New Man And The Eternal Life
Notes On The Reiterated Amens Of The Son Of God
By Andrew Jukes
Preface: “The New Man and Eternal Life”
Introduction: “The Amen, and the Disciple which Testifieth”
First “Verily, Verily” – The Home of the New Man
Fifth “Verily, Verily” – The Liberty of the New Man
Sixth “Verily, Verily” – The Divine Nature of the New Man
Seventh “Verily, Verily” – The Service of the New Man
Eighth “Verily, Verily” – The Sacrifice of the New Man
Ninth “Verily, Verily” – The Humiliation of the New Man
Tenth “Verily, Verily” – The Glory and Power of the New Man
Eleventh “Verily, Verily” – The Sorrow and Joy of the New Man
Twelfth “Verily, Verily” – The Perfecting of the New Man
Conclusion: The New Man and The Eternal Lift
New Man And The Eternal Life
Notes On The Reiterated Amens Of The Son Of God
By Andrew Jukes
Author of “Types In Genesis” “The Law Of The Offerings”
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men” Rev. 21:3
More than two thousand years ago a captive in Babylon, after the city of his fathers had been destroyed for the sins of those who dwelt in it, was carried in spirit into his own land, to see the vision of a temple, from which living waters flowed to all the world. There a Voice was heard, saying, “Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart on all that I shall show thee; for thou art brought hither to the intent that I might show this unto thee; and declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel.” And then the same Voice said again, “Thou, son of man, show the house unto the house of Israel, and let them measure the pattern, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form and fashion of the house, and all the ordinances, and all the laws thereof; and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form, and do all the ordinances thereof.”
A vision not unlike this has been seen by some in every age, of a temple destroyed in Adam, but raised up again in Jesus Christ our Lord. In Christ the House is shown as God alone can show it. But though for eighteen hundred years the Church has had the vision before her, for the most part it is yet sealed. Even to saints very little has been opened of it. Yet this is the vision God would have us see, for Christ is the pattern to which we are predestined to be conformed; and we shall be like Him when we see Him as He is. Now as of old, therefore, a Voice is saying, “Show the House to fallen men,” that they may know what God can do in man’s ruin. In proportion as we see it we are changed from the wretched ruin, which we have all become, to be a building of God, a house not made with hands, in which He shall be served, and praised, and seen for ever. Even if as yet we cannot see the House itself, it is something at least to look over its plans. They may stir us up to long for, and seek, and perhaps at last to find, the true building.
The following pages are an attempt to call attention to this House, and to some of the ordinances, and ways, and laws, thereof. The Gospels show it in all its breadth, and length, and depth, and height. These Notes only touch so much of it as is brought before us in Twelve Sayings of our Lord. It seems as if He foresaw that without some words His life would not be understood. At all events, by words as well as by life, He calls us to behold and mark the heavenly pattern. It does not seem to have been noticed how these Twelve Sayings, specially marked by reiterated Amens, form in themselves a distinct and perfect series. God can wait for eyes to mark His works. His light for ages was serving men, before one was found to see the wonders of that light which all received so freely. So is it with His words. Heaven sees their beauty, if earth as yet is blind to it.
Of course in dealing with such a subject as man renewed by God, there must be, not only some repetition, but things also, which, spite of the repetition, will at first be dark, and hidden even from disciples. For “the house is for the Lord, and exceeding magnifical,” and the different courts, body, soul, and spirit, are so connected, that one cannot be drawn without bringing into view something which belongs to other portions of the same temple. All the parts, too, are according to one pattern, marked by one ruling thought throughout, each detail more or less repeating the one idea which stamps the whole building. But this repetition only brings out God’s delight in this His house, which He has made in every part to bear some traces of His image. Certainly God does not shrink from repetition, either in His word or in His works. In His Word the varied aspects of His Christ cannot be shown without Four Gospels, which repeat the same story. So again in nature, the heavens and earth, in the same seasons, flowers, and fruits, produced age after age in endless repetition, again and again rehearse the same one wondrous tale, of life out of death, and beauty from corruption. So in these Twelve Sayings there is repetition. There is much, too, which can only be understood as we live the life here drawn for us. True disciples will not be offended to learn how little they yet know. Only let them live Christ’s life, and all will open to them.
May the Lord grant us all to see more of the fashion of the house, which He has built in Christ, and yet is building, in the place of the earthly house of this tabernacle, in which we groan here, being burdened; that in measuring its courts, its laver and altars, its candlestick and bread, and thus seeing how unspeakably more glorious all these things are than the moving tent in which we now sojourn, we may sigh and cry for the house from heaven, even to be built up in His likeness, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. “Domine Deus, a Te petatur, in Te quaeratur, ad Te pulsetur. Sic, sic accipietur, sic invenietur, sic aperietur. Amen.”
November 1, 1881.
“The Amen, and the Disciple which Testifieth”
NOTHING is more characteristic of the present day than the tone of questioning and doubt, which so widely pervades all realms of thought, and every section of society. Never probably in any former period of time of the world’s history was there such mental activity, division, and anarchy of opinion, as we now see around us everywhere. Science has opened so many fields, in all of which much is yet unsolved,–philosophy has searched so deeply into the nature and origin of man, unsettling much that was once believed, but supplying little certain to take its place,–while the growing complications of society force upon us questions still more practical as to the rights and wrongs of men, to every one of which all sorts of jarring answers are returned from every side,–above all the Church, which should have been a guide and light to men, is so divided and unable to guide herself, much less the world,–that thousands are asking whether there is, or can be, any certainty for man; whether all that has been counted truth is anything more than probability,–whether therefore it is not better to confess that we can never get beyond guesses, even upon those points respecting which our inmost souls are constantly and importunately asking for more light.
Now there was another age, which in much of this resembled ours; the age which saw the break up of the old-world civilisations; when not Greece and Rome only seemed bankrupt, so far at least as truth was concerned, but when even Israel, which had been set to be a light among the nations, was turned like the sun into darkness, and like the moon into blood. But then, as ever, when the night was darkest, the morning was at hand. Into that dark age He came who could meet the doubt with certain truth. He had always been in the world, although it knew Him not; always giving to as many as received Him light and power to become the sons of God. Now He was made flesh, and came with a faith which overcame the world, and with a truth which made darkness light. He did not argue. He was the Truth, and bore witness to the truth; and those who received His witness could set to their seal that God is true, and has not left His creatures.
