Great Texts of the Bible
The Mission of the Son
When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.—Galatians 4:4-5.
1. It is not wonderful that God should love us and care for us, for, though we are so far from Him and so unworthy, He made us: and we know that “God is love.” But though it is natural that God should love the world that He made—though we might be quite sure that He would love it—the manner in which He showed His love to us, and the length to which He carried His love, is indeed past wonder. It is not merely His love, but the way in which His love took the world by surprise, that makes us rejoice.
This is the great wonder of the love of God—not that He loved mankind, but that He loved them beyond this world; not that He redeemed them, but that He came Himself to redeem them by becoming one of them. This was the awful surprise which burst upon the world when first it was told among men that their God and Maker had come down to earth, and had been born of a woman, and had lived a poor man’s life, and had died the death of a slave. No wonder that it startled Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian—startled some to love and adoration, startled others to unbelief and mockery. Some were drawn to repentance and a holy life, while others were driven away in shuddering fear at so awful a surprise, at so near a God. No wonder that those who did not receive it counted it as foolishness. It must be so unless one sees in it the inconceivable and infinite love of God. It must be a stumbling-block to every one who thinks what it is, that God should be made Man to give everlasting life to men, unless it is to him the spring and source of all that is deepest in his thankfulness, most serious in his faith, most transporting in his joy.
2. The most frequent form under which the great fact of the Incarnation is represented in Scripture is that of our text—“God sent his Son.” It is familiar on the lips of Jesus, but He also says that “God gave his Son.” One can feel a shade of difference in the two modes of expression—the former bringing rather to our thoughts the representative character of the Son as Messenger, and the latter going still deeper into the mystery of Godhead and bringing into view the love of the Father who spared not His Son but freely bestowed Him on men. Yet another word is used by Jesus Himself when He says, “I came forth from God,” and that expression brings into view the perfect willingness with which the Son accepted the mission, giving Himself, as well as being given by God. All three phrases express harmonious, though slightly differing, aspects of the same fact, as the facets of a diamond might flash into different colours; and all must be held fast if we would understand the unspeakable gift of God. Jesus was sent; Jesus was given; Jesus came. The mission from the Father, the love of the Father, the glad obedience of the Son, must ever be recognized as interpenetrating and all present in that supreme act.
Our text tells us:—
I. The Time at Which Christ Came into the World.
II. The Manner in Which Christ Came.
III. The End for Which Christ Came.
The Time When Christ Came
“When the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son.”
No one can study any of the great movements which have made history without observing that it had two conditions—there was the man, and he came at the time. Certain ideas had long been simmering in the popular mind, a train of circumstances had been laid, a multitude was ready to rise; but those were only forerunners, anticipations, auxiliaries. Nothing would have come to pass, and the morning glow would have faded into darkness, had not the secret yearning in many hearts taken shape in a single man. No one could have foretold his origin; no one can take credit for training him; no one can boast afterwards of having been his colleague. From behind the veil he comes—from a palace, or from a cottage, or from a college, or from a desert. Upon him is laid one burden, and he rests not till it is fulfilled; he is incalculable, concentrated, forceful, autocratic. Now he is the idol of the people; now he is their victim; he is ever independent of them, and ever their champion. They may not understand him, yet he expresses them; they may put him to death, yet he accomplishes their desire. These are the makers of the race through whom God intervenes in human history; in Jesus, the chief of them all, God became incarnate.
Between the man and his time there must be a certain correspondence, else he cannot have full course. Nothing is more pathetic than the experience of one who has arrived too soon, delivering a message which will be understood to-morrow, but winch to-day is a dream; attempting a work which to-morrow the world will welcome but which to-day it considers madness. He dies of a broken heart an hour before sunrise. Nothing is more ironical than the effort of one who has arrived too late, for whom there was an audience yesterday, for whose cause there was an opportunity; but now the audience has dispersed, and the field is taken; he has missed his tide, and for him another will not come. It may be said that Jesus was independent of time and environment. As a person, yes! who never could have been hid or altogether have failed. As a worker, no! for this were to ask an endless miracle. Had Jesus come in Samuel’s day, no one would have understood His Kingdom; had He come in the second century, there had been no opening for His Kingdom. There was a brief space when the life seed of Hebrew thought was ready for the sower, and the Roman Empire still remained a quiet field for the sowing. This was the fulness of the time, and Jesus appeared.
1. The fulness of the time.—This remarkable expression, “the fulness of the time,” is, with a slight variation, once used by St. Paul elsewhere: he calls the gospel, when writing to the Ephesians, “the dispensation of the fulness of times.” In both cases he means by “fulness” that which fulfils or brings to completion; the arrival of a given moment which completes an epoch; the hour which fills up its appointed measure and brings it to a close. It was in a like sense that our Lord and His Apostles used the word “hour” as marking a particular point in His life, determined in the counsels of God.
Such language is fully understood only when we bear in mind that that succession of events which, looking at it from our human point of view, we call time, is distributed upon a plan eternally present to the Divine Mind; and that particular persons or particular characters are assigned, in heaven, their predestinated place in this succession. “To everything,” says the Wise Man, “there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven.” All the lesser incidents of our lives are really arranged in a preconcerted order. There is a “fulness of the time” at which, and not before, we can understand particular truths or undertake particular duties, because for these truths or duties all that has preceded has been a preparation.
Now, our Lord’s arrival on the scene of human history corresponds with the general law so far as this, that He came when a course of preparation, conducted through previous ages, was complete. But He was not the product of His own or of any preceding age. What is true of great men who are only great men is not true of Him. They receive from their age as much as they give it; they embody and reflect its spirit; they seize upon the ideas which are in circulation, and, whether by speech or action, express them more vividly than do others; their generation does a great deal for them; it is pleased with them because it sees itself reflected in them; and their power with it is often in an inverse ratio to their real originality. With our Lord it was otherwise. He owed nothing to the time or to the country which witnessed His Advent; He had no contact with the world of Greek thought, or of Roman politics and administration. He borrowed Rabbinical language enough to make Himself intelligible; but no Rabbi could have said, or could have omitted to say, what He did. The preceding ages only prepared His way before Him, by forming the circumstances, the convictions, the moral experience of His countrymen and others; and thus a preceding period, marked in the counsels of God, had to be run out. At last its final hour had struck, and that hour was “the fulness of the time”; it was the moment of the Advent.
2. The historical preparation.—There can be no doubt what St. Paul had in his mind when he wrote of “the fulness of the time.” He was a Jew, and the story of his race, with all its vicissitudes, was ever present to him. He was a Roman, and all around were the evidences of the political supremacy of his nation. He was an educated man—a moralist, a logician, a philosopher—and could measure the intellectual strivings which had marked the closing years of the pre-Christian era.
Palestine, where the Saviour of Mankind was born, lay at the very centre of the then known world, and it has been picturesquely put that “the City of God is built at the confluence of three civilizations.” Each of these civilizations—Jewish, Greek, Roman—helped to complete what the Apostle called “the fulness of the time.” The Jews’ contribution was religious. Idolatry among them had, it is true, died out, but legalism and ceremonialism were in the ascendant, and, as always happens when we offer men’s souls husks, there was a demand among some of them for rich spiritual food. Devout minds were weary of the hair-splitting of the Rabbinical schools, of the mere mechanism of piety, of the “aimless circle of complicated rules,” and there were pious hearts that longed for purity and peace and a loftier revelation of the Divine. Above all, there was the expectation, throbbing intensely in the heart of every good Jew, of a Deliverer, an Emancipator, a Messiah, who, like another and a greater Judas Maccabæus, should at least free their race from the Roman dominion.
The exquisite literature and profound thought of the Greeks were eminently calculated to prepare the way for the diffusion of Christianity: for the ancient faiths could not survive the pitiless criticism of Greek philosophy. This criticism, though seldom made with the express intention of destroying the popular religion, necessarily exposed its crudities and immoralities; and gradually filtered through to the very lowest strata of society; but, like modern Rationalism, Greek philosophy failed to satisfy the higher aspirations of mankind. The Greeks provided a language which became the medium for the propaganda of the new religion; for, after the conquests of Alexander, Greek thought and the Greek language became the standard and medium of art, of commerce and literature, throughout three-fourths of the known world. Every Greek colony was a centre of Greek thought and influence, and diffused Greek ideas among the neighbouring peoples, and brought them into contact with the distinctive Hellenic conceptions. These colonies—especially through the Dispersion, or foreign colonies of the Jews—exerted a profound influence on the Jewish nation. Influenced by the literary activity of the Greek peoples and the surrounding courts, and impelled by their religious necessities, the Jewish settlers of Alexandria translated the Old Testament into Greek; and by the partial assimilation of the Greek philosophies and adaptation of their philosophical terminology to religious and theological use, prepared a suitable terminology for the accurate expression of the revelation of God in Christ in a form intelligible to the ancient world.
The expansion of the Roman Empire, whereby the whole civilized world passed under one government, provided the necessary political conditions for the diffusion of the religion of the Christ and the extension of the Kingdom of God. The Roman peace secured freedom of intercommunication; the Roman roads, by enabling rapid transit from one part of the Empire to another, provided the means of a rapid missionary propaganda, so that Ethiopia and Gaul, if not Britain, Babylon, and Spain, heard the first gentle whisperings of the gospel of the grace of God before the crucifixion of Christ was a thirty years’ old event.
Christ came to die for us. If He had come a hundred years earlier, the Roman State would have had no authority in Judæa, the world-power would have had no part in His condemnation, and the manner of His death would not have been that foretold. If He had come a hundred years later, the consenting of the Jewish religious authorities to His death would have been impossible; for their Temple was then destroyed and their nation exiled from the land of promise. The conditions of redemption, therefore, would not have been fulfilled. At the one point and I moment in history where the favourable religious, intellectual, and political conditions met, the Son of Man was born at Bethlehem.
3. Darkness before the dawn.—The Saviour of the world did not come a day too soon, for the decay and death of men’s religious beliefs had been accompanied by the destruction of morality, and at the birth of Christ the state of the world was deplorable in the extreme. In that enlightened age the moral sense of man had become completely blunted, and the national conscience was a thing of naught. “Immorality, sensuousness, grossness, gluttony, cruelty, bestiality, sordidness, sycophancy, untruthfulness, were,” says Professor Wenley, “never so rife at one time; and as if to render the situation even more gloomy, acts such as we should regard with utter revulsion amounting even to physical sickness, were perpetrated not in secret, but in the light of common day, and this without arousing anything in the nature of serious or unanimous protest.”
When Jesus came
The world was all at peace in utter wickedness.
Doubtless, the testimony borne by Juvenal, Tacitus, Suetonius, Persius, and Martial, to the abounding and shameless iniquity of their time, may be held as referring in the first place and for the most part to life in Rome and in those pleasure cities of the Empire which imitated or taught the capital. Among Rome’s hundred million subjects there would be, at all events in country districts, many whose lives were fair and worthy. And even in Rome itself there would be some of whom it could not be said that they loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. But the facts would seem to show that such were the exception which goes to prove the rule. Speaking broadly and generally, men and women had fallen away from the eternal laws of righteousness and were walking in the vanity of their minds, according to the whims of evil hearts, the promptings of sinful passions, or the suggestions of depraved and degrading inclinations.
The Incarnation is thus a predestined event in the furtherance of the redemption and education of humanity. It occurs in the “fulness of the time.” That is the primary fact. It is not an accident. It is part of, and fits into, a fully articulated plan of world-redemption. It closes an epoch. It opens a new era. It is not a separable accident, cut off from the rest of the life of the race; it is an integral part of it, with vital relations to its earliest manifestations, and to its latest, and to each and every experience of man between the first and the last. It is no alter-thought. It happens just when it ought to happen, when it was meant to happen, when it could take its place and do its work most effectively. The time receptacle, into which the centuries and millenniums had been poured, was full up to the precise moment when this great event should be added; and it was added just then.
Earth was waiting, spent and restless,
With a mingled hope and fear;
And the faithful few were sighing,
“Surely, Lord, the day is near;
The desire of all the nations,
It is time He should appear.”
