Absent Present Christ
"I will not leave you
comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world
seeth me no more; but ye see Me; because I live, ye shall live also." --
The sweet and great comforting with which Christ had been soothing the
disciples' fears went very deep, but hitherto they had not gone deep enough.
was much that they should know the purpose of His going, whither He went,
that they had an interest in His departure. It was much that they should
before them the prospect of reunion; much that they should know that all
His absence He would be working in them, and that they should be assured
absent, He would send them a great gift. But reunion, influence from afar,
from the other side of the gulf were not all that their hearts needed.
And so here
our Lord gives yet more, in the paradoxes that, absent He will be present,
visible, and dying will be for them for ever, life and life-giving. These
thoughts go to the centre of their needs and of ours; and on them I now
There are in the words I have read, though they be but a fragment of a
closely-linked together context, these three great thoughts then: the absent
Christ the present Christ; the unseen Christ the seen Christ; the Christ
life and life-giving. Let us look at these as they stand.
I.First, then, the absent Christ is the present Christ.
"I will not leave you comfortless," or, as the Revised Version has it,
"desolate-I come to you." Now, most of us know, I suppose, that the literal
meaning of the word rendered "comfortless," or "desolate," is "orphans."
that is rather an unusual form in which to represent the relation between
Lord and His disciples. And so, possibly, our versions are accurate in
the general idea of desolation rather than the specific idea conveyed directly
by the word. But still it is to be remembered that this whole conversation
begins with "Little children "; and there seems to be no strong reason
suppressing the literal meaning of the word, if only it be remembered that
is employed not so much to define Christ's relation to His brethren as
describe the comfortless and helpless condition of that little group when
by Him. They would be like fatherless and motherless children in a cold
And what is to hinder that? One thing only. "I come to you." "Then, and
then, will you cease to be desolate and orphans. My presence will change
everything and turn winter into glorious summer."
Now, what is this "coming?" It is to be observed that our Lord says, not
will," as a future, but "I come," or "I am coming," as an immediately
impending, and, we may almost say, present, thing. There can be no
reference in the word to that final coming to judgment which lies so far
ahead; because, if there were, then there would follow from the text, that,
until that period, all that love Him here upon earth are to wander about
orphans, desolate and forsaken; and that certainly can never be. So that
have to recognize here the promise of a coming which is contemporaneous
with His absence, and which is, in fact, but the reverse side of His bodily
It is true about Him that He "departs from" His people in bodily form "for
season, that they may receive Him" in a better form "for ever." This, then,
the heart and centre of the consolation here, that howsoever the external
presence may be withdrawn, and the "foolish senses" may have to speak of
an absent Christ, we may rejoice in the certainty that He is with all those
that love Him, and all the more with them because of the very withdrawal
the earthly manifestation which has served its purpose, and now is laid
as an impediment rather than as a help to the full communion. We confuse
bodily with real. The bodily presence is at an end; the real presence lasts
I do not need to insist, I suppose, upon the manifest implication of absolute
Divinity which lies in such words as these. "I come." "Being absent, I
present in all generations. I am present with every single heart." That
equivalent to the Omnipresence of Deity; that is equivalent to or implies
undying existence of the Divine nature. And He that says, when He is leaving
earth and withdrawing the sweetness of His visible form from the eyes of
men, "I come," in the very act of going, "and I am with you always, with
of you to the end of the ages," can be no less than God, manifest in the
flesh for a time, and present in the Spirit with His children for ever.
I cannot but think that the average Christian life of this day woefully
the simple, conscious realization of this great truth, and that we are
too little living in the calm, happy, strengthening assurance that we are
never alone, but have Jesus Christ with each of us more closely, more truly,
in a more available fashion, and with more Omnipotence of influence than
they had who were nearest Him during the days that He lived upon earth.
Oh, brethren, if we really believed, not as an article of our creed, which
become so familiar to us that it produces little impression upon us; but
vital and ever-present conviction of our souls, that with us there was
the real presence of the real Christ, how all burdens and cares would be
lightened, how all perplexities would begin to smooth themselves out and
straightened, all the force would be sucked out of temptations, and how
sorrows and joys and all things would be changed in their aspect by that
conviction intensely realized and constantly with us! A present Christ
Strength, the Righteousness, the Peace, the Joy, and as we shall see, in
most literal sense, the Life of every Christian soul.
