Christ - Our Atonement And Adornment
( Originally Published 1896 )
Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.-The Psalmist.
If Jesus did not give us any theory about holiness, you must not get excited if I prefer his teaching to yours. Bishop Haygood.
The beautiful is that which truly pleases. Christ was beautiful in the sight of God the Father, who said, " This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The beauty of the Savior's character arises from its manifoldness ending in unity, just as the skill and perfection of a large painting is seen only when we discern the principle of oneness. The atonement was the one great work of Christ's sublime life - to effect a reconciliation between God and man.
Christ's life was the most beautiful ever witnessed upon this earth, because it was the most complete and perfect. The Divine Man only could say, "It is finished." It can hardly be said of any mortals at death that they had really finished their work. At best, our lives are imperfect. A broken column is the fitting memorial over most, if not all human graves. We drop our tools suddenly-our pen, our brush, our chisel, our labor. Not so with Christ's work. His life was not a fragment, but filled up, a complete and beautiful fulfillment of all prophecy and all He had promised to perform. It is well known that the Jews have no fondness for the New Testament, but there was a Hebrew artist in Berlin who, while searching for new subjects for pictures, chanced to look into the Gospels. The moral' beauty of the Savior's character began to make a deep. impression upon him, and the more he read the more-this impression deepened into a profound conviction that Jesus was the Son of God. Very handsome men have lived upon the earth and died, as the late Alexander the Third of Russia, but the higher attractions of King Jesus and his wondrous personality have never been, equalled.
The living person of Christ was the embodiment of all perfection and beauty. He united the gentleness. of the lamb with the courage of the lion. He was the "Lamb of God," and- He was the Lion of the tribe of Judah." It is not necessary, with the Romanist, to. worship the virgin mother, as if Christ had no gentleness, nor to adore Jesus as more merciful than God. There was nothing in Mary that was not infinitely more perfect in Jesus, and there is nothing in the Father that is not in the Son in whom dwelt all the fulness-of the Godhead bodily." The Gospel shows Jesus to be " all gentleness and strength, all purity and all mercy,. all humility and all dignity, all meekness and all. majesty, all truth and all love, solitary and most social, the perfect model of both the contemplative and the-active life; manifesting the divine heart by His self-sacrifice; humiliation, and death, and manifesting the divine life and power by rising again." We may be so. much like him as to reach " the measure of the stature-of the fulness of Christ." Only thus shall we, too, be beautiful.
As a man-a human character, Christ had nothing,. no excellence or virtue to which we may riot all attain. We may have his beauty, his sweetness, his amiableness,. his moral consistency. He lived on earth and went about among the people to show us what we ourselves may be. Amid all our trials, it is our encouragement to remember that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin, and that no temptation will come to us above that we are able resist. But for the remembrance of this, we would often be utterly discouraged. We are men, and Jesus, too, was a man - inspiring thought!
The character of Christ was perfect, both in degree and in kind. The Christian's character may be like Christ's-perfect, but only in kind. His likeness to the divine Christ is only as the infant to the giant, the sapling to the mighty oak. A small cup may be as full of water as the lake, and of the same kind of water, but infinitely less in amount. God's very nature of love may be ours in a finite degree. We may thus be perfect-perfect in love. "Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect." There is no perfection like the perfection of beauty in character. The Savior was " fairer than the sons of men," but we may be like him, fair and good, if he is our ideal. Christ is the author and finisher of all lovely characters; but evil thoughts and practices have distorted millions who would not look unto him. As an example of perfect manhood, there can be no such worthy ideal set before men as Christ. It is impossible to follow him without having our own manhood and character dignified.
A beautiful human character combines all that is good and great, with all that is true and pure, all that is grand and noble with all that is unselfish and heroic, all that is firm and strong with all that is gentle and amiable, all that is agreeable and harmonious with all that is majestic and God-like. If we do not see the perfect spiritual beauty of Christ, it is because of our weak or disordered vision; and, for the same reaso we may fail to see the real beauty of some christian characters. The fault is not theirs but ours. The beauty and special excellence of pictured cathedral glass cannot be seen from the outside where only dull and meaningless outlines are visible. One recently said: " W n I was in Cologne I looked in that great cathedral, a d when I went in the early morning I saw that the eastern window was lighted up and all the other windows were dark and obscure. When I went at noon I found that some of the other windows had turned to ruby and gold, and that they flamed out in prophets, in angels and saints. And then, when I went at sunset, I saw that the other windows were lighted up with the setting sun. And what looked black in the morning, why, at night they looked like windows into heaven." Thus it may be with some genuine Christians-there is nothing attractive about them except as you get a view from within and behold them in the right light, invested with a living radiance and illuminated with the divine designs of grace.
