Philip said to him, Lord, show us the Father, and it suffises us.
This request of Philip touches the heart of all religion. It is a question as old as humanity. Sometimes, indeed, the soul becomes so debased, that the desire ceases to be eager, or even conscious; a perversion of natural law as disastrous as if the flame were not to seek the sun, the magnet not to turn to the pole, the solid not to fall to the earth. But in a normal state of human feeling, it has no yearning so spontaneous and strong. This last discourse of our Lord — the greatest and profoundest of His teachings — is simply His answer to this inquiry. It would indeed be a fatal invalidation of the religion of Christ, if it had no answer to this fundamental quest of men. Indeed, the exhaustive definition of Christ's salvation is the Christian way of seeing God.
I. THE CRAVING FOR GOD WHICH IS CHARACTERISTIC OF ALL MORAL NATURES.
1. To those who deny God, I am justified in putting the question — Why do I concern myself about religious things? Why do I crave some vision of God? As well ask why my physical body craves food, or my intellectual soul seeks knowledge. By persistent sin, a man may practically disable his soul; just as by drunkenness or licentiousness he may disable his body, or reduce to idiocy his mind. So also he may reason down his religious instincts by material philosophies; just as by fanciful notions concerning his body he may make himself a hypochondriac. But it is part of him still. He may damage, but he cannot kill it. And sometimes — it may be after years of sin,. or scepticism — there shall be a sudden rolling away of the stone, and a coming forth of the entombed soul, and it shall cry out for God, and refuse to be comforted if it cannot find Him.
2. But this, we are told, is only traditional superstition, educational influence, social environment. But how account for the superstition, the social sentiment? Its universality and uniformity point to something inherent and ineradicable. The soul may be befooled, Men take advantage of it when ignorant or morbid, and urge upon it religious sacrifices, services, and ceremonies, sacraments, penances, and prayers. But even those do not suffice. No religious things can satisfy, the living soul cries out for the living God. True, in Philip the desire shaped itself in ignorant forms; but in which of us does it not? Sometimes it is only a feeling of blind unrest, a craving for we know not what. We moan and toss like men in a fever.
3. Who, conscious of a living soul, can be contented with mere laws of nature instead of the living God? If there be no God, our nature, as it is, is the greatest solecism in the universe. All things else have their purpose and harmony. But for man, this spiritual nature is a waste, and a mockery. Robespierre was right. "If there be no God, then it behoves man to make one."
4. The strength of this craving is attested by the credulities of scepticism as much as by the confidences of faith. Let men reject the Christian revelation of God, and as surely as they succeed, wild and incredulous imaginations will break forth and in pitiful forms give the lie to all their philosophy. The fantasies of modern spiritualism are as conclusive attestations as the convictions of Paul. Blind to spiritual truth, men are by the very strength of their spiritual nature "given over to strong delusions, and believe a lie."
II. THE MISCONCEPTIONS INTO WHICH, IN THEIR QUEST AFTER GOD, EVEN GOOD MEN FALL.
1. The disciples generally had but a very confused and imperfect conception of Christ and His work. Their persistent dream of a restoration of David's throne and dominion hung like a yell between them and Christ. We find few things more difficult than to believe in purely spiritual forces and processes. It is a poor spiritual teaching that can be fully comprehended. Our Lord has to speak of the highest spiritual things to men of low spiritual type; and after vain attempts to make them understand, He has to content Himself with a promise of the Holy Spirit, who should "teach them all things."
