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:…
I. Every age has its moral as well as its social and political tastes; and REVERENCE IS NOT ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR VIRTUES OF THE PRESENT DAY. Many a man who would be anxious to be considered brave, or truthful, or even patient and benevolent, would not be altogether pleased to hear himself described as a reverent man. Reverence he imagines to be the temper of mind which readily crouches down to the falsehood which it dares not confront; which is easy-going, soft, feeble, passive. Reverence, he thinks, lives in the past, lives in the unreal, lives in sentiment; lives for the sake of existing institutions, good or bad. It is naturally fostered by their advocates, while it is the foe of active virtue in all its forms. This idea of reverence is entertained by many persons who are in no degree responsible for the shape it takes, and who are quite sincere in entertaining it. They do but take in and accept and act on judgments which are floating in the mental atmosphere which they breathe. But, of course, originally, this atmosphere has been made what it is by various contributors and experimentalists. And among these have been some who knew quite well that, if you want to get rid of a doctrine or a virtue, the best way is boldly to caricature it. You ask me, What is reverence? If we must attempt a definition, it is not easy to improve upon the saying that it is the sincere, the practical recognition of greatness. And, when speaking thus, let us take greatness in its widest sense. The Highest Greatness, the Greatness from which all other greatness proceeds, is entitled to the deepest reverence. If the recognition of such greatness is to be not merely adequate but sincere, it will take unwonted forms, and make exacting demands upon us. Certainly, reverence is not the homage which weak minds pay to acceptable fictions. It would not be a virtue if it were. All virtue is based on truth. Reverence is the sense of truth put in practice. Nor is reverence the foe of energy. We can only imitate with a good conscience that which we revere; and reverence stimulates the energy of imitation. Accordingly, on this very account, reverence of a worthy object, the sincere recognition of real greatness is not an excellence which may be dropped or taken up at pleasure. It is a necessary virtue, whether for a man or for a society. The man without reverence is the man who can see in God's universe no greatness which transcends himself. The really pitiable thing is to revere nothing. Thoughtful Americans have said that, amid all the material greatness of their country — and it is sufficiently astonishing — their gravest anxiety for her future is caused by the absence of reverence among all classes of her people; the absence of any sincere recognition of a greatness which may ennoble its reverers.
II. Reverence, then, is by no means only or chiefly an ecclesiastical virtue; it is necessary to the perfection of man as man, and to the well-being of society. But REVERENCE IS PECULIARLY A CREATION OF RELIGION. And if we ask why religion is thus the teacher and the Church the school of reverence, the answer is, Because religion unveils before the soul of man a Greatness compared with which all human greatness is insignificance itself. To the eye of religious faith, over every life, every character, every institution, every ideal, there is inscribed, "God alone is great." If the Christian's eye resin reverently upon an excellence, whether of saint, or office, or institution, beneath His throne, it is not as on something satisfying or final: it is as on an emanation from the Source of greatness. When reverence is in the immediate presence of God, it takes a new form, or it adopts a new expression. It offers that which it offers to none other or less than God. It offers adoration. The least that reverence can do in the presence of boundless Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, is to prostrate before Him every created faculty. For close contact with God produces on the soul of man, first of all, an impression of awe; and this impression is deep in exact proportion to the closeness of the contact. When reverence for God is rooted in the soul, the soul sees God in all that reflects and represents Him on earth, and yields it for His sake appropriate recognition. The father, representing His parental authority; the mother, reflecting His tender love; the powers that be in the State, ordained by God as His ministers; pastors of His Church, to whom He has said, "He that despiseth you despiseth Me"; great and good men, whether in past ages or our contemporaries; the Bible, which embodies for all time His revelation of Himself and His will concerning us; the laws of the natural world, when they are really ascertained, as being His modes of working; the sacraments, as channels of His grace, or veils of His presence; all that belongs to the public worship of Christ in His temples here on earth — these are objects of Christian reverence because they are inseparable from Him Who is the Only Great. Conclusion:
1. Reverence is a test, a measure of faith. We do not see God with our bodily eyes: faith is a second sight which does see Him. If men see God, they will behave accordingly. Apply this to behaviour in a church. But if He is with us, if His presence explains and justifies all that is said and sung, must it not follow that whatever expresses our feeling of lowly awe at the nearness of the Most Holy, before whom His angels veil their faces, is but the common sense of the occasion. No one could for long lounge back in an easy chair if moved by a sense of burning indignation; no one with tender affection in his heart could long maintain an expression of countenance which implied that he was entirely out of temper. He would be conscious that the contrast was ridiculous. In the same way, if a man sees God, he will behave as it is natural to behave in the presence of the Almighty. He will be too absorbed to look about at his fellow-worshippers; too much alive to the greatness and awfulness of God to care what others think about himself: he will yield to those instinctive expressions of reverence which the Creator has implanted in us by nature and refined and heightened by grace; and he will find that the reverence of the soul is best secured when the body, its companion and instrument, is reverent also.
2. Reverence begins from within. It cannot be learned as a code of outward conduct. To act and speak reverently, a man must feel reverently; and if he is to feel reverently, he must see our Lord. If he feels what it is to be in God's presence, to speak to Him, to ask Him to do this or that, to promise Him to attempt this or that; if he has any idea of the meaning of these solemn acts of the soul, the outward proprieties will follow.
3. Lastly, reverence, the deepest, the truest, is perfectly compatible with love. In sober earnest, reverence is the salt which preserves the purity of affection, without impairing its intensity. We are so framed that we can only love for long that which we heartily respect. The passion which is lavished for a few hours upon an object which does not deserve respect is unworthy of the sacred name of love. And God, when He asks the best love of our hearts, would preserve it from corruption by requiring also the safeguard of reverence.
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: