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Galatians IV. 19. Until Christ be formed in you.
THERE are three aspects under which THE CHRIST may be and is contemplated. Hence, according to the view we take of him at the time, we have the Christ of consciousness, the Christ of history, or the Christ of theory. By the Christ of consciousness I mean the Christ that is formed in us, being apprehended by an inward sense. By the Christ of history, I mean the Christ that exists out of us, of whom we have an authentic account in the New Testament. By the Christ of theory, I mean what may be termed the philosophy of Christ's nature and character, Christ as he exists in logical expositions or creeds.
The reality of this threefold distinction in our manner of regarding the Christ, every body I suppose will admit; and yet were it properly borne in mind in reading the Bible, and in all discussions of the nature and person of the Redeemer, I am persuaded it would do not
a little to put an end to many controversies, and clear up many difficulties. Men often think themselves to differ essentially in their views of the office of Christ in salvation, when the difference is wholly traceable to the different aspects under which this great subject is considered.
My text will lead me to speak in this discourse of the Christ of consciousness, of the living Christ reproduced, if I may so express it, in our own souls. This takes place, I hardly need say, in the same proportion as we become inwardly transformed into the image of the divine goodness, as manifested in the Christ of history. In saying this I do but take the obvious scriptural ground, my only object being to translate the scriptural representations on this subject into common language, and bring our ideas of the union of the soul with Christ, and through him with God, into harmony with all our other ideas.
The words of Jesus himself, touching this union, are very remarkable. "Yet a little while," said he to his disciples," and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me; because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." Again, in further explanation of the same idea: "If a man love me he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him." To the same effect one of the petitions in his memorable prayer to the Father just before his crucifixion, in which he intercedes for all those who should at any time embrace the Gospel: "That they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one." The Apostles take up and follow out the same leading thought. Thus, in the text, "My little children, of whom I travel in birth again, until Christ be formed in you." Again, the same writer says of the early Christian confessors; "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body." He also prays, in his letter to the Ephesians, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." As I must set limits to these citations, suffice it to observe that the Epistles of John abound in passages like
the following; "And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us.”
"Nothing but mysticism," some, perhaps, will exclaim. And there are those, I make no doubt, to whom such expressions as those quoted above will sound like mysticism; like mysticism, too, in the popular acceptation of that term, as denoting something dreamy, unreal,—a reaching after one knows not what. This, however, cannot be helped. Men are apt to make their own experience the measure of what is credible or possible. Talk to them, therefore, about divine influences, a spiritual exaltation, an indwelling Christ, of which they are not, and never have been, conscious, and of which they can form no clear idea, and they will be very likely to cry out, "Mysticism." To them, I freely grant, in the present state of their moral and spiritual development, it is mysticism, as that word is commonly understood. It is too high for them as yet; they cannot sympathise with it; they cannot conceive of it; it sounds like extravagance; the words convey to their minds no distinct meaning. They feel a difficulty in regard to it like that which is felt by many who have no ear for music in regard to much which is said on that subject; or like that which is often felt by worldly and selfish people in regard to much which is said of the pleasures and satisfactions of beneficence and self-sacrifice. They cannot attain unto it; they cannot enter into its spirit or meaning; and they indicate not so much the thing itself, as the state of their own minds, when, to express their want of hearty consent, they resort to the vague and ill apprehended term, mysticism. But allowing it to be mysticism to them, is it asking too much of such persons to intreat them to reflect, that what is mysticism to them may yet be obvious, sober, and conscious reality to persons otherwise constituted, or of a higher moral and religious culture? At any rate, would it not be well for all to consider, in respect at least to the passages cited above, that even if it is mysticism, it is not the mysticism of Plato or Swedenborg, but the mysticism of the Bible, and deserving on this account, if on no other, of study and serious meditation?
Others, again, may think to dispose of the whole difficulty at once, by pronouncing it to be nothing but a figure of speech. When the
Scriptures insist, as they so often do, on the necessity of the Christ being formed in us, and abiding in us, and being manifested in us, we are not, they contend, to attach any peculiar, or very important, significancy to the language: it is nothing but a figure of speech. Any body with half an eye," they will say, "if he has common sense, can see what is intended. There is no occasion for hunting up deep and recondite senses. It is obviously the language of emotion, of suggestion, of rhetoric, and as such its meaning is not to be pressed to the letter in short, it is nothing but a figure of speech." Some, as we have just seen, make it to be nothing but mysticism; but those of whom I am now speaking, will not allow it to be even so much as that; it is nothing but a figure of speech.
A figure of speech doubtless it is, in a certain sense; but what then? It is a common thing, as it seems to me, for interpreters of Scripture, and especially for rational interpreters as they are called, to suppose more done than is done, when they have come to the conclusion that a passage is to be understood figuratively. "Oh," they say, "it is nothing but a parable, or an allegory, or a metaphor :" as if, that being the case, nothing more were to be said about it. But certainly parables, allegories, metaphors, supposing them really to be such, mean something, and that meaning is still to be sought. A parable, allegory, or metaphor is to be interpreted differently from a literal statement, I grant; still it is to be interpreted. If we have come to the conclusion that a particular passage is not to be understood literally, it follows that we have come to the conclusion in what sense it is not to be taken, but not in what sense it is to be taken; much less that it is to be taken in no sense. The form which a figure of speech puts on is borrowed, all will agree, from the imagination; but the one only meaning which it is intended to convey, purports to be a truth, and often as solemn and weighty a truth, and as important to be known, as any which it is in the power of speech
Thus much on the interpretation of figurative language generally. But this is not all. I cannot agree that the figurative, or rather the suggestive language, used by the sacred writers in speaking of “the things of the spirit," should be put on precisely the same footing with ordinary metaphors. Ordinarily we resort to figurative language for effect only, and not from necessity. We might express the same things literally; only, in that case, we think they would be expressed
less effectively. But when we wish to speak of "the things of the spirit," it is different; the only language in which they can be expressed, is figurative language. Or rather, perhaps it would be more correct to say, that they cannot be expressed at all; they can only be suggested. There are no words by which we can so describe spiritual ideas, as to make them intelligible to persons who do not know them already by experience. All that we can do is simply this: we can take words which express well known realities in the natural life, and apply them to the spiritual life, with a view to suggest the corresponding realities in that. And they will suggest them, in point of fact, to those who know what the spiritual life is by experience; but to others they will suggest nothing. Words will help to recall, awaken, revive spiritual ideas already in the mind; but they cannot originate them. We may believe in general that such things are on the testimony of others, or as matter of logical deduction; but what they are, each one must know, if he knows it at all, from the actual developement of his own spiritual nature, and from the revelations. of his own spiritual consciousness.
For this reason, when the sacred writers speak of the indwelling Christ they use language of suggestion merely, and language which will suggest little or much to the reader according to the extent of his own religious experience. Critics, commentators, preachers, cannot interpret such passages, so as to make them properly intelligible to those who are destitute of a sense of what is intended. Such passages, to be properly understood, must be interpreted in the light of each individual's own spiritual consciousness. There must be something in our own spiritual nature, as at present developed, responding to what is said, or the practical and living import thereof will be hidden from us.
One thing, however, even writers, commentators and preachers can do in illustration of the passages in question. By leading the reader to consider and analyse the facts of his own spiritual consciousness, and then to compare the outer with the inner revelation, what is now understood but vaguely, even by the spiritually minded, in regard to "the deep things of God," they may help him to understand more clearly and distinctly. So much, therefore, it will not be presumptuous in me briefly to attempt in what follows.
What then, I ask again, does the Apostle mean, when he says, "until Christ be formed in you?"