The Truth yet lives. What He then said He is saying now. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His words shall not pass away. His creatures need Him, for He formed them for Himself, and He alone can satisfy their need. Their ruin was the lie, which brought them death. Their salvation is the truth, which brings eternal life. As the truth therefore He has come, as Prophet, Priest, and King; to teach, to comfort, and to rule; suiting His revelation to our need; warning where warning is required; comforting and helping those who need comfort. Has He no message for a doubting age? Can He give no certainty to those who are like the wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed? He came to Israel perplexed with sects of Pharisees and Scribes; and for those who received Him there was certainty and rest. Is He absent from us now? To the last Apocalyptic Church, which, as many believe, figures the state in which the professing Church is to be found just prior to our Lord’s return, and which, if free from certain sins which had so grievously disfigured some earlier Churches, was yet more than any other possessed by the spirit of untruth and self-delusion; which said of herself, “I am rich,” and “knew not” her true state, that with all gifts she was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” the same Lord appears, and speaks as “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God.” (Revelation 3:14-17) Does not this title tell us that in Him we may have certainty for doubt, and help for our need, if we will listen to His voice?
For this Amen has Himself uttered some memorable Amens. And of all His words none are perhaps more weighty than those which are thus prefaced by reiterated Amens, by which, as with a trumpet, He calls attention to the truths so introduced, as though He foresaw how slowly we should apprehend them. Of sayings thus distinguished, twelve have been recorded for us, all peculiar to the last Gospel. And if under the law the Amen could seal the judgment of the unfaithful wife, making the very water of sanctuary to become a curse, if she had played the harlot: (Numbers 5:22)–if the Amen of God’s people Israel could confirm their curse, should they depart from God and work abominations; (Deuteronomy 27:15-26) –if when in the Church men bless with the spirit (1st Cor. 14:16), the Amen closes the blessing;–if in the Book of Psalms, which belongs to both covenants, the first three volumes of its prayers are sealed and concluded by the same redoubled Amen; (Footnote: In the Hebrew the Psalms are divided into five books. Of these the first three end with the double Amen, which the Septuagint translate [Greek characters] and the Vulgate, Fiat, Fiat. Our version keeps the Hebrew Amen. Amen. See Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52. The fourth book ends with Amen, Hallelujah. See Psalm 106:48, where the Septuagint still keep the double [Greek]. The fifth with Hallelujah alone. See Psalm 150:6.)–what shall we think of those sayings of the Lord Himself, which He has thus specially marked with His reiterated affirmation? Can I serve my brethren better than by calling their attention to these Amens of the Amen, the faithful sayings of the faithful and true Witness.
But first a remark or two suggested by this form of words itself, and by the fact that in one only of the four Gospels is it recorded for us. As to the words, “Amen, Amen,” as our Version translates, “Verily, Verily,”–for Amen means simply “True” or “Truth,” (Footnote: See Isa. 65:16. “God of truth;” in the Hebrew, “God Amen.”)–does not the form of expression itself reveal something both as to our state, and the grace of Him, who, if we cannot hear the whispers of His love, will yet choose other and more unusual forms of address, if only He may arouse and bring us to communion with Him? “True, True, I say unto you,” says the Truth. Does not the language imply that we need light, and are but dull hearers, who require something startling to awaken our attention? Is it not like saying, I must speak as to one who will not believe me but upon oath, or as a witness in a court of justice? For this is not the language of friend to friend. What friend need to say to another, Amen, Amen, Verily, Verily? It rather tells of distance,–that we know so little of Christ’s mind, and can learn so little from His example, that we need unusual and even repeated and solemn asseverations to make us listen to Him. It is as if His oath and bond were required by us, before we could believe Him! (S. Augustine, Tractal in Johan xli. § 3) But it tells us also of Him, that He will stoop even to this,–that no false pride or shame will keep Him from exposing the true state of things, if there is any breach or distance between us,–that He will still meet us where we are,–and if indeed the whispers of His Spirit are drowned by the clamour and cravings of our flesh, He will not therefore leave us to ourselves, but will condescend to words, which, if not such as He would, or such as best become Him, are yet required by our necessity. Therefore He says “Amen, Amen,” that being roused by such a witness, and receiving His words at first simply on His authority and without any due sense of their eternal truth and blessedness, we may in due time come to know their power, that “they are spirit, and they are life,” (John 6:63) and prove in our experience that “he that believeth on the Son hath the witness in himself,” (1 John 5:10) and that “he that hath received His testimony can set to his seal that God is true.” (John 3:33).
This “Amen, Amen,” is only recorded in the Gospel of that Apostle, who describes himself as “the disciple which testifieth.” (John 21:24) And this fact may in some degree modify our thought as to the implied rebuke which the use of this peculiar form of speech appears at first to carry with it. It may be that the truth thus introduced, because it so much transcends our fleshly apprehensions, must ever be first received on testimony, before it can be seen or felt or lived in by us. Certain it is that St. John presents Christ to us in a relation far higher than that which is set forth by any of the other Evangelists. St. John tells us of the Word, who was with God and was God, the Only-Begotten Son, who brings again God’s own eternal life into our fleshly nature; in His own person first revealing and declaring it to men, that of His fullness we might receive and manifest the same.
Of such an One there must be much which will transcend man’s natural thoughts; which, therefore, if spoken here, must at first appear both dark and mystic; which can therefore only be declared to carnal men as a truth, the reason of which may be understood some day, but which will always have to be first received by faith upon authority. Such words as, “Ye must be born of water and of the Spirit,” and “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you,” though by long use we have become more or less accustomed to them, must have seemed like riddles to those who first heard them. We know how even a true enquirer was pressed by them to ask, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). They may explain why St. John calls himself “the disciple which testifieth.” Others may argue like St. Paul. St. John, with the truth he has to teach, can only testify. For the things he tells us are of the Word made flesh; God’s life in human nature; things above man’s understanding; to be seen indeed, if we have an opened eye, but till so seen to be received on testimony. The reiterated Amens all speak of this, each of them taking up some distinctive peculiarity of this heavenly life, whether as seen in Christ, the eternal Son of God, or in those who by grace are called to His members.
Such being the burden of these Amens, it may at first seem strange that the Church, as such, is never named in any one of them. But the reason is that they speak rather of the peculiar virtues of the eternal life, than of the outward form or body in which this life is manifested; virtues which may shine brightest when the outward vessel in which this life has dwelt is marred and broken; which therefore may most appear in the very break-up of the Church, whose full glory, even in her Lord’s, only comes through that cross, and suffering here, which lifts her up from earth and opens heaven. Christ’s own Fleshly body is the witness of this truth. Not in His greatest works on earth was the eternal life ever so manifested in Him as by His cross and triumph over death by resurrection. The change of the dispensation, from flesh to spirit, from the Jewish nation to the Christian Church, was a shadow of this same mystery. For the Church came into being or manifestation by nothing less than the ruin and condemnation of the fleshly dispensation, though the same spiritual life which is in the Church existed all along, though not at so advanced a stage, in the saints under the old economy. And so does that eternal life, which these Amens speak of, come into yet fuller manifestation by the very fall or passing away of the Church or Christian dispensation. Just as with Christ’s own body, there is a first and fleshly form, before that form through death is raised and glorified; so in His mystic body the Church, Christ in the flesh, precedes Christ in the spirit, for “that is not first which is spiritual.” (1 Cor. 15:46). Therefore the peculiar witness of these Amens says nothing of the outward Church as such, but only of the New Man and his eternal life which grows and works within it, which will not only outlive the Church’s apparent failure and shame, but is never so fully seen as in that failure. For, as Paul says, “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2 Cor. 4: 10, 11) Thus the omission of any reference to the Church in these Amens is itself a lesson, full of comfort and instruction for those, who, like the disciples of old, are perplexed and troubled at the cross and shame, which must ever attend Christ’s true body. Such may learn here the appointed way, in and by which alone the eternal life is fully manifested.
Now this teaching as to the eternal life, and its varied works and manifestations, though implied in all the writings of the New Testament, is yet in some sense distinctive of St. John; for he dwells upon it with a persistence which makes it the one idea of his Gospel, his Epistles, and his Apocalypse. In each he shows in different forms the workings of this one life, first in Christ’s flesh, then in believers, then in the course of this world. First in his Gospel the eternal life is seen in the beloved Son, rather than in those who He makes sons and heirs with Him; but surely seen in Him, as Firstborn and Firstfruits, that it may be received by others through Him. Therefore He testifies, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Then in his Epistle, written when the other Apostles had already been gathered home, and when St. John remained the sole survivor of the favoured twelve who had walked with Christ on earth, the one thing he presses upon his brethren is, that the eternal life, which he had seen on earth in Christ, was a life which was to be continued and manifested in all believers. Did any fear that, when John was gone, the last undoubted link with Christ would be taken from the Church, and that it would be left to a second-hand tradition, which is uncertain, or to a letter or writing, which, as it would require interpretation, might be misunderstood or even falsified.
The Apostle’s answer is that he has told them of an “eternal life”, which he has “seen,” and even “shown” before them; that they are called to share it, because God gives us this life, and invites us, not to fellowship with an Apostle only, but with Himself, even “fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ;” (1 John 1:1-3) no longer therefore to live our natural selfish life, but to “walk even as Christ walked;” (1 John 2:6) for “now are we the sons of God,” (1 1 John 3:1) and therefore, “as He is, so are we in this world;” (1 1 John 4:17) that therefore as “He laid down His life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren;” (1 John 3:16) for “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 1 John 4:11). The whole of the Epistle is but a reiterated declaration that “God hath given to us eternal life,” and that the elect are called to live in and manifest it (1 1 John 5:11, 12). And what is his Revelation but the opening of the mystery of the manifestation and development of this same life in the wider sphere of a fallen but redeemed creation, out of which evil is to be at last for ever put away by the coming in and revelation of the life and glory and kingdom of the Son of God (Rev 11:15; 21:1.). In each and all John’s witness is of the same eternal life, which is to conquer and inherit all.
And this, as it seems to me, is the teaching which more than any other is required both by the church and world at this day. For many things show us that “it is the last time”; and the “last time,” as it is marked above all others by “many antichrists,” (1 1 John 2:18)–powers which would take the place in us which of right belongs to Christ, and the eternal life which He has brought us, – needs very specially that testimony respecting this life, of which St. John is the peculiar witness. The other Apostles have each their special truth, suited to some stage of the Church or individual. Of these Paul’s truth comes first, and stands to the Church and to each soul, as it stands in Scripture, as the first teaching which we need to set us at peace with God through faith in Christ Jesus. He meets us as we start; and at this stage his words, as to our ruin and the righteousness which is by faith, are those which are most suited to, and therefore naturally most prized and dwelt on by us.
At such a stage John’s teaching, though we may read it, does not really meet us. Paul is our guide, and with him we are occupied with our own acceptance before God, and with Churches and Church questions; in a word with those truths, or rather with truth under those forms, which Paul ever ministers to us. If we advance we soon come to the truth which the Apostle James teaches, touching the moralities which belong to and must accompany Christian doctrine. We go on again, and come to Peter’s truth, addressed not to Churches or Church-teachers, as with Paul, but to the “strangers scattered” (1 Peter 1:1-4) on earth, but who are “elect to an inheritance reserved in heaven for them.” His words, so full of the sufferings of Christ and the glory which should follow, and of our sufferings and glory, if we remain faithful, are now the teaching which seems most needful for us. Once more we advance, and so come to John, and to his witness as to the eternal life, which has dwelt in man, and which the sons of God are called to manifest. This is the teaching which seems peculiarly fitted for a time when the outward Church is fallen, and when, as in the “last time” which St. John speaks of, carnal Church rule prevails, so that though John writes unto the Church, Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence, receiveth him not, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth the brethren out of the Church. (2 2 John 9-11). John soars up heavenward, like the eagle
(Footnote: By universal consent the fourth cherubic form, that of the eagle (see Rev 4:7) has been assigned to St. John and his Gospel by the church in all ages.) when all that can only walk on earth appears to fail. At such a stage something beyond mere church-teaching is needed by us; for the trouble is that men are in high places in the Church who seem unable to recognise Christ’s life and works, when these are manifested as a present reality in His despised yet living members. Therefore the disciple whom Jesus loved becomes the witness of the eternal life, which shines only the brighter even though the Church be betrayed and her outward form be broken by man’s wickedness; that life which his God’s own, to be most fully seen, not in escaping the cross, but in triumphing over it. This teaching will last us to the end; and like John will tarry till Christ comes; as He said, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” (John 21:22)
It is this teaching which the reiterated Amens sum up, showing us the course and stages of that eternal life which is given us in Christ Jesus. I have already said, that there are twelve sayings of our Lord’s, which are thus introduced. In some of these sayings, the reiterated Amen occurs but once; in others, twice; in others, thrice; in two instances, no less than four times; the number of reiterations in each instance depending, if I mistake not, on the special importance or apparent strangeness of the testimony to which they are appended. But there are only twelve sayings which are thus distinguished from the rest of our Lord’s words. The first tells us of the Sphere or Home of the New Man: heaven, long shut to man, is now re-opened to him (John 1:51). The second shows how alone we enter this home, by a New Birth, involving a passing through the waters, that is a death to nature, in the power of God’s spirit (John 3:3, 5). The third tells about the Law of this new man; that he does nothing from self, but only what the Father doeth; that therefore, instead of losing a life and being judged, like the corrupt old man, who does all from self and ruins all, the new man quickeneth whom he will, and hath authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:19-22).
