The Epiphany an Intuition

Eph. 3:4-5.---' The mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men.'

EPIPHANY is the season of illumination, and illumination comes by swift and sudden intuition. That is the peculiar way in which the human mind catches on to new knowledge.

We know how the poetic instinct of old painters laid hold of the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem, and magnified this arrival of a tiny group from the East into an immense impulse which set the whole world in motion towards the manger at Bethlehem. It was their way of expressing by symbolic presentation in artistic imagination that which the actual story typified. The coming of the wise men at the sign of the Star was an intuitional omen which signaled the ultimate significance for all nations of that which had been born of Mary amid the hay. Little, indeed, those Chaldean strangers knew of what they were about or of all that was to follow. But their action comes as the sudden pledge of what mankind at large must inevitably become aware of. And the artist's fancy, therefore, might picture all nations from every corner of the earth thronging in crowds behind the men who lead them as their kings. By one inspiration they have all set out at once---nobles and knights, squires and youths, with horses and hawks, on camels, and on mules, with bravery of banners, with flags flying over silken tents, all pouring along, bearing their golden treasuries to lay them down at the feet of the wondering mother with the Babe. As they crowd along through a mountain ravine, winding endlessly, with endless faces still pressing in, as the ravine hides from sight the throngs still felt to be behind. Mere imagination, of course; but an imagination which seizes on the significance of Epiphany, on the significance of a burst of light which, for a brief moment, everything hidden in darkness starts out into clear vision.

Of course century after century will drag its weary length in toil and pain, in blindness and in blood, before the kings of the whole earth will indeed set forth in all their wealth and pomp, in the glittering glory of their gallant companies, with the entire body of their desires and pleasures, moving down towards the stable at Bethlehem. But Epiphany has flashed the news that such an issue has now become finally inevitable. Epiphany has felt the pulse of that uttermost hour, giving one throb, as it were, along the veins of humanity. Epiphany has foretold, has accepted, the prophetic intimation. What has been once so apprehended as a truth from God to man can never return to God empty. The vision passes, but it does not fail. It has set the standard below which man's hope can never fall, it has touched the goal towards which we travel. There is but one meaning now by which to measure all human wealth, all human royalty; there is but one event round which all human history will for ever turn---Christ in us, 'the hope of glory.'

We learn, then, by intuitional illumination. That is the mode in which the reality of things lays hold of us; that is the way in which God reveals Himself. So Epiphany proclaims. But this does not mean, of course, that the illumination is independent of reasoning, is a mystic action out of all relation to thought. On the contrary, it enters in response to long processes of thought which have preceded it, and it originates again in long processes of thought which it evokes for its own verification; and both these are essential to it. First, hard and close reasoning, accurate and intelligent study---these have been for long years spent with loyal generosity by the Jewish schools in unraveling and defining the purposes of God which were fulfilled by the birth of the Word made Flesh. Whole worlds of speculation on life, on man, on the Spirit of God, on human experience, were swept together into that consummation. Jesus is born in answer to the demands of man's intelligence, to the logical pressure of man's conscience, to the premises that have been hammered out by man's thought. Though the answer itself, going as it does far beyond what reason has been able to detect or determine beforehand, is received as an instantaneous illumination from on high, yet it is only intelligible in view of the intellectual anxieties which it solves. It enters to meet and to lead and to carry forward the lines on which reason has been busily at work. Only by loyalty to the dictates and necessities of his thought is man in a condition to apprehend the good news flashed back to him.

And so again, when the illumination has been received, far from flinging defiance at the reason which it has, as it were, left behind for the moment, it has now to submit itself to the endless process by which reason discovers its adequate verification. It now becomes itself the starting point of every new intellectual analysis and deduction. It is the fulcrum round which mental activity works. Man's thoughts is kindled by it and discovers fresh opportunities for itself in the experience given it. Its range is widened; its grasp over facts is fortified and confirmed. This is the way in which intuition justifies itself as a reasonable, intelligible act.

But this is the time of Epiphany, the hour of intuition. Truth always comes in those mystical and abrupt intimations which are even now astir. Still, to some rare student there can come the moment when he lifts his head from weary books to find a star---new, solemn and alive---shining in the face of him. Still he can become swiftly aware that all paths of serious study lead at last to Jesus. Still a conviction may smite in upon us, amid all the hubbub of the ordinary religious activities, while we hear, as it were audibly, the voice of God in our ears pronouncing, as at the baptism by Jordan, 'This is my beloved Son: hear him.' Still in the heart of some purely human gladness we may suddenly awake to the presence by our side of the Lord of all joy, at whose word long ago at the Cana wedding the water trembled into wine. Still, most certainly, the old secret wakes again with new power, as, in face of all the hideous leprosies of our social state, the calm assurance once again meets us from the lips of Him who is saying in response to man's woeful cry for help, 'I will, be thou clean.' The mystery is yet at work below---this mystery of the Gentiles. There are hidden things yet to be disclosed; there are secrets now in the act of being revealed. It is ours to enter into the fellowship of this undying mystery.

Can we not hear, can we not feel even now, the mystery at work in the dark? There is a dull, cheerless hour that heralds always the breaking of the dawn. So, too, on the spirit this chill hour that is now on us may but foretell what is imminent in those silent places where 'God makes Himself an awful rose of dawn.' Are there not signs already abroad, stirrings that can be felt of a new day?

Amid all that disfigures and disheartens our Christian civilization, is there not still, for our comfort, the motion of a new pity, a new justice, a new brotherhood which shakes our souls as with a passing breath of inspiration? Do we not recognize the throb of a splendid passion that may yet draw men together into a society that more faithfully images the love of God for man, and of man for man in Christ Jesus?

These things are happening. Prophecies are going before, cries pass in the night, the light will yet break. Lay yourselves open to it, that you may feel through all your earthly dress bright shoots of everlastingness, and leave the comprehension to follow. If the voices call, rise and go after them.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha