“It is not for you to know”
The Word of God is a light unto our path and a lamp to our feet. It is the sure guide directing us in the ways of righteousness, but it often flashes before us as a danger signal when we are inclined to turn off into some way of our own, and great is the disaster to us if we do not heed its warnings. Take, for instance, the Lords words to His Apostles, “It is not for you to know the times and seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1). If in any mind there arises the desire to know more than is revealed as to the future, and to prophecy and prognosticate, then flashes out this red light. But why should we not investigate and calculate and discover by our searching what has not been plainly told? I cannot say, but certainly there is some hidden danger along that road, some lying in wait to destroy our faith, and the danger signal flashes out to warn us against taking the road, and the subject mind will take heed to it and draw back, and so by the words of the lips of the Lord we shall be kept from the paths of the destroyer.
It is easy for us, so foolish are we, to be vainly puffed up by our fleshly mind, and intrude into those things that the Lord, for His own wise reasons has not revealed to us, and we may be sure that the great deceiver is very alert, and ready to seize upon our folly. He rejoices when we ignore the danger signals and start off on a road in which we cannot have the guidance of the Word and the support of the Lord.
Wise are we when we discern the red lights in Scripture, many words that seem like peremptory commands in the New Testament have just this character. They are there to preserve our feet from false ways when we are in danger of being drawn aside, and by them we are kept in the ways of the Lord.
Consider the birds how they develop
There are three stages in bird life that illustrate well the normal development of the Christian life.
1. The little bird only opens its mouth for food: feeding is its one simple occupation.
2. Its feathers and wings grow and it flies and sings.
3. It builds its nest and cares for its young.
Food is the first necessity of its life, and for this it is dependent upon others, but as it feeds it gains strength, and becomes fit for the air, its true element, and it flies. I believe that no bird sings until it flies. But until it builds its nest it is alone, no matter how strong its wing or brilliant its song; it selects its food but it is only for itself, but when it builds its nest where its young may be reared its habits and character undergo a change; it does not surrender its former powers, but instead of contenting itself with its own peculiar and perhaps selfish satisfaction, it devotes itself to objects outside itself, objects dear as its own life and it shapes itself always to the good of the objects of its love.
Now consider the Christian life.
1. As a new-born babe the Christian desires the Word of God, only by it can his soul be fed, only by it can he grow. 1 Peter 2:1 makes this very plain and every Christian knows it by his own experience. Why are there so many half fledged Christians? because they have not been fed upon God's Word. And who is responsible for this? Well it may be that some who have been called of the Lord to feed His own are neglecting to do it. Some have their own aviaries, and are very diligent in feeding their caged birds and do not think of all the saints, to change the simile, they have not entered into the meaning of Paul's words to the elders of Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Anyhow the Holy Ghost does not fail, and He delights to present Christ and His grace to the new born, if the desire for food is there, it will not be disappointed. Oh, let us pray earnestly for greater spiritual desires.
2. As the new-born babe feeds upon the Word he is possessed by soul aspirations after heavenly things where Christ sitteth; he feels that heaven is his sphere; moreover he realises that power has been given to him to rise up into this new sphere, above earthly things. This power lies in the Holy Spirit of God that dwells in all who have believed the gospel. He sets his affections on things above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, and he can spread his wings and rise up into the enjoyment of those things, and as he does so he sings, he pours out the satisfaction and joy of his heart in melody to the Lord. This twofold exercise of power and joy is found in Colossians 3:2 and 16. This is the development of Christian life, indeed.
3. Then be begins to care for others. He learns that Christ has His interests in the world. That there are others as dear to his Lord and Saviour as he is, that he is united to them in one life, derived from one source and Head, the living Lord in the glory. He cannot ignore these; no longer can he look upon himself as a unit, gathering food for himself and enjoying at alone. He must have fellowship with others, he must now live a community life, and love those whom Christ loves, and care for them and feed them as he has opportunity. This comes out in great fullness in the Apostle's words, “I endure all things for the elect's sake that they may obtain salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2). It is pressed upon us all very strongly in John's first Epistle. None of us lives to himself.
Thus we have the heart fed, nourished and satisfied with Christ, and able in the power of the Spirit to rise above depressing earthly circumstances and the allurements of the world to the heavenly things of which Christ is the Centre, and delivered from self-occupation, are able to care for Christ's interests on earth, moved thereto by the love of Christ, that made Him lay down His life for all His own. May we all be well acquainted with this threefold blessedness for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.
An Address at Glasgow, January 2nd, 1926
LEANING ON THE LORD'S BOSOM;
STANDING BY HIS CROSS;
FOLLOWING HIM WITHOUT BEING TOLD;
AWAITING HIS COMING AGAIN.
The great purpose of the coming of the Lord Jesus into this world was the REVELATION of the Father, but along with that, and without which the revelation would have been in vain, He came to secure a. RESPONSE in the hearts of men to the revelation. The New Testament might be called the Book of the Revelation and the Response. Only the only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father could make the revelation and only He could secure the response. He secures the response by making disciples and they were made, and are still made, as He is magnified. I feel that I can speak but poorly on discipleship, but through grace I can say a good word for our Lord and Master, and no good word spoken of Him can be in vain.
Now the Lord is magnified in all the Gospels. Each writer, as instructed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, has fashioned a crown for His sacred head, but John unfolds for us as none other the blessedness of His person; in his Gospel Jesus "manifested forth His glory; and His disciples believed on Him,” (chap. 2:11). The Gospel of John is the Gospel of the glory of the Son of God, but it might well have as a supplementary title, “Disciples Made and Tested.” In the first chapter some of His glories pass before our eyes. He is the everlasting God who broke the silence of eternity by His creatorial word at the beginning of the chapter, and He is the Son of Man at the end of the chapter who will reconcile creation to God, binding heaven and earth together in one, and subjecting all to the will of God. Between the two He is proclaimed “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” and again this testimony is borne to Him, because in it we have the foundation of all blessing—without it there is none—“Behold the Lamb of God!” To that witness to Him there is an immediate response in the hearts of two young men. That title proclaims Him to be the great Redeemer, and it tells of love that surpasseth all human thought. It was this testimony that made disciples of these young men, it is this that is making disciples today. Threefold was the result of the words of the Baptist on these young men:
(1) They followed the Lord;
(2) They abode with the Lord;
(3) They witnessed for the Lord. No man is a “disciple indeed” of whom these things are not true.
The sincerity of discipleship is tested when the Lord and Master is rejected, Many were ready to follow Him when they saw His miracles, or did eat of the loaves He fed them with. They never had had such a satisfying meal before. He was popular then, and these fair-weather disciples loved popularity; but when His words indicated that the way He led was not such as they thought it would be, they turned from Him and walked no more with Him, until at last, in chapter 13, they are reduced to twelve men, and of those twelve one was a traitor. But this crisis revealed the basis of true discipleship and what it is that can keep the disciple true until the Lord's return. Mark how the Spirit shows the Lord to us here. "When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of the world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world He loved them unto the end.” His time for departure had come, and He knew all the shame and unspeakable sorrow that was bound up with that departure, and it was all to be borne for the sake of His disciples, and for our sakes, but He loved them not one whit less on that behalf. Nothing could alter His love to them, it was greater than the waters of judgment and death—He loved them unto the end. Bind together these two things—His departure out of the world by the way of Gethsemane, Gabatha and Golgotha, and His unchanging love for His own through it all, for in the true knowledge of these things lies the secret of true discipleship. It is not the sacrifices that we make for Him that make us “disciples indeed,” but the knowledge of the sacrifice that He has made for us; it is not our love to Him, but His love to us that constrains us to follow Him.
But the Lord knew more than the fact that the time of His departure had come. He knew that “the Father had given all things into His hand.” How great is His glory as thus revealed. Reach up to the highest height of the purpose of God and down to the deepest depths of His judgments, and embrace if you can the vast range of His will—all has been put into the hands of Jesus. He will command angels, He will bless men, He will judge devils; He will subdue every hostile force to the will of God and fill the universe with His glory. Such is the confidence, the absolute trust, that the Father has in Him that all things have been put into His care, nothing has been withheld from Him: that is the measure of His glory. Knowing this, and also “that He came from God and went to God,” that He was God's sent One, what does He do? He lays aside His garments and girds Himself with a towel and stoops down before His disciples to wash their feet! The most glorious Person in the universe renders a slave's service to His disciple! Let that indescribable grace, let the love that was in that great act affect us rightly as we ponder
There was more in that act than appears on the surface, but in searching for its inner meaning, don't let us miss the beauty of it. The Lord will yet fill the universe with the glory of God, but will He ever be greater than when girded with a towel He gave to His disciples an example that they should walk is His steps? No, it was when He stooped that the glory of His Person appeared, when He became the servant of all He was the greatest of all. But what was it that brought Him into this place of service? It was His unchanging love. But what was its object? That they might have part with Him? He desired that they should be brought into and maintained in the most blessed intimacy with Himself. I cannot at this time speak of the inner meaning of feet-washing in view of that, but I want to press the fact that He loved His disciples so ardently, and us also, that He cannot endure any distance or coldness. He must have us near to Himself, enjoying the holy intimacy that His love affords. And one of those disciples realized this, and realizing it all reserve was cast out of his heart, and HE LEANED UPON JESUS' BOSOM. It was an immediate response to the love that had expressed itself so blessedly, and it must have given a wondrous joy to the sorrowing and troubled heart of the Lord. As leaning upon the bosom, he could speak of himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The love of Jesus became the dominating factor in his life, and all true discipleship begins, continues, and ends there, it finds its spring and its power in the love of Christ. Here, in John's attitude, we see the renunciation of all self-confidence. Peter was self-confident. It was as though he said, “Lord, you may trust me, I will not fail you; all others may, but not I: rest in my love, lean on my bosom.” We know the end of that. John's conduct stands out in contrast to Peter's sincere but vain boasting. It was as though he said, “Lord, I cannot trust my love to you, but I can trust your love to me; the place of my confidence and rest is your love, your bosom.”
The next time we see “the disciple whom Jesus loved” he is “STANDING BY.” He was not hiding away in shame and fear as Peter was, nor setting himself to some busy service of his own devising, but “standing by.” And note well where it was that he stood: it was BY THE CROSS. He stood there in the face of the world. Three women were there, for devotion and faithfulness to Christ regardless of what others did and thought always did show itself in these woman who loved the Lord; but John was there also—he stood by the cross. It was as though he said, “O world, the Man whom you hate and have crucified is the Man I love. He is my Lord and Master.” He would not have been there at all if he had not leaned on his Lord's bosom, and if the Lord's love had not been to him the supreme thing in his life. But he was there, the pattern disciple, and being there he indicates our place in regard to the world and Christ. Paul stood by the cross when he cried, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). But what was it that put him there? He also knew that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, for he said, "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”
We must stand by the cross today; we are not true disciples unless we do, for the cross is despised and rejected by the religious world. Men want a Christ without the cross, and a gospel without blood. As of old they taunted the Lord and said, "Come down from the cross and we will believe,” so now they clamour for a Jesus, who is a great personality, a fearless reformer, a teacher of ethics. There is no such Jesus except in their darkened imaginations. He came to be the Saviour of men, and He could not be the Saviour apart from the cross. It is to the Greek foolishness and to the Jew a stumbling block, and the reproach of it has not ceased, for it still strikes at the foundation of all man's boasting and pride, but to us who are saved it is the power and the wisdom of God. Hence we stand by the cross. It is to us the supreme manifestation of the love of Christ, the revelation of God's heart to us. There our sins I were swept away, there the cup of our judgment was drained, there the hatred and sin of men were fully exposed, but there the love, of God shone out to us in all its splendour. To be “disciples indeed” we must stand by the cross and let its meaning move our souls, as we do so we shall be consciously the disciples whom Jesus loves, and we shall respond to His love in faithfulness and praise.
And now see what came of John's faithfulness. “Jesus, therefore, saw His mother and the disciple standing by whom He loved.” Who can tell the solace it must have been in that dark hour to Him to see John there! “He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” The Lord was able to trust John now; He could commit to him a precious legacy. And John was faithful to the trust. And He desires to trust us, to have us as His friends upon whom He can rely. Do you not desire that? What privilege could be greater than that? To have the Lord say to you, “I want you to care for some who are precious to Me. I want you to look after My interests on earth during My absence.” Nothing could be greater or more desirable than that; and that is within the reach of us all. We have but to lean upon His bosom and stand by His cross and the Lord will commit to us some charge to keep for Him.
It is remarkable that in the resurrection chapter, when Peter and John run to the empty grave and return to their own homes, John does not speak of himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The news of the resurrection comes to him by that name in verse 2, but afterwards he speaks of himself three times as “that other disciple”; but when he sees the Lord, in chapter 21, when all doubts had disappeared, he returns to the precious epithet. As the Lord stood on the seashore and addressed His disciples in words of tender solicitude, and brought the hitherto reluctant fish to their nets, John recognized Him, and henceforward he followed Jesus, and he did it without being told. Peter had to be told to follow the Lord, but not John in this Gospel. He is introduced to us at the beginning of it, following the Lord without being told, and the last glimpse we have of him in it he is still following without being told. He followed because he could not do other, the treasure he had found in the Lord's love made him a disciple. He was attracted and not commanded, and in that lies true discipleship.
Peter turned about and saw him following, and said, “Lord, what shall this man do?” But that was not Peter's business, it should have been enough for him that the Lord had given him a path in which to tread, and the Lord rebukes him for his officiousness, but at the same time clearly declares what pleases Him. “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee, follow thou Me.” Then went the saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die—note that the disciples were brethren; in following the Lord they followed together and had a brotherly interest in one another; they belonged to one family. But the Lord did not say that he should not die, and His words are repeated as if to give them emphasis: “If I will that he tarry till I come.” What did He mean? I believe that He meant that He would have that kind of disciple here when He comes again. What kind of disciple? The disciple who leans on His bosom, stands by His cross, and FOLLOWS HIM WITHOUT BEING TOLD. Ah, that is the sort of disciple we should all like to be. Thank God, we may be just that sort of disciple.
Discipleship is a very individual thing. John had to follow for himself, and Peter for himself, and each of us must follow each for himself; but for our full development in the blessed traits of it we need each other. We must have a Master to follow, and brethren to follow with. “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if you have love one for another,” He has said. What He is to us we must be to one another, for He has left us an example that we one another as He has done to us. In this true fellowship is secured, true, vital fellowship according to God. Neither rules nor regulations can secure this, and to make rules and restrictions is to go back to the age of law, and to be transgressors (Gal. 2). But to be dominated by the love of Christ and to be showing His love one to another, to be walking in love, is to be walking practically in the light and in the truth, and therein lies true fellowship.
Now it is by the way of discipleship and fellowship that a full response to should do to the revelation of the Father is given; for worship which the Father seeks is in its highest phase collective. “I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praises to Thee.” When fellowship does not exist there is not this character of responsive worship to the Father's Name, and love and fellowship of this sort can only be enjoyed and practised as we lean on the Lord's bosom, stand by His cross, and follow Him without being told, AND WAIT FOR HIS COMING AGAIN.
Discples, Friends, Witnesses. These are the words that stand out arrestingly in this great chapter. It is the Lord Himself that speaks of His disciples in this threefold relationship with Himself. “My disciples," “My Friends” “Ye shall bear witness.” And He sets forth in them the qualities of the faithful servant whom He loves and approves. The honours will not be withheld from the youngest Christian, yet they must be won, for it will be noticed that they are conditional, and the order in which they are placed in the Lord's words are the order in which we shall come at them in our experience. May I call them the preliminary, the intermediate and the final to full graduation in our responsible life for the Lord.
First we must learn the supremacy of our Lord. He says "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” That lies behind all else: it reveals His sovereign grace, but it also calls for subjection to His sovereign will. “Ye are Christ's.” Whatever weakness there may be on our side as to this will react disastrously in our lives for Him. That popular superficial Christianity that sings lustily, “Jesus is mine," does not fit in here. Many things are ours, indeed so enriched are we who belong to Christ, that the Scripture says “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come all are yours.” And may we not add, “and best of all Jesus is ours?” No, we may not, for that is not the way Scripture speaks, what it says is "And ye are Christ's.” “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” He is Master, He is Lord; His claim is paramount, His will must be supreme.
He has chosen us and ordained us with a great end in view. "that ye should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain." I would urge that upon those who have recently come under the gracious authority of the Lord. If His purpose in choosing and ordaining you is realised you will not have lived in vain. You might spend your time and talents on the world and climb high on the ladder of fame, but all that would come to nothing, for the earth also and all the works that are in it shall be burnt up, but if you are subject to the Lord's will your fruit will remain; time shall not spoil it, death will not destroy it, it will abide for ever. For this you have been chosen and ordained.
But the Lord who chose us must also cleanse us, or we shall not be vessels sanctified and meet for His use, and here He says, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (v. 3). This is not judicial cleansing, the blood of Jesus Christ alone secures judicial cleansing; this is moral cleansing, which His word brings about. By it the whole bent of the life is changed and a nature compatible with Himself is produced within us. It is a great help if we can find an illustration of a statement not far away from it, and I find these words of the Lord illustrated in chapter 6 of our Gospel. The test came for a multitude of would-be, fairweather, disciples; they did not like the path that the Lord clearly indicated for them and they turned away from Him. Then He said to the twelve “Will ye also go away”? And Peter answering for the rest spoke out and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We can see what those words of eternal life had done for Peter. Once he had gone to the temple and the priests and the sacrifices for his soul's need, and looked to his own efforts for righteousness, and had sought in the world or among his friends for some substantial thing to fill his heart and life. Now he had turned his back on all else but Jesus; everything else had failed, but Jesus had not, every need of heart and soul were met and satisfied by Him, He had become the one supreme and only Object of his faith and affection. It was the word of the Lord that had brought about that transformation; that had cleansed him from every other confidence and hope and drawn out his whole life to Himself. He was born again. It is that that the Lord meant when He said, “Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” The choosing and the cleansing go together. They are the work of the Lord and must go before anything that we can be for Him.
The disciple is one who bears fruit. "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be MY DISCIPLES" (v. 8). Fruit is nothing less than the life of Jesus manifesting itself in those who are His, as the life of the vine is manifested in the fruit that the branches bear. Now everybody knows that unless the branch abides in the vine it cannot bear fruit, “no more can ye," says the Lord, “except ye abide in Me," for "without Me ye can do nothing.” This does not mean that you have a good knowledge of Scripture, valuable as that is, but that you are in constant, continual dependence upon your Lord. You have no resources, no power apart from Him, but you have all you need in Him, as Peter confessed when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” You need the Scriptures; they testify of Him, we could know nothing about Him apart from the Scripture; but this dependence upon Him, this abiding in Him, brings in true prayer, and could not be apart from the indwelling Spirit of God. It is by the Spirit that we are in vital association with Christ. And we must test ourselves as to this. What is the bent of our lives? Is it towards the world or towards self, or towards Christ? What cheer and strength there is in those words. "If ye abide in Me and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.” What possibilities are within the reach of the dependent soul! “So shall ye be My disciples.” The one thing needful for discipleship is dependence.
The disciple is one whose confidence is in the Lord, he depends upon Him at all times, but what an advance is made when the Lord calls His disciples His friends; in this He confides in them and depends upon them. It is a wonderful thing. “Ye are My friends," but mark well the condition, “if ye do whatsoever I command you.” We delight in the Lord as our Friend, the One to whom we can tell our deepest secrets and be sure that He, knowing all, will never betray the trust we put in Him, but will make all things work together for our good. But now He turns round to us, if we are obedient to His commands, and calls us His friends. He identifies us with His interests, communicates His thoughts to us and entrusts us with some precious charge for Him. Can we find this illustrated in this Gospel? We can. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother... When Jesus therefore saw His mother and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19). Of all the disciples there was one who was the friend of his Lord, and to him He could commit a precious legacy. That disciple had leaned his head on the Lord's bosom at the supper. He wholly trusted in the Lord; unlike his friend, Peter, he was without self-confidence, and having leaned upon the bosom of Jesus, he could stand by the cross; he was maintained by divine power in his faithfulness to his Lord, a friend of Jesus, one whom his Lord could trust. How highly honoured and honourable was John!
Afterwards, when Peter had been delivered from his pride and self-confidence by a terrible fall, the Lord made him His friend also, and committed to him His sheep and lambs, and these still need to be shepherded and cared for, and if we are obedient to the Lord's word He will bestow upon us the high honour of having an interest in them; He will communicate to us His thoughts and feelings about them, and sharing these thoughts with Him we shall love them and care for them also. If dependence on the Lord is the secret of discipleship, the secret of friendship is obedience.
The disciples having been with the Lord from the beginning were very special witnesses. They had heard with their ears, and seen with their eyes, and with their hands had handled the Word of life, they bore witness to what they had heard and seen, the Holy Ghost being the power by which they did it. We may thank God for their witness, for we now can have fellowship in those things that they heard and saw, and have recorded for us. But we are not excluded from this witnessing, for we may keep our Lord's company and speak of that that we learn experimentally with Him. A witness may preach, but not every preacher is a witness. A witness is one who has been impressed by what He has seen and heard as he has kept company with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18 explains it, “We all beholding the glory of the Lord... are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;” and Stephen was the outstanding example of it, not when he exposed the obdurate hearts of the Jews, but when he prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," when they were battering him with stones in their murderous hatred.
For this witnessing the Holy Ghost is indispensible. He has come from Christ in glory, and He bears witness to His glory, and makes Him real to us whom having not seen we love. The revelation to us of His victory over death by resurrection, and His exaltation to the Father's throne has set all things for us in a new and true light, and it is that light shining in and shining out that constitutes us witnesses to and for Him. The secret of witnessing is Company with Him.
These great things, the highest honours that the Lord can bestow upon mortal men may be ours now, in this brief life, and in this sordid world. May we have grace from God to seize the opportunity and be disciples, friends and witnesses to the end.
From a Letter
... You are quite right, I believe, in saying that the New Testament gives no sanction to division in the church, or assembly, as the word should be; indeed, nothing comes under severer condemnation than this, as we may see from the first Corinthian Epistle. Separation from evil is essential, and no one could walk in the truth apart from this, but part of that truth in which we desire to walk is that “there is one body.” Knowing that all the members of Christ are united to Him, the living Head, by one Spirit, our responsibility is to use diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Here there has been great failure, for diligence has been used to keep the opinions and parties caused by the flesh instead of the unity produced by the Spirit.
We do not believe that anyone is warranted in going to the Old Testament in support of division and its maintenance. Israel was twelve tribes, not one body; they would have remained one nation under one King but for the corrupt condition into which they fell, and here there may be an analogy between them and present-day conditions. If they had obeyed the word of the Lord, there would have been no division in Israel, and if the saints of God of this church period had been subject to His word, we should not have had to mourn the divided state of things which is now so prevalent.
But if that Old Testament story be carefully considered, it will be seen that God did not forbid His people to seek a righteous way of reconciliation, or to discover why the breach had occurred, or to confess together their failure, but He did forbid them to fight with their brethren. We read; “Thus saith the Lord, GO NOT UP, NOR FIGHT WITH YOUR BRETHREN, THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL” (1 Ki. 1:12). I wish that we had all rightly learned the lesson that that bit of the story teaches so plainly. Where there has been general failure, it is as well that the sword be dropped and that all betake them to their knees. The division in Israel was God's condemnation on their evil state, and men of God who in later days were used to bring back the people in any measure to the truth confessed it to be so.
Jehoshaphat sought to obliterate the division without a change of condition, or a righteous basis upon which this could be effected, and the result was disaster. He joined with a man “who did very wickedly,” and a prophet was sent to him to say, “Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the Lord hath broken thy works” (2 Chr. 20:35-37). But that was a very different thing from seeking to walk in the truth with all that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. When Hezekiah came to the throne and God brought him back to the truth of the passover from which the people had departed throughout the whole period of division, he made a proclamation as to it "throughout all Israel, from Beer-sheba even to Dan, that they should came to keep the passover unto the Lord at Jerusalem, for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written" (2 Chr. 30:5). How could they do it in such sort as it was written, if they left out of their desires and affection any of their brethren? For the passover first recognized them as one congregation, they were one people as the redeemed of the Lord. 2 Chronicles 30 is a very encouraging chapter and shows us plainly what God can do in restoring a people to His truth and the joy that results from subjection to His word.
Did you ever see the poem said to be by Charles Wesley, written at the time of the reconciliation between John Wesley and George Whitfield? Here is part of it, and if you are like me, these lines will stir your heart, bring the tears to your eyes and make you pray.
“The Saviour saw our strife with pitying eye,
And cast a look that made the shadows fly;
Soon as the day-spring of His presence shone,
We found the two fierce armies were but one.
Common our hope, and family and name,
Our arms, our Captain, and our crown the same;
Enlisted all beneath Emmanuel's sign,
And purchased every soul with blood divine.
“Then let us cordially again embrace,
Nor e'er infringe the league of gospel grace;
Let us in Jesus' Name to battle go
And turn our arms against the common foe;
Fight, side by side, beneath our Captain's eye,
Chase the Philistine; on their shoulders fly;
And, more than conquerors, in harness die.
“Our only care, while sojourning below,
Our real faith by real love to show,
To blast the aliens' hope, and let them see
How friends of jarring sentiments agree;
Not in a party's narrow banks confined,
Not by the sameness of opinions joined,
But cemented with the Redeemer's blood
And bound together in the heart of God.
“And, jointly labouring on with jealous strife,
Strengthen each other's hands to work for life
To turn against the world our steady face,
And, valiant for the truth, enjoy disgrace.”
We may be sure that the aliens and the devil himself rejoice when strife rages among the saints of God, and the heart of the Lord is grieved. Jesus died to gather together in one the children of God, and the Holy Ghost has come to give a present and eternal result to His death. "For also in [the power of] one Spirit we have been baptized into one body... and have all been given to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13, N.Tr.).
An Address on Psalms 133 and 45:8
When we take up the Scriptures to read them, we are not reading the words of men, no matter how good or wise, but we are reading the words of God. That is a fact acknowledged by us as a point of doctrine, but do we appreciate the tremendous import of it? God has been pleased to express His thoughts for our guidance and our blessing, and we have those thoughts in the Bible, it is the Word of God. If it is the Word of God it carries authority; if it is the Word of God it must be absolutely and infinitely wise; if it is the Word of God it cannot be improved upon; if it is the Word of God we must take heed to it and do it. To cherish a spirit that is foreign to it or to act in a way contrary to it means to set ourselves in opposition to the revealed will of God.
Keeping these things in mind, let us consider Psalm 133. It says, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity !” To whom is it good and pleasant? Surely to all those who love what is of God. But not to them only; the Psalm shows us that it is good and pleasant to God Himself. That when He looks down on this world, filled as it is with hatred and strife, there is something that is good and pleasant to Him in the midst of it, and that is unity among brethren. Let us not introduce any of our “buts” into the passage, but let us take it as it stands, and consider it as the word of God to us, then the beauty and power of it will not fail to affect us.
But who are these “brethren”? How wide is the sweep of that good word? We who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity present in this hall are included in it, surely, but it goes out wider. Let us stand in thought and listen to Him saying, as He did to Mary, “Go unto My brethren.” We are in such danger of that withering sectarianism that talks about our brethren, and that thinks along narrow lines and in limited circles, that we need constantly to turn back to His words, and to let the love with which they are vibrant thrill and enlarge our souls. He speaks of “My brethren,” and when we understand the meaning of that word, and who they are of whom the Lord thus speaks, let us know that God says that it is good and pleasant to Him when they dwell together in unity.
What Unity is Like
"It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.”
This precious ointment, the holy anointing oil, is described for us in Exodus 30. If we read from the 22nd verse to the 33rd, we shall find how definite and particular were the instructions given by God to Moses regarding it. And we learn that it was to be for God's sanctuary alone. It had not to be imitated nor had any of the Israelites to have it in their houses. God reserved it for Himself and His own pleasure. He surrounded Himself with its fragrance in His own dwelling, and the reason for this was that it told forth in a type the preciousness of Christ to God as He lived His life of holy devotedness to Him on earth. From the start of His life to the close of it, it was all beautiful and fragrant: every moment of it, on all occasions, in public and in private, entirely and altogether it was perfect. His words and works that men could hear and see, and the thoughts and the feelings behind the words and works that men could not see, yielded alike infinite delight to the Father's heart. We can understand that. We delight to know that that was so—we are assured that nothing but that could be true.
Is it possible that there could be anything like that in the world now? I want you to notice that I am asking a question, and I want you to consider the question well and weigh your answer before you give it. Is it possible that there could be anything in this world today fragrant to God as was the life of Jesus? Yes, thank God, it is possible. Lest you should think that I am saying something that I am not warranted in saying, I will quote the words of the Psalm again: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.”
It is evident then that the blessedness of unity amongst brethren cannot be exaggerated, and as we consider the way that God looks upon it, we shall all be ready to admit that we should each endeavour with a whole-hearted and continual diligence to avoid everything that would mar it where it does exist, and to restore it where, through folly or self-will, it has been broken. To do other than this would be to manifest a sinful indifference to that which is pleasurable to God.
How the Unity Can be Maintained
This unity can only be secured and maintained in the life of Christ expressed in us in the power of the Holy Ghost. Christ is our life, and God's thought for us is that that precious and perfect life, which was so fragrant to Him, should be reproduced in us who are members of the body of Christ, and it is as that life expresses itself in one way in one member and another way in another that the unity of the whole goes up in fragrance to God. Colossians 3 gives it to us. Read first chapter 1:27, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Lay hold upon the words, “Christ in you.” Now read the third verse of chapter: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God, and when Christ, who is our life,”—keep that in mind, that Christ is our life. Now look at the ninth verse: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; FORBEARING ONE ANOTHER, AND FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER, IF ANY MAN HAVE A QUARREL AGAINST ANY: EVEN AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU, SO ALSO DO YE. And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called IN ONE BODY; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
These verses unfold for us the character of the new man in which Christ is all and in all. The graces of which they speak have to be put on, they are to be seen externally, but they are the result of life within. They describe for us things that came out in all their perfection in Christ, and they are now to be the adorning of those who form His body. The fragrant oil of the sanctuary was poured upon the head of Aaron, but it went even to the skirts of his garments. Christ is the Head of the body, and the fragrance of all that is delightful to God is upon Him in perfection, but the whole body must be characterized by the grace of the Head: that very fragrance must flow to the most extreme member of His body here below. It is this that these verses teach us. May we all earnestly seek to have our full part in it.
But how will this work out in practice? Simply enough. If there is a Christian upon earth with whom you have a quarrel, forgive him, and do it at once. If there is one who tries and irritates you, show forbearance, put on with regard to him bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering; let love cover all your actions to all who are fellow-members with you of the body of which Christ is Head. Take this group of heavenly graces, make them your study daily, and determine by the grace of Christ that they shall be your standard, even though you fail, for you had better stumble aiming at the highest than walk securely on a lower plane.
It should be abundantly clear to the youngest and the least intelligent Christian that if we abounded towards all who love the Lord in these precious graces discord would be impossible, and that the blending of these things together in the power of the Spirit would be most fragrant to God as being the reproduction of the life of Christ in His members below. And, thank God, every one of us may have a part in this. This, remember, "is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that went down to the skirts of his garments.” THERE IS NOTHING ON EARTH MORE FRAGRANT TO GOD THAN UNITY AMONG BRETHREN, AND SURELY WE DESIRE TO YIELD FRAGRANCE TO HIM.
The Remedy for Discord
But you may say: “No doubt, unity amongst brethren is most blessed and desirable, but the brethren with whom I have to do are so difficult to get on with; they are cantankerous, self-opinionated, and unspiritual, so that I have despaired of ever being able to dwell in unity with them. In such circumstances what should I do?”
One thing I would ask in answering such a question. Do those brethren earnestly desire to walk in the truth? Do they love the Lord Jesus in sincerity? If so, and if you are like-minded in purpose with them as to this, it is evident that you have grown weary in well-doing, and that you need a spiritual cordial to revive your fainting spirit, and to put fresh energy into your endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit.
Turn to Psalm 45:8. It may be that in this verse we shall find something that will meet the need. "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia out of the ivory palaces where they have made thee glad.” You will notice that in this Psalm the Lord is spoken of as being glorious and precious in the estimation of those who in grace have been brought to know Him, and in this verse He possesses a fragrance to them that belongs to none else. Some of the ingredients that make up that fragrance are the same as those given in Exodus 30. There, as we have seen, it is what He is to God; here it is what He is to us. But there is one ingredient here, the aloes, that is not found in Exodus 30. This arrested my attention in considering the passage, and made me search to see how this special perfume was procured. I found in an old dictionary the following account of it IT WAS THE INNER WOOD, OR HEART OF A TREE THAT GREW IN INDIA, EXCEEDINGLY FRAGRANT, WORTH MORE THAN ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD, AND SAID TO BE A SOVEREIGN CORDIAL FOR ALL FAINTING FITS AND NERVOUS DISORDERS. If the learned compiler of that old dictionary had intended to give a description of the love of Christ, he could not have succeeded better.
The aloes tree had to be cleft if the fragrance of its heart was to be disclosed, and it was at Calvary, when cleft by the sword of God's judgment against sin, that the heart of Christ disclosed all the greatness of its love, and there is nothing in the universe more fragrant than that—the love of Christ, which passes knowledge. Further, His love is far more precious than gold. If the world could bring all the gold that it possesses and could place it before us, none of us who know the love of Christ would exchange that knowledge for that great price, it is more precious than gold. And it is said to be a sovereign remedy for all fainting fits. This is the answer to your need. You say your brethren are difficult to get on with; that you have done your best to dwell in unity with them, but you have found that it is of no use. You have grown weary in well-doing, and are suffering from a spiritual fainting fit. What is the remedy? This is the remedy—the love of Christ. To come more under its influence and to know it better is what you need. To receive in a fuller measure into your own heart this sovereign cordial, this is the only remedy that I know of.
There seems to be a condition spiritually that answers to the very common nervous breakdown. Spiritual neurasthenia is a serious trouble, and causes much disquiet and trouble in God's family; how irritable, how sensitive, how quick to take offence—how short of patience we often are. But there is a sovereign remedy. It is the love of Christ. How it quietens and soothes us to get near the Lord; how it allays the fever, throws things into their proper perspective, removes fears and suspicions, invigorates and strengthens us, and makes us able to meet the things that otherwise would irritate us, enables us to meet them in the grace of Christ. When we are drawn into His company and begin to realize what His love is—that love that He bears to all His own even unto the end, we become ashamed of our selfishness, our impatience, our irritability, and our hearts warm towards even the most unlovely of our brethren. This makes us strong to serve others in their weakness, as He did when He bent at the feet of His disciples and washed their feet, though He was their Lord and Master. What love was His, and He has left us an example that we should follow in His steps.
It is in the power of His life which has become our life, and as we are maintained by the Holy Spirit in the consciousness of His love to us that we shall set ourselves with renewed purpose of heart to dwell together in unity with our brethren.
As Moses kept the sheep of Jethro, the Midianite, in the back side of the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God, and there he beheld a strange thing. Upon the rugged sides of that notable mountain there burned a bush with fire, but in spite of the fierce flames that enwrapped it, that bush was not consumed. Wonder at this great sight moved Moses to turn aside to discover why this should be, when the voice of God arrested him, and be found that he was in the immediate presence of the great I AM.
Out of that bush God spoke to the man, and told him of salvation for His people—free, great, and full. He revealed Himself as the almighty Deliverer.
The scoffing critic declares that for a bush to burn with fire and not be consumed is a physical impossibility, and so relegates this story, along with many another in Holy Writ, to the realm of legend and myth. But that which moves to ridicule the blind but presumptuous “wise and prudent” of the earth yields the most precious lessons to those who love God and His Word. In that burning bush there was foreshadowed the most extraordinary event that could happen in the history of time.
The flame of fire tells us of God: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). And the bush tells us of men, poor, sinful, rebellious men—dry, withered, and useless, by whom no fruit was yielded to God. If God, who is a consuming fire, and who must judge all iniquity, should at any time come down into the midst of the dry and fruitless bush of humanity, and He has a right to do this whenever He pleases, what shall the result be? Why, there can be but one result, we should say, the bush will be consumed. Such is the natural thought of men, and thence the desire to keep God at a distance. And in this thought we seem to be confirmed as we read the record of Sinai. There at that awesome mount, the same at which Moses had had his first interview with God, the law of God was given, and out from its cloud-crested summit the lightnings flamed forth, and the thunders boomed and rolled, and as God spoke to the people they feared exceedingly and begged that they might not hear that majestic voice again, but that Moses would become a mediator for them.
Yes, it would seem to us, as we contemplate that sight, that men must be consumed if God comes into the midst of them. But such a thought is false, fundamentally and absolutely false, as God's “due time” has proved.
That due time arrived when the virgin daughter of David's royal house brought forth her firstborn Son and “laid Him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.” Here was a sight for the angels of God, a sight that moved the whole multitude of them to rapturous praise, for the name of that Babe was called EMMANUEL, which, being interpreted, is “God with us.” The Babe in Bethlehem 's manger was the great antitype of the burning bush. “God was manifest in the flesh and seen of angels.” God was in the midst of men and they were not consumed.
But for what purpose was God in the midst of men? There could be only one reason for this great event. If He had desired to send some message of warning, entreaty, or command, a servant like unto the prophets would have served the purpose, for at sundry times and in diverse manners He thus addressed the fathers of old. If He had intended to make an example of sinners by executing His righteous judgment against them for their sins, an angel or two would have sufficed, as in the case of the guilty cities of the plain. But when Emmanuel appears, men and angels must be silent, and stand aside, and every ear must be attentive unto Him, for He comes to reveal the eternal purposes of God, and declare and bring to pass the intentions of divine and infinite love. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
If sinners were to be saved God must come down to them to do it, and if God comes down to sinners He must come as their Saviour, His very nature demands this, and His wisdom has found a way by which it can be done, according to the righteousness of the eternal throne. So Emmanuel's name is JESUS. Blessed, precious name! Name of reproach and shame on earth, name of ignominy upon the cross, name above every name in heaven above, name that through endless ages shall thrill a universe with gladness, and blend in harmonious praise the joy of every creature within the limitless bounds of the realm of the Redeemer-God.
“Sweetest Name on mortal tongue,
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Sweetest note on seraph song—
Jesus ! Jesus! JESUS!”
The world opened a stable door to receive Him, and thus advertised its contempt and hatred of Him, but He accepted in an infinite meekness the place they assigned to Him, that He might open out before the eyes of the poorest and the least the priceless treasures of divine compassion and love.
And so He moved through this world “seen of angels;” they rejoiced in that goodness which dwelt in Him: the goodness of God by which He overcomes evil, even though men upon whom it flowed forth did not appreciate it. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, dried the tears upon the widow's cheeks, kissed the children into the kingdom of God, and preached the gospel to the poor. God had visited men, for “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
This is a great sight for us to turn aside and see, greater than that which Moses saw, as the substance is greater than the shadow. And in the presence of God made known to us, and brought nigh to us in Jesus, our souls can stay without a fear, and not as Moses, who “hid his face and was afraid to look upon God,” for “GOD IS LOVE.”
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
“WE LOVE HIM, BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US” (1 John 4:19).
We ask the question: if God, who is absolutely holy, comes into the midst of men, who are altogether sinful, what will the result be? Will not men be inevitably destroyed? There is a wonderful story in Exodus 3. Moses was watching the flocks of his father-in-law in the backside of the desert, when he saw a strange sight. He saw a bush, and that bush burned with fire. That was nothing strange in that sun-parched desert, but what was strange about this bush was, that though it burned with fire it was not consumed, and Moses looking upon it said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight,” and as he drew near to that burning bush he heard a voice from out of it saying, “Take off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place on which thou standest is holy ground.” And Moses found that he was in the presence of God: of God come down to deliver His people and not to destroy them. That bush shall speak to us of fallen humanity, of you and of me, and of all our fellow-men. Poor dried withered humanity! No fruit, no freshness, no life, no love for God! Nothing but sin, and hatred of His holy will! a dried, withered, sun-parched desert bush! The fire shall speak to us of God, for “our God is a consuming fire.” But if God who is a consuming fire comes into the midst of mankind, so dried and withered and fruitless, what must be the result? Surely we say there can be but one result, mankind will be consumed with the just judgment of God. That is the natural thought; but when we come to the first chapter of Matthew we find that our natural thoughts are wrong. God comes into the midst of men, and He does not come to destroy them, but to dwell among them, full of grace and truth; for “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” And so Emmanuel has another name, and that name is JESUS, and Jesus means Saviour. “Thou shalt call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins.”
The Hebrew epistle shows up for us the path of faith; it shows us how to tread that path, and pours its comfort and encouragement into our heart as we do it; and all this comfort and encouragement seems to be gathered up and concentrated in the glorious benediction at its close. Perplexed and troubled pilgrim to the eternal inheritance, consider it for a while. Let us go over it together. It is all for you.
"Now the God of peace.”
The God of peace is invoked on your behalf. The road that faith travels is often rough, dangers and foes beset the pilgrim's way; conflict abounds in it and often suffering. Truly it is no flower-strewn way. But the God of peace is your God, and He it is who has said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” That means, that the Friend is greater than the foe, that whatever they may do to me I will fear no evil, and however the storm may rage without me, I'll have peace in my heart, it means that the supplies are greater than the demand, for is it not written, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because be trusted in Thee.” And again, if you do but carry your wants and woes to God, has He not pledged His word for it that “the peace of God shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus”? The God of peace is our God, and He is with us. Let us rejoice and be glad.
"Now the God of peace which brought again from the dead.”
Our God is also a God of power and His power has been demonstrated by His triumph over death. Death is the strongest and the greatest enemy; the king of terrors, it has been justly called. It held men in continual bondage through the fear of it, but it has been conquered; its power has been annulled by our God. We can always rely more upon a friend who has great power than upon a friend who has none, for the willingness to help, however we may appreciate it, does not avail much when there is no ability. Our God is almighty, the greatest foe is now a defeated foe and we need fear no other.
"Our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep.”
How wonderfully God has provided for His sheep, and you are one of them. Every sheep and lamb of His has been given by Him to His beloved Son, and you among the rest. That may seem very wonderful, and it is, but it is true, for it is stated in so many words in John 10:29. And that the sheep may be preserved from every danger and brought safely home to God, the great Shepherd of the sheep has been brought again from the dead. How great this Shepherd is! He is great in His love. He saw the wolf coming, but did not flee, for He is no hireling, but the Shepherd of the sheep; and to save the sheep, to deliver them from the power of death and lead them as one flock to God, He gave His life. Such was His love; He is great in His unwearying power and majesty. “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out the heavens with a span, and weighed the mountains in the scales, and the hills in a balance?” What is the answer? Who is this great and all-powerful Being? He is the great Shepherd of the sheep that “shall feed His flock like a shepherd: that shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom” (Isa. 40). His power is immeasurable, but His tenderness is equal to His power; it is infinite. By His hand He created and controls His creation, that is His power; in His bosom carries His lambs, that is His love. How safe all His sheep must be; “they shall never perish.” He will hold them in everlasting security, and none can pluck them from His hand. It is the hand that broke the power of death that shall preserve the sheep from every foe and in this a greater power is seen than that that created the worlds.
"Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”
Our Lord Jesus lives in the power of an endless life, but it is by virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant. Whatever God has done for Him in raising Him from the dead, or will do for us through Him, is based upon the precious blood. Every claim of divine holiness and of the throne of God has been met by it. Propitiation has been made. Every attribute of God is in perfect harmony and His love flows out without restraint or limit, and it is all in virtue of the blood of the everlasting covenant. The consciences of His beloved saints are purged also; God will remember their sins and iniquities no more; they can be in the presence of God with boldness and in the full assurance of faith, for no one can lay anything to their charge.
"The everlasting covenant.”
His blood is the blood of the everlasting covenant, a covenant that can never break down or be annulled, for it is not based upon our obedience as was that of Sinai, but upon the absolute expiation of all our disobedience that was made at Calvary. It is God's immutable counsel which found its expression In His infallible promises, made certain by the blood that has established His glory and answered every challenge to His righteousness in fulfilling His counsels for our blessing. This covenant stands for ever as unchanging and sure as the Word and throne of God. It is what He is and not what we are, though we have our part in it. We are the legatees, the heirs of an eternal inheritance.
"Make you perfect in every good work to do His will.”
While the everlasting covenant does not depend upon our works for its stability, it is a covenant that produces works in us, and indeed it can be satisfied with nothing less than our perfection and every good work. We are made perfect as to our inner motives, our aim in life, and the object that controls us, by the displacing of our wills for God's. To do His will in the great thing. And His will is never against us, it is always on our behalf. In our ignorance and self will we have sometimes thought that God's will was against us, that His intention was to thwart us and to take from us things that we prized, and to spoil our happiness. But that was the old lie of the old serpent, and the fact that the God of peace has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, has exposed this lie. God's will means our weal and not our woe; it is all for our blessing and is only against those things that would do us harm.
It is when we are adjusted to the will of God, when we are in articulation with that will, not in dislocation to it, that we are perfect, for this is the meaning of the word perfect here. Then how good the works will be that we do, works that will abide, the answer from us to all that God has done for us and all that Christ is to us.
Pleasurable to God
"Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight.”
Truly the favour in which we are set, and the blessings of the faith are unspeakable. I confess that words fail me to express the fullness of the dignity that is ours and the immensity of the grace that has blessed us and changed us. We were once children of disobedience, having our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature children of wrath, but now we may be well-pleasing in God's sight. The life of Jesus is here brought to mind, and the words with which the Father saluted Him from the excellent glory “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And can it be that we are set in His place, to be to God in our measure what He was? Nothing less. Does not the thought of it move the soul, and fill us with desires that it may be so? I feel that we ought to take up the language of Mary, rightly called blessed in this respect. “Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.” But here human effort fails. If we are to be pleasurable to God, we can only be so as Christ's life is reproduced in us, it can only be as God works in us.
Who can describe the joy which a sense of God's approval gives the heart? This was the Lord's own joy on earth. “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit,” said He; then He added, “These things have I spoken unto you, that MY JOY MIGHT REMAIN IN YOU,” and it will as we are well-pleasing in God's sight. Let every word have its full value with us—it is IN HIS SIGHT. He is watching with deepest interest. His eyes are ever on us.
“A holy Father's constant care
Keeps watch with an unwearying eye,—
To see what fruits His children bear,
Fruits that may suit their calling high.”
"Through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
God would have been without glory and we should have been without blessing but for Jesus Christ. I am not exaggerating when I say that God owes everything to Jesus Christ and that we should have been bankrupt and lost for ever without Him. He is the great Mediator through whom God's blessing reaches us and by whom we reach God, and because this is so we must give Him praise. God has glorified Him, He has brought Him back from the dead and set Him at His right hand on high, and our hearts rejoice, for we know and feel that that is right, and that glory must be His for ever and ever.
What a change it makes in a Christian's outlook when he discovers the fact that he is loved by the Lord and that he is precious and desirable in His sight. When this knowledge comes to us—and it is true of every one who has owned the Lord's claims and trusted Him as Saviour—we are lifted on to a new plane in our thoughts of Him. We shall not think less of all that He has done for us, instead, we shall begin to understand the greatness of this better; and we shall still be grateful for all His ways of grace with us, and shall often tell Him of them, but the dominant thing will be rest in His love and, what goes along with that, love to Him in response to it. We shall become conscious that we stand in an hitherto undreamt of relationship to Him, a relationship in which mutual love has the chief place. This is the day of our espousals. Can we reverently contemplate the meaning of this?
This is not mere poetic imagery, for we read in the Scriptures, and wonderful are the words, "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). What does this mean? It can only have one meaning. We have been affianced to Christ. He loves us and has chosen us for Himself, and He has made the appeal of love to us, and we have said “Yes” to Him. The marriage day has not yet come, but it is coming, and we may read about it in Ephesians 5:25-27, and Revelation 19:7-9.
These are the days of the espousals, and we have been espoused to a PERSON. It is on our hearts to press this, for we fear that the Lord Jesus is not a living, bright reality to many Christians. “Christian Science” is spreading, and though no true child of God could follow the delusions of that cult, yet the spirit of it is abroad,—an evil, seducing and anti-Christian spirit that would persuade us that Christ is a divine principle or spirit operating in the lives of men, instead of a living Person who can fill and satisfy the heart. “What matters it” say some, “whether Jesus rose from the dead or not so long as His spirit permeates society?” And Satan beguiles many unwary souls by this sort of thing, and the very heart is taken out of their faith, and the Lord Jesus becomes to them intangible, vague and impersonal, and if we lose sight of Him then God Himself becomes shadowy and distant. if there is one thing we desire above another in issuing Scripture Truth mouth by month it is that we may be able to keep before our readers the fact that Christ is a living Person, who loves us, and cares for us and delights in our love to Him and service for Him: a risen, glorified Saviour who desires that we should have part with Him, and hold communion with Him by the Holy Spirit, who has been given unto us.
The joy and beauty of our relationship to Christ is illustrated for us in a wonderful way in the Song of Solomon. Every chapter is fragrant with love, and if we read it, and are taught by the Holy Spirit as we read it, we shall find that the language, though figurative, describes the Lord's delight in us and ours in Him, when we know Him in this sweet relationship. Take the 2nd chapter. There the bride-to-be has discovered that she is beloved, and that the one who loves her delights in her. She is precious to him; this she has learnt, and she exclaims: "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” These were not high thoughts of herself. The rose of Sharon was not the gorgeous flower that we call the rose; more likely than not it was the narcissus, a flower of the field, a fragrant flower no doubt, but not obtrusive and gay; and the lily of the valleys grew in lowly places and out of sight, and had to be sought for by the one who valued it. But these were Spring flowers, this must be noted first, and the fragrant hope of Spring was in them. As they bloomed in the valleys they told of a time when the summer's glory would crown the hills. They figured forth the beginnings of love, but they were prophetic of the time when love would come to its fullness on the marriage day.
Upon this maiden the king's choice had fallen, she was to share his crown and kingdom, but not of this does she think and sing, she is inwardly conscious of something greater than all the display of glory that was to come to her; the king loved her, this was her joy; she was precious to him, this filled her with a glad surprise; and without fear or reserve, she tells out to him what she knows she is to him. Have we reached this point in our secret experience of soul with the Lord? We can only learn it as we are near to Him, for who could teach us this but Himself? This is the beginning of love, it is “first love.” It is more than what He has done for us, it is Himself who has done it. We do not lose the benefaction, but we have the Benefactor. We are one spirit with the Lord, for "he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit" (1 Cor. 6:17). The freshness and the hope of the spring flowers are in this experience, and in it there is the pledge that the day will surely come when He will present the church to Himself “a glorious church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
But hear the answer that this great lover gives to his chosen bride. He takes up her own words, but he adds to them. He adorns them and makes them glow with his love. He makes them the opportunity of showing her the great proof of his great love for her, and so increases her confidence in him and enlarges her affection for him. "As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters,” he says. Let us get at the heart of this, and understand what it means for us in our relationship with the Lord. Dr. Thompson in his well-known book “The Land and the Book,” says of the lily: "Our flower delights most in the valleys; but it is found also on the mountains. It grows among thorns, and I have sadly lacerated my hands in extricating it from them.” Does the fact that the lily grew among the thorns need any interpretation? If we can say, “I am the lily of the valleys,” if we know that we are this to Christ, His answer is, “Yes, but the lily among the thorns.” He would have us remember that it cost Him something to secure us for Himself. How lacerated was He in extricating us from the tangled thorns in which we grew! He showed to His disciples His hands and side, when He came to them in resurrection. Nothing could drive the cold unbelief from the soul of Thomas, but a sight of His wounds. And He would not that we should forget them. It is as though He said to us:—
“Behold, with what labour I won thee
Behold in My hands and My feet
The tale of My measureless sorrow,
The love that made suffering sweet.”
His body was lacerated, but His soul was lacerated too, for before He could have His lilies for Himself and extricate them from the thorns, His soul was made an offering for sin. Can anything move the heart like this? We do not love Him and adore Him because the brightest crowns of heaven shine upon His worthy brow; we are glad that He is crowned with glory, but it is not that that won our hearts: we love Him because that same brow was crowned with thorns, and because He was put to shame upon a cross when He came forth in His great love to tread the thorny way to save us for Himself. To the utmost His love was tried, and it stood the test. It passeth knowledge. When we realize this, and the wonder of it fills our souls, we do not say, “Thank God, WE are saved!” Setting the “we” in the centre of our sentence and thoughts; but we say, “Oh, what it cost HIM to make us His.” He is the centre of our sentence, and relief and thanksgiving deepen into wonder and worship.
The suffering is all past but His love abides, and the suffering will not be forgotten, for when the great marriage day comes, and all heaven rejoices in the gladness of it, it is the marriage of the Lamb that is celebrated (Rev. 19), and the bride is the Lamb's wife (Rev. 21). Thus are the sorrows of the cross and the joys of love's consummation joined the one to the other; the Lamb who suffered is the one who will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied on that great day. But while we wait for that day, the love of Christ is a present reality, and we who are espoused to Him may have the joy of communion with Him in it all.
In this communion of love the maiden responds to the king, not now to speak of herself, but of him who fills her thoughts. Her words are great words, and the music of pure love wells in them. "As the apple tree among the trees of the word,” she says, "so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me into his banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Have we so learnt Christ? If so our vagrant desires, our restlessness of spirit have ceased and we have found satisfaction and a great hope. It was thus with Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus, hearing His word, and pouring out her precious ointment upon Him; and with John, the beloved, leaning his head upon Jesus' breast at supper; and with Thomas, of the doubtful mind, when he cried, “My Lord and my God”; and with Paul the Apostle when he exclaimed, “The Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” What a blessed experience this is, and the more deeply it is known in its present joy, the more will the heart long for the day of presentation. Then there will be no more need for watchfulness; faithfulness to Christ in a hostile and seductive world will be called for no more. We shall have reached eternal rest.
We shall be beyond the reach of Satan's beguilings then, but now there is nothing he hates more than this personal intimacy with and joy in Christ. Hence the fear expressed by the apostle in those words of warning. "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from simplicity as to Christ.” His purpose is to draw us away from this “first love.” How often he succeeds to our shame, and if the backsliding is not arrested how soon we become neither “cold nor hot,” a state of heart that is obnoxious to the Lord.
We would not willingly be untrue to Christ; but Satan is subtle, and if we are to be kept from his snares we must depend upon our Lord. "He brought me into his banqueting house, and his banner over me is love.” To abide there is to abide in a safe place, and to be satisfied with Him.
1. THE MYSTERY
surely no one could read the opening verses of the Ephesians and be indifferent to what follows. Could anyone say I am eternally enfolded in those wonderful statements; I am one of those who have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; chosen in Him before the foundation of the world; made holy and without blame before the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in love; predestinated to the adoption of children; made accepted in the beloved One; redeemed and forgiven according to the riches of God's grace, and yet I am not interested in God's purpose and thoughts?
The exceeding riches of God's grace thus made known to us must command our earnest attention and awaken reverent enquiry. Especially as He treats us now, not as servants, but friends, and proposes to let us into His eternal secret, that which lies nearer than all to His heart, what He is going to do for His own Son.
It is as though He said to us, “I have forgiven you and set you free from all anxiety about your sins, and redeemed you from the power of the great enemy, and now I want you to enter into My thoughts; I want to unfold to you My purpose for the glory and joy of My own Son, and according to this purpose I have also given to you a part; you are necessary to the carrying out of it. So I have taken you up according to the riches of My grace, setting you free to contemplate the mystery of My will; having abounded towards you in all “wisdom and prudence,” giving you the capacity for understanding and enjoying it all by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
This is so exceeding abundantly above all that we could have asked or thought, that if we do but see with the eyes of our hearts the glory of it, all indifference as to it will perish for ever; and in self-forgetting and adoring service, we shall seek to comprehend with all saints the blessedness of it, and to labour in prayer and word and doctrine that the truth of it may not remain a dead letter to us, or to any of the saints.
Before the lips of our Lord first uttered those two words, “My church,” words which impress us with the preciousness of the church to Him as being His own peculiar possession, He asked His disciples. “Whom do ye say that I am?” Peter answered at once "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." The truth as to His Person must come out, for there could be no church apart from that, for it is formed upon and will be filled with what He is. But in this connection it is important that we should rightly grasp the significance of this episode in the revelation of the truth. Peter had not arrived at the truth by the exercise of his natural wits, or through any education he had received in the schools of men; nor can any other man; the scribes and Pharisees were far more intellectual and educated than he, and they neither discerned nor confessed the truth as to the Son of God. Nor had he gathered it from his study of the Old Testament prophets, though they all spoke of Christ; nor from the preaching of John the Baptist, though he was a faithful messenger, going before the face of the Lord's Anointed. He had received it from the Father —name of perfect grace, unknown to saints and sages of dispensations past, however exalted their privileges; hidden even now from the wise and prudent of the earth, but revealed unto babes. And it was from Heaven that the Father had revealed it. It was a heavenly revelation, the fruit of unmeasured grace which the name Father implies. This great revelation upon which so much hangs, was not made because of any merit in those who were chosen to receive it; and it connects itself, not with prophecies regarding the kingdom which are earthly in character, but with heaven and the counsel of God's will, by which all who were to receive it were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
We cannot pass over this passage of Scripture lightly; it arrests us by its blessedness, and certainly we must learn what lies under the simple statements here given if we are to have any true understanding of the truth of the church. We begin with the Person of Christ, this is fundamental, there could be no church apart from Him; but what we would at this point emphasize is, that it is His Father in heaven who reveals what He is that the church might be. It is not what He will be as Son of David, that is set forth in the Old Testament; or even as Son of man, His glory in this position is also spoken of in those indispensable prophecies; but, Who is this Son of Man? He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is upon this revelation of Him that the church is brought into being, built up and completed and every other glory which is His will manifest itself fully in relation to what He, the Christ, is personally with the Father. It is the Father's work to make this known, indeed we might, speaking with reverence, call it His own special and chief activity, but does not this show what a world of ineffable love is here opened up to us, that had never been opened before, where the counsels of the Father for the glory of the Son are unfolded, and into which none can intrude? Only those chosen for it by surpassing grace may enter here.
Our deep conviction is, that we shall make no progress in the knowledge of the truth of the church if we fail to understand this, so that we make no apology for seeming repetition. It was not as Elohim —the strong One (Gen. 1:1) that God made this revelation to Peter, or as Jehovah —the self-existent One, (Gen. 2:7) or as El-Shaddai (Gen. 17:1) the Almighty, all-sufficient One, but as the Father of our Lord Jesus Chris,—"My Father,” as He said. All that had come out in former days He is and will ever be; but it is not here a question of His attributes, His power, faithfulness or sufficiency, but what He is in His very nature. This could not he known to us by any work of His hand in creation, but only by the revelation of Himself by the only begotten Son that dwelt eternally in His bosom. So that we have first—the Father revealed in and by the only begotten Son, Jesus our Lord; and then the truth as to this glorious Person revealed to our faith by the Father; one can easily see that this must eventuate in fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ for all who respond to this revelation. Thus all truth hangs together.
Again we insist that it is the Father in Heaven who reveals it. It is made to us upon earth, but it is from heaven, it is heavenly in character, and lifts us above the earth, and carries us into a range of things about which the prophecies that have to do with earth have nothing to say. The great majority of even pious Christians have not grasped the force of this, but the importance of it will be seen as the truth is developed. Then further, the way in which Christ is revealed is as victorious over death—He is “the Son of the living God.” This revelation from the Father in heaven looked onward and carried the thought of resurrection with it. Immediately the Lord speaks of His suffering and death and resurrection; the truth is placed upon that platform, outside man in the flesh, with his ambitions, hopes and activities, which all lie shattered and dissolved at the touch of death.
So that we have at the first mention of the church in Scripture, the Father's activity—fullness of grace; the revelation He makes is a heavenly one, and it is of Christ, who would establish His church outside all the schemes and failures of man in the flesh against which all Satan's power and subtlety is directed in vain. It is invincible.
The Glorious Head
The mystery which is unfolded in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians is Christ and the church, not the church without Christ, nor yet Christ without the church. Christ is the Head and the church His body. Consequently, though the church is in this blessed unity which is formed according to the purpose of God and by the might of His Spirit, its place is the subordinate one, as every body is subordinate to its head. and its blessedness and importance lie in the fact that it is the body of Christ, united to Him, the living Head in heaven.
We begin with Christ, whatever place of favour or testimony the church has now, or of glory it will have hereafter, it has by virtue of the fact that it is united to Christ, hence the necessity of beginning with Him. In doing so, the affections of the heart are brought into activity. One might say, “I am not particularly interested in the truth of the church,” but none who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ will say, “I am not interested in Him,” and in occupation with Him we are led naturally to be interested in that which He loves and nourishes and cherishes.
The purpose of the mystery is to fill the universe with Christ, and this will be done by the church.
1. Christ —the full revelation of God in manhood, the display.
2. The Church — the vessel for the display.
3. The Created Universe — the sphere of the display.
Yes, God intends that Christ, who fills His own heart, shall fill the universe, and this will be Glory, and one part of the mystery now is that ‘Christ is in His members the hope of Glory '(Col. 1:27)—God intends that the One who in the narrow compass of 33 years, in lowliness of life and obscurity, beset with every conceivable hostility of evil, fully declared His name, and revealed His nature in such a way that the world cannot contain the books, shall Himself be revealed in the fullness of His incomparable worth to every intelligence in the vast universe; and His body is the chosen vessel through which He will do it, and this not only in the dispensation of the fullness of times, but, unto the ages of the ages God will have Glory in the church by Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:21).
2. THE WORSHIP OF THE FATHER
It is as the Father, name of infinite grace and love, that God desires to be worshipped, and as neither angels nor men knew Him in this way they could not worship Him. But the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, came to reveal Him in all the fullness of His love, and in Christ we see the Father seeking worshippers, not among angels, but among the sinful, unhappy sons of men.
Three great steps had to be taken by the Lord if God's end had to be reached, and it is interesting to see that these three steps were first revealed to women.
FIRST. He must come into the world.
SECOND. He must go into death.
THIRD. He must ascend again to the Father.
That the first of these great steps had been taken was revealed to the woman of Sychar (John 4). What a need was hers! She was a woman with a sinful past, an empty heart, and a hopeless future; true picture of all who are outside the blessing that Christ has opened up. The Lord met her where she was and revealed Himself as the Giver of the living water, which should not only be in her a well of perennial satisfaction, but should spring up to its Source, the Father, and so yield satisfaction also to Him.
There had to be a probing work to fit her for this, as there must be with us all, and this work the Lord accomplished until He had brought her to the point where she confesses that Christ was her only hope. “I know” said she “that Messias cometh, which is called Christ; when He is come He will tell us all things.” The Lord's response, “I that speak unto thee, am He,” changed her life, and sent her to witness to the men of the city that Christ had come. “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did, is not this the Christ.” He searched the sinner and revealed Himself as the Saviour. So the men of the city say, “We have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
We become familiar with the great truths that are revealed to us in the Word, and consequently they often lose their greatness in our eyes, yet how wonderful it is that the Son of God should come into the world, and should come as the Saviour. Two things made this necessary, first, that God might be revealed, second, our need of salvation. It was God who sent Him not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. More than thirty times in the Gospel of John the Lord speaks of Himself as being sent into the world by the Father. He glories in it, and so shall we if we understand it. No angel could have fulfilled His mission. He only could make the Father known, and the Father sent Him to do this. The only begotten Son shone as the light in the darkness, He came near to men full of grace and truth, seeking for them in their misery, to take them out of it and lead them to His Father. David cried “O send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me. Then will I go unto the altar of God, my exceeding joy yea, upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God my God.” But David could never have imagined that God's light and truth would come forth in the person of God's Son, in order to lead multitudes to the Father Himself. But this has happened, and in it our souls do greatly rejoice.
But the revelation that He made of the Father would have been in vain, if He had taken no other steps than this. He must die. This was the second step. This fact was plain to MARY OF BETHANY. She alone of those who followed the Lord had perceived this. The disciples thought that they were following Him to the throne and kingdom, and to the outward senses it looked like it when multitudes of Jews followed Him because He had raised Lazarus from the dead. They were carried away by the temporary enthusiasm of the Jews which led them so far as to meet the Lord with loud hosannas. But Mary understood, and brought forth her alabaster box and poured its costly contents upon His feet. For His burying she had kept it. How long she had kept it we know not, but there it was to be brought out at the right moment. She honoured Him, owning His kingly glory by her act, but she knew that notwithstanding all that glory, He Himself was going into death. The relationship in which His own were to stand with Him before the Father could not be after the order of natural life, that life was forfeited by every sinner, none could abide in it except Christ who was sinless, and if He had chosen to live He must have lived alone, for “Except a corn of wheat fail into the ground and die it abideth alone.” Even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead into the old natural life, must die again. If death were to be removed Christ must die; if those who were under its power were to be delivered from it He must pass into the depths of it, for only by coming where we were could the Lord come into definite contact with us, and this He has done. His love to us, and His Father's will carried Him into death in His search for those whom He would bring forth out of death to be His brethren and worshippers of the Father.
But the third step had to be taken, He must go to the Father; and for this He was constantly preparing His disciples from John 13 onwards.
We come now to our resurrection chapter, in which to Mary Magdalene was revealed the full and glorious truth. When she realized who He was she thought that the old relationship, that of an earthly Messiah in the midst of an earthly people, was to be resumed. Hence His words, “Touch Me not.” He must ascend to His Father. The new relationship was to be a heavenly one.
Psalm 22 records for us the path of sorrow that the Lord trod in the fulfilment of the will of God and also of His triumph. And there we learn what was foremost in His mind; for when heard from the horns of the unicorns and brought out of death He exclaims, "I will declare Thy Name amongst My brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise unto Thee.” These very words of the Lord are quoted in Hebrews 2 where we learn that the congregation in the midst of which He sings is the Church, and in the Church His brethren also are. The Church is the dwelling-place for God upon the earth today, in it He can rejoice; those who form it “are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22), and the brethren of Christ are the sons of men in whom He delights. So that at last He has His dwelling-place on the earth, and the sons of men in it.
But the Church is here only for a while, the brethren that form it are partakers of the heavenly calling, but in the fact that it is here, we see the triumph of Christ. Oh, that we understood it better. Consider that wonderful description that is ours—"Holy Brethren.” These two words are found in Psalm 22. There, in giving the answer to His own question, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me” the Lord says, “But Thou art holy.” This is the very nature of God, and this is the nature that is ours as those who are sanctified and one with the risen Christ, our Sanctifier; and we are His brethren, those of whom He spoke when He said, “I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren.” Nature and relationship all according to God. And this is His assembly, His Church, that which is of Himself. Where the Father's name is known, where Christ triumphs in His own, and sings the praises of God. If God of old inhabited the praises of Israel, how much more will He dwell in this higher and perfect praise! How blessedly habitable must that place be to Him in which His Well-beloved, raised up from the dead, sings in the company of His brethren.
Remarks at Bradford, 1926
"But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: t hat in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:4-7).
Human love can do great things to serve and save its object as long as life lasts, but when death has done its work the end is reached and it can do no more. And what is the most tragic, the most oppressive, the most heart-breaking thing in death? It is the unresponsiveness of the dead. Love may gather all its treasure and pour them out in the death chamber: they avail nothing. It may plead and agonize for one word from the silent lips—nay, for but one flicker from the still eyelids in response to its yearnings: it is all in vain. The silence is absolute, the breach is complete, love is beaten and death is the victor. But it is not thus with God's love. His love is GREAT LOVE—greater than death, and for His great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in sins, He hath quickened us together with Christ.
We were dead, without a movement, without a pulse of life, towards God, without response to His claims or pleadings, and not dead only but dead in sins. Chains bound us, darkness enshrouded us. There was not only the unresponsiveness of death, but the added enmity of sin; our case was hopeless to all “BUT GOD.” How wonderfully those two words “But God” break in upon the gloom; and being "rich in mercy,” the great love wherewith He loves us is not a baffled and hopeless love: He has triumphed over death and quickened us together with Christ, even when we were dead. Let us look into the depths of the darkness of death in which we were, and rejoice that God has broken in upon it for His great love's sake, and has gotten us out of death for Himself. What a joy must have filled the widow's heart at the gates of Nain when she received her son from the dead! Who can describe her feelings? But think of God's joy, the exultation of “the great love wherewith He loved us,” when He was able, according to the riches of His mercy and the power at His might, to quicken us together with Christ! And not that only; He could not be satisfied with only delivering us from dark and unresponsive death, but He has raised us up and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ—that is the height of His favour, it is unsurpassable! Man could not be in a higher place than that. How puerile are the thoughts of men, and how empty their highest ambitions when compared with this! And death cannot take this from us. All the hopes of a man in the flesh lie shrivelled and dead beside his open grave; the most eloquent eulogy that can be poured out there avails him nothing: his day is done, he is gone, is buried and will soon be forgotten. But not so is it with those whom God has quickened together with Christ, the present grace by which we are saved is to issue in the coming glory, for in the ages to come God will show the “exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” The consummation of the purposes of God in regard to us will be worthy of the great love wherewith He has loved us, and of the power and rich mercy that has raised us up. Let us consider these great expressions God is "rich in mercy,” His love is "great love,” He will “show the exceeding riches of His grace" to all the ages, and this in "His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” It is no wonder that now we, the living, praise Him, He has found the worshippers that He sought.
The ceaseless efforts of Satan are directed against every provision that God has made for the good of men, whether they are for “this life that now is or that which is to come.” Under his guidance are many seducing spirits. Some of these evidently direct their attention against the mercies that God has provided for the physical needs of men such as meats and marriage. 1 Timothy 3 speaks of these, they teach doctrines that are called “doctrines of devils... forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” The idea conveyed by these doctrines is that a man who obeys them would appear to have a greater sanctity than his fellows, but this we know could only feed his fleshly pride (Col. 2:20).
Let us consider these things as they are presented to us in the Word that we may know how to use them. They are to be received with thanksgiving. We give thanks for good gifts, and we recognise in so doing that God is the giver of them. We learn that “every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17). As we enter into this, these mercies from His hand become the means of communion with Him.
God knows our needs. He is a faithful Creator and He remembers how He has fashioned us. He has given us bodies and they need to be nourished and He has provided meats for this. Every mouthful we eat declares our dependence upon God, and should humble us before Him, we could not live without His provision for our daily needs. The knowledge of this would preserve us from independence of God and unrestrained appetites and keep us thankful to Him every day of our lives.
We have souls also, and the soul seeks companionship; it needs relationships in which its affections can be exercised and developed. God's desire is that His creatures should be unselfishly happy, and in His wisdom and compassion He has said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” So He has ordained marriage and the family life. It is true that the Word says, “They that marry shall have trouble in the flesh,” yet, even so, every sensible person realises that the greatest natural happiness that any can know is found in marriage and the family life. And for Christians who dwell together as heirs of the grace of life there is the added joy of the home being the Kingdom of God, in which He is owned in dependence and prayer so that marriage yields a fuller communion with God than meats.
But we have spirits also for we are spirit, soul and body, and the spirit can only be satisfied and at rest in God Himself. Hence we have the Word of God and prayer bound up with these creature mercies. “They are sanctified,” we read, “by the Word of God and prayer.” The Word of God directs us as to how to use God's mercies, and prayer is the expression of our need of grace from Him in order to use them for His glory. In the Word, God speaks to us, in prayer we speak to Him. And the Word used for prayer here means we “freely address” Him. It should be a joy to us to know that in these every day, and what might be called mundane things, God would have us commune with Him, if these gifts are received in the right spirit, every part of a man is benefited, and God is glorified by the thanksgiving. These seducing spirits would spoil all this.
There is always the danger of these good gifts of God being abused. The godless do nothing else, they are unthankful and in consequence make an unholy use of them, for unthankfulness and unholiness are linked together in God's description of men, they are twin features in the lives of those who do not know God. But the Word of God and prayer will keep us right on this side. If we give thanks to God for His gifts, whether meat or marriage, we shall treat them as His gifts and especially so if we remember that we must give an account to Him as to how we have used them. What a spring of happiness and well-being they may be, sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.
Everywhere the standards of life are being lowered, especially the marriage tie is losing its sacredness, more and more is God being left out of the lives of people, and immorality and revelling given His place. The Christian must stand out in contrast to this, and bear witness to the fact that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (v. 8).
There are many who can sing the Doxology when all things go well with them in this world. They very readily say, “Thank God,” if they are delivered from trouble. And if they have bread in the pantry, and health in their bodies, and peace in their homes, and perhaps a balance at the bank—they can praise the Lord with cheerful voice, and say He has always been so good to me I'll never doubt Him. Now that may be gratitude, but it is not faith. We would not despise any of God's mercies, and would indeed be grateful for all that He gives us richly to enjoy, but if I thank Him when the sun shines upon me, while it may be gratitude, it may also be sheer selfishness; a selfishness that rejoices in one's own freedom from trouble, and has scarcely a thought for the difficulties of others.
But faith is different; it says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom,” which means, not that there will be a poor harvest, or a late harvest, but no harvest at all. “Though my hands are empty, and every earthly resource has failed, and every human prop has been removed, and the whole world is a wilderness, yet will I confidently rest in the Lord.” Faith can pass quietly through the storm; it does not look to any circumstance for help, but it takes hold upon God and finds Him to be greater than every circumstance. Faith can wait, and wait until God moves. It is distrust that is impatient and restless, and would take things out of God's hands, and seize upon the desired object prematurely. Look at Abraham and Sarah, distrustful and impatient, making a sad mess of things in the matter of Hagar; they could not wait for God. Look at Jacob and Rebecca, scheming, shamming, lying, deceiving; they could not wait for God. Look at Moses smiting the rock and speaking unadvisedly with his lips; he could not wait for God. Look at every man, good and bad, whose history God has given us. Most, if not all of them, broke down just here; Satan stampeded them at least once into action when faith would have been quiet and waited for God.
Look now at the lowly Man of Nazareth, hear Him when hungry in the wilderness, disclaiming all resources but God, in the face of the Tempter who had grown bold with 4,000 years of success. Hear Him say, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” And trace His way from thence through every circumstance of trial and sorrow, right on, until at last He lay in a sealed tomb. He never moved on His own behalf. His only concern was the glory of God. How astonished His disciples were that He did not save Himself. When Peter drew his sword and smote the high priest's slave, was there not impatience with the meekness of His Master in that action as well as indignation at His foes? But where is Jesus now? Crowned with glory and honour in the Father's throne. He committed His way to God, and God heard His prayer, and exalted Him when the time came. He is the beginner and the finisher of faith, and in Him was no failure, no impatience, no haste, no discontent, but always perfect peace, because always perfect trust. And He is our pattern; not Abraham, nor Moses, but Jesus. And His peace He gives to us as we follow in His steps and rely wholly upon the Father's love that can never make a mistake.
Then the time comes when faith sings; the circumstances that have tested and tried it have only served to tighten the strings, and give it tone and tune, then it breaks forth into melody and cries triumphantly, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind's feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.” This is faith, “and without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Notes of an address
"And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid" (Mark 15:39-47).
It is encouraging to see that God always had in reserve some to bear witness to His Son and to do Him honour, and sometimes they were brought forth from most unexpected quarters. Such were the Gentile sages from the East at the birth of the Lord, and Mary of Bethany with her box of spikenard in view of His burial, and the dying malefactor amid the hours of suffering on the cross, and now more surprising than all when the Lord had yielded Himself to death.
The Roman centurion could not be charged with any bias in favour of the One whose crucifixion he controlled; but as the triumphant cry broke from the Lord's lips and He bowed His head in death, light broke into the pagan's soul and he bowed his heart before the Crucified and exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Faith found expression, when ten thousand voices might have shown the folly of it in men's eyes. Reason might have said, “These leaders of the Jews should know, and they have challenged Him to prove that He is the Son of God, the Christ, the King of Israel, by coming down from the cross. They have said that if they could SEE such a miracle as that they would BELIEVE. And surely if He could do that it would be a proof of His power.” But if the centurion had listened to such reasoning, which it must be owned was quite logical, he would have gone to his home when his day's work was done still a pagan. But faith, not reason, moved him, and where the devil thought he had blinded every eye that might have discerned the glory of the Lord, and silenced every tongue that might have spoken for Him, the chief man on the spot that day speaks out, and the death of the Lord, which to priests and Pharisees was a proof that He was not what He claimed to be, was to the centurion the revelation of the truth. And it is here that all true faith finds its birth. We must begin with Christ crucified; there is no faith according to God's reckoning apart from this. The Jew stumbles at it, and the Greek scoffs at it. Blind reason will not have it, but faith confesses that Jesus who died is the Son of God, that the cross is the revelation of God's love to men and the one way by which they can be brought back to God. The centurion carried from that scene, in which he had participated, a light that nothing could quench, for he carried away faith in the Son of God.
Then came Joseph, and he was an honourable man and a counsellor. If he had considered his reputation amongst his fellows he would have stayed at home that day, but all thought of self is abandoned, the secrecy of his discipleship must end, and that when naturally we should have thought that he would have been most anxious to conceal it. If the Lord had come down from the cross in response to the challenge of the priests, he might have been bold and said, “I knew all the time who He was”; but it is when He hangs dead, apparently utterly defeated, and when Peter and the other disciples have forsaken Him and fled, that this nobleman comes forth boldly and craves His body. He was the man whom God had held in reserve, and his love for the Lord now brings him into the open and makes him bold to face the world that had rejected and crucified his Lord.
It was God's plan, and nothing can frustrate His plans. "They had made His grave with the wicked,” as Isaiah 53:9 should read. A rough hole into which they would have cast His precious body, along with the corrupting carcases of the thieves, had been dug; but now that His work was done indignities must cease, no more dishonour must be done to Him, He is "with the rich in His death.” His burial is honourable, and in the new rock-hewn tomb of an honourable man, and though only a few were the mourners, the angels of God were there to mark the place.
But what I want to press is the fact that Joseph identified himself with a dead Christ. The centurion confessed Him—that was FAITH. Joseph identified himself with Him—that was LOVE. Only the love that reckons neither scorn nor danger, that flings aside all thought of self, could have made Joseph bold to crave from Pilate that dead body. Henceforward he would be known as the man who had taken his stand for the crucified Nazarene, and that act would most surely break every association that he had had with priest and Pharisees in former days.
When, we partake of the Lord's Supper and eat of the loaf which speaks to us of the dead body of our Lord, of His body given for us, we identify ourselves with His dead body as Joseph did. I know of no better illustration of it. It is true that we know Him risen, exalted, triumphant, and as such He gave His presence to those who are gathered unto His Name, but the broken loaf carries us back to that moment that brought Joseph of Arimathæa to light. It is a dead Christ that we recall, dead in His love to us, and in eating that loaf we identify ourselves with Him in His death as Joseph did. It is love in our hearts responding to the love that was in His that moved Him to die for us. May it be real with us, constraining us gladly to accept the consequence as Joseph did.
This is a great test for us; I might say it is the greatest test of all. Faith confesses His greatness, it owns the truth as to His person; but love can only be satisfied with identification with Him, and if He is despised, cast out, and dead as far as this world is concerned, then we will throw in our lot with Him and share His reproach and accept for ourselves the place that they have awarded Him. There was one man more honourable than all in the eyes of God the Father that day, and that man was Joseph; but men of the same mind are maintained by the grace of God to this day and will be to the end, for it is still God's plan that His Son, though despised and rejected, should be loved and honoured, and nothing can thwart His, plan. May we each be one of these.
"And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe... After this came Joseph of Arimathæa... And there came also Nicodemus" (John 19:35, 42).
We begin with faith. Faith is the response in a human heart to a Divine revelation. God says it, I believe it. That is faith. God has made a full revelation of Himself. He has shown to men what He is, but when He did it we were not there to see, and if the revelation is to affect and bless us, if we are to believe and understand it, we must have a true record of it, a divinely inspired record, and such we have here. He that saw it bare record, and his record is true; and he knoweth that he saith true, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE.” What was it that he saw? The Son of God hanging dead upon a cross, with blood and water flowing from His wounded side. That was a great sight, and God commends it to our special attention.
Since the time that the startled earth was first made to drink the blood of a man, foully slain by the son of his own mother, there had been millions of deaths in the world, for death from that time was as common as birth, and tears and misery. We do not wonder at that, for when by one man, Adam, sin entered into the world, death followed quickly and irrevocably upon its heels, and it has passed upon all his children and claimed them as its rightful prey. These multitudes who had died were all creatures whose life was forfeited to their Creator; they commenced their journey to the grave with the first breath that they drew, for not one of them was without sin. There was nothing noteworthy in the death of any of them, for death was the common lot, but in the death of this Man who John saw yield up His life there was. Death had no claim upon Him at all, for He was not a sinner, but the holy, sinless Son of God. He had shown Himself to be the Master of death before many witnesses on at least three occasions, for He was the Word, the Creator and Life-giver. Yet He died, and because of what He was and who He was, His death was unique. Never had there been one like it before, and never shall there be one like it again. It stands alone, unrivalled, to be unforgotten for ever and ever. An eye-witness has recorded the fact. He did not argue about it, there is no room for argument, the fact was too stupendous; he did not even interpret it; he has simply told us what he saw, and his testimony commands our earnest consideration. It is a Holy Ghost inspired testimony of a great event and it cannot be ignored. It calls for our faith for it has been told us that we might believe. Yet we on our part may reverently ask for an explanation. What does the death of the Son of God, and Has death in such circumstances, mean? Let us see.
God sent His only-begotten Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it. He became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. It was the day of revelation and of testing. Never before had absolute goodness appeared in the world; never before had unconditional mercy unfolded its treasures to assuage the miseries of men; never before had the true light shone in the darkness, for never before had God been manifested in the flesh. What was the answer to it on the part of men? Hatred, treachery and murder! “Ye have been the betrayers and murderers of the Just One,” said Stephen, when he pressed home upon the leaders of the Jews their awful guilt.
“The Father sent the Son
A ruined world to save.
Man meted to the sinless One
The Cross, the grave.”
As we read the record of John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” let us stand in thought near to that cross with him and fix our earnest gaze upon the Lord as he assuredly did. Many things that are recorded for our learning and faith in the other Gospels John did not see, or if he saw them it was not his work to record them. He does not, for instance, record in such full detail the unspeakable cruelty with which men treated his Master. The other evangelists show us that nothing was left undone that they could imagine. In the excess of their hatred they heaped suffering and shame upon Him as never was heaped upon a man before, and we do well often to read their records, that we may have no delusions as to what the heart of man is when he is put to the test. But John does not dwell on this side of the cross, he is absorbed with his Lord. So when he describes the going forth to Golgotha, he is the only witness who says, “He bearing His cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull.” In the other records we read that He was led forth by His foes, and John tells us this too, for that was the culmination of their guilt; but He went forth, that was the triumph of His love. He went forth ; do we not discern the majesty of that lonely Man, with thorns on His head and a cross upon His shoulders? He was not driven forth or dragged forth, but in obedience to His Father's command He went forth to lay down His life and to take it again. It was this that John saw, though he could not have understood at that time the full meaning of it, and the sight made an indelible impression upon his soul. We read in the ancient Scriptures that "His goings forth have been of old, from everlasting" (Mic. 5). How glorious were those goings forth when as the great Creator He cast the stars before Him as a shining pathway for His feet, and the sons of God shouted for joy as they beheld the wonders of His works, but none of those goings forth were as wonderful as this, when bearing His cross He went forth into a place called the place of a skull. In creation He displayed wisdom and power; at the cross He revealed in all their glory, righteousness and love, and fuller wisdom and greater power than were called for or possible at creation.
John heard Him cry, “It is finished,” and saw Him bow His head and give up the ghost, and bears witness to what he heard and saw, and again we feel that there is a majesty about this that fills us with awe, and we do not wonder that “when the centurion [a pagan up to that moment as far as we know] which stood over against Him saw that He so cried, he said, Truly this Man was the Son of God” (Mark 15).
But John seems to gather up all his energy to bear witness to the final scene that was enacted when the Lord had yielded up His life. He tells us that "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” It is this that he saw, and to this he bears witness, and his witness cannot be challenged, he knows that he saith true, THAT YE MIGHT BELIEVE. This witness is essential, it is vital, for here is the revelation that awakens faith and to which faith responds What does it mean? Let us see. The devil by his subtlety in Eden turned the hearts of God's creatures from Him and made them believe that God did not love them, for was He not withholding something from them that would do them good? The poison did its deadly work, and they fell from their faith and fidelity, and from that time onward the very nature of men has been suspicion of and enmity against God, as the Scriptures declare. That enmity found its final expression in that spear thrust that rent the side of Jesus. The wickedness of men was fully exposed by it, but the blood and water was God's answer to that wickedness and to the devil's lie that was the first cause of it. In the blood we behold the triumph of God; it is the great price that He has paid to rescue us from darkness and destruction. His care for His creature's blessing was fully revealed by it. It is the witness to us that GOD IS LOVE. No less a sacrifice would have done, no greater could have been given. “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” and He “commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Our sins have met their judgment in the death of Christ, all that we were passed under God's condemnation when His dear Son was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. By the death of Jesus God is just and the Justifier of all that believe. Here is solid ground upon which we may rest in peace; here is a revelation of God which calls for our willing faith. Here we meet with God in Him whom He hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, and before this mercy seat we bow down and worship. The darkness is past for us and the true light now shines, and hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us and faith can sing:—
“The precious stream of water and of blood
Which from the Saviour's side so freely flowed,
Has put away our sins of scarlet dye,
Washed us from every stain and brought us nigh.”
