Deliverance By Dying: Readings on Galatians ii. 19, 20.
"DEAD TO THE LAW."
"For I, through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God" (Gal. ii. 19, 20).
WHAT a deliverance for us that we are not under the law, but under grace!
(Gentiles were never put under the law by God in a direct way. This, however, does not affect the question before us. We have all been under the law practically. Nor is there any other measure of what God requires of man if he is to stand well with Him in the flesh. The law applies to man in the flesh, never to "a man in Christ", whether he be a Jew, formally under it by God's command, or whether he be a Gentile not altogether lawless.)
Peace or liberty, there is none for a soul under law. So far from it, the testimony is that, "as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." A child of God under the curse—what a contradiction it would be! Impossible, altogether impossible for us to have had the relationship and the affections of children, if God had left us beneath the power and authority of the law! It is of the highest importance that we should be clear about this. Judaizing teachers are as little wanted now as when this Epistle was written; and our foolish, hearts, alas! are as ready to turn again to the weak and beggarly elements as the Israelites were to go back in heart to the flesh-pots and the hard bondage of Egypt.
Yet the Word of God gives no uncertain sound. It leaves no doubt upon the mind of a simple child of God, whatever difficulties reason or theology may find. That the law keeps a soul in bondage, and that God has called us to liberty, the simple believer knows as taught of God. He hears God say: "Ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ," and he rejoices for the consolation. He hears God say: "Cast out the bond-woman and her son." He does not reason, but obeys.
This does no dishonour to the law. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Woe to him who despises it. "We know that the law is good if a man use it lawfully." But it is not a lawful use of it to put the Christian under it, for the Scripture says: "Ye are not under the law," and to make it the rule of his life, is to dishonour both the law of God and the standing of the child of God. It degrades the son to the place of servant, and robs the law of its absolute authority, for how shall it curse whom God hath not cursed? Yet, "as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." Whether they seek by it to attain righteousness, or to secure holiness of walk, "as many as are OF the works of the law are under the curse."
Thank God! He has delivered us. He has magnified the law, maintained its authority, and yet done "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." "I, through the law," says the Apostle, "am dead to the law." Its righteous and paramount authority is manifested in and by my entire deliverance from it. Its holiness and majesty, its righteous claims and divine authority, were too great to allow me longer to live. I died beneath the righteous judgment of God—a judgment executed not in my own person, but in Christ; and by the law, I am dead to the law. Its utmost penalty having fallen upon me in the death of Christ, I am free. I live no longer in the sphere of its authority. If I have another life—and, thank God, I have—I have nevertheless lost the life which was forfeited to the judgment of God by sin; I am dead. It was in that life that I was subject to the law, and that life I lost by the just action of the law upon me. I am therefore dead to it, and dead to it by its own unimpaired authority and by its righteous action. The law has not lost its authority, but I have lost my life beneath and by that very authority—the life of sin and rebellion I used to live when I was in the flesh.
"The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth." But the Christian is dead (Col. ii. 20; iii. 3). We are "become dead to the law by the Body of Christ" (Rom. vii. 4). Its dominion, then, has ceased, not by the law dying or losing its authority, but by the death of those who violated it. This death has come upon us not in our own persons—it would have been perdition—but in the death of Christ. It is there and thus that we have "died to that wherein we were holden" (Rom. vii. 6).
The practical importance of this entire deliverance from the law by our death to it can scarcely be overrated.
(1) It is a deliverance according to righteousness. A righteous law has condemned the sinner. Its sentence has not been revoked, nor passed over, but executed. The believer has died beneath it. What more can be required in righteousness? If a new life is given in grace, it is grace that reigns through righteousness. But the empire of law has ceased with the life over which it reigned.
