The following is an extract from ‘Christ's manifestation of Himself unto those who love Him’ by the Puritan Thomas Vincent (1634-1678). It’s based on the text: “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) Vincent considers what it means for Christ to manifest himself to us before outlining what this looks like in practice. What is striking is the way he exhorts us to seek a real, living, powerful experience of Christ, but to do so through the ordinary ordinances of the church–prayer, preaching and the Lord’s Supper. As was typical among the Puritans, the Lord’s Supper is seen not simply as a memory aid, but an occasion in which Christ is present among his people through the Holy Spirit. This result is a high view of both preaching and the sacraments, coupled with a strong expectation of Christ meeting with his people. I have lightly edited Vincent’s language to make it easier for modern readers.
How Christ Manifests Himself
Christ manifests himself when he makes a clearer revelation to his disciples of the excellency of his person; when he further unveils himself and lets forth beams and rays with greater luster and brightness, to reveal more of the radiance and transcendence of his soul-ravishing beauty to them, of which they had a dimmer light and darker apprehensions before.
Christ manifests himself when he makes a deep impression and gives a sweet sense of his presence to his disciples. Christ is never really absent from those who love Him—though he may seem to be absent sometimes.
And, chiefly, Christ manifests himself when he reveals his love to those who love him; when he gives them a vision, not only the beauty of his face, but also the smiles of his face; when he allows them to behold the friendliness of his appearance; when he spreads the sense of his love into their hearts, giving them a complete confidence and a sweet sense of his special love for them.
Thus Christ sometimes looks and speaks kindly to his people. This sweet language is not spoken to the bodily ear—but inwardly by his Spirit to their souls. He says to the soul:
I am your salvation and your Savior! I have loved you with an everlasting love, and my love is unchangeable. The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed—but my loving-kindness shall never depart and never be removed from you. I have given myself for you, and I will never repent of this gift. I have chosen you for myself, called and joined you to myself, and I will never repent of this choice, nor ever allow you to be disconnected from me. I have you on my heart and keep you in my hand—and no power in earth or hell shall be able to pluck you from there! I have given you my grace, and I will show you my glory! Before long, I will appear in the world and receive you to myself that, where I am, there you may be also. Then dry your tears, wipe your face, banish your fears, droop no longer, despond no more—but be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven! Your name is written in my book, which none can blot out. You have a true love for me, and my Father himself loves you, and I love you with the dearest of loves, and therefore, do not question or doubt my love any more!
In this way Christ sometimes manifests himself and his love to drooping, despondent souls.
How Christ Manifests Himself
Where does Christ manifest himself in this way to those who love him?
It is through the ordinances he has given to the church. This is where he walks, where he appears to his people. Sometimes Christ manifests himself through our private ordinances, when we seek him in our families or in their private places, when we speak with him in prayer, or when we think on him in our meditation and contemplation.
Sometimes Christ manifests himself to those who love him through our public ordinances–in public prayer or fasting, in hearing the word, or when we are feasting at his communion table. Especially in the Lord’s Supper, Christ frequently manifests himself to his disciples in the most sweet way. At the Lord's table, the Lord appears; in breaking bread, he reveals himself, just as he did to the disciples that went to Emmaus. In his banqueting house, he gives them to feast on his love. There are many who can say from experience that, if ever they met with Christ, they met with him at the sacrament. There he has unveiled his face, there he revealed his love, there he has breathed on them by his Spirit, there they have found and felt the Lord to be near.
Jesus is now preparing you for sweet discoveries of himself and, before long, he will give you those discoveries. If you continue to seek him, he will certainly be found by you. Who knows, but this may be the moment when Christ manifests his love! It may be while you are reading these words, you glimpse his face and hear his voice saying to you, ‘Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven!’
Look Up and Rejoice
Lift up the hands that hang down; lift up the heart that is cast down. Look up, dejected soul, for your Savior is before you! Open your eyes and look, look with the eye of faith. Can you not see the marvelous beauty in his appearance? Do you not perceive the smiles on his face, some smiles upon your soul? Do you not feel his Spirit sweetly breathing upon your heart, persuading you, and giving you a sweet sense of Christ’s special love to you? Do you not perceive some inward knockings at the door of your heart, and hear some inner calling? “Open to me, and I will come in and dine with you.” This is the voice of your Beloved; hurry and open up to him. Open all the faculties of your soul; lift up the everlasting gates to this King of glory; invite the Lord to come in. Let your faith take hold on him and usher him into your soul; and then embrace him in the arms of your dearest love and give him such entertainment that he may abide with you forever!
If you continue to seek him, he will certainly be found by you. Who knows, but this may be the moment when Christ manifests his love!
How many wonders are here! It is a wonder that the glorious Lord Jesus should send from heaven another glorious person—the Holy Spirit—to reveal himself to yourself. The Holy Spirit is a more glorious gift than all the glorious angels combined. It is a wonder that he should use the foolishness of preaching to bring about this great thing! It is a wonder that, while a man with the same passions and infirmities as you is opening and applying the Scriptures, the Lord should this means to unveil himself and open the treasures of his love to you! It is a wonder that your humble, fervent, and believing prayers here on earth should ascend up to the throne of God in heaven, and move the Lord Jesus who is there to come down in this way, not in person—yet truly by his Spirit! It is a wonder that prayer should open heaven’s gate and bring about this revelation of Christ, even though the best prayers of the best men have some sin mixed into them. It is a wonder that, while you are sitting at the Lord's table, the Lord himself should pay you a visit and, while you are eating bread and wine at the sacrament, he should enable you to see, and feel, and taste himself and his love by your spiritual senses!
It was wonderful humiliation in Christ that, when he could have commanded the most stately horses, yes, lions, or elephants, he nevertheless that rode into Jerusalem upon a humble donkey! And now Christ has the chariots of a thousand glorious angels, which he could command and ride on in triumph. Yet the wonder is that, when he reveals himself to his people, he makes use of the chariots of these lowly ordinances to reveal himself to you. How many wonders are here!
How should you admire his wonderful grace and love, and say:
What is man, that you are mindful of him! Or any of the sons of men, that you should thus visit them! What are we—but unworthy wretches? And why should you manifest yourself to us? Even so, dear Jesus, because it seemed good in your sight.
You have every reason to wonder and admire at the manifestation which Christ has given to you of himself and his love, especially when you consider these manifestations and revelations are more excellent than all other good things. What are the loveliest sights that have ever been visible to the eye of the body? Such sights are all poor and contemptible, and not worthy to be named, in comparison with the sight of the Lord Jesus by the eye of the soul.
Tim Chester is the author of Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives.
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What is a sacrament and what is its purpose in the church? Learn answers from To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism.
The biblical exodus is recalled and made part of our lives through baptism, the Lord’s supper, and these other celebrations that place us within their pattern.