If we have believed the witness of the disciple whom Jesus loved, let us still stand with him and watch the sequence of events. The end has come. No miracle has been wrought to save the Son of God from death, and there He hangs, dishonoured and dead, the whole world against Him, and the world apparently triumphant. He had pleaded with men, toiled for them, wept for them, and now He had died for them, but they knew it not and were glad to be rid of Him. But will His death be in vain? Will any amongst the vast multitude that had gathered to see that crucifixion be moved by it? Shall there be any response in any man ere the sun goes down to this boundless love? Yes, there is a movement. One man stands forward, separating himself from his fellows; he goes to Pilate and begs the body of Jesus. And now he stands beside the cross, one solitary man in the face of a hostile world. It is as though he said, “O Jews, ye have spurned Him, but I embrace Him. O world, ye have despised and crucified Him, but I love Him. I share in His shame, and will bear His reproach. Christ for me. Ye are on that side, I am on this.” Ah, heaven must have been thrilled at that sight, and so are we, as we see Joseph of Arimathæa turn his back upon the world and its prizes and honours and stand friendless and alone by that cross for the love he bore the One who hung upon it. It was here that Paul stood when he said, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” It was here that the Eunuch from Ethiopia stood, when, having heard from Philip that the life of Jesus was taken from the earth, he said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” And his identification with Christ in His death is the only place and path for the believer who would be faithful to Him “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?” and as He suffered without the gate, faithfulness demands that we should go forth unto Him bearing His reproach.
The love of Christ constrained Joseph to take his stand in faithfulness to Christ regardless of all consequences, and to take it alone; but he has no sooner done it than he is joined by another, for Nicodemus, braving the frowns and scorn of his fellow-Pharisees, throws in his lot with Joseph, and they, with perhaps two women or more, are joined together as one to do honour to their rejected and dishonoured Lord. It is a moving sight to see them identified with His dead body, Himself their object, their love to Him the bond that makes them one! And in them we see illustrated what true Christian FELLOWSHIP in this world is. Look at those “two or three” as they tend the sacred body of the Lord, wrapping it in linen clothes with the spices and bearing it away to the sepulchre. The world is lost to them, they are heedless of its praise or blame, they have one common object, they are absorbed with Him, and they are acting according to the mind of heaven and with the approval of God.
It is well that we should ask the question as to how we stand in regard to this same matter. Any fellowship that we may profess is a mere show, if this that moved the hearts of these people is lacking. We may stand for external correctness and strive even to have everything according to the terms of the truth, and be intolerant of any who do not see as we see, but if there is not this faithfulness to Christ, and this affection for Him that binds hearts together as one, it is of no account to God, it is the shell without the kernel, and a stumbling block to others.
Do we know the meaning of the words, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread”? Do we know what it means to “SHOW THE LORD'S DEATH TILL HE COME”? It means that we stand together in faithfulness and affection for the One whom the world rejected, and that by eating His supper together, which brings Him to mind in His death for us, we declare to all who can take notice that we are identified with Him, that we stand by His cross, that it has become our boast and our glory. It is a solemn stand to take but a blessed one. It will not meet with the world's approval but it will have God's. It will cause us to walk in self-judgment and in separation from the world, but it will open up for us a sphere in which Christ is everything and in which we shall be more than satisfied with His love, for it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him,” but these things are revealed to us by His Spirit and they are our common portion to be enjoyed together as faith produces faithfulness, and faithfulness draws us together in holy, happy fellowship.
"Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting the watch" (Matthew 27:62-66).
Stone and seal and soldiers held the lonely sepulchre in the garden where the body of Jesus lay. The subtilty of Jewish priests and the authority of Rome combined to make the place secure. "Make it,” said Pilate, "as sure as ye can.” They did their utmost, and may have gone to their beds assured that they would meet the hated Nazarene no more. What orders were issued to the Roman guard as they went to their unwanted watch? Were they told, I wonder, how to treat the expected raid upon that tomb by a mob of Galilean fishermen? It is more than likely that they were, but they certainly were not instructed how to deal with an earthquake and an angel of the Lord, whose countenance was like lightning and whose raiment was white as snow. And the Galilean fishermen came not, but the earthquake and the angel did.
What a moment was that when the earth trembled and rocked, and the Imperial seal was torn asunder and the stone was rolled away from the mouth of that tomb by angelic hands. Glittering spears and shining armour were useless to withstand this display of heavenly power; the courage of the coarse defenders of that tomb failed utterly, and they fell down flat as dead men.
There was every reason why that guard should shake and fall with fear, for it represented a world determined to be rid of Jesus, and which thought it had realized its determination. Now He was risen from the dead, and His resurrection was His triumph and their defeat. It was the declaration on the part of God that He had seen and disapproved their awful act at Calvary ; and that Christ was the righteous One before whose throne all men must stand.
But close at hand in that memorable hour were two weak women, and to them the angel turned with words of cheer. There was nothing in the power of God to make them afraid; there was every reason why they should rejoice. They represented, not the world that hated Jesus, but those whom He had chosen out of it, and who loved Him because He first loved them. So the angel said to them,
“FEAR NOT YE.
It seemed strange that such words should be said to these weak women, when Roman veterans fell as dead for fear; but the reason is at once declared. “I know,” said the angel, “that
YE SEEK JESUS.”
That was the reason. He was the object of their hearts' truest affection. The world was a dreary desert without Him; they could not keep away from that sepulchre where they supposed that He was lying. All their hopes were centred in Him; and though their faith, through ignorance, had been sorely shaken, their love for Him remained. He was their Beloved and their Friend, and in this, though they knew it not, their hearts were in fellowship with the heart of God. And we come together as those who cannot do without Him. As those women sought Him because they loved Him, so do we seek His presence, for He has won our hearts' affections, and in His company we find our fullest joy. He has become our gathering centre, our great attraction, our bond of fellowship; that which bound those women as one in their search for Him unites us also; we are one if we love our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not of the world that hates Him, but of God and of one another, because of our common devotion to Him.
“It is Himself that bindeth heart to heart.
In one eternal love.”
But why did they seek Him? And why do we seek Him? The angel supplied the answer, “Ye seek Jesus,” he said,
“WHICH WAS CRUCIFIED.”
That is why. We should never have sought Him if He had not been crucified.
His crucifixion was the expression and the measure of His love to us. When He was despised and rejected by men,
“Stripped and scourged by hands ungentle,
Mocked by tongues untamed,”
then He suffered, the Just for us the unjust, to bring us to God. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53). He “loved the church and gave Himself for it.” It is love that passes knowledge, and yet we know it, for He bore our sins, and has put them all away, having borne the righteous judgment that was due to us for them. He died for us.
“We know the way, the glorious way He made
Through death's dark sea.
O Lamb of God, we bless the love that laid
Our sins on Thee.”
But if the angel could have said no more of Him, it would have been useless for any of us to have sought Him, or still to seek Him. He would have been of no use to us, nor could be. If He is a dead Christ we are hopeless, for “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But a glad triumph swells through the angel's words, as he proclaims, “He is not here, for
HE IS RISEN.”
His work upon the cross has been accepted; the price He paid there for us is enough. Death has met his conqueror; the grave has been robbed of its terrors, and the devil's power has been broken for ever. The Father's approval of His life and death has been made manifest, His own personal greatness and glory has been declared, and eternal redemption secured for us beyond recall. We can understand how every fear and dark foreboding in these women's hearts would be changed to confidence and joy. His resurrection proved that He had not deceived them; that every hope that He had raised within their breasts would be fulfilled. And it was this that the angel urged upon them when he said “He is risen
AS HE SAID.”
He had told them that He would rise again; that He had done so was the confirmation of all His words, and proved that He was fully worthy of their fullest confidence. We, too, may give to the winds our fears, and renew our confidence in Him, as we read His words, which tell us that not one jot or tittle of His word shall fail. He is risen, that is the pledge. Death mocks at men's assertions and brings to naught their words and works, but our Saviour lives as Victor over death to give complete effect to all that the prophets have spoken concerning Him and all that He has spoken concerning us.
“COME, SEE THE PLACE WHERE THE LORD LAY.”
They were to be witnesses to the disciples of this great event, and so must view the empty tomb with their own eyes, and this they did at the invitation of the angel of the Lord. It was presumptuously stated by one whose blasphemies have been closed by death that the Lord did not actually rise from the dead; that His remains are still lying somewhere near to Calvary. If this is so the Christian faith is a delusion and a snare, and all those who have fallen asleep in the joy of it have perished. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20).
See how the glorious worth of our Lord comes out in the angel's words.
1. YE SEEK JESUS = His personal preciousness.
2. WHICH WAS CRUCIFIED = His matchless love.
3. HE IS RISEN = His glorious power.
4. AS HE SAID = His absolute trustworthiness.
But there is more in this wonderful story; the risen Lord had not forgotten His disciples, they were His first thought. So that the angel continued,
“GO QUICKLY, AND TELL HIS DISCIPLES
that He is risen from the dead, and goeth before you into Galilee ; there ye shall see Him, lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly with-fear and great joy and did run to bring His disciples word.”... Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee
INTO A MOUNTAIN WHERE JESUS HAD APPOINTED THEM.”
He appointed a place where He could meet with them, and, blessed fact, He has appointed a place for us, where He can meet with us. It is in this same gospel that His precious words are recorded for us, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them" (chap. 18:20). It is not the place that we choose; we may not please ourselves in this matter; the place is His appointment; it is our responsibility as well as our joy to obey His word and keep this appointment with Him.
The place that He appointed them was outside the temple and away from Jerusalem. We must remember that in Matthew's gospel He had been presented to Israel as their Messiah, and they had rejected Him, so that the temple, their house, and their city were to be desolated, and the faithful remnant was to be led out of both and gathered to Himself. His name instead of the temple and the city was to be their rallying centre. And so today not a sensuous religion, an ornate service, or a massive temple is that which satisfies His heart or the hearts of those who love Him. To meet His own is His wish, and to be in His presence without distraction or the intrusion of that which pleases nature is the wish of those who keep His word and do not deny His Name.
“AND WHEN THEY SAW HIM THEY WORSHIPPED HIM.”
Could they do other, when He stood before them who had died for them, bearing in His risen body the marks of His suffering and death? A sight of Him was all that was needed to prostrate them in holy adoration at His feet. And so it will be with us if without distraction we realise His presence in the place that He has appointed us.
There is more in the chapter, but here I close, as my wish is to bring and keep before you the Person of the Lord and the blessed fact that we may have the joy of His presence, for He has appointed a place where He will meet with us, and He cannot deny His own word, nor will He disappoint those who believe it. We are often so self-occupied, or busy interfering with our brethren, or taken up with our service, that we think little of this that means so much to Him, and yet to faith and by the Holy Spirit's power His presence may be as real to us as it was to His disciples when they met Him on that mountain in Galilee.
“Jesus, Thou alone art worthy
Ceaseless praises to receive,
For Thy love and grace and goodness
Rise o'er all our hearts conceive.
Praise Him, praise Him, praise the Saviour,
Saints aloud your voices raise.
Praise Him, praise Him, till in heaven
Perfected we'll sing His praise.”
Those parts of the New Testament which describe these last days make it very clear that the spheres of fellowship and service are not the same. The Second Epistle to Timothy especially brings this out, and being written for those servants of the Lord who desire, at least, to be “faithful men” it is of exceptional value in guiding us as to these supremely important questions.
The first consideration with the faithful man will be how he stands in regard to the testimony of the Lord, and to God; to be not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, and to be approved unto God will take precedence of all else. Then will come his fellowship with others, and this can only be with those “that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” To be fit for such fellowship he must have purged himself from vessels to dishonour. He must be absolute in his separation from those who are not faithful to the truth as to the Person and work of Christ, or who deny in any way our holy faith.
2 Timothy 2 encourages us to believe that those who do this will not lack company, they will find others who have purified themselves from unholy associations too, and with these they may walk. The bond that will bind such together will be a very positive one—the Lord Himself—they “Call on the Lord out of a pure heart”; but is this possible apart from separation from evil? It is significant that immediately before speaking of the truth of His Assembly for the first time in Scripture (Matt. 16) the Lord warns us against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These leavens are ecclesiastical and doctrinal pride and iniquity, and because they are leaven they must contaminate more or less all who are in association with them. “Evil communications corrupt good manners,” and the truth as to the person of Christ and as to His Assembly cannot be held with one hand while that which destroys the truth is gripped by the other. That which is pure does not purify what is corrupt, but is quickly corrupted. Hence, let “him that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Let him purify himself from the vessels of dishonour by separating from them. But the bond that binds such a man in fellowship with others must be a positive one, mere separation from evil is no guarantee that our feet will be kept in the path of truth, our separation must be unto the Lord, or it will have small value in His eyes, and will only tend to pride, and spoil us for both the spheres of fellowship and service.
In addition to this separation to the Lord from evil there must be diligence and energy of purpose in pursuing “righteousness, faith, love and peace.” These were the brightest traits of the church on earth in the freshness of its first love for Christ; they were then the general habit and practice of all; the very atmosphere too in which the disciples lived and rejoiced and prospered; but it is not so now. Worldly principles and aims have displaced these divine qualities in the house of God on earth, and if they are to be practised now they must be pursued; there must be diligence in reaching out after them and holding on to them, and this entails constant exercise of heart and conscience.
Thank God they are not beyond the reach of any or of all, but it is only in separation from evil and in the energy of faithfulness to the Lord that any can hold on to them. The early days of the church were as when all Israel gathered themselves to David at Hebron and made him king. These last days are as when David fled before Absalom; then were brought to light the Cherethites and Pelethites and Gittites, and Ittai and his men and little ones. Their love to David was their bond; they were gladly willing to share his rejection and to be with him in life and death. They did not form a new fellowship, they were but true to that which was from the beginning; to the covenant made more than thirty years before at Hebron. So those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart form nothing new when they walk together, they only go back to that which was at the beginning, to find in the Lord in the darkest day that which He was to His church in the brightest. The Lord is the bond. This is the fellowship, and it demands that we are uncompromising with that which is really treachery to the Lord.
The sphere of service is much wider than this sphere of fellowship, and carries us into chapter 4 of our Epistle. How solemn is the charge with which that chapter opens. “I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and dead at His appearing and kingdom; preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” Not before his brethren must the faithful man serve the Lord, as though they could define when and where he might serve, for that would make him the servant of man and bring him under the yoke of bondage; nor yet before the standard of his own will must he serve as though he were his own judge, for that would lead to loose independency; but before God, the source of his ministry, and before the Lord Jesus Christ who will scrutinize all that is done in His Name according to His own perfect standard when it is finished. Upon what a high plane does this charge lift all true service! In what searching light does it set it! Who with a sense of the gravity of it could serve with levity? Or compromise the truth that he is called to preach? Or pander to the notions of men for popularity? Or bide the truth for fear of men? Or even limit the sphere of his service to meet the prejudices of his brethren? The service of the Lord is sacred; it is directly from God, and everyone who takes it up is held by the Lord as responsible to Him above, and will be called to account by Him in regard to it. The thought, by its very solemnity, brings the exercised servant to his knees. He bows before the God who knows all, and before the Lord who will test all; and men and time sink into their own insignificance, or become simply the objects and opportunities for the carrying out of his great trust that lies outside and beyond their control or criticism.
Our fellowship must be marked by purity, but our service is to be exercised where need is. "Do the work of an evangelist" brings out this latter. No matter how completely those who profess Christianity abandon or oppose the truth; no matter how godless and indifferent to the claims of God the multitudes become; the faithful man will still proclaim the fact that God is a Saviour God, that the precious blood of Jesus is the great proof of His love and justice, and the ground upon which He can justify and bless even the worst of men. Those Christians who slight the Gospel, or say that it is not their interest, or settle themselves down into select and selected circles to study the Word, to justify the position they have assumed, only prove how faithless to their great trust they have become, or how their faith has succumbed to the general pressure. The servant of the Lord must seek the unconverted; if the love of God fills his heart he will. He will meet with disappointments, with rebuffs, and opposition and persecution; prayers and tears and exercise of heart will be his portion, but having received his trust from the Lord he will be sustained by grace from Him, and will not flag; for sin and sorrow and death and hell-fire are the same as ever they were; and the world does not satisfy the souls of men, and their hearts are empty and often broken; and Christ died for them, and God yearns for them, and life is offered them, and heaven is open for them, and “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,” and the very nature of God is glorified in the salvation of every one of them.
There are those who are specially entrusted with the work of the evangelist, let them exercise their gift whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, in season and out of season; but they and all others who serve the Lord as faithful men must address themselves also to those who profess the name of the Lord. They must "preach the Word"; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. This surely means that they must carry the Word into the very circles where it is opposed. They will not be called upon to reprove and rebuke those who are calling on the Lord out of a pure heart, but they must do this where those are who “will not endure sound doctrine,” and where “they turn their ears away from the truth.” But how shall the servant of the Lord preach the Word to such? They certainly will not come to him to hear it, nor must he expect them to, he is not told to stand and wait for them; he is SENT, for “how shall they preach except they be sent?” He must go to them if he is to fulfil his God-given trust. Could anything be clearer than this? If we dismiss all our prejudices and face the Word as it is, is it not clear that the servant of the Lord, subject to the guidance of the Lord, must seize every occasion, and enter every open door, in making full proof of his ministry?
But what wisdom, what courage will be needed for this! How easy it is for “fools to rush in where angels fear to tread,” and having rushed in to proclaim their own folly instead of the truth of God. How easy, if not sustained of the Lord, to break down in courage, and water the truth to the surroundings, or to be drawn into fellowship with what is hateful to God. But if, according to Jude, while we build ourselves upon our most holy faith, with those who are like minded, we are also to snatch others out of the fire, having compassion upon them; we must go where they are, as the angels went to Sodom to drag Lot out of that doomed city, but the pernicious, soul-destroying doctrines and worldly lusts in which Christendom is wallowing along with the world, and out of which we have to drag souls, will be just as obnoxious to us as the filth of Sodom was to those angels from heaven.
The disobedient prophet (1 Ki. 13) is an example and a warning to us. He was sent to proclaim the Word of the Lord beside a flaming altar of idolatry in Bethel, and so far he was faithful; but when he was drawn into fellowship in that place, even though it was with one who claimed to be a prophet even as he was, his service came to an abrupt end under the judgment of God.
I am not urging the liberty of the servants of the Lord, that is far too low ground for the “faithful man” to take, and it savours too much of the democratic spirit of the day, and may degenerate into every man doing that which is right in his own eyes, but I urge THE RIGHTS OF THE LORD OVER HIS SERVANTS. His rights are sovereign; they are absolute. His servants are bondmen, their only liberty is to be free from every other yoke of bondage to be entirely at His disposal. No man that warreth can obey two captains. He must be free to please only the one who has enlisted him as a soldier. The Lord is outside Laodicea, hence His servants in loyalty to Him will be outside it too; they will find no fellowship in that which excludes Him, but He may use them to knock on His behalf at the closed door, and may send them to say with what long-suffering mercy He waits to restore those who have an ear to hear.
His household is scattered in many strange circles in Christendom, and His faithful and wise servants will be ready in subjection to Him to carry a portion of meat to any to whom He may send them. Ecclesiastical position is not everything, the souls of the Lord's people must be fed. I fear that this side of the question has not sufficiently engaged our attention; we have talked sometimes of the obligations of the Lord's servants to. The fellowship: whatever obligations they may have as members of Christ's body, they have no obligations as His servants to anyone but Himself; let them discharge these faithfully and then they will surely be contending lawfully.
There are religious circles where the truth is not known, but where it would not be opposed; where even it might be readily welcomed; there are others with a measure of truth, who would be glad to know more. Wherever there is a readiness to listen, “an ear to hear,” there is surely a work of God's Spirit, and the faithful man will recognize it and rejoice in it. He will go on with what is of God wherever he sees it as far as it goes. and be ready to advance it, for how could he expect to be favoured himself by the Spirit of God in his labours if he refused to recognize what He has already done.
The time is short, and the servants of the Lord who trade for Him must put out that which they have received from Him at the best rate of interest, ever subject to His gracious will who in infinite grace has called them to His service.
THE FIRST PROPHETIC WORD uttered in this world came from the lips of God. It announced to Satan, that old Serpent, that the Seed of the Woman should bruise his head, and that word was fulfilled when through death the Lord Jesus Christ annulled him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. The fact that this has been accomplished is not yet made publicly manifest in the world, for God in much long-suffering is waiting for men to believe the testimonies of His grace which He is sending to them in the gospel, and to yield to Christ who is the mighty Conqueror of Calvary, for He is not willing that any should perish. But soon this long-suffering must come to an end and THE SECOND PROPHETIC WORD will be fulfilled. This word was uttered by Enoch, the seventh from Adam, who prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 14-15). Mark well that Christ and His doings are the theme of these prophecies.
Thus will all evil be overthrown and all rebellion against God subdued, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, the mighty Conqueror of Satan, and the righteous Judge of the ungodly, will establish HIS kingdom in which He will maintain justice and rule with equity for the glory of God and the good of man.
The Gospel condemns the old life of the flesh in which men do their own sinful wills and offers new life in the Spirit in which they do the will of God. Judgment must fall on the first, there can be no judgment but only approval for the second.
Adam failed at the first incitement to do his own will. The Lord was tested in every possible way, even to death—the giving up of His life—and nothing made Him do His own will. He died to continue the path of obedience.
We have to deny our own wills. When we yield and do what pleases ourselves, we do not suffer but are gratified, though we may suffer from a bad conscience afterwards.
Faith—that most precious, priceless, divinely-wrought principle, positively delights in being called to lean absolutely and abidingly upon the living God. But it must be the real thing. It is of little use talking about faith if the heart be a stranger to its power. Mere profession is perfectly worthless. God deals in moral realities. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he have faith?” He does not say, “What doth it profit though a man have faith?” Blessed be God, those who, through grace, have it, know that it profits much every way. It glorifies God as nothing else can do. It lifts the soul above the depressing influences of things seen and temporal. It tranquillizes the spirit in a most blessed manner. It enlarges the heart, by leading us out of our own narrow circle of personal interests, sympathies, cares and burdens, and connecting us livingly with the eternal, exhaustless spring of goodness. It works by love, and draws us out in gracious activity towards those who are of the household of faith. It is faith alone that can move along the path where Jesus leads.
1 Peter 3
There are three things spoken of in the New Testament that are of “great price,” or very costly.
1. The alabaster box of ointment that Mary poured upon the person of the Lord in view of His burying; and the intelligence of love and adoration that lay behind that act was so exceedingly precious in the estimation of the Lord that He decreed then and there that “wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
2. The pearl of great price, which is the church, and for which, and to secure it for Himself, the Lord, the merchantman, sold all that He had, such was its value and such it will be for ever in its unfading beauty in His eyes.
3. A meek and quiet spirit in a Christian woman—this we read “is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4). Of no service that men can render is such a thing said, of no labour or toil have we such an eulogium; it is fragrant to God, as was Mary's ointment, it is beautiful in His eyes as the church is in Christ's. What could Christian women desire more than this? Here is fragrance that the skill of the perfumer cannot produce, here is an ornament that no jeweller can devise, here is beauty that surpasses everything that art or nature can show, and it is enduring, for that which is of great price in the sight of God, He will preserve for ever. And this is within the reach of every Christian woman. Why should they seek great publicity in service or prominence in the eyes of men? Let them ponder over this word of God and go in for this, and as they develop and show this meek and quiet spirit they will be, by what they are rather than by what they do, of use to others, because precious to God.
We do not make little of service by making much of this. Women ministered to the Lord. Phebe was a servant of the church and a succourer of many, and women laboured with Paul in the gospel—all right and good in its place, but the meek and quiet spirit exceeds everything, it is of great price in the sight of God.
“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:5-11)
I was greatly impressed when a young Christian by hearing a dear saint of God, whom I knew to be a great sufferer, say, “I feel that I must be a special object of the Father's loving interest, for I receive so much chastisement.” Suffering and trial are not generally received in such a spirit, but it is just thus that they are spoken of in Hebrews 12. And I could not help but notice how quietly and trustfully and happily that dear child of God lived her life in marked contrast to many who seemed to look upon every trial as an evil thing.
But what made her accept her trials in such a spirit and interpret them so happily? Simply this, she read the Word of God, AND BELIEVED IT. She did not question it, but received it with the simplicity of a child. It could not deceive her. Hebrews 12 was her Father's word to her, as well as every other part of Scripture, and so she quietly accepted all as proof of His interest in her, and consequently her trials yielded to her the peaceable fruits of righteousness.
Would that we all accepted God's words with the same simplicity. What comfort the Scriptures would yield us if we did, and this scripture in particular, in these days when trials are pressing more or less upon all. What comfort it would give you, dear reader, in your trial, if you realized that it is because you are a child, a son, in the tender hands of an all-wise Father that you are passing through trial at all, that your Father has your everlasting profit in view in all that He permits you to pass through, and that He wants you now to be a PARTAKER OF HIS HOLINESS. And the nearer you walk with Him the more He must correct those things in you which are not suitable to His company. He wants you to walk with Him as Enoch did, to be His friend as Abraham was, to know that He loves you even as He loves His well-beloved Son. He wants you to understand His bright designs for your present and ultimate good, and to trust His heart even when you cannot understand His ways. If you enter into this you will fret and fume no more, but you will raise your thanksgiving psalm to Him for the love that is as real and true in the days of storm and stress as in the quiet days of sunshine and repose. Plainly is it stated in Hebrews 12 that chastisement is a proof of the Father's loving interest in us. Let us believe it and submit ourselves thankfully to the Father of spirits and live.
“LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAY, EVEN UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD” (Matt. 28:20)
“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless,
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if Thou abide with me.”
At one of the big training depots I recently met a Christian man of forty, who in subjection to the authorities had left home and wife and family for military service. The change from a comfortable home and easy life to the hardships and trials of a soldier's training told heavily upon him. His drill sergeant was neither considerate nor polite, and seemed to take a special delight in abusing him, until the strain became almost unbearable. One morning on parade he felt that he had come to the breaking point, and cried out in his heart to the Lord, “O Lord, speak to me, for I cannot bear this any longer.” At once he got his answer. Clearer and more distinct than the rough profanity of the sergeant the words sounded in his very soul, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” He told me that that was all he needed, and nothing had been a burden to him since. The circumstances were the same, but the sense of the Lord's presence with him had made all the difference. He could pass through the trials serenely and without irritation now because of the blessedness of the company in which he lived and walked.
But the words are in the sacred Scriptures for you and for me, dear reader, as much as for him, and we may read them AND BELIEVE THEM and draw that most blessed comfort that they yield to all who do believe them. Shall we honour the Lord by doing so, or dishonour Him by acting like abandoned orphans for whom He has neither love nor care? Let us take the words as they stand and joyfully sing, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, FOR THOU ART WITH ME. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.”
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile" (Psalm 32:1-2).
Have you become dull in your soul of late, my reader? Are you low in spirits? Have you lost that vigour and spontaneity that those have who are rejoicing in God's favour? If so, consider afresh these words with which this Psalm of David, given for instruction, opens. If you are a Christian at all, the blessedness of which he speaks is for you, to be enjoyed by you. Oh, the blessedness of the man who knows it!
There are three words used for sin—“transgression,” “sin” and “iniquity.” They describe, in a threefold way, the character of the sins of which we have all been guilty. TRANSGRESSION means a going away from a definite command, a rending of oneself apart from the One who gave the command; it is a pulling away of the shoulder from the hand that is laid upon it in loving restraint. How guilty we were of that, alas! How opposed to the will of God we were, how determined to do our own wills and have none of His. Thus we rebelled and thus were we separated from the God who made us and loved us. SIN means missing the mark, for if we are lawless, and the Scriptures say, “Sin is lawlessness,” we must miss the mark. If the earth broke away from the law that binds it in its orbit round the sun, how terrible would be the consequences: it would miss the mark, the whole reason for its existence, and destroy itself. And we have sinned and missed the mark. How could we be right and fulfil the purpose of our being when our vision was warped by sin, and all our aspirations were wrong? Hence nothing satisfied us—we had no real peace, we were restless and disappointed. Even what we aimed for we failed to secure, or if we did carry off the prize we got something along with it that turned it to gall and bitterness. INIQUITY means crooked, distorted—a divergence from the straight path. God's path for us was a straight one, a path of righteousness, but we all went astray from it in doing our own wills. What a mess of things we made by our sins: we pulled ourselves away from God, we failed to find any satisfaction, and all our ways were crooked, twisted ways. There was more, and worse: our sins were a challenge to God's supremacy, a rebellion against His throne; they were a dishonour to Him they called for His righteous judgment.
This threefold character of our sinning has been met by a threefold grace on God's part. The transgression is FORGIVEN. Here the word means to lift away from. The great burden is removed: it no longer weighs upon the soul and conscience before God. Oh, the relief if it! How great is the blessedness of being forgiven! The load is gone. The sin is COVERED, it is concealed, blotted out of God's sight, so as to offend Him no more. The iniquity is not IMPUTED. It is not reckoned, it no longer stands against us in God's book of remembrance. It is remembered no more. It is as though it had never been.
We know well that we could have known nothing of the blessedness of Psalm 32, if our great Saviour had not endured the sufferings of Psalm 22. It is because He was forsaken that we may be forgiven. Yes, we owe it all to the precious blood of Jesus, and so we can sing, “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God His Father. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Notes of an Address on Luke 24:15-53
I suppose we are all familiar with this beautiful Scripture. I think we agree that of all the chapters in the Gospels, with perhaps the exception of the crucifixion chapters, none can interest us more than the resurrection chapters. Here were two of the Lord's disciples, and as they walked together to their home they were sad, so that the Lord said to them, “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” At the end of the chapter we find them in a very different state of mind; they were filled with great joy, praising and blessing God in the temple, and yet when the Lord joins Himself to them they were sad. Why were they sad?
Why are we sad? There are many things to make us sad in these days. When we think of men made in the likeness and image of God only living to destroy one another, of nations, down-trodden and terrorized over, of all the destruction, the bloodshed, the sorrow and bereavement in the world, we might well be sad. We should have hard and unchristian hearts if we were not saddened as we think of all these things. Yet while on the one hand we may be sorrowing, on the other hand are we not rejoicing? The Apostle Paul spoke of being sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Sorrowful as he thought of the sin of the world, of the rebellion of man against God and the rejection of God's grace and mercy in our Lord Jesus Christ, but rejoicing because he had no doubt that God would triumph in the end; that God's glory would fill the earth; that the rebellion of man would be crushed and peace established. How do we know that this will come to pass? God has given us assurance of it in that He has raised up Christ from the dead. So here is a great fact that should make us rejoice, that should fill us with confidence and with hope, so that the sadness that we have in regard to the state of things in the world is more than balanced by the joy that we have in the knowledge of God's coming mighty triumph.
Here were these two disciples, and as they walked they were sad. Was it not a wonderful thing that Jesus joined Himself to their company? One thing strikes me and that is the grace that was in the heart of the Lord Jesus. As we read the story of His words and ways from the earlier chapters of the Gospel we have to confess that the Lord is gracious. No kind of need ever came into His presence without it being met, and met so graciously that they were blessed by the way He imparted it to them. We need to read the Gospels with that end in view—that we might see that the Lord is gracious; not only in the great blessing He bestows, but in the very way in which He bestows the blessing. He joins Himself to these two sad disciples. They had turned their backs upon Jerusalem. They had decided between themselves that it was no longer any use attempting to stand for the One they had followed. Everything had failed. He whom they supposed was to redeem Israel had been crucified like the worst of criminals; they thought that was the end and so they had lost hope. But it was not that they had expected too much of the Lord Jesus—they did not expect enough.
He joins Himself to them. He might have gone to Jerusalem and convinced the leaders of the people that He was indeed the Christ; He might have gone to Pilate and convinced him that he had crucified an innocent Person; but he did neither of these things. There were those two disheartened disciples who had lost their faith, turning their backs upon the place where He would meet His own, and His heart went out in sympathy and pity towards them; so He joins Himself to their company. Are you sad? Are you full of anxiety? The Lord knows that, He wants to make His presence a great reality to you, and you know the presence of the Lord Jesus, His company, will change everything for you. In answer to His question, they explain that they had followed Jesus of Nazareth and thought He was the One who was to redeem Israel ; instead He had been crucified. But He will redeem Israel. They thought the highest glory He could attain to was the throne of David. They would have been satisfied to see Him sitting upon David's throne, but oh, the Father had something greater than that for Him. David's throne at that time was not sufficient glory; He was to enter into His own glory. What a wonderful day when He destroyed the power of death and the dominion of the devil. There was only one place for Him when He came forth victorious from the grave—the highest place in heaven at the Father's right hand.
The secret then comes out; “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” And opening up to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, their hearts burned within them. They had their favourite texts and had dwelt upon them and had not taken in all the Scriptures: they had not realised that He was the theme of the Scriptures. If we realise that, we shall pay greater attention to them; we shall read them more constantly and not have our favourite texts. As He talked with them they were gladdened and warmed by the words He spoke, although they did not know who He was. He was talking about the right Person and they loved Him, and their hearts were moved as the Scriptures were opened unto them, so that although they did not know Him, He assumed His right place in their thoughts. Everything begins there. If we would know the Lord in the various ways in which He is presented to us we must begin with our own individual thoughts of Him—individual hearts first of all. It is not a bit of use talking about our service for the Lord, if our own hearts are cold and icy towards Him. The first thing then is the individual heart warmed, as the hearts of these two were warmed. “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures? If our hearts are not burning hearts then we had better get down before the Lord and ask Him to warm them.
They reached their own home. “And He made as though He would have gone further.” We get as much of the Lord's company as we desire, and if He is to stay with us we must constrain Him. These two disciples constrained Him and He entered their house and abode with them. First He put them right in regard to Himself, individually, and then He took His place in their home: He was Lord there. It is the only place He can take. Has the Lord the first place in our homes? We will gladly give Him His true place in our domestic circle if He is Lord in our individual hearts. They supposed that He was their guest, but as a matter of fact they were His guests. He took bread, and blessed it and handed it to them. There was in that village of Emmaus one home at least that recognised Him as Lord. We may only have a small cottage, perhaps only one room, but what a wonderful thing to be able to say, “Within the four walls of this room the Lord has His true place.” That means that while we wait for His kingdom to come we have yielded what little space we have in the world to Him. The great kingdoms of the earth do not acknowledge Him. In the vast majority of homes He has no place at all. But we say, “Lord, come into my home; this little space over which I have the right shall be yielded to Thee, and here Thou shalt be supreme.” Well, He will take that place if we yield it to Him, and what is the use of praying, “Thy kingdom come,” if we do not acknowledge Him as Lord in our own little sphere.
He was made known to them; their eyes were opened in the breaking of bread, and then He vanished out of their sight. He gave them His presence in their home when they were there, and now He wants to draw them into His circle. The Lord will take His place in our circle if we will let Him, and He has His circle, and His circle is greater than ours. He said to the Church at Laodicea, "If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” In “supping with him” He goes into that man's circle; “and he with Me,” He draws them into His own circle. What a wonderful thing it is that the Lord has opened wide the door of His own circle and invites us to have a place there. Blessed indeed it is to have Him in our circle, interested in our things, but far more wonderful it is that He should invite us to His table, far more wonderful that we should have our place in His circle.
So now they arise and start back to Jerusalem. They knew where the Lord was, they knew where He would have them. They know where the disciples are and they find them gathered together, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.” What thrilling news, how glad their hearts must have been! The Lord is risen indeed! Do we know we have such a triumphant Saviour? What is the greatest power which men know? Death! Death brings to an end all man's devices, his ambitions are silenced by his open grave. Death is master where sin is, but our Saviour, our Lord Jesus, has triumphed over the power of death. We belong to Him; He has called us His; He has bound up our fortunes with His and we have our place in relation to Him and God, in His grace, has identified us with the name and fortune of Christ. We pray for our land, for the British Empire, but our fortunes are not bound up with the British Empire ; our fortunes are bound up with Christ's universal empire. The Lord is risen indeed! If they had stopped there I am certain they would have said, “Yes, the Lord is risen indeed, and we lost all faith in Him and when we saw Him taken by His enemies we were afraid, we had no courage and we were very faithless. Now He will choose other men who will be more faithful than we have been.” But they added “and hath appeared unto Simon.” Simon who had denied his Lord with oaths and curses and who had not the courage to confess his Lord—Simon the backslider. He not only went after those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, but He went to Simon Peter. Peter was his converted name; Simon was his unconverted name. Doesn't that reveal to us the grace that is in the heart of the Lord. He had gone after the most failing of His disciples; He had sought the one who had treated Him the worst, in spite of all his protestations of faithfulness to the Lord. We are not told what happened; the interview is not recorded for us, and a sacred interview it must have been; but the fact is recorded that on that resurrection day, before coming in the midst of His own gathered together, He had gone after Simon in forgiving mercy. “The Lord is risen,”—that was His power; “and hath appeared unto Simon”—that was His grace. He revealed Himself to the backslidden heart, to restore that heart to communion with Himself.
“And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them,” and there He was surrounded by the company of disciples who were His own and whom He never ceased to love. There was the nucleus of His kingdom, for the beginning of His Church on earth over 1,900 years ago. That company has been extended and God has been working, spreading the fame of the Lord Jesus, and that company, begun on the resurrection day, abides to this day, and you, Christian, are part of it. If we have given the Lord His place in our hearts we will not assert ourselves in His circle, but that is just what has happened in the history of the Church, and so the Lord's people have been divided into sects and schisms. Oh! to give the Lord His proper place! They were afraid and thought they had seen a spirit, and He showed them His hands and feet. “It is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” That body went to glory. The fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily today, and the day is coming when we shall see Him as He is. Dear Christian, the Lord is a living Man in heaven; not a spirit—a living Man in heaven. You supposed all Christians knew that? They don't! I remember listening to a rather eccentric brother preaching the Word, and I suppose he said, not less than 100 times, “The Lord is a real living Man in heaven; He is not a spirit, He is a real living Man in heaven.” I wondered why he kept repeating that; for surely we all knew it well enough. When the meeting was over, a man senior to myself said, “It is the first time I ever knew the Lord is a real living Man in heaven, I always thought He was a spirit.” He is a real living Man in heaven and He has a heart that beats in sympathy towards His own in this world. He has entered into our trials and difficulties, He has passed through them Himself. What a blessed thing it is to know that the Man Christ Jesus is worthy to sit on the throne of God. We know that He is God, but His Manhood was just as perfect as His Godhead.
Well, there He stood in the midst of them and He showed them His hands and feet, the evidence of His love, the love that carried Him to death for us. So I believe when we gather to remember Him it is as though the Lord is showing us afresh His hands and feet, and saying, “It is I myself.” Oh, that we may lay hold of that—that it is His own circle in which He stands supreme and He invites us to join Him. And there, gathered together in this way, He begins by opening their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” When we read the Old Testament we see these great facts set forth in type and prophecy and our hearts are greatly blessed as we see Christ thus. He was to suffer and rise again on the third day. With what end in view? That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. What a revelation of the heart of God to a rebel world. The way has been opened up so that the nations, in turning to God, would meet a pardoning God. Repentance means turn right about face, and when a sinner turns he comes face to face with God, and the God with whom becomes face to face is a God whose heart is full of pardoning grace. He finds His delight in forgiving. Do you remember the day when you met God like that? Let your mind travel back to the happy day when Jesus washed your sins away, when you came face to face with God and found He was a pardoning God. There we have, from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ in resurrection, the object for which He suffered and rose again from the dead—“That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.”
It is very well to keep in mind that it is to be done in His name. When we speak to souls of Christ we should speak as His representatives. He came into the world; “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” and if we are to speak at all of the Saviour we do so as representatives of Him. How the grace of our God is unveiled! They had to start in Jerusalem itself. The Lord revealed Himself to the disciple that had sinned the most; the Gospel had to go to the city that had sinned the most, the city where He had been crucified. There was forgiveness for that city, and for the worst men in that city. If the worst can be forgiven, then, you see, none ever need despair. So the Lord instructs them; how their hearts must have been overjoyed and blessed as they listened to His words. We have in the first chapter of Acts the last words they hear from His lips: “Ye shall be witnesses unto me,... unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Then He says, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.” Do not attempt to speak for Me until the Spirit of God comes, for the work of God can only be done by the Spirit of God; the Spirit of God is the only power in this world for God, and if we attempt to serve Him in our own strength, the result will be disaster. I do not suppose Satan cares two straws about a man preaching the Gospel if he is doing it in his own strength and wisdom. So He told them of the only power that can carry them through and enable them to serve the Lord rightly; that is why 3,000 were converted on the day of Pentecost.
As He talked to them, He lifted His hands in blessing over them and while He was so doing He ascended into heaven and a cloud received Him out of their sight. The last sight of Him they had was with His hands uplifted in blessing. Although the Lord has gone to the highest and most glorious place in the universe of God, He is there as our great High Priest; He has not forgotten us; He ever liveth to make intercession for us. As we go through the chapter we see these three things: His greatness, His glory, and His grace, and nothing will lift our hearts above the clouds that are growing darker and darker in this world, but the sense of what Christ is; we need a new vision of Christ; we need to have His glory set before our souls by the Spirit of God and then we shall be filled, as were the disciples, with great joy, praising and blessing God. What a change from the sadness at the beginning of the story!
That joy is within our reach—the Lord will give it to us, so that while we are sorrowful because of the state of things in the world, we may rejoice in the Lord, and the Word says, “Again I say rejoice.” The Lord grant that everyone of us may have that joy, for His name's sake.
"And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also" (Rom. 5:3) read I to a Christian lady who was suffering with a painful illness. “That is something I have never been able to do,” said she; “I ask God to give me patience, and that I may be resigned to His will, for I am sure He knows best, but I cannot go further than that, and I do not see how anyone can, for nobody likes to suffer.”
“But perhaps if you saw what the end is that God has in view for you, even you might be able to glory in your tribulation. Shall I try to explain what I mean?” I said. I had her permission, and employed this parable. A famous sculptor went to a quarry and chose there a block of marble, which he conveyed to his studio. It was a rough and unsightly mass, and seemed strangely out of place amongst so many wonderful statues. But day by day the sculptor concentrated his energy upon it, hammering, chiselling, chipping here and there. The marble grew restive under this treatment, and at last found tongue and said, “Sculptor, I do not like the way you are treating me. I am doing my best to be patient and resigned, but I wish this chip, chip, chip would cease.” But the sculptor answered the marble and said, “If only you knew what I was doing with you, you would be glad and let me proceed with my work without any interruption.”
“Please show me what your purpose is, and that may help me to bear all the pain and discomfort better,” said the marble. The sculptor then set before the marble some wonderful drawings and a beautiful model and said, “That is my intention for you, and I shall not be satisfied or cease my work upon you until I have succeeded in my purpose.”
