The Majestic Tenderness of Christ Removes Fear
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
24 Dec, 2021

There was recent controversy about an alleged depiction of George Floyd as Christ at a Roman Catholic university. The icon used the Greek words for I Am. It reminds us of the constant tendency of the sinful heart to seek to make God and the Lord Jesus Christ in our own image. Scripture gives us no clue to the appearance of Christ, but it gives us much about what any representation can never convey—His divine majesty. That infinitely transcends our sinful thoughts and imaginations. Not only that, but Scripture reveals the full exercise of His divine power and glory together with a personalised infinite tenderness. This is difficult enough for us to comprehend, let alone communicate. Yet it is able to remove our very real and constant fears.

We see the majestic tenderness of Christ in the first chapter of Revelation. When John beholds the glory of the Redeemer he falls at Christ’s feet as though he were dead (Revelation 1:17). John manifests weakness but Christ reveals much love, tenderness, and skilfulness in dealing with him (Revelation 1:17-18). Our fears can be real and debilitating, Christ graciously observes this and deals with the excessive fears of His people to remove them. In the following updated extract, James Durham shows what we can learn from this.

1. Christ’s Majesty Requires Humility

The effect which the vision had on John, in the beginning of verse 17. For as stately and lovingly as Jesus Christ represented Himself, he could not bear it, but faints when he sees Him, and he falls at His feet as dead. This is the first effect of the vision. “I fell down as dead”; that is, “I was benumbed (as it were) and stunned with the sight of the excellent majesty and glory that I saw in Him, and I was put out of capacity to act in body or mind, as if I had been dead. I could no more exercise or act the acts of a living man, than a dead man can.” It is like the experience of Daniel (Daniel 10:8, 9) and others. This is for two reasons.

(a) It is due to the exceeding great distance that is between the infinite majesty of God and finite creatures. The brightness of the glory, excellency, and majesty of God the Creator, burdens and over-burdens the weakness and infirmity of the best of creatures. For if the eyes of creatures be that weak that they cannot look on the Sun, what wonder that flesh and blood is not able to look on the Sun of Righteousness. This new wine is too strong for our old bottles [cf. Matt. 9:17].

(b) It is due to a sense of sin and so a fear to appear before Him, which makes the creature fear they will be undone (Isaiah 6:5). Although before the Fall, when God and Adam were friends, he could have endured God to speak to him, yet after the Fall, the appearance of God is terrible to Him. When he hears His voice, he is afraid and runs and hides himself. And there is something of this fear that raises hesitancy in the best; a fear that rises from the sight of sin, which nearness to God exposes. It is likely that something of both was the case with John, as may be gathered from the Lord’s application of the remedy, and the reasons He uses in comforting him.

2. Christ’s Majesty Requires Reverential Fear

This shows us the great disproportion that is between creatures and the majesty of God. The beloved disciple John, cannot stand before Him when He reveals Himself, but falls down as dead. A little nearness to God should leave a stamp of humility and an impression of the majesty and excellency of God upon us (Isaiah 40:15, 17 and 41:11, 12, 24). This is one of the fountain graces, humility, and a holy awe of the majesty of God. And this is the way to come to it, to get a right sight of that excellent majesty that is in Him.

Reverence and admire God’s wise and well-ordered governing of this world, especially the things that concern His church and people. Wonder that God has ordered such a way in the works of creation and providence, and in the dispensation of the gospel, and the mysteries of salvation suitable to our weakness. This is so as communion may be kept with Him. In Job 26:9, one of the stately steps of His power is that He holds back the face of His throne and spreads His cloud upon it. He draws the veil of the firmament before His throne, to keep His glory from breaking forth and consuming men. And in the dispensation of the gospel, He has chosen the ministry of weak men to reveal His mind to us. He does not speak to us directly Himself, because we could not endure it. If you heard Him speak, as He did on mount Sinai, you would say as Israel did, “Let not God speak to us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). This way of revealing Himself should make us wonder at His condescendence in hedging Himself up (as it were) for our good. We ought to reverence the one that deals so tenderly with us, when a little glimpse of His glory, a look of His eye, a drawing by of the veil, would kill us and make us as if we had never been.

3. Christ’s Majesty Prohibits Excessive Fear

Humility and reverence even in the best of God’s people, is often ready to degenerate into servile fear and discouragement. Worshiping Jesus Christ in humble reverence was required of John. Yet this excessive fear was not called for. Such is our weakness and the slipperiness of our walking, that we can hardly keep the right path, but deviate to one side or other. Our faith is ready to degenerate into presumption, and our humility to fainting and despondency of spirit, and our fear to discouragement, heartlessness, and distrust. Our corruption is ready to abuse anything. For though there is no excess in these graces, yet there may be in us excess in our exercising them due to the corruption which is in us. There is an excessive fear that God will not allow in His people. Everything that passes for fear and humility should not be admitted.