Still the gods were in their temples,
But the ancient faith had fled;
And the priests stood by their altars
Only for a piece of bread;
And the Oracles were silent,
And the Prophets all were dead.
In the sacred courts of Zion,
Where the Lord had His abode,
There the money-changers trafficked,
And the sheep and oxen trod;
And the world, because of wisdom,
Knew not either Lord or God.
Then the spirit of the Highest
On a virgin meek came down,
And He burdened her with blessing,
And He pained her with renown;
For she bare the Lord’s Anointed
For His cross and for His crown.
Earth for Him had groaned and travailed,
Since the ages first began;
For in Him was hid the secret
That through all the ages ran—
Son of Mary, Son of David,
Son of God, and Son of Man 1:1 [Note: Walter C. Smith, Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life.]
The Manner in Which Christ Came
“Born of a woman, born under the law.”
There can be no question that in the text, as is shown by the juxtaposition of “sent” and “born,” and in all the New Testament references to the subject, the birth of Jesus is not regarded as the beginning of the being of the Son. The one lies far back in the depths of eternity and the mystery of the Divine nature, the other is a historical fact occurring in a definite place and at a dated moment. Before time was the Son was, delighting in the Father, and, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,” and He who in respect of His expression of the Father’s mind and will was the Word, was the Son in respect of the love that bound the Father and Him in one. Into the mysteries of that love and union no eyes can penetrate, but unless our faith lays hold of it, we know not the God whom Jesus has declared to us. The mysteries of that Divine union and communion lie beyond our reach, but well within the grasp of our faith, and the work of the Son in the world, ever since there was a world, is not obscurely declared to all who have eyes to see and hearts to understand.
1. The Divine and the human.—The sending of the Son took effect in the birth of Jesus, and the Apostle puts it under two forms, both of which are plainly designed to present Christ’s manhood as His full identification of Himself with us. The Son of God became the son of a woman; from His mother He drew a true and complete humanity in body and soul. The humanity which He received was sufficiently kindred with the Divinity which received it to make it possible that the one should dwell in the other and be one person. As born of a woman the Son of God took upon Himself all human experiences, became capable of sharing our pure emotions, wept our tears, partook of our joys, hoped and feared as we do, was subject to our changes, grew as we grew, and in everything but sin was a man amongst men.
What does this mean but that, when God gave His supreme revelation of His own essential nature in its relation to humanity, He came not as an alien to our planet but as a native? Not in angelic form, robed in the brightness of a far-away mystery, lifted high in His temple—not so did He come; but as a Man, as a definite individual, along a recognized line of descent, with the marks of the village on His face and form, one of the common people, a Hebrew of the first century. That, to St. Paul, was the outstanding and amazing mystery of the Incarnation—that there should be so little outward mystery about it; and the outstanding wonder of it was that through its common everyday human aspect there shone forth from the heart of it an inner mystery of quickening light and power which made life glorious for all who accepted it as God’s truth for them.
2. Born under law.—The Incarnation is the revelation of the binding force of natural law, to the necessities of which God Himself yields up His Son. It is the loud proclamation of the deference God pays to that Nature which is His own creation. Where, indeed, can we learn more emphatically than from the cross of Christ the validity, the sanctity of those natural conditions which God, of His own will, obeyed, even to the death of His Son, rather than break?
Christ was under law in that the will of God dominated His life, but He was not so under it as we are on whom its precepts often press as an unwelcome obligation, and who know the weight of guilt and condemnation. If there is any one characteristic of Jesus more conspicuous than another it is the absence in Him of any consciousness of deficiency in His obedience to law, and yet that absence does not in the smallest degree infringe on His claim to be “meek and lowly in heart.” “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” would have been from any other man a defiance that would have provoked a crushing answer if it had not been taken as a proof of hopeless ignorance of self; but when Christ asks the question, the world is silent. The silence has been all but unbroken for nineteen hundred years, and of all the busy and often unfriendly eyes that have been occupied with Him and the hostile pens that have been eager to say something new about Him, none has discovered a flaw, or dared to “hint a fault.”
That which is really startling in the birth and life of Christ is not the extent of its miraculous display, but its strange and severe limitation; not in the degree to which He exercised His Godhead, but in the degree to which He emptied Himself of it. That is what bewilders and astounds us far more than any miracle. Men talk as if we Christians were brimming with a childish and reckless exuberance of supernaturalism. How distorted a misconception! Is not the wonder all the other way? Is it not amazing that a creed which starts with such tremendous assertions about the Person of its Founder should keep itself so well in hand, so rigidly under control, that its main force is spent in exhibiting the loyalty with which this only-begotten Son of God submitted to every ordinance of man and of nature, how He bent Himself down to the hard and narrow frontiers of His natural lot? For one man who is disturbed by the miracles we preach, there are twenty who are upset by the rigorous absence of miracle from our account of salvation. “Why this slow and painful dealing with sin and with sorrow?” they ask impatiently. “Why does not God act with greater freedom? Why does He not lay bare His holy arm? Why this roundabout method of redemption? Why this cruel insistence on His Son’s suffering and death? Why give Him over to the hour of darkness? Why not take away the bitter cup? Why not rend the heavens and come down?” We know but too well the appeal, the passion, the misery of those questions!1 [Note: H. Scott Holland.]
3. The veiled glory.—Christ was the revelation of God in the sphere of time and sense. The splendour of Jehovah was veiled by the seamless robe; under the mechanism of frail flesh throbbed the energy which built the world; the gentle tones of the voice unheard in the streets disguised the accents of the thunder; and beneath the weakness which slept, fainted, and expired was hidden the might of Omnipotence. That Christ was God, that He became man, possessing a true human body and a true human soul, is the distinct teaching of the evangelic narrative. God manifests Himself in nature, history, and conscience; but here is a supreme, personal, and unique revelation of Himself—the Divine clothing Himself with the human that He might redeem the human.
Is it possible for the Infinite God to become expressed in human form? Is not the idea self-contradictory? Certainly it is if we think of the Infinite as physical or as quantitative. But if we think of it as spiritual and qualitative—of the ethical Infinite, which God is—of perfect righteousness and love, and believe that the human personality is in the image of the Divine, we can see that the essential life of God can be as fully expressed in a human as in any conceivable form.
If there is nothing derogatory to the honour of God in His dwelling within the physical universe, and in manifesting Himself through suns and stars, hills and seas, forests and flowers, there cannot be anything contrary to the Divine glory in assuming that He should take up His special abode in a human body, and reveal Himself through its marvellous organs. There seems, indeed, no shrine so fitting for the Divine indwelling and manifestation as a pure human body. “The human face divine” can express more than a sun, the rounded forehead speak more than arched skies, the eyes shine out deeper things than stars, the lip reveal secrets which winds and waves can never utter, and the actions of human life are rich in suggestion hidden from the foundations of the world. The human body is less bright than the heavens, less large than the earth, but, to utter things deep and high, a finer organ than either.
After referring to man being fearfully and wonderfully made—the body “the tent-like habitation in which he journeyed through the wilderness which lay between the two eternities,”—Dr. Robertson pointed out the fitness of the comparison of the human body to a house or temple; spoke of its flesh-built walls being covered with skin, richly tapestried; he described it as colonnaded with bones, fitted with a frame-work, vault-like, marble white, that bore up, and over-arched the chambers of the hidden life within, and with conduits that sent forth red streams which ebbed and flowed from the heart’s cistern, and conduits of the subtle nerves, strung from side to side, from wall to wall, from the lowest basement to the loftiest pinnacle, along which telegraphic messages were sent with more than lightning speed. It was, too, a house in motion, and, pertaining to it, what dignity, what majesty! how exquisite in form and symmetry! so delicate and tender, like David’s harp of many strings, like the æolian lyre, vibrating to the wind’s slightest breath.1 [Note: A. Guthrie, Robertson of Irvine, 321.]
Thou inmost, ultimate
Council of judgment, palace of decrees,
Where the high senses hold their spiritual state,
Sued by earth’s embassies,
And sign, approve, accept, conceive, create;
Create—thy senses close
With the world’s pleas. The random odours reach
Their sweetness in the place of thy repose,
Upon thy tongue the peach,
And in thy nostrils breathes the breathing rose.
