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:…
It is not alone the first beginnings of religion that are full of fear. So long as love is imperfect, there is room for torment. The thing that is unknown, yet known to be, will always be more or less formidable. When it is known as immeasurably greater than we, and as having claims and making demands upon us, the more vaguely these are apprehended, the more room is there for anxiety; and when the conscience is not clear, this anxiety may well mount to terror. In him who does not know God, and must be anything but satisfied with himself, fear towards God is as reasonable as it is natural, and serves powerfully towards the development of his true humanity. Until love, which is the truth towards God, is able to cast out fear, it is well that fear should hold; it is a bond, however poor, between that which is and that which creates — a bond that must be broken, but a bond that can be broken only by the tightening of an infinitely closer bond. God being what He is, a God who loves righteousness, a God who, that His creature might not die of ignorance, died as much as a God could die, and that is Divinely more than man can die, to give him Himself; such a God, I say, may well look fearful from afar to the creature who recognises in himself no imperative good, who fears only suffering, and has no aspiration, only wretched ambition! But in proportion as such a creature comes nearer, grows towards Him in and for whose likeness he was begun; in proportion, that is, as the eternal right begins to disclose itself to him; in proportion, I do not say as he sees these things, but as he nears the possibility of seeing them, will his terror at the God of his life abate; though far indeed from surmising the bliss that awaits him, he is drawing more nigh to the goal of his nature, the central secret joy of sonship to a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, does nothing He would not permit in His creature, demands nothing of His creature He would not do Himself. When John saw the glory of the Son of Man, he fell at His feet as one dead. In what way John saw Him, whether in what we vaguely call a vision, or in as human a way as when ha leaned back on His bosom and looked up in His face, I do not now care to ask: it would take all glorious shapes of humanity to reveal Jesus, and He knew the right way to show Himself to John. Why, then, was John overcome with terror? No glory even of God should breed terror; when a child of God is afraid, it is a sign that the word "Father" is not yet freely fashioned by the child's spiritual mouth. The glory can breed terror only in him who is capable of being terrified by it; while he is such it is well the terror should be bred and maintained, until the man seek refuge from it in the only place where it is not — in the bosom of the glory. Why, then, was John afraid? Why did the servant of the Lord fall at His feet as one dead? Joy to us that he did, for the words that follow — surely no phantasmic outcome of uncertain vision or blinding terror! They bear best sign of their source: however given to his ears, they must be from the heart of our great Brother, the one Man, Christ Jesus, Divinely human! It was still and only the imperfection of the disciple, unfinished in faith, so unfinished in everything a man needs, that was the cause of his terror. Endless must be our terror, until we come heart to heart with the fire. core of the universe, the first and the last and the Living One! But oh, the joy to be told, by Power Himself, the first and the last, the Living One — told what we can indeed then see must be true, but which we are so slow to believe — that the cure for trembling is the presence of Power; that fear cannot stand before Strength; that the visible God is the destruction of death; that the one and only safety in the universe is the perfect nearness of the Living One! God is being; death is nowhere! What a thing to be taught by the very mouth of Him who knows! Had John been as close in spirit to the Son of Man as he had been in bodily presence, he would have indeed fallen at His feet, but not as one dead — as one too full of joy to stand before the life that was feeding his; he would have fallen, but not to lie there senseless with awe the most holy; he would have fallen to embrace and kiss the feet of Him who had now a second time, as With a resurrection from above, arisen before him, in yet heavenlier plenitude of glory.
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: