The Glory of Christ—Beheld!
"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth"—John 1:14.
I CANNOT REFRAIN from mentioning an incident connected with the perusal of the first chapter of John. I suppose there is not a passage in God's Word which has not at some time or other been blessed to the conversion of a soul. Even the fifth chapter of Genesis, which is so uninteresting to the most of readers, because the verses continually end, "And he died," "And he died," "And he died," has been blessed to one, who from the reiteration of the fact that men who lived nine hundred years nevertheless died, was led to think of his own death. Now, the first chapter of John was the means of the conversion of a celebrated writer, Junius the younger, one who did good service in the Church. His father, perceiving him to be an ungodly young man, put in his way as much as possible the New Testament, and the following is an extract from Junius's account of his own life. "My father, who was frequently reading the New Testament, and had long observed with grief the progress I had made in infidelity, had put that book in my way in his library, in order to attract my attention, if it might please God to bless his design, though without giving me the least intimation of it. Here, therefore, I unwittingly opened the New Testament thus providentially laid before me. At the very first view, although I was deeply engaged in other thoughts, that grand chapter of the evangelist and apostle presented itself to me—'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.' I read part of the chapter, and was so greeted that I instantly became struck with the divinity of the argument, and the majesty and authority of the composition, as infinitely surpassing the highest flights of human eloquence. My body shuddered; my mind was in amazement, and I was so agitated the whole day that I scarcely knew who I was; nor did the agitation cease, but continued till it was at last soothed by a humble faith in him who was made flesh and dwelt among us."
One of the Platonic philosophers, who considered all Christian writers to be but barbarians, nevertheless said of the first chapter of John, "This barbarian hath comprised more stupendous stuff in three lines, than we have done in all our voluminous discourses." And we will to this day glory in the power of the Holy Spirit, that an unlearned and ignorant man like John, the son of Zebedee the fisherman, should be enabled to write a chapter which excels not only the highest flight of eloquence, but the greatest divings of philosophy.
But now for the verse before us. I think, if you look attentively at it, and if you are in some slender measure acquainted with the original, you will perceive that John here compares Christ to that which was the greatest glory of the Jewish Church. Let me read it, giving another translation: "The Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Now, you remember that in the Jewish Church its greatest glory was that God tabernacled in its midst: not the tent of Moses, not the various pavilions of the princes of the twelve tribes, but the humble tabernacle in which God dwelt, was the boast of Israel. They had the king himself in the midst of them, a present God in their midst. The tabernacle was a tent to which men went when they would commune with God, and it was the spot to which God came manifestly when he would commune with man. To use Matthew Henry's words, it was the "trysting place" between the Creator and the worshipper. Here they met each other through the slaughter of the bullock and the lamb, and there was reconciliation between them twain. Now, Christ's human flesh was God's tabernacle, and it is in Christ that God meets with man, and in Christ that man hath dealings with God. The Jew of old went to God's tent, in the center of the camp, if he would worship: we come to Christ if we would pay our homage. If the Jew would be released from ceremonial uncleanness, after he had performed the rites, he went up to the sanctuary of his God, that he might feel again that there was peace between God and his soul; and we, having been washed in the precious blood of Christ, have access with boldness unto God, even the Father through Christ, who is our tabernacle and the tabernacle of God among men.
Now let us draw the parallel a little further. The greatest glory of the tabernacle itself was the most holy place. In the most holy place there stood the ark of the covenant, bearing its golden lid called the mercy-seat. Over the mercy-seat stood the cherubim, whose wings met each other, and beneath the wings of the cherubim there was a bright light, known to the Hebrew believer by the name of the Shekinah. That light represented the presence of God. Immediately above that light there might be seen at night a pillar of fire, and by day a spiral column of cloud rose from it, which no doubt expanded itself into one vast cloud, which covered all the camp, and shielded all the Israelites from the blaze of the broiling sun. The glory of the tabernacles, I say, was the Shekinah. What does our text say? Jesus Christ was God's tabernacle, and "we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." Jesus is not the tabernacle without the glory; he is not as the temple when the voice was heard with the rushing of winds before the siege of Jerusalem, crying, "Arise, let us go hence," but it was a temple in which God himself dwelt after a special manner; "for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
The apostle however points to a surpassing excellence in Christ the tabernacle, by which he wondrously excels that of the Jewish Church. "Full of grace and truth." The Jewish tabernacle was rather full of law than full of grace. It is true there were in its rites and ceremonies, foreshadowings of grace, but still in repeated sacrifice there was renewed remembrance of sin, and a man had first to be obedient to the law of ceremonies, before he could have access to the tabernacle at all: but Christ is full of grace—not a little of it, but abundance of it is treasured up in him. The tabernacle of old was not full of truth, but full of image, and shadow, and symbol, and picture; but Christ is full of substance; he is not the picture, but the reality; he is not the shadow, but the substance. Herein, O believer, do thou rejoice with joy unspeakable for thou comest unto Christ, the real tabernacle of God. Thou comest unto him who is full of the glory of the Father; and thou comest unto one in whom thou hast not the representation of a grace which thou needest, but the grace itself—not the shadow of a truth ultimately to he revealed, but that very truth by which thy soul is accepted in the sight of God. I put this forth as a matter for you to think over in your retirement. It might have constituted the divisions of the sermon, but as I want more especially to dwell upon the glory of Christ, we leave these observations as a preface, and go more particularly to that part of the subject where the apostle says, "We beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
