James S. Stewart is Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology, University of Edinburgh, and a royal chaplain. Born in Dundee in 1896, he graduated in Arts and Divinity at St. Andrews, and studied further at Bonn and Edinburgh. He served various Scottish parishes before his appointment in 1947 to fill a historic chair. Author of many theological and devotional works, he is one of Scotland’s most eminent preachers.
Jesus said, Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
This is the second sermon in a series in which CHRISTIANITY TODAY presents messages by notable preachers of God’s Word from the United Kingdom and Europe. Plans for future issues include sermons by Professor G. C. Berkouwer of Amsterdam; Professor Jean Cadier of Montpellier; the Rev. J. R. W. Stott of London; Dr. Leon Morris of Cambridge; and Dr. Charles Duthie of Edinburgh.
These words are a dramatic assertion of one great basic fact of our faith—the fact, namely, that a living religion will always have in it an element of surprise and tension and discovery; that what we have seen and learned of God up to the present is not to be the end of our seeing nor the sum total of our learning; that whatever we have found in Christ is only a fraction of what we still can find; that the spiritual force which in the great days of the past vitalized the Church and shaped the course of history has not exhausted its energies and fallen into abeyance, but is liable at any time to burst out anew and take control. “I have both glorified My name—and will glorify it again.” It is the truth enshrined in Whittier’s hymn:
Immortal Love, for ever full,
For ever flowing free,
For ever shared, for ever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!
“I think I see more of Christ than ever I saw,” cried that great saint Samuel Rutherford, “and yet I see but little of what may be seen.” For there is no end to the creative activity of God, and no limit to the redeeming love of Christ.
It is immensely important, in these difficult and often discouraging days, that we should get this clear and realize what is at stake. But first it is necessary, before inquiring what these words may mean in our experience, to see what they meant in the experience of Jesus, to whom they were originally spoken.
Its Meaning For Jesus
Here was our Lord, on the eve of his passion. The Galilean ministry was over. Jerusalem and the Cross were waiting. The dark appointed hour had come. Just for a moment he seemed to shrink. “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? Shall I make that my prayer? But how can I pray thus, when I know that it was for this cause that I came into the world? No, to make that prayer would be to contradict the whole purpose of my being. Not, save me from it. This alone shall be my prayer, Father, glorify thy name!” So Jesus went to meet his destiny. And this was the meaning of his prayer: “Father, at whatever cost, let thy purpose go through to fulfillment! By whatever sacrifice, let the revelation of thy character and of Thy saving will be crowned and made complete. Glorify Thy name! Then came there a voice from heaven saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
“I have glorified it.” What did that signify? It meant the Galilean ministry. The total activity of Jesus up to this point was included here: everything he had done, every word he had spoken, had been God glorifying his Name. All the compassion that had healed the sick, the pity that had fed the hungry, the love that had cheered the lonely, the mercy that had sought the sinful, the power that had broken the fetters and shackles of habit and set the prisoners free; all the grace that had availed for Peter, for Zacchaeus, for Matthew, for Mary Magdalene, for a host of others—all this had been God glorifying his Name, showing forth through Jesus the character of the eternal. Possibly we ought to find in these words a special reference to one mighty deed in particular which had outshone the rest—it occurs significantly in the chapter immediately preceding this—the raising of Lazarus. For on that day Jesus had faced man’s last grim enemy, and trampled the pomp of death beneath his feet. “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead had stood up and lived. And now here at the end God says—“I have glorified my name.” Indeed it was true. More visibly than anywhere else in history, God had been glorifying his name in all those shining works of Jesus.
“Therefore,” went on the voice, “My beloved Son, be of good courage. I have glorified it—and will glorify it again: glorify it by a greater death and resurrection than that of Lazarus, glorify it by a mightier deed than the stilling of the storm or the feeding of the multitude, glorify it by a salvation that will reach out beyond the narrow limits of the land of Jewry and the lost sheep of the house of Israel to embrace all nations of mankind, a Gospel that will outlast the stars and stand towering over the wrecks of time for ever! I have glorified it, these past short years in Galilee; and now, supremely and for ever, I am about to glorify it again.” So Jesus, strengthened by the voice of heaven, went forth to his last conflict like a conqueror.
Its Meaning For Us
If this is what the words of our text may have meant to Jesus, let us now ask what they mean in the experience of the Christian today.
Take it first in the realm of Providence.
“I have glorified my name.” Can you not say, looking back along the way you have travelled, that God has indeed done this very thing in your life’s history? There were dark days which you could never have struggled through, if God had not been at your right hand. There were joys so splendid and magnificent that you knew they came from heaven—to mention only one, the magical surprise of being loved: this, says Charles Morgan the novelist, “is the finger of God on a man’s shoulder.” There were troubles that might well have left you hard and disillusioned and embittered and cynical about life, ready to blow out angrily and recklessly the lights of faith—had not Jesus laid his hand on you, just as he did on so many ailing, fevered folk in Galilee, and saved you by his grace. “I have glorified my name”—you know of a truth God has done this for you.
Then why doubt the future? “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again”—through all your experience on the yet untraveled way.
And if you say, “But life is so uncertain, and all my calculable security so precarious; and time runs so fast, and opportunities vanish never to return; and health snaps, and plans fail, and dear ones die, and never morning wears to evening but some heart must break; and even for me, at any moment, some sudden crashing dispensation of trouble may wreck and ruin the whole pattern and structure of my hopes”—if you feel inclined to argue thus, do stop and think! Is there any point in your past of which you can say—“God failed me there”? And has he not promised to be with you right on to the Judgment seat and beyond? What we need, exclaimed George Macdonald, is “an absolute, enthusiastic confidence in God.” “I have both glorified my name in you—and will glorify it again.” “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee!”
