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Lancelot Andrewes and the meaning of "Emmanuel"


Thoughts on faith and life at Friendship Church

Lancelot Andrewes and the meaning of "Emmanuel"

Dennis Brown


In my study of Isaiah this week, I stumbled across an individual whom I knew nothing about. His name is Lancelot Andrewes. He lived in the 1600's and was a pastor and one of the most brilliant men of his age. In one post he was described as the "lead mule" in the task of translating the King James Version of the Bible. While the King James isn't used to the same degree as it was in days past, it is actually one of the most beautiful translations of the Bible and is on par with some of Shakespeare's writings. He also preached before kings and queens. He was a particularly devout man and his devotional writings are considered to be classics.

I found this interesting historical note. In 1603 in London the bubonic plague was raging. In his parish of 4000 members, by year's end 2,878 had perished. I read one of his sermons given at Nativity on Isaiah 7 and the meaning of Emmanuel.  To begin, he said that the order in the name "Emmanuel" is significant. He said "El" means "God", "Emmanu" means "with us". In other words he is the "with us God." Then Andrewes says (and I have paraphrased it because the old English can be hard to follow):

God chooses to name himself in Jesus. He is the “with us God.” He puts “us” first in his name just as he did in his life. Though "El", i.e. God is the principal part of the word Emmanuel, there is a meaning in it.  And what can it be but this? That in the very name we might read that we are dearer to Him than Himself. We are a part of it. We are the forepart of it, and He is the latter. He behind, and we are before. What was greater, his humility or his love? It is hard to say. Both are unspeakable. 

Think on that! The "with us God" chooses to put "us" before Himself. The "with-us" God came to be born in a feeding trough to humble parents in a backwater town. The "with-us" God came in Jesus and took up the towel and stooped down to wash his disciples feet. The "with us God" counts us dearer than Himself. He is behind and we are before. And we can ask with Andrewes, what was greater, his humility or is love? It is indeed unspeakable. John Wesley when he died said the best word of all is Emmanuel! Can we say the same?