And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:…
Christian faith is a mass of contradictions and a glorious tissue of harmony. It is easy to make it seem ridiculous to common sense. But it is fatal for religion to appeal to common sense. Our faith is faith in a Christ who is and who is not, in a dead man who is our living God, in one who was humiliated into eternal exaltation, who in extremest weakness realised and revealed the supreme power of heaven and earth. What is this faith in this Christ? It is faith —
1. In a historic Christ.
2. In a living Christ.
3. In a Christ personal to each of us.
1. In a historic Christ. There was such a man. The story of Him is not an invention. Even if it were conceded that everything told of Him is not literally true, He was a reality. His figure is real and palpable in history. Moreover, this man is prolonged into posterity. He has had a vast influence in history. But no serious mind or conscience either denies or deplores that influence. To deplore Christ is to renounce the right to moral consideration. Even if He is not the Redeemer, He has been a vast blessing. He deserves more attention and gratitude than Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Newton, or any of the heroes of culture and civilisation. He has done more for the race, for humanity as humanity. None of the most precious boons of civilisation would have been here to-day without Christianity, without Christ. He came in and raised a new civilisation out of the wreck of the old. Especially is this so with the achievements of love and their growth. Nobody has ever exerted such an influence, whether you like it or whether you do not. And it is an effect produced by one who went in the face of human nature. He gave effect, it is true, to certain vast, deep human tendencies, but so far as human prejudices and tastes go, He went in their teeth. What a personality! You cannot get more out than was in. If so much has been got out, how much must there have been in that miraculous soul! And how much remains. All this may be recognised by a dead faith, a poor but honest faith, a faith merely historic and intelligent, as a mere matter of observation. But this is hardly faith. It is not living faith. It is not the kind of response Christ died to evoke. On some who study Christ as a mere figure in history there dawns another kind of influence from Him. They begin as historians, as critics; they end as sympathisers, advocates, enthusiasts. They came to embalm Him with their spices, and they stay to worship and return to confess. They can no more be impartial, as if it were Napoleon, Socrates. The ordinary able man may merely discuss Him. But no human-hearted man, no man of soul, can really be impartial in dealing with Christ. Our sympathies are engaged, captured, preoccupied. The historic Christ stirs in humane minds a faith, a response, which makes mere criticism difficult or impossible. His beauty, terror, dignity, and invincibility tell. His love, mercy, faithfulness master us. His indomitable grace survives death and rises in us. He becomes an imaginative ideal, and then a moral imperative. His principle of Divine Sonship becomes the base of a new religion. But this is a principle which is inseparable from His Person. But many separate the two, and are at a stage at which they answer to His principle more than to His Person. They think more of His present legacy than of His present life. Now these have no dead faith. Yet they have not a living faith. "They are between two worlds: one dead, the other powerless to be born." They are much more than critics and historians. But they are not yet the property of Christ, slaves like Paul, devotees like John. They believe in the Christ that lived and was dead. But they do not believe in the absolute Victor, Redeemer, and King, in the Christ that liveth for evermore, with the keys of hell and death. A living faith is not mere sympathy with a historic Christ.