The fourth tells us of his Meat, the living Word, that bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat and not die (John 6:24-35). The fifth shows us the Liberty which he has and gives; even to be free from sin; for whosoever commiteth sin is the servant of sin, and the servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever (John 8: 31-35). The sixth declares his Divinity, that, as he “proceeded forth and came from God,” his is a partaker of God’s nature, and can truly say “I am” (John 8:48-58). The seventh describes his Service, as a shepherd with his sheep, first walking with them where they walk, and then laying down his life for them that they may live (John 10:1-15). The eighth more fully opens his Sacrifice, and its results, showing that except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit; that therefore he that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal (John 7:24-26). The ninth show us his Lowliness, and that disciples are cleansed, and God is glorified by his humiliation (John 13:1-32). In the tenth we are shown his Glory, that he reveals God, so that he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also (John 14:8-14). In the eleventh we have his Sorrow and Joy (John 16:16-25). The twelfth and last shows us his Perfecting; the end, even as the beginning, of this wondrous life, being still marked by the same entire surrender of self to God in everything (John 21:15-23).
Such is the series, each stage of which unveils some further truth or new aspect of the distinctive life of “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). The first six are mainly doctrinal, and the latter six are all practical. Throughout it is, as I have already said, no so much the outward form, in which Christ first comes, which here is drawn, that form which is our likeness rather than His own; the veil under which the real man is hidden, for He was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), “made flesh” (John 1:14), nay even “made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21); but rather the “new creature” (2nd Cor. 5:17), which lies hid under and breaks forth from that outward form, when, as it must be, it is marred and broken to put on its true glory. And what a sight it is! The whole universe contains no wonder equal to this of man reformed by God into His own image. Such a man belongs to heaven and earth; nay more, heaven and earth belong to him, for he is “heir of all” (Heb 1:2; Romans 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:21-23).
He is indeed the image of all worlds, for the essences of all things, matter and spirit, seen and unseen, temporal and eternal, all are hidden in him. He is even the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7; Col. 1: 15); for there is nothing in him which does not show something of God, not anything in God which may not be seen in him, even while He is in this world. Thus linked with all; in spirit with God and all good spirits; for his will is in union with the will and purpose of God, the Father of spirits, who is a spirit; and in body with the world and all its creatures and powers, which shall in due time be re-headed and reconciled in him, for this new man shall draw and bring all things to himself, as a loadstone draws iron; he is able to act with and have power upon all, not on creatures only, but on God Himself also. The shadowy body of sense, our raiment of humiliation, for a season hides this new man from us; yet there are times, as we see in Christ’s transfiguration, when an earnest of his glory is seen even here by some of those who are his fellow-heirs. And though the appointed way for this new man, now as of old, must lie along the highway of the holy cross; though shame and sorrow are his portion here, for he is ever a “stone which the builders disallow” (Matt 21:42); though he finds scant welcome, few knowing what he really is, or, if they know it, confessing him in his humiliation; though he seems shut up and shut out from much which others enjoy, having it may be less of this world than some of the poorest here; yet all things serve him; all things are his; nor can anything in the end resist his rightful authority.
Of course, according to the law referred to by St. Paul, we cannot expect to understand all that is written of this life, unless we have it quickened and growing and working in us; for who can know the things of a man, unless he have first received a man’s spirit? (1st Cor. 2:11). Even possessing this life, if yet we are only babes, if heaven is not yet open to us, we shall find many things said of the new man which must be hard to be understood, though these same things may be the daily experience of others of our brethren. Only let us follow on to know the Lord; and then the things which we cannot now receive will one day be plain, and where we cannot now follow we shall follow hereafter. God has provided for every stage, even as He has provided for all. Not without a purpose has He given four Gospels, three of which show us the Christ, that is the new man, either as Son of Abraham, or Son of Adam, or as Servant of God, that is in His earthly, rather than His heavenly relationships, that we, as the sons of Abraham, and of Adam, or as God’s servants, may see what we can of Him in these lower aspects and relations, till we are able to see Him as Son of the Father also, and, so seeing, learn to walk as sons of God with Him. The life in each case is the light of men. Just in proportion as we do the works we understand the doctrine.
This, then, is our subject, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and has been manifested unto us. Most men are now content with the bare tradition of this life, and look upon it as a thing well nigh unattainable, or to be attained only in the world to come. But this life has been, and may be, and shall be, manifested here. Seeing is not being; but seeing may help us, not only to understand what man’s true life really is, but also to draw nearer to Him who is our life and ever near us, that so, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image. Amen.
First “Verily, Verily”
The Home of the New Man
The first question of the Old Testament is, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:2). This is God’s question, addressed to fallen man, calling him to consider where he now is, whether his present state is right, and why he is not still with Him who made him. The first question of the New Testament is, “Where is He?” (Matthew 2: 2), asked by men who have just been awakened by heavenly light to feel they need a God and Saviour, and who desire to know where He may be found; the answer to which is immediately given by the Evangelist,–“Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which, being interpreted, is, God with us.” God’s question reveals man’s state, that he is not where God placed him. Man’s question draws forth the purpose of God’s heart, that “God is with us,” fallen as we are, and that our nature, spite of our fall, is His tabernacle.
The first of the reiterated Amens touches both these truths. Our Lord thus opens the series: “Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Henceforward ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”; words which imply that heaven, man’s proper home, long shut, shall now be opened, and that all that man has lost shall be restored in and through his heir, that is, the “son of man.” Thus, the first “Verily, Verily” declares the proper Home of the New Man. Heaven is his home: heaven again is opened to him. The old man by disobedience lost his home, the Paradise in which as God’s son he could converge with and see God; and is shut out and shut up in bondage in outward nature, because, having lost God’s life, he is unfit for heaven. The new man, formed by the indwelling of the Word of God, and “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:10), by a necessary law of His life, which is of God and heaven, through putting off and dying to the old and fleshly life, comes back again to opened heavens and to their angel hosts, as to his true home and proper dwelling place. This is the witness borne by the first reiterated Amen: “Verily, Verily, Henceforward (Footnote: The words here [Greek words] are rendered “hereafter” in our Authorized Version, and when our Version was made this was a correct translation. So we pray in the General Confession “that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life;” that is, not at some future time, but “from this time forward.”) ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
These words were spoken by One who had just had heaven opened to Him, who being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself and became obedient, not only to death, even the death of the cross, but also to that mystic death in baptism, which showed to men the one only way by which as fallen creatures they could come back to God’s kingdom. Therefore, when in submission to the Baptist’s witness, all the people were baptized, so thus, though they understood it not, confessing man’s state, as by nature dead to God, and that only by death to this nature can any be delivered. and “it came to pass, that Jesus also was baptized, and as He came up out of the waters heaven was opened to Him, and a voice from heaven said unto Him, Thou art my beloved Son: in Thee I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21, 22). Thus was heaven opened again to man. Then He to whom it was thus opened, comes forth to tell men of their true home, and how it may again be reached and entered: not by hiding from ourselves our present state or that we are dead to God and fallen from Him; but by confessing all this, first by a mystic death in the baptismal waters, when we are sacramentally buried with our Head, and then by dying and being buried with Him in that other greater baptism, which He spoke of when He said “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished” (Luke 12:50); in the assurance that when we thus take our true place, as dead to God, and subject to His judgment, He will take His place as Saviour, and say to us, as He said to Christ, when He took our place, “Thou art my beloved son.”
All this indeed, of the way of man’s return to his true home, from which he fell by disobedience, though set forth in type in Christ’s baptism, does not come out in word until the second “Verily, Verily,” which tells us that the way into the kingdom is only through those deep waters which Jordan typified. But the blessed fact that heaven is henceforth opened to man,–that he shall again see that world of light and love, for which he was formed, and from which he has so long been banished,–that he shall be made a new creature, fit to deal with spiritual things, not only man, but “Son of Man,” begotten again to a lively hope by Jesus Christ; and that in his way back to his true home he shall be conscious of heavenly companions, angels of God, ascending and descending on him,–all this is witnessed in this first “Amen, Amen,” thus showing the true home of the new man, that is, of man renewed through Christ Jesus. The old man is of the earth, and, akin and bound to the earth, he neither cares for, nor sees, the things of heaven. But the new man is of heaven; and, heavenly in his birth, even while on earth can walk in and show the life and light of heaven. This is the burden of the first reiterated Amen: “Ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
I have said that this comes out of the witness borne by Christ, immediately after His baptism, to the disciples first gathered to Him. These were men all sprung from the stock of Israel, fallen, as the Church is now, under an alien rule, and torn within by endless separations. But, though fallen, they were not forsaken. A witness, sent from God had come preaching repentance. And not a few had felt his words were true, who, having for a season been his disciples, through his teaching come ere long to be disciples of a higher Master. Some, like Andrew, by their earthly teacher are directed to the Lord Himself (John 1:35-37). Others, like Peter, are “brought to Jesus” by some brother in the flesh, who, having first followed one sent of God, is now following the Lord (John 1:40-42).
Some again, like Philip, are “found and called” directly by the Lord Himself, as it is written, “Jesus findeth Philip” (John 1:43); while others, like Nathaniel, are called by those whom Christ has called (John 1:45), who are perhaps the commonest type of true disciples. It is to one of these last, and not to John or Peter, that our Lord specially addresses this “Amen, Amen,” saying, “Hence- forward ye shall see”; for the promise of “opened heavens” is to all, even to the weakest and least distinguished of His true disciples. But something must be learnt ere this is reached. The disciple has to learn that he is seen, before he hears what he shall see. So our Lord, before He says, “Ye shall see heaven opened,” first says, “Before that Philip called thee, I saw thee” (John 1:48). For we must be made to feel that our Lord sees us through and through before we can be taught what we ourselves shall see in due season. Then follows the confession, the result of feeling ourselves known,–“Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” And then come the words, “Because I said, I saw thee, thou believest. Thou shalt see greater things than these. Verily, Verily, I say unto you, Henceforward ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Now this promise manifestly refers to that which had in vision been revealed of old, when at Bethel Jacob saw a ladder linking heaven with earth, with angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord Himself above, saying to weary man, “Behold, I am with you”; forcing Jacob to say, “The Lord is in this place, and I knew it not: this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen 33:12-17). All this is here revealed, not in vision, but as a present fact to which, even if we see it not, this first reiterated Amen of the True Witness bears sure testimony, declaring that communion with the unseen world is again restored to man in Christ, that heaven so long shut is henceforth open to him, because our nature is none other than the house of God, and even this flesh has become through grace the fate of heaven; yea, that the Lord Himself is in this place, even though we knew it not, but have lain down to sleep, like Jacob, with stones for pillows, as if there was no present God. Christ’s flesh is the ladder joining heaven and earth. And in making this revelation, this first “Verily, Verily” further declares man’s proper name, lost in Adam, but restored again in Christ Jesus, that he is not “seed of the woman” only, great as are the glories which gather round this name, but “Son of Man,” heir of undivided man, before separation of any kind had entered in. But upon the full import of this title, “Son of Man”, I will not enter here, as it comes before us more fully in the testimony (In the sixth “Verily, Verily,”) as to Divine Nature of the new man in Christ Jesus. I turn rather to the promise, that “henceforward we shall see heaven opened, and angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
The promise is first that man shall henceforth see his long-lost heavenly home. Is it then possible for us here to come to opened heavens? Is not heaven further than the sun; and is it not therefore simply incredible that we should see or hold communion with it? No–Christ’s words are true. We may through Him here enter heaven and enjoy God’s presence as really and fully as His saints of old, from Adam in Paradise to John in Patmos. Heaven is not far off. Heaven is our home. Nothing but our flesh, with its fallen self-hood and unbelief, hinder our seeing the kingdom which is at hand (Matt 3:2). For what is heaven but the spirit-world, which is lost or shut to the natural man, only because by the fall the life of God is crushed, and the spiritual sight and sense are gone, so that man though a spirit is content to live in earthly things, not indeed without cravings for a spirit-home, as every false religion and superstition testify, nor without ceaseless protests, in his yearnings, hopes, and fears, nay even in his very dreams, that the outward world is not the only one. For indeed man is a spirit, in a house of clay, and therefore, though he knows it not, is an inhabitant of an inward, as well as of an outward, world.
Outwardly indeed, as in the present body and its life, we are in a world lighted only by the sun of nature; but inwardly our spirits even now are in a spirit- world, which only is not opened to the natural man, because to open it to such would be to open the dark world into which by sin we have all fallen. But if by grace man is right with God,–if through Christ he is brought back in spirit from self-will and self-love to trust God,–the opening of the unseen only opens again the world of light and love, which is man’s proper home and true dwelling-place. What therefore will be manifested to each man at his death may be anticipated here, and entered into more or less, just as we live of Christ, and Christ in us. Opening heaven is but opening the inward spiritual world, which mercifully is shut to us till we are restored to peace with God through Christ Jesus.
Let us take some examples of this “opened heaven” from the experience, first of Christ, and then of His disciples.
First comes the opening of heaven, which took place at Christ’s baptism. Here no details are given as to what He saw. The fact only is recorded that “when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3: 21, 22); and that, as an almost immediate result, He was specially tempted of the devil, a voice from hell at once questioning the truth witnessed by the voice from heaven, and saying again and again, “If Thou be the Son” (Luke 4:3, 9).
All this is surely still fulfilled in Christ’s members. What they see may not at first be clear. They may see no more of that spiritual world which is opened to them than a new-born babe sees of the outward world which it has come into. They may even mis-see the things around them, as we do for years on earth: they may for awhile “see men as trees walking” (Mark 8:24). They may as yet have no words to speak of what they see: the very meaning of it may be altogether hidden from them. Yet heaven is opened to them; other eyes can see this, for the Spirit like a dove now abides on them;–no longer “the mark of the beast” (Rev 13:17), whether of the serpent, dog, or fox, but “the spirit like a dove,” of steadfast love and gentleness;–and (what they cannot forget) a voice has sounded in their ears, “Thou are my beloved [Son-#5207=Huios]” Till now, though of God’s elect, “to whom,” while even in the flesh, “pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” (Romans 9:4), because as yet but [children-#3516=nepios] in the faith, we may have differed nothing from servants (Galatians 4:1-3), though we are called in Christ to inherit all. But now we have heard the heavenly witness, “Thou are my beloved son,” sealing the truth of our baptism, that our Father loves and is well pleased with us. Now we know we are sons: a voice from hell may challenge this truth, tempting us to prove that we are sons by what we can do, rather than by the fact that as children we can in all things trust our Father. But the voice from hell cannot prevail. Heaven is opened to us; and, that glimpse can never be forgotten.
As a second example of “opened heavens,” – take the scene commonly called the Transfiguration, which also shows what Christ’s members may attain while in this present life. For Christ’s transfiguration is as surely a stage of Christian experience as His baptism, fasting, or temptation; not perhaps so early a stage, for the transfiguration only very shortly precedes His death; yet one which may most certainly be known, if we follow on to be partakers of His sufferings. For it is not in the Gospel which shows Christ as the Eternal Word, but in those which reveal Him as Abraham’s seed and Son of Man, that this scene is recorded, to teach all Abraham’s sons, yea, even all the sons of Adam, that they may reach, not to opened heavens only, or to the voice saying, “Thou art my beloved son,” but to a communion with saints, such as is recorded here, to speak and walk with those, who, though they passed hence ages ago, are yet, like Moses and Elias, very near, even caring for, and talking with, us. And indeed may we not ask whether this transfiguration was a change in the Beloved Son, so that He appeared as He was not before; or was it not rather in His disciples, so that they now saw Him as He had always been; living in two worlds, both in the seen and unseen; walking on the earth, and yet, “the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13); talking with men, yet communing with the departed, in the very light of God? Whichever view we take, the lesson is the same. We may come, and indeed “have come, to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb 12:22, 23).
I almost fear to speak of what is opened here. Yet the Gospels declare these things; and, as a stage of Christ’s life, they must, sooner or later, be a stage of our experience, if to us to live is Christ. For He is the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever. If therefore He lives in us, we must, like Him, be begotten of the Holy Ghost; and then, like Him, be men of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. If He lives in us, men will esteem us stricken and smitten of God: we must, if like Him, be numbered among the transgressors (Isa. 53:3, 4, 12). But there are other things which come with this experience, and among them is this foretaste of the glory, which is to be revealed in us; that as we pray, with some of those who love us most, the appearance of our countenance shall change, and heavenly companions be seen communing with us, speaking of the Exodus (Luke 9:28-30) which we must accomplish, from that city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (Revelation 11: 8) when through the strait and narrow gate of death [to the flesh-mdw] we shall go out for ever from the house of bondage. Surely it is a wondrous scene, that man, while yet on earth, and still clothed with the body of humiliation, should in spirit hold direct and conscious communion with the saints of ages past who are within the veil. Yet this too is part of the promise: “Ye shall see heaven opened, and angels of God, ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
But this blessing, like all things spiritual, is not without its peril to imperfect disciples. We see this in Peter and the two brethren who were with him. That opening of heaven and communion with the departed, which is safe and blessed for the Perfect Man, awakens thoughts in imperfect disciples, which, if followed out by them, would give to creatures a place and honour which belongs to God alone. For while the Perfect One calmly communes with the departed, touching His departure out of this world unto the Father, the imperfect disciples are saying “Let us make here three tabernacles,” not only “one for Thee,” but “one for Moses, and one for Elias.” (Luke 9:33). They would give a place to the departed, for which is not rightly theirs. And that this is a peril ever attending the first opening of communication with the spirit-world, is seen not here only, but in the other cases recorded in Scripture, where even the beloved John, once and again, when heaven opened to him, fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who spake with him; and was corrected by the words, “See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren which have the testimony of Jesus: worship God.” (Revelation 19:10 and 22:8,9). The Church’s history is full of examples of this. That Church, above the rest, which claims peculiarly to be St. Peter’s has practically repeated Peter’s words as to making tabernacles for the departed. But the Church of Rome could not have erred here as she has, had she never had visions akin to that set before us in the Transfiguration. Men do not worship the host of heaven unless they see them. Such an error shows how near the saints have been to some; how truly their presence has been felt as a reality. But spite of their presence we are called back to “Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8), by the voice which says, “This is my beloved Son: hear ye Him.”
How wise and loving then was the Hand which at the fall at once shut Paradise to man, severing him from a communion with the spirit-world, for which, as fallen, he was unfit,–for there like can only reach to like,–and gave him instead at the gate of Eden cherubic forms (Genesis 3:24), “figures of the true” (Heb. 9:24), instead of purely spiritual communications; forbidding him, as fallen, that is in self-hood, to seek communion with the unseen, either by wizards, necromancers, or consulters with familiar spirits (Deuteronomy 18:9-12); because, as fallen, by laws which the old man little understands, in the spirit-world he could only reach spirits like himself, by whom he would be worse deceived; but which yet opens heaven again as soon as man is fitted in and by Christ to return to such communications. But even disciples have to learn how to use this communion, for like all good things it may be awfully abused. The peril may be judged from this, that, even when with the Master, His dearest disciples first come to opened heavens, the sight awakens thoughts and words which need correction. We need to be educated to behave ourselves in the new and glorious home to which our Father’s grace brings us.
Such are some of the openings of heaven vouchsafed to the Son of Man, in all which, as members of His body, we are called to share with Him. That at His baptism is, I trust, generally known: that at the Transfiguration is much less understood, only because few follow on by a daily death (1st Cor. 15: 31) to apprehend that for which they are apprehended. Lest, however, any should suppose that such visions are peculiar to the Head, Holy Scripture has recorded other like openings of heave, granted not to the Lord only, but to His disciples. To take all the instances recorded would fill a volume. Two vouchsafed to Peter and John, types, as the Church has long seen (Footnote: See below, on the twelfth “Verily, Verily,” John 21:18-22), of the active and contemplative life, may suffice as examples of the way God’s saints are led to this experience.
