I have always been fascinated by the power of the written word, ever since I was a kid. Not only that, I am always staggered when I read something that has been written hundreds of years ago and still to this day, it remains as contemporary as a top quality piece written in a reputable newspaper. Jesus’ parables and the apostle Paul’s writings, in particular, carry that inherent timeless and mysterious quality that travels through the centuries untouched and powerful, as if they had only been written yesterday. There are not many people in this world whose written word carries such “untouchable”, longevous and glowing quality; the quality of a flame that cannot, will not be put out; a flame whose sustenance is constant, steady and eternal.
As I read for the third time the sermons of the Reverend Phillip Brooks (1835-1893), one of the 19th century greatest preachers, I realise I am witnessing the writings of such a man; a man whose spirit is kept alight through the ages by the constant, steady and eternal flame of the Spirit of God. His words carry that wonderful, extra-ordinary, inexplicable aura that connects with one’s spirit and compels you to read on. Not many people’s words have inspired me as much as Brook’s accurately sharp but at the same time, gleaming with hope prose, a prose that had it not been for the lack of a marked metrical structure, could have quite legitimately been defined as the most “delightful to the soul” of poetry.
Let me share with you, if I may, an excerpt from his sermon entitled “The mystery of Light” which really inspired me this morning and touched me deeply, as it sends shivers down my spine to realise that what this man was asserting to be taking place during his time, is still very much the case today, if not more so. The prophetic and revelatory quality to his writings is incredibly engaging and so mysterious that one cannot but wonder: Was it not God himself in Spirit and in Truth who guided every movement of Brook’s hand, every stroke in Brook’s quill?
Shall the time ever come when God shall be so perfectly understood by man that the mystery shall be gone out of His life, and man feel that he knows Him through and through and can tell his brother-man about Him; as the father stands by the steam-engine and explains it to his boy, so that what used to be a beautiful wonderful thing which seemed almost alive, becomes only an ingenious arrangement of steel and iron, which the boy goes off to imitate in his workshop, making a little steam-engine which repeats the big one which he has been studying? Shall the time ever come when man shall understand God like that? Men often talk as if such a time would come. Nay, men often talk as if such a time had come; as if their theologies, their descriptions of God, had eliminated mystery from Deity and made the infinite perfectly intelligible to the finite. This is the danger which haunts the popular theology and often makes the devotional meeting and the religious controversy and the revival hymn and the statement of religious experience very unpleasant and sometimes very harmful. Very many good people seem to think that in order to make God seem dear and capable of being loved and trusted by His children, they must make Him seem perfectly simple and comprehensible; they must take away from the thought of Him all that is awful and mysterious; as if awe and mystery were not essential elements in the highest loveliness; as if our deepest and most trustful love were not always given to the things which are awful and mysterious to us; the love of the little child for his father who embodies for him omniscience and omnipotence; the love of the patriot for his country; of the philanthropist for his race; of the poet for nature. There was a time when men seemed to be so busy in wondering at God that they forgot to love Him. Sometimes now it seems as if they so longed to love Him that they dared not remember how wonderful He is. When the full religion shall have come, men will know that the more wonderful they find Him to be, the more completely they may love Him; and the more He gives Himself to their love, the more He will be wonderful to them forever.
For those who stand nearest to Him he is most mysterious. We talk with ready understanding of the death of Christ, before which the angels stand in awe.
“No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his wondering eye
At mysteries so bright.”
Mysteries so bright! The more bright the more mysterious! Heaven is to be full of mystery. The nearer we stand to the Lamb upon His throne, the deeper depths we can discover in His majesty and love, the more wonderful shall He be to us forever. Revelation – it is a most important thing to know – revelation is not the unveiling of God, but a changing of the veil that covers Him; not the dissipation of the mystery, but the transformation of the mystery of darkness into the mystery of light.
Does it sound familiar to you? It certainly does to me. Many Christians today lack such faith in God’s own capacity to reveal himself to us, that we desperately strive to bring God to men. This is undoubtedly a noble pursuit in itself. The problem arises when in order to make God accessible to men, we, as Brooks clearly describes, erase the mystery from Deity and make the infinite perfectly intelligible to the finite. I wonder whether Brooks realised when he pronounced these words, the prophetic weight that they carried? “There was a time”, he said, “when men seemed to be so busy in wondering at God that they forgot to love Him. Sometimes now it seems, as if they so longed to love Him, that they dare not remember how wonderful He is”.
This is so true and so relevant in the Church today, a Church whose responsibility and privilege is to represent God on earth. We have become so casual about God; we have reduced God to such mundaneness; we have turned God into such commonplace in our conversations, in our church services, in our prayer time, in our daily living, that in the process we have trodden all over his deity, his eternal quality, his wonderful mystery, his unfathomable ways. We have made God into our own image, instead of striving to grow man into God’s image. We go to such lengths to become all things to all men, that in the process we trash God’s holiness. We walk all over the grace upon which we stand. We have become so obsessed with making God and faith so contemporary that we have insulted the very nature of God: timeless, eternal, infinite, immeasurable, uncontainable, free, HOLY. Contemporary worship often borders disrespect, reflecting the fact that it is men’s will which is at the center of it and not God’s praise; Christian teaching from the pulpit often attracts people in their thousands because truth is replaced by remarkable anecdotes, and rebukes are replaced by humour; our ears are tickled and our egos stroked, this perpetuates and ensures an increase in the numbers of those present, which in turn strokes the speaker’s, pastor’s or evangelist’s egos, instead of drawing people to the cross and its paramount significance to our lives and our future. Many Christians are joining the recruiting lines of the resurgent trend: Christian Apologetics, which stems from the attempt to defend or contend for our faith: “Always be prepared to make defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The problem is yet again that all too often, this is being taken one step too far, and in trying to defend our faith, we equal the lofty and supernatural nature of God with the things of this world; we engage in debates about faith versus science, the relevance of matters of faith in politics, economy, etc, and in trying to apply logical reasoning to explain that hope that lies within us, we display an utter lack of the very faith that we so passionately profess. If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, why then do we play God, and engage in ridiculous debates which are in essence trying to put limits to an untameable God?
A good friend of mine was recently pondering on his longing for miracles, signs and wonders to take place today. But how can God grant us our heart’s desires when we are so far from being worthy of standing in His presence? How can He reveal his wonderful nature to us when He places such an insignificant part in our everyday lives? The element of familiarity has become such commonplace in our churches, prayer and fellowship with other Christians, that we have totally lost that sense of wonder. Our love for Christ should be ever deepening and ever increasing, but also ever filled with mystery and awe. When these two elements are no longer present, the God we worship is the result of our own fabrication, and not the God who made the Heavens and the Earth and everything in it; a fabrication which adjusts and redefines Mighty God to suit our own needs in an attempt to put off and avoid the abandonment and surrender of self to the mighty hand of the Master Potter, whose ways are so much Higher and Lofty than our ways.
AND HE DID NOT DO MANY MIRACLES THERE BECAUSE OF THEIR LACK OF FAITH
MATTHEW 13, 58