The Two Worlds

[2 Cor. 12:3,4.]---' And I know such a man . . . how that he was caught up into paradise.'

As a young man, fresh from the school of a great Rabbi, St. Paul came in contact with the strange new sect---' those of the way.' Its teaching was abhorrent to him, but the assurance and triumph of its followers whom he persecuted, the ecstatic vision and shinning face of its first martyr, put goads in his soul. As he rode towards Damascus the goads became sharp within him, and suddenly the vision which had come to Stephen came to him; he too saw Jesus Christ. That it was an inward experience with powerful physical effects his own language makes most certain. ' It pleased God to reveal his Son in me.'

There are other autobiographical passages which plainly show that Paul was subject to extraordinary experiences. Defending his apostleship to the Corinthians in this passage he writes: ' I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago [whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth], such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man [whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth], how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.' Then in his discussion of the relative importance of ' speaking with tongues,' he informs us that he possessed in high degree this extraordinary experience: ' I speak with tongues more than you all.' His first journey to Europe was brought about by a vision. His journey from Antioch to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles and settle the basis of his work among the Gentiles was the result of revelation coming after a mental tension. And there are other indications in his epistles that he was the recipient of immediate and direct revelations of truths, whose origin he could not trace to any human communications, and of positive practical guidance, which his own ' wisdom ' could not account for.

That Paul did not rest in his vision we know. His goal was union with Christ. It is evident that he set slight value on extraordinary phenomena. Over against the experience of being ' caught up into Paradise ' we can put the calm but mighty transfiguration of personality which slowly wrought in him during the fourteen years following: ' With unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory [that is gradually] by the Spirit of the Lord.'

We feel the Apostle is unable to explain the manner in which a great illumination had come to him. ' I know God came to me, but how I cannot say.' For ourselves it is enough that our faith should include an acknowledgement of two worlds, the world of sense and the world of spirit, that we are inhabitants of both, and God is Lord of both. It should be a practical part of our faith to keep both doors open for the incoming of God. Into every intelligence there is a door which is never closed, through which the Creator passes. But it might be truer to say that there is a door there which we at any time may open. There is a world invisible, as well as a world visible; these two worlds interpenetrate one another. We are citizens of the ordinary, everyday world, which in the nature of things engrosses most of our attention, but we are citizens also of a kingdom which comes, as it came to the Apostle, ' without observation,' a kingdom which refuses to be put into any ordinary category.

In the Bible we find that the great outstanding figures are men and women who somehow were conscious of being citizens of these two worlds, and who date the most important and decisive things in their lives from the time when the spirit world broke in upon the sense world. One must not look for complete coherence in the account of such experiences. The blaze of glory which streamed in through the door of the spirit world was so overwhelming that in recounting afterwards an unforgettable experience they could not say how the experience came, whether it was objective or subjective, or both. Think of the infant Church, and Pentecost. We have not discovered, still less separated from each other, all the physical and spiritual happenings of that decisive day. All we know is that something happened, something so explosive and yet so creative that timid men were turned into virtual supermen. Whether it was ' in the body or out of the body,' whether it was a downcoming of Divine grace, or, of latent powers in his images, we are not able to say. We can only shrewdly suspect that God burst open both doors.

We find in the life of our Lord three outstanding, determining crises: the Transfiguration, the Baptism, the Temptation. The physical setting in each case was very simple and ordinary---a very ordinary mountain, the shallows and bank of a river, a lonely desert. Yet in the quiet setting of each of those scenes there was an expansion, a filling, an overflowing of the spirit of the Son of man, a widening of the door between heaven and earth, a deepening of the sense of the grace and the purpose of God, a Divine strengthening for the God-appointed task of God's Son.

And so one might work still further back through the old Book, back to men whose personality, whose faith and experience, are wrought into the bend and essential element of our religious life---Isaiah with his awe-inspiring announcement ' I saw God,' Elijah on Mount Horeb, Samuel in the Temple chamber, Moses at the ' back of the wilderness,' Abraham on the road, with the culture and comfort of ancient Ur behind, and in front a destiny to which he felt God was calling him. In the physical setting and circumstances of all these, there is nothing to arrest the attention, but in every case a door opened to the Eternal. And life for each one becomes rich with new meaning and promise, just because there is more than meets the eye or the ear, just because, for example, the impulse in Abraham's soul was more than wanderlust. Did a seraph really touch Isaiah's lips? Did the Eternal I Am really speak out of the midst of the bush? Are all these recorded experiences history or poetry or something that escapes human observation and description? There has been some glorious confusion, and it is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise. Heaven and earth came so close together that even the impressed mind cannot say how such contact was made. Amen.

Let us keep at least ajar the door that communicates in our heart between us and the unknown world of spirit. It is something to acknowledge God's lordship of the sense world, to thank Him for material gifts and blessings, to pray with bowed head, ' Give us this day our daily bread '; but this does not satisfy the depths of our desires, the wide range of our needs, ' Man shall not live by bread alone.' We are spirit, no less than God is spirit, and He will come to us if we leave open the gate of the spirit, with such power as to make the fact of His coming the central certainty of our life.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha

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