(2) It is a deliverance according to holiness, and that in a very practical way. For not only has the sentence of death been executed in Christ's death, but it has been wrought in the conscience of the believer. Romans vii. 7-24 is very explicit as to this. Sin is in the soul whether it be under the law or be lawless. When the law is brought to bear upon the conscience, sin is discovered. Every movement of it becomes transgression. The law does not give power against sin; it does not even help the renewed man to keep from transgression. Nay, without law, there would be no transgression, though sin is ever there. Moreover, when that which the man loves is forbidden, the energy of his nature is stirred to fulfil its own desires. "Sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." This is terrible for the renewed man. In the struggle which ensues, he is always worsted, always beaten. He has not the Holy Ghost, and therefore there is no power. Sin, on the contrary, is there in full force. It takes occasion by the commandment; deceives the man and slays him. The commandment which would have been to life ("Do this and thou shalt live"), had there been power to do it, turns to death. It condemns the sinner; it brings home to him the exceeding sinfulness of sin; it shows his helplessness to go out from under the power of sin. The hatred of sin may be there; it is there in the renewed man and the delight in the law of God, for God has wrought it. But until DEATH sets the soul free (and there is no other way of escape) it is in hopeless bondage. Until then, the bitter cry is wrung from the despairing soul: "O wretched man that I am! "Until then, the Spirit of God cannot take up His abode there nor give the ransomed spirit its new place in a risen Christ. But when death has done its work and is wrought in the conscience, then "who shall deliver me?" finds its triumphant answer—"the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death'' (Rom. viii. 2).
(3) This deliverance is essential to Christian position and privilege. Impossible, while the law is in authority over us, to "be married to another, even to Him that is raised from the dead." When death has dissolved the ties which bound us to the law (we—not the law)—having become dead by the body of Christ), then we are free to be "married to another," to be wholly given up to Christ risen. A Christian under law would be spiritual adultery.
Our relations with Christ are all by the Holy Ghost. It is He Who unites to Christ; it is by Him that Christ dwells in us. But "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." No more, "O wretched man that l am!" No more "spirit of bondage again to fear!" Thank God! the Spirit in us is "the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!" "Wherefore thou art no more a servant (under law) but a son." Pure and precious grace! To be servants in the outer court would be the highest privilege the law could give to the obedient. And to the disobedient, what? Death. To be sons in the house—the Father's house—forever is our portion, by grace, which reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord. (4) This deliverance is needful "that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
"ALIVE UNTO GOD."
It was the will of God—the blessed purpose of His heart—not only that we should be delivered from sin and its awful consequences, from His wrath abiding upon us, and the wrath which is to come, but that we might have our "fruit unto holiness." This is the positive side of our blessing in Christ. God has delivered us from this present evil world and all its doom. But He has left us here as witnesses of His grace, as "saints" in whom Christ is to be magnified—in whom God Himself is to find fruit. How beautiful the description in Balaam's prophecy of the fruitfulness which He produces, and which He looks for in His privileged people!" As the valleys, are they spread forth, as gardens by the river-side, as the trees of lign-aloes (a fragrant tree) which the Lord has planted, as the cedar trees beside the water." But this the law never produces. It is the measure of man's responsibility. Only the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ can produce fruit so fair. The Spirit of God outpoured consequent, upon the glory of the Redeemer on high, effectually does "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh."
What a marvellous work was the first public action of that outpoured Spirit at Pentecost! What fruit to God in its chief speaker! The man who had denied before a few servants that he knew the blessed Lord, stands forth before His murderers—the rulers of Israel—and boldly says: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain, whom God has raised up." He was empowered by the glorified Christ to do "greater works" than His Master had wrought in the days of His flesh. Three thousand believing Jews go forth to almost every part of the world with a new life manifested before all in fruit unto God. The change from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, which is seen in all who are born of the Spirit, is itself fruit unto God. When Thessalonian idolaters "became followers of us and the Lord, having received the Word with much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost, so that ye became ensamples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia"; how sweet and fragrant the fruit unto God! Then was manifested a "work of faith and a labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," all to His praise, Whose will had been done in their sanctification, all to His praise, for Whom now they wait, "even Jesus, Who delivered them from the wrath to come."