Then, note, further, that this coming of our Lord is identified with that
Divine Spirit. He has been speaking of sending that "other Comforter,"
though He be Another, He is yet so indissolubly united with Him who sends
that the coming of the Spirit is the coming of Jesus. He is no gift wafted
us as from the other side of a gulf, but by reason of the unity of the
Godhead and the Divinity of the sent Spirit, Jesus Christ and the Spirit
He sends are inseparable though separate, and so indissolubly united that
where the Spirit is, there is Christ, and where Christ is, there is the
These are amongst the deep things which the disciples were "not able to
carry" at that stage of their development, and they waited for a further
explanation. Enough for them and enough for us, to know that we have
Christ in the Spirit and the Spirit in Christ; and to remember "that if
have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
We stand here on the margin of a shoreless and fathomless sea; and for
part I venture to think that the men who talk about the incredibilities
contradictions of the orthodox faith would show themselves a little wiser
they were more conscious of the limitation of human faculty, and
remembered that to pronounce upon contradictions in the doctrine of the
Divine Nature implies that the pronouncer stands above and goes round
about the whole of that Nature. So, for my part, abjuring omniscience and
the comprehension of Deity, I accept the statement that the Father and
Son and the Holy Spirit come together and dwell in the heart.
Then, note, further, that this present Christ is the only Remedy for the
orphanhood of the world. The words had a tender and pathetic reference
that little, bewildered group of followers, deprived of their Guide, their
Teacher, and their Companion. He who had been as eyes to their weak
vision, and Counsellor and Inspirer and everything for three blessed years,
was going away to leave them unsheltered to the storm. And we can
understand how forlorn and terrified they were, when they looked forward
fronting the things that must come to them, without His presence. Therefore
He cheers them with the assurance that they will not be left without Him,
but that, present still just because He is absent, He will be all that
had been to them.
And the promise was fulfilled. How did that dispirited group of cowardly
ever pluck up courage to hold together after the Crucifixion at all? Why
it that they did not follow the example of John's disciples, and dissolve
disappear; and say, "The game is up. It is no use holding together any
longer?" The process of separation began on the very day of the Crucifixion.
Only one thing could have stopped it, and that is the Resurrection and
presence with His Church of the risen Christ in His power and in all the
fulness of His gifts. If it had not been that He came to them, they would
have disappeared, and Christianity would have been one more of the abortive
sects forgotten in Judaism. But, as it is, the whole of the New Testament
after Pentecost is aflame with the consciousness of a present Christ, working
amongst His people. And although it be true that, in one aspect, we are
"absent from the Lord" when we are present with the body, in another
aspect, and an infinitely higher one, it is true that the strength of the
Christian life of apostles and martyrs was this, the assurance that Christ
Himself-no mere rhetorical metaphor for His influence or His example, or
memory lingering in their imaginations, but the veritable Christ Himself-was
present with them, to strengthen and to bless.
That same conviction you and I must have, if the world is not to be a desert
and a dreary place for us. In a very profound sense it is true that if
away Jesus Christ, the elder Brother, who alone reveals to men the Father,
we are all orphans, fatherless children, who look up into an empty heaven
and see nothing there. It is only Christ who reveals to us the Father and
makes our happy hearts feel that we are of His children. And in the wider
sense of the word "orphans," is not life a desolation without Him? Hollow
fleeting blessednesses, roses whose thorns last long after the petals have
dropped, real sorrows, shows and shams, bitternesses and disappointments-
are not these our life, in so far as Christ has been driven out of it?
is only one thing that saves us from being as desolate, fatherless children,
groping in the dark for the lost Father's hand, and dying for want of it,
that is that the Christ Him- self shall come to us and be with us.
II.The Unseen Christ Is A Seen Christ.
It is clear that the period referred to in the second clause of our text
same as that referred to in the first, that "yet a little while" covers
space up to His ascension; and that if there be any reference at all to
forty days of His earthly life, during which, literally, the world "saw
more," but "the apostles saw Him," that reference is only secondary. These
transitory appearances are not of sufficient moment or duration to bear
weight of so great a promise as this. The vision, which is the consequence
the coming, has the same extension in time as the coming-that is to say,
continuous and permanent. We must read here the great promise of a
perpetual vision of the present Christ. It is clear, too, that the word
employed in these two clauses in two different senses. In the former it
only to bodily sight, in the latter to spiritual perception. For a few
hours still, the ungodly mass of men were to have that outward vision which
might have been so much to them, but which they had used so badly that
"they seeing saw not." It was to cease, and they who loved Him would not
miss it when it did; but the withdrawal which hid Him from sense and
sense-bound souls would reveal Him more clearly to His friends. They, too,
had but dimly seen Him while He stood by them; they would gaze on Him with
truer insight when He was present though absent.
So this is what every Christian life may and should be-the continual sight
a continually-present Christ. It is His part to come. It is ours to see,
conscious of Him who does come.
Faith is the sight of the soul, and it is far better than the sight of
senses. It is more direct. My eye does not touch what I look at. Gulfs
millions of miles may lie between me and it. But my faith is not only eye,
hand, and not only beholds, but grasps, and comes into contact with that
which it is directed. It is far more clear. Senses may deceive; my faith,
upon His Word, cannot deceive. Its information is far more certain, far
valid. I have better reason for believing in Jesus Christ than I have for
believing in the things that I touch and handle. So that there is no need
men to say, "Oh, if we had only seen Him with our eyes!" You would very
likely not have known Him if you had. There is no reason for thinking that
Church has retrograded in its privileges, because it has to love instead
beholding, and to believe instead of touching. That is advance, and we
better than they, inasmuch as the blessing of those who have not seen,
yet have believed, comes down upon our heads. The vision of Christ which
granted to the faithful soul is better and not worse, more and not less,
in kind indeed, but loftier in degree too, than that which was granted
men who saw Him upon earth. Sense disturbs, faith alone beholds.
"The world seeth Me no more." Why? Because it is a world. "Ye see Me."
Why? Because, and in the measure in which you have "turned away your
eyes from seeing vanity." If you want the eye of the soul to be opened,
must shut the eye of sense. And the more we turn away from looking at the
dazzling lies with which time and the material universe befool and bewilder
us, the more shall we see Him whom to see is to live for ever.
Oh! Brethren, does that strong word "see" in any measure express the
vividness, the directness, the certainty of our realization of our Master's
presence? Is Jesus Christ as clear, as perceptible, as sure to us as the
round us are? Which are the shadows and which are the realities to us?
things which are seen, which the senses crown as "real," or the things
cannot be seen because they are so great, and tower above us, invisible
their eternity? Which world are our eyes most open to, the world where
Christ is, or the world here? Our happy eyes may behold and our blessed
hands may handle the Word of Life which was manifested to us. Let us
beware that we turn not away from the one thing worthy to be looked at,
gaze upon a desolate and dreary world.
III.Lastly, the present and seen Christ is life and life-giving.
The last words of my text may be connected with the preceding, as the
marginal rendering of the Revised Version shows. But it is probably better
take them as standing independently, and presenting another and
co-ordinate element of the blessedness arising from the coming of the Christ.
Because He comes, His life passes into the hearts of the men to whom He
comes, and who gaze upon Him.
Time forbids me to dwell upon that majestic proclamation of His own absolute
and Divine life, from lips that were so soon to be paled with death. Mark
grand "I live"-the timeless present tense, which expresses unbroken,
underived, undying, and, as I believe, Divine life. It is all but a quotation
the great Old Testament name "Jehovah." The depth and sweep of its
meaning are given to us in this apostle's Apocalypse, where Christ is called
"the living One," who lived whilst He died, and having died "is alive for
And this Christ, coming to all His friends, possessor of the fulness of
Himself, and proclaiming His absolute possession of that life, even whilst
stands within arm's length of Calvary, is life-giver to all that love Him
We live because He lives. In all senses of the word life, as I believe,
of men is derived from the Christ who is the agent of creation, the channel
from whom life passes from the Godhead into the creatures, and who is also
the one means by whom any of us can ever hope to live the better life which
is the only true one, and consists in fellowship with God and union to
We shall live as long as He lives, and His being is the pledge and the
guarantee of the immortal being of all who love Him. Anything is possible,
rather than that it should be credible that a soul, which has drawn spiritual
life from Jesus Christ here upon earth, should ever be rent apart from
such a miserable and external trifle as the mere dissolution of the bodily
frame. As long as Christ lives your life is secure. If the Head has life,
members cannot see corruption. "Take me not away in the midst of my days:
Thy years are throughout all generations" was the prayer of a saint of
deeply feeling the contrast of the worshipper's transiency and God's eternity,
and dimly hoping that the contrast might be changed into likeness. The
promise of our text answers the prayer, and assures us that the worshipper
is to live as long as does He whom he adores.
We shall live as He lives, nor ever cease the appropriation of His being
all His life we know, and all its fulness has expanded our natures-and
be never. Therefore we shall not die.
Men's lives have been prolonged by the transfusion of blood from vigorous
frames. Jesus Christ passes His own blood into our veins, and makes us
immortal. The Church chose for one of its ancient emblems of the Saviour
pelican, which fed its young, according to the fable, with the blood from
own breast. So Christ vitalizes us. He in us is our life.
Brethren, without Jesus Christ we are orphans in a fatherless world. Without
Him our wearied and yet unsatisfied eyes have only trifles and trials and
trash to look at. Without Him, we are dead whilst we live. He and He only
can give us back a Father, and renew in us the spirit of sons. He and He
can satisfy our eyes with the sight which is purity and restfulness and
He and He only can breathe life into our death. Oh! Let Him do it for you.
comes to us with all these gifts in His hands, for He comes to give us
And in Himself, as "in a box where sweets compacted lie," are all that
hearts and wearied eyes and dead souls can ever need. All are yours if
are Christ's. All are yours if He is yours. And He is yours if by faith
you make yourselves His and Him your own.