"Who is the image of the invisible God."--Col. 1:15
"God is not called the Father of Vengeance, but the Father of Mercies." –Bernard, 1123.
"Let us accustom ourselves more and more profoundly to sink into the blessed mystery of our most holy faith; so that we may correct all transcendental, vague thoughts about God, by setting Christ at once before our eyes. He is the Visibility of the Invisible, as far as, and in such way, as that may be seen. Even in the heavenly 'beholding' throughout Eternity, there will be no showing of the Father out of and apart from Christ." –Stier.
A new and most blessed Rock-cleft is now to engage our thoughts. In the two preceding chapters, we have endeavored to extract grounds of confidence and trust from the contemplation of Christ as the Surety-Substitute, and as the Propitiation for the sins of the world. In doing so, it behooved us to dwell on the character of the Supreme Being as a Moral Governor--the Holy, the Righteous, the Just, the True, the inflexible Guardian and Dispenser of Laws based upon principles of everlasting rectitude, demanding the payment of penalties annexed to transgression. But having laid this broad and needful foundation; beholding every attribute of the Divine nature magnified and made honorable in the Cross of the Divine Sufferer--bringing a revenue of glory to God, and of blessing to the human race; we shall now proceed, in the light of that Cross, to consider a new revelation of the Almighty. We have pondered Jehovah's character as Lawgiver and Judge. We are now to regard Him manifested in Christ, in His beneficent, paternal character as a FATHER.
It is worthy of remembrance, as appropriate alike to the present theme, and to the title of this volume, that when God, in long ages preceding the Incarnation, made a revelation of Himself to Moses, it was in reply to the request of the 'lawgiver' (a request which embodies the urgent query of humanity), "I beseech you show me Your glory" and, as if to shadow forth the great mystery of a coming dispensation, the Divine Being "set him IN THE CLEFTS OF A ROCK, and made all His glory to pass before him." As the mystic, undefined Presence of the Great I AM, swept by the face of that mountain watch-tower--nature's shrine; the proclamation of the Sacred Name was sounded in the listener's ears.
But what was the Revelation? Not, God, dreadful and terrible, enshrined in the blackness and darkness, the lightnings and tempests, which so lately played on the mountain-top frowning over His servant's head; but words composed of letters as if written in bright sunbeam--"The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious." It is this typical vision of Moses, fulfilled and realized in the Person of the adorable Antitype, which is to occupy our contemplation in the present chapter. We are invited to enter "the Clefts of the Rock" to behold the glory of Jehovah. But, as in the case of the Jewish Lawgiver, it is to have our fears calmed and our trust established, by an apocalypse (an unveiling, or revealing), not of majesty or terror, but of ineffable paternal love.
What is God? The foundation truth of all theology, and indeed of all thought, has been the perplexing problem of every age. Who is He? What is His character? What are my personal relationships to Him, and His to me? Nature contributes her own quota to the solution of the question. This invisible One is visibly imaged and understood in "the things He has made." Wondrous and diversified are the illustrated pages of that Great book in showing forth His praise. These are formed of woods and mountain, lake and river; of vernal sky and summer verdure; of virgin morning, noontide brightness, dewy eve; night with her sable mantle woven with gems, the silent pageantry of moon and stars; the song of birds in the groves, the music of streams, the hues of flowers spread in profusion over hill and dale, the solemn chant of winds, the many voices of the ceaseless sea.
And not only so; but as we gaze on this beautiful world-temple, full of beneficent agencies and gracious provisions, what are all such combined, but endless affirmations of the wisdom and power, the graciousness and love, of the Omnipotent Framer and Sustainer. In this Temple does every one and every thing speak of the glory of His natural perfections. And yet, the witness so eloquent in proclaiming and authenticating His Being, pronounces at best only a partial deliverance on His other moral attributes. Farther, the choir of nature's vast shrine is not always in harmony. Its notes are at times grating and dissonant. These bright skies have, ever and anon, their dark clouds and deep-voiced thunders. These winds at times revel with their wild music over devastated fields or shipwrecked crews. That air which wafts the perfume of flowers, and transmits the sweet note of birds, is at times the highway of the noisome pestilence and the destruction that wastes at noonday. The pang of suffering, the wail of death, the corruption of the sepulcher, refuse to countersign the testimony otherwise borne to a God who is all love. No, rather, in a thousand ways, do they indicate or assert the existence of estrangement between the Creator and the creature. With these anomalies--these mysterious phenomena, alike in the material and the moral world, which of us, trusting alone to the light of nature, but would be forced to cry out in bewilderment, "Verily You are a God that hides Yourself?"
