Our theme today is quite a simple one, and yet it’s one that we never come to the end of. It’s quite simply the loveliness of Christ. Beginning to meditate upon it, I find there are so many strands that they are actually quite difficult to separate out and choose from. But I’ll do what I can and see where it goes.
When I was growing up, in fact for many, many years, there was a sign on my uncle’s farm. According to my memory, on the one side it said: ‘What think ye of Christ?’, and on the other: ‘He is altogether lovely.’ And it had an effect on me; it just was always there in my consciousnesss. Never despise wayside pulpits. My husband Wesley’s father had a farm with a different text on it, but I think one was: ‘It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.’ Many years later one of the family was talking to someone who said that they had been brought to Christ partly if not completely through that text. Alison Speirs, known to us all as the minister of our Glasgow church, was a thorough atheist in her youth, but in the months leading up to her conversion she was pretty pierced by a wayside text that said: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.’
But to come back to my uncle’s wayside sign, the answer to the question ‘What think ye of Christ?’ – ‘He is altogether lovely’ – is from the Song of Songs, when the daughters of Jerusalem ask the Bride:
What is Thy beloved more than another beloved?
and she answers:
His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Talk of the loveliness of Christ in language such as this can be like mere words to us, until the day comes when we actually have caught a glimpse of Him in His sanctuary. We sing that lovely piece sometimes:
Within the veil I now would come,
Into the holy place, to look upon Thy face;
I see such beauty there, none other can compare;
I worship Thee, my Lord, within the veil.
The ‘veil’ within which we are invited to come speaks of that veil in the Temple that separated the general populace and even the priests from the Holy of Holies. Christ has entered in there, we read, into the heavenly places. He has ‘rent the veil in two’ so that we can come into a place of real beholding of the Godhead, shown to us in the face of Jesus Christ.
I think there are different roads by which people come into this place of beholding. For some of us it happens in a moment after yielding our life to Christ. There comes a moment when we are in the Spirit and into a new place, a new realm that we didn’t know existed, in which something of the loveliness of the face of Christ is shown to us, and life is never the same again. We are captivated by Him and by the beauty that shines out – Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. And we know, surely, something of the loveliness of Christ and of that face that attracted the disciples and made them leave their means of living and follow after Him and say: ‘We’ve found the Christ. We’ve found the Lamb of God.’ And so have they done through the ages. But we come, I think, by different roads into appreciating and really understanding in our hearts and in our spirits, as well as in our minds, the loveliness of Christ. The very creation around shows the hand of a Creator who loves beauty. And He is the One who is altogether perfect. I know that Isaiah says: He has no beauty in him that we should desire Him. That is what He seemed like to those who hated Him without a cause. But to those who loved Him and to those now who love Him, He is the altogether lovely.
The bride in the Song of Songs says: This is my beloved, and this is my friend. Isn’t that a lovely title for Christ? My friend. He calls us his friends. Often when addressing His disciples He called them His friends. And they who hated Him called Him the friend of sinners.
Thou art the sinner’s friend,
So I Thy friendship claim.
To have a friend, and one who can be altogether trusted, is often the desire of the human heart. If a friend lets us down or betrays our trust, the friendship is never quite the same again. We look for one on whom we can rely, and also one who will not look for our weaknesses, and will not point a finger at us. Not that we want them to be blind, but we prefer them to be the kind of person who will overlook our weaknesses or take them into account and still give us loyalty and friendship.
It is said of someone I read of that they had led a life better than perhaps had been expected of them. When asked the secret of it they said: ‘Well, I had a friend.’ They had a friend who set a high standard. C. S. Lewis speaks of the days before his conversion, when in the army during the First World War. He had a friend who was moving towards Christianity, and he discovered that this friend took for granted the Christian virtues of chastity, truth, honourableness. C. S. Lewis was not living like that, but he didn’t want this friend to know, and indeed he began to adjust his life to match his friend’s standard.
How much more is that the case for us with the Lord Jesus Christ? He comes alongside us to be our friend, and we begin to discover how true that that friendship deepens. There are passing friends whom we don’t know very well and who don’t know us well. But there are others who get much further into an understanding and a knowledge, and they become close friends as we get to know them. Often as we get to know a person we become less friends with them, or we become greater friends.
Christ doesn’t need to get to know us. He knows us, and yet He does not turn away. And He allows us to come further into His sanctuary so that we begin to know Him. He that regards purity in his heart … has the king for his friend (Proverbs 22:11). If we regard that, and if we basically clean our lives up in every aspect of living, we find that Christ, the friend of sinners, is the King, and the friendship of the King is worth having. As we get to know a friend, we get to know their faces better, and whatever they might have appeared like to us originally, we begin to see no flaw in them. There is an attraction, because of their personality that outweighs any defects they might have. With Christ, the innerness of His being is altogether lovely, and so is the countenance that is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit in spiritual places. Someone said of Garibaldi, a very courageous, charismatic leader in the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century: ‘I have today seen the face of Garibaldi, and all the devotion of his friends is made clear as day to me.’
Who hath once seen or in the least descried Him
Dimly and distant, hidden and afar,
Doth not despise all excellence beside Him,
Pleasures and powers that are not and that are?
The beauty of that face of the Lord Jesus Christ. It has in it all the facets one could ever look for. The kindness, the love, the strength, compassion, loyalty, purity, sheer loveliness … He is perfect in His beauty.
Thou vision of undying loveliness,
Once glimpsed, can not by any be outshone;
No fragrant morning, noon or dappled evening
Compare in any facet with the Son.
This one thing can we do, as the Psalmist said in Psalm 27: we can come within the temple to desire the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him; to be like Mary of Bethany who unashamed poured out what was most precious, the ointment, upon Christ. And we can break our lives open in a cascade of love to that one who is altogether lovely.
Copyright © 2014 Struthers Memorial Church All rights reserved
Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.