The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.God Revealed
This simplifies the whole mystery of the Godhead, as far as simplification is possible. We know now what to do: when we want to know what God is, what God does, what God thinks, what God wishes, how God governs the world, we have to look at Jesus Christ. This gives a new value to the biography of the Son of God. He is not only an historical character, he is a revelation; he was God manifest, made clear, visible, simple, intelligible. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." We have seen more than the Christ—the measurable, living, personal Christ; we have looked upon Jesus, and therefore have looked upon God. If this be not the meaning of the words, we cannot tell what that meaning is. "God was manifest in the flesh": God was revealed in the flesh; he condescended or came down from heaven and tabernacled with men, and was as a man among men: we ourselves have seen and felt and handled of the word of life. The idea would seem to be this: we have been familiar with the idea of God, a God reigning in eternity, concealed by clouds and darkness; a mysterious yet benign, a judicial yet gracious, Providence: but what that power is we know not. We have believed it, for we seemed to need it all; it alone filled our imagination, and satisfied our aspirations, and gave us religious equanimity and contentment; but beyond that we could not go; we had no light, no definition, no intellectual apprehension, that could be stated in terms: but now all that has changed; the screen has been taken down, or the veil has been rent, or all the intervening circumstances have been set back for a little time, and we have actually seen the whole economy of God; yea, we have seen God himself; we know now the strings and the keys of the instrument over which he presides; and we have seen his whole action, so far as it may be brought within the limits of time and space and sense. How the story of the Evangelists changes under this conception! We have to deal, not with the Son of Mary, the Son of Joseph, but with the Son of God, and God the Son. Let us fearlessly accept the words in that sense, and at least see how they bear the strain and test of actual experience, of concrete positive life, as shown in the history of Jesus Christ.
The great challenge may be thus stated: if you want to see the Father, look upon the Son; if you want to see God, look upon Christ; turn away your intellectual imagination from all transcendental thinking and speculativeness, and fix the whole attention of mind, heart, and soul, upon the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. That life is, within its own limits, the biography of God. We make the statement thus boldly and frankly in order to show that we are about fearlessly to approach the grand test. If the life shrink from this test, then we have been deceived by a cunningly devised or a clumsily constructed fable.
Our first thought naturally turns to God's greatness. Observe how it is that we have come into the New Testament: we have come into the New Testament through the pathways of the Old. We have not broken in, as it were, rudely and unexpectedly upon the Sanctuary of the New Testament; we have been Scripture students up to this moment; we have finished the last syllable of Malachi, we have waited all the intervening centuries, and now that the God of the Old Testament, as the God of eternity, as seated on the circle of eternity, as inhabiting eternity and the praises thereof, is before our imagination, any one who presumes to represent him must not disturb this idea too rudely. Who can read the Old Testament without being overpowered with a sense of the Divine Majesty? He is the high and the holy One; the clouds are the dust of his feet; he taketh up the isles as a very little thing; all the nations are as the drop of a bucket before him; he orders the stars like servants that must obey his will; he is clothed with honour and majesty: can we see him? Yes. Where? God manifest in the flesh, in the person of his Son. Is that seriously affirmed? It is. Then turn to the life at once: "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." We are expecting grandeur, blaze after blaze of glory: we expect to hear great thunderings and trumpetings; we are looking for a figure brighter than the midday sun: now, can we see the God we have worshipped? We see him in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. But is it grandeur that we see in him? Yes. It does not meet with our ideas of grandeur. No, because our ideas of grandeur themselves are wrong; we have been mistaking the true definition of grandeur all the time. Analyse our thought of grandeur, and what is it?—bulk, brilliance, pomp, dazzling glory. But all this is timidity, and weakness, and error. The true grandeur is simplicity. Give us an idea of grandeur, say in the fields of earth: now choose your symbol. Who would not hunt in all the gardens and paradises of time to bring forth the largest, most glowing flower? But Jesus Christ would not choose thus. Fix upon some personage in history who should represent the idea of grandeur as we view that term: probably we should fix upon Solomon; the like of him never appeared on the thrones of the ages: but Jesus Christ, acknowledging Solomon's outward pomp and grandeur, said that the lily excelled him in glory, for "Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The sacrifice, therefore, we have to make at the first is a sacrifice of false definition. Life is grander than any accident that can attach to it. To be is more than to be clothed upon, adorned, decorated, enriched, handled by generous art. The glory of a man is to be a man, how poor soever, or lost, or driven before a cold wind, houseless, homeless; still, to be a man is to eclipse the stars, when it becomes a question of comparative value and glory. The tiniest child is greater than the vastest sun that burns in boundless space. This is the teaching of Jesus Christ himself regarding humanity. Yet, this simplicity must itself be well guarded from rude and exaggerated interpretation. Jesus Christ was most simple: he brought the grandeur, he did not receive it; he conferred the honour, he never accepted it; when he sat down at a feast he made it a sacrament; when he went into the poorest house, by the grandeur of his personality it flamed like a palace built by God; he transfigured, transformed, all things, and by his use he made them sacred. If Jesus Christ is so simple as this, then we may make free with him? Do not tempt him! There were men who ventured to make themselves familiar with him, but they never repeated the rude offence. He was hedged about with a mysterious sacredness. If we would meet him upon a common level, one look would set us back upon our proper ground; if we thought ourselves his equal intellectually, able to discuss current questions with him upon equal terms, he would put one inquiry which would make us feel that we had not begun to learn. In all things Jesus Christ taught us to understand the greatness of simplicity; to find in so-called little things the mirror of the Deity. Never did he speak in the language of Oriental poetry, but always in that simple language which yet is the last symbol of profundity. He spake not to a class, but to a world; not to a school, but to a household—to the oldest member, and the last-come little child; and they all understood the music of that tender brotherhood. So then, though we started at first with expecting that the Hebrew idea of God would perfectly disable Omnipotence itself from coming into the flesh, yet we begin to see, by a close study of Jesus Christ's life, that the true grandeur is simplicity, and that the thing which we aforetime accounted without value is in the sight of God of great price.
