Great Texts of the Bible
The Yea and the Amen
For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.—2 Corinthians 1:20.
1. These words occur in a homely and curious connexion. St. Paul had not kept his appointment with the Corinthian Church, and he fears that the influence of a hostile party may cause his failure to be misunderstood. Did he use lightness? Was his pledge Yea, Yea, and Nay, Nay; Yes to-day, and No to-morrow? Now, what would seem most natural for us to say, if exposed to such a charge? Perhaps we should exclaim, “I am not such a man”; or, “They have mistaken the person they have to deal with”; or again, “I can afford to despise the insinuation.” But St. Paul did not think first about himself. He had passed out of the sphere where any subject, even the slightest, appealed first and most naturally to his personal instincts and his self-respect. When he is reproached with changing lightly the plan of a tour (which plan he had actually changed), his thoughts revert to Christ and His Gospel, which such conduct would dishonour. What notion of the Master have these people, who charge him, the herald, with such unworthy levity? There was not Yea and Nay with Paul, because in Christ was one steadfast Yea.
Now, this argument is illogical unless we supply a suppressed premiss which St. Paul did not pause to state, since he had much to say in few words. For just as God’s fidelity is no guarantee of Paul’s veracity, unless Paul was a partaker of the Divine nature, so the steadfast sincerity of Christ is no guarantee of his sincerity, unless he and Christ are one—one in being, one in thought, will, aim. But this oneness with Christ was a fundamental conception of the Christian life with St. Paul. It lay at the basis of his theology. He could neither preach a sermon nor write a letter without affirming or assuming it. So completely was he one with Christ that he affirms that he was crucified with Christ; that he died when Christ died, and rose again from the dead. All he did he did by Christ, as well as for Him. All he suffered was but a filling up of the remnant of Christ’s affliction. His motto, his characteristic word, might well be: “Henceforth I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” That being so, it was natural that he should assume this doctrine of the indwelling Christ here; and assume also that his readers would supply this premiss of his argument, which he did not think it necessary, or which it did not occur to him, to state. And, of course, the moment it was assumed, the Apostle’s argument became sound, and even irresistible. For then it ran: The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is true; Christ is in me; the spring of all virtue, as well as the hope of glory: and therefore I am, I must be, true. As He, was not Yea and Nay, my word to you is not, and cannot be, Yea and Nay.
2. Now look at the text. This is one of the many passages the force and beauty of which are, for the first time, brought within the reach of an English reader by the alterations in the Revised Version. These are dependent partly upon the reading of the Greek and partly upon the translation. As the words stand in the Authorized Version, “yea” and “amen” seem to be very nearly synonymous expressions, and to point substantially to the same thing, namely, that Jesus Christ is as it were the confirmation and seal of God’s promises. But in the Revised Version the alterations, especially in the pronouns, indicate more distinctly that the Apostle means two different things by the “yea” and the “amen.” The one is God’s voice, the other is man’s. The one has to do with the certainty of the Divine revelation, the other has to do with the certitude of our faith in the revelation. When God speaks in Christ, He confirms everything that He has said before, and when we listen to God speaking in Christ, our lips are, through Christ, opened to shout our assenting “Amen” to His great promises.
This is a truth so far-reaching that all the promises of God have the seal of their stability in Christ. As often as any pledge is realized (and that is whenever one is trusted), the conscience of the Church confesses that her enjoyment of it has been attained in Him. Through Him, therefore, she returns her glad attestation. How many soever are the promises of God, in Him is the Yea of Divine fulfilment; wherefore through Him is also the Amen of human acknowledgment and praise, “to the glory of God through us.”
3. Taken thus, the text not only gives us a new conception of the mission of Christ, it gives us also a new conception of the vocation of the Church, of our vocation as Christian men. Christ is the Yea of God: we, through the power of the indwelling Christ, are the Amen. It is His mission to translate all the thoughts of God into actual and vital forms; it is our vocation, as we study that translation, as we see those thoughts taking shape, as they become visible and recognizable to us, to add our Amen to them, i.e. to accept, welcome, and conform to them. The power to add this Amen, to consent to and obey the will of God, we derive from Christ, who lives, and dwells in us. And this power is given to us with a view “to the glory of God through us.” In fine, the vision which lies behind St. Paul’s words, and which he labours to express, seems to be nothing less than this: He conceives of the infinite God as dwelling in the inaccessible light, and thinking out the thoughts of His eternal righteousness and love; He conceives of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as translating these thoughts into creative, providential, and redeeming acts; and he conceives of the vast congregation of those who love God and believe on His Son as standing round and contemplating the Divine thoughts which take visible form at the behest of the Son, and chanting their loud Amen to all that He does, to all that He reveals of the Father’s will.
“In him is the yea.”
There are two ways in which we may think of Christ as Yea. First He is Himself certain, and next the promises are certain in Him.
1. Christ Himself is certain.—Nothing is more noteworthy, when our attention is drawn to it, than the confidence of the assertions of Christ, so vast and far-reaching in their scope, so unqualified by any “perhaps,” by any hint of uncertainty or conjecture.
(1) This is so with regard to His own earthly life. Strange indeed is the contrast between the words of His Apostle, “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there,” and the explicit and detailed warnings given by Jesus of the manner, the circumstances, and the date of His death. “Not on the feast-day,” said the priests; but the knowledge of their Victim outran their most subtle calculations. “After two days the passover cometh, and the Son of man is delivered up to be crucified.”
(2) Again, we all feel the pressure and solemnity of the problems of human existence. Revelation is perfect as a practical guide, but a solver of theoretical problems it is not. What am I? Whither am I going? He may be a good Christian, but assuredly he is a dull thinker, who supposes that every cloud is lifted by religion from the twin problems of our origin and our destiny. Dimly these questions loom up, like gigantic mountain slopes visible through rolling vapours, before us and behind. Through changing mists we see them, half illumined in the radiance of our Christian trust, but their head and their base alike are swathed in impenetrable mystery.
In this baffled peering wonder Jesus had no share. He alone of human beings could say, without reserve, “I know whence I come, and whither I go.” And yet the mystery of His being was the most profound of all.
(3) The same tone of unwavering certitude is audible in His teaching about duty and God. Others have taught with a wonderful confidence, but it has always been avowedly a derived and imparted message. Gabriel spoke to Muhammad. The spot is shown where Gautama, after agonies of search, became Buddha, which means, “the enlightened one.” Even the prophets of the true faith were men “to whom the word of the Lord came,” a position which Christ contrasted with His own. But if men had known Him they should have known the Father. “The Father sheweth him all things that himself doeth.” “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”
(4) In quite the same confident tones Jesus spoke of the life to come; “In my Father’s house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you”; “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.”
Review the whole circle of spiritual truth, and see whether there is any part of it where Jesus trod with hesitating step. Find one conjecture, one mere inference, one example of truth arrived at otherwise than as a fact within His own consciousness. He used Scripture to repel Satan, to refute gainsayers, to convince the hesitating; and, as in His last words upon the cross, to express the deepest emotions of His own heart. But His natural and characteristic method, with all teachable souls, is as He expressed it to Nicodemus: “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.”
This certainty of Christ’s is part of the completeness of His character and life. And hence it becomes part of that assurance we have when we put our trust in Him.
The character and doctrine of Jesus are the sun that holds all the minor orbs of revelation to their places, and pours a sovereign self-evidencing light into all religious knowledge. It is no ingenious fetches of argument that we want; no external testimony, gathered here and there from the records of past ages, suffices to end our doubts; but it is the new sense opened in us by Jesus Himself—a sense deeper than words and more immediate than inference—of the miraculous grandeur of His life; a glorious agreement felt between His works and His person, such that His miracles themselves are proved to us in our feeling, believed in by that inward testimony. On this inward testimony we are willing to stake everything, even the life that now is, and that which is to come. If the miracles, if revelation itself, cannot stand upon the superhuman character of Jesus, then let it fall. If that character does not contain all truth and centralize all truth in itself, then let there be no truth.1 [Note: Horace Bushnell, Nature and the Supernatural.]
