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Our Life in the Knowledge of God
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days thorughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week
Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 305-310.

Second part of Sermon XXVI. for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

(for the first part.)


No consideration of Christ’s Passion can be of any avail to us, excepting so far as we believe in Him as God, and so by faith are made one with Him, the great Mediator between God and man.  The Godhead of Christ is therefore made the one great subject of this Sunday of His Passion.... 

Now we come to the words of the text, which may be said to embody or express, in a short compass, the whole subject of the Gospel for to-day, wherein Christ bears testimony to His Godhead, and shows that the salvation of all mankind depends on believing in Him as God.  Which of you, said our Lord to the Jews, convinceth Me of sin?  He appeals to all men, yea, and to evil spirits, that none can deny but that He is that spotless One Who can alone approach unto God as interceding for us; “such an High Priest Who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” [Heb. vii. 26].  And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe Me?  He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.  “This which He adds is very terrible,” says St. Gregory, “for if he hears the words of God who is of God, and no one can hear the words of God unless he be of God, let each one ask himself, if, by the ear of the heart, he perceives the words of God and understands whence He is.”  They are indeed awful words, in their import not unlike that Divine expression, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  If any one is drawn to Christ, to love, and fear, and obey Him, this is to him sweet consoling evidence, that he is one of those whom He has chosen to eternal life.  In like manner, it is enough to arouse our apprehensions, that indifference to the things of God is an indication to us that we are not predestined to be of that little flock whom the Father hath chosen for His Kingdom.  Of this these Jews were an awful sign: we see them by degrees sealing more and more their own rejection.

Then answered the Jews, and said unto Him, Say we not well that Thou are a Samaritan, and hast a devil?  Jesus answered, I have not a devil: but I honour My Father, and ye do dishonour Me.  And I seek not Mine own glory; there is One that seeketh and judgeth.  What a wonderful pattern have we here of Divine meekness and forbearance: as His mercy is, so also is His majesty; and great as His power is, so great is His patience.  “And if we imitate His patience,” says St. Augustin, “we shall arrive at His power.”  The opprobrious name of Samaritan He rejects not, for those Samaritans, though outcasts of the Jews, were His creatures, and He was willing to receive them as His children.  But when they said that He had a devil, to the great dishonour of God, He meekly replies that He has not a devil.  Thus, “when He was reviled, He reviled not again; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” [1 St. Pet. ii. 23.]; even to the Father, as here intimated, Who judgeth aright, Who seeketh the glory of Christ, and in the glory of His Son will Himself be glorified.

But having said, “he that is of God heareth the words of God,”  He now again solemnly states the same in another form:  Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death, shall never see that death which is alone worthy of the name; for that which men call death is but a sleep, a laying aside the burden of the flesh; there is a “second death,” which is death indeed.

Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil: Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.  Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?  Yet Abraham was not dead, and the prophets were not dead in the sight of God; for God called Himself the God of Abraham, and He was the God of the Prophets; and His Name is the living God.  For they live, they truly live, who live unto Him.  But the Jews understood not; their foolish hearts were darkened because they saw not in Christ the Light of the World, the God of Abraham, and the Lord of David.  “Whom makest Thou Thyself?” said they.  His Apostle shall answer, “He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant;” “wherefore God hath highly exalted Him.”

Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing; it is my Father that honoureth me, of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you; but I know him, and keep his saying.  To seek the honour that cometh from God only, to know Him and by obedience to keep His saying, this is common to the Lord and to His disciple; by this they are made one; for by this is the disciple by faith united unto his Lord, and by this does his Lord dwell also in the Father; for thus was His obedience made perfect, seeking not His own honour, but that of the Father only.  And Him doth the Father delight to honour, by the Voice at His Baptism, by the Voice at His Transfiguration, by the Voice preceding His Passion [St. John xii. 28.], by raising Him from the dead, by setting Him at His own right hand in Heavenly places; and all this but preparatory to that time when to Him every knee shall bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; when all who are incorporated into His living Body shall partake in that honour which the Father shall then bestow upon Him, and all they that seek their won honour shall come to nought.

In this faith did all the patriarchs rest; in this hope were all the Prophets refreshed; in this vision were all the Saints perfected.  Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.  His earnest desire and longing was for the day of Christ, for that Deliverer Which was to come; he looked forward as they that watch for the morning, and there was no joy equal to this joy which he had in God, when it was given him to behold afar off the day of God, and to look as it were upon the face of His Anointed.  He beheld the rising dawn illumining that night; we the Sun of Righteousness Himself.  He saw “in a glass darkly,” but we “face to face.”

But some, even in beholding Him, are blinded by that light; so was it with those Jews who saw in Him “no form nor comeliness,” and “no beauty that they should desire Him;” but “a man acquainted with grief,” His “visage marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”  [Isa. lii. 14.]

Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?  Not hath Abraham seen Thee, for it would do too much honour to Him that spake so to understand His words, but contemptuously, hast Thou, the “despised and rejected of men,” hast Thou seen the “father of the faithful?” and bringing down the Divine words to low, carnal, human interpretation, “Thou, not yet fifty years old?”  Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM.  The Everlasting God, the true Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, “having neither beginning of life nor end of days,” “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world,’ in the predestination of the Father, and in the will and obedience of the Son; “His Name shall be called Wonderful, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isa. ix. 6.]; He Who revealed Himself to the fathers with the incommunicable name of I AM.  And the Jews understood the saying for, then took they up stones to cast at him, thereby condemning Him as guilty of blasphemy, as they afterwards said on another like occasion, “For a good work we stone The not, but for blasphemy; and because Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.” [St. John x. 33.]

But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.  For his hour was not yet come.  From the men of Nazareth, from the Jews at Jerusalem, when bent on His destruction, He departed unharmed; and when Judas came to take Him, He showed the same Divine power, evincing by act what He said of the voluntary surrender of His life.  “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.”  [St. John x. 17, 18, and xviii. 6]

Thus, then, as we approach more distinctly to the commemoration of our Lord’s Passion, the one great object of the Church, as set forth in to-day’s Gospel, is to show us that the cause of His rejection by the Jews was the confession of His Godhead.  It is on this that they seek to slay Him as guilty of death, taking up stones, as in the fulfilment of the law.  It is this which afterwards, at the time of His death, comes forward in a very prominent manner, as in that great declaration before the High Priest, on which He was condemned to die, and delivered up to the Gentiles.  “By our law,” said they, “He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”  This subject, therefore, of His Godhead, is so strongly put forward both in today’s Epistle and Gospel, and on the Sunday before Easter, and on Good Friday.  Thus the Gospel for today already prepares the way for His Passion, as showing that in that “contradiction of sinners against Himself” which He “endured” throughout, the one great culminating point, and the ultimate cause of His condemnation was this.  This was the truth which He kept, as it were, under a veil in the usual reserve of His teaching, gradually disclosing the same rather by His teaching, gradually disclosing the same rather by His works than His words.  But when constrained, as it were, by the Jews, and called upon to bring forward this truth in justification of Himself, it is the stumbling-block or rock of offence; it is the fall and rise again of the many in Israel; it is the test and trial of men’s souls in the sight of God.  And thus the Scriptures point out that again at the last the great apostasy will consist in the denial of the Son.  Let us, therefore, labour at this season more and more to humble ourselves before Him, for in the humiliation of self must be the practical acceptance and confession of His Godhead.