Then we have become accustomed to another idea, namely, the providence, rule, sovereignty, guidance. We have said that God watches all things; we have said, he knoweth our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in; and we have said, There is not a word on our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Do we see the economy of Providence in the life of this mysterious Christ? If we study him, shall we see how God governs the world? The answer is, Certainly we shall: the veil is taken down for a few brief years, and we see the action of the whole machinery of Providence, so to say; the face is taken off, that hid the inner working of the instrument, and now we see it in all its anatomy. Would you see Providence? Look at Christ. Let us then watch him. What is he caring for? For the body. How extraordinary! He will have people healed, he cannot be easy whilst there is a diseased man in his presence: he himself is healthy, and health must make others healthy. See how he has brought round about him the deaf, and dumb, and blind, and halt, and leprous; and how he heals them all! Is this the God we have worshipped in Old Testament terms of pomp and grandeur? Lo, this is the God of gods, the Lords of lords; a mother-God, a physician-God, a healing, nurturing, restoring God. We thought of him in connection with thunders, and trumpets, and constellations, and thrones, and princedoms, and hierarchies. Again we must correct our definition of greatness and grandeur. Probably, from a human point of view, God is never so great as when he is stooping over some one who needs his care. The Son of Man—God in the Son of Man—is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Why dost thou hasten over the mountains and stony places, thou Shepherd of the universe? He answers, I so hasten because one lamb is lost. Is this the providence of God? This is the economy under which we live. He will not have one vacant place at the table, if love can help it; he will not be content that there are ninety-and-nine in the fold, it is the one who is not there that gives him heartache. Does God suffer? Truly! and on what scale he suffers, our imagination can never conceive. He is not an ivory God, tipped with gold; nor a golden God, seated upon a throne of ivory: but a great heart, a father-mother-sister-brother heart; a great sensitiveness that responds to every cry of need. But Jesus Christ associated with sinners; he went in unto them, and ate and drank with them: does God do so? This is the very thing he has been doing all the ages. God associates with sinners; he eats with them. This may startle us for a moment, but pause and think what it all means. Who spreads the table at which the world takes its daily repast? Are the harvest fields of the world godless, atheistic ground, swamps that are only recovered from 'sterility by human industry and human skill? Doth not the goodness of God lead thee to repentance? When thy feast is spread, O thou hard-hearted publican or sinner, it is God that spreads it for thee, and he sits at the head of the table and would have thee feel that thou art at the sacramental board. God clothes our bodies, supplies our necessities, constructs and guards and sanctifies our home; and herein Christ was God manifest in the flesh. Has the worst man any sign of God's presence about him? If so, then is he not forsaken: sometimes through his grimmest misery there comes a smile as if a lamp had been lighted within him; then he is not in hell. God associates with sinners—in providence, in opening doors for them, in making friends for them, in creating for them opportunities of settlement, advancement, progress, comfort. Do not suppose that redemption stands apart from all the current of human life: providence is redemption along the lower levels of human experience: he who cares for the body must by that very fact care for the soul; he who protects the lamb in his arms must seek to save the spirit from destruction. If we once grant providence we cannot escape redemption: once allow that God sent the loaf to the table, and having allowed that, we cannot logically or consistently rest until we see him planting the Cross on Calvary—tree of life, tree of healing. But Jesus Christ, as we now see him, has tears in his eyes: is he in that moment of weakness to be regarded as God manifest in the flesh? Yes, pre-eminently so. He is to me less God when he thunders in the ear of the grave and makes it yield its prey, than when he makes the company sit down, and breaks bread to travellers and weary ones in their hunger; he is to me less God when he orders the storm to be quiet, than when he takes up a little child and blesses it. God pities the world. God sheds tears in heaven. This is the necessity of the case, if Christ represented him. He did not create a body that he might cry through it or break his heart in it; he created a body to show what he has been doing ever since man came upon the earth: the body was but a temporary accident, or medium—was but the substance which the eternal silence broke into audible and articulate sound; the Eternal himself was not changed, the manifestation was ordered upon a scale and upon lines which suited human weakness and human blindness.