When we turn from nature to other solutions, the darkness and perplexity only seem to thicken and deepen around us. We go in vain to heathen philosophers and their systems; and that, also, at the most refined era of the world, when the human intellect was under the most favorable conditions to grope its way to the highest spiritual verities. The brain which contrived in poetry the most fascinating creations of human imagination, or which compiled massive laws of wisdom which have guided and molded modern intellect and politics, manifested only failure here. The chisel which could embody its thoughts in breathing marble, and bequeath its wondrous conceptions as heirlooms to admiring ages alike in sculpture and architecture, could, in its conceptions of the Invisible Spirit, only carve the confession of its powerlessness on an Athenian pedestal, "To the unknown God!"
When we go to the temples of heathen worship--with rare exceptions, they have a still gloomier and more perplexing response, in their bloody slaughterhouses, and reeking altars, and groaning victims. Whether it be the Moloch of Moab, or the Baal and Ashtaroth of Phoenicia; or Jove enthroned as King in Greek and Roman Pantheon, grasping Olympian thunderbolts; or Kali and Vishnu of Hindooism, or Thor and Odin of Scandinavia; we have, substantially, the same expression of their conceptions of the mysterious Invisible Abstraction worshiped as God--a Great Being, or Beings, with a reserve of power, absolute in their decrees, vindictive and implacable, the object of dread and dismay; few weapons in their infinite armory but what are whetted for retributive vengeance. Those heathen votaries, groping after the knowledge of a Supreme Ruler, had "neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape;" and their crude guesses at the dreadful reality, molded in imagination a living embodiment of terror, to whom judgment was no strange work.
Or even if we turn (where we might have expected a more reliable and authoritative interpretation of the Oracle) to the Jewish "El Shaddai," "Jehovah," or "Elohim,"--was not this Infinite One invested, even by them, with similar awe? Is He not addressed by prophets, and sung of by psalmists, as "dreadful in His holy places," "The Great and dreadful One," "The Jealous One;" with "wrath kindled," "The fiery stream going forth before Him;" "Bowing the heavens, and coming down, with darkness under His feet;" sending avenging angels to the earth, to smite with sword and pestilence--this the invocation of His worshipers, "The Lord reigns, let the people TREMBLE."
We listen to one revelation of Himself, that He dwells "in the thick darkness." A prior one, on that thick darkness being for the moment unrolled, was in "the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words, which voice those who heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more." They beheld Him and feared Him, as "the Lord of hosts." At the march of this great God of armies, "the earth shook, the heavens dropped." "A fire goes before Him and burns up His enemies round about--His lightnings enlightened the world--the earth saw and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth." "Say unto God, how dreadful are You in Your works! through the greatness of Your power shall Your enemies submit themselves unto You."
Even when we turn to the aid given to their conceptions of the Divine Personality, a mystic cloud covered the mercy-seat of their Temple, shrouding it from every eye but one, and that one could dare approach it only with blood. Well might Paul call this economy of the Theocratic nation, by the name of "the ministration of condemnation." A favored few of the favored people had indeed penetrated that darkness. After the wind and earthquake and fire, they had heard "a still, small voice," and had been taught to sing, "How precious also are Your thoughts unto me, O God," "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord," "O taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that trusts in Him," "O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever."
Through the discourses of their Prophets, and the hymns of their Psalmists, many had groped their way to some dim apprehensions of the Divine Fatherhood. Still, to the mass of the Jewish nation He was the Great Incomprehensible; answering them, as He did Job, "out of the whirlwind;" leading them to endorse the utterance of one of the friends of the same Patriarch, "Can you by searching find out God?"
With many, moreover, who live under a better and brighter dispensation, are there not similar distorted views entertained of the nature of Jehovah? They think of Him as a mighty Architect, who has piled infinite space with His handiwork--omnipotent, omniscient--dreadful in His holiness, inexorable in His justice, implacable in His vengeance. They have fully apprehended the partial revelation of Him as the punisher of sin, but they have failed to enter the "cleft" of the true Rock, and to gaze on the glorious complement of His character, as the Gracious and Merciful, the Father and the Friend. We repeat, that it is when within these clefts of the Rock of Ages, that latter and more gracious revelation, as in the case of Moses, is given.
The paternal relation of Jehovah to His people is manifested in the Person of Him who came to our world the Incarnation of the Divine Spirituality, the Image and Representative of this Invisible God--the unveiler of the essential perfections of Deity. "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." He is Himself the articulate answer to the query of His impatient disciple, "Lord, show us the Father, and it suffices us"--"He that has seen me," was the reply, "has seen the Father." As there had been a patriarchal, a legal, and a prophetic dispensation--so now Christ comes as the founder and exponent of a filial one. To take the significant opening words of the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews (not as they are rendered in our version, but as they have been rendered in the full force of the original), "God who at sundry times, and in diverse manners, spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by a Son." "In creation," says a writer, "He is a God above us; in the law He is a God against us; but in the Gospel He is Immanuel, a God with us, a God like us, a God for us."