Our ideal of a beautiful human character is the lost image of God in man restored. In the buried ruins of ancient Rome and other old cities are found many master-pieces of Grecian art, but they are only fragmentary, hardly one is found perfect,-here a headless one, there an arm broken off and gone, but enough is left to reveal its former beanty and surpassing excellence. Modern artists have tried to restore the missing member in some of the precious relicts of ancient art. So the soul of man is only a fallen fragment of the divine original-the image of God in ruins. The grand work of grace is the restoration of God's image in the human soul, even its pcrfection in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to do this work. Yea, the Holy Spirit is the Divine Artist who rescues and recreates the fallen soul all marred and defaced and corrupted by sin, and imparts to it every moral beauty and perfection.
Guido's great painting of the Aurora is hard to look at, and is easiest studied when reflected in a mirror on the floor. So Jesus reflects God to us. The Christian's highly-favored state is thus expressed: " We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord." We attain unto spiritual likeness to Christ by beholding and constantly admiring Him. We observe this law of transformation operating in a measure as we receive the impress of our human friends by watching them from day to day. It is thought that people sometimes come to resemble each other from being a great deal together. Be this as it may, we believe that the beauty of Christ may be transferred in some such way to his constant followers, to his own children whose faces are never turned away from the King in his beauty. What parent does not take delight in detecting something worthy in his child that resembles father or mother ? But 0 the joy in seeing something in our children God-like! "How much James resembles his father! His eyes are the same color. His nose is the same shape. He carries himself and nods his head just like his father does." As such remarks are frequently heard when the son passes along the street, so the world should have reason to speak of Christians as they walk and talk and have to do with it, - how much he or she resembles their Heavenly Father and Christ their Elder Brother. Jesus gives us the secret key for securing this family likeness to him where he says, "Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." Just as there is a family resemblance between parents and children, brothers and sisters, so in the family of God's pure children, there is a resemblance, a family likeness. Now, the grand distinguishing mark of a Christian - the badge of his discipleship is love. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love One to the other." God is love, and each soul must bear this image and superscription of the Eternal King in his beauty just as in the mint, each gold and silver coin bears the king's image and superscription. The human artist leaves the impress of his own personality upon all his work, and so does the divine Artificer, the great moulder of character, leave his mark, even the lovely likeness of himself. If the soul would grow beautiful in God's sight, it must keep looking unto Him. That which chiefly strengthens faith is having much to do with Jesus, looking into that face resplendent with the light of God. As the needle turns towards the pole, so the heart of love turns toward God.
Every disciple of Christ ought to be the express image of his person, as Christ himself is said to be the express image of the Father. In order to express the image of Christ in our practice, it must first be impressed on our minds and hearts. It is not by repeating Christ's words or acts, but by breathing his spirit that we become like Him. The affections must be centered in Christ. There is one image that we may all covet with-out idolatry, and that is the image of the Heavenly. The best kind of likeness is likeness to Christ. The Christian life is beautiful because it reproduces the life of Christ. The life of Christ on earth was beautiful because it was sinless. Christ is both our atonement and our adornment. Ah, there is a more beautiful life than a life of sin and sense,-it is the life of the Spirit, life everlasting. There should be much of this divine life in every man. A life hid with Christ in God is the very perfection of beauty. Moral beauty-the beauty of holiness, which is the Divine beauty, is the highest of all. What sublime, ineffable beauty there must be in the Divine character! What a privilege for man to attain to a resemblance to the Supreme Original! David exclaims, " Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us," "I shall be satisfied when I awake in thy likeness," " One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple." Would that more would seek to reflect the full-orbed moral beauty and effulgence of the Divine character!