When Jesus sits over against the city and weeps over it, he is God manifest in the flesh; for God sitteth in his eternity and weeps over the erring children of men. This is grandeur, but of another kind than that which we had thought about once. What is so grand as love? Yet who has ever called it grand? We have kept such words as grand, glorious, amazing, for war, for destruction, for the burning of towns and the slaughter of populations; but we are gradually being so spiritually refined and educated as to see that love is the great triumph, love is the great glory. When our education is complete we shall begin to see that our first conceptions of grandeur were mistaken conceptions, and that the true grandeur is in being good, and doing good, and making life simple in its motive and simple in its issues. We have been accustomed to trace names up to their highest meanings. That has been the usual course of human reasoning. We have already in these Bible readings traced Time, until we reached the point where a man said, "For ever and ever." His arithmetic failed him, and his imagination became the algebra by which he worked his way to the thought of a further and unutterable duration. We have carried the word Space up through the air into astronomic fields, until we began to say, We have no more numbers whereby to represent the extent of faith, and therefore we constructed a symbol and said it represented infinity. We have also traced Love in the same way up through courtesy, civility, kindness, sympathy, honour—on, and still farther on, until all our epithetic resources were exhausted, and then we wrote the word Sacrifice. So with the word Man. We began with man, and carried our ideas of man through genius, capacity, statesmanship, philosophy, prophetic gift, until we reached angel, seraph, cherub, archangel, God. With that process we have become familiar; but we have forgotten that the process may be reversed, and therein may bring us to the manger-cradle of Bethlehem. Show us eternity! is the cry, as Philip's cry was, "Show us the Father." Now, when we would show men eternity, what do we show them? We show them time; we ask them to consider time, to extend it, continue it, make so much of it, that they can make no more, and thus we take a downward course of reasoning, from eternity to time. When men say, Show us infinity, and it sufficeth us, all we can show them is space, and ask them so to treat space, quantity, figure, geometry, until they have become lost in the vastness of extension. So when men say, Show us God, we show them Man—not a man only, not all men, but Man; the Man, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven, Immanuel; and we say, "God was manifest in the flesh": he who hath seen Jesus hath seen God. All the great words are in Genesis, first chapter, first verse:—"In the beginning [of eternity] God [the undefinable name] created [incarnated] the heavens [all height] and the earth [all homeliness and utility];" and the remainder of the chapters in Genesis are devoted to detailing these gross terms, these infinite expressions. So "in the beginning" becomes in the other parts of the chapter "days," and "weeks," and "months," and "years": thus eternity was time manifest in succession. "Created" becomes detailed in the work of "the first day," "the second day," "the third day"; and so we see all the panorama of incarnation take place; and creation was energy manifest in bird, and beast, and fish, and living thing, on mountain and in meadow. Then the heavens and the earth were brought near to us in many a measurable shape, in many an alluring and symbolic figure. And then God himself remained to be detailed: how did he express himself at this point? "Let us make a man in our image, after our likeness." A man who has seen himself has seen the image of God. A man who has seen Christ has seen the very God, the Father.
What is God's purpose of judgment? God is high in heaven, and we believe he rules the nations, takes an interest in all the people, and associates himself with all the economy of the worlds: will he bring all things to judgment? or will he let them break away, fall off into nothingness and oblivion as they may? Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh in this matter. What said he about judgment? He said:—If any man has much given to him, from him shall much be expected; if any man has little to begin with, little only will be looked for in the issue of his probation: He said:—If a city be exalted to heaven with privilege, and neglect its opportunities, it shall be cast down to hell—the depth shall correspond with the height: if any one have but few privileges, one box of spikenard, two mites, one cup of cold water, he says, Let him, let her, alone: poor creatures they have done what they could. Is this the way in which God has been judging creation all the time? To this inquiry we return a final affirmative. He knows the dowry of each; the starting-point of each is known to him: he will judge us by what he first gave us. When we say this, we sanctify reason, we glorify conscience; and we say, Verily the universe is settled on foundations of equity. We need not press all these illustrations too far; we have already spoken of the necessary limits of incarnation, and we must judge the manifestation of God according to the conditions which he himself elected. We cannot see all eternity in time: as we see the sun reflected in the dewdrop, so we may see eternity flashed back from the moments of time, rightly viewed, rightly interpreted.
The practical application is this, and it may well make the stoutest afraid, that the flesh may be filled, inspired, sanctified by God; it may be the house of God: know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost? Here again we are limited by the necessities of incarnation. The common body is to be made like unto Christ's glorious body. We must therefore always limit our judgment by our present condition. We can in our way be God manifest in the flesh. Jesus asked us to follow him, to be his imitators, to do what he did so far as we are able; and now by his incarnation we are expected to incarnate God ourselves. So we may be able up to a given point—by loftiness of thought, by self-sacrifice, by pitying the poor, the lost, the weak, the helpless, by sweet, eternal charity. We may so work upon men that they may say, These Christians have a life the world never gave them; they have a peace not time-born; they work by motives which do not come from the science of leverage as it is understood in social economies: they are moved from eternity; their countenances shine with a light acquired on mountain heights by long communion with God. To this we are called. From this we shrink in the letter, yet we understand it somewhat in its spirit and sweetest meaning.