Most delightful surely and comforting is this theme of contemplation--Christ the Revealer of the Father. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Well may He be designated by this appropriate term. For just as 'words' are the outward audible expression of silent invisible thought, so Christ is the expression of the Invisible God--the utterance and embodiment in human shape, of Him who revealed Himself in the dimness of an earlier dispensation as "secret," "wonderful," "incomprehensible."
As the natural eye is dazzled by looking on the material sun in his noon-day splendor, and requires some medium through which to gaze on his brightness; so, no man can see the face, or comprehend the character of God, but through the Divine medium who came to our earth--the reflected "brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of His person." "No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." The glorious train of the Divine attributes descended and filled the Temple of His body, and over the portico of that Temple stands inscribed in unmistakable characters, "God is love." The false conceptions of Him, as a Being dwelling in thick darkness, ought to be forever dispelled. What says the Apostle, as he points to Him who is "light, and with whom is no darkness at all"? "God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
But this brings us more specifically to inquire, What is the character of this Great God, as manifested and reflected in the Son of His love?
We have only to track the divine footsteps of the Redeemer on earth, and (to use the Apostle's simile), there to behold "as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." What do we see? A Being, indeed, of infinite holiness--unsparing and uncompromising in His rebuke of iniquity, sternly denouncing sin in all its forms, driving with a scourge the sacrilegious traffickers from His Father's house, proclaiming the impending and certain doom awaiting incorrigible sinners, the workers of iniquity; even predicting by discourse and parable the dreadful verities of a judgment-day, and pronouncing everlasting doom on the impenitent and unbelieving; on all traitors to their trust, on all neglectors and squanderers of committed talents; thus repeating, in words not to be misunderstood, the very truth which fell on the ears of Moses in his Rock-cleft, as the sublime voice and vision were dying away--"And that will by no means clear the guilty."
But yet, in combination with this, we are called to contemplate ONE of infinite purity, beneficence, tenderness; whose delight was to feed the hungry, to heal the diseased, to help the helpless, to comfort the bereaved; feeling for them; weeping for them--in His parables, giving a welcome to the Prodigal; in His daily communion, never scorning a suppliant's request, or a penitent's tears; listening, even in His expiring agonies, to a cry for mercy from a felon at His side; accepting the widow's mite; making generous allowance for the lack of watchfulness at His own greatest crisis-hour on the part of trusted disciples; pardoning, with the tenderest of rebukes, the aggravated sin of a faithless follower; the prayer, trembling on His dying lips, of forgiveness for His murderers.
Reader! take in, at a glance, this wide comprehensive view of the Savior's life and ministry, and in it you have a picture and impersonation of the character of God. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men." "From henceforth," says Christ, pointing to Himself, "You know the Father, and have seen Him." "I and My Father are one." Yes, there is God! Isaiah's names and titles seem to receive new appropriateness and significancy--"the everlasting FATHER," "Immanuel, God with us." You have obtained, in the person and utterances of that pure, spotless, and beneficent Being, a reply to the words of the Great Prophet--"To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness will you compare unto Him?"
In the beautiful Sermon on the Mount, the Divine Teacher, in His spoken words, exhibits before the mental eye of His hearers His Father's hand, in painting the lily, feeding the raven, and watching the sparrow's fall. But it has been well said--"When He would reveal the Father's heart, it is not by His words and discourses, but by His deeds and actions." That life of beneficence and goodness sets His own utterance in golden lettering, "GOD SO loved the world!" The very title of "Father," well near unknown under a former dispensation--how He dwells upon it!--how He delights to interweave it with parable and miracle, and intercessory prayer, and last agony, and first Resurrection-words! Well He knew the tender associations the name and image would call forth among the millions who pondered the story of His incarnation. He would have the sacred earthly relation transfused into the Heavenly. As He puts His people into the clefts of the Rock, and makes all the glory of His goodness to pass by; the proclamation is made, "My Father, and your Father, My God, and your God." He would have them to know and to feel, even in the house of their earthly tabernacle, that they are pacing a Father's halls--a dwelling frescoed and decorated with a Father's love!
Although He himself, their Lord and Savior, is no longer visibly present to the eye of sense yet, having been thus embodied once in human form as the reflection of the Father's character, faith can follow the glorious Image within the veil; and with all the memories of that holy life in view from Bethlehem to Olivet, the key-note to the 'divinely taught' prayer can be struck with filial gladness and joy--"Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name!" It has been beautifully said, "In all our endeavors to raise our thoughts to God, the 'idea of Jesus' comes to our aid like the mystic ladder of the patriarch's dream, and they ascend and descend upon the Son of Man." Yes! thanks to the mystery of His holy incarnation for this full and perfect unfolding of the character of Jehovah.
In the Old Testament dispensation, the revelation of God in His Temple evokes from the lips of the worshiper the tremulous exclamation, "Woe is me, for I am undone, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." In the New, the experience of the beholder is this--"We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." In the Old Testament dispensation, the first miracle of the Viceregent of God was turning water into blood. In the New, the first miracle of the Divine Viceregent, the Image and Representative of the Father, is turning water into wine. In the Old Testament dispensation, in answer to the question, "Who is this King of glory," the reply is heard, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." In the New Testament dispensation, in answer to the same question, "Who is this King of glory?" there comes, in varied language, like an echo from the Rock of Ages, the response--thus embodied in the uninspired utterance of universal Christendom--"You are the King of glory, O Christ, You are the everlasting Son of the Father!"
Believer, exult more and more in this sublime revelation of God. We have already listened in the prologue of John's Gospel, to the Beloved disciple's testimony alike to the Deity and humanity of Messiah--"the Word was God" "the Word was made flesh." In the equally sublime prologue to his Epistles, when he speaks of "Him who was from the beginning," and of his own amazing privilege of gazing upon "the manifested Life," he proceeds to deliver a special message confided by this Great Revealer of the Father--"This then is the message which we have heard of Him, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Strange that this message should be so often misinterpreted, that the beauties of holiness should be disfigured with the presentation of repulsive and distorted views of the character of Deity. The Romanism of the Middle Ages, which, in Church, and Cathedral, and wayside shrine, depicted the Divine Being (either in person or by the ministry of avenging angels), inflicting every device of material torture, seems, as we have already remarked, to be perpetuated in the minds and creed of many Protestants. Who can wonder that under such gloomy systems of misnamed 'orthodoxy,' the thought of God is a thought of servile terror, which dogs the footsteps like a hideous spectre, and makes the fondest longing of the aggrieved heart to have Him dethroned from His world.
How different the entire scope of the Savior's teaching. His whole object was, "to allure us to God; to win the world to an appreciation of the Father's excellence"--to unsay and repudiate this inversion of His own Word, an inversion which in the case of many might thus be rendered, "God is darkness, and in Him is no light at all." If that Savior's life was a life of love, full of all that was gentle and tender and good, 'Every feature,' He seems to say to us, 'that is attractive in Me, is to be found in the character of Him whom I represent. I am an Image of the Divine mind, reduced to dimensions capable of human comprehension; to know Me is to know the Father, "from henceforth you know Him, and have seen Him." By all I have done, by word or deed, it is He who is commending His love to you.'
What a new force and beauty does there not seem to be, in the challenge of the great Apostle, when read in the light of God's paternal character to us and our filial relation to Him--"He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things" (Rom. 8:32). 'After giving you,' he seems to say, 'such a pledge of His parental love, can you for a moment suppose that He will exact from you one unnecessary sacrifice, or refuse one really needed blessing within the compass of Omnipotence to bestow?' Every dark letter of mourning and lamentation and woe in the roll of Providence, thus becomes radiant with love.
In seeing Jesus, you see the Father. In asking Jesus, you ask the Father. The names are interchangeable. "Whatever you shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you." Oh how near does all this bring the great God Almighty! How it represents Him, as regarding with discriminating love each member of His redeemed family; caring for their needs, sympathizing with their sorrows, bearing with their infirmities; loving them--we had almost said doating on them as a Father. How different from the heathen conception of their deities, living in the isolation of a voluptuous calm; far removed from the concerns of earth, devoid of all personal interest in those from whom nevertheless they demanded cruel offerings, and over whom they were often represented as reveling in bloodthirsty malignity.
"God in Christ," "God with us"--"with us," as truly as Jesus was with the anxious Nicodemus, or with the sisters of Bethany, or the widow at Nain, or the disciples tossed on their midnight sea, or the downcast mourners at Emmaus. "God with us"--brought down from the regions of infinite abstraction--challenging our perfect confidence and trustful love--lifting the veil of the Holy of Holies, not to disclose altars drenched with blood, piled with instruments of torture, and resounding with groans of victims, but "to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His Temple."
Children of God, and heirs of Glory! go, breathe your loved and time-worn litany, with the consciousness of a new and glorious meaning and trust--"O God, the Father of heaven! have mercy upon us, miserable sinners." O my gracious Father! I will measure You no longer by any low human standard. Let the kindness and gentleness and beneficence of Him who walked this earth as Your image, teach me evermore to repose unhesitatingly in the everlasting love of Your infinite heart. I will cling to this glorious shelter--in this Rock-cleft "I will lay me down in peace and sleep;" for God is my Father; and GOD IS LOVE!