Christ says to John, “fear not.” This is because:

(a) It is a degenerating fear that breeds mistakes concerning Christ and deters this from Him. It weakens and discourages them in their fellowship with Him. Christ will not allow John’s fear to mar that. 

(b) It makes people incapable of hearing or receiving a message from Christ. When He speaks, they are benumbed, senseless and dead, they have ears, but hear not. It locks them up to such an extent that no word takes hold of them. Christ will not allow this in John.

(c) It disables, obstructs and mars in the duty that Christ requires. When John is called to write the vision, he falls as dead. Therefore, Christ tells him not to fear but rather rise up and write. He is required to reverence and fear Him but in a way that helps rather than hinders him in his duty.

We should learn not to fear as far as it has any of these effects. When fear exceeds, degenerates, and grows excessive in these three ways, our Lord allows it no more than He does proud complacency. Jesus Christ is, however, much more tender of souls under the one than He is to those under the other. Yet let us not indulges ourselves in these excessive fears as if we were in no danger.

4. Christ’s Tenderness Restores Us

We see Christ’s tender care for John. When he falls at His feet as dead, He comforts him. He laid his right hand upon him, as a sign of His kindliness for his encouragement. He also gives him a general word of exhortation, for his comfort, “fear not.” The exceeding tenderness and effectual nature of His care is shown in that He lays His hand on him and says, “fear not.” This intervenes in his trouble and raises him.

5. Christ’s Majesty Comforts Us

The great grounds of the comfort offered is holding Himself forth, “I am the first and the last.” This shows us see that when people are daunted from Christ by fear, and become discouraged and faint through mistaking Him, there is no way to cure this other than a right understanding of Him. The great grounds for mistaking Christ is ignorance of Him in His offices and worth. The right way to cure that mistake is the right knowledge and understanding of Him.

When souls are fainted and discouraged, Christ is both the cure and the curer. He must lay His hand on us and speak the word. He is the cure that is applied, and the physician that applies it. He touches and speaks, and the cure follows. Believers must receive the word out of Christ’s mouth for their encouragement before they can shake off discouragement. He has the tongue of the learned to speak a word in season to the weary soul. If we would look to Him more in ordinances, and if the Word were taken as from His mouth, we would prosper better than we do and profit more by the ordinances.

6. Christ’s Majestic Hand

More particularly, His right hand is His power. And His laying it on John is not any personal touch, but an inward strengthening and upstirring, as with Daniel (Daniel 10.10; Psalm 138:3). This shows us what our need is: our weakness and discouragement is often such that we have need not only of comfort, but of strength. It also shows us Christ’s way of dealing with souls. He will sometimes strengthen, ere He comfort. First, He lays His hand on them, and then follows it with the word of comfort, “fear not.” He sees this to be suitable, and it is a main evidence of Christ’s tenderness, faithfulness and wisdom that takes this way with His people.

7. Christ’s Tender Concern

Christ says, “fear not,” a word that is often used and repeated in the prophets, especially Isaiah chapters 41, 43, 44 and 56. He gives him three general grounds as to why he should not fear and to strengthen his faith. Our Lord Jesus’s exceeding tenderness is clear especially we faint and are discouraged, even when it arises through mistaken or wrong apprehensions of Him.

8. Christ’s Divine Tenderness

“I am the first and the last.” This is as though to say, “I am God, I was before the world, and will continue when the world shall have ended.” He is the eternal God, a unique quality that God possesses, and a proof of Christ’s Godhood. He tells John not to fear as if he were an enemy, stranger, or terrible spirit. He is God. And this may sustain one in friendship with God.

Our Lord Jesus is God; the first and the last. He that was born of the Virgin Mary, and so a true man, is God. He that was crucified, dead and buried, is God. This is one of the articles of our faith. And this place of scripture is to be looked on as a proof of it, against all the most quibbling enemies of our Lord’s deity. He that died was and is the first and the last and has the incommunicable attributes of the Godhead.

This has a world of consolation in it:
(a) Not only that there is a God, but that our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and that notwithstanding His being God, yet He has loved sinners so well that He took on man’s nature, {and in that nature} died for them, and that He who woos sinners, and offers to marry them, is God, and yet is very tender to them and of them, which is no small comfort. And it shows also that He is faithful and powerful to perform His promise to believers, so there is not a design of enemies laid from the beginning to this day, but He has a hand beyond it.

(b) We may expect good from God. Seeing Christ is God, {can believers look for hard dealing from Him?} He is absolute in His sovereignty and dominion, yet exercising it for the good of believers. What would anyone have for a greater grounds of comfort in times of confusion, than this? Let the world go as it will, our Lord Jesus is God and wisely orders all.

(c) When discouragements prevail, people are ready to mistake Christ, so they are ready to discredit on His Godhead, as if He were not faithful, or powerful, or wise, or tender enough.

(d) The solid cure for fear and fainting is to be acquainted with Christ as God. The ignorance of Christ is the ground of their being anxious, impatient, and stunned with faithless fears (1 John 5:4, 5).

9. Christ’s Redeeming Tenderness

He is also God and man in one person, He has suffered in His manhood, united to His Godhood. He is the one who lives, though He was dead and “behold I am alive for evermore.” In the original it is “ I am the living, and I was made dead, and behold, I live for evermore.” I am the living means “I am the living God, who from all eternity had life from myself, and gave life to all creatures that have life (John 5:26; Galatians 4:4). He is the true Mediator (God-man in one person), taking on the nature of man and satisfying the justice of God in undergoing the wrath of His Father, and in subjecting Himself to the death of the cross for the sins of His own elect. Both natures are joined in one person; yet it was not as God that He died, though the person that was God died.
this eternal Son of God became man, else He could not have died. He that was God, was also true man. And this is another ground of our faith, or a confirmation of an article of it. 2. That Jesus Christ in His man-head, satisfied justice. For He was dead, He laid down His life, and that willingly. No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down, and take it up again [John 10:18]. 3. That Jesus Christ is God and man, having two distinct natures in one person. For in the one nature, He is living, and in the other nature, He that was living became dead; yet it is but one person that was both living and dead. Some things (as is ordinary) are attributed to the person that agree but to one of the natures, as Acts 20:28, God is said to have purchased His church with His own blood, not that the Godhead could suffer, but He that was God suffered. It may be said of the man Christ that He is omnipotent, yet not as man, but the person is omnipotent. So the person died, though not as God, but in respect of His human nature, and as he was man. These phrases from Christ’s own mouth clarify and confirm our faith.” And behold I am alive for evermore.“

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died once, shall die no more. He who died out of love to His people, is risen and exalted to heavenly glory and dignity, and bears the office of Mediator, for the consolation of His people for evermore. His exaltation makes Him no less mindful, nor less affectionate and tender of believers in Him. John might have thought that a distance had now come in between Christ and Him, especially considered as God. But He tells John, He lives for his comfort, and that he may expect that He who gave life to all, and laid down His life for him, and other believers, would be tender for Him and his life.

“And behold, I live for evermore, Amen.” This indicates “in as far as I was once dead as man, now I am alive, and shall live for evermore.” “Behold, I live” points to His resurrection and the comfort that flows from it to believers. “I have overcome death, and live, and so I live, as I shall live forever, for the benefit of believers in me.” That is of special comfort to us, our life being linked to Christ’s life, who is God-man and our Mediator. Because He lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). His life is a guarantee of ours. The word “Amen” is added to confirm the truth of His resurrection, and to exclude all doubt in anyone of His living, not only as God, but as God and man in one person. Be assured you have a living Christ.

10. Christ’s Triumphant Tenderness

He says, “I have the keys of hell and death”, to point to His absolute sovereignty as Mediator in the state of humiliation and exaltation. Therefore, “fear not, John: for I have the keys of hell,” and order even what concerns them. The keys are the sign of government. It is spoken of Eliakim, a type of Christ, I will commit the Government into his hand. And then follows, the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder (Isaiah 22:21). The meaning is, “I have absolute sovereignty and dominion over heaven and hell; I deliver and carry to heaven whom I please, none go there, but those whom I take in. And hell does not prevail at its own will; but is under my dominion: for I have supreme power over hell and death.” Not that Christ’s dominion is limited to these, but because hell and death are the two things that believers most fear. He tells them that they need not fear them, for they are both His vassals. The devil does not bears the keys, but Christ bears them Himself. These are the grounds of comfort that are given to John. And they are strengthening grounds of faith and salvation to all believers.


Lectures on Revelation 1–3. This first of three projected volumes comprises a third of the lectures and fully half of the theological essays. The text covers the letters to the seven churches in Asia. The theological lectures cover such subjects as the doctrine of the Trinity, a call to the ministry and qualifications for the ministry, church government and church discipline, repentance, the difference in common and saving grace, and preaching and application in preaching.



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