Abiding in Christ is bound up with our abiding in his word and in his love revealed in his word (Jn 15.3, 7-10). And it was this that Donald Macleod very much had in mind when he spoke of there being no substitute for ‘a close walk with Jesus’. We draw near to him and enjoy his presence and help day by day, not through some kind of mystical experience; but through savouring his word. As we are exposed to it each Lord’s Day when it is read in public and proclaimed when the church gathers for worship, it is Christ himself who engages with us by his Spirit. Likewise, as we cultivate the daily discipline of Scripture reading and prayer, so Christ uses these means to commune with us and equip us for the journey.
Sometimes we can be surprised by the kind of things theologians say that seem to resonate with us. We might expect them to be profound insights into a particular doctrine; but, more often than not, it is because of a different kind of profundity. One example is the story of Karl Barth’s being asked during a conference Q&A Session what the deepest truth he had learned in all his study of theology had been. To which he replied, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…’
I well remember a similar instance when we invited Prof Donald Macleod to deliver a series of theological lectures in my first church in Ireland. He gave us many wonderful insights into the topics he covered that week; but the one comment that stood out and stuck with many of us was this: ‘There is no substitute for a close walk with Jesus!’
At face value it sounds like one of those axioms that is too obvious to have to state; but like so many such truths, it needs to be flagged up repeatedly because we forget it so easily. And, even though it may sound like a statement that is more about experience than biblical dogma, we know from Scripture that genuine Christian experience is intimately bound up with the truths that shape and direct it.
Indeed, it is something that is especially relevant to those whose calling is bound up with the study and dissemination of doctrine. Because, as many of us know only too well, we can easily fall into the trap of handling these great truths in a way that is dry and clinical. We treat them with academic detachment and fail to be thrilled to the core of our being by the sheer glory of what has been entrusted to us.