"The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory."—James ii. 1.
THE rarity of the mention of Jesus in this Epistle must strike every attentive reader; but the character of the references that are made is equally noticeable, and puts beyond doubt that, whatever is the explanation of their fewness, lower thoughts of Jesus, or less devotion to Him than belonged to the other New Testament writers, are not the explanation. James mentions Christ unmistakeably only three times. The first occasion is in his introductory salutation, where, like the other New Testament writers, he describes himself as "the slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" ; thus linking the two names in closest union, and proffering unlimited obedience to his Master. The second case is that of my text, in which our Lord is set forth by this solemn designation, and is declared to be the object of faith. The last is in an exhortation to patience in view of the coming of the Lord to be our Judge.
So James, like Peter and Paul and John, looked to Jesus, who was probably the brother of James by birth, as being the Lord, whom it was no blasphemy nor idolatry to name in the same breath as God, and to whom the same absolute obedience was to be rendered; who was to be the object of men's unlimited trust, and who was to come again to be our Judge.
Here we have, in this remarkable utterance, four distinct designations of that Saviour, a constellation of glories gathered together; and I wish now in a few remarks, to isolate, and gaze at the several stars —"the faith of our Lord—Jesus—Christ—the Lord of glory."
I. Christian faith is faith in Jesus.
We often forget that that name was common, wholly undistinguished, and borne by very many of our Lord's contemporaries. It had been borne by the great soldier whom we know as Joshua; and we know that it was the name of one at least of the disciples of our Master. Its disuse after Him, both by Jew and Christian, is easily intelligible. But though He bore it with special reference to His work of saving His people from their sins, He shared it, as He shared manhood, with many another of the sons of Abraham. Of course, Jesus is the name that is usually employed in the Gospels. But when we turn to the Epistles, we find that it is comparatively rare for it to stand alone, and that in almost all the instances of its employment by itself, it brings with it the special note of pointing attention to the manhood of our Lord Jesus. Let me just gather together one or two instances which may help to elucidate this matter.
Who does not feel, for example, that when we read "let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith," the fact of our brother Man having trodden the same path, and being the pattern for our patience and perseverance, is tenderly laid upon our hearts? Again, when we read of sympathy as being felt to us by the great High Priest who can be "touched with a feeling of our infirmities, even Jesus," I think we cannot but recognise that His humanity is pressed upon our thoughts, as securing to us that we have not only the pity of a God, but the compassion of a Man, who knows by experience the bitterness of our sorrows.
In like manner we read sometimes that "Jesus died for us," sometimes that "Christ died for us "; and, though the two forms of the statement present the same fact, they present it, so to speak, from a different angle of vision, and suggest to us different thoughts. "When Paul, for example, says to us, "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again," we cannot but feel that he is pressing on us the thought of the true manhood of that Saviour who, in His death, as in His resurrection, is the Forerunner of them that believe upon Him, and whose death will be the more peaceful, and their rising the more certain, because He, who, "forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood likewise took part of the same," has thereby destroyed death, and delivered them from its bondage. Nor, with less emphasis, and strengthening triumphant force, do we read that this same Jesus, the Man who bore our nature in its fulness and is kindred to us in flesh and spirit, has risen from the dead, hath ascended up on high, and is the Forerunner, who for us, by virtue of His humanity, has entered in thither. Surely the most insensitive ear must catch the music, and the deep significance of the word which says, "We see not yet all things put under him (i.e., man), but we see Jesus crowned with glory and honour.
So, then, Christian faith first lays hold of that manhood, realises the suffering and death as those of a true humanity, recognises that He bore in His nature "all the ills that flesh is heir to," and that His human life is a brother's pattern for ours; that, He having died, death hath no more terrors for, or dominion over, us, and that whither the Man Jesus has gone, we sinful men need never fear to enter, nor doubt that we shall enter, too.
If our faith lays hold on Jesus the Man, we shall be delivered from the misery of wasting our earthly affections on creatures that may be false, that may change, that must be feeble, and will surely die. If our faith lays hold on the Man Jesus, all the treasures of the human love, trust and obedience, that are so often squandered, and return as pain on our deceived and wounded hearts, will find their sure, sweet, stable object in Him. Human love is sometimes false and fickle, - always feeble and frail; human wisdom has its limits, and human perfection its flaws; but the Man Jesus is the perfect, the all-sufficient and unchangeable object for all the love, the trust, and the obedience that the human heart can pour out before Him.
II. Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ.
The earliest Christian confession, the simplest and sufficient creed, was, Jesus is the Christ. What do we mean by that? We mean, first and plainly, that He is the realisation of the dim figure which arose, majestic and enigmatical, through the mists of a partial revelation. We mean that He is, as the word signifies etymologically, "anointed" with the Divine Spirit, for the discharge of all the offices which, in old days, were filled by men who were fitted aud designated for them by outward unction—prophet, priest, and King. We mean that He is the substance of which ancient ritual was the shadow. We mean that He is the goal to which all that former partial unveiling of the mind and will of God steadfastly pointed. This, and nothing less, is the meaning of the declaration that Jesus is the Christ; and that belief is the distinguishing mark of the faith which this Hebrew of the Hebrews, writing to Hebrews, declares to be the Christian faith.
Now, I know, and I am thankful to know, that there are many men who earnestly and reverently admire and obey Jesus, but think that they have nothing to do with these old Hebrew ideas of a Christ. It is not for me to decide which individual is His follower, and which is not; but this I say, that the primitive Christian confession was precisely that Jesus was the Christ, and that I, for my part, know no reason why the terms of the confession should be altered. Ah! these old Jewish ideas are not, as one great man has called them, "Hebrew old clothes"; and I venture to assert that they are not to be discarded without wofully marring the completeness of Christian faith.
The faith in Jesus must pass into faith in Christ; for it is the office described in that name, which gives all its virtue to the Manhood. Glance back for a moment to those instances which I have already quoted of the use of the name suggesting simple humanity, and note how all of them require to be associated with this other thought of the function of Christ, and His special designation by the anointing of God, in order that their full value may be made manifest.
For instance, "Jesus died." Yes, that is a fact of history. The Man was crucified. What is that to me more than any other martyrdom and its story, unless it derives its significance from the clear understanding of who it was that died upon the Cross? So, we can understand the significant selection of terms, when the same Apostle, whose utterances I have been already quoting in the former part of this sermon, varies the name, and says, "This is the gospel which I declared unto you, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."
Again, suppose we think of the example of Jesus as the perfect realised ideal of human life. That may become, and I think often does become, as impotent and as paralysing as any other specimen without flaw, that can be conceived of or presented to man. But if we listen to the teaching that says to us, " Christ died for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps," then the ideal is not like a cold statue that looks down repellent even in its beauty, but is a living person who reaches a hand down to us to lift us to His own level, and will put His spirit within us, that, as the Master is, so may also the servants be.
Again, if we confine ourselves to the belief that the Man named Jesus has risen again, and has been exalted to glory, then, as a matter of fact, the faith in His Resurrection and Ascension will not long co-exist with the rejection of anything beyond simple humanity in His Person. If, however, that faith could last, then He might be conceived of as filling a solitary throne, and there might be no victory over death for the rest of us in His trinmph. But when we can ring out as the Apostle did, "Now is Christ risen from the dead," then we can also say, "and is become the first fruits of them that slept."
So, brethren, lift your faith in Jesus, and let it be sublimed into faith in Christ. "Whom say ye that I am?" The answer is—may we all from our hearts and from our minds make it!—" Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
III. Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.
Now, I take it that that name is here used neither in its lowest sense, as a mere designation of politeness, as we employ " sir," nor in its highest sense in which, referred to Jesus Christ, it is not unfrequently used in the New Testament as being equivalent to the " Jehovah" of the Old; but that it is employed in a middle sense as expressive of dignity and sovereignty.
Jesus is Lord. Our brother, a Man, is King of the universe. The new thing in Christ's return to "the glory which He had with the Father before the world was " is that He took the Manhood with Him into indissoluble union with the Divinity, and that a man is Lord. So you and I can cherish that wonderful hope: "I will give to him that overcometh to sit with Me on My throne." Nor need we ever fear but that all things concerning ourselves and our dear ones, and the Church and the world, will be ordered aright; for the hand that sways the universe is the hand that was many a time laid in blessing upon the sick and the maimed, and that gathered little children to His bosom.
Christ is Lord. That is to say, supreme dominion is based on suffering. Because the vesture that He wears is dipped in blood, therefore there is written upon it, "King of kings, and Lord of lords." The Cross has become the Throne. There is the basis of all true rule, and there is the assurance that His dominion is an everlasting dominion. So our faith is to rise from earth, and, like the dying martyr, to see the Son of man at the right hand of the majesty of the heavens.
IV. Lastly, Christian faith is faith in Jesus Christ, "the Lord of glory."
Now, the last words of my text have given great trouble to commentators. A great many explanations, with which I need not trouble you, have been suggested with regard to them. One old explanation has been comparatively neglected; and yet it seems to me to be the true one. "The Lord " is a supplement which ekes out a meaning, but, as I think, obscures the meaning. Suppose we strike it out and read straight on. "What do we get ?" The faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory."
And is that not intelligible? Remember to whom James was writing—Jews. Did not every Jew know what the Shekinah was, the light that used to shine between the Cherubim, as the manifest symbol of the Divine presence, but which had long been absent from the Temple? And when James falls back upon that familiar Hebrew expression, and recalls the vanished lustre that lay npon the mercy-seat, surely he would be understood by his Hebrew readers, and should be understood by us, as saying no more and no other than another of the New Testament writers has said with reference to the same symbolical manifestation—namely, " The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." James's sentence runs on precisely the same lines as other sentences of the New Testament. For instance, the Apostle Paul, in one place, speaks of " Our Lord Jesus Christ, our hope." And this statement is constructed in exactly the same fashion, with the last name put in apposition to the others, " The Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory."
Now, what does that mean? This, that the true presence of God, the true lustrous emanation from, and manifestation of, the abysmal brightness, is in Jesus Christ, "the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His person." For the central blaze of God's glory is God's love, and that rises to its highest degree in the name and mission of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Men conceive of the glory of the Divine nature as lying in the attributes which separate it most widely from our impotent, limited, changeable, and fleeting being. God conceives of His highest glory as being in that love, of which the love of earth is a kindred spark; and whatever else there may be of majestic and magnificent in Him, the heart of the Divinity is a heart of love.
Brethren, if we would see God, our faith must grasp the Man, the Christ, the Lord, and, as climax of all names —the Incarnate God, the Eternal Word, who has come among us to reveal to us men the glory of the Lord.
So, brethren, let us make sure that the fleshy tables of our hearts are not like the mouldering stones that antiquarians dig up on some historical site, bearing half-obliterated inscriptions and fragmentary names of mighty kings of long ago, but bearing the many-syllabled Name written firm, clear, legible, complete upon them, as on some granite block fresh from the stone-cutter's chisel. Let us, whilst we cling with human love to the Man that was born in Bethlehem, discern the Christ that was prophesied from of old, to whom all altars point, of whom all prophets spoke, who was the theme and the end of all the earlier Revelation. Let us crown Him Lord of All in our own hearts, and let us, beholding in Him the glory of the Father, lie in His Light until we are changed into the same image. Be sure that your faith is a fall-orbed faith; grasp all the many sides of the Name that is above every name. And let us, like the Apostles of old, rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name. Let us go forth into life for the sake of the Name, and, whatsoever we do in word or deed, let us do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Glory.