IV. THE LAMB OF GOD AND THE SON OF GOD.
[Lincoln's Inn, 3d Sunday in Lent, February 24, 1856.]
St. John I. 46.
And Nathanael said to him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see.
I made no attempt to explain the verse which I took for my text last Sunday. I merely endeavoured to show you how it was connected with those which preceded it. I was sure that it would receive abundance of light from those which come after it. A series of ages, I said, had confessed the force of the words. We must take care that we do not allow the strength of any one of them to evaporate in our hands.
Some have been surprised that John should speak of a Lamb who bears or takes away the sin of the world. Was there not another image which would present itself more naturally to a subject and a student of the law of Moses? Might not the scapegoat, upon whose head the priest's hands were laid, over whose head the sins of the people were confessed, be said more strictly to bear away sins than the Paschal Lamb? Did not the scenery by which John was surrounded far more naturally recal the animal who went away into a land not inhabited? Why should the man whose food was locusts and wild honey go to a feast for his emblem? Why should the preacher in the wilderness think of the Paschal feast, which belonged to the city and the family?
A modern preacher would attach great weight to these considerations. As a rhetorician, he would be careful to choose the topics which are most likely to impress his immediate audience. There can be little doubt that among (what he would call) the types of the Old Testament, the scapegoat would seem to him far the most impressive. I am not drawing too much upon your reverence for the man who was 'more than a prophet,' if I ask you to believe that he may have had reasons, almost as good, for his course. Some of these we may see more clearly hereafter; one of them, I think, we may divine now. The disciples whom John was addressing had heard his call to repentance, had received his baptism of repentance. They had the sense of a sin close to themselves, in themselves. To men who have this awakened consciousness, sin presents itself as a present burden; as such, the most ignorant, the most simple, feel it and speak of it. We often fancy that the conscience of poor men only responds to palpable pictures of future torments. Multitudes of religious tracts and books, Romish and Protestant, are composed upon this calculation; they are written for the people. There is one English religious book written by a man of the people, by one who had endured all possible anticipations of future misery himself, the habits of whose school would have led him to press them as the most powerful motives upon others. The genius of the book has been confessed of late years by scholars; its power has been felt by peasants in this land, and in all lands into the language of which it has been translated, almost since it issued from the writer's gaol. To what is the Pilgrims Progress indebted for this influence? Certainly to the strength with which the feeling of evil, as an actual load too heavy to be borne, is brought home to its readers. It is the man groaning with the burden upon his back, whom rich and poor sympathise with, whom each recognises as of his own kindred, who is suffering something which is incommunicable, and yet which every other man is suffering from, or has suffered from, or should suffer from. So it is with the tinkers and ploughmen of England, when they are aroused out of their sensual sleep; so it was with the fishermen and publicans who were gathered about the Jordan. They knew they had a burden, an actual burden, upon them. John's baptism had given them a pledge and witness that it might be taken from them. Already it seemed to be lightened; sometimes they could think they were free from it. How could they be delivered from it altogether? To confess themselves to God was an infinite relief; they rose up happier men. But did the confession really ascend to God? Was it possible in deed and truth to approach Him? Was there nothing to intercept the communion? Was there any one who could interpret them to Him, and Him to them? Was there any one who knew what they were feeling? Was there any one who could bear the burden that was crushing them, not into an uninhabited land, but into the very presence of God? For was not this burden, after all, a sense of separation from a Being to whom they ought to be united, apart from whom they could not live? Had not the light which had come from Him into their hearts brought this discovery with it? The scapegoat contained, no doubt, a deep lesson to those who pondered it well; but it was not this lesson — it was not one which those could take in who were feeling sin as an inward torment pressing upon their hearts. The Paschal Lamb spoke of a deliverance from bondage; it spoke of a deliverance as coming from God; it spoke of an offering to God. The thoughts which the name suggested might not be distinct; they might be hard to reconcile with each other. But the cravings which it met, though importunate, were also apparently contradictory. It awakened hopes; the satisfaction of them might come hereafter.
But if John had merely spoken of an animal, let it have what associations with Jewish or with human feeling it might — let it be the aptest symbol in the world — the impression upon disciples who had been stirred in the inmost depths of their souls as his had been, would have been a very faint one. It was because he pointed to an actual Man, and said of Him, 'Behold the Lamb of God,' that he spoke with power. Those who were suffering from a burden might desire to cast it upon God, might doubt if any one but He could sustain it. But who could understand their grief, who could feel its pressure, except a Man? All their sympathies and wishes pointed to a Man. Yet until the point in time John had discoursed of a Light and of a Word. To that message their hearts had replied. It was that which had effected all the change within them. Was he now altering the tone of his preaching? Was he beginning to tell them of some one of whom they had not heard before? He removes that suspicion at once. The old sentence recurs again, but with a variation: 'This is He of whom I said, After me comes a Man which is preferred before me; for He was before me.' He goes on: 'And I knew Him not.' This assurance jars with some of the thoughts which pictures that are dear to us have awakened in our minds. We can hardly separate the infant Christ from the infant Baptist. We feel as if the reverence expressed in the words, 'His shoe's latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose,' had begun in the earliest years of their sojourn upon earth, and had been maturing ever since. I rather fancy we weaken the effect which we might derive from the artist's symbols, by endeavouring to give them an historical value to which they can certainly make no pretension. It is not that these pictorial traditions are based upon passages in the other Evangelists, and that they are only at variance with St. John. St. Luke speaks of Jesus as being taken by His parents into Galilee after His circumcision. He speaks of John being in the deserts until the day of his showing to Israel. St. Matthew interposes the flight into Egypt between our Lord's nativity and His dwelling at Nazareth. Both surely favour, rather than contradict, the strictest interpretation of the saying, 'I knew Him not.' I do not say that we are absolutely obliged to adopt that strictest interpretation. But we are, I conceive, obliged to conclude that no external acquaintance or relationship had the least effect upon John's knowledge of Jesus, in that character in which He was revealed to him at His baptism. The Apostle is evidently very anxious to impress us with this conviction. Few as are the words of his old Master which he reports, these are emphatically repeated. It belongs, I think, to the very design of this Gospel, to show us that John came to testify, first, of the Light of the world, then of that Light as manifested. 'That He should be manifested to Israel,' he says in the next verse, 'therefore am I come baptizing with water.' That He might be revealed as what He is; that through His flesh the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father might shine forth; that the inward eye of men might be purged to behold Him in His true character and in His true relation to them, — this has been the end of my preaching, and of the outward rite that accompanied it.
'And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said to me, Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.' That there should be an outward sign visible to the eye, a Dove lighting upon the head of a Man, — that there should be a Voice speaking to Him, — this is a great scandal to many readers and critics in our day. 'Are not these,' they say, 'the ordinary tokens of mythical narratives? Are they not what always awaken our suspicion in the records of the Old World or of the Middle Ages?' Yes, brethren, in the Old World and in the Middle Ages, men alike felt the need of outward signs to testify of inward realities. They felt it because they were men, separated from each other by place, by customs, by language, by religion, — but alike in being men; alike in their conviction that there must be an outward world which they could see, and an inward world which they could not see. It is equally true that in the Old World and in the Middle Ages, the sensible thing was confounded with the spiritual, the sign was substituted for the thing signified; and that hence arose all kinds of superstition and idolatry. It is true, also, that in those days and in later days — in these days most especially — people create for themselves a middle world, neither sensible nor spiritual, in which there are no signs, because there is nothing to be signified; in which there are only forms and abstractions of the intellect, some of which are distinguished as religious forms, some as ethical or philosophical, pleasant to the vanity of those who have need of nothing, and can keep themselves alive by talking and disputing, but vague, unreal, utterly tormenting to men who are seeking a home and a father. St. John does not dwell in this limbo of vanity. He is like the writers of legends, in so far as he assumes that there are signs, and that there are realities which correspond to the signs. He tells us that when God was about to reveal the greatest of all realities to the spirits of men, He vouchsafed a sign of it which was discernible by the eye. He is unlike the writers of those legends, in so far forth as they rested in signs, or forgot in the signs that which they denoted. The Dove is to him the sign of a Spirit, which would enable Him in whom it dwelt without measure, to rule his own senses and the world of sense. The Voice was a witness that a Man who had flesh and blood was really and actually the Son of God.
John the Baptist has still more to declare concerning signs, and that which they signify. He had baptized with water. The water had spoken in language clearer than any which can be put into letters, of cleansing, of purification. Those who had received it had come to it because they were sure that they needed the blessing of which it testified. They had come because they believed, more or less clearly, that God had ordained the rite, and that He alone could present as an honor the blessing. But the preaching of repentance for the remission of sins had made them aware that the evil was in a region which the water could not reach. Had it, then, been all a delusion? Was this rite, new at least for Jews, a mere phantasy, less powerful even than the rite of circumcision which had not prevented them from being treacherous to each other, and from blaspheming the name of God? Was the stern speaker of truth a mere mocker, trifling with the consciences which he had himself aroused? If his baptism was from himself, he was. If it was bearing witness of One who had come to men in past days, and given them power to become sons of God, the baptism was good because it was His sign and instrument. But the sign of what? Surely the sign of some process that was taking place in the spirits of men. And if so, would not that process be declared whensoever He was declared? Would not the baptism thenceforth be the assurance that a power adequate to the purification of that which was defiled, to the restoration of that which was decayed — adequate to the renewal of the whole man — was presented as an honor by Him who had in all times given those who received Him power to become sons of God? 'Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, the same is He which shall baptize with the Holy Ghost.'
'Again, the next day after, John stood, and two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he said, Behold the Lamb of God.' The words, 'which takes away the sin of the world,' are not repeated, at least not in the best manuscripts. They had been spoken once. Now the Lamb of God had been connected with a new and higher name. John had borne record that this was the Son of God. All the dignity and wonder of the former title were attached to Him still. There was an awe about this which must have made the disciples wonder, but yet which attracted them. 'They heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.' The story of their dialogue is most simple. There is no mysterious concealment; there are no surprising incidents. 'Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, What seek you? They said to Him, Rabbi, (which is, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest You? He said to them, Come and see. They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day; for it was about the tenth hour.' What is there in such a record to detain us for an instant? Only this, brethren; it is the beginning of the history of Christendom, of the whole new world. This meeting of these two men — one of whose names we do not know, the other whom we do know to have been a Galilæan fisherman — with Jesus of Nazareth is the first step in a movement which has in some way or other changed the life, polity, relations of mankind. If it is so, we may consider with ourselves, in some quiet hour, why it is so? Perhaps we may find some other explanation than that which St. John gives — that the Man to whom these disciples came was the Light of men, and that He proved, by contact with those who had least light of their own, that He was their Light. Or perhaps we may find that interpretation, on the whole, the best: and then we shall not seek further, but lay that to heart.
The three next verses bring us a step further in the history; they are still of the same character. 'One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first finds his own brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, He said, You are Simon, the son of Jona: you shall be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.' We found how hard it was for the Pharisees to make out a conception of the Christ, though they pored continually over the Scriptures, and had a series of interpreters to assist in divining the sense of them. And here this unlettered fisherman — unlettered probably in the strictest sense — boldly tells his brother that he has found the Christ. He is sure that he has. He can bid him come and see whether it is a mistake. 'What fanatical confidence!' every scribe would have exclaimed — no, did exclaim — as soon as he learnt what these fishermen were believing. Should not most of us say the same if we spoke our minds? For what had Andrew to convince him? He had seen none of the miracles upon which we say the evidence of Christ's mission rests. We may be sure that he had not heard Jesus say that He was the Christ; for He scarcely ever did say so. And on what, then, was his faith grounded, that faith which England has accepted for somewhat more than a thousand years? I do not know, unless the Light of the world made him feel that He was the Light of the world — unless the King of men made him feel that He was his King. But I also do not know, brethren, upon what your faith and mine is founded — on what the faith of all the men that have believed during the last eighteen hundred years has been founded — upon what the order and civilization of all the earth has been founded, except it be upon that same revelation of a Light and of a King, which made Andrew say these words to his brother Simon.
And now He who has received this name from a disciple, presents as an honor a name upon a disciple: 'You are Simon; you shall be called a Stone.' The creatures were brought to the first Adam, that he might say what was the name of each. If this was the second Adam, He could say to any one of His human creatures, 'That is your name; understand by it what is the work I have given you to do.' Simon Peter, after many perplexities and falls, did learn fully the meaning and force of his new name. He declared to the Jews at Pentecost, he declared to Cornelius the heathen, that Jesus had been proved to be both Lord and Christ. A society of Jews and Gentiles grew up which recognised Jesus as its Corner-stone. Lest they should fancy that he or any mere man could be a rock or resting-place for them, he wrote an Epistle specially to show that his Master is the Corner-stone, elect, precious, on which men are builded together a spiritual house; that such a spiritual house cannot be overthrown; that any spiritual house which is built on any weaker foundation, which has any other stone or rock, must be destroyed.
'The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and finds Philip, and said to him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathanael, and said to him, We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' Philip does not go in search of the Lamb of God, as those did who heard John speak. Jesus is said to find him, and to speak the words, 'Follow me,' which he obeys. The effect is the same as in the former case — only Philip is, perhaps, a little more courageous: he speaks confidently of this as the Person to whom all the holy men of old were pointing. He speaks so even while he makes the offensive announcement, 'He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' From what place the new teacher came, was nothing to the young disciple. He had proved Himself to him to be the King over his heart. Whose son He was called was nothing. In the most living sense He must be what John had called Him — the Son of God. Hereafter doubts and questions might arise upon these points; the Prophet's words respecting the city of David might have to be reconciled with this apparently Galilæan origin of the new Teacher; explanations might be given respecting His parentage. For Philip all this was premature and unnecessary. The deepest knowledge must come first; the other would follow when it was wanted.
The same truth forces itself upon us still more mightily in the answer of Nathanael to his friend: 'Nathanael said to Philip, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael said to Him, Where know you me? Jesus said to Him, Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig-tree, I saw you. Nathanael answered and said to Him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.'
Nathanael, who was apparently a Galilæan, might not have the same prejudice against Nazareth which would have been natural in an inhabitant of Judæa. But there is another prejudice, often hinted at by our Lord, which is quite as hard to overcome. Can a prophet appear in our neighbourhood, close to us? Must he not come upon us from some more sacred region? The Galilæans, who were despised by others, must have learnt to despise themselves. All their habits of mind must have prepared them to expect that Jerusalem, or some place near it, would be the seat and birthplace of the great King. There was, therefore, at least as much ground for doubt and unbelief in this man's mind as in that of any learned scribe. Nevertheless he comes, and he is hailed a genuine Israelite, an Israelite without guile. The first title might seem only to claim the dweller in any part of Palestine as of the same stock, a true child of Jacob; but that which is joined to it marks out the man himself as a wrestler with God — one who had sought to purge his soul from deceptions — one who believed that God desired truth in his inward parts, and would make him to know wisdom secretly. It was a wonderful commendation; but what was the warrant for it? Till then Nathanael supposed that his face had not been known to the speaker; how much less his heart. Had they met for the first time? Had he never sat and kneeled beneath the fig-tree, the favourite place of secret devotion to the pious Israelite? Had he never wrestled for light to himself, for blessings to his country? for the scattering of its worst enemies — which were also his own — covetousness, pride, falsehood? for the revelation of its promised Deliverer? 'There, before Philip called you, I saw you; — I had conversed with you.' Nathanael heard and wondered; there was no more debating within him about Galilee or Judæa, Nazareth or Bethlehem. A flood of light was poured into his soul, not through chinks and apertures in the prophetical oracles, but from the clear heaven where God dwelt. 'Rabbi, You are He whom I have sought after with cries and tears, that none but You have known of. You have often been with me before. I behold You now. You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.'
And then came a promise and assurance of a mightier blessing, of a fuller revelation hereafter to him, and to multitudes unborn, 'Because I said, I saw you under the fig-tree, believest you? You shall see greater things than these. And He said to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.'
'Faithful and true Israelite! the vision to your progenitor who first bore that name shall be substantiated for you, and for those who trust in me in lonely hours, through clouds and darkness, as you have done. The ladder set upon earth and reaching to heaven, — the ladder upon which the angels of God ascended and descended, — is a ladder for you and for all. For the Son of Man, who joins earth to heaven, the seen to the unseen, God and Man in one, He is with you; through Him your spirits may arise to God, — through Him God's Spirit shall come down upon you.'
From the Gospel of St. John by FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, M.A, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Combridge. Published by MACMILLAN AND CO in 1882; Produced by Charlene Taylor, Julia Neufeld and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Gospel of St. John - F.D. Maurice
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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