I. In the first place, we have here A FAVORED PEOPLE. "We beheld his glory."
And who are these—the "we" to whom the apostle here refers? They were first of all an elect company, for Jesus said, "I know whom I have chosen;" "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but they who did receive him are described as men who were "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The elect in Christ's day, though they were but a small remnant, nevertheless did exist. There were a few, else had that generation been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrah. There were twelves and seventies, and afterwards we read of three thousand, and then of many others who were added to the Church of such as should be saved. In Christ's own day, however, the lines of manifest election seemed to be but very narrow, for there were but few that followed him, and of those who followed him it is said, many from that day went back and walked no more with him; for his truth had sifted the mere professors, and reduced them but to a slender company who followed the Lamb whithersoever he went. The "we," then, who "beheld Christ's glory," were a chosen company.
They were also a called company, for of many of them we read their special calls. Of John himself we read, that Jesus walked by the sea and "saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him." Of most of the apostles and immediate attendants' upon Christ's person we have a record of their divine and special call by Christ's own voice; and in the case of those respecting whom there was no record preserved; yet was it, nevertheless, the fact, for he had called them as the shepherd calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out. Indeed, in all of us who shall at any time perceive Christ's glory, it must be because he has called us unto this special privilege as the result of his election of us thereunto.
These who beheld his glory were also an illuminated people; for Christ's glory was not manifest unto the rest of mankind. None of the princes of this world knew him. The priests who had studied the law could not discover him; the members of the Sanhedrim, who were under some expectation of his advent, could not perceive him. In vain the star in the east; in vain the miraculous appearance of angels to the shepherds; the blind generation would not perceive him. In vain the opening of blind eyes and the preaching of the gospel to the poor; in vain the raising of the dead; in vain all those innumerable signs and wonders; they could not perceive his glory; but of those who did perceive it it may be said, as of Simon Barjonas, "Blessed art thou, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee."
We may say, then, of those who beheld his glory, the favored people, that they were chosen of sovereign grace, that they were called effectually by the Holy Spirit, and that they were anointed by the same divine person. And to this day, brethren, it is the same. None believe in Christ but those who are his sheep; no man cometh unto him except the Father who hath sent him draws them, and none ever perceive him but those whose eyes are opened by his own healing fingers. Let the question be passed round among us—Do I perceive his glory? Have I seen something of the splendor of God in the humble man of Nazareth? Have I learned to magnify him in my soul, and have I desired to glorify him in my life, as my God, my life, my love, my all in all, though once despised and rejected of men? If so, beloved—if we can say this from our heart, we are favored indeed, and especially favored if we remember how many there are who have never obtained this grace. Not many great men after the flesh see any glory in Christ; they find their glory in the clash of arms and in garments rolled in blood, but not in him who is meek and lowly of heart, who gives rest to weary souls. Not many wise men have seen any glory in Christ; they find glory in philosophy; they can see glory in nature, but not in him who is nobler than God's creation, inasmuch as he is the only perfect one among the sons of men. They say they see something of glory in providence, and yet fail to perceive anything wonderful in grace. Not many wise men are called. Oh! let us be astonished at the sovereignty of God, let us be filled with gratitude at his compassion; let us pray that if ere we know something of the glory we may know more of it day by day, and may set it forth among the sons of men, that they too may by-and-by perceive his glory, "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
II. But now, secondly we have spoken of the favored people—let us spend a minute or two in dwelling upon THEIR EXALTED PRIVILEGE. "We beheld his glory."
What is the word "Beheld?" It says not we heard of his glory, we read of it in prophecy, or we listened to it from the lips of others, but we beheld his glory. What a privilege was this, which was accorded to the first disciples! Have you not often envied them? To see the man, the very man, in whom God dwelt—to walk with him as one's companion along his journeys of mercy—to listen to the words as they stream all living from those eloquent lips—to look into his eyes, and mark the depth of love that glistened there—to see his face, even though it was more marred than that of any man. I have often sympathised in that child-like hymn:—
"I think when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children as lambs to his fold,
I should like to have been with them then.
I wish that his hands had been placed on my head,
That his arm had been thrown around me,
And that I might have seen his kind looks when he said,
'Let the little ones come unto me.'"