Let me forget all else that I have known—
All else that I have heard;
Let me remember Thee, and Thee alone,
O Jesus—living Word!
It is enough to know that I am Thine—
That Thou dost undertake
To hold and keep this helpless life of mine—
Accepted for Thy sake.
O, Thou alone canst hope or help afford;
There is no way beside.
I look to Thee, my glorious risen Lord,
And I am satisfied.1 [Note: Edith H. Divall, A Believer’s Rest, 30.]
2. The promises of God are certain in Christ.—This is the special assertion of St. Paul in the text. And these promises, we may say at once, have their certainty of fulfilment in Christ because He has fulfilled the conditions on which they are suspended. “The wages of sin is death.” “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” So say the Scriptures; so says the conscience of man in a hundred lands. The promises of pardon for sin are many and rich; but they are all based on the fact that Christ voluntarily took our place under the Law and paid the penalty our disobedience incurred. Behind the promises are the cross and the real sacrifice it bore. That that sacrifice of Himself was accepted of God in our behalf is put beyond denial by His resurrection from the dead. Anyone can write a promise of pardon; many wise men have taught moral truth; and some good men have died in pity and in love for their fellow-men. There were three crosses on Calvary that day. Why do we lean with all religious hope on the central cross? Because Christ in His teaching, in His works of mercy, in giving Himself to die for us, based the acceptance by God of what He did in our behalf on His resurrection on the third day. Other men were wise; loved their fellow-men with a passion of love and died for them; but of such only Christ was raised from the dead at the time foretold. The opening of the grave and the raising of the dead is the sole prerogative of God. That resurrection is God’s endorsement and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice as atonement for man’s sin. The promises of the needed grace for the passing day are based on the fact that after His resurrection Christ ascended into heaven and is there making continual intercession for us. These promises put us in touch with a living Saviour. The promises of future glory on which we depend are based on the fact that Christ has entered into that glory and is there now preparing a place for us, to return again to take us to Himself, that where He is we may be also. There, then, is the security behind these promises—the person and the work of Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension, by virtue of which the promises are Yea.
(1) The promise of the love of God is secured in Christ. All too often we forget the riches of this truth; we lose sight of the Father’s love. Perhaps in sincere anxiety not to forget that Christ is God, we think it a dim and distant truth when we hear that the Father Almighty loved, and loves, His Son and the sinner and the world. But here again the Bible tells a different story. It shows us the love of God the Father as the very source of our salvation in Christ Jesus. “This is my beloved Son; hear ye him”; “He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”; “the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me”; “through him we have access unto the Father”; “the Father, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope.” To know the Father—through our Lord Jesus Christ, never apart from Him, but through and in Him,—is the glorious privilege of those who have life through grace. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
The question may arise in some minds, Is there any need for proving God’s love? The question never arose except within the limits of Christianity. It is only men who have lived all their lives in an atmosphere saturated by Christian sentiment and conviction that ever come to the point of saying, “We do not want historical revelation to prove to us the fact of a loving God.” They would never have fancied that they did not need the revelation unless, unconsciously to themselves, and indirectly, all their thoughts had been coloured and illuminated by the revelation that they professed to reject. God as Love is “our dearest faith, our ghastliest doubt,” and the only way to make absolutely certain of the fact that His heart is full of mercy to us is to look upon Him as He stands revealed to us, not merely in the words of Christ—for, precious as they are, these are the smallest part of His revelation—but in the life and in the death, which open for us the heart of God. Remember what He said Himself—not “He that hath listened to me doth understand the Father,” but “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” “In him is the yea.” And the hopes and shadowy fore-revelations of the loving heart of God are confirmed by the fact of His life and death. “God establisheth (not “commendeth,” as our translation has it,) his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
At Derby Haven in the sweet Manx land
A little girl had written on the sand
This legend—“God is love.” But, when I said—
“What means this writing?” thus she answered—
“It’s father that’s at ‘say,’
And I come here to pray,
And … God is love.” My eyes grew dim—
Blest child! in Heaven above
Your angel sees the face of Him
Whose name is love.1 [Note: T. E. Brown, Old John and Other Poems, 190.]
(2) The providence of God becomes a fact in Christ. We find within us an instinct which impels us to cry for some heavenly help or guidance or support in times of crisis and distress. Even the most sceptical will often give a practical denial to their doubts by the word of prayer which is wrung from their hearts under stress of some calamity, or under the shadow of an impending danger. In our heart of hearts, that is to say, we feel that God personally cares and provides for this world which He has made; deep down in our being we believe that to pray is to touch the heart of the Eternal; and in moments of anguish or of supreme joy we confide in an unseen Providence as we would in our closest friend. And then comes the cold analysis of reason, and—
Doubts will rise if God hath kept
His promises to men.
What does it all amount to? we say. Instinct?—a delusion. Providence?—a fiction of the imagination. Think of it. What do I, as an individual, count for in a world so vast, itself but a speck in an illimitable universe? How should God—if there be a God—have any personal care for me? It is the old question of the Psalmist: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the Son of man, that thou visitest him?”
The most casual glance at the life and character of Jesus will give us the answer. He saw the providence of God in the wayside flower, in the feeding of the birds, in the fall of a sparrow; “the very hairs of your head are all numbered”; He who clothes the grass of the field will much more provide for the needs of the children of men. Because He was thus conscious of God in the things about Him, Jesus was calm and free from care in the midst of an angry and a striving world. In the march of events and the sure progress of the ages, He recognized the all-controlling will of God, and so He lived and died that the Father’s will might be accomplished. And then at the end, with a joy which all the cruelties of men could not suppress, He yielded Himself to the loving Providence which sent Him forth. “Father,” He said, “into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
“I cannot see, I cannot speak, I cannot hear, God bless you,” was Newman’s message to his old friend Mr. Gladstone in November, 1888. Newman’s delight in men, in books, and in affairs had all his life been intense, and he had a strong desire that his life might be prolonged to its utmost possible span, if it was the will of God. “For myself, now, at the end of a long life,” he wrote, “I say from a full heart that God has never failed me, has never disappointed me, has ever turned evil into good for me. When I was young I used to say (and I trust it was not presumptuous to say it) that our Lord ever answered my prayers.”1 [Note: Alexander Whyte, Newman: An Appreciation, 61.]
(3) Pardon is made sure in Christ. Every man of deep heart-experience has felt the necessity of having a clear certainty and knowledge about forgiveness. Men do not feel it always. A man can skate over the surface of the great deeps that lie beneath the most frivolous life, and may suppose, in his superficial way of looking at things, that there is no need for any definite teaching about sin, and the mode of dealing with it. But once bring that man face to face, in a quiet hour, with the facts of his life and of a Divine law, and all that superficial ignoring of evil in Himself, and of the dread of punishment and consequences, passes away. Then the only message that answers to the needs of an awakened conscience and an alarmed heart is the old-fashioned message that Jesus Christ the Righteous has died for us sinful men. All other religions have felt after a clear doctrine of forgiveness, and all have failed to find it. Here is the Divine “Yea!” And on it alone we can suspend the whole weight of our soul’s salvation. The rope that is to haul us out of the horrible pit and the miry clay had much need to be tested before we commit ourselves to it. There are many easy-going superficial theories about forgiveness predominant in the world to-day. Except the one that says, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sin,” they are all like the rope let down into the dark mine to lift the captives beneath, half of the strands of which have been cut on the sharp edge above, and when the weight hangs to it, it will snap. There is nothing on which a man who has once learned the tragic meaning and awful reality and depth of the fact of transgression can suspend his forgiveness, except this, that “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” In Him the promise is Yea.
All human religions are founded on the principle that man must do something, or feel something, or believe something, in order to make God love him and forgive him; whereas God’s religion just contains a declaration that nothing of the kind is necessary on our part in order to make God forgive us, for that He hath déjà, already, loved us and forgiven us, and given us His Son, and in Him all things. He hath declared this to the whole race without any exception, as a truth to each individual; so that the difference between the most miserable hater of God and the happiest child of God does not consist in this, that God loves the one and does not love the other; but in this, that the one knows God’s love to himself and the other does not. It is the same difference as there is between two men standing with their faces to the sun, the one with his eyes shut and the other with his eyes open.1 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, i. 161.]
(4) The promise of holiness is ours in Christ. Here the promise, in many a varying form, is magnificently full. “These things write I unto you that ye sin not”; “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not”; “Let not sin reign in your mortal body”; “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” How can all this possibly be? It is impossible except in Him. The secret is not it, but He. “Christ is made unto us sanctification”; “Ye are filled full in him”; “that Christ may dwell in your hearts, by faith”; that ye may “know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”
It is a magnificent truth that having come to Christ you are not merely near Him, but in Him; and in Him you have at once nothing short of Christ and all His treasures. But do not make a false use of the glorious fact. Remember that you may “have and not have.” You may receive a property and not enjoy it. You may inherit wealth and not use it. To grasp the great promises of what God can do for you, as well as the mighty encouragement of what He has done for you, is the way to “possess the possessions” and to realize the wealth. You have long rested, my friend in Christ, on the facts, the certainties, of His finished work. But have you made use enough of His never finished working? Our Christ is eternally fixed and unchanging, in His atoning merit. But He, the same Christ, is prepared immortally to grow in us, in His blessed indwelling by the Holy Spirit. Yes, the “exceeding precious promises” point us to Christ dwelling in the heart by faith, to Christ our very life, to Christ in whom we are already “enriched in everything.” Go on and use your riches, full of hope. For while your discouragements are all behind you, the great and precious promises are all in front. “Forget the things that are behind,” and step forth forward upon “the things that are before”; not upon your resolves, experiences, achievements, but on the Lord in His “precious promises.” Relying upon His promises you enter into the liberty that belongs to the children of God.1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, All in Christ, 40.]
A morning-glory bud, entangled fast
Amid the meshes of its winding stem,
Strove vainly with the coils about it cast,
Until the gardener came and loosened them.
A suffering human life entangled lay
Among the tightening coils of its own past;
The Gardener came, the fetters fell away,
The life unfolded to the sun at last.2 [Note: Willis Boyd Allen.]
(5) And the promise of the future is made sure in Him. Apart from Him the future is cloud and darkness, for a verbal revelation is not enough. We have enough of arguments; what we want is facts. We have enough of man’s peradventures about a future life, enough of evidence more or less valid to show that it is “probable,” or “not inconceivable,” or “more likely than not,” and so on and so on. What we want is that somebody shall cross the gulf and come back again. And so we get in the Resurrection of Christ the one fact on which men may safely rest their convictions of immortality.
Death was above all to such as St. Paul a meeting with Jesus Christ, who was the object of his ceaseless faith, the hope of his longing heart. This man did not speculate about heaven—where it was, what it was. Nor did he imagine its glory as became a mystic like St. John. For him heaven was another name for Christ, the sum of all goodness, the revelation of all perfection. Between him and Christ there had been a long friendship, with many love-passages, which had grown more intimate every year, but had never been completed. St. Paul had heard Christ’s voice on the road to Damascus; he had seen Him in visions; for brief moments he had visited the third heavens; but face to face this great Christian may not have seen his Master as had St. Peter and St. John. For an unseen Lord he lived, laboured, suffered as none else has ever done. What wonder that St. Paul hungered and thirsted for the day when that dark servitor death would usher him into the unveiled Presence.
That one Face, far from vanish, rather grows,
Or decomposes but to recompose,
Becomes my universe that feels and knows.1 [Note: J. Watson, The Potter’s Wheel, 161.]
3. All the promises of God, says the Apostle. He thinks of the sum-total of human blessedness, “all the promises of God.” Man has forfeited them; the conditions have not been kept; and yet the gift has been bestowed. Not even our unworthiness, so often proved, has frustrated the steadfast purpose of the grace of God. This also, this greatest example in the universe of an unshaken purpose, has come to us through Christ. He is, for humanity, the embodiment of the faithfulness of God. And in Him they are all certified, for He who delivered Him up, how shall He not freely give us all things? In Him is the Yea.
I remember an aged minister used to say, that the most learned and knowing Christians, when they come to die, have only the same plain promises for their support as the common and unlearned; and so I find it in my old age. It is the plain promises of the gospel that are my support; and I bless God they are plain promises, which do not require much labour and pains to understand them; for I can do nothing now but look into my Bible for some promise to support me, and live upon that.1 [Note: J. Watts.]
As I was coming to you to-day, my path led me by a tasteful enclosure, into which I was bold enough to enter. It was a vinery, not like those of the open field, so common in Palestine, France and Germany, but a spacious and elegant conservatory. A succession of thriving stems, twisted in form, but vigorously climbing the glass wall of the structure, at once met my eye. The long arms of the plants, with their delicate tendrils, were carefully trained along the under side of the crystal roof. The branches were covered with fresh green leaves, through whose fine tissues the sunlight agreeably passed. But what delighted me most was the rare assortment of green and purple clusters that hung above me, like inverted cones or pyramids, from amid the foliage. Their luscious beauty quite arrested me. As I stood admiring, the proprietor of the conservatory, with whom I had the happiness of being a little acquainted, came in. Observing my looks he kindly asked me if I would have a cluster, and at once he proceeded to cut down a bunch for me. The grapes were very sweet. Then, noticing that I still continued my gaze, he said, “Perhaps you would wish to take a few clusters home with you?” To this I replied, that I was at the time on my way to a company of friends, whose lips were no doubt as parched as my own had been, and that I was sure there were some among them who would be as much delighted with a cluster as myself. On which he stepped aside, and, having brought out a commodious and suitable basket, he inlaid it with vine leaves. He then cut down some of the finer clusters, and, placing these carefully on the leaves, he took the basket aside, and while his back was towards me, shut down the cover, so as to secure the delicious but fragile contents from injury. Coming forward with a pleasant smile, he handed me the basket saying, “Take this; it contains a few bunches. Share them among your friends, and give a cluster to any one whom you find prepared to receive it.” And here I am, with the basket in my hand! Let me set it down and raise the cover, so neatly fastened, and, before proceeding further, hand some of the clusters to you on this thirsty afternoon. Be assured, it will afford me as much pleasure to distribute them as it will give you to receive them. Such is my parable, for parable it is—perhaps to the disappointment of some of the younger of my auditory. The beautiful clusters I have spoken of represent the Promises of God, those exceeding great and precious promises, in which the blessings of the everlasting covenant are stored up, and by which we are said to become “partakers of the divine nature.” Now let me open the basket, and take out one of its delicate specimens. Ah, here is a beauty! We must handle it softly. See how symmetrical in shape, how perfect in form, is each grape! The fruit seems as if it would melt on the lips. What are the terms of this promise? Listen!
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee:
Be not dismayed; for I am thy God:
I will strengthen thee;
Yea, I will help thee;
Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”1 [Note: A. N. Somerville, Precious Seed, 233.]
(1) No doubt, when the Apostle, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, spoke of the promises of God, the first thought that would arise in his mind would be the promises to the people of Israel: the promises of dominion and supremacy; the brilliant pictures of the Prophets; the glories foreshadowed in the lives of David and Solomon; the majesty and excellence implied in the very fact that they were the people of God’s choice. And if this thought passed, as of course it must have passed, beyond the limits of Israel after the flesh, still the promises would be the same, only in a spiritual form: the glory of the new Israel, the new Jerusalem, the new Law, the new Covenant; promises made under a figure but holding good in their essence even when the figure exists no longer.