Let us look then at the vision granted to Peter (Acts 10:9-16), when “he saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it were a great sheet, knit at the four corners, and let down to earth, wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, wherein were beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air;” all which were seen, not only “let down” out of heaven, but “received up again together”; which taught him, what he had not learnt, though he had followed Christ for years, and had received the promised Spirit and the tongue of fire,–the lesson we are all so slow to learn,–that we “should call no man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). If few as yet have learnt this, it is only because few as yet have seen this vision, which only comes when such as have known Christ after the flesh are brought through the outpouring of the Spirit to know him in the spirit. This is an experience peculiar to the Book in which it is recorded, the purpose of which, (for each book of Scripture has its special aim,) is to show how those who have known Christ after the flesh may be led to know Him in the spirit, and so be brought from the Old into the New Covenant, from the letter to the spirit, from bondage to true liberty. We do not find this experience in the Gospels. In them we have types of the experience of the disciples while as yet they know Christ only after the flesh; when, having left their nets or earthly callings at His word, they emerge from being mere Jews or John’s disciples to walk with and be followers of the Lord; while yet they still are “carnal, babes in Christ”; (1 Cor. 3:1); following Him indeed, but most unlike Him; still full of self; disputing who shall be greatest; striving while He is submitting; soon stumbled at His Cross; yet truly loving Him, and gifted and sent out by Him to preach His gospel, and to do some of His works; but all the while regarding Christ as separate form them, as One to be followed indeed, but not yet one with them and in them. This latter experience comes out in the book which we call The Acts of the Apostles, where we are shown how carnal disciples become spiritual, and learn and prove that Christ lives in them, by His indwelling Spirit.
Alas! how few here reach this; how many are offended if they are even told that till they reach it they are carnal. And yet as long as we only know Christ as outside of, rather than as formed and growing in us, though we may have given up much to follow Him, and like Peter have confessed Him Lord and Christ, and by Him and with Him been used to feed thousands,–we may still only know Him after the flesh, and be still strangers to the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10). We shall deny this till the brighter light begins to dawn. We shall surely confess it when we reach to that which the disciples reached at Pentecost. Then we may see, what we have long confessed, that “there is nothing unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14); that “to the pure all is pure” (Titus 1:15); that a disciple of Christ may, nay is commanded to, “eat,” (Acts 10:13), that is, receive and conjoin to himself, all sorts of creatures; that as all had descended, so all should ascend; that, though they had been unclean, “God had cleansed them” (Acts 10:15); because something had been done for them by the wondrous incarnation and resurrection of the Eternal son, by which all creaturely defilement, be it what it may, had been and could be put away.
Who really understands this truth, that by becoming man,–who is himself an epitome of creation, containing the essences and lives and faculties of all creatures,–He by whom all things were made, in whom all things consist (Col. 1: 16,17); has linked Himself to all, and by His blood has cleansed all? “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell, that having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him he might reconcile all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:19, 20). Heaven opened now teaches Peter this. Many a day had he been in bondage as to clean and unclean, not through any carelessness about God’s will, but rather through the desire to please Him, or at least to keep His word.
Now the meaning and end of Christ’s Incarnation, and of His offering, begin to open to him,–the meaning of His coming down, as the sheet was let down out of heaven,–the meaning of His stooping, as He says, to be “a worm and no man” (Psalm 22:6),–of His becoming a Lamb (John 1:29), yea and a Lion also (Isa. 38:13; Lamentations 3:10; Hosea 13:7); for it is as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” that “He opens the book” (Revelation 5: 5),–the meaning of His going back into heaven in our nature, (even as the sheet was taken up again with all the living creatures,) and appearing there as the Lamb and the Lion also (Revelation 5:5,6),–all this is gradually learnt. And when a soul, like Peter here, really sees what is involved in the creature’s return in Christ to God,–when we see how in Christ all the faculties in man, the lowest as well as the highest, have been sanctified and raised from earth to heaven,–how not the ox or lamb only, that is service and meekness, but even the lion and the eagle(Rev 4:7), that is force and keenest insight, may one and all be consecrated, and stand around the throne,–then is learnt the lesson which Peter slowly apprehended, that he “should call no man common or unclean”; a wondrous lesson surely, now as of old only to be learnt, as Peter learnt it here, through “opened heavens.” But there are visions still more wondrous than this, for Peter’s example shows us only such openings of heaven as may be reached by those who live the active life of faith and conflict. John shows us those visions which may and must have been seen by the passive suffering life of contemplation.
The man in Patmos, separated from his brethren, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ, sees things which he must indeed write in a book and send (for so he is commanded (Rev 1:9, 11)) to the seven churches, but which the churches, living as they do, will little understand, though the things seen may be fulfilling in heaven, that is the world of spirits, all around them. I do not attempt to open these visions. They are like the heavenly city they speak of, open to all, but opened here to a few; with gates that never shut by day, and there is no night there, but into which there can in no wise enter anything that defileth, or worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but only those who are written in the book of the life of the Lamb, that is the patient life of self-sacrifice (Revelation 21:25, 27). For as it is the Lamb who alone opens the seven-sealed book, so is it the life of the Lamb which alone can enter these glories. Glimpses however of these visions must be known to some, for there will ever be Johns as well as Peters among Christ’s followers; and such cannot but see what John once saw (Revelation 1:13-16), how One like unto the Son of Man walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; in priestly robes; for is He not the Priest, whose office it is to keep alive the fire, and trim the lights in God’s sanctuary; but showing the woman’s breast (Footnote: “Girt about the paps” Revelation 1:13. St. John here uses the word [Greek], which is the woman’s breast, while [Greek word] is the breast of a man.
Compare what is said of the angels in Revelation 15:6–[several Greek words]), for in the Lord the man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man (I Cor. 11:11), made again, like Adam unfallen (Genesis 1:27 and compare 2:21, 22 and Col. 3:10), where there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female (Gal 3:28), but a new creature and a new man in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17). This is not the form in which the Son of Man is seen at first, for to redeem us He took our likeness, “the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:7), and was circumcised upon the eighth day (Luke 2:21, 27), that so, sharing the shame of our divided nature, He might bear its curse, and heal the breach, and through death bring us back in and for Himself, again to bear the undivided image of Him who formed man in His likeness. All this is seen at the very beginning of that Revelation, which, from “a door opened in heaven” (Revelation 4:1), leads on to “heaven opened” (Revelation 19:11), when the Priest is seen as King of kings and Lord of lords, out of whose mouth goeth the sharp sword which must smite all flesh, both of free and bond, and great and small; (Revelation 19:15, 19); after which is seen the new heaven and new earth, where there shall be no more death, and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:1, 2), with the river of the water of life, and the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1, 2). This too surely has been shown to some, but only shown, now as of old, by the coming to us of one of the angels which have the seven vials full of the seven last plagues (Revelation 21:9). Angels with earthly mercies too often through our weakness only hide from us the heavenly city. It is the angel with the plagues who comes with judgments on the creature, who yet says, as he did to John, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Not until these last plagues are fulfilled can any enter the temple (Revelation 15:8), or see fully the things within the veil, for the way into the holiest is not made manifest while the first tabernacle, in which we groan, being burdened, is yet standing (Heb. 9:8 and 2 Cor. 5:1, 2). But the veil, though not yet taken away, is rent (2 Cor. 3:16; Matthew 27:51; and Heb. 10:20) for all through Christ’s sufferings. Thus even here may we get some glimpses of our home.