2. When we speak of the difference between a dead faith and a living, what we really mean is a difference in the object of our faith more than the kind. The object determines the kind. Living faith is faith in a living Christ. It is only a living Christ that calls out a living faith. Do not fret yourself examining your faith, trying its limbs, feeling its pulse, watching its colour, measuring its work. See rather that it is set on a living Christ. Care for that Christ, and He will care for your faith. Realise a living Christ, and He will produce in you a living faith, He acts in many ways. He acts by His historic character, and He acts by His historic Church. But still more He acts by His Eternal Person and Holy Ghost. This living Lord is invisible, invincible, and immortal; and at the last irresistible; He acts not only on the large course of human events, but directly on living souls and wills, whether humble or refractory; and He rejoices alike in the love of His Father and the love of His redeemed, and in the communion of both. To realise this is more than faith in a historic Christ. Because living faith is faith in a living Christ. If He is not living, faith must dwindle and die. Do you think you can feed living faith on a dead Christ? What I could living faith go on in a God who could let such an one as Christ die, who could disappoint the confident faith of Christ Himself that God would raise Him up to glorious life? If He is not the living, reigning Christ, He is a Christ growing weaker as the ages move on, and He recedes into the past. If He be not a living Christ, then every generation makes His influence more indirect. More souls are interposed between our souls and Him, and absorb His limited light. The world moves on and forgets Him, moves on and leaves Him behind, moves on and outgrows Him. He becomes chiefly a scholar's Christ. Well, this is a frame of mind fatal at least to Christ's place as Redeemer. It may esteem Him as a Benefactor, but it displaces Him as Redeemer. It clears the ground for a totally new religion. It is not simply a redemption we need. If Christ had come to perform a certain work of redemption, and then had ceased to be, then we should have had in Him neither the redemption nor salvation that we need. We need a living Redeemer to take each one of us to God, to be for every one to-day all that He could have been upon earth to any one in that great yesterday, and to be for ever what He is to-day. We need Him as the human conscience of God to come to our rescue against our conscience. If we were left alone with our conscience it would do more, on the whole, to overwhelm us than to redeem us or support us. We need some surety more sure and merciful and universal than our conscience. We need something more worthy than our natural moral manhood. That is our need of a Redeemer, of a living, human Redeemer, a moral owner and King, a living Christ, a Lord and Master more immortal than ourselves, and the root of all that makes our immortality other than a burden. Yes, to lose the living Christ is to lose the living God. Whatever enfeebles the hold of Christ on the world relaxes its sense of God. It is faith in Christ that has kept belief in a God from dying out in the world. It is never the arguments of the thinkers or the intuitions of the saints that have done that. If Christ grow distant and dim, the sense of God fades from the soul and the power of God decays from life. And what happens then? We lose faith in man — in each other, and in ourselves. The soul that in its own strength defies God or dismisses Him from life, has taken the greatest step to losing faith in itself. How is that? It is thus. What I say is, lose the living God and you lose your own soul, your very self-confidence. And it is thus. Make your God not a living God, but a force, a blind, heartless power, or even an irresponsive idea, and you make Him something your heart and will can have no intercourse with. Mediator and Redeemer! must we not go farther even than that with an everlasting Christ? Yes, one step farther. Intercessor! Steward and Key-bearer of the spiritual world! "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." It is an everlasting redemption, and therefore it is a ceaseless intercession. The intercession of Christ is simply the prolonged energy of His redeeming work. The soul of atonement is prayer. The standing relation of Christ to God is prayer. The perpetual energy of His spirit is prayer. It is the risen Redeemer that has the keys of the world unseen — the keys which admit it to history as well as open it to a man. The key of the unseen is prayer. That is the energy of the will which opens both the soul to the kingdom and the kingdom to his soul. But never our prayer. It is a prayer for us, not by us. It is Christ the Intercessor that has the key of the unseen — to deliver from death, to deliver into fulness of spiritual life. The Redeemer would be less than Eternal if He were not Intercessor. The living Christ could not live and not redeem, not intercede. Redemption would be a mere act in time if it were not prolonged as the native and congenial energy of the Redeemer's soul in the intercession of eternity. The priestly atonement of Christ was final, but it was final in the sense of working incessantly on, not only in its echoes and results with us, but in the self-sustained energies of His own Almighty and Immortal Spirit. This is the priesthood which is the end of priesthood, and its consummation the satisfaction of the priestly idea.
3. Faith in Christ is faith in Christ personal to us. We must have the historic Christ and more. We must have the living Christ. But a living Christ who only ruled His kingdom in the unseen by general laws would be no sufficient Saviour. He must be personal to us. He must be our Saviour, in our situation, oar needs, loves, shames, sins. He must not only live, but mingle with our lives. He must charge Himself with our souls. We believe in the Holy Ghost. We have in Christ as the Spirit, the Sacrificer of our single lives, the Reader of our hearts, the Helper of our most private straits, the Inspirer of our most deep and sacred confessions. That is the Christ we need, and, thank God for His unspeakable gift, that is the Christ we have.
(P. T. Forsyth, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: