REVELATION, OLD AND NEW
(delivered under the auspices of the Guilds of St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Edinburgh, 1911)
“But God commendeth His own love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. v. 8.)
May I at the outset be a little theological? I must be, to be fair to my text. I promise to be quite religious and quite humane before I am done. But theology is to religion what principle
is to life.
First, I would say, Revelation is really Redemption. The light was the life of men. The new light was the new life.
Second, Redemption is a thing of heart and soul and will and mind. Our thought of it must be humanized to the hungry heart, and it must be moralized to the guilty conscience.
I. First, then, Revelation is really Redemption.
And here note three things.
1. GOD IN CHRIST DOES HIS OWN LOVING, GIVING, SACRIFICING, AND SAVING.
Two mistakes are made about Revelation. It is treated either as mere display of God or as mere statement of Him. We think of God either as allowing Himself to be seen or as allowing Himself to be explained. We think of Revelation either as a picture of God or as a truth about Him. He is regarded either as an object of contemplation or as an object of discussion, as a beatific vision or a dialectic theme, as the object either of a mysticism or of an orthodoxy. We are agreed that, if there be a revelation, it is God’s gift, but we are not agreed about what He gives; whether it is a theophany of Himself or a declaration about Himself or something else. Some say Christ came to show us the Father, to show us His portrait, or sketch His character; others that He came to tell us of the Father, to give us His truth, His theology. In either case we have but portrayal. And it is hard to say which mistake has done more mischief—the notion that God’s great gift is a picture of Himself to be admired, or the notion that it is a truth about Himself to be credited.
What God gave us was neither His portrait nor His principle; He gave us Himself—His presence, His life, His action. He did more than show us Himself, more than teach us about Himself—He gave us Himself, He sacrificed Himself. It is ourselves He seeks, therefore it was Himself He gave, life for life and soul for soul. He asks us for life–committal, because it was His life He committed to us. He gave us love by giving us Himself to love. He does not make His love and goodness just to pass before us in a panorama; nor does He lay it out parcelled so that we may readily just take it or leave it. Where would then be the urgency of Christ–His final and awful dilemma put to us? God carries His love home to us. He will not let us alone with it. He invades us with it. He “commends” it to us–not in the sense of praising it, but of committing it ‘into our hands. He takes the last pains to get it home to us; nay, He carries it home Himself, does it all Himself. He “commends His own love”. He does not woo us by proxy. Christ was no mere messenger, but present God. The divine Lover is His own apostle. He did not simply send His Son; He came in His Son, and in His Son’s cross. God was in Christ’s reconciling. He did not simply make use of death, of His Son’s death He died. Surely what the Son suffered cost the Father even more. When Paul spoke to the Galatians about his preaching of Christ, he says he “placarded Christ” before them (Gal. iii. I).
I made a great exhibition of Him, writ Him large, made a show of Him, and glorified Him openly. That was an apostle’s work. He depicted Christ, and pointed to Christ, and commended Christ. He said “Hear me,”—not, “Look to me”, but “Look to Christ … Receive Christ.” He preached not himself. No apostle did. They preached Christ, and were Christ’s apostles. But Christ did say “Look to me.” In Christ God was His own apostle. God directed Himself, nay, sped Himself, to the human heart in Christ. He did not employ another. God was not to Christ as Christ was to Paul. Paul was sacramental to us for Christ, but Christ was mediatorial to us for God. Christ is not vicarious for God as He is for us. He was continuous with God as He is not with us. He did not represent God to us on the same principle as He does us to God. Christ dying therefore was God commending His own love to us. The Cross was no mere assurance of God’s love, but its action. Christ was the love of God giving itself to us, the grace of God bestowing, spending, pouring itself out on us, the holiness of God reclaiming us to holiness, not turning us toward it, but replacing us in it. God does not love us by deputy; He does not give us by deputy; He does not save us by deputy. He brings and wings His own love. His holiness takes its own consequences in an evil world. He does His own suffering and saving. He is a Jealous God. None but Himself shall redeem us for Himself. He is a monopolist of sacrifice. He does not part with the agony and glory of the Cross to any creature. None shall outdo Him in sacrifice. No creature has a right to sit with God on the throne of the Cross. It was no created being that died for us. Creatures as we are, it is in no created Spirit that we can live. Our Redemption is too costly for any but our Creator, and a creature must let it alone for ever.
In a word Revelation is Redemption. The new light is new life. God reveals His own self to us sinners in that Christ dies for us. We are not sages, we are sinners. Already by its intelligence the world knew not God. And there is no other way of revealing God to sinners but by redeeming them. We must be redeemed into the power of understanding a holy revelation. Does it not come to that? The Revelation is not a glorification of love as a poet might do it. it is not an illustration of it like a parable. The Son of God was not a mere symbol of God, an illustration. God’s revelation of love is the bestowal of love as a lover does. It is not a show but a sacrament. Nay, it is more. It is not the donation of love as a thing—as something which God could detach, hand over, pour out, and part with. God’s love is God loving. It is the gift of Himself who is love, given in the only way that love could give itself to loveless men, by the way of death. God’s answer to us is the word of reconciliation. And we answer it not by being impressed, and not by being convinced, but by being conciliated, by being reconciled,—by an eternal life of communion. For it was a revelation once for all and for ever. Do I carry you with me?
2. LET US MOVE ANOTHER STAGE FORWARD.
Revelation to sinners must be redemption, not chiefly because it is love, but because it is holy love. “His own love.” God Himself, I have said, does His own revealing of Himself as Saviour without prophet or deputy. But that word “His own” has another shade of meaning. God’s love in Christ was not only not vicarious: it was His own in another sense. It was unique in kind. There was, there is, nothing like it anywhere. It is holy love, a love peculiar to Him. God so loved–not so intensely but so peculiarly, in such a special way, so holily. He did not come with even the best human love lifted and made infinite. That is sacred but not holy. He came with another kind altogether, of which the love of mortals, however intense and tender, is but a symbol.
Do you ask what love is when it rises as high as God?
Here it is. Herein is love, not that we loved passionately, but that He loved holily. Do you want to know what love really is and does at its height? You must not go to love in sinful men who, being evil, know how to give good gifts to their children, but to love in holy God, who gives His native holiness. You must not go to lovable men and women, nor to those who are the great lovers of each other in fact or ‘in romance, but to the love of the evil world by the holy historic God. You want to know what fatherhood is? You must not magnify and cast upon the heavens the image of the best of mortal fathers. You must not go to a deduced fatherhood–deduced from man and imported into God. You must not –import fatherhood into God, nor goodness, patience, pity, sacrifice. That would be working in quite the wrong way, moving in quite the wrong direction for religion. Religion begins with a revelation that comes clown, not a passion that goes up. We must not reverse the divine current. It would be what is called anthropomorphism. It is imposing man on God instead of revealing God through man. Our love is God’s speech but not His Word.
No. We do not understand God from religion but religion from God. But where is He, you say, if not in my heart? He is in history. We must go to history, to Christ, and find the fontal Father there, the absolute Father, from whom all fatherhood is named in heaven and earth. He is in our experience but not of it. We must go to Christ’s Holy Father. Christianity is not fatherhood but holy fatherhood. We must go to the Father whose love is holiness going out to love men back to itself, and whose grace is holiness going down to love them up to itself His own love means it is holy love.
3. AND ONE STEP MORE
How is holy love to be revealed to unholy men? How is the outgoing holiness to reach them? How but by death God knew what He had to expect when He committed His holy self among evil men. It was shame and death. There is no way but the Cross of committing a holy love to such a world as this. The gospel of a holy God is not soon popular. The holier your love of men is the more you will suffer and be rejected with it. God Almighty knew, for Himself even, no way but the Cross to the hearts and wills of evil men. Nature is to be sanctified by no genial grace, by no loving charm, but by suffering grace. It only sanctifies because it redeems, it only redeems because it atones, it only atones because it dies in holy obedience, it only dies to rise, and it rises, as it died, by the spirit of holiness (Rom. i. 4). God’s holiness makes in Christ its own atonement, commends its own love as grace, does its own justification, and redeems us into its own communion.