But better still to have been with him—to have leaned this head upon his bosom—to have told him my griefs, as they did who took up the body of John, and went and told Jesus—to have asked of him the explanation of difficulties, as they said, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth"—to have had one's faith encouraged by touching his very flesh, as he did of whom it is written, that he put his finger into the print of the nails and thrust his hand into his side. But what are we talking about? All this is carnal, all this is of sight, and the Christian is a nobler being than to live and walk by sight. He lives by faith; and to this day, brethren, there is a sight of Christ which can be had by faith; and therefore, we need not murmur because we are denied the privilege of sight. The sight of Christ it seems, did but little good to those who had it, not even to his disciples, for they were sorry dolts, even though he was the Master. It was only when the Spirit came down at Pentecost, that they began to know Christ, and to understand what he had said to them, though he himself had said it. And truly 'tis better to see Christ by faith than it is to see him by sight, for a sight of him by faith saves the soul; but we might see him with the eye, and yet crucify him, yet be found amongst the greatest rebels against his government and power.
Now we say to you, Have you beheld his glory by faith? Oh! ye have all of you heard of it. We, the ministers of Christ, have tried Sabbath after Sabbath to lift him up, and it is such sweet and blessed work that I would fain do it every day. When we have to preach the law, we feel it a hard and toilsome servitude, but to preach Christ; O how sweet and blessed is the labor! Happy is the man whose lips are ever overflowing with the news of Jesus! Blessed is he whose ministry is full of Christ! He is blessed in his own soul, as well as blessed unto others. Ye have heard of it, then, but what of all this? Ye may hear of his glory and perish in your sins. Ye have read of his glory; this book is in your houses, and ye read it, I trust, each day, thus ye have read the story of the Man of sorrows and grief's acquaintance. And ye know how he ascended on high, leading captivity captive, and ever sitteth at the right hand of God. But ye may read all this; and yet it shall be a curse and not a blessing, for ye knew him and yet rejected him. You were among his own and he came unto you, and ye received him not. Oh! to behold his glory! This is soul work, saving work, blessed work, everlasting work: have ye any interest in it?
But ye answer, "How can we behold his glory?" Why, faith sees it. Faith looks back to the man who lived and died for us, and sees glory in his shame, honor in his disgraces, riches in his poverty, might in his weakness, triumph in his conflict, and immortality in his death. Nay, Faith is sometimes assisted by Experience; and Experience sees his glory: it sees the glory of his grace in rolling away all our sins; the preciousness of his blood in giving us reconciliation with the Father; the power of the Spirit in subduing the will; the love of his heart in constantly remembering us upon the throne; and the power of his plea in its perpetual prevalence with God. Experience shows us the glory of Christ in the deep waters, while he puts his arm beneath us and says, "Fear not, thou shalt not be drowned." It shows us the glory in the blazing furnace while the Son of Man treads the glowing coals with his afflicted Israel. Experience shows us the glory of Christ in all the attacks of Satan. While he is our shield he wards off every poisoned arrow, shows us the glory of Christ in helping us to live and enabling us to die, and by-and-bye it shall show us the glory of Christ in enabling us to rise and take possession of the crown which he hath purchased for his children.
And with Experience there is another that helps us to behold the glory of Christ, namely, Communion. Beloved, I hope you know what that means—when in the chamber shut in with God, and the world shut out, our eyes behold him and not another; when we can kneel down in the very posture of the poor agonizing victim of Gethsemane, and see by fellowship the sweat of blood as it streams from the pores of his frame: when we can mark him hounded, hissed, scouted through all the streets of his own city, and taken to Calvary to die. Communion knows something of the bitterness of the cup which he then drank, somewhat of the sharpness of the nails that pierced his hands, and somewhat of the death which was endured when at last he said, "It is finished!" and gave up the ghost. Yes, Communion can show us the glory of Christ even in his shame. And then it can take to its wings and show us his glory beyond the skies. These eyes have never seen the Savior, but this heart hath seen him; these lips have never kissed his cheek, for that they might do and I might be a Judas; but the soul hath kissed him and he hath kissed me with the kisses of his mouth, for his love is better than wine. Think me not enthusiastic or fanatical when I say that the children of God have as near access to Christ to day in the spirit, as ever John had after the flesh; so that there is to this day a rich enjoyment to be obtained by those who seek it, in having actual fellowship with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Oh, it is a joy worth worlds! Worldling, if thou hadst ever known the sweetness of this bread, thou wouldst never eat thine own ashes again. O pleasures of the world! ye would cease to tempt us, if ye knew how much more sweet are the pleasures of his face. O thunders of this world! ye would cease your attempts to frighten us, if ye knew the sweet satisfaction and solace which we find in him, when everything is bitter and disconsolate abroad. Yes, we have beheld his glory, just as surely as if we had seen it with our eyes; as certainly as if we had heard with our ears the acclamations of the glorified, and taken our seat with them at the foot of his throne, or with them had veiled our faces with wings, and cried, "Holy holy, holy, Lord God omnipotent!" Just as truly, though not so fully, we have beheld his glory—the glory of the only-begotten of the Father—full of grace and truth. (Please click here to continue reading, "The Glory of Christ-Beheld!")