like themselves: a man who became hungry and sleepy, a man who was to be arrested and executed by the rulers, assuring them that He was going to prepare for them everlasting habitations, and that He would return to take them to these habitations. He saw that they found it hard to believe this. Who does not find it hard to believe all that our Lord tells us of our future? Think how much we trust simply to His word. If He is not true, then the whole of Christendom has framed its life on a false issue, and is met at death by blank disappointment. Christ has aroused in our minds by His promises and statements a group of ideas and expectations which nothing but His word could have persuaded us to entertain. Nothing is more remarkable about our Lord than the calmness and assurance with which He utters the most astounding statements. The ablest and most enlightened men have their hesitations, their periods of agonizing doubt, their suspense of judgment, their laboured inquiries, their mental conflicts. With Jesus there is nothing of this. From first to last He sees with perfect clearness to the utmost bound of human thought, knows with absolute certainty whatever is essential for us to know. His is not the assurance of ignorance, nor is it the dogmatism of traditional teaching or the evasive assurance of a superficial and reckless mind. It is plainly the assurance of One who stands in the full noon of truth and speaks what He knows. For every question which our most anxious and trying experiences dictate He has the ready and sufficient answer. But more than this is contained in His words. He says not merely “I speak the truth,” but “I am the truth.”
2. Our Lord has declared that He is Himself the truth. We are to discover in Him all we can learn of the ultimate nature of things Divine and human, all we can need to know of the mystery of the universe and the meaning of our lives.
(1) Christ is the truth about man.—“I am the truth,” said Christ. Our attitude in respect of that saying of His is determined by our belief as to His person. It is revealed in Scripture, and accepted by the Church, that God in becoming man took upon Him the nature of humanity at large, that He united to Himself not the personality of a favoured individual, but the nature of the race. Thus He represents in Himself all men, past, present, and to come, with their gifts and their achievements no less than their troubles and their tears.
He shows us what man is, and what man may be. We measure ourselves over against Him, and for the first time we realize ourselves. We hold ourselves aloof from Him, and our ideals seem glorious, and our attainment passable, and our sins venial. We measure ourselves against Christ, and we abhor ourselves in dust and ashes. We stand up face to face with Him who is the truth about man, and for the first time we understand what we are—all the misery and the flaw of our lives, all the shame and the loathsomeness of our shortcomings. And we look up into His face once again, and we see there not alone what we are, but what we may be. We hear Him speaking of Himself as the Son of Man; we hear Him telling us that the Father sent Him to show what in the Father’s mind we are, and that we may hide ourselves in Him. Jesus Christ is to us the truth about ourselves as we are and as we may be.
Christ’s unique power as a teacher of morals lies in the fact that He embodied in His own life His whole teaching. Did He teach the love of God and man? His life expressed just that; for His whole career was nothing but the utterance of love to God and to man. Did He teach the duty of personal, sincere, absolute righteousness? Did He teach humility and meekness and purity? Did He say, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise”? Did He say, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you”? All this was pictured in His own condition and character for the admiration and imitation of mankind. He could say, “I am the truth.”1 [Note: G. T. Purves, The Sinless Christ, 129.]
Though Goethe’s history be known but imperfectly, the Faust, with what there is of teaching in it, will live. Though Dante’s sad life-path be never followed, we can still tremble at the Inferno, or drink hope from the Purgatorio, and from the Paradiso consolation. Though dim to our minds the life-struggle of Shakespeare, we shall still weep and wonder at Portia, at Hamlet, at Lear. The message—such as it is—comes, though the messenger be withdrawn into shadow. Not so with Christ. He is absolute truth.2 [Note: W. J. Knox Little, Sunlight and Shadow, 28.]
And so the Word had breath, and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds
In loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought.1 [Note: “In Memoriam.”]
(2) Christ is the revelation of God.—He was God manifest in the flesh. It is common to say that Christ was the great Revealer of God, who, by His inestimable instructions, has made us acquainted with the Divine character and will. Now this is true, but it is not the whole truth, nor yet indeed the chiefest and most blessed portion of the truth. He was not only the Revealer of God, but He was Himself the revelation of God. Not merely did He say things about God which are written in a Book, not merely did He inspire His servants to write in that Book still other things which they came to understand only after He had left them, by the illuminating influence of His Holy Spirit, but He was the Book Himself.
He is the Truth in reference to the Divine nature. That Truth, then, is not a mere matter of words. It is not only His speech that teaches us, but Himself that shows us God. His whole life and character, His personality, is the true representation within human conditions of the Invisible God; and when He says, “I am the way, and the truth,” He is saying substantially the same thing as the great prologue of this Gospel says when it calls Him the Word, and the Light of men, and as St. Paul says when he names Him “the image of the invisible God.”
This is the function of the Son of Man, to give men their Heavenly Father, the Father whom He knew, the God with whom He lived in communion, in the personal relations of Spirit with spirit. To preach theologies would have been no new thing; to preach theologies in the belief that through them we are making acquaintance with realities is an occupation and an illusion of which the world never wearies; but to have the living God mirrored in a human soul, as face answers to face in a glass, this was not the old work of announcing abstract truths about God, it was to reveal God Himself. We have no means of knowing God except by knowing His image in our own nature. The knowledge of God was lost to the world, because the image of God had been lost out of the soul. Christ, through obedience to the inward promptings, kept the mirror pure, without flaw or soil, and so manifested the Father in the Son. There is no other mirror, to which we have access, in which He can spiritually be seen as He is. Other mirrors, as those of outward Nature, are dead mirrors, which have to convey their symbols to a living soul there to be interpreted. How could we know God if we saw Him only in the reflection of a soul that is itself unclean, clouded, distorted? If there had been no unsoiled mirror, we could have known God under no adequate living type. “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.” “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”1 [Note: J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 13.]
Christ the Life
“I am the life.”
The phrase, “I am the life,” points to all Christ’s work upon us as a life-giving Spirit, a Quickener and an Inspirer. Dead men cannot walk a road. It is no use making a path if it starts from a cemetery. Christ taught that men apart from Him are dead, and that the only life that they can have by which they can be knit to God is the Divine life which was in Himself, and of which He is the source and the principle for the whole world.
Thou art the Life!
All ways without Thee paths that end in death;
All life without Thee with death harvest rife;
All truths dry bones, disjoined, and void of breath:
Thou art our Life!2 [Note: E. R. Charles.]
1. Christ is the life of the body.—We may take Christ’s words first of all in their most literal meaning.
(1) “I am the life.”—It is a tremendous claim for any man at any time to make, and He who makes it here is about to die. But as the Apostles listen, startling deeds of His come back to their recollection—His healing of the sick, His restoring of the dying, and His raising of the dead.
It is a plain fact of history,—true as the decrees of truth are true,—that everything which ever came into the presence and contact of Christ, when He was upon the earth, lived. No corpse was ever under the influence of that high touch, but it took again its vital power. When He met the dead body upon the road, when He was in the same room with the dead child, when He stood at the mouth of the grave of a dead man—and those are the only recorded occasions of His intercourse with death—death retired and life came back.
See the poor woman in the crowd, who has spent all her living on seeking health, and has spent that living in vain. She comes behind the great Teacher, in the crowd secretly, saying, “If I do but touch his garment I shall be made whole.” She had tried every other resource, gone to every other professed healer, had been filled with disappointment, and she was about to give up in despair; and in that critical hour of her experience, she touched the Saviour and was healed.1 [Note: J. Parker.]
Around Bethesda’s healing wave,
Waiting to hear the rustling wing
Which spoke the angel nigh, who gave
Its virtues to the holy spring,—
With earnest, fixed solicitude,
Were seen the afflicted multitude.
Among them there was one whose eye
Had often seen the waters stirred;
Whose heart had often heaved the sigh—
The bitter sigh of hope deferred;
Beholding, while he suffered on,
The healing virtue giv’n and gone.
No pow’r had he; no friendly aid
To him the timely succour brought;
But while his coming he delayed,
Another won the boon he sought;
Until the Saviour’s love was shown,
Which healed him by a word alone.2 [Note: B. Barton.]
(2) Christ is also the life, from the fact of His own resurrection. When Christ says: “lam the life,” He does not mean, “I lived the perfect life on earth”; He means, “I, through the very fact of My death, am the life for evermore, and as a symbol of this, witness My death and resurrection.” Never was one born into the world like Him. Other men are born to live, to act, to do; He was born to die. But the death which cast its shadow over the Eleven and over Himself should itself be swallowed up in life. Standing there beneath the shadow of His cross, before the open grave over which the stone was to be rolled to hide His burial, Jesus Christ, the frailest life in the world, declared to men, “I am the life.”
For three-and-thirty years, a living seed,
A lonely germ, dropt on our waste world’s side,
Thy death and rising Thou didst calmly bide:
Sore companied by many a clinging weed
Sprung from the fallow soil of evil and need;
Hither and thither tossed, by friends denied;
Pitied of goodness dull, and scorned of pride;
Until at length was done the awful deed,
And Thou didst lie outworn in stony bower
Three days asleep—oh, slumber godlike-brief
For Man of sorrows and acquaint with grief!
Life-seed Thou diedst, that Death might lose his power,
And Thou, with rooted stem and shadowy leaf,
Rise, of humanity the crimson flower.1 [Note: George MacDonald, Poetical Works, i. 257.]
2. Christ is the spiritual life.—He did not only say, “I am the living One,” as if He meant to affirm His own immortality. That was indeed true, but it was clearly not His only idea in this place. But Jesus said, “I am the life,” the life, that is, of renewed souls, the power which alone can make humanity truly live, the moral and spiritual vital force of the Kingdom of heaven.
(1) Christ is the life now. The eternal life of the spirit is not altogether a future blessing, which we are to get from Christ hereafter, but a present blessing too, which we are to look for from Christ now. It is Jesus Christ who brings us into connexion with this source of life eternal—He bears it in His own person. In Him we receive a new spirit; in Him our motive to live for righteousness is continually renewed; we are conscious that in Him we touch what is undying and never fails to renew spiritual life in us. Whatever we need to give us true and everlasting life we have in Christ. Whatever we need to enable us to come to the Father, whatever we shall need between this present stage of experience and our final stage, we have in Him. The more, then, we use Christ, the more life we have. The more we are with Him and the more we partake of His Spirit, the fuller does our own life become. It is not by imitating successful men that we become influential for good, but by living with Christ. It is not by adopting the habits and methods of saints that we become strong and useful, but by accepting Christ and His Spirit. Nothing can take the place of Christ. Nothing can take His words and say to us, “I am the life.” If we wish for life, if we see that we are doing little good and desire energy to overtake the good that needs to be done, it is to Him we must go. If we feel as if all our efforts were vain, and as if we could not bear up any longer against our circumstances or against our wicked nature, we can receive fresh vigour and hopefulness only from Christ.
O ancient streams, O far-descended woods
Full of the fluttering of melodious souls;
O hills and valleys that adorn yourselves
In solemn jubilation; winds and clouds,
Ocean and land in stormy nuptials clasp’d,
And all exuberant creatures that acclaim
The Earth’s divine renewal: lo, I too
With yours would mingle somewhat of glad song.
I too have come through wintry terrors—yea
Through tempest and through cataclysm of soul
Have come, and am deliver’d. Me the Spring,
Me also dimly with new life hath touch’d,
And with regenerate hope, the salt of life;
And I would dedicate these thankful tears
To whatsoever power beneficent,
Veil’d though his countenance, undivulged his thought,
Hath led me from the haunted darkness forth
Into the gracious air and vernal morn,
And suffers me to know my spirit a note
Of this great chorus, one with bird and stream
And voiceful mountain.1 [Note: William Watson.]
(2) Christ is the life for ever. Not only is He the life in us now, but through Him and in Him we never die. Our souls rise up in war against the thought of ending, and as they struggle with their limitations and their chains, the great Deliverer comes, as He came that night to the little group shocked with the sorrow of His departure, and says to us, “I am the life.”
The man who is sailing under trustworthy captainship, and in company with genial friends, out of one zone into another, is scarcely conscious of the lines of demarcation over which the ship glides. Throughout the months of summer, darkness is unknown in the latitudes of the far north. The rising and the setting suns blend their light without the handbreadth of a shadow between.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, 255.]
I lift mine eyes to see: earth vanisheth.
I lift up wistful eyes and bend my knee:
Trembling, bowed down, and face to face with Death,
I lift mine eyes to see.
Lo what I see is Death that shadows me:
Yet whilst I, seeing, draw a shuddering breath,
Death like a mist grows rare perceptibly.
Beyond the darkness light, beyond the scathe
Healing, beyond the Cross a palm-branch tree,
Beyond Death Life, on evidence of faith;
I lift mine eyes to see.2 [Note: C. G. Rossetti, Poems, 193.]
The Way, the Truth, the Life
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