Thank you very much, David. I always feel so much love and gratitude to be back in this wonderful congregation. My wife and I and five children spent some of our best years here and we brought up the children in worship here three times a week and then at Presbyterian Day School and what a benefit and a blessing it has been in their lives. So we’re so grateful for First Presbyterian Church Jackson and the influence you literally have all over the world. And I have felt particularly glad at the continuing fidelity in the ministry. I know a certain amount about the history of this church, and you have never had an unbeliever in the pulpit, never what we call, “a liberal,” that didn’t accept Scripture, and so it continues – faithful men of God that God can bless and a strong prayer meeting and a strong evening service. The future is open before you and God will bless you and God will use you.
Now I want to ask you to turn with me if you’d like to John chapter 17, the High Priestly Prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s praying this for His Church, for His people, to the end of time. That includes us in this congregation this morning here in Jackson. And as I was leaving the house this morning where we are staying with some friends, I was saying, “Lord, answer Jesus’ prayers for His people in church this morning that they will see what’s called here the glory.” It can also be similarly called “the beauty that there is in God.” So John 17:1-9:
“These words spake Jesus and lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that thy Son also may glorify thee, as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world. Thine they were, and thou gavest them me, and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and have known that surely that I came out from thee; and they have believed that thou did send me. I am pray for them. I pray not for the world but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine.’”
And as I was saying, Jesus is praying that the end of His leaving the glories of heaven and coming down to this world and going down to a holy life and the death of the cross and down into the deep places of the outer abyss and coming back up in a resurrection body was so that we could see the glory, so that it could be revealed through what He did the beauty of God. And Jesus knew, this is just before His passion when He was praying this, that He was getting ready to take the final actions after three and a half years of public ministry to pay that price, to seal and complete the covenant, that we could get hold of the glory and see the beauty of God and it get hold of us and it change us. And so he’s praying, “Lord, from now til the end of time, be applying this glory, this beauty.” And there are several words in Hebrew and Greek, and I won’t give them – glory, beauty, loveliness, splendor, light, and so forth – and Jesus wants you to see the beauty of God. Whatever else will be your issue in life, it would come from such. Some of us come from such different backgrounds and have different contexts where we live and serve – whatever else, God wants for you to see His beauty because that determines everything that will ever matter about what happens to you. Now beauty is something you have to see, feel, or hear in order to appreciate it. It’s that way with earthly objects – beautiful melodies, beautiful earthly scenes, beautiful face, whatever, beautiful relationship. And it’s especially so with the supreme beauty that God made the world that we could know the beauty of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what He wants you to see and to get hold of above everything else that will ever happen.
- Seeing the Beauty of Jesus.
It’s not exactly that I’m called on to give a personal testimony today. You know, I never know when will be the last time I’m here; I can’t say! Not important. But I would give a very brief testimony of how the Lord put people in my life as a child who had seen the beauty of Jesus and then they so influenced me that I wanted to see what they saw. And so it was! We had some cousins in one of the related Kelly houses – it’s not my grandparents, but some relatives that lived in the country; big, rambling wooden house. And as I remember, they didn’t have carpets on the floors. And there were a lot of people in that house or the compound around it, and so they’d gather every night, fifteen or twenty of our cousins, for family worship. And somebody would read Holy Scripture and then everybody would get out of their chairs and hit the floor to prayer. And one of my cousins, who was about my age, said, “When all those Kelly relatives got out of the seat and their knees were hitting the floor to go to prayer, it was like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean knocking in on the shore.” Now our people had seen the beauty and it was all around in family worship.
And then I remember earliest memories I had an elderly nanny, maybe the most beautiful person I ever saw. She was born just at the end of slavery so she was pretty old when I was a little boy. And she was with me all the time. And I especially remember, she couldn’t read very well; very intelligent person just not trained much at reading. But she’d take me up on her lap and open the Bible and tell me some stories from the Bible. And in particular, the one she was using had some classical pictures in it and I remember one in particular it had a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and she’d say, “Look at Him. He’s beautiful. He loved us. He’s from God. What He did was save our soul.” Then there was Judas betraying Him and she said, “He’s ugly. He’s mean.” And so she had seen the supreme beauty and it came out of her spirit into mine. It’s still there.
And I remember when I got in my early teens on the family plantation up in Moore County in North Carolina, working in the fields. And there was one of the tenants – wonderful Christian man. We called him Uncle Doss Carmichael. He was full of the Holy Spirit. And I worked with him. I thought he was terribly old. He was probably in his fifties! And I would go down one row and he down the other. And he’d talk to me about the Lord. And he said, “Douglas, I believe the Lord’s calling you into the ministry.” And so I was maybe nine or ten and we’d sing some of the old songs and spirituals up and down the rows in ninety, ninety-five degree heat, and it helped me. Well here was a man, this tenant, and what mattered about him, why he’s still, in a sense with me though he’s been in heaven a long time, he’s still in some sense part of my mental furniture in my mental universe – he had seen the beauty and it was shining through him to a ten year old boy and still in one real sense it’s there. So I speak with some zeal to you this morning about the beauty of Christ, the supreme beauty of all.
The Eternal Beauty of the Holy Trinity
Now the eternal beauty of God the Father Almighty is wonderfully concentrated in the face of His Son. You know how Philip said to Jesus in John 14, he said, “Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us.” And Jesus said, “Philip hast thou been with me this long a time and don’t you know that he that has seen me hath seen the Father?” And so God is one God, one holy reality, but there are three persons in the one God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, from all eternity. And Jonathan Edwards, maybe the greatest of all American theologians, philosophers, or one of the top five or six I’m sure, up in New England in the 1730s, 40s, and that, sort of through whom revival came, said, that the beauty of God is that the Father contemplates with the greatest delight and love and joy the loveliness of His Son, His own image in the Son. And then the Son in turn looks at the Father with the greatest serenity and gladness. And the Holy Spirit binding them both together. So “God is love,” 1 John 4:8. And the reason God is a Trinity is that it takes more than one person to express love. 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is not selfish, love seeketh not its own.” And so God has always sought a co-equal – the Father a Son and the Son a Father and both a blessed Holy Spirit that they can share and reflect that love. Love is giving. You know, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” So from always, always, the Father is giving Himself to the Son and the Son to the Father and the Holy Spirit one to another.
Now that is why God is beautiful. This being that delights in the other and this love and this joy. There’s a wonderful devotional writer, Andrew Murray. And let me say, when I was in my early twenties, the then-pastor of this church, good old Dr. John Reed Miller, some of you would remember him, some of you older ones, gave me two or three books of Andrew Murray and I began to read Andrew Murray when I was, I don’t know what, twenty-two, twenty-three, and I still do at seventy-two. And Andrew Murray, among other things, wrote this wonderful commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews. And in this commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews, Murray says that the chief thing about the beauty of the Lord that makes Him so supremely desirable and so transforming when we get hold of Him is that He has a Son and the Son has a Father and the Father sends down this Son that kept us from knowing and getting hold of the beauty of God to deal with our sins and to vacate the judgment against us through His taking our judgment and to destroy from the inside out the powers of hell and death. And so Jesus has come to us in His Son and that is the beauty that we can know and that we can behold of.
I want to quote one Scottish minister. David here knows him or knew him and so did Ligon. Reverend William Still of Aberdeen. He was fifty-two years minister in the same church and I’ve heard him preach frequently. And here’s something Mr. Still said. I want to give it to you about the beauty of God in terms of His peace, a peace that passeth all understanding, a peace that you can know before you go home today, if you want to. “God is the God of peace. He is at peace in and with Himself. A fundamental implication of the Holy Scriptures is that the triune God was, is, and ever shall be in perfect accord with Himself – person with person, office with office – and that He is satisfied with Himself in the fullness and perfection of His wisdom, love, power, and beauty.”
Ask the Holy Spirit to Make you Sensible to God’s Beauty.
Now let me say this. Many of you in here, maybe the vast majority, probably so but some of you will be joining us maybe television, radio, or internet, I don’t know, many of you know this beauty. It got hold of you as it did me. But others may be struggling. I suspect some of you might not be able to make sense of what I’m saying and yet it may well be you would like to see it. And if there’s anything to it, you’ve known some real Christians and you’d like to share perhaps what they have. Again, to go back to beloved Jonathan Edwards, he wrote this book on 1 Corinthians 13. It was a series of sermons in the 1730s when revival was visiting his church in Massachusetts and he said the whole point about being able to see the beauty of God is it requires sensibility. You’ve got to have inside your life and heart and soul and mind sensors that can pick it up, that can hear the melody that can see the loveliness. That’s why some very intelligent people, generally well-motivated, cultured, absolutely can’t make heads or tails of what we humble believers are talking about in seeing the beauty of the Lord. They don’t see it! They don’t have what Edwards called “the sensibility.”
But how can you get it? Some of you, most of you, have it. Yes! Some of you would like to have it. Well, you pray for the Holy Spirit to come into the deep places of your personality and open you up to this uncreated light, to this divine love, to this transforming presence of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost inside yourself. The Holy Spirit comes from the throne of God, from the Father and the Son, and He comes inside of us and opens us up that we can see the beauty and feel it and know it. He gives us the sensibility to say, “Yes, oh yes! Why I didn’t see it I don’t know! I see it now! I see it now!” And really and truly, it is all I ever wanted. Jesus said, in Luke chapter 11, “He gave you the authority to pray for the Father to send down the Holy Spirit in the Son’s name.” You say, isn’t the Holy Spirit sovereign God? You don’t tell God what to do. I know that, but Jesus has given you the authority to ask the heavenly Father to send down that person that you may not have yet to come in and open up your life and heart to the presence of God in Christ, the presence of Jesus, that you can have His beauty flood your soul and His light your darkness and His resurrection life flush out your death, and His sense of cleansing and purging; get rid of the guilt that you carry. You can ask. Jesus said, “If an earthly father will not give his son a stone when he asks for bread, and will not give his son a scorpion when he asks for a fish, how more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?”
I want to say this to you! I want to be very direct because my time with you is about to close and most of you I might not be seeing again. I hope I will, but I don’t know! You don’t have to go to bed tonight if you’re uncertain and you’ve never seen the beauty – and some of you wonder, “Maybe there is something to it” – you don’t have to go to bed not knowing, you don’t have to go to bed not having seen. You can ask the Father in the name of His Son to send the Holy Spirit inside your body and inside your personality and He will do it and you will see and you will know and you will know. Amen. Amen.