Spirit, Light, Love

[Rom. 15:6]---'That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.'

The fundamental idea in religion is the thought of God. All else is built upon it. It is that which in every form of religion determines all its other beliefs, fashions its modes of worship, and most influences the lives of its adherents. True knowledge of God is almost everything in a healthy religious life: everything for inspiration, everything for strength and peace and joy. There are many religious questions for whose answers we can wait without any detriment to our spiritual life, but the answer to the question, What is God? is a present and an imperative need. The character of God is the foundation of all our hopes.

It is a remarkable fact that we find in the Gospels and Epistles very few direct references to the nature of God---to what God is essentially, apart from the universe and humanity. The teaching of our Lord is cheifly directed towards considering the unity of God and man under the symbol of His own Divine Sonship. But three great statements concerning the nature and character of God have come down to us from early Christendom: God is Spirit; God is Light; God is Love. We can hardly call these statements definitions; yet they are, perhaps, the nearest approach to definitions of God which the Human mind can frame or comprehend, and in the history of religious thought they are unique. St. John says of one of them, 'God is Light,' that it was a message received from Christ, and though it may not have been a literal saying, it is plainly what He must have taught His disciples to believe---a record of St. John's impression of the revelation of God in the teaching and life of his Master. The same may be said of the third statement, 'God is Love.' Jesus may never have used the actual words, but through Him came that knowledge of God. It had been always true that 'God is Love,' but He first made it a reality to the world. He said as much when He taught His disciples to say 'Our Father,' and when He declared, in virtue of the perfection of His filial spirit and life, 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.'

The old Greeks, whose civilization developed along the line of architecture, and painting, and the decorative arts, said, 'God is beauty.' The Romans, led by the Caesars on a hundred battlefields to victory, until they boasted that the Roman eagles never turned backward, said, 'God is strength.' The Jew, inheriting from Moses, the great law-giver, said, 'God is law.' It was not until John had laid his head upon the Savior's bosom and communed with Jesus Christ that any man was able to say with confident heart, 'God is Love.'

Taken together, these three statements---'God is Spirit,' 'God is Light,' 'God is Love'---may be regarded as the sum and symbol of the Christian revelation of God, of the Divine knowledge which makes of Christianity the absolute or universal religion for all mankind. They are the sure words on which the edifice of eternal religion must rest.'

God is Spirit---not a spirit, as if He were a bodiless person or ghost, or one of many spirits; not even the spirit, as though He were the sovereign spirit in a world of spirits---but Spirit, free from all the limitations of space and time, eternal and infinite, the all-surrounding and indwelling Life, transcending everything yet immanent in everything, the one Presence in which we live and move.

In the affirmation 'God is Spirit' we have perhaps the most revolutionary and evolutionary truth in its implication that was ever announced, and so absolutely simple that its simplicity makes it the final word upon the subject. And yet it was addressed, not to a company of philosophers, but to a humble woman, eager to draw Jesus into a discussion concerning the ancient feud between Jews and Samaritans touching the true place of worship. We may be sure that the meaning which the words would convey to her untaught mind was the meaning intended by Jesus. To such a one as she was it must have been a bold and direct way of saying that God is everywhere, free from all bondage to the outward and material, not tied down to one special place, but filling all places with His presence.

The emphasis which Jesus placed upon this thought of God is well shown in the order of the original sentence: 'Spirit God is'---the most ephatic word, according to the Greek usage, coming first. It cannot therefore be in any merely negative sense that God is Spirit. He is not only invisible, immaterial, unlimited, filling all space yet not bound by space, filling all time yet not of time, filling all material things yet not material in any sense; He is Life and the Giver of life; not unsubstantial, but in the fullest sense real, having all the attributes of conscious personal being---thought, feeling, and will---perfectly and infinitely.

Let us not hold any thought of God and His ways which cannot be harmonized with the truth that God is Spirit, and let us not shrink from applying it where it needs to be applied. Let us realize that God is Spirit and it will compel us to drop all conceptions of Deity as an isolated Being, dwelling apart from the universe and appearing now here and now there. Let us but realize that God is Spirit and it will lift us out of many a controversy of a region where our questions can have no meaning: many crude notions of spiritual things will pass away, and all external and materialistic views of Creation, Providence, Inspiration, Revelation, Incarnation, Atonement, and the conditions and methods of communion with God, will cease to be misunderstood.

On the other hand, because God is Spirit let us not imagine that His Being and Presence must therefore be vague, illusory, or inaccessible. The very opposite is the truth. His omnipresence and providence can be conceived only as we realize the He is Spirit. Limit Him, confine Him, shut Him up in any one world, or temple, or rite, and you banish Him by these limitations from boundless realms and from millions of souls. Because He is Spirit He cannot be brought within the range of our senses. He can only be spiritually discerned in Nature and in human life, in the Bible and in Christ. Because He is infinite Spirit He is by no means exhausted in His revelations. He is more than any finite manifestation of Himself---even the highest. 'My Father,' said Jesus, 'is greater than I.'

God is Spirit, and man is a spirit. This truth is the heart of religion, and its rational basis. Worship is indeed, only posible on the assumption that there is something in the worshipper akin to something in the Being who is worshipped. It is the Divine in man which seeks for fellowship with the Divine above and beyond him. It is because we are essentially spiritual beings and God is Spirit that we can commune with Him, know His mind, discern His ways, enter into His purposes, and receive His inspiration.

The practical bearing of the statement that God is Spirit is shown in the requisition that the true worshipper must worship Him in spirit and in truth, that is, in a way corresponding to the Divine Reality and with the whole inner assent of the soul.

A more profound and comprehensive description of Deity never perhaps fell from human lips than this statement: 'God is Light, and in him is no darkness at all.' Like our great words concerning God, Light is a figure, yet a figure which we feel brings us nearer the Divine Reality than any more literal word could possibly do. It is rich in suggestion, and in meditating upon God it is suggestion more than definition that we want. What in the heavens above or the earth beneath could serve better as an emblem of Deity than light---clear, pure, and illimitable in its diffusion; penetrating, searching, and revealing in its power; silent and beneficent in its influence. While the statement 'God is Light' includes part of the thought suggested by the words 'God is Spirit,' it adds to it the thought of wisdom and truth, righteousness and holiness, an their manifestations. When we say that God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all, we affirm that He is perfectly and absolutely wise. Men have attributed and do still attribute foolish things to God, and let us ever bring all we are taught or told to this supreme test---God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all. There are some things which God cannot do. He cannot deny Himself. He cannot in anything or anywhere act inconsistently with His character. He and truth are one. He keeps truth for ever. And is that confidence too much for us to fill our hearts with in regard to God and all His ways?

The first expression of the Divine will contained in the Bible, 'Let there be light,' is symbolic of the Divine purpose and action through all the ages. From the beginning God has been pouring forth His light as fast as man has been able to bear it. He is the Father of lights. All our lights are the outshining of His light. What we call the light of Nature, the light of mind, the light of conscience, the light of experience, is the light of God. It is the light of God which we see in the face of Jesus Christ.

'God is Love' is the last and greatest of the three great words concerning God which have come down to us from the first Christian days. In it is condensed the essence of Christianity---the gospel by which Christianity reveals its character as religion---a religion which can meet and satisfy the deepest demands of human nature, and will always remain the religion of men while they develope immeasurably.

We are not told that God loves, or is loving, but that He is Love. His love is more than a quality---it is essence. All His qualities are but aspects of His love. His love may at times be a consuming fire to destroy sin, but it is still love. At whatever point we touch God we touch love. We cannot escape from love, because we cannot escape from God. There would be nothing remarkable in the statement that God loves or is loving, but there is something wonderful in the declaration that He is essentially Love. We can imagine infinite power, justice, truth, wisdom, and holiness, not pervaded and guided in their movements and manifestations by love. But it is the very opposite of this that we are taught in the text. Love is that in God which pervades, controls, directs all that He is and all that He does.

God is Love; and love, wherever we find it and in whatever form, is of God. There must be love in God or there would be no love in the world, no pity in the heart of man, no tenderness of motherhood, no gentleness in the strong; for in the image of God man is made, and in God he lives and moves and has his being. Jesus Christ not only taught the world that God is Love, but He revealed it in His life. His love was His Father's love, and His sacrifice not an act exceptional or contrary to the Divine Spirit but its manifestation and effect.

God is Spirit, God is Light, God is Love---this is our gospel. If we get this into our mind and heart, all else that we need to know will follow in its right order. Without this first, all else will be confusion, both in our personal lives and in the life of the Christian community. Let us also see in these three great statements the revelation of human character an duty. It was a pagan teacher who said that he who would please God must be like God---an echo or anticipation of the more familiar words, 'Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.'

In Christ, timothy.