“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18).
“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
This latter is Christ’s own statement of truth in this regard, and is characterized by simplicity and sublimity. Among all the things Jesus said concerning His relationship to the Father, none is more comprehensive, inclusive, exhaustive, than this. The last hours of Jesus with His disciples were passing away. He was talking to them, and four times over they interrupted him. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us”. Philip’s interruption was due, in the first place, to a conviction of Christ’s relation in some way to the Father. He had been so long with Jesus as to become familiar in some senses with His line of thought. In all probability Philip was asking that there should be repeated to him and the little group of disciples some such wonderful thing as they had read of in the past of their people’s history; as when the elders once ascended the mountain and saw God; or when the prophet saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple; or when Ezekiel saw God in fire, and wheels; in majesty and glory.
I cannot read the answer of Jesus to that request without feeling that He divested Himself, of set purpose, of anything that approached stateliness of diction, and dropped into the common speech of friend to friend, as, — looking back into the face of Philip, who was voicing, though he little knew it, the great anguish of the human heart, the great hunger of the human soul, — He said, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father”. That claim has been vindicated in the passing of the centuries.
REVELATION TO THE RACE.
We will, therefore, consider first, what this revelation of God has meant to the race; and secondly, what it has meant to the individual.
First, then, what conception of God had the race before Christ came? Taking the Hebrew thought of God, let me put the whole truth as I see it into one comprehensive statement. Prior to the Incarnation there had been a growing intellectual apprehension of truth concerning God, accompanied by a diminishing moral result. It is impossible to study the Old Testament without seeing that there gradually broke through the mists a clearer light concerning God. The fact of the unity of God; the fact of the might of God; the fact of the holiness of God; the fact of the beneficence of God; these things men had come to see through the process of the ages.
Yet side by side with this growing intellectual apprehension of God there was diminishing moral result, for it is impossible to read the story of the ancient Hebrew people without seeing how they waxed worse and worse in all matters moral. The moral life of Abraham was far purer than life in the time of the kings. Life in the early time of the kings was far purer than the conditions which the prophets ultimately described. In proportion as men grew in their intellectual conception of God, it seemed increasingly unthinkable that He could be interested in their every-day life. Morality became something not of intimate relationship to Him, and therefore something that mattered far less.
Think of the great Gentile world, as it then was, and as it still is, save where the message of the Evangel has reached it. We have had such remarkable teachers as Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius; men speaking many true things, flashing with light, but notwithstanding these things a perpetual failure in morals and a uniform degradation of religion has been universal. The failure has ever been due to a lack of final knowledge concerning God.
At last there came the song of the angels, and the birth of the Son of God, through Whose Incarnation and ministry there came to men a new consciousness of God.
He included in His teaching and manifestation all the essential things which men had learned in the long ages of the past. He did not deny the truth of the unity of God; He re-emphasized it. He did not deny the might of God; He declared it and manifested it in many a gentle touch of infinite power. He did not deny the holiness of God; He insisted upon it in teaching and life, and at last by the mystery of dying. He did not deny the beneficence of God; He changed the cold word beneficence into the word throbbing with the infinite heart of Deity — Love. He did more. That which men had imperfectly expressed in song and prophecy He came to state — “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” — not Elohim, not Jehovah, not Adonai; none of the great names of the past, although all of them are suggestive. In and through Him that truth of the Fatherhood was revealed.
Fatherhood means a great deal more than we sometimes imagine. It is not merely a term of tenderness; it is also a term of law and discipline. But fatherhood means supremely that if the child have wandered away, the father will suffer everything to save and bring it home again. Within the realm of revealed religion this truth emerged, that the one God, mighty, holy, beneficent, is the Father who will sacrifice Himself to save the child. There man found the point of contact, in infinite love which never abandons him, never leaves him. That is the truth which, coming into revealed religion, saved it from being intellectual apprehension, minus moral dynamic, and sent running through all human life rivers of cleansing, renewal, regeneration.
Wherever Christ comes to people who have never had direct revelation, He comes first of all as fulfillment of all that in their thought and scheme is true. He comes, moreover, for the correction of all that in their thought and scheme is false. All the underlying consciousness of humanity concerning God is touched and answered and lifted into the supreme consciousness whenever God is seen in Christ. All the gleams of light which have been flashing across the consciousness of humanity merge into the essential light when He is presented.