(2) Such, perhaps, would hardly be the first thought suggested to one of us by the promises of God; and, indeed, would not be the last or the crowning thought in the mind of the Apostle of the Gentiles. Far deeper and older than these are the promises which God has written with His own finger, not on tables of stone, but on the fleshy tables of the heart of man. These promises, the earliest of all God’s revelations, made to mankind before even the oldest book in the Bible was written; these promises which the loving heart finds repeated in every page of the Bible; these promises which the Bible often reveals to us in so strange a way, making us quite unable to tell whether the word within or the word without, whether the yearnings of conscience or the oracles of the Scripture, first pronounced them in our spiritual ears; these are above all the promises which Christ came to ratify and fulfil. Deep down in the heart of man there speaks a voice which calls us to God, and promises to take us to Him. And in former days, no doubt, when it spoke to those who had no revelation to interpret or confirm its sayings, what it said must have been often strange, inarticulate, even unintelligible. In dumb instincts rather than in plain commands, in voiceless longings, in yearnings for something unearthly, in strange doubts and questions did it often speak to men who had no other teaching. And even now, to those who have the Bible in their hands, but are still unawakened, or only half awakened, the voices that call from the deep abysses of the soul are faint and strange, and hard to understand, and often seem hopelessly impossible to obey. The Bible is, as it were, the grammar and the dictionary of this spiritual language, and teaches us to interpret its accents into duties and prayers and hopes and battle and assurance of victory. But even when we have the Bible, how much study we need before we can fathom the depths of spiritual meaning contained in the everlasting promises which God’s finger has written on the soul of man. Men still unawakened, or only half awakened, could not, even with the Bible in their hands, always translate the language of the spirit that speaks within them. But even the awakened, in our human sense of the word awakened, what can they do but see in a glass darkly the dim reflection of the truth of God? Yet what they see is the never-dying truth, and that truth received its final seal in the life of Christ.
This, Edwin Markham, the spiritually-minded, has put for us in his rhapsody on “The Desire of All Nations,” where he sees that in Christ is the one positive figure that fulfils the highest prophecies and sublimest promises that were cherished in the hearts of the world’s great nations from the most ancient days; for in Him God had answered Yea to all the desires of the people of the whole world.
And when He comes into the world gone wrong,
He will rebuild her beauty with a song.
To every heart He will its own dream be:
One moon has many phantoms in the sea.
Out of the North the horns will cry to men:
“Balder the Beautiful has come again!”
The flutes of Greece will whisper from the dead:
“Apollo has unveiled his sunbright head!”
The stones of Thebes and Memphis will find voice:
“Osiris comes; O tribes of Time rejoice!”
And social architects who build the State,
Serving the dream at citadel and gate,
Will hail Him coming through the labour hum.
And glad quick cries will go from man to man:
Lo, He has come, our Christ the Artisan—
The King who loved the lilies, He has come!
Lord, the Apostle dissuadeth the Hebrews from covetousness, with this argument, because God said, I will not leave thee nor forsake thee. Yet I find not that God ever gave this promise to all the Jews, but he spake it only to Joshua when first made commander against the Canaanites; which, without violence to the analogy of faith, the Apostle applied to all good men in general. Is it so that we are heirs apparent to all promises made to thy servants in Scripture? Are the charters of grace granted to them good to me? Then will I say with Jacob, I have enough. But because I cannot entitle myself to thy promises to them, except I imitate their piety to thee; grant I may take as much care in following the one, as comfort in the other.1 [Note: Thomas Fuller, Good Thoughts in Bad Times.]
“Through him is the Amen.”
Therefore, through Him is the great Amen of the Universal Church, attesting and acclaiming His fidelity by psalms and anthems, by every act of living faith, by the labours of time, by the triumphs of countless death-beds, where death has been without a sting, and by the songs of those within the veil.
1. Now there should be some kind of correspondence between the firmness with which we grasp, the tenacity with which we hold, the assurance with which we believe, these great truths, and the rocklike firmness and immovableness of the evidence upon which they rest. It is a poor compliment to God to come to His most veracious affirmations, sealed with the broad seal of His Son’s life and death, and to answer with a hesitating “Amen,” that falters and almost sticks in our throat. Build rock upon rock. Be certain of the certain things. Grasp with a firm hand the firm stay. Immovably cling to the immovable foundation; and though you be but like the limpet on the rock hold fast by the Rock, as the limpet does; for it is an insult to the certainty of the revelation, where there is hesitation in the believer.
The sensitive paper, which records the hours of sunshine in a day, has great gaps upon its line of light answering to the times when clouds have obscured the sun; and the communication of blessings from God is intermittent, if there be intermittency of faith.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ.]