The Mystery Of Grace
Pass from the realm of Providence to the mystery of Grace. See how our text illuminates the realm of spiritual experience.
Have you ever met the type of Christian I am going to describe? Once—perhaps ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago—this man found the Lord. At some stage of his spiritual pilgrimage he was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Like Saul of Tarsus, this man has had his own Damascus road—less dramatic and cataclysmic it may be than the apostle’s, but nevertheless real and revolutionary and devised by heaven. So far good. But—and this is the sad thing—ever since he has been living, as far as religion is concerned, in the past. Faith for him has meant tending the fires on the altar of memory. It has been a constant harking back to first beginnings, a quest to preserve the initial vision from the touch of time and the menace of decay. And there are churches like that, as well as individuals.
What happens? This inevitably happens: that kind of religion, rooted and grounded though it be in sacred, memorable experience, comes to be characterized by rigidity, inflexibility, loss of vitality and vigor. It is settled, static, petrified. It has no dynamic contagion. “Without enthusiasm, what is the Church?” cried Joseph Parker once. “It is Vesuvius without fire, Niagara without water, the firmament without the sun.”
But turn to your New Testament, and you find a religion totally different. Here all is freshness and wonder, a strange eager expectancy, the continual surprise of discovery. These men, indeed, had behind them a mighty experience, a memorable hour. But they were not living in a past however sacred. Had Jesus not promised—“Greater things than these shall ye see”? Had not God declared—“I have glorified my name, and will glorify it again?” And was not this the thrill, the inexpressible excitement, of belonging to that generation and being alive in the same world with the risen, living Christ—that you just had to keep your eyes open and your soul on tiptoe, for at any moment some new startling discovery might come breaking in, some fresh unheard-of revelation to leave you lost in wonder, love, and praise?
That is characteristic Christianity. That, believe me, might be the nature of faith for every one of us—not the dull, stagnant, depressing thing which, having built its altar once, proceeds to stay there all its life, forgetting that the Bible says “In God we live and move and have our being”; not the arrested development of a soul which, having a certain amount of religion, blindly takes for granted that it has reached the goal and that there is nothing more to find—not that: but the glorious, humbling certainty that whatever we have grasped we are as yet only on the edge and outskirts of God’s gifts to us, that always there are new insights to achieve, new wonders to comprehend, new depths of the unsearchable riches to fathom. We are passing, cried St. Paul to the Corinthians, “from glory to glory,” moving on from one glory to another; from today’s apprehension of the revealed nature of God to tomorrow’s undiscovered treasures of his love. “I will go anywhere,” declared David Livingstone, “provided it be forward!”
This is what differentiates a dynamic, infectious faith from the dull tedium of conventional religion; and this is what differentiates a living Church from a dead ecclesiastical machine: this tension, this waiting upon God, this urgency of expectation, this fresh continual splendor of discovery. “I have both glorified my name, and will glorify it again.” And if you will receive it, it is the Word of the Lord to you.
The Triumph Over Death
Finally, there is this. When the voice from heaven spoke to Jesus, he was face to face with death. “I have glorified my name,” God said—and that was the story of Galilee; “I will glorify it again”—that was Calvary with the Resurrection light behind it. Therefore we are entitled to ask: Does this word apply, for us, to the sphere of Death and the hereafter? I believe it does.
This present life has brought us so much of God’s goodness that we cling to it; we do not want to leave it; we are desperately reluctant to part from it.
For who, to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing ling’ring look behind?
But there is a word of Richard Baxter’s to set against that mood:
Come, Lord, when grace has made me meet
Thy blessed face to see;
For, if Thy work on earth be sweet,
What will Thy glory be?
If this life, with all its troubles and frustrations and defeats, has been so good in the loving kindness of God, how surpassingly good it must be across yonder in the sunshine of eternity! “Eye hath not seen,” cries St. Paul, adapting an older Scripture to his Christian purpose, “nor ear heard, nor heart of man conceived what God hath prepared for them that love him.”
And you who have had to say Goodbye too soon to some you loved the best, will you listen to the trumpet notes of your own most holy faith? “Christ is risen. He hath abolished death. He hath led captivity captive. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” This is no myth. The Greeks had a fable of a man who in old age was given back his youth. But there is nothing mythical here. This is true. “I have glorified my name”—God did that indeed when he first brought your loved one to your side. But listen when your heart is quiet, and you will hear the voice go on: “And I will glorify it again! I will give you the ecstasy of reunion, where there is no parting nor separation any more for ever.”
I am persuaded that you can trust a God like that. I am sure you can trust him even with the dear ones whom death has snatched away.
And when your own hour comes, your spirit will be that of David Cargill, the Covenanting martyr. “Weep not for me,” he cried from the scaffold in Edinburgh where he was to die, “why should you weep for me? I have gotten me Christ, and Christ hath gotten me the victory!”
They’re clearing the land, chopping the mountain, moving it around,
I understand they’re going to set the sun on top
And move the moon to a relocation center,
Stars will blink on and off, spelling out Paradise Mansions.
They’re going to move the Alhambra and a room from the Louvre
Across the street, intact, beside the pony ride and swimming pool,
The super-shopping center opens lit by a torch exactly like the one
Carried by Pheidippides on his dash to Mount Molympo.
The walls will be made of television and you can switch stations by thinking.
Nothing could be easier than taking roast red Pekin duck out of the freezer:
It will be served in seconds by imitation lackeys from Buckingham Palace.
You will be able to slide the State University into your dining room
By pushing the button of any professor with a Ph.D., and saying
“Progress Please.” And on every corner an IBM will provide religious answers
In twenty-five words or less. The whole world will be compatible in color.
PIERRE HENRI DELATTRE
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