The marble was amazed and thrilled at the sight and said within itself, “Is it possible that I am to bear such beauty? Then I will be quiet and let the master's hand continue its work of changing my ugliness into that glorious image.” And from that day onward, every blow of the hammer and every chip with the chisel made it say, "That brings me so much nearer the beautiful model.”
That was my parable, and here is the interpretation of it. Romans 8:29 tells us that God has predestinated us who believe to be CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. He has taken us, rough and unbeautiful material, out of nature's quarry to fashion us for His heavenly, glory, and in this connection we read: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” So that if we are to glory in tribulation, in the chip, chip of the Sculptor's chisel, we must see the model and contemplate Him; what a destiny—the image of God's Son, and what wonderful love lies behind it all. The contemplation of the goodness and wisdom of God changes our murmuring into resignation and confidence, but when we see His purpose for us an Christ, then our resignation gives place to rejoicing. We glory in tribulation also, for we know that it all works now to moral conformity to the Son of God.
“Glue Together” and "Scotland 's Green”
“You can learn more in a railway journey if you keep your eyes and ears open than you can by a lot of reading,” remarked a fellow passenger to me on an East Coast express yesterday; and I felt there was truth in the remark. An instance will illustrate. A family came tumbling pell-mell into our compartment, returning from a seaside holiday. They were a healthy crowd of boys and girls with a merry looking father and a somewhat anxious looking mother, she probably had good cause for her anxiety for her young brood looked quite capable of daring deeds. We were en route for Edinburgh and a connection had to be made there by this family for the West; the time between the trains was little enough, and numerous trunks were packed in the luggage van. It was the father's business to attend to these and as he dashed off to do so he gave instructions to his family, “Glue together” said he “till I come back”.
It was a sensible command, for anyone can see what trouble the father would have had and what time would have been lost if on returning he had found his family scattered, and it was a needed command, for those youngsters had wills of their own, and looked as though they liked to exercise them independently of each other, but the father's authority controlled them, and I hope they got their train.
The father's words to his family glued themselves to me. They sounded so much like other words, words that should be for ever sacred and precious to Christian hearts because they fell from the lips of the Lord whom we love. The burden of His parting words to His disciples was, “Love one another till I return”. “Glue together”. Several reasons are given for this. Said He:—
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another".
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another”.
“These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you”.
“That they all may be one... that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me”.
Cogent reasons these why the followers of the Lord should “glue together” during His absence.
1. He commands it.
2. Because He loves them.
3. That all may know that they are His disciples,
4. Because the world hates them because they belong to Him.
5. That the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.
Other reasons could be cited, but these are enough surely to incite us who are the objects of the Lord's love to “glue together”. Some ignore these great reasons for loving cohesion on the part of the saints of God and would substitute rules and regulations; would build again little folds for keeping the sheep together, but these things only militate against true cohesion; they divide the saints instead of binding them together. He is coming back, the time of His absence is drawing to its close; do we not feel that it is an unspeakable shame that His disciples have forgotten His word and not kept it; that they have not “glued together” during His absence, but have quarrelled and divided, and scattered to their loss and dishonour, and to His grief? So much so that if He were not the Lord who knoweth them that are His, and where to find them, He would have much trouble at His coming to gather them together again in one. This sort of thing began very early in the history of the Church as the First Epistle to the Corinthians proves, and if it was easy for the flesh and Satan to work their evil way then we need not marvel at it now, yet the blame is entirely ours. We certainly have no cause for self-congratulation on this line, but plenty of cause for deep heart-searching and self-condemnation as we dwell upon the fact that in spite of His love and His command we have not “glued together”. But in these days it is not so easy as it was in former days to hold together as those who are loved by one great love. We make it harder by our prejudices, as we may learn from another railway lesson. Yes, we make it harder.
Again I was en route for Scotland, specially to visit some fellow Christians whom hitherto I had not seen, and of whom I entertained some notions not altogether favourable to them, or creditable to me. The opposite corner of the compartment was occupied by a little girl not more than nine years old. I discovered that she was travelling alone to Edinburgh and we became good friends. It was the first time that she had gone so far, and when our train crossed the border into Scotland I said, “Now we're in Scotland". “No, this isn't Scotland", replied the little maid. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Because Scotland 's yellow”, she said, with the utmost gravity. I lay back and laughed at my dogmatic little friend, and then asked, “Whatever makes you say that Scotland 's yellow?” "Well its yellow on my map", said she with great assurance, and in a manner which meant that that's the last word on the subject. And though around us stretched fields of lovely green, it was not Scotland to her because all she knew of Scotland she had learnt from her map. I laughed again and again at the naivety of that little Yorkshire maid; then I grew grave, and the tears forced themselves from my eyes as the lesson forced itself upon me. I, too, had had a map, and on my map my brethren were yellow, and to be avoided; was my map right ? I prayed for grace to destroy my map if it proved to be wrong, as it most surely did, for my brethren surprised me by the freshness of their love for our common Lord and His precious truth.
I prayed for grace to discard my prejudices and endeavour henceforward to look upon my brethren as the Lord who loves them looks upon them. It was a needed lesson, and one that has meant much blessing to me, and I shall never forget the little maid who thought that Scotland was yellow; so like to me was she.
Brethren, if we are to obey our Lord's command, if we are to love all who love the truth and “glue together”, we must be prepared to discard our cherished maps if they prove to be not according to the truth; seek out our brethren and judge them not according to our notions, according to our maps, but as to how they regard the Lord Himself and His Word, then, and only then, shall we “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart”, which is surely as incumbent upon us as it is that “everyone that names the name of Christ departs from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19-22).
"In the beginning GOD" (Genesis 1:1).
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with ALL THE SAINTS" (Revelation 22:23).
We ask our readers to pay very special attention to the fact that the Bible begins with GOD and ends with ALL THE SAINTS. It is an arresting fact, a fact with a great thrill in it for everyone to whom the purposes and grace of God are of any account, for we may be sure that there is design in this as there is in every part of the Book that lives by the breath of God.
Of course we must think of the saints in the Bible sense of that word. The Romish church has its saints, but they have been dead for centuries, it has no living saints, among Protestants the term is commonly applied to people of grave appearance and unblemished and unworldly lives, but the Bible gives it to all who are in Christ Jesus, to all the children of God on earth, they are all sanctified in Christ Jesus and are by calling saints (1 Cor. 1:2). The Bible then begins with God, and at the end of it it embraces all the saints on earth, it does not leave one of them out A father of a large family, a true father, who loves and cares for all his children without partiality, makes sure that all his children are safely within before he bars the door at night, so the Holy Spirit does not close the divine Word upon a divided family, some inside and some outside, but He enfolds all within the sacred enclosure and puts this great benediction upon all.
As we dwell upon it, we are persuaded that it could not be otherwise. God can have no prejudices, He has no favourites, all His children must be equally precious to Him. To secure them for Himself was His purpose from the beginning. Before He made the worlds by His word He chose them in Christ, and the creation of which Genesis 1 tells us had as its ultimate purpose the gathering of them all together in one, it was to be the sphere in which this was to be accomplished. Much had to be done before this great purpose could be realized, for a great enemy kept a ceaseless watch to check every move that God made to His desired end. But step by step God's purpose marched on, and is still marching to its goal, and His triumph rings out in these final words of inspiration, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with ALL THE SAINTS.” And it is a dead heart, and alienated from God, that does not add a fervent “Amen” to that benediction.
But not without cost to Himself has this victory of God emerged; it could not have been gained by power only, God's bright designs sprang forth from His heart of love and He desired to possess all His saints because He loved them, and love must suffer. The greatest principle in the moral universe is that suffering love has a right to the objects for which it suffers, and we shall miss the blessedness of “GOD AND ALL THE SAINTS” if we overlook this. Think of the interpretation that the Holy Spirit put upon the words of the high priest in John 11. “And this spake he not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that JESUS SHOULD DIE... THAT HE SHOULD GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE THE CHILDREN OF GOD THAT WERE SCATTERED ABROAD.” It was to this great event that the ages looked forward, apart from this God must have remained alone—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—but no saints thronging the courts of light pouring forth their rapturous praise. But in the Cross of Christ we have the very heart of the Bible. God—the beginning, “all the saints”—the end, and the cross of Christ between. Yes, the cross is the heart of the Bible, throbbing with love, and if the lesson has to be writ clearly the cross must not be left out.
GOD—THE CROSS—ALL THE SAINTS. That is the order, and in it is summed up the wonderful, divine Story. All the saints are grappled to the heart of God by the cross of His beloved Son. Self-sacrificing and suffering love has accomplished the purpose of God. O, wonderful is the story! All the saints are God's family, from another point of view they are spoken of as “ALL THE FLOCK”—the church of God, and we are told that He has purchased them by His own blood—“or the blood of His own” (N.Tr.) (Acts 20:28.)
Is it not a wonderful thing, the veritable triumph of God, that now He can speak of “all the saints”; that they are here now and in this world of which the devil is prince and god, and in which they must have tribulation? We should have looked onward to the consummation of God's work of grace and talked of “all the saints “in connection with the great home-gathering, when dangers will all be past. But God sees them now and speaks of them here, and the Holy Ghost, who loves them with the same love with which Father and Son love them, says in the last God-breathed word, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints,” and blessed be God, that grace is sufficient.
We have no desire to spoil these blessed facts by any reference to our own narrowness of heart. It is the truth that will set us free, and then shall we be free indeed; and the truth is this, that the Bible begins with GOD and ends with ALL THE SAINTS.
If God is real to us we shall pray, and the better we know Him the more often we shall seek His presence and talk with Him. Spiritual life must languish if prayer is neglected; it will not be neglected if God is to us the living God, who sees us, knows us, and cares for us with a care more tender than can be described in human words.
When we speak of prayer we are not thinking of it as a duty that must be done at stated times, and which we will do conscientiously no matter how irksome it may be, but as something that we cannot live without. A Christian poet has called it our “vital breath,” and there is much truth in that, but the importance of it lies in the fact that it is the way in which we come into contact with God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and who in His amazing grace has made us His children by faith in Christ Jesus. So that it is not the mere act of prayer with which we would be occupied but the God to whom we pray. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee” cried the Psalmist, and the man who feels like that will pray; he must, he cannot live without it.
It should be as necessary for us to pray and as natural, as it is for a little child to call to its mother in its need. Let us set a little child in the midst and learn of him in this matter. He cannot string enough words together to make a sentence, but he knows his mother, and life is not worth living if she is not within reach; he will certainly wail until she returns. He is no grammarian, concerned about the correctness of his sentences, but he knows that he wants something and expresses his want in cries, and it is marvellous how the mother-sense interprets those efforts to make his wants known. Mother is his waking thought in the morning and he will not grumble if he has no other companion throughout the day; and when weary at night, nothing will soothe him but his mother's arms and breast. The child we are considering has no doubt about his mother's ability to meet all his needs; she is indispensable and enough; his confidence in her is beautiful. Oh that it were more so with us in our relations with God! We would that we had more of this child-confidence and dependence before Him; we should be stronger, and quit us more like men before the world if we had.
In addition to this instructive child-dependence and trust there ought to be intelligence in us. God has revealed Himself that we might know Him, and hold communion with Him, and when confidence in God and communion with Him combine they give to the Christian life and prayer the reality and blessedness that the Bible shows that it has. But we do not put confidence in a theory and hold communion with a doctrine, for these we must have a living person. His mother is the most real thing in life to a child; is God this to us? A Zulu Christian said to me as we sat outside his hut in Natal, “God is a greater reality to me than my wife and children,” and they were there sitting with us. Some white Christians (?) some miles away who knew less than he did of these things, had refused to hold communion with him because he was black. He felt it, of course, but God was his solace and stay in his isolation, and God was enough for him. It is twenty years ago since I heard those words from his mouth, but I have not forgotten them; they went straight as an arrow to my heart—I, a preacher, who had gone to help and comfort a despised brother, sat and listened, I wanted to hear the dear man talk, for I felt that in that simple yet great saying lay the whole secret of Christian living.
The life that overcomes was God's gift to us when we believed on our Lord Jesus Christ, for “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23), and its greatest triumph, when at last we leave the field of conflict and depart this life to be with our Lord, is also God's gift to us, for we read, “Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 15:57). And, thanks be unto God His Word cannot fail us, we have taken our stand in fearless faith upon it, and this we will continue to do. His gift of life He will never recall, and in the life that He has given His saints must always triumph through Him that loves us. The final victory is over death, the last enemy. The King of Terrors we used to call it, but no longer does that name apply to it for the children of God, for death has met its Master—it is a defeated, throneless, crownless king; wrenched from its hands are the keys of its stronghold, annulled is its greatest power, and delivered are those who through fear of it were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For if by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection from the dead, and it is because Christ died and rose again that we have the victory. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scripture,” and we can say “Thanks be unto God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
An old Christian, and a valued friend of mine in Adelaide, Australia, was stricken with paralysis, and it was clear that his service for Christ was done and his life on earth was drawing to its close. The last hour had come, and his family, Christians every member of it, were gathered in his chamber. The paralysis had robbed the dying man of the power of speech but not of his joy in the Lord; his family could see that, and had no misgivings for him. Yet they longed for some final word, some cheer and comfort that would abide with them when he was gone, and it was quite natural and right that they should. In the hope that at the very last his speech might be restored to him they asked if he had anything to say to them. But he could say nothing with his mouth; articulate he could not, yet they were not to be disappointed, for his last word was to be given to them in a more deliberate and thrilling way than by mere speech. He had learned to spell out the deaf and dumb alphabet upon his fingers in order to preach the Gospel to some deaf-mutes who lived near his home, and now this knowledge came into blessed use, for upon his fingers he spelt out one word—just one word, slowly and with emphasis—and his family, as they eagerly watched the dying fingers, read all they desired, for the word spelt upon them was G-L-O-R-Y. No wonder they were able to say, “Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I was spending some days in the city of Aberdeen and having an afternoon at liberty, I went to the Infirmary to visit one of the men's wards. Every bed in it was occupied, and I spent a few minutes chatting with each patient until I came to the last bed in the ward. Here was lying a youth who could not have been more than eighteen years of age. His eyes were closed and he looked very wan and ill. I sat quietly by his side until he opened his eyes and turned them on me with a look of surprise that plainly said, “Who are you?” I said, “I have been giving some Gospel books to the men in this ward, but I am afraid you are too ill to read.” “Yes,” he answered slowly, “and the doctor says there's no hope for me, but I'm in the Lord's hands.”
I had not expected an answer like that from him; his words moved me, and brought the lump into my throat. When I was able to command my voice, I said: “Then you are in the very best possible hands, for He has said, ‘My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.'” “Yes, He did say that,” he responded, “and He also said, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.'” Then he closed his eyes again, and as though oblivious of my presence he repeated to himself, “everlasting life, everlasting life.” I withdrew from his bedside and the last words that I heard from his lips were, “everlasting life.” No disappointment, defeat, dread, were at that lad's dying bed, but everlasting life—VICTORY. Yes, thanks be unto God who gives us the VICTORY.
Whether in the far north or under the Southern Cross whether with youth in his teens, a babe in Christ, or in the septuagenarian who had known the Lord for half a century, the life is the same, and its victory is the same through our Lord Jesus Christ. Where then, O death, is thy sting, and where, O grave, is thy victory?
It is thus that His saints triumph one by one, and march in a continuous procession to be with Christ, which is far better but we who are alive and remain are waiting not for death but for Himself, and the sky not the grave is our goal. We have a blessed hope, it is the coming of Christ: for “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.” That is our hope, and therein will be displayed the victory of God in which all His saints shall share, and the final triumph and blessedness of the life that overcomes.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15.
The life that overcomes was God's gift to us when we received it at first through our Lord Jesus Christ, and its great triumph when at last we leave the field of conflict is also God's gift to us through our Lord Jesus Christ—so we learn from two texts of Scripture—Romans 6:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:57. And, thanks be unto God, His Word cannot fail us, we may take our stand in fearless faith upon it, and this we do and will continue to do. His gift of life He will never recall, and in the life that He has given His saints must always triumph through Him that loves us. The final victory is over death—the last enemy. The King of Terrors we used to call it, but no longer does that name apply for the children of God, for death has met its Master—it is a defeated, throneless, crownless king; wrenched from its hands are the keys of its stronghold; annulled is its great power, and delivered are those who through fear of it were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For if by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection from the dead, and it is because Christ died and rose again that we have the victory.
An old Christian and a valued friend of mine in Adelaide was stricken with paralysis, and it was clear that his service for Christ was done and his life on earth drawing to its close. The last hour had come, and his family, Christians every member of it, were gathered in his chamber. The paralysis had robbed the dying man of the power of speech but not of his joy in the Lord; his family could see that and had no misgivings for him. Yet they longed for some final word, some cheer and comfort that would abide with them when he was gone, and it was quite natural and right that they should; and so in the hope that at the very last his speech might be restored to him they asked if he had anything to say to them. It was not to be, articulate he could not, nor did it matter, for his last word was to be given to them in a more deliberate and thrilling way than by mere speech. He had learned to spell out the deaf and dumb alphabet upon his fingers in order to preach the Gospel to deaf-mutes, and now this knowledge came into blessed use, for upon his fingers he spelt out one word—just one word, slowly and with emphasis—and his family, as they eagerly watched the dying fingers, read all they desired, for the word spelt upon them was G-L-O-R-Y. No wonder they were able to say, “Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”
I was spending some days in the city of Aberdeen, and having an afternoon at liberty, I went to the infirmary to visit one of the men's wards. Every bed in it was occupied, and I spent a few minutes chatting with each patient until I came to the last bed in the ward. Here was lying a youth who could not have been more than eighteen years of age. His eyes were closed and he looked very wan and ill. I sat quietly by his side until he opened his eyes and turned to me with a look of surprise that plainly said, “Who are you?” I said, “I have been giving to the men in this ward some Gospel books, but I am afraid you are too ill to read.” “Yes,” he answered, “and the doctor says there's no hope for me, but I'm in the Lord's hands.” I had not expected that from him and his words moved me. “Then you are in the very best possible hands,” I said, “for He has said, ‘My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hands. '” “Yes, He did say that,” he responded, “and, He also said, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.'” Then he closed his eyes again, and as though oblivious of my presence he repeated to himself, “everlasting life, everlasting life,” I left him repeating those two words—not disappointment, defeat, dread were at that lad's dying bed, but everlasting life—VICTORY.
Yes, whether in the far north or under the Southern Cross; whether with the youth in his teens, a babe in Christ, or in the septuagenarian who had known the Lord for half a century, the life is the same, and its victory is the same through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is thus that His saints triumph one by one, and march in a continuous procession to be with Christ, which is far better; but we who are alive and remain are waiting not for death but for Himself, we have a blessed hope, it is the coming of Christ; for “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY.” That is our hope, and therein will be displayed the victory of God in which all His saints shall share, and the final triumph and blessedness of the life that overcomes.
"After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1).
“Are you on the Lord's side?” I asked of a gentleman I chanced to meet.
“Yes,” he replied “by God's grace I am, and, better still, He is on my side.” I was delighted with his answer, for it proved that He knew the God of the Bible—the One who has revealed Himself for our joy and blessing in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But there are many who are truly trusting the Saviour, who dare not give such an answer; they would deem it presumptuous to say that God was on their side, poor failing sinful creatures as they are; yet this is the blessed truth in which He would have their hearts to be established.
Hear His gracious words to Abram. "Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1). What a glorious statement I and how safe must Abram have been since the Almighty was his protector! And Abram did not cavil or doubt, for we read, “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness” (v. 6)
God as our shield is strikingly set forth in the case of the Passover in Egypt (Ex. 12).
Abraham's children had multiplied exceedingly and become very great, but they were all slaves, groaning beneath the tyranny of hard and cruel masters.
God looked upon their sorrow and undertook their deliverance. He would lead them out of Egypt and bring them to Himself, that they might be His own people, His treasured inheritance. But His holy character required that a righteous basis should be found upon which He could do this The sprinkled blood of the paschal lamb was this basis, it spoke of the life of a spotless victim having been surrendered on behalf of those who were sinful, and so under the penalty of God's judgment. It was a type of the Lamb of God whose blood was shed for us.
The word of the Lord came to those Israelites by the mouth of Moses:—
“Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover.
“And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts, with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning.
“For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Ex. 12:21-23).
The words, ‘the Lord will pass over you,' are full of significance and comfort; they do not mean that He would merely pass by the door where the blood was, but that He would halt before it, and cover those within it from all harm.
The use of the word translated “passover” in other Old Testament scriptures will prove this. In 1 Kings 18:21, it is translated “halt,” the sense, as the context shows, being to hover. A remarkable instance is found in Isaiah 31:5, “As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem ; defending also He will deliver it; and passing over He will preserve it.”
How striking is the figure! With all the tender solicitude of the mother-bird for her young when danger threatens, so the Lord hovers over those who are His. This is the meaning of Passover. The Almighty stood as sentinel and shield outside the doors that were blood-marked, and did not suffer the destroyer to enter in.
And God's Passover in Egypt is the type of the way He deals with every soul that, obeying the gospel, flies to the precious blood of Jesus for shelter. That blood bears witness to the fact that righteous judgment has been executed, and the righteousness that inflicted the judgment must protect those on whose behalf that judgment was borne: so that in every attribute of His being the blessed God must pass over such, taking the place of their Shield and Justifier. His mercy and love and tenderness and grace are all on our behalf, and not only so but His very righteousness is our justification. The knowledge of this fills the heart with triumphant praise, so that we can take up the glorious boast of Romans 8:31-34, "If God be for us, who can be against us?”... It is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth?”
God at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, but all His speaking seemed to be in vain. “I spake unto you,” said He to His people, “rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not” (Jer. 7:13). And again it is written, “The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling place; but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chr. 36:15-16). While God never left Himself without a witness in the earth, Israel 's sad history of backsliding proved beyond a question that if He was to secure men for Himself, something other than the prophetic word, or even the ministry of angels was needed. God knew what was needed from the beginning and gleams of light as to it broke out here and there in those former ineffectual days, as when in His lament over Israel 's continual treachery, He asks, “How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of the nations? And I said, Thou shalt call me, my Father ; and shalt not depart from me” (Jer. 3:19). It was this that God held in reserve until the fullness of the times should come. He would reveal Himself as Father, and by this revelation secure a true and steadfast response in the hearts of men. But no man is a father without a child, and if God was to be revealed as Father, there must of necessity be a Son. One standing in this intimate relationship to Himself in whom and by whom what God is as Father could be revealed to men, and it is of this that we read in Hebrews 1, He "hath in these last days spoken to us in His Son.”
But we must not make the mistake of supposing that this full and final revelation of God in His Son would change the nature of men and overthrow and subdue the enmity of their hearts against Him. The Lord's own parable of the vineyard shows plainly that this was not so. It is a sad story that that parable tells. He had sent His servants to the most favoured nation and they had beaten, stoned, wounded, shamefully handled and killed them. Then “having yet one Son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them saying, They will reverence My Son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the Heir, Come, let us kill Him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took Him and killed Him, and cast Him out of the vineyard” (Mark 12). This last move on God's part which brought into fullest manifestation His great love wherewith He loved us, also laid bare the incorrigible wickedness of the heart of man, and stripped him of every cloak for his sin. “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did,”' said the Lord, “they had not had sin, but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:14-15).
But if men showed themselves to be so insensible to God's great love, and with wicked hands crucified, and slew His well beloved Son; if this final test brought out the worst that was in them, what hope could there be for them? None, either in time or eternity if God had no other ground upon which to deal with them than that of what they were. Everything had depended upon what they were under the law. The man that did those things lived by them, but “cursed is everyone that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” “But when the fullness of time was come God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” not to make demands upon men, but to give; not to command them to love Him, but to show the greatness of His love to them; not to condemn the guilty to a just and everlasting bondage and curse, “but to redeem them that were under the law” from the curse of it: He sent His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, to meet all the terrible liabilities that men had incurred, and by His unspeakable gift to show His love for sinners and His abhorrence of their sins, and to save them at His own cost; and their crowning crime, the slaying of His Son, gave Him the opportunity.
“The very spear that pierced His side
Drew forth the blood to save.”
Now the whole basis of man's blessing is shifted. It is no longer what man is but what God is; no longer is it a question of what man can do for God, but what God can do for man. The offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, when He offered Himself through the eternal Spirit, without spot to God, has set God righteously free to act according to His own heart's deep desires; and in the riches of His mercy for His great love wherewith He loves us, even when we were dead in sins He quickens us; by grace are ye saved. This is the grace of God, the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. And this is the way that God is dealing with men today. He has no other way of dealing with them in this day of grace, and it is thus that the revelation of Himself in His Son has become effective. He has not spoken in Him in vain.
"Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:33-34).
What comfort, what profound peace it brings into the life, what stability it gives to faith, when it is understood that it is God that justifieth; that He is “just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26); that He can take to Himself, in this bright gospel day, the title of “Him that justifieth the ungodly” (4:5); yea, that this title is His glory, the righteous triumph of His grace in a world where sin abounded.
It brings peace and gives stability because, if God justifies a man, then that man is justified, the case is closed, for none may speak after God: there can be no appeal from His verdict.
According to the law of this land, an action may be tried in the Civil Courts and go against a man; he may appeal from that verdict to the Court of Appeal, it may also decide against him; he may carry his case finally to the House of Lords, the court of last resource, and, if the law Lords give a verdict in his favour every other decision is annulled: if they justify him, it matters not that the lower courts have condemned, for he stands justified now in the final court of appeal.
It is even so with the sinner who believes: he can with triumph say, “Who is he that condemneth?” Satan—the foe—may still accuse, recounting sins which no mortal can number; but, if God has justified the man, he clamours in vain: there is no court in which his charges can be heard, for God has decided the case and there are none higher than God.
But this question of justification, which is dealt with so blessedly and completely in the Roman Epistle, is not a civil action, as of a man versus his neighbour: it is a criminal one, a case of “Rex versus the prisoner at the bar,” or, to drop the parable, it is a question of God and the ungodly; of God, who must judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus, and the sinner who has sinned against Him. In this case the sinner has no defence, there are no extenuating circumstances, and it will not avail to plead ignorance. A plea of ignorance could not be admitted even in a worldly court of justice; upon this matter an authority has written, “Ignorance of law excuses no man. Every man must be taken to know the law: to hold the contrary would be to confer a premium on ignorance which would afford a defence to every possible transgression of the law.”
To plead guilty, and then to be silent before God, to see what He will do and say, is the only honest, the only right course for the sinner to pursue. When this is done, then does God surprise us by the magnificence of His ways, for He declares His righteousness in justifying the guilty sinner, in justifying him freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (3:24); and, if it is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? There is no answer to the challenge, for every voice that had a claim to be heard has been silenced in the death of Christ; and so we are turned to that death and what follows as the basis upon which all rests.
"It is Christ that died.” Here we are carried down into depths deeper than which nothing can be, and here in these depths was laid the foundation, broad and immovable, upon which every act of God, in grace or judgment, is righteously built. Death was an intruder in God's domain; sin opened the door for it to enter in devastating power; it lay upon all men as the judgment of God because all had sinned; it was the evidence, beyond all other, of the utterly lost condition of men; it was also Satan's power, and by it he hoped to keep men for ever from the heart of the God who loved them. But God has taken it—the enemy, the invader—and has made it, in that hour which appeared to be its crowning victory, to declare all the glory of His love. Goliath, in the fullness of his strength, has been slain with his own sword.
The sinless One, instead of the sinful, submitted Himself to sin's penalty, and thus was eternal justice vindicated, and the righteousness of God established beyond dispute; so that He can justify whom He elects, and do it in such completeness that none can lay a charge against them.
"Yea rather, that is risen again.” We pass on and up, carried, as it were, upon a rising cadence, for this is a psalm of triumph, it is the music of the gospel of God. The resurrection from the dead is the vindication of Him who died; it is the seal of God upon the work accomplished in those mighty depths, it is victory, the victory of the divine purposes over all the efforts of the devil to thwart them.
"Who is even at the right hand of God.” In the lowest depths, when He died for us, Jesus glorified God about our sins; in the highest height in resurrection life God has glorified Him, evidence of His satisfaction in all that He has accomplished; and the glory secured in the depths, and the satisfaction declared in the heights, are the measure of the justification in which the believer stands: it is absolute and eternal; and he is not only justified, but he stands now where no charge can be advanced; he is in Christ Jesus, and “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). This is how God acts for the glory of His grace and the blessing of His own.
1. “The Holy Ghost, which is given unto us”
The greatest gift that God has given to us is the Holy Ghost, and we desire to speak of Him with deepest reverence, knowing that He is the Eternal Spirit, equal in glory to the Father and the Son. His greatness and eternal glory make the fact that He has been given to us, to dwell in us, and be with us, stupendously wonderful; a fact that surpasses all human thought, and that should profoundly affect us. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” (1 Cor. 6:19).
This great gift was necessary for the carrying out of God's will, just as the foundation for the fulfilment of all His purposes was laid by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, and could not have been laid by any other person, or in any other way, so now are those purposes, as a result of Christ's work, being effectuated in men by the Holy Ghost, whose power and wisdom are alone sufficient for this. We are willing to confess that the work of redemption was entirely beyond us; let us be equally persuaded that a true answer in the souls of men to that work of redemption can only be produced by the Holy Spirit of God. Human wisdom and power can only mar and hinder here.
So we thank God for the presence of the Holy Ghost. It is by Him that we are able to pray aright, for we are exhorted to be “praying in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 20). It is by Him that we are able to understand the Word of God, for, “the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). It is by Him that we are able to enter intelligently and joyously into our relationship as children with the Father, for, “because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6). It is also by the Spirit that we are led into the knowledge of Christ, for the Lord has said, “He, the Spirit of truth... will guide you into all truth... He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:13-14).
Indeed, there is no department of the Christian life in which the Spirit of God can be dispensed with, whether it be individual communion with God, and growth in the truth; the private life lived under the eye of God, or public witness and service; or the saints' relationships one to another, and their gatherings together in the name of the Lord; or, on the deeper side of things, in which we learn that it is by the Spirit that Jew and Gentile, reconciled unto God in one body by the cross, have access to the Father; and that they are builded together, an habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2). Every right activity is from Himself, and there is nothing right in divine things that is not maintained by His power and energy.
It is here, however, that great danger threatens unwary souls. Realizing the necessity for divine power, many have turned to praying to the Holy Ghost, which Scripture nowhere warrants; others have laid themselves out to obtain “power” for public service and testimony, and “victory over sin,” by seeking what is called “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” It is to be feared that SELF-GLORIFICATION often lurks darkly behind these desires, though doubtless many of these seekers are honest and without guile, but, being uninstructed in the Word, and self-centred instead of having Christ as the controlling object of the soul, they are deceived by the devil's wiles, and some of them have been carried away into the extravagance of the “Tongues” and so-called “Pentecostal” gatherings, where it is to be feared that other spirits than the Holy Ghost have played a part in the excesses of those who have yielded themselves to they know not what. "God is not the Author of confusion.”
From a contemporary magazine which is largely devoted to pressing “the Baptism of the Spirit” as something to be sought after, we learn that the track of this kind of ministry is strewed with the wreckage of “many of the brightest and most fully-surrendered children of God.” It is there stated that “the number of the best and brightest believers who are deceived by the subtle spirits of Satan is far too large for the leaders of God's people to ignore them.” This is a most solemn and serious admission to make, and it should cause great heart-searching amongst those who have given themselves to this line of things. We believe the cause of it is that the whole tendency of the ministry to which they have listened is to turn them in upon themselves, and make them self-occupied, thereby producing disappointment, depression, darkness, and often despair in the earnest and true souls; and this has given them over as an easy prey to the wiles of Satan.
Deliverance from such a condition, and restoration to normal Christian life can only come through the ministry of Christ. No rose ever unfolded its beauty or disclosed its fragrance by being occupied with the life-sap within it; it looks out towards the sun in the heavens, and, as it absorbs those glorious rays, it lives its God-appointed life. So the Christian cannot produce Christ-likeness by self-occupation, or by striving after a subjective condition; he must behold the glory of the Lord, and as he does this he is transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18).
To set Christians seeking for “the Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” is to start them upon an unscriptural quest, and if unscriptural, then false, for all must be false in divine things that is not scriptural, and if false, then of the devil, for the devil is behind every movement and teaching that tends to turn souls from Christ, however little we may suspect it. We must awake to his wiles, and not be deceived into thinking that all must be well if the desires are pious, and earnest, and right, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and his ministers into ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15), and he will endeavour to use even the holiest desires and things to turn the saints of God from the one great Christian pursuit—CHRIST—"the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
It is clear from many passages in the Epistles that all saints are indwelt by the Holy Ghost, that is, all those who have received the gospel, which has the Lord Jesus Christ raised from the dead as its great subject (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13-14). In none of Paul's Epistles did he exhort the saints to whom he wrote to seek “the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.” He refers to this once, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, to instruct us in the fact that we, all believers, whoever we are, are already baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body. The exact words are, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” And the Corinthians to whom these words were written were not patterns of Christian grace and power, but worldly, carnal, pleasure-loving, and self-seeking The presence of the Spirit in and with them was not dependent upon their condition, but upon their reception of the gospel of God concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout all Paul's Epistles it is taken for granted that those to whom he wrote, having believed the gospel, were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
It is right that we should be instructed in all the activities of the Holy Spirit on earth, and these are made known to us in the Scriptures; but the apostles of the Lord were not sent forth to preach the Holy Spirit but CHRIST, and that they might do this with unction and power the Holy Spirit was given unto them. The Holy Spirit is not presented in the Scriptures as the subject of ministry, but CHRIST; He is not the object of faith, but CHRIST. The Scriptures are concerning CHRIST, God's purpose is that every knee shall bow to CHRIST, and the Holy Spirit of God is engaged today in bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of CHRIST; and it is as the soul is absorbed with CHRIST that the Holy Spirit is able to proceed with His gracious work in us, and through us, silently and unseen.
The Spirit of God has come into this world to be the untiring Servant of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is His mission to keep Christ, in His manifold glories, before the saints of God. As the Lord Himself declared, “He shall not speak of [or from] Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He shall show you things to come. HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for He shall receive of mine, and show it unto you” (John 16:13-14). Yet, amongst many Christians, how little ministry of Christ there seems to be—of Christ, the beloved Son of the Father; the infinitely tender Son of Man who came into the world not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to be the Servant of man's necessity; the holy Sacrifice for sin upon the cross; the risen Victor over death; the glorious and all-sufficient Head of His body the church; the quickly coming Lord, King of kings and Lord of lords. This dearth of the ministry of Christ is positive proof that the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched, and nothing can grieve and quench Him more completely than that Himself and His work should be made the prominent subject of ministry instead of Christ. May God pardon His servants in this matter, and mightily stir their hearts by the surpassing glories of Christ that they may preach Him—the centre of heaven's praise, and the one adorable and ever-blessed portion of the saints of God; who is also the wisdom and the power of God, and who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Obedience is a great necessity, the sine quá non of a life of spiritual power and blessing, but it is obedience to God and our Lord Jesus Christ, whose will is expressed in the Scriptures; and the Holy Ghost is here to bring about this obedience in us. If we are conscious of the lack of joy and blessing and power (and how rare these things are) the remedy is not to seek “a Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” but to adjust our relations with the Lord. The deplorably helpless condition of the servants and saints of God in the presence of the inrolling tide of apostasy and evil is a consequence of indifference to the claims of the Lord and disobedience to His Word.
In the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3), where the failure and declension of the church is prophetically outlined, there is no command to seek a baptism of the Holy Ghost, but to remember from whence they had fallen, and to repent and return. They had fallen from a full-hearted response to the love of Christ; it was not power that they had lost in the first instance, but LOVE AND DEVOTION TO THE PERSON OF CHRIST; anything and everything is possible to him whose heart is true to his Lord. In these chapters the Spirit brings the Lord into prominence; it is His will, His word, His name; He commands, searches the heart, loves, rebukes, chastens, and He, alas, is outside the door, and the door shut upon Him in the Laodicean Church—the last phase of Christendom before the fierce judgment of the Lord is poured out upon it. But they are not there commanded to open the door to the Spirit, but to the Lord, to give Him His rights, and His desires. This is the voice of the Spirit to the churches: "Open wide the door and give Christ His rightful place.”
Questions may arise as to the passages in Ephesians 5:18, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit” But this is just the normal Christian life; fleshly excitement they were not to run after but they were to let the Holy Ghost pervade their being, the result of which would be that they would be speaking to themselves “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts TO THE LORD giving thanks always for all things unto the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv 19-20). If the Lord is to be the subject of our praise, and the object of our adoration, He must be the portion of our cup, and the one who is filled with the Spirit is Christ-centred. It is not himself, or his service, or his victories over sin, that are the subjects of his thoughts or the theme of his testimony, but Christ; He is everything; and all to whom Christ is everything shall be always victorious over evil, useful to men, and delightful to the Lord.
2. The Object of the Gospel
We talked to a man at the close of a gospel preaching who had sunk as low and become as wretched as a life of sin could make him. Indeed, so low and wretched was he that he had only been kept back from suicide by the thought of the judgment that follows death. He was undoubtedly a fit subject for the grace of God, and he felt his need of it too. This, thank God, is all the fitness He requires in men, and the great sinner was saved that day. He was saved, for he yielded to the Saviour, looked up to Him as his only hope, and believed God's testimony concerning Him.
He told us the next evening that God was very good to him, for He had found suitable work early in the day, and at this he stuck well, and soon showed the result of his conversion in a decidedly changed appearance. Some time afterwards a friend of ours met him, but did not at first recognize him, so altered was he from the dissipated wreck that he was when first we made his acquaintance. “You see,” he explained to our friend, “when the Lord took me in hand He made a good job of me. He not only saved my soul, but He washed and brushed me up.” We were very glad to know that he had been washed and brushed up; we should not have believed in the reality of has conversion if these things had not accompanied it, but that was not the end that the Lord had in view when He took him in hand. God does not save men to make their lives more respectable, or their homes happier, though these things will surely be amongst the results produced by His grace wherever it is received, for the grace of God which brings salvation teaches men how to behave; but that is not the great end that He has in view when He saves them. He saves them that they might be a people separated from the world and ready for the coming again of Christ, that they might, as the Scripture says, “serve the living and true God; and wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). The main purpose of the gospel is to gather out of this world a people for Christ, who in self-forgetful devotion to Him shall earnestly look for His coming again.
If the gospel does not separate those who receive it from the world and make Christ supreme in affections it has failed in its present great purpose. We feel that we must press this upon our readers, for so many earnest Christians seem to have got the notion that the gospel is a philanthropic scheme for the betterment of the world, and for the uplifting of humanity. They make the benefit of men their sole object, and the glory of Christ is thereby obscured, and this, we believe, is a snare of the devil.
God's philanthropy is undoubtedly made manifest in the gospel, for He loves men and desires that they should be happy, but true and unalloyed happiness is not the result of the amelioration of the conditions of life, but of turning to Christ in complete surrender, and in making Him the supreme object of faith and love.
An infidel may seek the uplifting of humanity, and a Christ-hater may labour for easier conditions and cleaner lives for the masses, and they may attempt to prove to the Christian that their schemes are better adapted to this end than the gospel We should not trouble to argue the point with them, but should go on preaching the gospel, for we know that nothing can uplift men more surely and lastingly than the gospel, and we would not make little of this, but rejoice in at. Yet we must always keep its great purpose in view.
Many Christians are working only for the betterment of the world, which is waxing “worse and worse” in spite of their efforts, and is fast ripening for the judgments of God. In order to accomplish their purpose they are adopting worldly methods, mixing world schemes with the gospel they preach, and associating with those who despise and reject the beloved Son of God. They have fallen into this snare of the enemy, and are disobedient to the Word, and grieving the Holy Ghost, and dishonouring Christ. “We do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
The gospel is concerning Christ ( Rom. 1:3), and those who are saved by it are saved for His praise, and that He might be glorified in them. They have professed to own His lordship over them, and if they reason rightly they will say, “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, BUT UNTO HIM which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
We do not state these things as our opinion, and we have no special views to uphold; all we seek is that we, and all our readers, should read the Word of God intelligently and be governed by it. Here are some outstanding passages from its pages:—
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:3-4).
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; LOOKING FOR THAT BLESSED HOPE, and GLORIOUS APPEARING OF THE GREAT GOD AND OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and PURIFY UNTO HIMSELF A PECULIAR PEOPLE, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:11-14).
“Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles TO TAKE OUT OF THEM A PEOPLE FOR HIS NAME” (Acts 15:14) And all, so taken out by the grace of God, are indwelt by the Holy Ghost; they are part of the church which Christ loved and for which He gave Himself.
He is waiting for the moment, plainly foretold in the Scriptures, when He shall catch up His blood-bought church to be His wife on the great marriage day (Rev. 19). And while the world, grown hoary in its persistent rebellion against God, will remain in the power of the devil, ready for the wrath to come, the church, the Lamb's wife, all fair and glorious, will be seen in heaven, the true and mighty and final result of the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God in the world.
If we get a glimpse of this glorious future, by faith, we shall not be one less delighted to see the lives of men changed here, but we shall be looking the more earnestly for the consummation of God's eternal purpose by the gospel.
“The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely... He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:17, 20).
3—The Word of God and Prayer
i. The Word of God
What a great gift is this to men! It is God's communication to them, expressing His solicitude, His compassion, His gracious intentions towards them. In it He declares to them, also, how all His thoughts for blessing towards them are made effectual for them in Christ; in such words as these this comes out: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
It is common in these loose days, in which God's thoughts are of small account, and in which the vain reasonings of men are exalted to the place of the oracle, to speak of the Bible as the product of the murky past: good men, no doubt, they were who wrote it, and well-meaning, but often mistaken, and who never in their most exalted moments conceived the advance that humanity would make. But the Book is the Word of God, and His servants were holy men of God moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. 1:21). God knows the thoughts and the imaginations of the hearts of men, and He saw the end from the beginning. He has declared in the Word that all the progress in which men boast, yea, all their glory, is but as the gaudy poppy of the summer fields. He has told us that the earth and all the works of men within it are to be burnt up, and He has also told us in the same Word of an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and which fadeth not away. This inheritance is in Christ for all who will believe the report of it, which report is given to us in the Bible.
With the Word of God, every jot and tittle of which must be fulfilled, in our possession we can ignore the critics; having its pure gold we can refuse their gilded dross; having it to feed upon, we may be well satisfied to pass by the husks of “science—falsely so called” without regret. But here we must beware, for the devil is subtle, and we may hold the Bible to be the Word of God, reverence it as such, search its pages and become conversant with every word of it, and yet miss its great purpose. We may become puffed up by our knowledge of it; we may be satisfied with the letter of it, and be utterly alien to its spirit; we may become so conscience-seared as to handle it deceitfully for place or gain; and, worse than all, we may use its unchanging truths as the sword of the executioner with which to destroy our brethren. We need to pray that God will preserve us in the right spirit while we read it; that our ears may be kept open and our hearts unhardened, so that what we hear may be mixed with faith and become profitable to us, being reduced to practice; for it is not the hearer only, nor yet the expounder, but the exponent, the doer, who is blest in his deed.
The Scriptures have been given to us, not to make us self-occupied or to put a halo about our own heads, but that we might learn of Christ, and that He might be great in our thoughts; they are to testify of Him. “Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). As He becomes better known to us, we shall grow in our appreciation of His preciousness. As we behold the glory of the Lord we shall be transformed into the same image; and as we learn of Him we shall become like Him—meek and lowly of heart. It is as we are in this attitude before God that we shall find His word to be our delight and our counsellor, a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. By it we shall be kept from the snares of the destroyer, and in the right ways of the Lord.
In its own sphere the Word of God is all-sufficient; given by inspiration of God it meets the dawning intelligence of the child and is able to make him wise unto salvation (2 Tim 3:15) by taking heed to it he will cleanse his way as he grows up to manhood, and by it he may be throughly furnished unto every good work as a man of God.
We speak of prayer as a gift, for what an extraordinary favour it is that we insignificant and sinful men should be permitted to speak intimately with the almighty and eternal God; and that we should be able to do this as children speaking to a father, by the Spirit of adoption that dwells within us; knowing that He, the Father, Himself loveth us, because we love the Lord Jesus; and that our prayers presented to Him in the name of Christ shall never meet refusal. The contemplation of this favour, this most wonderful gift of sovereign grace, should fill us with thanksgiving to God from whom it comes, and inspire us with a holy determination to be found earnestly and often in prayer to Him.
We, however, need watchfulness with our praying, for the devil may so deceive us by his subtlety, that the very best favours may become a snare to us, and, indeed, the higher the favour the more subtle the snare. It is easy for us, so foolish are we, to rest satisfied with the act of praying, to secretly congratulate ourselves upon a devotional exercise, and to think we have accomplished something because we have spent a certain time upon our knees or uttered certain words before God. It is true that the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much, but such a prayer is THE PRAYER OF FAITH, and faith must have an object; it is not introspective, but looks outward to God, and while feeling the helplessness and nothingness of self, it glories in the all-sufficiency and power of the God to whom prayer is made. This is right, and if we so pray we shall be subjectively affected by it, for prayer puts us into the presence of God, and we shall as a result bear some trace, morally, of the glory of that presence. But to be satisfied with the means instead of the end, to rest in the mere exercise of prayer instead of in the God to whom the prayer is directed, will result in a self-satisfied state of mind, and in the exaltation of the flesh religiously, and nothing can bring about the paralysis of all true spirituality more completely than this.
How extraordinary is that grace on God's part which invites our confidence, which calls us to cast all our burden upon Him, to make known our every need to Him, and which gives us the assurance that no matter in our lives is too small for His notice, and none too great for His wisdom and power. How above all our thoughts is His thought that having relieved us of our burdens, and turned our sighing into thanksgiving, we should hold intercourse with Him, be made acquainted with His thoughts, and become intercessors before Him for others according to His will. The spirit of prayer, said John Bunyan, is worth more than thousands of gold and silver, and so say all who know the blessedness of it.
God is good and doeth good. No man could come to Him without getting good, for He is good, but to hide away from Him can only result in evil and sorrow both now and for ever. It is the business of the servants of the Lord to proclaim the goodness of God, and again to proclaim it, for He is much slandered in these days, and it is a sad feature of the condition of men that they would rather believe the lie about God than the truth, their minds being blinded by the god of this world (the devil) (2 Cor. 4:4).
There are some who boldly cast upon God the blame of all the cruelties that men perpetrate upon each other, and deny that God is good so long as they are prevented from gratifying themselves as they please, and are made to suffer in any way. The atheist takes a less blasphemous but equally foolish and short-sighted view of things and says, “There is no God.” A leader of this latter school has recently written—
“Under the weight of overwhelming calamity the world staggers and groans. Was all this designed before the foundations of the earth were fixed? How then can anyone worship the designer? Is it a by-product, an undesigned and unexpected result of creative power? How then can omnipotence exist? Does not the state of Europe make belief in God a superstition? In the shadow of the immense disaster the figure of the loving Father recedes into dim and formless outline. Trust in His care grows feeble and faint. Human tears blur the vision of eternal bliss.”
We are glad that the writer of this paragraph has the feeling that if God is, He will love His creatures and care for them, but he stands with the fool when he says, “There is no God” (Ps. 14). If there is no God we are without hope, for without God we have only ourselves or our fellow-men to look to, and what faith can we have in men when we see that all their efforts to deliver themselves from their miseries and attain their ambitions only increase their sorrows. When we see that the more strenuous their efforts are the worse are the results.
It is the popular and easy way to blame Prussian junkerism for all the miseries of these days, but we must look deeper than that for the cause of them and remember that those who are readiest now to saddle Germany with the world's calamity were foremost a few years ago in hailing her as the leader of the world's progress in almost every department of life, but mostly in denying the true God, and His Christ and His Bible. That despised Bible delivered us long ago from any faith in man's ability to deliver himself from the woes from which he suffers, and the present “overwhelming calamity” confirms what the Bible teaches, so that it is plain to us, and should be plain to all, that to be without God is to be without hope.
It is remarkable how the atheists themselves acknowledge the hopelessness of their position and prospects. One of the most famous of them has expressed it thus:
“Life is a narrow vale between the narrow peaks of two eternities. We strive to look beyond the heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailings.”
And as to the end of life this same eloquent denier of the existence of God has said:
“For whether in mid-seas or among the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck must mark at last the end of each and all. Every life, no matter if its every hour is rich with love, and every moment jewelled with a joy, will at its close become a tragedy as sad and deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.”
Yes, we can understand the fears and gloom of the man who is without God, for without God we are without hope and without good.
But if “God is,” and if He is good, why does the world “stagger and groan under the weight of an overwhelming calamity?” The question is not a difficult one to answer, it is found in a striking passage from one of the most human of poets:
“Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn.”
But the Bible goes to the root of the matter and gives us the cause of man's inhumanity. He is not as God made him. He has broken away from God's rule, and proclaimed his independence of God, as a star might break away from its orbit. And this determination to be master of his own destiny is the cause of every sorrow and calamity. “By one man sin entered into the world and death by sin,” and the terrible consequences of that primal disobedience, which the whole race by nature has willingly endorsed, is that,
“THEIR MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS: THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD.”
DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR WAYS:
AND THE WAY OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN:
THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.
And that indictment was not penned by a sour pessimist in the twentieth century but is part of God's own summing up of man's condition in Romans 3.
Men delight in the thought that they are independent of God, but it is a delusion, they are not, for in Him we live and move and have our being. He is the faithful Creator, giving to all life and breath, and all things. His mercies preserve us. Every breath of our nostrils and every throb of our feeble hearts is by God's power and ordering. He is above His creation, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see (1 Tim. 6:16); yet He is not indifferent to the travail of His creatures, even though that travail is the result of their rebellion against Himself. He has His part in events of today and His part is that of THE LIVING GOD, THE PRESERVER OF ALL MEN (1 Tim. 4:10). And this He has been towards men from the beginning. There have been times when His sore judgments have fallen upon men, as at the flood, and on the cities of the plain, and on the seven nations of Canaan, but this was because their revolt against Him was so open and determined and their moral degradation so horrible that the race could only be preserved by the extermination of those upon whom those judgments fell. As the surgeon's knife cuts deeply into the flesh to remove the foul cancer, so cut God's judgments into these scenes of violence for the good of His creatures. Yet judgment is His strange work. He delights in mercy. We count His long-suffering salvation. He is the preserver of all men.
“Self-preservation is the first law of nature,” is an old proverb; but those who are without God know not how to preserve themselves, they can only destroy themselves and their fellows by their ambitious schemes. Were God not the preserver of all men, and did He not intervene continually in preserving mercy, the race would have destroyed itself long ago.
We have a solemn indication of this in Revelation 6. The seer in that remarkable chapter records his divinely-given vision of what shall follow the taking out of this world of those that are Christ's at His coming for them. The day of God's long-suffering will close and His mercy give place to His wrath. Men will be left for a brief space to their own devices before God's direct judgment falls upon them, and the Lord Jesus appears to judge the world in righteousness. There first appears
A RIDER ON A WHITE HORSE, with bow and crown, going forth conquering and to conquer. The victories he gains are bloodless and the whole description of him is one of promise, but there comes a change, and any hopes raised in the hearts of men by his appearance swiftly disappear, for he is superceded by
A RIDER ON A RED HORSE, who takes peace from the earth, so that they kill one another; and this evidently indicates internecine strife more than war between nations—a “French revolution” throughout the civilized world.
A RIDER ON A BLACK HORSE follows, telling of grim famine, crushing with its miseries those who escape the sword, and making the way easy for...
A RIDER ON A PALE HORSE who will come forth killing with sword, with hunger, and with death and with the beasts of the earth. And this is not the end as some men fondly hope that death must be the end of all things for them, for
HELL FOLLOWS with him to claim the souls of those whose bodies are slain by the overwhelming calamities that the prophet saw. How quick, how terrible is THIS DESCENT OF MAN, from the promise of the rider on the white horse to the hopeless depths of hell. Such will be the descent of man when God's preserving mercy is in measure withdrawn from him, and even now the swift steeds are bound to the chariot and are straining at the curb and would take that steep gradient at a headlong gallop, but for the restraining hand of God, and men, so blind are they, would fondly believe that they were speeding to the attainment of their most cherished ambitions. The ascent of man is a false dream, a delusion of the old serpent, the descent of man is a terrible fact.
Was it not so in the beginning? Adam was set up as lord of this lower creation to subdue it and to enjoy the fruits of it. To use the apocalyptic figure, he was set as a rider on a white horse. But how soon he was unhorsed by the devil! How soon he choose to ride in independence of God who would have preserved him in that position of peace and prosperity had he but trusted Him! And the inevitable result appeared in his own family, for when Cain rose up and slew his brother the red horse of hatred and murder had appeared. The cause of the overwhelming calamities is not that there is no God who cares for His creatures, as the atheist would tell us, but because men won't have God, because they chose their own way and hate His restraint. And with this goes hatred of one another.
God still shows Himself to be good. He does not leave Himself without witness to this. He is the preserver of all men and He gives us “rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14).
He gives the increase of the earth in answer to man's toil upon it. Yea, every good and perfect gift comes down from Him, and He continues to give though the multitudes never so much as thank Him for His gifts. He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust, and He is kind to the unthankful and the evil, and He turns the very miseries that result from man's inhumanity and injustice to one another to the good of all those who turn to Him, so that their sorrows often become their greatest blessings. His goodness is manifested in His command to men to repent, to turn from their own ways that can only involve them in everlasting ruin to Him who alone can do them good. It makes itself eloquent as He beseeches men to be reconciled to Him; it shines forth from the face of the Saviour who sits at His right hand, but who was once crucified at Calvary that men might believe that God loves them. “For God commendeth His Love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
If any have doubts as to the goodness of God, because of the ills they suffer, let them turn to Him and test Him. Apart from Him there is no good and we have no hope. “Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”
"I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:35).
A Tare-sown wheat field, a tree of monstrous growth and a bowl of leavened meal! What connection could there be between such diverse things as these? It would seem, until we possess the key, none at all, and that the Speaker was talking without point or purpose. But our Lord, who gave to us these similitudes of the kingdom of heaven, has also given us the key to them, and having got this, we realize how perfect, how divine was His pre-vision, for no figures could have been chosen that could have more accurately described the progress of the profession of His Name on earth. The key is the Lord's interpretation of the wheat and the tares. Having got this, the mustard tree and the leavened meal need no explanation, they are self-evident, at least to those whose eyes are opened and to whom understanding hearts have been given.
In declaring the parable of the wheat and the tares the Lord left nothing to the imagination of His disciples, or ours; every detail of it is explained.
The sower is the Son of man.
The field is the world.
The good seed are the children of the kingdom.
The tares are the children of the devil.
The enemy is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age.
The reapers are the angels.
The tares are to be gathered into bundles to be burned.
The righteous shall shine forth as the Sun in the kingdom of their Father.
The sowing of the seed was God's great move to secure a harvest for Himself from this world. The seed by which these children of the kingdom, which are the harvest, were produced, and are still being produced, was His own word—the revelation of what He is. This revelation could be made by His beloved Son alone, for “no man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him,” and when this declaration was completed it could be summed up in three words—“GOD IS LOVE.” The children of the kingdom are born by the word of God, and just as it liveth and abideth for ever, so have they eternal life.
But who can tell what it cost the only-begotten Son to sow the seed? He had to become the Son of man to do it, and while universal glories gather round that great title, and He is worthy of every one of them, the first mention of it in the New Testament opens up the hardships that were His. It says, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” As to the actual sowing of the seed and what it meant to Him we read in an Old Testament Scripture—“He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with Him.” In His mission, which He only could accomplish, He encountered the contradiction of sinners against Himself and the powers of darkness, and “the days of His flesh” were characterized by “prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears.” If a tongue were given to the Mount of Olives, what a story it could tell of those nights of prayer and tears that it witnessed, while guilty Jerusalem slept all heedless of the fact that God in infinite compassion and ready to forgive all its transgressions was moving in the midst of it!
The Son of man was the Man of Sorrows, and that not in His life only. His life was the road that led to His cross, for to this end was He born. THE SON OF MAN MUST BE LIFTED UP, even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It was thus that the seed was sown, and thus was God fully declared. This was the price that was paid in order that God might have a harvest for His heavenly garner from this world, and that in the meanwhile the kingdom of heaven might be established on earth.
The devil is the enemy, and the sowing of the tares was his countermove. He had been unable to prevent the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in the world of which he was the prince, but he set about at once with consummate subtlety to oppose and spoil it. He opposed it by imitating it. He had tried this plan before in his conflict with God, when, in the court of Pharaoh, Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses by imitating his miracles, with the result that the hearts of Pharaoh and his Egyptians were hardened against the Lord. He showed his hand in this way first in the kingdom of heaven when he filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Ghost by pretending a self-sacrificing devotion to which the love of Christ had constrained others. I do not say that this man and his wife were actually children of the devil, but in their conduct we see the way in which the devil proposed to neutralize God's work. At that time the servants of the Lord were wide awake, and they were able to meet the enemy's craft by the power of God, and he had to wait until “men slept” to carry out his design.
The tares amongst the wheat have completely changed the original and true character of the kingdom of heaven. Its beginning was as a grain of mustard seed, “indeed is the least of all seeds.” In its beginning it bore the character of its Founder, who “made Himself of no reputation,” and who came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and who taught His disciples that the least among them, and the one who could become the servant of all, was the greatest. The apostles understood the teaching of their Lord and obeyed it; and in consequence they were “made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” The mind that was in Christ Jesus was in them, and while they were despised of men and persecuted, God blessed their doctrine and manner of life greatly, but not to the wise and mighty and noble, for not many such were called, but to the foolish things of the world and the weak things and the base things and the things which are despised and the things that are not (1 Cor. 1:26-29). Such were the children of the kingdom, and such was the beginning of it. But the children of the devil sown amongst these, surreptitiously at first, could not bear this character, it was contrary to their very nature, for they are like the one whose children they are, and his great sin was pride, and his determination to be greater than God had made him was the cause of his fall. How could the children of the devil be content to be nothing? Can the Ethiopian change his skin? Not having become the children of the kingdom of heaven by new birth, but having crept into it by some other way, they could not do other than vaunt themselves and “reign as kings,” when and wherever it was possible. So the mustard seed grew, not into a lowly plant—for these children of the enemy, having the spirit of the world, knew that such a growth could only be despised by the world; it could have neither form nor beauty in its eyes—but it grew into a great tree, in the branches of which the fowls of the air lodged. It evolved into a tree of monstrous growth, and here we do see evolution, a thing growing into something altogether different from its origin, a thing contrary to nature.
The figure of a great tree is used in Scripture for men or nations in their greatness and political influence. It is used in this way in Daniel 5 to show the power to which Nebuchadnezzar had attained, and in Ezekiel 31 it is used to describe the Egyptian and Assyrian powers in their pride and political greatness. It is this figure that the Lord takes up to show whereunto the kingdom of heaven would grow in the world after the introduction of the tares amongst the wheat. How divinely accurate was His forecast! At Rome the Pope wears the triple crown, and claims sovereign authority over kings and princes throughout Christendom, and at one time actually exercised that authority, and will do so again; and the aim of the great Protestant bodies is to influence the world's politics, and to make a great show in the world, and every principle upon which they have acted to bring the kingdom of heaven into this place of prominence in the world is a negation of the principles of truth laid down by the Lord. The tares have carried the day, and have found in the kingdom of heaven a sphere in which they can vaunt themselves, and in which their pride and ambition can have full scope. It is the devil's work. Nothing could have enraged him more than the lowly, dependent, obedient, self-sacrificing life of Jesus here, and nothing can have surprised him more than when that same life was reproduced in His disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit; it was the effect of this in the world that he endeavoured to neutralize by the introduction of the tares, and he has succeeded in his endeavour so far as the kingdom of heaven in its present form is concerned.
The birds of the air lodge in the branches of the tree, and what these are we learn from verse 19 of our chapter, for they cannot be other than those that catch away the good seed from the hearts of those who hear the word: they are Satan and his evil spirits. It is said of Babylon the great, which is another aspect of the kingdom of heaven having come to the consummation of its corruption: it "is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev. 18:2). And this brings us to the last of the three similitudes, the leavened meal.
God's order is, first the doctrine and then the manner of life, and the manner of life is formed and fashioned by the doctrine. The secret of godliness is the truth as to God manifested in flesh (1 Tim. 3:15-16). But this has all been reversed in the corrupted kingdom of heaven. In it the doctrine must be made to suit the ambitions and pride and conduct of those who have assumed power in it. This surely is what is meant in 2 Timothy 4:3—"The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” This is the present state of things in the kingdom of heaven, but in order to make this possible there had to be a gradual corruption of the sound doctrine, and this is the meaning of the leaven which the women took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. A woman taking a lead in religion and presuming to teach is contrary to the revealed mind of God, and we read in the Lord's appeal to the church at Thyatira—“I have against thee that thou sufferest that woman, Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols” (Rev. 2:20). There is no doubt that Thyatira deals with the phase of the profession of Christ's Name on earth that has specially developed in popery, and it is true that it has been the greatest corrupter of the kingdom of heaven that has ever been in its history.
The leaven is unsound doctrine; never in Scripture is it used to symbolize what is good, and the Scripture would lead us to think of it in connection with the fowls of the air that lodge in the branches of the mustard tree, for we read in 1 Timothy 4, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy,” and this not in heathendom, they have nothing else there, but in the kingdom of heaven, and in the very house of God.
We realize how completely the devil has lulled even true servants of Christ to sleep (Matt. 13:25) as to his work and designs, when we see that for centuries the popular interpretation of the parable of the leaven was that it represented the gospel, which should be preached in the world until at last it would be converted and made ready to welcome the Lord when He came in His kingdom. There is not a line of Scripture to support such a delusion. The three parables stand together and teach us the beginning and the progress of evil in the kingdom of heaven.
Is God, then, to be defeated? Surely not. The day is coming when He will act with discrimination and judgment. “The Son of man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. THEN SHALL THE RIGHTEOUS SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN IN THE KINGDOM OF THEIR FATHER. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Meanwhile we specially commend the second Epistle of Paul to Timothy, and the Epistle of Jude, to the prayerful study of those who desire to be faithful to the Lord. In them they will find the condition of things that these parables bring to our notice described in detail, and the path of the faithful in the midst of it.
How the devil must hate the Epistle to the Ephesians; he will certainly keep us from reading it if he can, for in no part of the Bible is his complete defeat so thoroughly exposed, and the riches of God's grace so fully revealed. It may be the knowledge of this that has made him with devilish subtlety make some of us believe that it is an epistle too deep and doctrinal for us. It is neither one nor the other; only let us be in the right state of heart before God and we shall exult in it, for the very reading of it will bless us, even if we are unable to fathom the depths that are in it. Who can do that but the Spirit of God?
The devil is probably the greatest of all the creatures that in the beginning God created, but he has fallen from his first and high estate and his heart is full of hatred against God; he is God's adversary—his name Satan means the adversary—and he has set himself deliberately and desperately to oppose and break up every purpose and work of God. When God created Adam and set him in Eden, and enriched him with everything that His infinite bounty could give, this great foe of God saw with envious eye that God loved the man He had made and delighted in him, and he plotted to ruin him and rob God of him; and how well he appeared to succeed. He probably reasoned: if only I can make that man whom God has favoured above all His creatures, doubt HIS goodness, and disobey His word, and rebel against Him, as I have done, then I can do with him as I will; I will strip him of his nobility, rob him of his peace and make him hate his Maker, and if I succeed in this desperate enterprise, God in simple justice will be compelled to turn him out of Eden and condemn him and his progeny to my doom in hell, and so shall I gratify a double spite: God will lose the man He has created and loves and I shall destroy the man whom I hate because God loves him.
The Triumph of God's Grace Towards us
He accomplished his purpose so far, and he must have wondered and exulted at the ease with which he did it, but what a surprise and a shock he must have got when first he read this Epistle to the Ephesian church, and discovered that some of the children of fallen Adam could say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." The earthly paradise lost, yes, but the heavenly paradise opened; earthly blessing forfeited, yes, but heavenly blessing bestowed, and all those blessings not in a patched up Adam, who might fall a second time into the devil's snare, but in Christ Jesus, where the devil cannot touch them and where they can neither fail nor be lost.
The devil's purpose was to make man like himself, unholy in nature and unrighteous in act, and so bring down upon his defiled and guilty soul the wrath of God; what a surprise he must have got when he first read in this Epistle that God hath chosen us in Christ, "that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (v. 5). Holy instead of sinful, without blame instead of guilty, in love instead of under wrath! What a triumph for God, what a defeat for the devil!
The devil's expectation was that man, when he had sinned, would be driven far off from God, as being for ever unsuited to His presence, every link of relationship with Him being broken, and that God would never have His purposed and longed for delight in the sons of men. What a jar he must have got when he read, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (vv. 5-6). “Accepted in the Beloved!” Not even an unfallen angel could have anticipated such grace towards men on God's part, and no sin-convicted sinner could have thought of it, and we may be sure that it never entered into the head of the devil that God would act thus. How could he have guessed that his temporary triumph over man would give God the opportunity of lifting man into a closer and more glorious relationship than ever Adam knew, for Adam did not know God as Father, and that they should stand in a favour that no creature, either fallen or unfallen ever stood in before, even the favour in which the Beloved stands! Accepted in the Beloved, brought as near to God as He is, and to abide for ever in the favour that rests upon Him! And this is to be not only a blessed secret for our own joy now, but it is to be publicly manifested; men, angels and devils are to see it, "That the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me" said our Lord Jesus Christ to His Father in John 17.
And suppose the devil had stood up and challenged God's right to bless us with these infinitely greater blessings than Adam lost by his sin, suppose he had said: “They are my lawful captives, slaves to sin and under the condemnation of death, and your enemies. You cannot bless them righteously and You must condemn them if You are still to be the just Ruler of the Universe.” God's answer is, “in whom” [the Beloved] they have “redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of My grace” (v. 7). That is conclusive and final; there is no place now for discussion or argument; it is the last word, and the vindication of God in His mercy before the universe; and as to this matter the Accuser is for ever silenced. The blood of the Beloved answers every claim, it is the everlasting righteous and unassailable basis of all our blessings, and because of it God forgives with an eternal forgiveness and we are redeemed from all bondage with an eternal redemption, the devil is defeated and the exceeding riches of God's grace are fully disclosed.
The Triumph of Christ's Resurrection
Now, consider the great conflict between God and the devil from another side of it. The Son of God became man, sent forth into the world by the Father to be its Saviour, and having come into the world He had to meet the devil face to face. We may be sure that the devil resented His presence in the world of which he is the god and prince, and was determined if he could to ensnare Him as he had done the first man. The conflict had to be waged; and Jesus, the Son of God, met the great Adversary, who, flushed with 4,000 years of triumph over men, does not seem to have feared defeat. Jesus met him not with His Godhead authority and power, but in His manhood's lowliness and weakness and His dependence upon God. By man had come Satan's victory and by man must come his defeat. Let us watch this conflict, for the glory of God and our blessing hangs upon its issue. Satan chose his own time and battle ground, he appeared in the desert when Jesus was weak with hunger, having fasted forty days, but he could not prevail over Jesus; His deftest blows were parried and turned aside by one weapon only, the Word of God. Twice he was repulsed but he returned the third time to the attack, apparently confident of success, for he knew men well, and he probably thought, In the soul of the Son of God ambition must lurk as it lurks in the soul of every man. If he could only make the prize big enough, for every man has his price, he would surely gain his greatest and final triumph. So he offered all he had to offer: the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them, for one moment's homage. He would set the Son of God at the head of all things; he would give Him the highest station He should reach the pinnacle of glory by a short and easy way. All should be His, If He would but bow down before him and own him as the giver. And what was the alternative? It was suffering, and shame; scourging and spitting; it was death, even the death of the cross. And the Lord chose the alternative, for God and His glory were more to Him than ease and fame and exaltation, and to obey God was His very life.
Now see the result as revealed in our Epistle. The lowly Man of Sorrows had said, "that the world may know that I love the Father, and as He hath given Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence." And that hence was to Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha and death. But God has answered that great obedience and has acted in mighty power towards Christ. He has reached down into the depths of death and has "raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” The devil hoped to sway this universal sceptre himself by subjugating Christ to his will, but having failed in his bold and impious design he now finds that the One who refused to be lured from His obedience to God by his wiles, has been set infinitely above him; He has received from God a higher honour and a greater glory than the devil was able to offer Him. He has been made head over all things.
We may be sure that Satan would like to hide this fact from men, he does not want them to know that the Lamb of Calvary is Lord of lords and King of kings, the sceptre of Whose throne is a sceptre of righteousness; he knows that this exaltation of Christ to the highest place in the universe is the sure and certain pledge that all his works will be undone, that his authority over men will be for ever broken, and that he himself will be finally condemned to the lake of fire. Ephesians 1:19-23 is hard reading for the devil, but it is a most blessed revelation to us who have been delivered by the Father, even now, “from the authority of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:12-13).
The Triumph of the Church's Formation
And what of the church which is here spoken of as the body of Christ? It is made up of those who were once dead in trespasses and sins, of you and me, and our like, who were children of disobedience, who walked according to the will of the prince of the power of the air, and were children of wrath even as others (chap. 2). The devil held us for a while in his power by the delusion that God was against us; that He was a hard and austere master, to be dreaded and shunned; which had been the devil's lie from the beginning. But that darkness has been dispelled and we have been delivered from that lie, for, "God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved:) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus" (vv. 4-7). “Rich in mercy,” “His great love,” “the exceeding riches of His grace,” and “His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus,” describe for us what there is in God for us; we may have but poorly apprehended what these words describe, yet they are words surely that make our hearts glow, and they have most thoroughly exposed what the devil is. He has been defeated in his efforts to hold us in everlasting darkness by this revelation of the mercy, the love and the grace of God to us through Christ Jesus. And being enlightened and quickened, and redeemed, and sealed by the Holy Ghost, we, with all believers, are now the body of Christ. He is the Head, we are His members, and we share in His victories, for even Satan himself shall shortly be bruised under our feet by the God of peace (Rom. 16:20).
When we come to chapter 4 we learn that Christ has ascended up on high, but that He first descended into the lower parts of the earth, He went down into depths beneath which there was nothing, and has gone up to the highest heights of glory. There is no realm through which He has not passed triumphantly, and which He will not fill with the glory of God. Satan has bitten the dust, he has not been able to hold any realm against Christ. From the place into which He has gone, having led the whole power of the enemy captive, He has given gifts unto men, and this for the building up of the body of Christ, for the deliverance of its members from every lie of the enemy, for their development in the knowledge of the Son of God, and their unity and increase in love. And this is a present triumph, for in this world where hatred and sin abounds, there are men and women who once belonged to it, but are now no longer of it, but are members of the body of Christ, united to Him their glorified Head, and in them His character is shining out in the darkness, and they are edifying one another in love. Think of the triumph in that.
The Triumph of the Churches Rapture
Thoughts of the church bring that vivid passage as to it in chapter 5, to mind, and I cannot pass it by. It tells us, "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (vv. 25-27). Verse 31 is a quotation from Genesis 2 regarding the bringing of Eve to Adam, and our passage carries the mind back to that event. It is well known that Adam in his deep sleep is a foreshadowing of Christ in death; and as the woman was the product of that sleep so is the church a product of the death of Christ. But the devil succeeded in beguiling Eve through his subtilty and she dragged Adam down in her fall; she dragged him so low that he not only disobeyed God, but cast all the blame of the tragedy upon her whom he ought to have protected with his very life. “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat,” said he. He had become a disobedient, selfish, cowardly sinner. What a contrast to Adam is our Lord Jesus. He said to His Father, "Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost" and they, and all who have believed through their word, are the church, and for it Christ gave Himself. He took all the blame of their sinfulness and guilt, and bore the judgment of it all, and He is still keeping His church, and sanctifying it and cleansing it by the word, and waiting for the day when He will present it to Himself, all glorious in the glory.
How will this come to pass? “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). We shall meet Him. But why in the air? The air is the seat of the devil's power; he is the prince of the power of the air; it is from thence that he rules the darkness of this world and organises its spiritual wickedness, and it is there that we are to meet our Lord. Could anything prove more conclusively how complete is his defeat? Christ will meet His church in the very seat of Satan's authority and carry it triumphantly through to His glory. That will be the day of Christ's supreme joy on which He will receive to the embrace of love that passes all knowledge, His ransomed and glorious church. Satan has sought to corrupt the church as he corrupted Eve, but Christ has kept her and will keep her. And the presentation day, the day of the marriage, will celebrate His triumph and the devil's defeat.
God's work is being done in this world and a record is being kept in heaven as to all those who are taking part in it, what they are doing, how they are doing it; and what the motive is that lies behind their labour. This is at once a solemnizing and encouraging consideration. In ancient times God's eye watched His servants and noted the way they did His work, and He has given us His own account of it all. In Nehemiah 3:5 we learn that the Tekoites repaired the wall, but they did it half-heartedly: "Their nobles put not their necks to the work of their God.” These were the leaders, and if the leaders were lukewarm, so would the people be, and to this day their shame stands upon record in the Word of God.
Shallum, the son of Halohesh, was a man of a different stamp, his enthusiasm for the work was such that it inspired his daughters and they helped him in building the wall, and he was no mean man, for we are told that he was ruler of half Jerusalem. His daughters might have argued that, as their father was a man in such a place of honour, their business was to maintain the dignity of the house and not soil their hands with labour, but no, their ambition was to have part in the Lord's work, and they had, and the dignity of their house has not suffered, for it is recorded that Shallum built—"he and his daughters" (v. 12).
The way that Baruch, the son of Zabbai laboured was specially noted for we read that he earnestly repaired that part of the wall that fell to his lot. What a contrast to the nobles of Tekoi was he!
The people had a mind to work, we are told (chap. 4:6), and they laboured from the rising of the sun until the stars appeared (v. 21) Their hearts were in it, their own ease or time was a very minor matter with them, "the work of their God" was their first consideration. Nor did they labour by proxy, there were no shirkers, every man had his own work to do and did it and more. For those who had to watch and fight against a subtle foe still "bare burdens" and "everyone with his own hands wrought in the work" (v. 17). There were those who built over against their own houses (v. 28); wise men doing that which was near at hand, and doing it with a will, and not wasting their energies and time in dictating to others how and where they should build. And one man receives honourable mention who does not seem to have had a house to build against: he possessed no property, only a chamber, for Meshullam built over against his chamber. But that chamber in which he lived and where he held intercourse with his God was part of the city and needed the wall of protection from evil as any other part of it, and so he built, and though probably only a poor lodger in the city, his name is enrolled amongst those who did the work of God.
And the fear of God kept them from covetousness and love of gain. The work of the wall —God's work—was more to them than their own enrichment (chap. 5:15-16).
So they finished the work, but not in their own strength, but the God of heaven. He prospered them (chap. 2:20), their confidence was in Him and He did not fail them. Nor will He fail any today who take His work in hand, constrained thereto by the love of Christ; but let us do it in His fear, for a record is being kept above of all we do, and how and why we do it, for "every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it... of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13).
We are not surprised at the unrest and discontent which are more than ever manifest in the lives of those that know not God. We are not surprised that the poor, who are not rich in faith, should cast envious and covetous eyes upon the possessions of those who seem more fortunately placed than themselves. But it is surpassingly strange when this spirit of discontent and covetousness breaks out in the lives of those who have God as their Father. It is strange because it means that a rebellious will is at work, and that confidence in One who cannot make a mistake has been abandoned, and these two things are utterly alien to the spirit of children, they are base intruders into the family of God. Yet undoubtedly this discontent is prevalent and is sapping the spiritual vitality of thousands who otherwise might be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” To depend in simple trust upon God alone, and be satisfied with what He gives, must be great gain indeed; and yet—“Well,” says one, “if only I had an income like Mr.—I should be quite contented, and I could do a lot of good with it; and why should I be denied that which he has so abundantly?”
Hear a parable. A little child is attracted by the sight of a highly polished knife; it is so pretty to look at it must be nice to possess, and he attempts to grasp it. But a watchful mother places it beyond his reach and under lock and key. But he whines and complains and asks, “Why can't I have the knife?” He is told that be would certainly hurt himself with it if it were given to him. But he persists in his complaint, which is now very real to him for he sees one in the hand of an elder sister and why should he be denied what she is allowed to have? “My child,” says the patient mother, “that which would be a dangerous weapon in your small and unskilled hands is a very useful thing in sister's hands, for see, she is cutting the loaf for your tea with it.”
Earthly possessions are like that polished knife; if another has them, it is to use them for the good of all and the glory of God, and if they are put beyond your reach it is because they would hurt you if you had them. Let your heart be happy and contented then, for God, who is your Father, knows what is best for you. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not with Him also freely give us all things?” Yes, everything that He can give to us “With Him” He will, and that without a grudge.
But, say you, “Some Christians have wealth that they do not use for others' good, and it seems to hinder the progress of their souls.” That is so; and do you desire to handle the weapon that is injuring them? Distrust of self would lead you to thank God that in the wisdom of a perfect love He has made it impossible for you to hurt your soul as others seem to be hurting theirs.
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE, NOR FORSAKE THEE.”
His company is better than broad acres and a large income. And if He hath said that He is with us, “we may boldly say, THE LORD IS MY HELPER, AND I WILL NOT FEAR WHAT MAN SHALL DO UNTO ME” (Heb. 13:6).
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS UNTO GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).
Though the works of a man have no place in his salvation, for that is by grace through faith, and not of works, lest any man should boast, yet they have a very prominent place in God's purpose for those who are saved.
God's saints are to be “zealous of good works,” and that they might be so “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ... gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity” (Tit. 2:14), and those who have believed in God are exhorted to “maintain good works.” Indeed, if a man is careless as to this, he cannot be accounted as a Christian.
Our responsibility in this regard receives an added emphasis when it is seen that we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus with this end in view. The production of good works has been God's intention for us from the first. And, further, if we are God's workmanship we cannot plead that good works are an impossibility for us, for God's handiwork must be altogether suitable for the accomplishment of that for which it has been created.
It is as though a man made a loom; his inventive genius and powers have been concentrated upon the machine, and at last it is completed. It has been made with one object in view—the production of cloth. If it does not fulfil the purpose of the inventor it is only fit for the scrap-heap.
We will take the loom for an illustration of the Christian in this respect, and observe that no loom can produce cloth by its own effort or from within itself. It must be in contact, first of all, with the power-house; then is it prepared to receive the warp and woof from the weaver's hand, and as he works these into it, it works out the finished material. Now it is just this that the Scripture says of the Christians: "Work out your own salvation... for it is God that worketh in you.” What a thought for us is this! We are not only God's workmanship, He Himself has prepared the loom; but such is His desire that we should produce the works for which He has prepared us that He stands over us as the watchful weaver, working in us all that is needful, so that we may be neither idle nor unfruitful.
On our part obedience is necessary, and fear and trembling. The loom of our illustration cannot hinder the purpose of its maker, though often, through the carelessness of the weaver, the work is marred, and much time is lost. In our case, however, there is no failure on God's part, the failure, shame to us, is on our part; by our insubjection and self-confidence we often stand in His way, and so waste the precious moments and spoil the work.
Let none think that these good works in which we are called to walk have a time value only. They have a time value, for they are to appear in the lives of God's redeemed people as the adornment of the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things; but they have a further value for they are to appear in imperishable beauty when time has ceased to be. The loom of our illustration was made that it might produce material for the wedding robe of a noble princess; Christians are producing now “the righteousness of saints,” which shall form that fair garment of “fine linen, clean and white,” in which the Lamb's wife shall be arrayed on the great marriage day.
What a day that will be! Its advent will be greeted by the great “Allelujah” shout which, like the voice of mighty thunderings, shall roll throughout a rejoicing heaven. The Lamb shall be there, the cause of heaven's joy, in all the glory of His might, and fully recompensed for His sorrow and travail in death, for with Him shall appear His wife, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, arrayed in her raiment of needle work, the “fine linen, clean and white: for the line linen is the righteousness of saints” (Rev. 19:8).
What joy fills our hearts as we project our thoughts into that day! Shall we not discard all slothfulness, carelessness, and disobedience, and set ourselves with a holy determination to add our quota to that priceless raiment?
Let it not be supposed that only those who do the more prominent works are contributing to this garment. Often they are the ones who are doing the least towards it, for they are much before the eyes of men, and are in constant danger of working for the applause of men; and work which springs from such a motive cannot be acceptable to God.
It is often the lowliest of the saints, living in obscurity, and perhaps poverty and pain, who is most diligent in this work. When the motive for living is Christ, it matters not how menial the task, it will give the opportunity for the reproduction of the life of Jesus. And to follow in His footsteps, and to show out the blessed traits that shone in their perfection in Him is to be adding to the garment of “fine linen, clean and white.” But for this there must be fear and trembling lest self should intrude and spoil the piece we weave, and there must be obedience to the will of God, which will is found in the Holy Scriptures: there alone can we discover what the good works are, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
We will begin the year with a consideration of God's words to us and His ways with us. Here we shall find cause for thanksgiving for the past, and great encouragement as we face the future. Retrospection and anticipation, memory and hope shall yield from their treasures what should surely produce within us grateful and trustful hearts. We are recalling an ancient command given to the sons of Jacob. God told them that when they had taken possession of the promised land they were to keep, year after year, the Feast of Tabernacles. It was to be a joyous feast. They had to go forth and gather the branches of goodly trees and palm trees and thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook, and weave them together into booths and dwell in them for seven days, and remembering all God's goodness to them, they had to rejoice before Him (Lev. 23). We are well aware that many people do not believe that these instructions given long ago to a people who no longer possess that land have any present value, but we take our stand upon the Word, and we say without fear, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” These things were written for our learning, yes for ours in this year 1933, and we look to God that He will teach us His mind in them.
The picture is as vivid as it is clear. The palm branches speak of victory and joy, the willows of the brook of trial and sorrow, and these had to he woven together upon the strong frame of goodly trees and thick-leaved trees, which shall speak to us of the infallible Word of the God that cannot lie. We must not leave these goodly trees and thick leaved trees out as we build our booths of the palm and the willow, for no experience can yield us lasting profit if the Word of God has not its place in it.
There are some who seem ever able to wave the palm branches; they walk with a light step upon their high places. But with the majority it is different; they have their days of triumph, but some times, aye often, they are in heaviness through manifold temptations; their harps sometimes hang upon the willow trees and they have no song, for no chastening for the present seemeth joyous but grievous. Then there are some who tread with leaden foot the deep valley where the willows hang their mournful boughs and where day is turned to gloom and the heart trembles at the desolation until assured of the company of the Lord. We want even these to gather palm branches and be more than conquerors through Him that loves them. I stood near to an aged Christian at the open grave of his beloved wife the other day, and I said to him, “How are you?” He replied, “I have a wonderful Saviour.” He had gathered his palm branch in his sorrow and was a triumphant man.
It is only as we have confidence in God and His love and the wisdom of His ways that we can raise a palm branch in a time of sorrow, and we only gain this confidence from the Word of God as it is unfolded to us by His Spirit. From His sure Word we learn that He is good and doeth good. But many view God in a different way; they imagine that He does not wish them to be too happy, that He finds pleasure in taking from them things they love and in darkening their lives with trials. They do not know Him. He may, and often does, send trials and sorrow, but His end is blessing, and the willow boughs are as necessary as the palm branches in His wise plan. In one of the greatest poems in our language, the poet asks
“Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?”
What food for thought lies in that question, sorrowing and doubting heart! Has a cloud come between you and some bright sun, in the rays of which you basked? What if it be the hand of God stretched forth to draw you near to His heart! The brightest earthly light will set in darkness, but if you know God, your night will be enlightened by a never fading light. In the heavenly city, to which every one whose name is written in the Lamb's book of life is going, they will have no need of the sun or the moon to chine in it for the glory of God will lighten it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof. And as it will be then so it may be now; the glory of God—His great love—may fill your heart, and how you will thank Him then, for the shadow of His hand.
But is it possible to thank Him for sorrow and trial? Hear these words, “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; but I have never thought of my cross as a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.” Those words came from the mouth of a blind poet, who had been refused by the woman he loved because he had lost his sight. How well he wove his palm branch and willow bough together when he sang,
“O Love, that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul on Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
“O Light, that I followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to Thee,
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine's blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.”
Need I quote those better and more triumphant words of the great apostle? They are well known, but so full of encouragement. “There was given to me,” he says, “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me [mark the grace of that], My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. MOST GLADLY THEREFORE WILL I RATHER GLORY IN MY INFIRMITIES, THAT THE POWER OF CHRIST MAY REST UPON ME.”
Even Paul needed the willows of the brook. Devoted servant of Christ though he was, he would have been exalted above measure if he had only had the palm branches in his hands: he would have waved those branches over his own head and laid them down for his own feet, but the thorn helped him, the tribulation and the infirmity blessed him, and his palm branches shall be laid where he will cast his crown, at the nail-pierced feet of his Saviour and Lord.
Look back, dear reader. Remember the way the Lord has led you. Look up, dear reader, and hear Him saying to you, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Take any of the great promises that shine on the sacred page, take those you know best, for they will yield you the greatest blessing, and say on this opening of a new year, Has one good word that God has spoken failed you? I would take up the words of Joshua, uttered in his farewell speech to Israel, “Ye know in all your heart, and in all your soul, that not one thing hath failed of all the good words that the Lord your God hath spoken concerning you. all are come to pass unto you—not one thing hath failed.”
Take then the pleasant things and the painful, the “downs” as well as the “ups” in your life, and give thanks for both. God is weaving them together for your good and glory, for is it not written, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose,” and if we know that, then may we indeed weave “all things” together in confidence and gratitude, and rejoice before our Lord.