2. Probably Philip thought of some visible manifestation, such as the Shekinah symbol or of Isaiah's vision. How rarely men recognise manifestations of God in purely spiritual forms, in true religious ideas, in holy actions, in Godlike character. For three years Christ had been with these men, and they were utterly unconscious that, in all His moral glory, they were looking upon the truest and highest manifestation of God. When we think of Divine manifestation we think of supernatural miracle, of inspired fervours, of signal conversions, of ecstatic services. How difficult we find it to realize that in the sublime faith, the unselfish love of a quiet saintly life, there is a far higher manifestation of God than in all miracles! The great aim of our Lord's teaching was to turn men's quest after God from signs and wonders to His spiritual workings in religious hearts. Philip asked some theophany — "the Lord coming suddenly to His temple," as Malachi had predicted — which he thought would give certainty to his faith and precision to his idea. Christ replies by directing him to a living spiritual Person, "full of grace and truth."
3. If, then, this manifestation of purely moral and spiritual glories be the true vision of God — the glory of His goodness which God caused to pass before Moses — may we not, in the light of it, test the various ways of seeking God which men pursue?
(1) Men come with their intellectual methods of analysis and reasoning. The astronomer brings his computations; the geologist his hammer; the chemist his crucible; and the philosopher his laws of sequence, order, and causation. They resolve substances into atoms, or ether; they trace back all developments to a common protoplasm; they follow up sequence to its last term, and then they gravely tell you that they cannot find God. How should they, when they have brought only physical tests to the mere material universe of God? His spiritual character they have never attempted to essay. Even on their own physical ground they confess that their atoms are pure imaginations, that when they have traced all organisms to their common protoplasm, the mystery of life is utterly inscrutable; that they can throw no light upon the genesis of mind, or of moral feeling, or of religious idea, or even suggest how vegetable life develops into animal intelligence, or animal intelligence into reason or conscience. Before these primal mysteries, the profoundest philosopher stands as utterly ignorant as the dweller in an African kraal. How should men find God by such processes? As well may the antiquary who unwraps an Egyptian mummy, or the surgeon who conducts a post-mortem examination, demur because he cannot find the heroism of the patriot, the genius of the poet, the affections of the lover, the piety of the saint. All that these processes can lead to is a rational presumption that a universe so wonderful must be the creation of an Infinite Intelligence. The supreme manifestation of God is in the moral sphere of things. Let men ask their moral consciousness whether the scriptural ideas of God are not true and transcendent? whether they do not satisfy the highest thoughts and yearnings and wants of their own spiritual nature? whether they can think anything greater or holier, more congruous and satisfying? While God is supremely and characteristically a moral Being, it must in the necessity of things be that the world by its mere intellectual wisdom cannot know God.
(2) The other way in which men seek God is through creeds and churches, priesthoods, sacraments, and rituals.
III. THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD THAT MEN CRAVE IS THAT OF A FATHER. In our Lord's day, as in our own, men had been told much about God as the Creator, the Ruler, the Judge of men. But it did not satisfy the soul. They yearned for something else in God — for pity, patience, help, love. Let the thought come that this great and holy God is also the Father. How our hearts leap towards Him! As a Father, He is precisely the God we need; our sins crave the forgiveness, our weakness and imperfections the patience, our sorrows the sympathy of a Father; our yearnings His fatherly love and bosom. We kneel down to pray to Him how gladly we catch up the great word put into our lips, and say, "Our Father who art in heaven." Some glimpses of this the old Jew had. But, as with all religious truths, the realization of God as a Father depends not upon intellectual ideas merely, but upon religious experiences. It is the experience of what, as a Father, God does for us, that enables us to understand what He is.
IV. GOD AS A FATHER IS REVEALED TO US ONLY IN CHRIST.
1. Christ claims this as His distinctive revelation of God. Like a refrain it rings through the Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of His ministry; like an atmosphere it suffuses this last great discourse "on the night that He was betrayed." It is the one unvarying representation of all His intervening teaching. But, in this great word to Philip much more than a teaching is meant It would be a cold and meagre paraphrase of it to say, "He that hath received My teaching hath received a true doctrine of the Father." It is a vision of God, not a theory of God, which He gives.
