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"The Amen"

In most Christian communities it is usually the custom, at the close of a fervent prayer, or at the end of a great exhortation, for the congregation to express appreciation by a devout "Amen", from all whose hearts are warm towards God and His Son. There may be differences in the volume of this expression and endorsement, according to the occasion, or the canonical laws governing Divine Worship.

This word, in and around which such sacred associations are woven, is not a native English word, nor is it even a modern word. It dates from distant antiquity. It is derived from an ancient root which was common to several of the primitive Semitic languages, the original meaning of which was "to prop " or "to support ".

As time elapsed ii took on new and wider meanings. It came to carry, also, the thought of verbal support, "assent" or "endorsement" of some spoken word, as for example, in the people's response to the Leviticus charges in Deut.27.15‑26. Here it bears the thought "so let it be". Again, when Nehemiah made an appeal to Israel to discontinue taking usury from a poorer brother in Israel, the whole people gave assent by a mutual "Amen." Here it would carry the thought "so will we do". (Neh.5.13). When the Ark was taken to Jerusalem and the sons of Asaph sang the anthem of thanksgiving composed by David for the great event, the people responded by a great "Amen" ‑ so say we all.

In seasons of devoted worship, or times of national crisis, the fervent "Amen" of the whole nation (or congregation) was the response to the fervent appeal made by the appointed servant of the Lord, to "do" what the Lord would have them do or "be" what He would have them be.

When the centralized form of worship at the Temple, gave place to the widely distributed worship of the synagogue, every appeal by the synagogue authorities was answered by the local congregation's "Amen". In this way every responsible citizen of Israel admitted and acknowledged his or her responsibility before the Lord, and reaffirmed the desire to live at peace with God. Having been reminded of Israel's unique prerogatives, and of her special standing before the Most High God, every acclamation of the "Amen" was tantamount to a solemn vow, renewed by every member of the congregation. It carried with it the prayer "so let it be" ‑ "so will we all do" From the Jewish synagogue this conception passed into the Christian Church:

"It was a custom which passed over from the Synagogue into the Christian assemblies that when he who had read or discoursed had offered up a solemn prayer to God, the others in attendance responded 'Amen', and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own." Thayer's Lexicon, p.32 under word 'Amen')

In this way, the Jewish ceremonial practice, epitomized by a word far older than themselves, found an entrance into the Christian communities everywhere. It is thus an ancient word heavily encrusted with reverential thought that finds expression on our modern lips whenever we respond to the spirit of the prayer or exhortation

In the days of the early Church the place of the 'Amen' in the act of worship was a most important one. It was no mere trifling part of the ceremony to be performed or neglected at will. Even Paul, opponent of formalism, calls it 'The Amen' (1 Cor.14.6). The Mutual Response, At The Right Moment, Of Every Heart And voice, in unison, was accounted to be of greater importance than the exercise of the gift of tongues, if for the time being, in an unknown tongue. Better to have the whole audience answer with its 'Amen' because it understood than to listen to the incomprehensible. "How can anyone in the position of an outsider say the 'Amen' to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?" (1 Cor.14.6 RSV).

According to the testimony of some early Fathers in the Church, the congregation's expression of 'Amen' was by no means a feebly-whispered response but a mighty shout that made the rafters ring ‑ a tide of sound that echoed and re-echoed, back and forth, till the very building shook. It was gratitude for what the Lord had done for each and released the pent-up feelings of the whole person in a great shout of such lusty magnitude, that might well be called a 'Grand Amen'. If these records present a true picture of the scene, no wonder Paul, in words both simple and profound, depicts it as "saying the Amen".

Early in the second century Elders and Bishops in the Church began to claim the right, exclusively to expound the Word. Her ablest scholars ‑ so they said ‑ must be thus authorized to enable the universal Church to withstand the assaults of pagan foes. But, while conceding this, for the common good, there was one thing the congregation would not concede. It would not relinquish the privilege of voicing its great 'Amen'. Call this vocal climax of the worship 'formalism', if we will, but, we must not forget that the 'Amen' seemed to mean much more to the early Church than it means to-day. To us the force and meaning of the word 'Amen' has been whittled down and almost lost. It has come to mean, with passing years, little more than 'so be it'. It expresses the responsive assent of the congregation to the spoken word, the hearer's response to the prayer, the benediction, the doxology, or the personal appeal.

This definition has not the ancient force of that which inspired the early Church, nor even the Jewish Synagogue. To them the sharing of the great 'Amen' was tantamount to making a vow to the Lord. He who says 'Amen', writes one commentator, regarding both the Synagogue and the early Church, thereby asserts that his statement is binding."

Perhaps we may better understand what the "Amen" meant to the early Church, if we consider this forceful word as it fell from the Master's lips. Jesus used it as no other man had used it before His day. With Him, it never came as a climax to a statement or to a prayer. Always, it preceded some solemn utterance. With Him, it was not used responsively to what another said, but only to emphasize what He was about to say. "Amen, Amen, I say unto you" was His usual mode of stressing some great truth. To Him it meant, this is the truth, this alone is truth, and this is the whole truth.

Customarily, a teacher reasons his way from the circumference of a topic towards the light at the centre of things. Jesus went to the centre in one step and spoke there in the full blaze of the Light. He had no 'ifs' nor 'buts' nor qualifying phrases to introduce. He could use the imperative, and say 'it is thus and so'. He spoke with authority, infallibly, knowing the 'truth absolute'; stating it with emphasis. He said to Nicodemus "Truly, truly (amen and amen) I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen" (John 3.11 RSV).

How authoritative and awe-inspiring, therefore, were those themes to which Jesus linked this solemn affirmation. Here are a few. "Truly, truly, (amen, amen) I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live" (John 5.25). "Truly, truly, (amen, amen) I say to you. I am the door of the sheep" (John 10.7‑16). "Truly, truly, (amen, amen) I say to you, he who believes has eternal life" (John 6. 47‑51). Always it is truth absolute, spoken by the voice of absolute authority. How feeble, against this weight of emphasis is the word "verily ", or our own phrase 'so be it', or more recently 'indeed and indeed." Truly we have lost much of the force and meaning of the Master's "Amen".

The early Church, at least in apostolic days, was not permitted to forget this emphasis and there is an example in 2 Cor.1.15‑22. Paul had been charged with prevarication; with saying one thing and meaning something else. He had intimated that he might call at Corinth on his journey into Macedonia (1 Cor.4.19), then, when his visit there was accomplished, return again to Corinth and probably winter there. (1 Cor.16.5-6). Circumstances had made the two visits impossible and thus the cause of the accusation arose. In self-defence Paul says "Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans like a worldly man ready to say Yes and No at once?" (duplicity of the double tongue), For Paul the course of life was mapped out by the Lord ‑ "if the Lord wills" (1 Cor.4.19) "if the Lord permits" (1 Cor.16.7), and he knew it was not for him, without the Lord's approval or ordering, to take one step here or there, or bind himself to take this course or that. He may form a preference, or even express a fond desire (Acts 19.21), but it was not for him to bind himself by emphatic promise, or excuse himself by definite refusal to do this thing or that. All the supervision of his life was the Lord's prerogative, and subject to His oversight.

The Corinthians had not learned this truth sufficiently to bow to the Lord's control, and were blaming Paul for breaking his word. It did not seem to have occurred to them to blame the Lord, who had supervised Paul's course. He wanted them to know that as they accounted God to be faithful (actuated by a singleness of purpose) so, in like manner, "our word to you is not 'yea and nay', and that he was not unmindful of the promises He had made. Then on to higher ground he cites the facts of the Saviour's life to prove that the Christian life is not based on irresolution or inconstancy. "for the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always yes". Indeed, had Jesus of Nazareth, at any stage of His exacting career, been of an irresolute or inconstant disposition, He could never have won through. Had there not been firm determination to do the Will of God, at all costs, and against all who would oppose, it could not have been said of Him that He had been "declared to be the Son of God ... by His Resurrection from the dead " (Rom.1.4).

Surely, not less positively, is the exalted Son of God than was the Man of Nazareth! There was, therefore, no ground for asserting vacillation by the Lord, and since the oversight of Paul's life was in that Lord's hands, there could be no charge of inconstancy laid against His "orderings ". Paul wanted these meticulous brethren to understand that every promise or proposal made by one to another should be made subject to God's control, and accepted without recrimination, even if they could not be fulfilled, provided always, that such non-fulfillment was in full accord with the will of God.

Again Paul moves to higher ground, and brings to their attention the universal aspect of the Word of God made certain by the unchanging constancy of the Son of God. "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him", There were promises to Eve, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to David, and to Israel. God had made many promises, assuring them that they should yet attain their place among the nations of the earth. And to the Church of Christ, exceeding great and precious promises have been made. The condemnation of Adam's race stood in the way, and few indeed of these promises could be realised and inherited till that condemnation was taken away.

By His sacrifice at Calvary, and presented at the Throne of God, that embargo was removed, and the whole wide range of promises was confirmed and made unfailingly sure. (Rom.15.8). Jesus Christ, the risen Son of God, now stands forever as the "confirming Yes" to every promise of the Most High God, to whomsoever made. His glorious exalted life, following his vicarious death, is the sure pledge that all God's purposes will stand, for the same constancy that prevails in Heaven and as prevailed between Jordan and Calvary.

Then by a few well-chosen words Paul shows the great sequel to all this constancy. "That is why we utter the Amen through Him to the glory of God." Today the "Amen" rises from His people, in smaller or greater congregations but its volume will swell to the ends of the earth, as first, the Seed of Abraham enters into its inheritance, and through them, the nations of the Earth find their way into the City of God. All the wide world will make the rafters of the universe echo and echo again as they volley forth the "Grand Amen ".

There is one further aspect of this ancient theme in which a universal fact becomes also an incomparable Name! Jesus illustrated this extension of a fact into a Name when He said "I am the Truth …" (John 14.6). Jesus had stood forth as a Teacher of truth, presenting to all who could hear it; but in reality, He was more than a teacher of truth. All truth met in His person. All the facts of man's alienated life pointed to their need for Him. All the aspects of His spotless nature and sinless sacrifice pointed to His ability to meet man's need. All man's need, and all God's provision met in Him. He was the consummation, indeed the Living Truth.

Finally through Him shall yet be "These things says The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness"(Rev.3.14). Exactly as the Name given to Him at His birth (Jesus) was an indication of why He came to Earth (Matt. 1.21), so also, the Name given Him in His exaltation is an indication of what He has done. It has a sense of finality and completeness about it. It tells of a task completed in the interests of a purpose that for ever "is" ‑ a purpose that knows no change or variation, worlds without end, of which every segment is certain and sure, because of what He did.

God only is competent to confer such a Name, for none but He can fully understand the greatness of the task that has been done. By giving that Name, God has set forth His estimation and approval of the universal work that was achieved, and of the certainty that exists. It is as though the Eternal One, to sustain our faltering faith, has said, through the giving of that Name "Yes, it is so, it is sure, it cannot fail; in Him is the final word". He knows His worthy Son is constant and true, and so He speaks accordingly. To the Most High that worthy Son is the 'Amen ', the climax of every hope and good intent.


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