To thee, secluded one,
The dark vibrations of the sightless skies,
The lovely inexplicit colours run;
The light gropes for those eyes.
O thou august! thou dost command the sun.
Music, all dumb, hath trod
Into thine ear her one effectual way;
And fire and cold approach to gain thy nod,
Where thou call’st up the day,
Where thou awaitest the appeal of God.1 [Note: Alice Meynell, Poems, 111.]
The End for Which Christ Came
“That he might redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
In how sharp a contrast the Divine method of reform, of revolution, stands to the declaration of the greatest of the idealists in the days before Christ. Plato, as he sorrowfully reviewed the actual Athens with which he found himself encircled, pronounced, in his prophetic work on human society, that its true reformer and saviour would be known by this mark—that he would demand for himself “a clean canvas” before he consented to begin. He could do nothing unless he were allowed to remove from out of the influence and tradition of their home a whole generation of children; only thus could he obtain the clean canvas he needed. If only the weary burden of our inherited complication could be thus freely cast off! If only we could lay hands, in the violence of love, on the little children, and sweep them off into some new Garden of Eden! If only we could run a sharp dividing knife between us and the rueful past! Surely there is in that demand a deep and touching pathos which stirs us into tender admiration of the noble-hearted genius who made it. But its pathos must not disguise from us that it is a confession of failure, of impotence, of despair. The reformer who asks first for a clean canvas to begin upon is a reformer who refuses to grapple with his task, refuses to face his facts. He condemns himself by making the demand; for what is asked of him is that he should help us to better the life that now is, the situation in which he and we find ourselves. We do not need him to tell us how well he could construct another form of life under changed conditions. No; it is the very note of all the old failure to redeem the world by philosophy which is struck in the sad Platonic phrase, “Give me but the children—give me a clean canvas!”
How different is the view of the possibilities of human nature presented by St. Paul, who tells how the Son of God assumes our human nature, takes to Himself perfect manhood, which He exalts and glorifies, through which He manifests the life of God, showing that Divine works may be wrought in it, that God can be perfectly pleased by the service which it renders, and in His own exaltation to the right hand of God, lifting up that nature to the same place for evermore. And thus He not merely affirms such a union to be possible, but in His own Person realizes it to the uttermost, that so it may in its measure be realized in all whom He had made His brethren—the Son of God becoming also Son of man, that the sons of men might in their turn become sons of God.
Not only is Christ the Ideal Man, not only is He the great Redeemer from sin, but in Him the gift of sonship is communicated to God’s elect, since He is the one in whom we are born unto God. And it is this gift of sonship that is the highest of the gifts of grace communicated to us in Christ Jesus. It is more than the gift of redemption. God who looks on us, creatures born of Adam and sunk in sin, might have restored to us Adam’s forfeited position through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. That were to redeem us; but He adds something more, Havingredeemed, He gives to us “the adoption of sons,” and so in this gift of sonship the hunger of humanity is satisfied as it is brought home to God.
1. Adoption of sons.—Adoption was essentially a Roman and not a Jewish custom. The law of Moses nowhere recognizes it, and the Jews had no word to express it. But with the Romans it was an everyday occurrence for a person having no children of his own to adopt as his son one born of other parents. Adoption was a formal act, effected either by the process named adrogatio, when the person to be adopted was independent of his parent, or by adoptio, specifically so called, when in the power of his parent. The effect of it was that the adopted child was entitled to the name and sacra privata of his new father, and ranked as his heir-at-law; while the father on his part was entitled to the property of the son, and exercised towards him all the rights and privileges of a father. In short, the relationship was to all intents and purposes the same as existed between a natural father and son.
It is this that was in the Apostle’s mind when he spoke of υἱοθεσίαν enjoyed by Christians. The word occurs nowhere in the LXX., nor is it used by any writer of the New Testament except St. Paul, who has actually been supposed to have first framed the word for his own use. We need not perhaps go quite so far as to assert this, although it appears to be a fact that the word is not found in any earlier Greek writer whose works still exist. It is, however, likely to have been employed as the nearest equivalent to adoptio by those Greek teachers from whom we suppose the Apostle to have learnt the elements of law; and whatever we may think of the history of the word, there can be little doubt that it was the Roman custom that supplied the Apostle with the illustration which he develops most fully in his Epistle to the Roman Christians.
“That we might receive the adoption of sons,” really embraces everything else. All the benefits of redemption are here contained. If we have “the adoption of sons,” we have everything. What can a child in a father’s house have more than his full place there? His position, his privileges, his prospects are as high as they can be. If a father who is good and rich and influential gives his children a happy home under his roof-tree and treats them as children in all respects, there can be no more that he can do for them—there is no more that would be good for them to receive. If this be so in the human relationship must it not be yet more so as between God and His people? If He is the Father, and I am the child, then there is nothing between me and infinite wealth and goodness and blessedness. If He is my Father, He can give me everything I need. If I am His child, I can receive His benefaction, up to the limits of my nature and circumstances.
2. A mystery of light.—The Son had become flesh that they who dwell in the flesh might rise to be sons, but the Son stands alone even in the midst of His identification with us, and of the great results which follow for us from it. He is the Son by nature; we are sons by adoption. He became man that we might share in the possession of God.
There are many mysteries—deep, unsolved mysteries—behind the word Incarnation. There are mysteries of darkness, and there are mysteries of light, and this is a mystery of light, for it has light at its core. And we must not lose the mystery in the light, nor the light in the mystery. As Browning:
I say the acknowledgment of God in Christ,
Acccpted by the reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth or out of it.
That is to say, if this is true then is life a great thing, with a Divine meaning in it and a Divine end for it. The horizon of our nature lifts, and spreads out and takes in heaven itself within its scope. Forgiveness becomes a mighty fact and a mighty power. Duty takes on a warmer look; trouble ceases to be a real calamity; death loses its ultimate terror; immortality becomes a sure hope. The Incarnation transfigures the universe for all who can really accept it in its fullest implications. And therefore let us live in the light of this great fact—that in Jesus Christ God has come to us, and spoken with us, and offered Himself for us and to us, that we may offer ourselves to Him, and so be filled with His fulness. Let its light shine on our daily path. Let its glory pierce our darkest moments. Let its grace meet all our need. Let its hope brighten all our shadows. “Great is the mystery” of religion, that God should become human; but greater its inspiration, for its end is that man might become Divine.
She was within a very little of the end, we thought, even then while it was still possible to carry her into the garden and lay her in the shelter of her tree, where, the last time but one that she was out, she wrote the second paper of this part. She thought so herself, as her meditation shows. “I feel not so much desire for the beauty to come,” she says, “as a great longing to open my eyes a little wider during the time which remains to me in this beautiful world of God’s making where each moment tells its own tale of active, progressive life in which there is no undoing. Nature knows naught of the web of Penelope, that acme of anxious pathetic waiting, but goes steadily on in ever widening circle towards the fulfilment of the mystery of God. There are, I take it, two master keys to the secrets of the universe, viewed sub specie œternitatis, the Incarnation of God, and the Personality of Man: with these it is true for us as for the pantheistic little man of contemptible speech, that ‘all things are ours,’ yea, even unto the third heaven.”1 [Note: Michael Fairless: Her Life and Writings, 84.]
The world is a bubble, and Death shall die:
Love shines longer than lights in the sky.
The moon is a cinder; the sun grows old:
Love’s fire only shall never wax cold.
The stars burn out, but the lamp of Love
Illumines for ever the Blessed above.
Love is the soul of the song they sing
Through the day that fears not an evening.
The song of their love shall for ever resound
In the ears of the Love whom their God hath crowned.
Crowned in heaven is the Love who came
For love of the loveless to sorrow and shame.
Deathless in heaven is the Love who died;
Adored, whom Caiaphas crucified.
Here by His love is His Church led forth
From the east and west, from the south and north,
Ever a pilgrim, through snow, through heat,
Through life, through death, till she kiss Love’s feet—
Yea, my God, till her glad eyes see
Love, the Lord of Eternity!1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick, Poems Chiefly Sacred, 8.]