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The Lord from heaven

The Lord from heaven

An extract from Sir Robert Anderson's book
"The Lord from Heaven"

"the modern familiarity of use of the simple name Jesus has little authority in Apostolic usage." A Christ-after-the flesh cult is always popular. If we really desire "to sanctify Christ in our hearts as Lord," we shall be careful and eager to own Him as Lord with our lips. "Ye call Me master and Lord, and ye say well." These are His own words; and surely this is enough for the true disciple.
Chapter 10

"What does he mean?" some may ask in laying down the tenth chapter. To explain my meaning, therefore, I take up at random four documents now before me.

The first is a syllabus of services in a certain West End church which is noted for a true ministry. And among the subjects of addresses announced, I here find "The parables of Jesus," and "Scenes in the Life of Jesus." Lectures were once announced under these same headings in a notorious "Hall of Science" in London. The profane infidel and the devout Christian thus agree in naming the Lord Jesus Christ in the same free and easy fashion.

The next is a theological work by a Professor in one of the principal Theological Colleges in America. The author is a devout and enlightened student of Scripture, and his book is of great merit and real value. The present volume, indeed, has benefited by help derived from it. But the manner in which it habitually uses "the simple name" might suggest that some infidel had got hold of the MS. and had struck out every title of reverence. It is "Jesus" everywhere. Only twenty times is the Lord named as "Jesus" in all the Epistles of the New Testament, and yet He is so named twenty-two times in the two concluding paragraphs of the last chapter of the book.

The third is a publisher’s circular about a work entitled "Jesus according to St. Mark." By a clergyman who is a Fellow of an Oxford College, and Examining Chaplain to a Bishop. "It endeavors to answer the question, What kind of a person did St. Mark, or his informant, St. Peter, think Jesus to be? Under the heads of ‘Jesus’ family and friends, ‘Jesus’ way of life, ‘Jesus’ mind, ‘Jesus’ social outlook, ‘Jesus’ morality, and ‘Jesus’ religion, it approaches the final subject of ‘Jesus Himself.’ Had the book been written by Tom Paine or Voltaire, the title and headings would have been the same, save that the "Saint" before the name of the Evangelist would probably have been omitted. "Jesus" always; but Saint Mark! Is it not plain that the "Jesus" of this deplorable book is the dead Buddha of the Rationalist? Could any one to whom our Lord Jesus Christ is a living person - "our great God and Saviour," before whose judgment-seat we all shall stand - write of Him, or even think of Him, after this fashion?

The last document in my list is a "book of piety" by an American writer who seems to be a persona grata on advanced evangelical platforms on both sides of the Atlantic. It is a deplorable book, the evil influence of which is all the greater because it is so subtle. It is fitted to promote a "Christ after the flesh" religion of a kind that charms the mere religionist, and deceives and corrupts even spiritual Christians - a religion which puts sentiment in place of faith, and the expression of that sentiment in the place of the divine revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Though a book of this kind enjoys a fleeting popularity because it panders to the desire of the natural man to bring "Jesus" down to his own level, it is happily short-lived. But it is otherwise with works such as find a place on the shelves of every theological library. And most of our recent theological literature is so definitely "run in a rationalistic mould," that it is unwholesome reading for Christians. And this is true even of books written by men who pose as champions of orthodoxy. Here, eg. Is a typical sentence from the pen of one such; "Jesus was a very complex character." Can a man who writes thus have any real knowledge of the Lord before whom he has to stand in judgment?

The historian who has true historical genius studies the records of the past in order to put himself back, as it were, into the life of the people of whom he writes, that he may be able to think as they thought and feel as they felt. And if we study the New Testament in this spirit, we shall realize in some measure the amazement and distress which any one of the early disciples would feel, if he returned to earth today, at finding that Christians constantly name the Lord of Glory after the example of the vagabond Jewish exorcists of the Acts. In his day, he would tell us, people declared themselves at once as unbelievers or disciples by the way in which they spoke of Him.

As proof that there can be nothing unseemly in speaking of the Lord as "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ", it is often urged that many reverent and spiritual men habitually name Him thus. But were it not for this there would be no need to write upon the subject at all. And surely the question for us is not as to the habits and practices of Christian men, but as to the teaching of Scripture and the expressed will of the Lord Himself.

If the question is to be settled by the practice of Christians, it was settled in the days of the Fathers. Though here we should distinguish between "the Apostolic Fathers" and their successors. For writings such as Clement’s "Epistle to the Corinthians" and Polycarp’s "Epistle to the Philippians" definitely follow the New Testament tradition in the way they name the Lord; whereas later Patristic writings give proof that, in this as in other respects, the leaven was already working which (as Froude aptly expresses it somewhere) changed the religion of Christ into the Christian religion.

In the Gospels, as already noticed, the Lord is named narratively as "Jesus" some 600 times, but never once in the Epistles. Eight times in Hebrews, and in eight passages in the Epistles of Paul, He is called by His personal name; and in every instance its occurrence indicates some doctrinal significance or special emphasis. The following is the list of the passages in question. I will preface it merely by repeating that His disciples never spoke of him to one another save as Master or Lord;

The Revisers’ reading of Galatians 6:17 exemplifies the importance of accuracy in the use of the Lord’s names. Their devotion to the three oldest MSS, - the layman’s usual blunder in giving undue weight to "direct" evidence - has here led to a deplorable perversion of the Apostle’s words.

"The stigmata of Jesus" must be explained (according to the well-known incident in the life of St. Francis of Assisi) as the wound-prints which "the Man of Sorrows" bore in His body. But however they may be interpreted, it seems incredible that such words could have been penned by the Apostle Paul. The meaning of his actual words - "the stigmata of the Lord Jesus" - is not doubtful. It was a practice with slave-owners to brand their slaves, and the scars of his sufferings for Christ’s sake were to him the brand-marks by which his Divine Master claimed him to be His devoted slave.

The passages in Hebrews are 2:9, 4:14, 6:20, 7:22, 10:19, 12:2 and 13:12, the reference to the Lord’s humiliation and "witness unto death" is unmistakable. Hebrews 6:20 (the forerunner) may be bracketed with 12:2 and 7:22 with 4:14.

These are the only passages in the Epistles of the New Testament in which the Lord is mentioned by His personal name. To use them as an excuse for the prevailing practice of naming Him with unholy familiarity is to bring Scripture into contempt., for a gulf separates even our most solemn utterances from the inspired language of Holy Scripture.

It is noteworthy that while "the simple name" is never used narratively in the Epistles, it is so used in the first chapter of Acts (verses 1, 14 and 16), which is in a sense the conclusion of the Third Gospel. And two or three other passages may seem to be in the same category, though perhaps they ought to be otherwise explained. It is also remarkable that in Acts 1:11, as in Revelation 14:12 and 19:10, the Lord is thus designated by angels. And the Lord Himself used the name of His humiliation in arresting Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:5), as He does again in Revelation 22:16. What has been said of the use of the name "Jesus" in the Epistles applies with special force to the Apostolic preaching recorded in Acts; as, e.g. in 2:32 and 36. And still greater emphasis attaches to "Jesus of Nazareth," as a name not only of humiliation, but of reproach .

With reference to the few occurrences of "Jesus Christ" in Acts, the remarks offered in Chapter X apply with full force. The Lord is never thus named to Gentiles (for the R.V. omits 8:37).

I would here repeat the words quote on a preceding page, that "the modern familiarity of use of the simple name Jesus has little authority in Apostolic usage." But in view of the foregoing analysis of Scripture, I would go further, and maintain that, to familiarity of use, the New Testament lends no sanction whatever. It is generally due to ignorance, indifference, or sheer carelessness. To call Him "Jesus" saves time and breath. Moreover, it is popular with hearers and readers - a Christ-after-the flesh cult is always popular - and if we like it, what does it matter? He is of no account whatever!

To call a fellow-man by his personal name betokens great familiarity; and if there be Christians who have gained such a position with their Lord and Saviour, it is not for us to judge them., But we who claim no such place must not allow ourselves to be betrayed by their example into thoughts or modes of speech which His presence would rebuke and silence. If we really desire "to sanctify Christ in our hearts as Lord," we shall be careful and eager to own Him as Lord with our lips. And all influences that hinder the realization of that desire are unwholesome, and we do well to shun them.

"Ye do show the Lord’s death till he come" (1 Cor. 11:26). In these words we have the faith and hope of Christianity; and no one who lets go any part of the truth they express has any right to the name of Christian. For to reject the hope of the Coming is as really a mark of apostasy as to deny the Atonement. And no spiritual Christian will need to be reminded of the significance of the word, the Lord’s death. "The death of Jesus" might mean merely the end of His earthly life in Judea long ago. This indeed is the ruling thought in the religion of Christendom, the crucifix being the symbol of it. But it is not through the slough of nineteen centuries of apostasy that we reach the Cross. Faith brings us into the presence of the Lord in His glory, and we rest upon His words - "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev. 1:18), "We know that the Son of God is come" - that is the Christian’s past, "He is now at the right hand of God ..... for us" - that is his present. And for the future, "we are looking for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 John 5:20, Rom. 8:34 and Phil. 3:20).

Our hymn-books contain many a hymn which Christians would discard or alter if they knew what it meant "to sanctify Christ in their hearts as Lord." I take, for instance, the hymn beginning -

"Sweet Saviour, bless us ere we go."

With the refrain at the end of every verse -

"O gentle Jesu, be our light."

Who is the Being whom people are taught to address in such terms and in such a manner? One moment’s intelligent thought will satisfy any one that he is not our risen glorified Lord and Saviour. His personal name occurs many hundreds of times in the New Testament, but never once with an adjective. Not even in the days of His humiliation did His chosen disciples ever address Him thus. The plain truth is that this "sweet, gentle Jesu" is a mere idol. The same tendency in human nature which leads some to worship a mythical Virgin Mary, declares itself in impersonating this mythical Jesus, who is an object of sentiment, and not of faith. And this tendency is so deep and general that in scores of hymns we find this utterly unchristian, "O Jesus," when the rhythm of the verse is marred by it, and would be saved by the use of the Christian mode of address, "Lord Jesus."

"Ye call Me master and Lord, and ye say well." These are His own words; and surely this is enough for the true disciple.

A friend of mine tells of the death-bed words of a revered Christian minister by whom he himself was brought to the Lord. In response to the inquiry, "Safe in the arms of Jesus?" the old saint opened his eyes, and replied with a smile, "No, no; at His feet." It was the attitude of the beloved disciple in the Patmos vision. We should never allow a hymn-book to betray us into using words which we would not use if the Lord were present, or if we really believed that He was listening.