Christ comes not to contradict the essential truth of Buddhism, but to fulfill it. He comes not to rob the Chinaman of his regard for parents, as taught by Confucius, but to fulfill it, and to lift him upon that regard into regard for the One great Father, God. He comes always to fulfill. Wherever He has come; wherever He has been presented; wherever men low or high in the intellectual scale, have seen God in Christ, their hands have opened and they have dropped their fetishes, and their idols, and have yielded themselves to Him. If the world has not come to God through Him, it is because the world has not yet seen Him; and if the world has not yet seen Him, the blame is upon the Christian Church.
The wide issues of the manifestation of God in Christ are — the union of intellectual apprehension and moral improvement, and the relation of religion to life. In no system of religion in the world has there come to men the idea of God which unites religion with morals, save in this revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
REVELATION TO THE INDIVIDUAL.
Secondly, the effect of the manifestation in relation to the individual. In illustration we cannot do better than by taking Philip, the man to whom Christ spoke. To Philip’s request, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us”, Jesus said, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip?” The evident sense of the question is, You have seen enough of Me, Philip, if you have really seen Me, to have found what you are asking for — a vision of God.
What then had Philip seen? What revelations of Deity had come to this man who thought he had not seen and did not understand? We will adhere to what Scripture tells of what Philip had seen.
All the story is in John. Philip is referred to by Matthew. Mark, and Luke, as being among the number of the apostles, but in no other way. John tells of four occasions when Philip is seen in union with Christ. Philip was the first man Jesus called to follow Him; not the first man to follow Him. There were other two who preceded Philip, going after Christ in consequence of the teaching of John. But Philip was the first man to whom Christ used that great formula of calling men which has become so precious in the passing of the centuries — “Follow me.” What happened? “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote.” That was the first thing that Philip had seen in Christ according to his own confession: One Who embodied all the ideals of Moses and the prophets. We find Philip next in the sixth chapter, when the multitudes were about Christ, and they were hungry. Philip, who considered it impossible to feed the hungry multitude, now sees Someone Who in a mysterious way had resource enough to satisfy human hunger. Philip then listened while in matchless discourse Jesus lifted the thought from material hunger to spiritual need and declared, “I am the bread of life”. So that the second vision Philip had of Jesus, according to the record, was a vision of Him, full of resource and able to satisfy hunger, both material and spiritual.
We next see Philip in the twelfth chapter. The Greeks coming to him said, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip found his way with Andrew to Jesus, and asked Him to see the Greeks. Philip saw by what then took place that this Man had intimate relation with the Father, and that there was perfect harmony between them, no conflict, no controversy. He saw, moreover, that upon the basis of that communion with His Father, and that perfect harmony, His voice changed from the tones of sorrow to those of triumph, — “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” That was Philip’s third vision of Jesus. It was the vision of One acting in perfect accord with God, bending to the sorrow that surged upon His soul, in order that through it He might accomplish human redemption.
We now come back to the last scene. Philip said, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us”. Gathering up all the things of the past, Christ looked into the face of Philip and replied, “Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip?” No, Philip had not seen these things. They were there to be seen, and by and by, the infinite work of Christ being accomplished, and the glory of Pentecost having dawned upon the world, Philip saw it all; saw the meaning of the things he had seen, and had never seen; the things he had looked upon, and had never understood.
He found that having seen Jesus he had actually seen the Father; that when he looked upon One Who embodied in His own personality all the facts of law and righteousness; Who was able to satisfy all the hunger of humanity; Who in cooperation with God was sent to share the sorrows of humanity in order to draw men to Himself and to save them; he had seen God.
This manifestation wins the submission of the reason; appeals to the love of the heart; demands the surrender of the will. Here is the value of the Incarnation as revelation of God.
Let us recall our thoughts for a moment from the particular application in the case of Philip, and think what this means to us. Is it true that this manifestation wins the submission of our reason, appeals to the love of our heart, asks the surrender of our will?
Then to refuse God in Christ is to violate at some essential point our own humanity. To refuse we must violate reason, which is captured by the revelation; or we must crush the emotion, which springs in our heart in the presence of the revelation; or we must decline to submit our will to the demands which the manifestation makes. God grant that we may rather look into His face and say, “My Lord and my God”! So shall we find our rest, and our hearts will be satisfied. It shall suffice, as we see the Father in Christ.