George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Eternal Son
Before Abraham was, I am--Joh 8:58
Unto us a child is born--Isa 9:6
The Joy of Christmas
At Christmas, in common with all Christendom, our thoughts gladly journey towards Bethlehem. We see the manger, and the little Babe within it, and the shepherds listening to the song of angels. A birthday is always a great day, and Christmas is the greatest birthday of the year. There was no sounding of trumpets in any court about it, yet it was mightier than any birthday of the Caesars. We have only to think of all that Christ has been--we have only to think of all that Christ has done, to be thrilled by the ineffable grandeur of the hour, when unto us a Child is born.
Yet when we come to study the New Testament, there is one thing which very soon impresses us. It is that the birth of Jesus in its pages does not occupy the place we should have looked for. We might have expected that apostolic writers would have dwelt on it with adoring wonder. In every letter we might have thought to find unnumbered references to the birth of Jesus. Yet as we read the apostolic literature that is certainly what we do not find. There is many a thought flashed upwards to the throne. There are very few flashed backwards to the manger. It is not that Bethlehem is ignored. Still less is it that Bethlehem is denied. The impression rather is that it is lost in the full light of an overwhelming truth. It is lost, as it were, in the wonderful assurance that as their Lord is alive forevermore, so forever had He been alive in the bosom of the eternal Father. The fact is, we are out of touch a little with the apostles' conception of the Savior. For them His earthly life was like a valley between two peaks that rose into the heavens. And we are so fond of lingering in that valley that we almost forget the heights that close it in; but they, every hour that they lived, lifted up their eyes unto the hills. So profound was the spiritual impression that Christ had made on them that they could not conceive of Him as just another man. So overwhelmingly had He suggested God to them that they could not think of a time when He began to be. Hence they who had lived with Him and seen His glory did not dwell on Bethlehem and the manger, but wrote "In the beginning was the Word, . . . and the Word was God." To me it seems a very idle business to discuss the borrowing of that Logos doctrine. I shall be delighted if one shall prove to me that it was borrowed from the Alexandrian philosophy. To me the wonderful thing is that John did so find it as the expression of the divine activity, and felt in a flash it was a fitting category for the lowly Prophet he had known in Galilee. He had no august traditions to uphold. He had no orthodox doctrine to maintain. He had only the memory of the beloved Master upon whose bosom he had lain at supper. And yet he felt as he remembered Him that nothing was so true to that remembrance as to say, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. "The one thing the apostles never do is to date the career of Jesus from His birth. For them, with all their marked divergences, He was the eternal Son of God. They knew the gladness of the prophetic message, "For unto us a child is born," but they knew also with undimmed assurance that "Before Abraham was, I am."
Christ's Pre-Existence in His Own Words
Now if that were only apostolic doctrine, there are many who would treat the matter cavalierly. They would find for it historic parallels, and call the writers the children of their age. But the singular and indeed inexplicable thing is not that Christ's preexistence is apostolic doctrine, but that unquestionably it had its place in the mature consciousness of Christ Himself. Christ does not speak of Himself as being born. He says, "I am come," or "I was sent." "Father, glorify thou me," He says, "with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." And then there is the second of our texts, a word that always thrills me when I hear it, "Before Abraham was, I am." If words mean anything at all, these words imply personal pre-existence. You cannot explain them by thinking of the Son as eternally present to the thought of God. And remember it was not Paul who uttered them, nor Peter, nor the beloved John; it was Jesus, and Jesus was the Truth. I want to show you the bearings of that doctrine. I want to show you how all the joy of Christmas is really involved in its acceptance. I want to show you how vitally it touches all that is deepest and richest in the Gospel, all that has won the heart and changed the life of innumerable thousands of mankind.
Was Jesus Conscious of His Pre-Existence. During His Childhood?
But before doing so there is one difficulty that I should like to dwell on for a moment. It is a difficulty that often has been felt, and perhaps especially at Christmastide. Was Christ conscious of that former life of His? Was it known to Him when He was a child? As He played in the village street of Nazareth did the glory He had left lie open to Him? I think that everyone of us must feel that any such consciousness of pre-existence is fatal to the simple human charm of the infancy and youth of Jesus. Doubtless He had His childish dreams of that kingdom where time and space are not. Heaven lay about Him in His infancy as it lay about all of us when we were children. But to think that He was vividly conscious as a child that He had lived forever with the Father is to pluck the heart of childhood from His bosom and the innocent wonder of childhood from His eyes. I think that His birth was a sleep and a forgetting, though trailing clouds of glory He had come. I do not imagine that this knowledge reached Him by any easy way of reminiscence. I think that it was slowly formed within His mind as the choicest fruit of His filial obedience; that it emerged for Him into a perfect certainty out of the depths of His fellowship with God. When He was a Child He thought as a child, for unto us, we read, a Child is born. And then He grew in knowledge and in wisdom, and was baptized with the Holy Ghost. Until at last His consciousness of Sonship became so overwhelming and intense, that it transcended time, and rose above beginning, and showed itself as an eternal thing. The closer any being lives with God, the more he feels that time is but a dream. Beginnings and endings are but incidents when there is the grip of the everlasting arms. And it was when Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, entered into all the riches of His Sonship, that He realized in that absolute relationship something that had no beginning and no ending. Only thus, I think, can you preserve unsullied the perfect childhood of our dear Redeemer. Only thus can you believe at Bethlehem that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Only thus with all the joy of Christmas can we say, "For unto us a child is born"; and yet go out into the night and whisper, "Before Abraham was, I am."
Lose Sight of Christ's Pre-Existence and God's Love Is Dimmed
What, then, are the spiritual values of Christ's pre-existence? Let me indicate to you the three that are most evident. And the first is that when we lose our hold on it immediately the love of God is dimmed. For God so loved the world not that He thought--God so loved the world not that He said--God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for you and me. And the simple fact is that if Jesus Christ began to be in the hour when He was born, then in heaven there was no Son to cherish, and none in the fullness of the time to give. I learn the depth of a true mother's love from her unfailing spirit of self-sacrifice. I learn how dearly the patriot loves his country from his readiness to fight for it and die for it. And so alone do I learn the love of God, not from the beauty of the summer meadow, but from a deed of sacrifice more wonderful than ever mother or patriot achieved. It is not enough to tell me that God loves me. Life is far too tragic for that. You must show me a God giving His dearest for me if you would persuade me that I am dear to Him. And that is the one thing you can never show me if in the Godhead there was no society, no Son to love before the stars were kindled, and none in the fullness of the time to give. Take away the Lord's eternal being and the love of God is but a speculation. I have to gather it from broken syllables, some of them far too bloody to be legible. I have to do my work and face my music and bear my suffering and meet my death, sustained by nothing in this world of shadows but the shadow and surmise of desire. It is not thus that men are conquerors. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. We need to know, not merely to conjecture, that in the heaven of heavens there is love. And of that transcendent fact there is no certainty, such as can be of service in the shadow, save the assurance of the heart that knows that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. I turn to nature, and ask her, "Is God love?" And nature shows me an earthquake. I turn to life, and life throws back the napkin from the cold faces of little children. I turn to the earthly experience of Jesus, certain that there the love of God will shine, and lo, a cross, and a very bitter cry from it, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me." Ah yes, but God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Once believe that to be the heart of history, and everything else can wait until the morning. Yet that is meaningless, and has no place in heaven, and ceases to be real as life is real, if Christ began to be when He was born.
Lose Christ's Pre-Existence and the Glory of Christ Is Dimmed
Again, if we lose our hold upon Christ's pre-existence, then the glory of the life of Christ is dimmed. It may still win us as a life of beauty, but it has ceased to awe us as a life of grace. For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is certainly not the fact that He was poor. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is this, that though He was rich, for us He became poor. It is this which has thrilled and awed the hearts of men--not that He whom they worshipped was a servant, but that being in the form of God, He took on Him willingly a servant's form. When the supper was ended, He laid aside His garments and took a towel and washed His disciples' feet. It is a little picture, perfect in its outline, of the life of ministry that was so near its close. And what has awed men in that life of ministry has never been simply its lowliness of toil, but the thought that Christ in bending to His toil had laid aside His garments of eternity. Date everything from the birth-hour at Bethlehem, and you have nothing left but the poverty of Christ. His is only another of that roll of heroes who have served heroically in a narrow lot. However inspiring that may be, it is certainly not the inspiration that has founded Christendom and changed the hearts of men and kindled the adoration of the ages. Ye know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, for us He became poor. The conquering wonder of it all is not the poverty; it is the infinite wealth that was given up for poverty. It is not the manger--it is not the cross--it is the stooping from heaven to manger and to cross that has thrilled men as they never could be thrilled by any tale of patient, quiet endurance. In other words, remove the pre-existence, and you lose the infinite grace of the Redeemer. There were no riches to be given up if Christ began to be when He was born. And therefore if you would know the joy of Christmas, it is not enough to say a Child is born; you must launch out into the deeps and whisper, "Before Abraham was, I am."
If We Lose Sight of Christ's Pre-Existence, the Glory of Our Humanity Is Dimmed
Lastly, if we lose our hold of Christ's pre-existence, the glory of our humanity is dimmed. We have lost our historical and abiding argument for the nobility and dignity of man. There was a time when that was easily credited, for man was the tenant of a mighty world. His world was the fixed center of God's universe, and the stars in their courses were its obedient servants. It was for man that the sun arose in splendor; it was for man that the hosts of heaven were marshaled; it was to tell the petty secrets of man's destiny that the kindly planets moved into conjunction. Citizen of such a noble kingdom, there could be little question about man's nobility. Waited on by all these glittering servants, man was only a little lower than the angels. But now the world has lost her proud centrality, and heaven has shifted and gone far away, and sun and stars have other work to do than to tell strange stories of the death of kings. Heaven is removed and become astronomical. There is no Jacob's ladder that can reach it now. The earth, to which all creation did obeisance once, is now but an atom on creation's outskirts. And all this knowledge has so impressed the mind with the insignificance of this our dwelling place, that there has stolen on the heart, like a dark shadow, the possible insignificance of man. What is man that Thou art mindful of him--a creature of a day upon a distant satellite? What is man whose life is as a vapor, on a far atom of a boundless universe? From all such sense of nothingness, there is no argument so mighty to redeem as the argument that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for you and me. Christ took not on Him the nature of angels. He took on Him the seed of Abraham. He, the eternal Son of God, was found in fashion as a man. Why, if that be historically true, then, son of man, stand upon thy feet! for thou, child of an atom and a grave, art great and honorable forevermore. Seasons come when we all feel our greatness, but we need more than feeling for assurance. We want to have feeling in its loftiest hours confirmed by the witness of historic fact. And this I find, like the sound of some great bell, swinging slowly across the driving storm, is the deep and solemn music of the truth, that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Never again can I belittle man, if the eternal Son became man. Never again can I despise humanity, if He was found in the likeness of humanity. And never again can I be quite so certain of the infinite value of mankind to God, if Christ began to be when He was born. "Unto us a child is born "--yes, the gladness of Christmas is in that. It has hallowed home and sanctified the child and given new radiance to the eyes of motherhood. But remember that deep is calling unto deep, where the little Infant is crying in the manger--and so go out into the night and say, "Before Abraham was, I am."
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