But have we not to feel things? Yes it is no sign of spirituality to be unmoved by sorrow; when the boughs of the willows of the brook are put into our hands we cannot be indifferent to them. If we are, we miss the sympathy of the One who is touched with the feeling of our infirmity.
“He tells me that His loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe
And in each sorrow bears a part,
As none can bear below.
“Touched with a sympathy above
He knows our feeble frame,
He knows what sorest trials mean,
For He has felt the same.”
But no sorrow can separate us from His love, and as we realize this our hearts begin to sing and we can say, “Thanks be unto God, that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And thus upon the strong frame of the Word of God we weave together our joys and sorrows, and see His love in all and bless His holy Name.
A Sunday Evening Address
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. hen opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47).
The time had come for us to start for our Sunday evening meeting, when the little son of my host said to me, “I hope that you will preach tonight so that I can understand.” I have taken the words of that lad to heart and I am determined, by the help of the Lord, to preach the gospel so that the children of ten can understand. In doing so I shall not be insulting the intelligence of the older people, for God's gospel suits every age and class; it is simple enough for the children, yet so full and so blessed that the oldest saint on earth or in heaven cannot fathom the depths of it. It is God's spell, God's story, and he that hath an ear let him hear it. The time has come for you to listen and not to talk. “Say not in thine heart...” says the Word, for faith cometh not by talking or arguing, but by hearing: “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The gospel consists of facts, and children can believe facts, and the facts are these: “It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day,” and the object in view was, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” And of such impelling and divine importance are these facts that from the time of the fall of man in Eden, God had spoken of them in type and allegory and by definite prophecy. His communications as to them are to be found in Moses, the prophets and the Psalms: in every part of the Old Testament Scriptures. “It is written,” said the risen Lord, and what is written must stand—it is as impregnable as the throne of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of it shall fail; it must all be fulfilled. What was written about the sufferings and resurrection of Christ has been fulfilled, and it is this that the gospel preacher must tell the people. Not the twelve apostles only, but Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who had not seen the Lord on earth but who had seen Him in glory, proclaimed these facts, for “he reasoned... out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (Acts 17:2-3). And when allowed to explain his life's purpose before kings and rulers, he had nothing else to urge. “Having obtained help of God,” he said, “I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that He... should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23). Yes, these great facts are needed by all and are preached for all: for rich and poor, for great and small, for the children who have not yet chosen the self-willed way, as well as for those who have grown hard and old in their sins.
“It behoved Christ to suffer.” It was a necessity, for all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death, and after this the judgment. If sinners ever were to escape the judgment to come, and know the unspeakable blessing of sins forgiven, Christ must suffer, and this Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ; He is both Lord and Christ, and there is no salvation in any name but His. If men could have cleansed their own souls from their filth and atoned for their own sins and saved themselves from Satan's power and the just judgment of God, do you think that God would have sent His well-beloved Son to suffer? Nay, He is a just God, and while He will not give His glory to another, He will not rob others of any glory that is their due, and if men could have saved themselves He would have let them try, and when they had accomplished the work He would have said, “Well done!” and crowned them with the glory of a great achievement. indeed, for 4000 years they had their opportunities, though God well knew the result from the beginning, and they only proved that they were without strength for good, that all their righteousnesses were but filthy rags, that all the world was guilty before God.
“It behoved Christ to suffer.” For God would have all men to be saved; and the Saviour of sinners must suffer the judgment that their sins demanded. None could do that but Jesus, who came to give His life a ransom for all. He came from heaven's highest glory, for He is the Word, the Creator, and He became a man to undo the works of the devil and suffer for sins—He, the Just One for us the unjust, to bring us to God. I would warn you against those who deny the Deity of our Lord. There are those who teach that He began His existence in the manger at Bethlehem. If that were so the Scripture has no meaning which says, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” If He began His existence in Bethlehem, John's Gospel is a lie from its first sentence to its last, and Micah was a foolish dreamer when he prophesied seven centuries before the event, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me, that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Our Saviour Jesus Christ is the great God, and only those who have no sense of what sin is, and how firm and unshakeable God's righteousness must for ever stand, would deny it. Without shedding of blood is no remission. Hence the Saviour must be a man or He would have no blood to shed, and He must be God or His blood could not have met the case, it would not have had atoning value.
It is written that Christ must suffer, and from the moment that His Name was called Jesus there could be no turning back, for that Name was given to Him because He should save His people from their sins. He had come to make good His title to that Name. He bore it upon the cross of Calvary encompassed by hosts of foes. He will bear it upon the throne of glory surrounded by countless friends, all ransomed from hell's deep judgment by His sufferings and precious blood. Beware of those who preach a gospel without the blood and a Christ without the cross. Their gospel is no gospel at all, but a deception of the devil. In it there is neither righteousness nor love, justice nor mercy. God is not revealed in it, nor Satan exposed, nor sin, nor the heart of man, which is deceitful above all things; and it cannot breathe into the sin-burdened soul those peace-giving words, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
“It behoved Christ to suffer,” and for such as we are He died. He passed through this world, so foul in its sin and pollution, holy, harmless and undefiled, but His path through it led only to the cross, and when we were yet without strength, in due time CHRIST DIED FOR THE UNGODLY. How wonderful is that sentence! I read it with gratitude and rapture in my heart, and I said, “Christ died for the ungodly. Why, Lord Jesus, my Saviour, that means me, Christ died for me,” and as I pondered the great fact, a light above the brightness of the sun broke into my soul. I learnt that God loved me in spite of my sins, and my darkness was dispelled, the scales fell from my eyes, I was delivered from the captivity in which the devil had held me, and I saw the truth, and the truth is that God is love but I never could have known it, nor could any other sinner, if Christ had not suffered, “for herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
The remission of sins is a priceless blessing, for it cost an inconceivable price. It never could have been preached to sinners if Christ had not suffered, but now it is offered freely to all, and because it is free, some have scornfully called it cheap. It is not cheap, it is the most costly thing on earth or in heaven; the price that was paid for it was the blood of God's dear Son. If you would know its value you must penetrate the thick darkness that wrapt itself about the Saviour at Calvary ; you must fathom the depths of woe into which He sank when He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” You must know the greatness of your sin and the value of His blood.
These things neither man nor angel can measure; then neither man nor angel can tell the value of the forgiveness of sins—this first of all blessings that has come to us through the sufferings of Christ. Happy are those who can say, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of God's grace.”
If we who have believed can rejoice in this great salvation, it is because of the sufferings of our great Saviour, and we know that He suffered because of the great love wherewith He loved us. It is this that binds our hearts to Him with a true devotion. We love Him and follow Him, not because crowns of glory shine upon His sacred brow, but because He suffered for us, when He was made sin for us on the cross. We should not marvel that men and women have made great sacrifices for Christ's sake and have even gladly laid down their lives for Him, for it was the love of Christ that constrained them. They could say, “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me,” and they could do no other than they did do. The marvel is that any who have heard the story should be indifferent to it and hold back from complete surrender to Him.
He had to rise again the third day, according to the Scriptures. This also was a necessity. Beware of those deceivers who deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, for “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Thus it is written and thus it must be. If Christ is not raised, there is no Saviour for men and no hope, and we who have trusted in Him are of all men most miserable; for if He is not risen, then have our sins proved too heavy a load for Him, and Satan's power too great and death too strong. If Christ be not raised, then has the grave triumphed and He has failed in His mission, He has failed both God and man, and His word can no more be relied upon, for He said that He would suffer and rise again the third day. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and His resurrection is one of the great facts of the gospel, and those who deny it are ministers of Satan. I preach a risen Saviour, and none other will suit you. He died, but He lives; He suffered, but He has triumphed. Hear His own words: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” His resurrection is the proof of a work accomplished, of a sacrifice accepted, of justice satisfied, of death defeated, the power of Satan annulled, and God glorified. His sufferings upon the cross proved His willingness to save, His resurrection from the dead has proved His power to save. I proclaim to you a victorious, almighty Saviour who is willing and able to save even you.
God has put His seal upon the work of Christ, by raising Him from the dead, and now, through His Name, repentance and the remission of sins are preached to you, and these two things go together. Repentance must come first: there could be no remission apart from repentance. But what does repentance mean? Not fear of the consequences of sin, nor even sorrow for the sin itself, though that will surely go with it. Repentance is a complete turn. When God commands all men everywhere to repeat, it is as though He said, “Right about turn!” Unconverted sinner, you have turned your back upon God, and you must admit that that is a serious thing to do; it is, to say the least about it, a most discourteous thing to do. If you were admitted to the presence of His Majesty the King, you would not turn your back upon him, certainly not if he wished to speak to you. God is speaking to you, He is beseeching, entreating, commanding you, and you will not listen. You have turned your back upon Him. I call upon you at this time to “Right about turn,” and hear what God is saying to you.
If you would only believe the preaching, you would turn to Him, as did a soldier friend of mine who was killed in the war. He was an old soldier, the regimental sergeant-major of a famous regiment. He was converted in South Africa during the Boer War, and this is how it came about. He was canteen sergeant at the time, and had sunk as low down in debauchery as it was possible for a man to sink. Of course, he was miserable, for how can a sinner be happy?—so miserable that on one Saturday night outside the canteen he cursed and blasphemed God as though He were the cause of his misery. He returned to the canteen with his hatred of God surging up in his heart, when he saw lying on a table a gospel tract. He picked it up and read in it: “You may be a great sinner, but God loves you.” The words went right home to his soul and conscience as God's answer to his cursing. They changed his view completely and altered his whole outlook, and that very night, as a broken-hearted sinner, he turned and found himself face to face with a pardoning God. Yes, that very night at the feet of Jesus his sins were forgiven. That utter change of mind which turned the canteen sergeant to God was repentance. Will you turn as he turned? This repentance is preached to you in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and if you obey the word and turn you will meet a pardoning God.
Who can describe the blessedness of forgiveness? It is quietness after the storm, relief from the great burden. It gives a deep, holy peace to the heart as the sense of it is realized. The Pharisee cannot know this blessedness, nor the man who excuses his sins or refuses to own to God and to himself that he is a sinner. But the man who has felt the smart and sting of sin, the man who has discovered that his sins are neither dead nor done with, that he cannot escape them, that with persistent feet they are pursuing him, gathering round him and crying insistently, “Thou art the man”—that man will welcome it and value it. The man whose conscience has been awakened and who feels that he has sinned against God and has looked into the abyss into which his sins were forcing him, he will find no ease and no rest until be is assured of God's forgiveness; he cannot forgive himself, neither man nor angel can justify him, but God can, and with a broken and contrite heart he will turn to God and find that God will put upon him the kiss of forgiveness and clothe him in the best robe. Then he will take up David's song and say, “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
Who will honour God by believing His gospel? Who will bow down and bless the Saviour for His sufferings and victory? Who will confess His glorious Name and follow Him, prepared for suffering in this life, if needs be, for His Name's sake, but assured of glory with Him hereafter? If you are convinced that this is the truth that I have preached to you, you will surely bow to it, and personally accept it and give God thanks.
We are comparing the Gospels, chiefly Luke's and John's. Luke was a Gentile and wrote his Gospel for a Gentile. It shows the riches of God's grace overflowing all bounds, and blessing sinners of every sort. In the closing scenes that same grace is active on behalf of the Lord's own frail and failing disciples. Simon Peter is the special object of that grace. He was the vessel chosen of God to write “concerning the true grace of God” in which every Christian stands; and of this he had to write not only as inspired by the Holy Ghost, but out of his own experience. His words were to be infallible words because Holy Ghost-given, but he was to be able to say as he wrote, I know the truth of them in my soul's history. We should give thanks to God for that impulsive disciple and his blunders and failures.
The grace of the Lord to Simon Peter was displayed in three most affecting incidents, which are only related by Luke. First, in the Supper room the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not.” That was grace before the fall. Then at the time of the great crash when Peter had three times denied that he knew the Lord, before the men that held Jesus and mocked Him had blindfolded His eyes, we read, “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” That was grace to Peter at his worst. Then on the resurrection day, when repentance had done its work in Peter's soul, we read, “The Lord is risen indeed and hath appeared unto Simon.” Put these three things together—“I have prayed for thee,” “The Lord turned and looked on Peter” and “The Lord hath appeared unto Simon”—and we have a story of grace in three chapters which fills our souls with amazement. Truly where sin abounded grace did much more abound. And that grace abounds as full and fresh as ever for you and me.
Foreknowledge is a Divine attribute: Satan does not possess it, but the Lord does; and He knew that Satan was plotting to destroy the faith of Simon Peter, and He knew that the self-confidence of His disciple would make him an easy prey. But the Lord was ahead of Satan and had secured for Peter beforehand that grace which preserved his faith in spite of his great failure. We marvel that Peter was so little affected by the Lord's words. He thought he was equal to any test, he thought he knew himself better than the Lord knew him, and did not believe the warning that that very night he would deny Him thrice. If he had been a wise man and not so full of what Simon was able to do, he would have cast himself at the feet of the Lord and cried, “Preserve me, O Lord, for in Thee do I put my trust.” But instead he answered, “Lord, I am ready”—if the devil ever laughs he must have laughed then—“I am ready to go with Thee both to prison and death.”
We know the sequel. Peter meant to fight, but the power of the devil was too great for him and he trusted in himself. His self-confidence was his undoing, and would have been his damnation if the Lord had not been greater than Satan and His grace greater than Peter's sin.
“The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” It was not a look of anger or even of reproach, but of tenderest pity. Would he ever forget it? As he bowed himself in the fierce agony of his repentance that look would be a memory more vivid than the cock crowing; it would be a ray of light in his darkness. Judas had gone out and hanged himself. Should he do the same? No. The devil could not drive him so far; he was preserved through that awful soul-struggle by the Lord's intercession and by that look of infinite grace; his faith did not fail.
We are not told where Simon went when he fled from the high priest's kitchen, but we may imagine his state of mind. He was beaten and battered and broken; Satan's attack had scattered the chaff of his self- confidence but the wheat of his faith remained, but how feeble it must have been. How wonderful was the Lord's way with him. Peter was His first thought on the resurrection morning, and the only one of the disciples to be spoken of by name. When the women arrived at the grave of the Lord they were greeted by a young man in white garments sitting there, an angel from heaven. He was waiting to give them a special message which the Lord had committed to him. “Go your way,” said he, “and tell His disciples and Peter.” But that belongs to Mark's record and we are considering Luke's, who gives us something more wonderful than the angel's words. Luke tells us of the disciples gathered together in the upper room, saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon.” They were filled with amazement. “The Lord is risen”—that was joyful news, and yet what it might have meant for them! They were faithless men; they had forsaken Him and fled at the first blast of the storm. Might He not cast them off and choose others who would not fail Him? That would have been their natural thought, but He had appeared unto Simon. Simon who had denied Him thrice, and who had cursed and sworn about it. The man whose sin was the worst was the first to be sought out by the Lord and to receive from Him the assurance of unchanged and unchanging love. “The Lord is risen indeed” declared that He was greater than the greatest foe without; “and hath appeared unto Simon” declared that His grace was more than equal to the greatest failure within. These things were written for our learning. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever.”
Now we come to John's Gospel, where we see greater things than these. It is the Gospel of Divine and infinite love. In the earlier part of it we see that love in its sovereign and compassionate out-going; we see it giving, giving, giving. But in the latter part it is the love of relationship, which cannot rest or be satisfied unless it can look with complacency upon the loved objects.
Chapters 13 to 17 open up for us the inner circle of His love, and to us as to the two disciples who followed Him in chapter 1 the Lord says, “Come and see.” It is where He dwells and His love would have us dwell with Him there. We are told that “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them to the end.” His love for them could neither falter nor fail, and His loved ones are “His own.” Let us grasp this word. It is unqualified. They were His exclusive possession, his peculiar treasure; as a mother might press her child to her heart and say, “My own.” He will not admit the right of any other to them except the Father, and to Him He says, “I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were and Thou gavest them Me... They are Thine, and all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine” (chap. 17). He tells us also the measure and manner of His love—“As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you” (chap. 15). Truly this love of Christ passeth knowledge.
But there is not only the love of our Lord for us in this Divine circle, but the Father's love embraces us also. The Lord has said, “The Father Himself loveth you because ye have loved Me” (chap. 16). And the Father's love must not merely rest upon us, and be a matter of faith with us only, but He said to His Father, “I have declared unto them Thy Name and will declare it, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them.” The Father's love is to be within our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost, our known and enjoyed portion; nothing less than this will satisfy our Lord.
“He gives not as the world but shares
All He possesses with His loved co-heirs.”
The Father's love is greater and better than all it gives, and it is ours to share it with His Son, and it is His to share with us.
Ponder this amazing thing—this double embrace of love. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves us, and the love of the Father to the Son is the love that abides on us; this is our joy, our place of rest, our dwelling-place for ever.
But it must be noted that for the knowledge and enjoyment of this relationship with the Father and the Son there are necessary conditions. We have the Lord's own word for this. He said, “If a man love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him” (chap. 14). And again, “If ye keep My commandment ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandment and abide in His love” (chap. 15). Nothing can dissolve the relationship or weaken the love that has set us in it, but we will all admit that it cannot be enjoyed if we are indifferent to the Lord's words or disobedient to His commands. The fuller our knowledge and enjoyment of the blessed relationship the more careful we shall be to disallow everything that might cause a breach in our fellowship with the Father and the Son. But the Lord Himself has and does exercise Himself in this matter also, for it means more to Him than to us.
First in importance is His prayer in chapter 17: there is nothing else like it in the whole of the Scriptures. The intercession for Peter in Luke's Gospel had his failure in view and as far as we know was confined to that; He was there an Advocate for Peter with the Father. But in John 17 He asks not according to the need of the disciples, He goes exceedingly abundantly above all they could ever ask or think; He asks according to the height and depth of His love for them, and according to the Father's counsel about them. It has been called His High-Priestly prayer. I should not so describe it. His prayer for Peter might well be that, but this is the revelation to us of communion between the Father and the Son; the Son equal with the Father, and yet keeping the place of subjection which He had taken for the Father's glory, and receiving everything from Him and referring all things to Him. The prayer transcends all exposition: we can only meditate upon it and wonder and worship.
The Lord commits those in whom They were mutually interested to the Father's care. How wonderful are His requests. “Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those Thou hast given Me.” “I pray that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil (of the world).” “Sanctify them through the truth; Thy word is truth.” “These things I speak in the world that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” All these requests that He made abide before the Father in all their power and fragrance, and every one of them will be answered according to the Father's love to the Son.
But scarcely of less importance is the feet-washing of chapter 13. The scene is one of the most moving in the Gospel records. We read, “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came from God and went to God.” Consider the magnitude of that. The whole range of God's glory in the limitless universe was committed to the hands of Jesus, showing the absolute confidence that the Father reposed in Him. Now mark well what follows. Knowing that, “He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a basin and began to wash His disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.” The first thing of all the things the Father had put into His hands were the feet of His own. His love made it necessary that He should thus serve them.
Peter comes into the picture again. He did not know that the washing of his feet had a spiritual meaning. We know its meaning now. It reveals to us the fact that our Lord, though with the Father out of the world, is girded to serve His own which are in the world, and that He is most careful of their feet. How and where His own walk is a matter of infinite importance to Him. If Peter had heeded the Lord's warning in Like 22, his feet would have been washed by the word and he would not have trodden the miry road of denying his Lord.
The Lord's words to Peter shed much light on this action of His. “If I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me.” The object of it was that His disciples might enter with joy into this circle of divine love, the fellowship of the Father and the Son. For this the soil of earth must be washed away. How often when we have sought the presence of the Lord we have found our spirits lethargic and dull, with very little desire for His company and things. This is the result of the defiling influences of the evil world, and such a condition on our part is intolerable to the Lord, for His love is a sensitive love and feels it when distance has crept in. Then He brings His word in power to our souls, driving away the dullness and reawakening within us responsive love to Him and a desire to have part with Him in His things. This is the washing of our feet, “the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:26).
We need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that LUKE portrays; we cannot do without the intercession, the advocacy, the compassion, the restoring grace. We cannot depend upon ourselves or our faithfulness to our Lord, but we can depend upon Him. We can bring the burden of our weakness and need to Him. He is indispensable to our spiritual well-being, but for ever blessed be His Name, He is all-sufficient. But JOHN shows us that we are indispensable to Him. In speaking to His Father He gives emphasis to the fact that His own are His Father's gift of love to Him. He says, “I am glorified in them” and again, “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world.” He cannot do without us, so precious were we in His sight that He gave Himself for us, and He lives for us to bring us into that circle of love where Father and Son can rejoice over us and rest in Their love.
The Lord came and dwelt amongst men “full of grace and truth.” He came to the deepest depths of our need to meet it. That was grace. And He came from the highest height of God's glory to reveal it. That was truth. And from the highest height to the lowest depths we behold His glory.
Peter and John looked into the tomb of Jesus and saw only the linen clothes lying, the wrappings of death. Mary looked into that same tomb and though her sight was bleared with weeping she saw what they had not seen—two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Those angels were heavenly messengers clothed in the habiliments of victory in what was once the stronghold of the defeated foe. The men believed that the grave was empty of their Lord and returned with amazement to their home. The woman stood still, unable to leave that spot, and though equally amazed she saw further than the men, and she learned that heaven had something to say in the matter of that tomb. And then turning about she came face to face with Jesus her Lord, alive from the dead. She saw the angels within the tomb and Jesus without it. These great facts have often spoken to us, let them be as a parable to us today. How do we view things? Nothing could be to us as dark as was that grave to Mary and to John and Peter, for in their ignorance and unbelief it was the death of all their best hopes, and yet things have happened to us that filled us with amazement and perhaps fear, and made our way dark because of doubts and questionings.
There are many graves along the road that we have travelled. In some of them lie buried our cherished joys, hopes, desires, ambitions. As we look into these graves, if we do look into them, what do we see? Do we only see the grave clothes, things that speak of death, and the last and utmost that we can do? Do we only see darkness, as though the grave was the terminus, the end of every hope and of all things? Is it to us nothing but disappointment and mystery? Or can we discern angels in white sitting? Angels from the other side, lighting up the tomb with a heavenly radiance and showing us that through those graves and apparent defeats that have meant so much sorrow to us there lies for us the way of victory and blessing?
Let us dwell for a while on this. Consider the difference between grave clothes and angels in white, and pray for eye-salve that we may see this light in the darkness and heavenly blessing that could only reach us through the sorrow. Then turn and come face to face with Jesus, your Saviour and Lord. He has triumphed over death and can be more to you than all that you have buried in those sad tombs. He is infinitely more than all that you can lose in this life, and He knows you by name, and can address you in such a way that your sorrow will give place to rest. Then He can send you from the scene of your sorrow with a message of light and gladness to others. This He did in Mary's case and He can do it for you.
1. The Lamb Slain and the Four Horses of Chapter 6
None but an inspired pen could have portrayed the scenes revealed to us in chapters 5 and 6 of the Revelation. How tremendous is the contrast between them! In the former a great joy and the thunders of a song that rolls triumphantly to the uttermost bounds of the universe; in the latter the wail of an anguished fear and the unrelieved despair of men from whom all hope has fled away. We must consider these great scenes, this with rapture, that with awe and hear and leant the truths that they teach, for they are God-given for our instruction and the safety of our souls.
"And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign over the earth... And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever" (Revelation 5).
"And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand." (Revelation 6).
The joy of chapter 5 is the result of the work of the Lamb that was slain; the woe of chapter 6 is the result of the efforts of men for their own safety and glorification. Let us transport ourselves in thought into these scenes. Chapter 4 opens “the things that shall be hereafter” section of the Book (see chap. 1:19). The true church—blood-redeemed and Holy Ghost sealed—has been caught up to heaven. The day of salvation for Christendom has closed and the hour of judgment has struck. Note the ascription of praise that rises from the prostrate worshippers before the throne in heaven. "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power : FOR THOU HAST CREATED ALL THINGS, AND FOR THY PLEASURE THEY ARE AND WERE CREATED” (chap. 4:11). That is the key to the whole of this section of the Book; and if we miss the meaning of that we shall understand nothing that follows. The power and rights of God are acknowledged in heaven but not on earth. And it is because men have refused to acknowledge Gods rights and have lived for their own pleasure and not for God's that His judgments are to pour themselves out upon them.
For near two thousand years there has risen to heaven the prayer, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”; and that prayer must be answered, and the time for it is about to come. But first the determined opposition of men to the will of God must be fully exposed; it must come to its climax, and it speedily will as shown to us here. God's will can only be established on the earth by judgment. Infinite love manifested in Jesus failed to melt the hardened hearts of men: they hated Him more and more and killed Him because of His goodness. The most incredible grace from heaven has not changed the world, though it continues from the time that the Lord Jesus went on high to the going up of the church. The acceptable year has now closed in these chapters and the lurid dawn of the day of judgment reddens the sky, but men are unchanged in their enmity to God. What a vain dream is that which has been so popular, that the world would be converted by the preaching of the gospel. The end of chapter 6 alone proves its falsity. Would the Lamb be wrath with a converted world? and would a converted world cower in abject terror in the caves and holes of the mountains from His face?
We must consider chapter 6. It is the first of the series of judgments, if judgments the opening of the seals can be called. It appears to me that under these seals we see men doing what they imagine to be the best for themselves without God, and the results of this. The church has gone, the restraining influence has been removed, and God has cast the reins upon the necks of the swift steeds of man's desire. He leaves them for a while to their own devices that the universe may see and own that His judgments on the world are just.
“Self-preservation is the first law of nature” is an ancient proverb, and “safety first” is a modern slogan, but men cannot save themselves; God is the only Saviour. He is the Saviour-God; to reject Him is to be lost; apart from Him, men can only destroy themselves, and be the victims of the devil's malice. The four horses of chapter 6 would teach us this great lesson if we have not yet learnt it.
A WHITE HORSE and its rider appears when the first seal is opened. It signifies some pretensious scheme for peace and prosperity, something most promising. What this scheme may be we cannot exactly tell. It may be power centralised in a League of Nations which will police the world. Whatever it will be it will be man's effort without God to take care of himself. Great will be the hopes; he will imagine that he has at last reached Utopia. “Peace and safety” they will say, and the noise of their rejoicing will deafen their ears to the sudden destruction that is thundering at the door. How swiftly the white horse passes and THE RED HORSE and its rider appears. Peace is taken from the earth. There is a great sword in the hand of the rider on this horse. Human life is no longer sacred. They kill one another. Blood lust burns like a furnace. A frenzied “French revolution” at least Europe wide, shatters all hopes of world peace, and good-will turns to gall and bitterness, for how could men who hate God, love one another?
The beginning of that time when they shall forge their ploughshares into swords has come, and agriculture has given place to war, and the neglected fields yield thorns instead of wheat, and the BLACK HORSE of famine with its rider swiftly follows the red horse of war. Woe to the poor of the earth. If they have escaped the sword they will not escape the famine. The necessities of life, the wheat and the barley, are strictly rationed, while the luxuries of life are unaffected. And strange as that seems it is man's way. Oh that the poor of our day would hear and understand it and turn from their trusted leaders to God. He Is the friend of the poor, the God of the fatherless and the widow, as we learn from the life of Jesus on earth. But men are selfish and grasping and apart from the influence of the gospel are indifferent to the sufferings of their fellows, so long as they can secure good things for themselves. There will be no gospel influence in these awful days, and the black horse of famine will be a more terrible oppression than the red horse of war. The PALE HORSE shall follow in quick procession, and the name of his rider is DEATH, and HELL follows with him. The sword and hunger and death and the beasts of the field do their fell work on the bodies of men and Hell claims their souls. What a descent, from the white horse and its rider to the depths of hell!
Let no one suppose that I am throwing the colours upon the canvas with too lavish a hand; human words are feeble and faint when it comes to the portraying of these scenes. And let no one think that these conditions, described in this chapter, are a recent development, or a state of mind at which men shall arrive suddenly and only when the time arrives for these events to happen. It would have been so from the beginning but for God's restraining mercy. Think of Adam in the Garden. He was made in the image and likeness of God, and set in dominion over this lower creation, to subdue and to cultivate it. No creature more noble ever came from the hand of the Creator. In him we see a white horse and his rider, full of promise of peace and perfection, but not for long did he ride prosperously. He was soon deceived by his own ambition, and distrust of God, and by that old serpent which is the devil, and he lost his place of supremacy, and the bright promise was lost in a sickening fear. The white horse gave place to the red horse, for not many years had passed by, when the startled earth drank for the first time the blood of a man. And that man was not slain by a wild beast from the forest, or by a demon from the lower regions, but by his own mother's son, his elder brother, who should have been his keeper and protector.
Many times would the race have destroyed itself since that first murder, but God has restrained men in His mercy. Yet they are unchanged in character, their tendency is always away from God and consequently downwards. The idea that the race is making progress and climbing upwards upon the right road to final righteousness is a delusion. The Word of God and the history of the world disprove the idea of progress and evolution of better things utterly, and would dispel the delusion for all who have eyes to read and ears to hear.
But there will be in this day that we are considering a more terrible thing, which reveals the root, the cause of man's inhumanity to man, his subservience to the Devil, and his blind self-destruction. “When He had opened the fifth seal,” says John, “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God.” In their schemes for making the world as they would have it, they give the destruction of everything that is for God a leading place. Let a man speak for God and his life will be the price of his courage. The Word of God will not be tolerated and those who love it must die. The result of it all is the terror and despair of the closing verses of the chapter.
Why should these things be revealed to us in the Word? They are warnings of love to the world, but they are written chiefly for the servants of the Lord, that, seeing what the schemes of men are in their development, they may beware of them now, and not be deceived by what is so pretentious plausible, and promising. Cursed is he that trusteth in man, and maketh the arm of flesh his stay. We are taught by them that man's efforts to improve his world must fail, for God and Christ have no place in them. If we have learnt this lesson we shall stand in separation from these schemes and efforts, and devote our time and energies to that which must prevail. The great contrast is shown to us in chapter 5.
The will of God must be done on earth as it is in heaven, and God's creation must yield glory and pleasure to Him. If it failed finally in this, the reason of its creation, the Devil would triumph and God would be defeated. Moreover, it can never be at rest until God has His rightful place as God in it
But who can bring about this great thing? Who is able and worthy to open the book of God's will and bring to pass God's intentions for the earth? A strong angel with a loud voice issues the challenge and the records are searched. Great men and mighty there have been since Adam's day. They lived and wrought their prodigious deeds, coercing their fellows with imperious will, regardless of God's will, but they have passed away leaving nothing behind them but empty names and decaying monuments. Death prevailed over them all; they were not able, they were not worthy. Even heaven is searched in vain. Enoch, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel—there is not one of them able and worthy. They are not even in heaven because of their worthiness, but through the rich merits of redeeming blood. They all broke down in the day of testing, and the one who is to establish God's will on earth must be without failure. He must have been absolutely obedient to that will Himself.
John wept, and wept much, and no wonder. History is dismal reading when rightly read. The record of the failure of Adam's race to deliver itself from sin and death and to glorify God gives no cause for exultation, but much cause for grief, and we might well mingle our tears with John's, if we did not know that that was revealed to him here. We know it, thank God, and we weep not. “WEEP NOT,” said one of the elders. “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof.” THE LION OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH” is a glorious title. It signifies untarnished human majesty, and Royalty that is truly royal. In it is the wisdom that stoops to conquer, and the power that subdues all enemies and lifts those who love righteousness out of all oppression and depression. The Old Testament Scriptures are full of the glories that are involved in this title, and creation has waited and groaned for the coming of the One who could bear it. But He to whom it belongs is the ROOT OF DAVID. No fickle man could bear on his shoulders the weight of glory that the title involves, for the sceptre of this kingdom must be a right sceptre, swayed by a hand of unwavering integrity. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God, and He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds.” The Root of David only can do these great things. The One from whom all the promises made to David sprang, He only can banish the night of fear and failure, disperse the clouds of distrust and doubt and bring in the cloudless day of God's will done on earth. He is the great I AM.
Our hearts thrill at the recital of these titles as John's must have thrilled, and our eyes look eagerly as John's must have looked to see who it is that bears them, and who is great enough to open this great book and accomplish what is written therein. And lo: in the midst of the throne, and all the glorious beings that surround it, stood A LAMB AS IT HAD BEEN SLAIN. “He came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.” IT IS JESUS... And here the writer must lay down his pen, and here the reader must turn from the printed page and fall down before Him, and in concert with the heavenly hosts, worship Him... His glories cannot be described; but what we know we may sing, and what we sing is heaven's song begun on earth. It is a new song, because it will never grow old and the singers will never weary of it. “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
Now let us be impressed with the contrast between the Lamb that was slain and that which we have considered, in chapter 6. There we see men, blinded by their frenzied endeavours at self-glorification, going down to hell and destruction at a headlong gallop. Here we see the One who made Himself of no reputation exalted to the highest place. How blessed it is to turn from them to Him, to cease from men and consider Him who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. He is the Lamb—the little diminutive Lamb. He was of no account in men's estimation. Though He was the joy of heaven, and the delight of His Father's heart, He was ridiculed and hated and executed by them. “They that sat in the gates spoke against Him, and He was the song of the drunkard” (Ps. 69). The highest grades of society to its lowest dregs, condemned and despised and rejected Him. What could He do for others who could not save Himself? Thus they jeered and mocked, and His apparent weakness became the jest of Jerusalem —“Himself He cannot save.” But that lowly, lonely Man, crucified in weakness, the Lamb slain, is the Arm of the Lord by whom redemption from all bondage is accomplished, righteousness established on earth, and the Name of God glorified.
We may see in future papers something of what this means, if the Lord will, but here we see at least this great truth declared, “He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
2. The Man Child and the great red Dragon of Chapter 12
The sceptre of the whole earth must finally rest either in the hand of the great red dragon or the Man Child. Who the great red dragon really is is clearly stated in verse 9 of our chapter and his complete fourfold character and activities exposed. He is:
The Great Dragon – the destroyer
The Old Serpent – the deceiver
The Devil – the accuser
and Satan – the adversary
The Man Child is Christ, and He stands out in absolute contrast to the dragon. The grace of God has taught us that He is:
The Saviour – Matthew 1:21
The Truth – John 14:6
The Advocate – 1 John 2:1
The Friend – Luke 7:34
The Devil was not always evil, but now there is not an element of good in him. We believe we are right in accepting the view that in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 there is given in arresting language a description of his greatness and beauty as he was when in the beginning God created him. In rebuking the King of Tyre the prophet by the Spirit breaks out into the description of a being that can be none other than the Devil. “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty... Thou art the anointed Cherub that covereth and I have set thee so. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee... thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering Cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty; thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.”
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground... For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell to the sides of the pit.” The beginning of his sin was pride, and out of that sprang the determination to be independent of God, and to be as God, ruling a kingdom of his own, a kingdom of darkness, from which the knowledge of God should be utterly excluded. This kingdom bears the character of its founder and must in all things be opposed to God and His kingdom by its very nature. There can be no compromise between light and darkness, no league between good and evil; though with consummate audacity Satan proposed such a compromise to Jesus in the wilderness, when he offered to Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. Did he think that as he had beguiled the woman in Eden so he could beguile the Woman's Seed in the wilderness? If so what a surprise, what a check he got! The lie was detected and resisted and the deceiver was defeated. There can be no fellowship between Christ and Belial, the fight must be fought to the finish; it must end in the final and complete overthrow of one or the other.
In his fall from his exalted place the wisdom of this great being was corrupted into devilish subtlety, and he is first introduced in Holy Scripture as the serpent, the deceiver (Gen. 3). It was by his subtlety that Satin beguiled Eve and turned the man and the woman into sinners against God, and by that same subtlety he is blinding men and women today and making them deny the truth of Genesis 3, in which indispensable chapter of the Bible he is exposed as the deceiver and adversary, and his defeat foretold. It does not suit his plans that his ways should be exposed, indeed it suits him well when he can induce men to believe that he does not exist at all, but certain it is that no man was ever of any use to God and an overcomer who did not believe in the existence of a personal Devil.
As we read that chapter we are made to feel that the Lord God had a great compassion for the fallen man and his wife, for He talked with them and drew from them the story of their guilt. But He asked no question of the Devil; his triumph was short lived; and swiftly upon his crime followed his condemnation and sentence. “I will put enmity between thee and the woman. and between thy seed and her Seed: It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His head!” From that time “the old serpent” became the dragon in regard to the woman's Seed. He was on the lookout for it, and determined to destroy it if he could. Cain slew Abel because he was of that wicked one (1 John 3:12). It was the devil's first effort to destroy the woman's seed. He was behind the edict of the Egyptian King that all the male children born to the Israelites should be slain (Exodus). But what a wound was inflicted on him by the Arm of the Lord when Israel marched dry shod through the Red Sea (Isa. 51:10). He put it into the heart of the wicked Athaliah to destroy all the seed royal of the house of Judah to bring to naught the Word of God, but his purpose was thwarted under God's hand by a compassionate princess, who saved the child Joash from the general massacre.
The Devil has no foreknowledge, that is an attribute of God, but we may be sure that he judges shrewdly as to the times, and the stir that was made throughout the hill country of Judea by the miraculous birth of John and the expectation and talk about their coming Lord among such as Simeon and Anna, and all that looked for redemption in Israel must have filled him with suspicion and prepared him to meet the long-promised event, the greatest event in the history of time (Luke 1:2).
The due time then had come; the Woman was to bring forth the Man Child and the great red dragon stood before her to devour her Child as soon as it was born. The woman is Israel, “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God, blessed for ever.” The great sign in heaven does not describe her as she was when her Child was born, but what she is in the thoughts and purposes of God, which thoughts and purposes will all be infallibly established. She is seen clothed with the sun; Christ is to be her glory; she did not own Him when He appeared in lowliness and grace, then “His own received Him not,” but she will own Him when He arises as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings; and so great will be her glory then through Him that, “as a consequence her glory of old, before the day dawned, the reflected light of her typical system, is like the moon under her feet. Upon her head the crown of twelve stars speaks of the twelve tribes, planets around the centre Sun” (F.W.Grant). But the due time was the time of her travail, she was in sore bondage under a foreign yoke—the power of the Roman empire, which was and is yet to be the special vessel and instrument of the Devil's power, as is indicated by the seven heads and ten horns. The very fact of Joseph being compelled by the edict of the Imperial Caesar to take Mary his espoused wife to Jerusalem was a proof of Israel 's bondage, but even this turned out to the fulfilment of this great event, just as and where God's holy Word had foretold it.
God is never behind His time; the Devil always is when it is a question of overthrowing God's counsels. So we read that Mary brought forth her firstborn son: and he called His Name JESUS. And when the soldiers of Herod arrived to carry out the will of the great red dragon and slay all the children in Bethlehem under two years, Jesus was not there, “for the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young Child and His mother and flee unto Egypt, for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him. And he arose and took the young Child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt : and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” Thus was the great red dragon foiled in his effort to destroy the Man Child and in subsequent efforts also, for even when he succeeded in lashing men to a fury of hatred against Christ, so that they crucified Him, yet God raised Him from the dead, and caught Him up to heaven, and the great events from incarnation to ascension, which are compressed into one brief verse in our chapter, passed into history. “She brought forth a Man Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her Child was caught up unto God, and to His throne.”
Our chapter contains both history and prophecy; it also teaches deeply important moral lessons as does the whole of the Revelation. Why should Jesus be spoken of here as the Man Child? We believe it is to bring out His character in complete contrast to the great red dragon's. The Man Child seems to speak of His utter dependence upon God. The language of the Man Child is: “Thou art He that took Me out of the womb: Thou didst make Me to hope when I was upon My mother's breast. I was cast upon Thee from the womb; Thou art My God from My mother's belly” (Ps. 22). As the Man Child He never moved from the place of dependence upon God; He did not exercise an independent will. His life was one unbroken obedience.
In the wilderness He did not resist the Tempter by any act or word of divine power, but simply quoted the word of God, for by that word He lived. It was as the Man Child that He said, “The Lord God hath given Me the tongue of the learned (instructed), that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened Mine ear and I was not rebellious. I turned not back. I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:4) What could be the answer to that life of childlike obedience to God and dependence upon Him? There could be but one answer, The Men Child is caught up unto God and to his throne. The highest place in the universe is accorded to Him who made Himself of no reputation; He must sway a universal sceptre who lived in absolute obedience, and God claims Him who could neither be diverted nor driven from the path of perfect, unwavering trust. On the other hand, the Dragon has been and is yet to be cast down. When first his heart was lifted up with pride and he asserted his independent and disobedient will, he was cast out of the mountain of God. From our chapter we learn that he is to be cast out of the heavens, where he has the seat of his power, for he is the prince of the power of the air, ruling the children of disobedience from thence; in Revelation 20 we learn that he is to be chained in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, and in that same chapter his final and irretrievable doom is described. “And the devil... was cast into the lake of fire... and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Thus shall his kingdom of darkness be brought to an utter end and his power over men and devils cease for ever. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased. The question may arise, Why did not God destroy the devil by His almighty power in the beginning of his sin? The answer is that God does not use His power in an arbitrary way. He will by His almighty power cast the Devil into the lake of fire, when all his works are finished; but those works must be finished first, that none may charge the Judge of all with injustice when He Judges; but the victories that He gains over evil are moral victories. He will fill the heavens and the earth with the beauty of those moral qualities that have proceeded from Himself, but the beauty and perfection of them could only be disclosed in their triumph over evil, “The Son of God was manifested that He might undo the works of the Devil,” and if we would learn how He did it we must read the Gospels. He was “meek and lowly in heart”, “who did no sins neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:22-24). The prince of this world came, but had nothing in Him; He was the Overcomer, and He Who overcame in apparent weakness, and through unparalleled sorrows, shall shepherd the nations with a rod of iron. The sceptre of the whole earth shall be held in His hand, for He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and He is Lord of lords and King of kings.
And now we come to an astonishing thing. The Man Child who has been caught up unto God and His throne, has brethren who are also overcomers (v. 10). They are called "our brethren" by the loud voice that sounds in heaven, but we know from other Scriptures that, “HE is not ashamed to call them brethren.” They are born of God, and “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world,” and “he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (1 John 5). Again John writes to the young men of God's family, “Ye have overcome the wicked one.” We learn from our chapter how this was done. “And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. AND THEY OVERCAME HIM BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, AND BY THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY; AND THEY LOVED NOT THEIR LIVES UNTO THE DEATH.” The brethren of the tribulation period, “the remnant of the woman's seed,” had still to face the fury of the dragon (v. 17), but the warfare was over for these for whom this burst of glad exultation breaks out; they are all those who have followed in the steps of the Man Child, who left them an example; they are the suffering but beloved brotherhood, who through much tribulation have entered the Kingdom; they are the family of God, Satan accused them before God ceaselessly, persistently, in the vain hope it may be of turning God against them, or of proving that they were not one whit worthy of the favour in which they stood before Him, or to gratify his own spite against them since he could no longer oppose them to God by his power or beguile them from Him by his wiles. But if he accused them before God, he also attacked them by false accusations against God; the first weapon in his armoury is always to make them doubt the Word of God and to question His love, but they overcame him.
“By the blood of the Lamb”
This is a plea and a weapon that Satan cannot withstand. If he declares that one of these beloved ones of the Lord is too great a sinner to be saved; the blood of the Lamb is the answer: it cleanseth from all sin. If he claims that he has a right to keep that one in bondage, for he is his lawful captive, the blood of the Lamb is the answer: by it we are redeemed. If he declares that God must punish sin and cannot possibly love the sinner: the blood of the Lamb is the answer, for it tells of the great sacrifice that has for ever glorified God's inflexible justice and is the pledge and token of His great love. When Satan made his great attack on Martin Luther in his Wartburg prison, pressing his many sins upon him, he was put to flight by the intrepid reformer by these words, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth ME from all sin.”
“By the Word of their testimony”
What they believed became their testimony, and what they believed and testified is the truth in contrast to the lie, “We have seen and do testify,” cried the apostle, “that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” “We also believe, and therefore speak.” The lie in Eden that turned Eve and Adam from God, was that He did not love them as much as He seemed to do, that He was keeping something from them that would be good for them, and if they would but hearken to Satan and follow him and turn away from God they would do well for themselves. And they believed the lie, and the foul poison of it has passed down from generation to generation. It changed the very nature of the primal pair and all their progeny have come into the world in distrust and dread of God. But God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, and the life of the one who believes that is no longer darkened by the Devil's lie; he is in the light, and the light is in him; it has shined in his heart “to give the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus.” He knows the truth, and the truth has set him free, and he shines as a light in the world, holding forth the word of life. The man with the light in his heart and the truth upon his lips is an overcomer; the devil is powerless against him.
“They loved not their lives to the death”
The ancient book of Job reveals some wonderful things to us. We learn from it that Satan taunted God with the fact that His creature man loved himself more than he loved his God. “Skin for skin,” he cried, “all that a man hath will he give for his life; put forth Thine hand and touch his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face.” But these who overcame Satan loved not their lives unto the death. For God's sake they were killed all the day long. Rather than give up their God and their faith in Him they would go to the stake, and did with joy in their hearts and songs on their lips. Thus were they tried, and Satan was permitted to do it that his lie might be exposed and that he might be defeated by the lowly followers of Jesus whom he despised. He has changed his tactics in these days, and he works now by his wiles in the endeavour to make the children of God put themselves first and live for self instead of God. The conflict is not less real and the issue not less glorious, and he who bears his cross and says, No, to self and follows Jesus, is an overcomer. He shows and declares the fact that God and Christ are more to him than self and his own life. “And he that overcometh and keepeth My works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received from My Father.” Such is the Lord's own promise, and the meaning of it is, that those who overcome shall share His glory and power, who is the great Overcomer.
Thus in spite of Satan's great efforts to overthrow and bring to naught the purposes of God, the Edenic sentence upon him shall manifestly be executed, and the whole universe shall see that the woman's Seed has indeed bruised his head and annulled his power, and that at the very time and in the very conflict in which he hoped to destroy Him. And while Christ shall stand forth as the supreme Victor, he will not stand alone, for “the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). Such is the promise to the whole family of God. Thus we see the way of victory and how we may be more than conquerors through Him who has conquered and who has loved us.
3. A Trinity of Evil, and the King of Kings
There is plenty of proof in Scripture that one of the chief weapons that Satan uses in his fight against God is imitation. Jannes and Jambres, who were his ministers in Egypt, withstood Moses by imitating his miracles, until he brought lice out of the dust—life out of death, then they and their master were baffled and had to confess that that was the finger of God (Ex. 8; 2 Tim. 3). Now he transforms himself into an angel of light and his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11), and in this way he gains the greatest apparent triumphs, and the times are made exceedingly perilous for all who would live godly, for the form of godliness is retained and boasted in by his ministers while the power of it is denied (2 Tim. 3), and nothing could be more deadening to the conscience than that.
But Satan's audacity in this respect has not yet reached its limit; in his final effort to hold the earth against the rightful King, he will present to men a trinity of evil in contrast to the Divine Trinity, and so successful will he be that he will carry apostate Christendom with him and gather the kings of the whole earth together to make war with the Lamb (Rev. 17). This may seem an extraordinary thing, but we need not be surprised at it, for he once succeeded in uniting the princes of this world to crucify the Lord of glory, when He had come into the world full of grace for men's blessing; and if he was able to do that, he will have no difficulty in uniting them against Him when He comes in righteousness to judge. Moreover, because men received not the love of the truth that they might be saved, “God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (1 Thess. 2). God is the preserver of all men, but if they won't have Him and His mercy, and if they will fight against Him there is nothing for them but the deceptions of the devil, and damnation—the just judgment of God.
In the previous great contrast we noted the casting down of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12). That event will be a warning to him that his time is short, and he will make frenzied efforts to fortify the world and hold it against the woman's Seed, its rightful King, whom he hates—and he will find two men ambitious and daring enough to listen to his proposals and carry out his plans. They are described in Revelation 13 as beasts, because they will be beastly in character, as men must be who deliberately and completely apostatise from God. Our space forbids any attempt to interpret all the details by which they can be identified, but it is clear that the first of the two—called THE BEAST—will be a super-warrior-politician, by his power the old Roman Empire, under which Jesus was crucified, will be resuscitated. For a short space it will be a power to be wondered at, combining in itself all the features that made the three former powers notable in their day and yet diverse from them all (Dan. 7), but the power of it, or of the beast, the head of it, will be more than human; it will be Satanic, for we read: “And the dragon gave him (the beast) his power, and his seat, and his authority” (Rev. 13:2). He will exercise this authority over all kindreds and tongues and nations (v. 7), and they will believe all that he claims to be. In him man will be blasphemously deified. He will usurp the place of God in the minds and souls of men and they will worship him.
The second beast (vv. 11-18) will be more subtle than the first; the first will infatuate men by his power and audacity; the second will work by deception (v. 14). He will appear as a lamb, in imitation of Christ, for he will be the anti-Christ, but when he shall speak he will reveal his true character for he will speak as a dragon; he will he Satan's mouth-piece. What a contrast he will be to all that Christ was who spoke His Father's word and was Himself all that He said. As anti-Christ he will appeal first to the Jews, and they will receive him. Because they would not receive Christ when He came in His Father's name, they will receive this deceiver when he comes in his own name (John 5:43). He is also spoken of as THE FALSE PROPHET; this is his special designation in the Revelation (chap. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and as such he will deceive apostate Christendom and the whole world, by doing great wonders. He will represent himself as equal to any of the Old Testament prophets by calling fire down from heaven, and greater than any New Testament Apostle by giving life and speech to the image of the beast, and will compel all men to worship it or be slain. The seat of his power will be at Jerusalem, as the throne of the beast will be at Rome, and the rulers of the nation of the Jews will make a covenant with him (Isa. 28:14-15). But a man who has cast off all fear of God will not regard any treaty with men and, in alliance with the beast, he will break the covenant and terribly oppress the nation (Dan. 9:26-27). It is evident that he will be a Jew, for the Jews would not be likely to receive him if he were not, but that it is said that he will disregard “the God of his fathers” confirms this. He will magnify himself above all gods, i.e., he will not permit any religion in the land that does not centre in himself, and he will abolish all God-ordained institutions too, for he will not regard the desire of women, which is surely marriage and the home life. These two things which make life bearable and are the greatest spiritual and natural blessings—the recognition of God and family life—will be the objects of his special hatred. These two devil-empowered men are brought together in 2 Thessalonians 2, and they are always together in the Revelation, except in chapter 17, where the beast appears as the head of the Roman earth. The beast is “that man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” and the false prophet is “that wicked [or the lawless] one”. With Satan as their energising force they will form the trinity of evil.
The great clash between this evil alliance and the power of the Lamb will be at Armageddon, and the kings of the earth and the whole world will be gathered there by the lies that will go out of their mouths (Rev. 16:13). These lies are likened to frogs, that are creatures of slime that croak in darkness. They are the spirits of devils that gather these kings together to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. We know well what the lie will be that will go out of the mouth of the devil: it will be the same that went out of his mouth at the beginning, “Ye shall not surely die... ye shall be as gods.” Do not fear the judgment of God, follow me and I will exalt you. That was his ancient lie; Adam believed it, and men blinded by the devil still believe it, but in this coming day they will believe it with a great enthusiasm and follow him in his war upon God. The beast and the false prophet will supplement this lie. Out of their mouths will go the boastful and blasphemous lies of man's greatness and independence of God, that all that they will need will be “the will to power” in order not only to drive God from the earth but to “hunt Him from His heaven,” and if men must worship let them worship MAN, for man as he will be seen in the beast, is greater than God—the finished product of the race in rebellion against God. “The kings of the earth will set themselves, and the rulers will take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2). “The kings of them shall have one mind and shall give their power and strength to the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords and King of kings: and they that are with Him are called, and chosen and faithful” (Rev. 17:4).
The battle is described in Revelation 19, but first there is revealed the One who will come forth from heaven. In righteousness to judge and make war upon these blasphemous and wilfully deceived multitudes. What a contrast is He to these evil leaders of men and Satan who will control them. A fourfold description is given of Him:
He is “THE FAITHFUL AND TRUE.
He has A NAME WRITTEN THAT NO MAN KNOWETH but Himself.
He is called THE WORD OF GOD.
He is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
All these great and glorious titles belong to Him in the counsels of God, and no power can rob Him of them. They were His when He came into the world long ago, though they were not recognised by men. He was the Faithful and True in all His life of service on earth, from the glory to the glory. He had a Name that no man knew but Himself. Even the disciples did not understand Him. They saw Him in apparent human weakness, as when asleep upon a pillow in the hinder part of their boat in the storm, and in answer to their cry of despair, they saw Him rise up in the majesty of His divine power and command the storm to silence, and they were filled with fear and said, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him?” They did not know Him in the inscrutability of His divine and eternal Being, the Son in the Divine Trinity and yet a Man dwelling among them in the fullness of grace.
“The Father only His blest Name
Of Son can comprehend.”
He is the Word of God, the full declaration of what God is. He came into the world two thousand years ago to reveal God's love to men and to show the infinite pity of His heart to them in their misery and sin. He did this fully, blessedly, completely, and He is coming again to show just as perfectly what God's righteous judgment is, and what the fierceness of His wrath against sin. Finally, He is King of kings and Lord of lords. The wise men from the East recognised this when they came from afar asking for the King of the Jews. They owned His wider claim, as all nations will be compelled to do, and as He Himself declared when He stood a fettered prisoner before Caiaphas: “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of the heavens” (Matt. 26:64).
“And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathering together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of His mouth; and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19).
Thus is unfolded in solemn and graphic language, the full-blown result of the old serpent's lie in Eden; we see that men who believe that lie are puffed up with pride by it and follow the devil in his rebellion against God, his willing dupes. This iniquity doth already work, and only the truth will preserve any man from It. The truth does not puff up; it bumbles the man who receives it; it leads him to confess that he is a sinner indeed, and to cast himself upon the mercy of God, and Christ becomes the righteousness of all who do this, and these will be the armies of heaven who follow their Lord, when He goeth forth to victory, upon white horses, clothed in flue linen, clean and white. These are they who believe on, and love and worship the Lamb, for He is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
(A short article using framework from some notes by the late J.B.Stoney)
The love of Christ is unchanged and unchanging. Indifference and coldness of heart on our part does not diminish the force of it at all. John did not get orders to write the 17th chapter of his Gospel until long after Paul had written his 2nd Epistle to Timothy. In the latter we see how faithless the Church on earth was, and was yet to be; in the former we learn how tender, faithful and true our Lord abides. Do any of us want to be true to Him? to war a good warfare on His behalf? Here is our backing. In John 17 we are brought into contact with our reserves, or to be more accurate, the Lord's reserves. Our base of operations, from whence all supplies flow is the heart of Christ, and John 17 is the pouring out of His heart in prayer for us. Soldiers of the cross, sit down and consider what exhaustless supplies yours are, what a wonderful backing you have got in the love of Christ! Consider:—
1. WHAT HE GIVES.
2. WHAT HE IS DOING OR HAS DONE.
3. WHAT HE DESIRES.
1. What He gives
He gives “eternal life” (v. 2). He gives “the words” (v. 8). He gives “Thy word” (v. 14). He gives “the glory” (v. 22).
THE LIFE is His own life; He must begin with this, for without it we were dead. And this life finds no pleasure in worldly things; it carries us into a new sphere of interests; it belongs to those realms of glory into which He has gone, and into which we shall enter soon; it finds its sustenance and joy now in the Father and in Jesus Christ, His sent One.
THE WORDS are the actual communications that the Father gave to the Lord Jesus; by them we become intelligent in the relationship into which we have been brought. In the life we have the capacity for enjoying God; in the words the intelligent entrance into that joy.
THY WORD sets forth the whole counsel of God, His thoughts expressed in their utmost completeness. The revelation of what He is, is fully declared. And it has been given to us not in a fragmentary way, not as so many isolated texts, but in its beautiful and worship-compelling wholeness, and as we keep and treasure it we have the abiding presence of the Father and the Son (14:23); for the “word” is not a system of doctrine, but the revelation of the love of living Persons, of the Father and the Son.
THE GLORY. This covers all that He is entitled to as the Man who has glorified God on the earth. He does not give His essential Godhead glory to any. But all that He can give He does give, such is His love to us, and He is not impoverished in giving, though once He did become poor that we might be enriched in all this wealth of glory that He now shares with us. It begins with the relationship of sons even now, for He calls us brethren, saying, “Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God”. But it embraces also what is yet to come, when every thought of God will be completed in our full conformity to the image of His dear Son, that He may be the Firstborn among many brethren.
2. What He does
HE PRAYS (v. 9). His whole heart is poured out in intercessory communion, and He asks for His own. He stands up on their behalf, having bound up their blessing and preservation with His own glory. He puts them directly into His Father's hands and claims for them that the Father should keep them in His name; sanctify them by the truth, and keep them from the evil that is in the world.
HE DECLARES THE FATHER'S NAME (v. 26). He speaks to the Father of us, but He also speaks to us of the Father, and the object of this is "that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them". That is the oneness in which infinite love sets all the saints, and that same love will neither rest nor be satisfied until they know and enjoy it. It is not for heaven only but our portion now.
3. What He desires
“THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE” (v. 21). This is not an ecclesiastical unity. Rome can offer that. It is a blessed oneness, brought out when disorganization and decay had spread in the Church publicly on earth. In this oneness there are no clashing judgments or opinions, nor is it an agreement to differ for the common peace. It is the oneness of heaven, for “All the mind in heaven is one;” it is oneness expressed in those words. "I in them and Thou in Me"; oneness of life, of mind, and tastes. We are kept from the evil of the world —that is, from the principles that energize and control the world in which the Father has no place—and sanctified through the truth—that is, formed and built up and satisfied by what the Father is as declared to us in Jesus—this is the Lord's desire. It is outside the evil of the world that works consistently and always dissolution and death; and inside the truth, in Him in whom the Father is, that we shall know this desired oneness.
“THAT WE MIGHT BEHOLD HIS GLORY” (v. 24). This is our prospect. Full victory at last; no failure in the fight; the soldiers of Christ Jesus brought triumphantly through to find every true desire of their hearts realized in His glory; that to which they had borne witness to in faith, at last beheld—His glory, as the One who was loved by the Father before the foundations of the world were laid, and loved still and for ever after having passed through the world and out of it, fulfilling all God's will. And this glory, they will behold, not from afar, but made nigh, for they will be with Him where He is, His companions in the Father's house.
Seven times over He speaks of His own as those whom the Father had given to Him. This seems to be the chief reason why He loves them so well, and why He prays with such tenderness for their blessing and fullness of joy.
If love like this is upon us and behind us, we need not fear to take our stand in witness for Him; for what He gives, and does, and desires, fence us about on every hand, and furnish us within and without so that we may be invulnerable in Him in the presence of the foe.
"And HE THAT SAW it bare record" (John 19:35).
"And HE saw and believed" (John 20:8).
"Then were the disciples glad when THEY SAW the Lord" (John 20:20).
"Blessed are THEY THAT HAVE NOT SEEN and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
What was it that the disciple whom Jesus loved saw? He saw his Lord and Master dead upon the cross. He saw THE GREAT SACRIFICE. He saw it and bare record of what he saw that ye might believe.
What was it that the same disciple saw when he came first to the sepulchre in the garden? He saw the empty tomb, evidence of THE GLORIOUS VICTORY. He saw it and believed and bare record of what he saw that ye might believe also.
What was it that the disciples saw when Jesus stood in the midst of them and showed them His hands and His side? They saw the living Lord in their midst, unchanged in His love for them in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him. They saw HIS ENDURING LOVE. And this same disciple bare record of this also that ye might believe.
The laden cross, the empty tomb, the living Lord, with wounded hands and side, what great sights were these! And who can wonder that that disciple who saw these sights and bore witness to them, should have been seen following Jesus without being told, for Peter, turning about SEETH THE DISCIPLE whom Jesus loved following. We should have wondered greatly if he had done anything else but follow Him, after having seen the great sacrifice, the glorious victory and the living, unchangeable Lord. And we have sometimes wished that we had been with that disciple and seen the great sights that he saw, we have thought that our faith would have been greater if we had. But we need not entertain such vain wishes and thoughts, for we who have not seen have the more blessed part, and we have our Lord's words for it, for He has said: “BLESSED ARE THEY THAT HAVE NOT SEEN, AND YET HAVE BELIEVED.”
"Afterward shall they come out with great substance" (Genesis 15:14).
They were to be greatly afflicted, these children of Abram, to pass through a horror of great darkness, in fact, yet the end of it would be great substance. “THEY SHALL COME OUT.” They were not to be annihilated or completely overwhelmed in the furnaces, they were to go through it and come out of it, free and enriched. God had pledged Himself to that, and He would be with them to fulfil His pledge. And this must always be so with the children of God when He is with them in affliction for “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). They will certainly come out of their trial—the testing of their faith—at the very moment that it seemeth good unto God. For though many are the afflictions of the righteous, the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
The ways of God seem strange at times, even to those who love Him best. Job's history is the divine classic, the outstanding example of this; what we should have missed if his story had not been written for us by the pen of the Lord! He was a sorely and long-perplexed man, but he came out of his trial at last with great substance and with no regrets, except perhaps that he had been so slow in confiding wholly in God.
I would say to any who love the Lord and yet are afflicted, “Let the thought of the end of the Lord, His intention for you, quieten your spirit and steady your trust in Him.” You may be so distressed, your horror of darkness so great, that you can only cry to God for mercy, and plead with Him that you may be delivered at once from your affliction. Well, let God hear your cry,
it will not dishonour Him if it is not one of murmuring against Him. Israel 's cry came up before Him because of the affliction of which Genesis 15 speaks, and we read, "Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage, and God heard their groaning... and God looked upon the children of Israel and God had respect unto them.” The margin reads “He knew them.” It is a moment of great gain to one in affliction when the discovery is made that God is his only hope, and what comfort there is in that thought, He knows them!
We are not stoics; God has given to His children hearts that can feel; they are often, and should always be, more sensitive than men of the world, and if so it is no relief to them to say, “This sort of thing is common to men, we must grit our teeth and bear it.” I have no fault to find with natural fortitude, but we who know God have more than that; that in itself could not carry us through. We may have God with us in every trial and the sure prospect of coming out of it with great substance. Thus succour from above and hope for the future give to the heart a buoyancy in the trial that nothing else can give. Even a sleepless night, a small thing to some to whom it is a rare thing, but a great affliction to others with whom it is a common occurrence, may be turned to great account, and a man may have gained spiritual substance while others slept, because He spent the night making some new discovery of the grace and mercy of God. “Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost that is given unto us” (Rom. 5). All that I want to say is contained in that beautiful statement of Christian confidence, and what philosophy of the schools can rival it?
Suffering and affliction strip us of all pretence; it may take sometime to do it, for pride yields slowly, but at last we are what we are before God, and the confession of this is a great relief. It gives great liberty of soul before God, when we tell all to Him who knows all. We must have some reserve even with those who know us and love us the best, but none with Him, and it is when all is told and they are without guile before Him that He brings His suffering saints to rest only in Himself. It is a great moment when one realizes, not as a doctrine but as a fact, that “the eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Then the fact becomes an experience, and that experience is great substance, it is a vein of pure gold. Nothing else can gave character and poise and quietness like this. The one who has it may not say much about it to others, but the little he does say will not be flippant, mere platitudes, there will be an unction about it that will impress has hearers, and the change in him will be felt, and to him will go for help those who are in need, for what is gained in this way is not for a man alone, it is for the common good, he is able to comfort others with the comfort wherewith he has been comforted of God. It is from this point of view that we see so much substance in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. As we read the first, fourth, sixth, and eleventh chapters, we feel that we are reading the autobiography of a mortal man whose sufferings exceeded all others. Yet, he can begin by saying, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” And he gives us the secret of his rejoicing; he had heard the Lord Himself saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” and he closes with this benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all.” He had experienced for himself this threefold blessedness in the vicissitudes of his extraordinary life. A man's strength and resources are tested by adversity, here are the Christian's strength and resources. The triune God pours His wealth into the soul of a man who will commit his way to Him and go through affliction with Him, and Paul knew it experimentally and so he could minister the truth of it effectively.
But to return to our chapter. Notice that before any word was said to Abram as to the suffering through which his seed should go, God said to him, “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” “And Abram believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” It is here where God would have us all begin. We are to know that He is for us, our Shield, and if He is for us, who and what can be against us? If He is for us, all things must work together for our good, even a horror of great darkness. How often has that word “Fear not” sounded in the souls of afflicted saints, when they appeared to be as weak as a leaf before a hurricane; but it would not have availed them in the hour of their sore need had not there been added to it “I am thy shield.”
“If God is round about me,
How can I be dismayed?”
“Is any afflicted, let him pray.” Let him draw near to God and stay his soul upon Has word, for his recompense and his reward are there, even God Himself. And here we must come back to Paul's second letter to the Corinthians and read afresh of his confidence and hope. “For this cause,” he says, “we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” What great and abiding substance is here, but mark the condition on our part, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
I knew a Christian man who was active in religious work, he told me that he did not know of any gain that he had got through trouble or affliction. He afterwards made complete shipwreck, and I was not surprised after his strange admission.
And now an incident by way of illustration. The late Dr. W.T.P.Wolston, of Edinburgh, used to tell of a man whom he once visited in that city. He had suffered for a long time from an incurable and exceedingly irritating and painful disease. The doctor pitied him greatly, and feeling that his words were quite inadequate to help the sufferer in his affliction, suggested that he should pray for him. “All right, doctor,” came the astonishing reply, “but let it be maistly praise.”
Ah, that is it, afflicted Christian. Pray, by all means, pray without ceasing, but let it be mostly praise, for your trial shall afterwards yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness if you are exercised by it. You shall come out of it with great substance.
They were great men whose deeds for God are recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, and not the least among them was Jonah. He was a prophet with an extraordinary experience, and a ministry of unparalleled power. He had been thrust down into the very “belly of sheol” and had cried unto the Lord from those depths and been heard and delivered, and the queen city of the world, vast and haughty, and hostile to his people and his God had heard his lone preaching, and been terrified and subdued by it, and had humbled itself to the dust, and repented of its foul sins and pride and been saved from a swift and overwhelming judgment. No prophet in the world's history had ever descended to such depths as Jonah, nor been raised to such heights of success as he had. But a greater than Jonah is here.
It is with the keenest interest that the Christian considers such a man as Jonah, for he sees in him a shadow of his Lord, not the very image, but a shadow. Whatever of greatness there may have been in him or his experience and achievements was but a type of the greater greatness of Him whom we love.
His is the glory; the surpassing greatness is His.
There was not much that was loveable about Jonah, unless it was his fierce patriotism. This may have accounted for much in him that to us appears repellent. He did not want to carry any message from God to Nineveh, “bloody city, full of lies and robbery,” for he knew enough about the God he served, to know that if they hearkened to His word and repented of their sins, they would be forgiven and spared, even as it turned out. And he had no wish except that Nineveh should perish utterly without a warning. Why should the oppressor of his people be spared? So he fled, not from Nineveh, for he was no coward; it was not men that scared him from the will of God, it was from the presence of the Lord that he fled. What he feared was an out-pouring of the mercy of God upon an alien and guilty foe. In his concern for his nation and his own reputation, he was selfish, miserable, without compassion, and despicable—as unlike his God as he could possibly be.
Jonah carried out God's will in the end, but what discipline he had to pass through before he did it, only when he discovered that the will of God was powerful and irresistible did he submit to it. What a contrast to this we have in our Lord. He needed no discipline to prepare Him for service. There was no need for yoke upon His neck, for He was not rebellious nor turned back. Our hearts are charmed as we turn from Jonah to Him, He was the perfect Servant. “Lo, I come,” He said, “in the volume of the book it is written of Me. I delight to do Thy will, O my God: yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Ps. 40). “A greater than Jonah is here.”
The great storm that threatened the ship in which Jonah sailed should teach us something. It was a mighty tempest, the wind that caused it was from God. With giant strokes it smote the ship so that it “was like to be broken.” And nothing that those pagan sailors could think of could appease its demands. They cast their costly wares into it but still it raged, they laboured hard to escape its clutches and come to their port, and they cried to their gods, but it heeded their toiling and anguished cries as little as it cared for their wealth. It wrought against them and was tempestuous and reduced them to despair. That storm required a great sacrifice; its claims could not be ignored, and there was only one price that could turn it to a calm and procure peace, Jonah must go into it, he must sink down into that raging flood; nothing else could avail. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: "and the sea ceased her raging."
Many of us were like those mariners of Tarshish; we had no peace. We discovered that we were guilty before God; we had sinned against Him. His righteous judgment was against us and we could not meet its demands. We looked back upon a guilty past with dismay and the future loomed dark before us. No price that we could pay could win our deliverance from judgment or purchase our peace, and our labour to establish our own righteousness was in vain, for salvation is not of works lest any man should boast. There was but one way, one hope. One greater than Jonah must go into the judgment as our representative and substitute; He must face the storms for us, in our stead. There could be no compromise in this, it was a matter of eternal justice, of the very character of God and His throne.
We do not waste much admiration upon Jonah, and yet there was a nobility about him as he stood upon the heaving deck of that ship, calmly facing the storm at its worst and saying, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” In that hour his selfishness had dropped from him and he was a submissive man, great his submissiveness, and bowing to the judgment of God upon him as a righteous judgment because of his disobedience to God. That one gleam of moral rectitude and surrender of self makes him worthy to stand with the greatest of the prophets, but a greater than Jonah is here,
Behold our Lord Jesus. He stood forth in the hour of need and offered Himself in an absolute sub- mission to the will of God to suffer for our disobedience; “The just One for us the unjust.” And having become the Son of man there was no escape for Him if the storm was to be stilled for us: He must go down into the depths. In a deep, inscrutable, spiritual sense He had to say, “Deep calleth unto deep at the sound of Thy waterspouts, all Thy waves and Thy billows have gone over me.” “The waters compassed Me about: the depth hath enclosed me round about.” Only divine love could fathom those depths into which He went for our sakes, the sinners' Substitute.
We do not wonder that those sailor men, “feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made vows.” So great a peace secured at such a price was enough to open the blindest eyes, and reach the hardest heart, and make the most dense of infidels exclaim, This thing is of God! But what of the great reality of which that was a shadow and a contrast? Those men saw Jonah no more; he had perished while they were saved. That was all they knew; but a greater than Jonah is here. “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” “But the Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” And just as surely came our Lord forth from the dead. “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 4:5).
The gospel that we have believed is the gospel of peace, a peace that shall never be disturbed forever for it is the result of the eternal settlement of every question that could disturb it. And the Lord Himself proclaimed this peace. He stood in the midst of His disciples on the resurrection day and said unto them, “Peace unto you” and He showed them His hands and His side. It is ours now to wonder and offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.”
There is another side to this story of Jonah. He was an effective sign to the sinners of Nineveh, and a sign also to that evil generation to which the Lord witnessed. He was a sign that the man of disobedience must pass under the judgment of God, it was one man's disobedience that brought death upon the human race, and death has passed upon all, for all alike are disobedient, it is the nature of every individual member of it. And not only must the acts of disobedience be atoned for but the nature that produces them must be judged. And it is here that God has displayed His amazing love and wisdom. Divine wisdom devised the way, divine love stood forth to carry it out, power too, the power of God has completed the wonderful story. Christ the obedient One came down into death. By Adam's disobedience the condemnation of death passed upon all, by Christ's one great obedience many are delivered from death, made righteous, and shall reign for ever in life by one, Jesus Christ.
Christ raised up from the dead, is the last Adam, the head of a new race, to every member of which His own nature and life is imparted. But to know the blessedness of this it is necessary that the truth as to the old life and nature be acknowledged “if one died for all then are all dead.” Christ not only died for us, but in our baptism we acknowledged that we died with Him, and that death, His death, was the only way of life for us. It is the acknowledgment also, that from the old nature can spring no good thing, and it becomes our privilege in consequence of the death of Christ to reckon ourselves dead to the whole course of the disobedient life in which once we wholly lived, and live unto God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Christ as the greater than Jonah has secured this for us, and now He lives as greater than Solomon, the One to whom we may turn for all direction in life, the very wisdom of God for us, who can solve all our hard questions, as Solomon solved the Queen of Sheba's, and who can so entrance our hearts by His personal greatness and glory that we desire nothing apart from Him.
Love is of supreme importance, if we are to know the joy of true fellowship and grow up in the divine unity in which grace has placed us; it is the divine nature, and so the true nature of Christ's body. This is not human love, which ends with death and which has been terribly spoilt by sin and selfishness, but the love that led the Lord into death for us that it might flow into our hearts, filling them with gladness, then upward from us to Him from whom it has come and outward to all who are His. One whole chapter (1 Cor. 13) is devoted to a description of it. It is this that makes the care of each member of Christ's body for every other member of it a real thing. It is the vital breath of God's assembly, the atmosphere without which no plant in His husbandry (chap. 3.) can thrive.
"Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord :” so ends the last psalm, and therein is presented to us the result, as far as the earth is concerned, of the coming of the Lord into it. He is the blessed Man of the first psalm who walked not in the counsel of the ungodly, but delighted in the law of the Lord, and meditated in it both day and night. Every breath that He drew was a “hallelujah!”—a praise ye the Lord; every pulse of His devoted heart was for God; in His every word and act the Father was glorified. Every moral excellence shone in unmeasured perfection in Him. Men said, “When shall He die and His name perish?” (Ps. 41:5); but His fruit shall appear in its season, His leaf shall never wither, and whatsoever He doeth shall prosper. Men thought that His light was quenched for ever when unresistingly He was led to the Cross, but He is coming again, He shall arise—the Sun of Righteousness; and then shall break that morning for which the saints of God have ever sighed, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain (2 Sam. 23:4).
He will stamp His blessed character upon His kingdom; it will reflect the glory which is effulgent in Him; every groan, and murmur, and cry of anguish will be hushed, the darkness will fly before the shining of His presence, and the whole earth shall be full of the glory of the Lord; and as His every breath was a hallelujah when He was here, so everything that hath breath will say “Hallelujah!” then.
The rise and fall of kingdoms; the accumulation of grave questions; the clashing of conflicting interests, which is growing fiercer as the years roll on, and which prove the instability of things in this world, and fill the hearts of men with misgiving, do not disturb the one who with eye of faith sees “Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for everything" (Heb. 2:9. N.Tr.). The Morning Star, bright harbinger of day, shines in the heavens and fills his heart with hope, so that he can cry, Hallelujah! now. THE LORD IS COMING.
... We lift the head
In joyful expectation,
For He will bring salvation.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us... full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
What an amazing fact is revealed to us in this short sentence. He who WAS when time was not, at whose fiat the pendulum of time began to swing, who set all the forces of nature into motion, and made the universe pulsate with life; Who is Himself personally the exact expression of the infinite thoughts and eternal glory of the Godhead—the ever-existing Word—He became flesh and dwelt among us, taking part in flesh and blood that He might come near to us without making us afraid; it is this that fills the souls of those who have received Him with wonder and worship.
He did not come as a king might come to visit His subjects in their cottage homes, speaking a kindly word to them, and then passing on and forgetting them: He dwelt among us. There was no aloofness about Him; He entered into the circumstances of life; He entered into the joys and sorrows of men, as well as into their houses. He came near to them, became infinitely accessible to even the poorest and the worst, He dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
It is recorded in this Gospel and in none other—a significant fact—that He accepted an invitation to a marriage feast. It is recorded also in this Gospel and in none other—a significant fact—that He wept beside the grave of the dead. These two—the marriage feast and the covered grave—are the brightest and the darkest episodes in human life, and He “dwelt among us” in them, and in them He manifested His glory, and “His disciples believed on Him.” And were there any days or circumstances between these two extremes from which He withdrew and in which He was not available to men?
We say with deepest reverence that He took men as He found them; He demanded no special treatment from them; He was full of compassion for their sorrows, He did not grow impatient at their ignorance and weakness, nor condemn them for their sins.
He was ready to set the TRUTH before a man of the Pharisees when he came to Him, and was so full of GRACE that He did not rebuke the cowardice that made Him creep out in the darkness for that memorable interview.
His GRACE took Him to Sychar's well to talk with a lonely and tired sinner there, and He poured the TRUTH into her soul so abundantly that she returned to her city a new creature, with Himself as her absorbing theme. And mark well His way in that story. The distance was great to where that solitary sinner sighed and sorrowed, yet no camel or ass bore him over the weary miles, for He was a poor man; He must take that journey, every step of it, on foot; and tired and hungry and thirsty He met her—met her as one wayfarer would meet another—and talked with her so gently that she felt neither restraint nor fear in His presence. How truly He "dwelt among us,” and how full of grace and truth was He in that dwelling; for He let not His lowliness and the poverty of His circumstances, and the way in which He “dwelt among us,” hide from our souls the glory of His person. He was “THE WORD,” “THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON IN THE BOSOM OF THE FATHER.”
What a never-failing, ever-growing charm this Gospel of Gospels has for our souls! How infinite are the heights in which it takes its rise, how deep are the depths into which it flows. Grace and truth are there in Him who dwelt among us, even while he still dwelt in the bosom of the Father as the Only Begotten Son. He has brought the love of that bosom to us, and revealed it, not as something to be admired on the Sabbath day in the temple, but as that which would labour seven days in the week, seeking no rest, in order to relieve the needs of men and fill their souls with joy. And TRUTH was in Him—He came from the highest height of God's glory to reveal it; and GRACE also—He stooped to the deepest depth of our need to meet it; and He has filled the immeasurable distance between the height and the depth with the light of His own glory.
We speak not here of the time when He left the dwellings of men, and passed alone into the darkness as the sin-bearer—the scapegoat bearing our guilt into the land uninhabited; when, without a friend or comforter, He, who had been the friend of all, was smitten of God and forsaken for our sakes. That, indeed, was the great purpose of His coming, and to fulfil that purpose He set His face steadfastly, and the fact that that was to be the end of His life here, and that He knew it, makes all the more wonderful that continuous self-forgetting service amongst men. “My Father worketh hitherto and I work” summed up His life day by day until the end.
That which He declared here abides for us. What He was He is, and what He was the Father is; for He said “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” How infinitely attractive to our souls has the Father become since He has been revealed to us so blessedly in JESUS, who dwelt among us.
Death and resurrection have not changed Him. See Him standing upon the banks of Tiberias. Yonder upon the deep toil His disciples, dispirited and forlorn. It was lack of faith that took them out to fish that night, and their labour had been in vain. But does He rebuke them? Nay; He fills their nets, as the mighty Creator; then, as tenderly as a mother caring for her weary child, He addresses Himself to their need. They were cold and He lighted a fire to warm them; they were hungry and His own hand prepared a meal for them; and He sat in the midst of them and fed them Himself. And there was a backslider amongst them—indeed, they were all backsliders—but this did not change His love; and they were to rest—not in what they were but in what He was, not in their love to Him but His love to them. And so have we (John 21).
How gladly we bring to Him, our Saviour, who is so incomparably blessed, our tribute of praise:
“Fairer than all the earth-born race,
Perfect in comeliness Thou art;
Replenished are Thy lips with grace
And full of love Thy tender heart.
God ever blest! we bow the knee,
And own all fullness dwells in Thee.”
The scoffers are saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” The Holy Scriptures anticipated this and said they would. In this paper we give THREE REASONS WHY THE LORD MUST COME AGAIN.
Will He really come again? Long has He been expected; will He fulfil that expectation? May it not be a vain hope? “Behold the Bridegroom cometh” (Matt. 25), was a great text with earnest men nigh upon a century ago, and the hope of His coming spread amongst those who loved His name, until many were saying: “Even so, come Lord Jesus.” It became a theme of ordinary conversation. I heard of it as a child. It was talked about in our home, and I remember that one of the first teachers I ever had asked me: “What do they preach in the meetings you go to?” I answered: “They preach that the Lord Jesus is coming again.” “What!” she exclaimed, evidently startled. “Yes,” I said, “and we believe it because the Bible says so.” It was a child's answer, but it shows that whether true or false this teaching had made a deep impression on my mind.
But that was many years ago, and He has not come yet, and those who looked for Him so earnestly in those years that are passed have fallen asleep without realizing their hope. Were they deceived in their belief? And are we? Will He really come? The scoffers are saying: “Where is the promise of His coming?” and we must answer their challenge. What shall the answer be?
First Reason. Our answer is: “Yes. He will surely come,” and the basis of our confidence is that He has said so. We do not build our hope on signs and portents, they may easily and often deceive us, but we rest in His own Word, for that cannot fail. He must come because He has said, “I will come again.” Other prophecies have been fulfilled, and so shall this be. God declared in the Garden of Eden that the woman's Seed should bruise the Serpent's head. It was the first word that was ever uttered as to the coming of the great Deliverer, and that word was fulfilled when the due time came. Four thousand years passed between the prediction and its fulfilment, and throughout those long long years men of faith waited and watched. They carried the torch of faith and hope in the darkness for a while, each in his own day, and then handed it on to their successors, until at last He for whom they looked appeared; the Day-star from on high visited them, and faith and hope gave place to sight as they gave thanks to God and cried, Our eyes have seen Thy salvation.
God's prophets had spoken of the sufferings of Christ and of the glory that should follow. When He did appear His disciples thought only of the glory. But the glory was not yet to be, it awaited His SECOND COMING. It behoved Him first to suffer that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. His first coming was for shame and spitting, for suffering and death; His second coming will be for honour and glory, for the crown and the throne. He told His disciples in the plainest language that He had come to suffer, that He would be delivered to the Gentiles and be mocked and crucified. It seemed much more likely that He would be stoned, indeed the Jews in their frenzied hatred of Him attempted this more than once, but they could not do it, a power they did not understand restrained them, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But why should He be crucified? This was a Roman mode of execution and He did not come into conflict with Rome. He offered no resistance to Caesar's authority, but on the contrary He taught that what was due to him must be rendered to him, and for that saying the Jews hated Him the more, but the Romans had no cause to condemn Him for such teaching, He was no criminal according to their laws. Yet they crucified Him. Why? Because the Scriptures had said that thus He would die, and they cannot fail. More than one thousand years before it happened it was all foretold in the most graphic details (Ps. 22). Long before the Roman power had any existence the very way they would treat Him was revealed, and the ancient word was fulfilled to the last letter of it. And by His own words He confirmed what was written of Him. He said he would die and He did, HE SAID HE WOULD RISE THE THIRD DAY AND HE DID, HE SAID HE WOULD COME AGAIN IN GLORY, AND HE WILL.
Every word of Scripture that foretold His first coming and His sufferings when He came has been fulfilled, and just as surely shall every word that has been spoken about His second coming in glory be fulfilled. If He does not come again His own word and the Scripture will be broken, and this cannot be: Heaven and earth shall pass away but not one jot or tittle of His word can fail. Our first and greatest reason then for holding the coming again of our Lord as a sure and blessed hope is His own word, and the word of Holy Scripture.
Second Reason. The Divine plan and purpose will be incomplete if He does not come. If Sir Christopher Wren had built St. Paul 's cathedral without its dome, we should have said that it was not finished, that the crown of it was wanting. And if the Lord Jesus does not come again there will be a great want in the ways of God. To come first in humiliation and not come again in power, to suffer and die for sin and not come again in glory to establish righteousness in the world where wickedness has so long held sway, to bear the cross and not wear the crown, would be to leave unfinished God's great scheme of blessing for men and glory for His Son. The crown of His purpose would be lacking and the universe would say that God was not wise, or He had not the power to make His wisdom effectual. Yes. The once suffering Saviour must come in glory; where He was dishonoured He must be exalted; He loved righteousness and hated iniquity, therefore His throne must be established for ever. He must come again to bring to its consummation the whole will and purpose of God.
Third Reason. His love demands it. He cannot leave even the bodies of His blood-redeemed saints under the power of death. He must raise them up again, and He will do this at His coming again: then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15). And then will He present to Himself His church, His bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. The patriarch Jacob would not have been satisfied to have laboured and waited for Rachel and not have possessed her, yet love's labour might have been lost in his case but the Lord's great sacrifice and labour of love cannot be lost. He must see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and this can only be when He receives to Himself His church, all glorious without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, and this cannot be apart from His coming again. Because His love demands it, we read: “The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). “And then shall be heard as it were the voice of a great multitude and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come" (Rev. 19:6-7). He must come again for HIS church. His love demands it.
The first message that the ascended Lord sent from the glory to His disciples upon earth was that He will come back again (Acts 1), and His last message from the glory to His church on earth is “Surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22). Truly His coming again lies very near to His heart. It is as though a mother leaving her children for a while, said to them as she put the goodbye kiss upon their lips: “I'll come back soon,” and if she has the opportunity of sending a message to them during her absence, the burden of it is, “I'll come back soon.” She knows well that nothing will please them better than that, but it is because she longs for them, yearns to see and embrace them again that she sends such a message to them. Her desire is greater than theirs. Even so it is with our Lord. Yet surely His love to us has awakened desires to see Him in our hearts, and if so, we shall respond to His message to us with the church's cry “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” And as the years roll by we shall rejoice that they are carrying us ever nearer to that longed for moment when He that shall come will come and will not tarry.
"And when they came to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left" (Luke 23:33).
They searched the prison cells of Jerusalem that morning for the most debased of all the criminals that that city contained, and they led them out to die along with Jesus. These men had been guilty of appalling crimes, and that was why they were chosen to hang one on His right hand and the other on His left; that was why they put Him upon the centre and highest cross. They meant to proclaim by their well-considered and malicious plan that He was the worst of the three. Thus did they heap shame upon Him, adding deepest insult to deepest injury.
But I am glad that such men as these, and not James and John, were taken to be His companions on that day; in this the devil showed his lack of foresight, and in this he was outwitted, for if they had crucified the sons of Zebedee one on His right hand and the other on His left, it would have been said that they were helping Him to finish His work of redemption. The devil would have deceived men, now that Jesus is proclaimed as a Saviour, and would have said: These holy men, His disciples, had their share in His work, so that you must not trust in Him alone, but trust also in St. John and St. James, for they are worthy of as much glory as He.
Such a deception cannot now be practised upon weary, anxious sinners, those murderers who hung with Him could have no hand in the work that He was doing. They were suffering for their own crimes, He, the sinless One, for yours and mine.
“Alone He bore the Cross,
Alone its grief sustained;
His was the shame and loss,
And He the victory gained.
The mighty work was all His own,
Though we shall share His glorious throne.”
Yes, Jesus is the Saviour, and He alone. Behold Him there upon that cross, the darkness and shame of His surroundings only throwing into brighter relief the glory of His person. See Him “numbered with the transgressors,” bearing the sin of many, and praying for His foes! How worthy is He of that name which is above every name!
Behold Him, the central object of man's hatred; all the unspeakable enmity of men against God flung upon Him in scorn and shame and cruelty unrestrained, and, that, too, in the very hour when He stood forth as the infinite expression of God's love to men. Truly, as we look upon Him there, every other actor in that solemn scene fades from the view and He stands out alone in the incomparable glory of His own divine and unconquerable love.
Yet what an evidence it is of the utter darkness of the heart of unregenerate man, and of His complete alienation from God, that he should have heaped shame and execration upon the One who is the most glorious and everlastingly blessed Person in God's universe, that he should have condemned Him to die between two malefactors upon a shameful cross, in whom was centred the eternal delight of the heart of the Father.
“Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the ploughman plough all day to sow? doth he open and break the clod of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cumin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working” (Isaiah 28:23-29).
To get the true interpretation of any passage of Scripture one must not separate it from its context, and this passage is no exception to that rule. The chapter is a Tribulation chapter. It describes what God will do when the crowd of infidel Jews that are yet to be in power in Jerusalem make a pact with Antichrist and his ally the Beast, and consequently with the devil, whose power and subtlety these supermen will wield and practise. They will make a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell (v. 5). This will not only be the climax of their apostasy but a definite challenge, and defiance of God. They will consider themselves safe from God's interference, and will say, “Peace and safety”; then shall their destruction come. For the Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim. He shall be wroth as in the Valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act” (v. 21). His strange work is judgment, His strange act the destruction of these scornful men. It is strange work because He is the God of all grace, and willeth not that any should perish; but the Day of Judgment has been appointed: He is compelled to judge because men slight His mercy and defy His authority.
The great tribulation will be the time of “Jacob's trouble” (Jer. 30:7), but it will be “the hour of temptation that shall come upon the whole world,” as our Scripture indicates. “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your hands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of Hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth” (v. 22); for all the world is guilty before God, and at that time the acceptable year of the Lord will have closed and the day of vengeance of our God will have come. As we think of that day, we may well thank God for the grace that has turned us to Him from idols to serve Him, the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, our Deliverer from the coming wrath (1 Thess. 1).
But the chapter closes with a sure and certain hope beyond the tribulation, and with instruction as to the ways of God. The ploughman ploughs all day to sow: his ploughing is not the end but a means to an end, and the end is a harvest of grain. When the grain is ripe, he reaps and threshes: but “he will not ever be threshing it.” The threshing is not the end, but it has an end in view; that end is the separating the chaff from the wheat and the cumin and the barley and the rye. And it is “his God that doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him” (v. 26). And will not God who has given men wisdom in these things be wise Himself in what He does? He will break up the fallow ground in His people's hearts with the ploughshare of His chastisement and judgments, that they will cry to Him in their sorrow, then their hearts will be prepared for the sowing of His Word within them. John the Baptist also prophesied of this tribulation period when he said, “His fan is in His hand and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). The great tribulation will destroy the chaff, but it will bring to light the wheat and secure it for the Lord's garner. We are assured of this by His word through the prophet Amos. Said he, “I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth” (chap. 9:9).
And what of our day? Has our Scripture any message for us? It surely has, these are not the days of “the great tribulation,” but they are days of tribulation nevertheless. The ploughshare of sorrow is cutting deeply into multitudes of lives. God is ploughing up the fallow ground: has He no aim in this, and is He indifferent as to results? Nay, He is preparing hearts for the reception of His Word, the Word of His grace, which tells us that He is a very present help in time of trouble; the God of all comfort, He offers Himself to the burdened and bereaved as a Refuge and a Saviour through Jesus Christ the Lord.
“The threshing has its application to those who have found a refuge in Him. To all such the Lord has said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” And our word “tribulation” is derived from the Latin ‘tribulum, which was the threshing instrument or harrow, whereby the husbandman separated the corn from the husks; and Roman ‘tribulatio' in its primary significance was the act of this separation” (Trench). “Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Tribulation may come upon us in diverse ways; in sickness or in separation from those who are dear to us, in bereavement, in persecution, or oppression by unreasonable and godless men; but if we know the end that God has in view in permitting it, we shall glory in it.
Further, the husbandman does not treat all the grain alike, in that fitches are threshed with a threshing instrument, that the cart wheel is not turned about on the cumin, the staff is used for the fitches and the rod for the cumin. He does not break his bread with the wheel of his cart nor bruise it with his horsemen. And this wisdom, we are told, cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts. And shall He not act wisely with His own? He knows our frame, our tendencies and infirmities, and He orders His ways towards us in infinite wisdom, and His wisdom is the servant of His love.
Let us trust Him. “The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.” We can surely say, as in the words with which our chapter closes, “He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. And to Him, the Only wise God and our Saviour, be glory and majesty dominion, and power both now and for ever. Amen.
Let us recall a wonderful story told in the Gospels. It was night and the disciples of our Lord were afloat upon the Sea of Galilee. He had remained upon the quiet mountain-side in prayer to His Father, and we are sure that His disciples had a place in His prayer, but He looked through the darkness and beheld them toiling uselessly, for the waves rolled high. His heart was moved with compassion as He saw how the storm baffled them, and from His peaceful retreat He stepped out upon the sea to go to them. His appearance, as he strode from wave to wave, affrighted them, but His voice quickly calmed them. How sweet must have been the peace that filled them when they heard Him say, “BE OF GOOD CHEER; IT IS I; BE NOT AFRAID”! Aye, it is good to hear the voice of the Lord above the night-storms, and to know in the days of stress that He is nigh.
But Peter, impulsive and full of admiration for his Master, and ready to dare much to be near Him, left the boat to join Him where He walked. Then he found himself in circumstances that were new and strange to him—circumstances in which the creature could only sink and perish. But here comes in the loveliest bit of the wonderful story. He felt his desperate need, and cried out to His Lord, and “immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him,” and held him up. And together with the Master of every storm, Peter walked on the very crest of the waves. The gale still raged fiercely and the sea surged and swished about his feet, but he was held up by almighty power, and he walked by the side of his Lord, erect, fearless, and comforted.
Now let us understand the story. The Lord who sits above the water floods, and rules the waves from His throne of eternal calm, does not send succour to His saints as a sympathetic onlooker who knows nothing experimentally of the sorrows they endure. No. He came down upon the waves; He came from the eternal peace of heaven into the storms where His loved ones laboured; the winds blew and the waves tossed about Him. When His disciples saw Him, they were affrighted and supposed that He was a spirit. But He was not a spirit. HE WAS A MAN, AND HE IS A MAN. This is the amazing thing: because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He, the Lord of glory, likewise took part of the same, that He might know in His own experience the fierceness of the storms that beset our weak humanity in their endeavour to overthrow our faith; and He was tempted in all points as we are, apart from sin, and so He can succour us with a sympathy that is perfectly human though divine. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
It was the hand of a Man, in which was the very power of God, that held Peter on that memorable night. It is the hand of a Man—of Jesus, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, that is stretched out to us, and that holds us up upon the very waves that have leaped to our destruction. He is the Son of God, eternal in His being, and omnipotent in power, yet a Man who loved us enough to die for us that He might take from our souls the very fear of death and make us triumph evermore. And He lives again a Man at God's right hand and for evermore makes intercession for us.
We want our readers to lay hold of this great truth, not as a theory, but as a fact to be known first to faith and then blessedly in their experience. Peter's was an individual experience, he had it for himself, but it is an experience that every Christian may have when seas of trouble roll around. Yes, when sorrows like sea-billows roll, each for himself, may be supported by that hand of gracious power, and be made more than a conqueror in the very circumstances that threaten to swallow him up. What encouragement there is for us in the story—Peter's need and distress stretched out and reached the Saviour's heart, and the Saviour's hand stretched out and reached His sinking saint, and with his need met, his fears calmed and his faith strengthened, Peter walked hand in hand with his Master until the storm ceased.
Is our Lord less able today than He was then? No. Is He less sympathetic? No. He is “the Same yesterday, today and for ever.” We do not see Him as Peter saw Him, but “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” His hand still upholds His saints, and faith may take hold of Him with a stronger grip than even Peter's.
Who brought the children to Jesus, when and why?
We have no wish to depreciate time-honoured and much-loved hymns, but we think that it should be pointed out as being both interesting and instructive that the Bible nowhere says that "Mothers of Salem their children brought to Jesus." Had it done so that foolish and heartless argument, that it is solely the parents' work to bring the children to the Saviour and others ought to let it alone, might seem to have some backing. It may have been the mothers who did it, it is natural to suppose that it was, but the silence of Scripture on the point is significant, and we may be sure that there is wisdom in it, and, indeed, as we read the three accounts given of this most charming incident in our Lord's life, we feel that special care has been taken to avoid saying who it was whose faith and activities were in such blessed accord with the mind of the Master.
It is of deepest importance also to notice the period of the Lord's life at which the incident occurred. It was almost at the close of His public ministry. He had laboured and preached among the wise and the prudent; throughout all the cities and villages of the land He had set forth the truth before those whom we should have assumed were most competent to understand and believe it; but apparently He had spent His strength for naught and in vain. The leaders of the people, and their grown-up followers, who in their worldly wisdom kept an eye upon present advantage, had closed their ears to the charmings of grace; the kingdom of God was nothing to them, they were too shrewd to pass the narrow gate. The Lord knew how determinedly and deliberately they had chosen to abide in the kingdom of darkness, and turning from them in their blind self-will He yearned to embrace those who would accept without question or suspicion the advances of His love, and rest without fear in the declaration of His grace. The disciples, who ought to have understood His deep longings, were completely out of touch with His thoughts, but there were some who seemed to understand, who seemed to have caught something of that wholly divine spirit that was in Him, who, at all events, were convinced that it would please Him to have the children near Him, and so they brought them, braving the criticism and hostility of the men who thought they knew, and so were instrumental in giving the Lord the great joy of folding to His heart the babes and sucklings—FOR OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD—a joy which the officious and self-important disciples would have robbed Him of.
The more the incident is considered the greater its importance will be seen to be. It has been recorded three times for us by the Holy Ghost that its salutary lesson might be truly learnt. In the ways of those disciples we see mirrored the natural thoughts of our hearts. The great and the wealthy appealed to them. To convince a Pharisee or to convert a scribe would have been an achievement well worthy of labour in their estimation, but the poor weak children! of what use could such be in pushing forward the Master's work? Ah, but "of such is the kingdom of God,” AND OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES HATH GOD PERFECTED PRAISE.
God's thoughts are not as our thoughts. We suppose that the man of position or influence or ability in the world would be an acquisition to God's kingdom, but “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught the things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence.” It is the same lesson that the incident of the rich young ruler, also three times told, and linked in each case with the blessing of the children, was to teach the disciples. “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven,” “How then can any be saved?” they ask, for, in the reckoning of most, wealth is of all things most to be desired. God has a way for them. If they enter the kingdom it must be by becoming as little children, for “verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).
These days in which it is our privilege to labour for the Master are much as those were when the children were brought to Him. We are at the end of a dispensation, and the wise of the day care less than ever for the gospel of God, and it is not always easy to gain the ears of those who have grown up and become enamoured of the world. Yet still the Lord's heart yearns after those who will listen and believe, and the children will, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Children are not great, and labour amongst them will not make those who pursue it great or famous in the world's kingdoms. But the Lord loves them and receives them and folds them to His bosom. Happy are those who are near enough to Him to realize His heart's desire, as those did whose names are not told us when He was on earth, and who are instrumental in bringing it to pass, and so of enriching God's kingdom with material upon which He can impress the revelation of Himself in Christ.
We have been interested in noticing that young believers in the freshness of their love to the Saviour invariably turn to work amongst children as a way of serving Him, and it is our conviction that this arises entirely from the unspoiled instincts of the new nature. In their simplicity they realize that of such is the kingdom of heaven, and that the Lord's heart is yearning now as it did then to gather these lambs in His arms and bless them. Happy indeed are all those who, in spite of the indifference or hostility of those who have lost their simplicity, continue to labour in faith and love in this sphere of true Christian activity, for their labour is not in vain in the Lord.
It is open to all who have heart enough and faith enough for it, and it is labour that calls for both heart and faith. The mothers and fathers, the elder sisters and brothers, may labour in their own home circle, and reach out also to the multitudes of children for whom few seem to care, and have the deep sense in doing so that their activities are in blessed accord with the mind of the Master.
More often than not Christians discover their own weakness, and learn to rely upon the power of the Lord through bitter experience. The thought of the young Christian is, that his life will be triumphant henceforward; and though others may be weak and fail, he is confident, as was Simon of old, that he is able to stand for the Lord, no matter how great the opposition. Then comes the galling failure and the great disappointment, until finally the lesson is learnt that no good or strength dwells in us, and all power and grace is in the Lord.
To illustrate: A little boy is put for the first time into a boy's suit of clothes. How proud he is of his new possession. His babyhood is passed, and he is a man in his own regard. His father proposes a walk and he is delighted.
It is the winter time and the footpath is very slippery, so father says, “You had better take my hand, my boy.” But the boy is not prepared for this, he might have done so yesterday, for he was only a baby then, but not today, for he is a man now and can walk alone.
So on he strides with head erect, until he comes to a part of the road more treacherous than the rest, and down he goes, ere ever he is aware of danger. His pride is humbled, but he needs another fall, and perhaps still another, before he ceases to trust his own ability, and puts his hand into his father's to walk the rest of the way in safety.
How blessed to know that in spite of our self-sufficiency there walks by our side One who will never forsake us, and that He patiently waits until we are prepared to put our hand, in entire dependence, into His, and so henceforward prove the blessed fact that He is able to keep us from falling (Jude 24).
It will not be necessary to explain to our readers that the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis is one of the most striking and beautiful typical chapters in the Old Testament. They know that Isaac—the beloved son of his father, who had in chapter 22 passed through death in the figure—foreshadowed Christ, the risen heavenly Man; that Abraham's purpose to secure a suitable wife for his son told out the Father's purpose that Christ also should have a wife, made entirely suitable to Himself; that the nameless servant who journeyed afar in order to carry out his master's will and bring Rebekah to his master's son, set forth the mission of the Holy Ghost, who is now in the world, gathering out of it the bride of the Lamb. All this our readers know well; they and we have often gone over it; we would that the blessedness of the truth was as powerfully in our souls as it is plainly in our heads.
Everything in the chapter is beautiful, and Isaac is the centre and object of it all. Abraham loved him and gave him all that he had (v. 36); so also it is written of God's beloved Son, "The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hands" (John 3:35). The nameless servant who went forth to do Abraham's will sought nothing for himself, nor spoke of himself; all he did was for Isaac; and it is said of the Holy Spirit, "Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come... He shall not speak of Himself... He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I that He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:13-15). Rebekah, though she had not seen Isaac, was attracted to him, and went forth to be united to him, solely on the testimony that the servant carried from Isaac to her; and of the Christian it is stated: "Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8).
Abraham's purpose, the servant's labour, and Rebekah's love, were all for Isaac. It is a great day in the spiritual history of any Christian, when he wakes up to the fact that all the Father's thoughts and purposes have Christ as their one and worthy object; and that the chief labour of the Holy Spirit who has come from the Father is to unfold the glories of Christ to him so that his heart becomes entranced with Him. The result is that nothing will satisfy the love thus awakened but union with the beloved, all-absorbing Object of the heart. In this way are we drawn in our affections away from the world and its vanities to Christ, where He is, to wait and watch for Him.
THE SERVANT'S MISSION WAS TO FIND A WIFE FOR HIS MASTER'S SON, and Abraham had made him swear a solemn oath that he would not take Isaac back to the land out of which he had come, but that he would bring the wife out of a place where she was to Isaac where he was. Nothing could be of greater importance than this, and we shall fail utterly to understand the truth as to Christ and His church, and the present work of the Holy Ghost on earth if we miss the great truth that the church is being gathered out of the world for Christ where He is. Christ is the risen Man in heaven; and the church, which is the bride, for whom the Holy Ghost has come into the world, must be conducted to Him where He is. Ignorance of this great truth has led many earnest Christians into foolish attempts to connect the name of Christ with great movements which have nothing beyond this present world in view, and others to connect Him with the circumstances of this life merely, as though the end of all was that they should live lives free from burdens here.
DEAL KINDLY AND TRULY WITH MY MASTER, pleaded the servant. It is the appeal of the Holy Spirit today. No Christian who ignores the exclusive claims of Christ, deals kindly and truly with Him or with the Father. To deal kindly and truly in this matter is to follow the One who gave Himself for us to the place where He has gone, turning our backs to the world that would tempt us to be unfaithful to Him; and we shall not follow Him unless He has become an Object brighter and better than the best things that are here. The Christian who flirts with the world, forgets that the church is espoused to one husband, to be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Cor. 2:2).
But it is not the world only that bids for the hearts that should be wholly Christ's; natural relationships intervene sometimes and would, retain the heart and retard the feet from going after Christ. So Rebekah's mother and brother Would have detained her from going to Isaac. There was no haste, they pleaded; let her abide with us a few days, at last ten. “HINDER ME NOT," was the sharp response of the servant.
HINDER ME NOT. It is this that I would stress. It seems to me that the Spirit's voice sounds out in these words, and he that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith. Worldly ways and entanglements hinder the Spirit in His great work; lukewarmness towards Christ grieves Him sorely; pride and self-complacency quench His activities, and there is no pride so hateful to Him as religious pride. He cannot take of the things of Christ and show them to us if we are indifferent or inattentive or self-centred. Worldliness is bad, very bad, it shows a divided heart, but religious pretension is worse, for SELF is the A and the Z of it, and Christ and His things are made subservient to self. It is as though Rebekah adorned herself with the jewels that the servant brought from Isaac and went among her friends, displaying herself and saying, “See how rich and increased in goods I am. I have need of nothing.” But Rebekah was not so unnatural; she was true as steel to the one who sought her heart and hand; there were no half measures with her, and when the decision was left with her she was decided; she needed neither to ask advice nor time for consideration; “I WILL GO," was her answer to those who would have detained her, and that answer must have delighted the servant's heart. Rebekah did not hinder him.
How patient the Holy Spirit is with us. He has sealed us for Christ and taken possession of us, and will never leave us. His work is to bring us into unison with Himself, so that His desires and yearnings may be ours and that we may cry in concert with Him, “Come, Lord Jesus.” The Spirit longs for the day of gladness, when the church shall be presented to Christ, a glorious church; when He shall find in her a full recompense for all His travail and woe. That will be the day of days in heaven, described by John in Revelation 19:6-8, "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of great thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." Shall we hinder the Spirit in preparing the bride for that day? God forbid. Let us yield ourselves unreservedly to the gracious work of the Holy Spirit and say as said Rebekah “I WILL GO WITH THIS MAN.”
Notes of an Address
"And [Joseph] fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him" (Genesis 45:14-15).
The tender yearning of the heart of the Lord Jesus for His own is often illustrated for us in the types of the Old Testament scriptures; and in none does this manifest itself more strikingly than in Joseph's relations with his brethren. He is pre-eminently the man of tears of these olden but divinely given stories, and his tears flowed mainly because of his affectionate longing for his brethren. His dealings with them reached a climax when he, the ruler of a mighty nation, could hold back his pent-up feelings no longer, but cried, amid his tears, “I am Joseph.” It must have been an intense moment, and the surprise of that revelation of the truth seemed, if we may read between the lines, to have robbed those eleven men of the power of both speech and action, so that he had to stretch out his hands to them and say, "Come near unto me, I pray you.”
Then he took them one by one and wept upon the neck of each of them, and put the kiss of his love upon every cheek. His love flowed out upon them with an irresistible force, sweeping away all their fears, until at last we are told, in the grand simplicity of Biblical language, "After that his brethren talked with him.” They were at rest in his presence, their mouths were opened, and they talked to him in the family tongue—the language of the home-land and the father's house.
It could not have entered into the thoughts of those sons of Jacob that they were the brethren of that great lord of Egypt, into whose hand the mighty Pharaoh had entrusted all his wealth and dominion. They would have been contented to have remained suppliants at his feet, receiving from his bounty that which should keep their souls alive. But this would not have suited him, for he loved them well, and because be loved them he revealed the relationship in which they stood to him and made them at home in it.
We are often like Joseph's brethren, contented to receive salvation at the hand of our Lord, to accept His blessings, for these meet our needs, and our needs are often the only things that give us exercise of soul or drive us to the Lord. But as Joseph was not satisfied to meet the needs of his brethren merely, neither will it satisfy the Lord to meet our needs, for He also has a need, the need of an unquenchable love; and love cannot be satisfied apart from the company of, and communion with, the loved ones. Moreover, His loved ones must be made suitable to Himself, or His love could not rest in them. And so there is revealed to us the great fact that we are the brethren of the risen Lord, according to the message which He sent to His disciples by Mary of Magdala on the resurrection morning, “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” (John 20:7). But observe, He did not say, “I am your brother,” as Joseph did to his brethren, as though He would convey to them the thought that He had come down to their level, but He said “My brethren,” and in His words there is revealed the great truth that He lifts us up to His level.
His disciples are His “fellows” or companions, according to Hebrews 1:9, “God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.” We are to be His companions for ever, because, by the grace of God, we are His kindred, as Hebrews 2:11 unfolds: “Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one : for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” This is an overpowering truth, and something that could never have originated in the thoughts of men; it is altogether of God, and we have to adoringly accept it as the outcome of eternal love. Yes, the believer on the Lord Jesus Christ is not merely a saved sinner—he is that viewed from one standpoint—but he is also one of the brethren of the risen Lord, who is crowned with glory and honour, and to whom the whole creation of God is made subject. That is the distinction, the glory of the relationship; but deeper than all is the affection of the relationship, and this is included in this act of divine sovereignty, for His Father is our Father, His God our God.
It is the privilege of the brethren of Christ to enjoy the communion of love with Him at all times, but there are also special occasions, and amongst these occasions the Lord's Supper holds a unique place. Then, indeed, does He say to us, "Come near unto Me.” The Lord's Supper brings before us the supreme act of His love; it reminds us that He stooped down into the unfathomed depths of death that He might imprint the kiss of His love upon us; and as we partake of His Supper for a remembrance of Him it is as though He put afresh that kiss on each, and assured us that His love was not exhausted by the great expression of it, and that it has not waned by the lapse of time. Then, as Joseph's brethren talked with him on receiving his kiss, so can we talk with the Lord, for the heart is moved and enlarged by the thought of His love, and our stammering tongues are unloosed to speak His glories.
We read in the Psalms, “Let us talk of all His wondrous works.” And that is indeed a privilege, a privilege within the reach of all who know Him, for you will observe that it does not say, "Let us preach ;” if it did we might feel the exhortation was beyond us but it says let us talk, talk about Him, as the child talks of his father, saying to his playmates, “I wish you knew my father, he is the best in all the world.” But here it is not talking about Him, but talking with Him. He appreciates our talk about Him; but if we only talk about Him and neglect to talk with Him, we rob Him of that which His love prizes so highly.
The Lord's desire in this regard is expressed in the figurative language of the Song of Solomon, where the Bridegroom, addressing the bride, says, “Let Me see thy countenance, let Me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (chap. 2:14).
As we talk with Him in the blessed freedom and joy that His presence gives we become better acquainted with the language of the Father's house, and He rejoices to show us the Father's things, for these are the things in which, in this wonderful relationship, we have part with Him (John 13:8).
"And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:30).
What a theme! His decease! The exodus from this life of the Son of God! It occupied heaven, and was a worthy subject for that high and holy place, for He who was about to accomplish His decease was the Lord of heaven. The hosts of angels had worshipped Him at His entrance into the world, for when God brought in the First-begotten into the world, He said, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” They had followed His lowly way through it, for He, who was God manifest in flesh, was “seen of angels,” and now that He was to make His exit from the world they must have been absorbed with the fact. He was about to return to heaven, to His Father, not as He was before the foundations of the earth were laid, though as to His Person He never ceased to be what He ever was, the Son in the Godhead, but as having become a man for the fulfilment of all the will of God. What anticipation there must have been among the angels of God in view of His return, and yet the manner of His exodus from earth must have been a deep mystery and wonder to them, that they must have “desired to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). Could they understand it? I question it, for angels do not die, and His exodus from the earth was to be by death. Not angels then appeared in glory to talk with Him at that great crisis in His earthly life, but men—two men who had reached the other side of death, Moses and Elias.
Each of them had had his exodus, both unique and wonderful, when the time for them to go out was reached. Never before nor since had man died as Moses died. He was one hundred and twenty years old, but his eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated. And when the time for his departure came, God would not allow those people whom he had led with such patience and faithfulness to see any diminution of strength in him. In ringing tones he pronounced that great benediction upon the people, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thine excellency? Thine enemies shall come cringing to thee; and thou shalt tread on their high places.” Then the Lord led him to the top of Pisgah to view the land of promise as He saw it, and there with His own hand closed his eyes in death. Satan desired to have his body when the life had passed out of it, for what purpose we cannot tell, but Michael, the great prince that stands for Israel, triumphantly withstood him, and there in the land of Moab, far from the habitations of men, he was buried by God, and no man knoweth his sepulchre unto this day. That was a noble decease, the crown of a noble life—God's “Well done!” to a good and faithful servant, for God remembered in that hour all his labours, and precious in the sight of the Lord was the death of Moses, the saint of God.
And Elias also, what an exodus was his! On the other side of Jordan, with one faithful companion near him, Elisha, who was to succeed him as God's prophet to the people, and fifty sons of the prophets standing afar off as eye-witnesses of the event, he was caught up to heaven in a whirlwind, with a chariot and horses of fire attendant. In this way did God put His seal upon the service of His servant, so that even though the people were unchanged by all his words and acts of power, they might yet believe that a prophet of God had been in their midst. Never before or since had man had such an exodus.
But not of their own exodus did these two men talk, as they stood upon the holy mount with their Lord—they had a greater and more wonderful theme. Of neither could it be said that he accomplished his exodus, nor could it be said of any other man. Every man is compelled by reason of death to terminate his stewardship on earth, for none are free from failure and sin, even though, as in the case of Elias, his faithfulness was signalized a unique out-going, but Jesus could have lived on, for there had been no failure in Him.
These two great men had been sorely tried, and had sorely failed, and that in their strongest points of character. Moses, the meekest man in all the earth, lost his temper at last, and did not honour God before the people. Elias, the most courageous man of faith that ever stood for God, fled from his post at the threat of an idolatrous woman. It might be said that their lives were broken off; they did not accomplish their life's mission, to say nothing of their exodus, for Moses did not lead the people into the land, nor did Elias succeed in turning them back to God. They made way for others to take up the work that they laid down unfinished. Yet there would be no sting in death for Moses, as God, in great compassion, closed the eyes of His servant and friend, and gathered his spirit to Himself; and the grave had no victory over Elias as he was raptured to heaven by angelic power. But if the powers of darkness failed to triumph over these men of God in their exodus, it was because of the decease that the Lord afterwards accomplished, and well they would know it as they talked with Him of it. Yes, Moses failed and Elias was discouraged, but of Jesus it was written, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” God had to rebuke both these eminent servants of His, but of Jesus He said, “Behold, My Servant, whom I have chosen; My Beloved, in whom My soul is well pleased!”
How well chosen are the words with which the Holy Spirit describes the death of Jesus here : “His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” He accomplished His decease: it was a great achievement, the crowning act of His life. It was the fulfilment of the “one obedience,” the completion of His mission to earth. His own words to His Father describe it. “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” As He stood on the Holy Mount the whole way lay before Him. While His disciples dreamed of a throne, He beheld the cross, and saw the way to it beset and barricaded by hostile forces. The hatred of men against God was there—hatred that would congregate and heap upon Him all the shame that it was possible for them to devise; and the powers of darkness were there, marshalled in one desperate attempt to crush Him. There was more there than these, much more, for if men were to be redeemed, a price had to be paid, a price beyond all human computation: His soul made an offering for sin. As He looked upon it all, the glory was so near: one step and He would have been there, and worthy to be there, but not for that at that time had He come. He had come to accomplish His decease at Jerusalem, and He turned His back upon the glory and set His face toward Jerusalem, and talked of His decease which He should accomplish there.
No wonder that the Father's voice was heard from the excellent glory, saying, “This is My beloved Son: HEAR HIM.” That is what we desire to do, and so we follow Him to the accomplishment of His decease, for He has spoken by His death as He could not speak by His life; it is by His cross that He has told out to us all the love of God. For “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But how different was His exodus from that of Moses and Elias. They went suddenly, out of lives of trial and labour, to rest in God; they trusted in God, and in the hour of their exodus they were not confounded; but how different it was with Him when His hour came and He bore His cross to Calvary :
We see Him there by men despised,
No crown but thorns awarded Him,
With malefactors crucified,
His cup of shame filled to the brim.
Lover and friend stand off afar,
Nor to the Cross dare they approach;
While foes press round and eager are.
Upon His head to heap reproach.
We hear His broken cries ascend,
But to His need the heavens are dumb,
No angel to His aid can bend,
No succour from on high can come.
To Him were meted pain and grief,
To Him the bitter cup of woe,
The gloom of death without relief
No light above, no help below.
But we know why it was. He loved us and had come to save us, and no man took His life from Him. He laid it down of Himself. He submitted Himself, as a lamb led to the slaughter, to His foes, that from the cross He might proclaim the love of God, and by the cross redeem our souls.
We see Him there the Substitute
For our offences to atone;
To Him our guilt did God impute,
And there He bore God's wrath alone;
That we, forgiven and set free—
Redeemed by His most precious blood
From sin and all iniquity—
Might find our peace and joy in God.
For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame, and He has entered His glory. He has accomplished His exodus, and in such a way that God is glorified, the enemy is defeated, and our souls are saved. And now by the preaching of the gospel He is gathering out of this world a people for His Name, and a bride for His everlasting joy. And we have been arrested and saved by the gospel; well might we talk of His decease that He accomplished at Jerusalem and sing about it and praise His Name for it now, as we shall certainly do when we see Him in His glory.
"There talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:30-31).
If Moses and Elias had been alone, when they appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, they might have talked of the way God had honoured them, when He withdrew them from the sphere of their labours, but in the presence of their Lord, they must only think and talk of His decease.
How would He depart when His work was done? Both of them had been servants, and now He who was “in the form of God,” had taken upon Himself “the form of a Servant” (Phil. 2:7). They had broken down. Moses had failed in simple obedience to God, and in patience with His people. Elijah had become discouraged, as though God had less power than the pagan Jezebel, but of Jesus it was prophesied, “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth... He shall not fail nor be discouraged" (Isa. 42:1-4). And in Matthew 12:7-21, these words are quoted of Him.
In contrast with Him, Moses had failed, and Elijah had been discouraged, yet they had been honoured in their exodus. How will His exodus take place?—that of the Servant-Son, who filled the heart of God with continual and infinite delight? They talked of His exodus—of “His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Mark the word accomplish. It means to fulfil—to bring to completion—to be so perfected that nothing is lacking. There is no flaw, no failure in it. He had come to do the work that God had given Him to do, and in John's record of the crucifixion we learn that it was done. His own words were, “It is finished.”
The Servant of Jehovah as the Lamb of God had now offered Himself up as the great sacrifice for the taking away of the sin of the world. He had then drained the cup His Father had given Him: He had glorified God on the earth, maintaining that glory on the cross; so with the suffering behind Him, just before He yielded up His spirit, He uttered the triumphant word, It is finished.
We but feebly enter into the meaning of this great word, but as we meditate upon it we are brought into communion with our God, for in that finished work His attributes have been vindicated, His nature revealed, and our redemption secured. In His finished work, “Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10).
Notes of an address at High Leigh, August 23, 1931
"And of His fullness have all we received, and grace upon grace.”
It may be that at these meetings questions will be raised in your hearts: questions as to your past, questions as to your present mode of living, questions as to your future, of what you shall do with your lives, and how and where you shall serve the Lord to whom you belong. Some of you may have sleepless nights through exercise of heart about these questions, but don't be afraid of that, the deeper your exercises are the greater the blessing, if they turn you wholly to the Lord Jesus, for you will find in His fullness an answer to every perplexity, and every question. I will read to you my text in its connection, omitting the parenthesis in verse 14 and the testimony of John the Baptist in verse 15. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. And of His fullness have all we received, and grace upon grace.” What does it mean? It is the limitless sea of divine grace flowing in upon the shore of human need, wave upon wave, filling up every inlet and creek and cave; and all it looks for is room for its blessedness. It is the fullness of the Godhead brought down to us in Jesus, for in Him it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, and the fullness dwelt in Him, and still dwells in Him for you, for “in Him (who is your Saviour) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” You have not a need that He cannot meet, there is not a crevice in your heart that He cannot fill. Will you be humble enough and sincere enough to receive from Him?
The penalty and the power of sin
I have found that if I wanted the explanation of a great saying at the beginning of any book in the Bible I had only to search that particular book for it, and I believe we find in John's Gospel what His fullness, grace upon grace, means. If any one of you are troubled about the past, if your sins lie upon your conscience, an intolerable load, I would ask you to consider verse 29 of our chapter, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” This is the first public testimony that was borne to Jesus as He appeared among the multitudes of men, and it is as the Lamb of God that you must first make His acquaintance. This is the beginning of His fullness for you, the first wave of it, that can sweep away your sin-caused misery, and deliver you from the burden and penalty of your sins for ever. Dwell upon the title that is given to Him here. He is the Lamb of God, and that marked Him out at the beginning of His public pathway for suffering and death. His life of service to men and God was to reach its climax at the cross. He was to die there as a sacrifice for sin. And He set Himself steadfastly to reach that predicted end. Nothing could turn Him from it, for apart from His death His fullness could never have reached you, you could never have been saved. But now you may know that He bore your sins in His own body on the tree, that He was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities. Weary, heavy-laden sinner, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and just as Bunyan's pilgrim lost the burden that was bound upon his back when he came to the place where stood a cross, so shall you lose yours. You shall be saved from the penalty of your sins.
But there is more, the grace flows, wave upon wave, hence in verse 33 we read, “the same is He that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” He removes the penalty of sin and He also breaks its power. And I believe I am right in saying that there are some of you here who, while being quite sure that you have been delivered from the penalty of sin, are still sighing, it may be secretly, under its power. You are slaves who should be free. His fullness can set you free and nothing else can. If you have believed the gospel, He has given to you the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you. “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price.” The price is the blood of the Lamb, and now He has taken possession of that which He has purchased by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is by the Spirit that His fullness will reach you, setting you free from the power of sin.
Let us consider this. How is it brought about? I know, from my own experience, that the usual thought in a young Christian's mind is that he must grapple with his sin as one would grapple with a huge snake that held him in its coil, and he hopes and believes that the Holy Spirit has come to aid him in this struggle and give him final victory, and because he can see nothing beyond this notion, and is taught nothing beyond it, he struggles in vain, until in despair he cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?” And that is the point of victory to which you will speedily come, I trust. The Holy Spirit must stand by, if I may use the expression, and wait until that point is reached. But when you lie a helpless, wretched soul, admitting defeat, and emptied of all your self-confidence, you are ready for His fullness, wave upon wave.
Mark the fact, that following the announcement that the Lamb will baptize with the Holy Ghost, we have "the next day after,” when “John stood and two of His disciples, and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard Him speak, and they followed Jesus.” John was entranced and bore witness to the One whose glory filled his vision, and his testimony was used by the Spirit to send these two men after Jesus. Here lies the secret of deliverance from the power of sin—your heart must have an object that will carry your thoughts and desires outside yourself, and Jesus is the only One worthy and able to do this. The great work of the Holy Ghost is not to give you extraordinary gifts or great power that will make you famous, but to fill your thoughts with your Saviour's grace and glory; He has come to take of the things of Christ and show them to you. An unsatisfied and selfish heart can never be free from the power of sin; and this question of freedom from sin's power is a heart question. You need to learn what is meant by, “the expulsive power of a new affection”; then you will be able to say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The world and its spell
I pass on to chapter 4 where the story is told of a woman who had come under the spell of the world, and it had disappointed and degraded her. Hers, up to that hour, had been an unsatisfied life, and she had been the sport of the devil. With weary foot she carried her pitcher to Jacob's well on that mid-day as usual, a solitary sinner, shunned by all who knew her. But what a day that was to be for her! Jesus was there before her, for her sake He had journeyed into Samaria, and there He waited for her. What a difference that short interview with the Lord made to her! It changed her and sent her running to the men of the city, saying, “Come and see a Man... the Christ.” He was a Man; as to that there could be no question, for He was thirsty and hungry and weary, but this man was the Christ. Her eyes had been opened to see what others could not discern who looked not at Him by faith, and her heart also had been opened and of His fullness she had received. “Do you mean to tell us,” those men would say, “that He talked with you?” “Yes,” she would answer. “You would not talk with me, you all shunned me, and I do not wonder at it now, and no Jew would have dealings with me, but He sat by my side out yonder and did not make me afraid, but He talked with me until my misery gave way to hope, and hope to joy; even His disciples marvelled at it, and I marvelled more than they.” “But He did not know you; if He had known you, He would not have talked with you,” they would say. “Not know me?” she would answer. “Why He knew me through and through and yet He did not spurn me. He told me all things that ever I did.”
But what was it that He had said to her that had changed her so? Not the exposure of what she was, but the revelation of His fullness. Listen to His words, for they are the words of eternal life. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” What an arresting word! Yes, but a true word, and the word of Him who spake as never man spake. The world cannot satisfy any human heart, nothing can but the fullness of God; but that fullness is in Christ and HE GIVES IT. He has not came to us demanding what we could never give, but giving, and He gives without stint, grace upon grace. See how He proposed to raise her from a degrading search for happiness in a world that can never give it, to God Himself whom she had altogether forgotten. His gift of living water was not only to satisfy her, but was to spring up within her to its source; to the region from which it had come, to God Himself. This was something more than freedom from the power of sin, it was the creature put in right relations with God the Creator, but God revealed, not now in His power, as when He made the worlds, but in His love as Father who sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world, for the Father seeketh worshippers.
The Failure of Organized Religion
We come now to chapter 7, and here there is exposed another side of the world. It is not its gross and degrading side, but its religious side. It was on the last great day of the greatest religious feast in the Jewish calendar that Jesus stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The Lord looked upon the weary faces of those zealous religionists, and into their hearts. He knew how empty of blessing were all their forms and ceremonies and how obnoxious to God was all their ritual. He had watched them throughout that feast and waited for the last great day of it, and then He presented Himself instead of all that that had disappointed them, “COME UNTO ME,” He cried. How magnificent is His offer and how blessed must be His fullness who makes it. He does not speak of a river, but of rivers, and rivers of living water! and these not flowing in but flowing out—flowing out to a barren, polluted, sin-burdened and disappointed world. And the only qualification is thirst, “if any man thirst, let him come unto Me.” There are many who are trying organized religion in these days. Ritualism makes its appeal to them, but it is a dead and barren thing; there are no living waters in it, it leaves the soul unsatisfied and unsaved, while it gratifies the senses and deadens the conscience. You may not have been attracted by that sort of thing, but do you thirst? Have you been trying to satisfy yourself with going to meetings, and a humdrum round of religious duties? Do you feel that your life is not the life that the Bible describes, that there is a lack in it, and that consequently you are not happy yourself nor the blessing to others that you desire to be? Here is the answer and remedy. “COME UNTO ME.” Remember the words “His fullness,” and you will come with great expectation. Take His own words to Him, and say, “Lord Jesus, these words are Your words. I have not yet realized their meaning, but I come to You and ask You to make them real to me.”
Search no longer in your own heart for anything to satisfy you and bless others. “Come unto Me.” Turn not to religious ceremonies. “Come unto Me.” Do not trust in gifted men, or in conferences, Scriptural literature, or correct ecclesiastical position. “COME UNTO ME.” Have personal dealings with Christ. Drink of His fullness and the waters will flow out from you. In your home and at your work, when you teach in the Sunday-school class or stand up to bear witness to the world of your Saviour, in life and testimony, day by day, hour by hour, RIVERS OF LIVING WATER!
Come, then, to Him, and say—
“Oh, fill me, Jesus, Saviour, with Thy love,
Lead, lead me to the living fount above,
Thither may I in simple faith draw nigh,
And never to another fountain fly,
But unto Thee.”
What shall we do?
There are two Old Testament Scriptures that I will refer to in closing, to illustrate the exercise and diligence that are necessary on our side. In 2 Kings 3 three kings and their armies were on the verge of death from thirst, there was no water for man or beast. But God's prophet, His representative in the midst of the land, appeared, and being the prophet of grace, he brought in God's fullness for the need of that host. He said, “Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts. And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.” God alone could send the water, but they had to make room for it; to dig channels for it, and remove everything that would hinder it from flowing into the valley. And here is your side of the questions. Some of you have longed for a deeper knowledge of the fullness of Christ, but you have not longed enough to dig the ditches. There are things that are hindering the inflow of the waters, and you know what they are, and if you don't, and will carry David's prayer to God—“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139)—He will show you what the hindrances are. Then in the energy of the grace that He gives, arise and get rid of them. “Make the valley full of ditches.” At the time of the morning sacrifice the waters flowed. That sacrifice spoke in figure of the preciousness of Christ to God, and it is as we appreciate Him, and are prepared to count other things but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Himself, that a new morning begins for us and the waters begin to flow.
There is another necessity, and this we see illustrated in Ezekiel 47. It is the story of the river of blessing that flowed from the house of God, and into which the prophet was led step by step, until he found it to be waters to swim in, unfathomable and shoreless. But he could not have gone into those waters if he had not kept in company with the man who held the measuring line. This man was a figure of the Holy Spirit, “who searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). He it is that “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The fullness must flow into us, we must make room for it and receive it wave upon wave, and we are to be led into it also, and the Spirit of God is the only one who can lead us into it, hence we must heed the exhortation, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). May every one of us be able to say with full hearts and radiant faces, “Of His fullness have all we received, and grace upon grace,” for His Name's sake.
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