In happy ease I cried: “O sweetest Dusk
That ever pressed a kiss on weary eyes!
Bless now mine ears with murmur of thy name
And noble origin.” Then answered he:
“My father’s name was Night; from the embrace
Of Life and Death he sprang, and wed with Rest;
I am their offspring Promise, and whene’er
I meet with Faith, then is Fulfilment born.”2 [Note: A. Bunston, The Porch of Paradise, 12.]
2. Our Amen is through Him. He is the Door. The truths which He confirms are so inextricably intertwined with Himself that we cannot get them and put away Him. Christ’s relation to Christ’s gospel is not the relation of other teachers to their words. We may accept the words of a Plato, whatever we think of the Plato who spoke the words. But we cannot separate Christ and His teaching in that fashion, and we must have Him if you are to get it. So faith in Him, the intellectual acceptance of Him, as the authoritative and infallible Revealer, the bowing down of heart and will to Him as our Commander and our Lord, the absolute trust in Him as the foundation of all our hope and the source of all our blessedness—that is the way to certitude. And there is no other road that we can take.
Not long ago, in Further India, an aged Christian convert, a man of eighty years, a surviving disciple of Adoniram Judson, was found dying, by a missionary visitor. His once strong mind was shaken by age and weakness; his thoughts failed and wandered; but when they were pointed to Christ, they settled and were clear again. When asked about his own faith in his Redeemer, his answer was strong in its simplicity: “I have hold of Him with both my hands.”1 [Note: H. C. G. Moule, Christ is All, 106.]
3. If we thus keep near Him our faith will bring us the present experience and fulfilment of the promises, and we shall be sure of them, because we have them already. And whilst men are asking, “Do we know anything about God? Is there a God at all? Is there such a thing as forgiveness? Can anybody find anywhere absolute rules for his life? Is there anything beyond the grave but mist and darkness?” we can say, “One thing I know, Jesus Christ is my Saviour, and in Him I know God, and pardon and duty and sanctifying and safety and immortality; and whatever is dark, this, at least, is sun-clear. Get high enough up and you will be above the fog; and while the men down in it are squabbling as to whether there is anything outside the mist, you, from your sunny station, will see the far-off coasts, and haply catch some whiff of perfume from their shore, and see some glinting of a glory upon the shining turrets of “the city that hath foundations.”
Bunyan’s stepping-stones are Scripture promises. There are other stepping-stones. Tennyson speaks of making “stepping-stones of our dead selves to higher things,” and many a man, learning self-respect through failure, has blessed God for these. Again, there are yet other stepping-stones. There is a certain valley in the North where a rude path, hardly distinguishable at the best of times, leads through dangerous moss-hags, right across the centre of a morass. In rainy weather the track would be wholly obliterated but for the little foot-prints of a band of children who go to school that way. Many a traveller has found his path safely through the Slough of Despond by following in the children’s footsteps. But after all there are no such stepping-stones as God’s promises. A white boulder is a poor enough object until you see it shining in a morass; then it means life and safety. So the promises of God, that have often seemed but wayside facts of no particular interest, shine suddenly with the very light of salvation when we see them in the Slough of Despond.2 [Note: John Kelman, The Road, i. 21.]
The Yea and the Amen
Chadwick (G. A.), Pilate’s Gift, 84.
Cox (S.), Expositions, iii. 97.
Mackenzie (R.), The Loom of Providence, 227.
Maclaren (A.), The Unchanging Christ, 82.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 1 and 2 Corinthians, 268.
Moule (H. C. G.), Christ is All, 97.
Somerville (A. N.), Precious Seed, 233.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xlvi. (1900), No. 2657.
Stewart (J.), Outlines of Discourses, 317.
Temple (F.), Rugby Sermons, i. 235.
Christian World Pulpit, lxxviii. 236 (L. Richard).
Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd. Ser., i. 283 (G. A. Chadwick).
Clerical Library: Outlines of Sermons for Special Occasions, 218 (J. Culross).
Treasury (New York), xx. 655 (O. Huckel).
Twentieth Century Pastor, xxx. (1912), 132 (F. B. Meyer).