But does heaven thus open to believers now? Is it granted to Christians at this day to have the secrets of the spirit-world revealed in vision to them? Again I answer, what is heaven? Is it not the world of light, unseen by sense, that spiritual sphere into which man is brought in Christ, as partaker of His resurrection; where things are perceived which flesh and blood can never see, and joys are tasted which are not of this world? So long indeed as we are dead in sins, the things which occupy us most are the objects which the outward senses see, or hear, or taste, or handle. In these man lives, often for years, not wholly without witness of another world, which dimly rises before him in his fears or aspirations. But with Christ another world appears. Spiritual things, of which perhaps we may have heard,–for in every age God has His witnesses,–become now matters of experience. Truths, which have been hid under a veil, begin to open to us. We now see what we never saw before, the things of Christ, who is the truth, and the things of God, who is a spirit. We may as yet little understand what God is opening to us.
But whenever the things of God, once unconsidered, occupy our hearts,–when sin, righteousness, and judgment, are daily before our eyes,–when we see Jesus interceding for us,–still more when Holy Scripture is unveiled, so that in the law, the prophets, and the gospels, we see wonders touching Christ and His kingdom, which never dawned on us before,–then heaven is truly opening to us, even if at the time we know it not. And the proof is this, that all those truths, which opened to Christ, or to Peter or John, in the visions which we have considered, when heaven opened to them,–whether it be the witness that we are sons, or the assurance that God is now well pleased, or the consciousness that departed saints are very near us, or the truth that no man henceforth is common or unclean, or that the risen Lord is walking in our midst, as the Priest amid the seven golden candlesticks,–all these truths will now be matters respecting which we too can say, not only that we believe, but see them ourselves, though they are not of this world, but of heaven. Where these are seen, heaven is opened. There may be clouds,–there will be clouds,–and we may fear as we and others enter through them (Luke 9:31), but, spite of our fears, the cloud itself is but the gate of heaven, and angel hosts are all around.
For whenever man’s true home is opened, the servants of that home are also seen, even the “angels who ascend and descend upon the Son of Man”, ever near, though unseen by sense, ministering to man’s wants (1st Kings 19:5, 6), or directing his steps (Genesis 16:9), or barring his way, if he turns aside from God (Numbers 22:21, 26); never waiting to be thanked, content, either in ascending or descending, to honour God or succour man; and therefore excelling in strength, because they do His will (Psalm 103:20). So when heaven opened to Isaiah, and he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, and when at the sight he cried, “I am a man of unclean lips”, a seraph at once flew to him with a live coal from off the altar of the Lord, saying, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thy sin is purged away” (Isa. 6:1-7). So again, when Daniel saw his great vision, and was fallen to the earth, one whose face was as the light appeared, and set him upon his knees, and said, “O man greatly beloved, unto thee I am now sent. Fear not, peace be unto thee; be strong; yea, be strong” (Daniel 10:5-19). Still more does the gospel reveal this intimate sympathy between the spirit-world and man. Angels are present in the assemblies of believers (1st Cor. 11:10). The angels of children behold the face of their Father who is in heaven (Matt 18:10). Yea, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10). The special promise of this first reiterated Amen is, that henceforward man shall be conscious of this heavenly host, and “shall see angels, ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
The old man sees nothing of this. To the eye of sense heaven is closed; the ministers of heaven are unperceived, though they are on every hand. But with the new man and his new life comes, first the faith, and then the knowledge, of ministering spirits ever present to keep us in our way. It was so with Christ: it is so when He is formed in us. Angels were heard singing at His birth (Luke 2:9, 13); angels guide His early steps (Matthew 2:13); angels minister to Him in His temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11); angels appear strengthening Him in the garden (Luke 22:43); angels at His grave roll away the stone, and declare that He is not here but risen (Matt. 28:2, 6). He is seen of angels (1 Timothy 3:16) first and last. And as He is, so are we in this world. For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. And therefore we also, even as He, need and receive this heavenly help, while for a season with Him we are lower than the angels. For the new man’s life under opened heavens calls for heavenly help. Worldly aids are not enough for this calling. Opened heavens do not deliver man from present want.
He to whom heaven was opened immediately hungered (Matthew 4:2), and was with the wild beasts (Mark 1:14). Nay, opened heavens open hell. The voice from heaven, witnessing that we are [sons-#5207-Huios] of God, is at once followed by a voice from hell, calling us to question and doubt our right to this title (Matthew 3:17 and 4:3). Often in such temptations nature seems in peril of dissolution; but the hosts of heaven are close at hand. And like the prophets servant, when our eyes are opened, (and it is the inward eye alone which sees these things,) we perceive that chariots and horses of fire are all around, and that they that are with us are more than they that are against us (2nd Kings 6:17). Thus does “heaven opened” show “angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” and that the servants of our Father’s house are near. Surely, as one said of old, “he must be the king’s own son, on whom the servants of the king ascend and descend (Chrysostom, in Johanness Hom. 21§1); he must be the heir of heaven to whom the heavens open.
This, then, is the witness of this “Amen, Amen.” Heaven is the home of the new man, and holy angels are his servants and companions. Till man finds this home he cannot rest. He may be a wanderer in a desert land, or a captive in prison, though he knows it not, or a madman, dreaming of wealth, while he is in beggar’s rags; but whilst he is of the world, he has no home, for the world has still no heart (Hosea 7:11), and “without hearts there is no home.” But the home is not far off. Heaven is near, for God is near; and the kingdom of heaven is henceforth open to all who can believe God. Oh, that He who went before us may lead us in His way, to see that wondrous sight, so often partially, so soon fully to be, known, when opened heavens shall be seen by all, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (Isa. 40:5). As Christ’s members we are called to share this even now with Him. One work of His promised Holy Spirit is to take of the things of Christ, (and He says, “All things that the Father hath are mine,”) and to show them unto us. But only as we are partakers of His experience can we come where He is gone before. He came to opened heavens by baptism, fasting, and temptation; by a transfiguration, by the cross, by resurrection. There is yet no other way. Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom. There is but one way by which our nature can be brought to God, and that is shown in Christ Jesus. This is the special burden of the next reiterated Amen, “Verily, Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”