2. I do not think that the explanation is to be found in the Incarnation. Men saw Him, the veritable incarnate Son, and yet they did not see the Father. Nor does He refer to His miracles, the displays of His supernatural power: these He always put in disparaging contrast with His spiritual glories. Clearly His idea is of a purely spiritual conception of God, a vision of God's spiritual character such as God proclaimed to Moses when He made "all His goodness pass before him." There is no sense in which, as distinguished from His almighty works, the spiritual God can be seen but in manifestations of His holiness, goodness, and love. And these can be adequately embodied and expressed only in a personal moral life — the life of the only begotten Son. This is the true incarnation — the embodiment in a human life of these Divine moral qualities. As we conceive of the spiritual God, there is nothing else in Him that could be incarnated.
3. May we venture a speculation upon God's peculiar Fatherhood in its relation to the Incarnation? Is there not an essential oneness between the spiritual nature of God and the spiritual nature of man, as between fire and the sun, the father and the child? Is there not something in the Divine nature of which the Incarnation is the supreme expression? — something in human nature which makes the Incarnation possible in virtue of affinity? Does He not love us because a father must love his children? And does He not in the Incarnation of Christ show us how closely our nature is allied to His?
4. I need not dwell here upon the inevitable inference from all this, as to who or what this transcendent Personage really is. No creature may claim Divine glories, least of all God's spiritual perfections. Deliberately and emphatically this calmest and most ingenuous of men claims to have perfectly embodied them. No other interpretation of the claim is rationally possible than the accepted interpretation of the Christian Church. "I and my Father are one." This conception of the Christ is much more than a theological dogma. It is a great religious inspiration full of practical uses. Nothing so assures our hearts, nothing gives us such a feeling of Christ's practical sufficiency as a Redeemer. We can trust such a Christ, pray to Him, worship Him, realize His presence and help.
V. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE FATHER IN CHRIST IS A PERFECT SATISFACTION TO THE SPIRITUAL SOUL. Philip was right. He who really can show us the Father does "suffice us." Let the claims of Jesus be submitted to this test. He who really shows us God must be of God. No one has revealed God to men as Christ has done. And is not this the true and sufficient test of every religious teacher: How truly and in what degree can He show us the Father? Is it not the sufficient authentication of every teaching — does it bring us face to face with the spiritual God? Is it not in this that so much religious teaching is defective? Men tell us about God, but it is doctrine only, they fail to make us see God. About means of grace, again, they have much to say: upon these they insist as the appointed, the indispensable means of seeing God. But we see only the means, not God Himself. Whatever its theological truth, no teaching is really and spiritually such if it do not reveal God to us. This was the supreme characteristic of the teaching of Christ. The sum of all religion is to see the Father; and by whomsoever and by whatsoever the Father is most fully revealed to us, and we are but made to stand in the pure white light of His spiritual glory, there is the truest teacher and the highest worship. "It sufficeth us."
VI. HOW THEN MAY WE PERSONALLY REALIZE ALL THIS?
1. The Father can be seen only by men of spiritual vision. "The pure in heart see God." Christ does not demonstrate God, He simply manifests Him. The process is not a theological, it is a religious one. We can know God as a Father only by religious experience of Him. All life, all great passions of life, are understood only by experience. It demands the poet's eye to see poetic beauty; the artist's eye to see art beauty. We do not see light through the demonstrations of the astronomer; we know love only by loving; and life only by living. In the essential nature of things God cannot manifest Himself to an impure unspiritual soul, any more than the sun can shine into a blind man's eye. We know God only by the indwelling of God.
2. The Father is revealed to us in processes and experiences of common religious life. "If any man love Me he will keep My words, and My Father will love him," etc. The obedient in life see God, obedience is practical experience of God.
3. The process is somewhat prosaic: men of great fervours and of ecclesiastical enthusiasm get somewhat impatient with it. But here, as everywhere, the divinest wisdom lies in common place methods. And how transcendent the visions of God which the man attains who thus, by patient processes of purity and obedience, develops all the faculties of his religious life!
(H. Allon, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.