“Philip saith unto Him, Lord, shew us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” -John 14:8-9
The longing of the universal heart of man was voiced by Philip, when he broke in, rather abruptly, on our Lord’s discourse with the challenge that He should answer all questions, dissipate all doubt, by showing them the Father. Is there a God? How can I be sure that He is? What does He feel toward us?–these are questions which men persistently ask, and wait for the reply. And the Master gave the only satisfactory answer that has ever been uttered in the hearing of mankind, when He said in effect, “The knowledge of God must be conveyed, not in words or books, in symbols or types, but in a life. To know Me, to believe in Me, to come into contact with Me, is to know the deepest heart of God. ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?'”
I. PHILIP’S INQUIRY.
It bore witness to the possible growth of the human soul. Only three short years before, as we are told in the first chapter of this Gospel, Christ had found him. At that time he was probably much as the young men of his age and standing. Not specially remarkable save for an interest in, and an earnestness about, the advent of the Messiah; his views, however, of his person and work were limited and narrow: he looked for his advent as the time for the reestablishment of the kingdom of David, and deliverance from the Roman yoke. But three years of fellowship with Jesus had made a wonderful difference in this young disciple. The deepest mysteries of life and death and heaven seemed within his reach. He is not now content with beholding the Messiah, he is eager to know the Father, and to stand within the inner circle of His presence-chamber.
The highest watermark ever touched by the great soul of Moses was when he said, amid the sublimities of Sinai, “I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.” But in this aspiration Philip stands beside him. There is a close kinship between the mighty lawgiver and the fishermen of Bethsaida. How little there is to choose between, “Show me Thy glory,” and “Show us the Father.” Great and marvelous is the capacity of the soul for growth!
It truly interpreted the need of man.–“It sufficeth us.” From nature, with all her voices that speak of God’s power and Godhead; from the page of history, indented with the print of God’s footprints; from type and ceremony and temple, though instituted by God Himself; even from the unrivalled beauty of our Savior’s earthly life–these men turned unsatisfied, unfilled, and said, “We are not yet content, but if Thou wouldest show us the Father, we should be.”
And would it not suffice us?–Would it not be sufficient to give new zest and reality to prayer, if we could realize that it might be as familiar as the talk of home, or like the petitioning of a little child? Would it not suffice to make the most irksome work pleasant, if we could look up and discern the Father’s good pleasure and smile of approval? Would it not suffice to rob pain of its sting, if we could detect the Father’s hands adjusting the heat of the furnace? Would it not suffice to shed a light across the dark mystery of death, if we felt that the Father was waiting to lead us through the shadows to Himself? How often the cry rises from sad and almost despairing hearts, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.”
But surely this request was based on a mistake.–Philip wanted a visible theophany, like that which Moses beheld, when the majestic procession swept down the mountain pass; or as the elders saw, when they beheld the paved sapphire work; or after the fashion of the visions vouchsafed to Elijah, Isaiah, or Ezekiel. He wanted to see the Father. But how can you make wisdom, or love, or purity visible, save in a human life?
Yet this is the mistake we are all liable to make. We feel that there must be an experience, a vision, a burst of light, a sensible manifestation, before we can know the Father. We strain after some unique and extraordinary presentation of the Deity, especially in the aspect of Fatherhood, before we can be completely satisfied, and thus we miss the lesson of the present hour. Philip was so absorbed in his quest for the transcendent and sublime, that he missed the revelations of the Father which for three years had been passing under his eyes. God had been manifesting His tenderest and most characteristic attributes by the beauty of the Master’s life, but Philip had failed to discern them; till now the Master bids him go back on the photographs of those years, as fixed in his memory, to see in a thousand tiny illustrations how truly the Father dwelt in Him, and lived through His every word and work.
Are you straining after the vision of God, startled by every footstep, intently listening till the very atmosphere shall become audible, expecting an overwhelming spectacle? In all likelihood you will miss all. The kingdom comes not with outward show. When men expected Christ to come by the front door, He stole in at the back. Whilst Philip was waiting for the Father to be shown in thunder and lightning, in startling splendor, in the stately majesty that might become the Highest, he missed the daily unfolding of the Divine Nature that was being afforded in the Life with which he dwelt in daily contact.
Philip’s request emphasized the urgent need of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.–“If ye had known Me”. . . the Savior said. “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?” They failed to know the Father, because they failed to know Christ, and they failed in this because they knew Him only after the flesh. They were so familiar with Him as their Friend, His love was so natural, tender, and human, He had become so closely identified with all their daily existence, that they did not recognize the fire that shone behind the porcelain, the Deity that tabernacled beneath the frail curtains.
Often those who dwell amid the loveliest or grandest scenery miss the beauty which is unveiled to strangers from a distance. Certain lives have to be withdrawn from us before we understand how fair they were, and how much to us. And Jesus had to leave His disciples before they could properly appreciate Him. The Holy Spirit must needs take of the things of Christ, and reveal them, before they could realize their true significance, symmetry, and beauty.
Two things are needful, then: first, we must know Christ through the teaching of the Holy Ghost; and next, we must receive Him into our hearts, that we may know Him, as we know the workings of our own hearts. Each knows himself, and could recognize the mint-mark of his own individuality; so when Christ has become resident within us, and has taken the place of our self-life, we know Him as we know ourselves. “What man knoweth the things of man save the spirit of man which is in him?–but we have the mind of Christ?”
II. THE LORD’S REPLY.–“He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father.”
He did not rebuke the request, as unfit to proffer, or impossible to satisfy. He took it for granted that such a desire would exist in the heart, and that His disciples would always want to be led by Him into the Father’s presence. In this His ministry resembled that of the great forerunner, who led His disciples into the presence of the Bridegroom, content to decrease if only He might increase. The Master’s answer was, however, widely different from John’s. The forerunner pointed to Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God”; Jesus pointed to Himself, and said, “I and My Father are One; to have seen Me is to have seen the Father; to have Me is to possess the Father.”
It troubled the Lord greatly that He had been so long time with them, and yet they had not known Him; that they had not realized the source of His words and works; that they had concentrated their thought on Him, instead of passing, as He meant them to do, from the stream to the source, from the die to the seal, from the beam of the Divine Glory to its Sun. He bade them, therefore, from that moment realize that they knew and had seen the Father in knowing and seeing Himself. Not more surely had the Shechinah dwelt in the tabernacle of old, than did it indwell His nature, though too thickly shrouded to be seen by ordinary and casual eyes.
Let us get help from this. Many complain that they know Christ, pray to Christ, are conscious of Christ, but that the Father is far away and impalpable. They are therefore straining after some new vision or experience of God, and undervaluing the religious life to which they have already attained. It is a profound mistake. To have Jesus is to have God; to know Jesus is to know God; to pray to Jesus is to pray to God. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. Look up to Him even now from this printed page, and say, “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus is not simply an incarnation of God in the sense in which, after the fashion of the Greek mythology, gods might come down in the likeness of men, adopting a disguise which they would afterward cast aside; Jesus is God. All the gentle attributes of His nature are God’s; and all the strong and awful attributes of power, justice, purity, which we are wont to associate with God, are His also.
Happy is the moment when we awake to realize that in Jesus we have God manifest and present; to know this is the revelation of the Father by the Son, of which our Savior spoke in Mat_11:27.
III. A GLIMPSE INTO THE LORD’S INNER LIFE.–This Gospel is the most lucid and profound treatise in existence on His inner life. It is the revelation of the principles on which our Savior lived.
So absolutely had He emptied Himself that He never spoke His own words: “The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself.” He never did His own works: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. . . . The Father abiding in Me doeth His works.” This was the result of that marvelous self-emptying of which the Apostle speaks. Our Lord speaks as though, in His human nature, He had a choice and will of His own. “Not My will, but Thine be done,” was His prayer. Perhaps it was to this holy and divine personality that Satan made appeal in the first temptation, bidding Him use His powers for the satisfaction of His hunger, and in independence of His Father’s appointment. But however much of this independence was within our Lord’s reach, He deliberately laid it aside. Before He spoke, His spirit opened itself to the Father, that He might speak by His lips; before He acted. He stilled the promptings of His own wisdom, and lifted Himself into the presence of the Father, to ascertain what He was doing, and to receive the inflow of His energy (John 5:19; John 12:44, John 12:49).
These are great mysteries, which will engage our further consideration. In the meanwhile, let us reason that if our Lord was so careful to subordinate Himself to the Father that He might be all in all, it well becomes us to restrain ourselves, to abstain from speaking our own words or doing our own works, that Jesus may pour His energies through our being, and that those searching words may be fulfilled in us also, “Striving according to His working, which worketh in Me mightily.”