Oh, for more, conversions of this order! Oh, for more lives of this character in young converts and old believers! It was not only deliverance from idolatry and all the pollution that is in the world throughout, but it was a walk, "even as He walked." It was a heavenly walk, feebly, but really after the model of the Son of God, Whose meat it was to do the will of Him Who sent Him. He went about doing good, so in measure do they. He was moved with compassion for the needy, hungry, perishing souls around Him. They, too, in their measure are centres of blessing in a world of sin. Out of Him flowed healing and blessing for even the guilty and ungrateful; out of them, too, by the blessed Spirit within them, flow rivers of living water for the salvation and refreshment of the needy and guilty around them.
How precious for God is all this! This new creation, how "good" He finds it! It is indeed fruit unto holiness—fruit unto God. The barren heart of selfishness that thought only of its own interests is now blessed, and a blessing to all around. The drunkard, whose excesses were the bane of his home and his neighbours, is now in some measure filled with the Spirit, and speaking to himself, his family, and his friends in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The thief who robbed, it may be, a widow or fatherless children, is now working that he may have to give to him that needeth. Blessed fruit in which God delights, and in which He is glorified!
Nor is this all. The will of God is accomplished in the sending out of His Word to the perishing far and near. Andrew first finds his own brother Simon and brings him to Christ. There was no power for this in the law. But the heart that has found Christ its first instinct is to bring others to Him. The reality of its having found an all-absorbing object in the blessed Saviour is manifested by its efforts to bring others to share the same blessing. Divine Love in the heart begins at home; but it extends to all within its reach. "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me, both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." Fruit unto God indeed! Fruit of the Spirit, too, Who has come down as the power of such service and such fruit bearing! He unites us to Christ, Who bears fruit in us and through us. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." May God give us to be in a fuller measure to His glory, in this scene of sin in the unshaken confidence of our souls in Him, in all patience and in all fruit fulness!
"THAT I MIGHT LIVE UNTO GOD."
Such is the liberty wherewith Christ makes free! Such the blessed purpose of God in our deliverance from the law! God cannot give, nor can the new man desire liberty for the flesh to fulfil its lusts. But He can give—He has given the liberty to live wholly unto God in a sphere and in relationships quite incompatible with a standing under law; and in this the new man delights.
The law was a most important part of the ways of God, but it forms no part of what Scripture speaks of as His purpose. There is not a word as to the law in such a chapter as the 1st of Ephesians, where the Spirit of God develops His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. It was His purpose to reveal Himself as God—the God of our Lord Jesus Christ—and bring men nigh in holiness and love as worshippers. It was His purpose to reveal His Name of Father and bring men nigh as children. He choose in Christ before the foundation of the world, those who were thus to be holy and without blame before God in love. He predestinated these, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the adoption of children. Such, in His unfathomable love, was the purpose of God. Man has no part in forming it, nor in bringing it about. He receives of the Lord's fulness, grace for grace.
But God has, in His ways, to deal with man in his responsibility as a creature, and in whatever place He is pleased to give to man. The law was a part of these ways. "The law entered that the offence might abound." "It was added because of transgressions." Its purpose was not to bring man nigh; for God cried, "Set bounds unto the people round about." Its purpose was not to bring man into blessing; for God said, "Cursed is everyone, that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Its purpose was to turn sin, which existed before, into transgressions, to bring it home to the conscience, that "sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." (See Gal. iii. 19; Rom. v. 13, 14, and vii. 13).
"What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God." Not only has man broken the law from the very day God gave it, but the Name of God has been blasphemed through those who "received the law by the disposition of angels and have not kept it." Worse still, grace itself has been refused and God in Christ rejected; rejected even by those who in responsibility and outward position were the people of God. It is all over with man in his natural condition and place. God's ways have manifested the utter and hopeless RUIN of man. But God's purpose remains, a purpose apart from law, nay, a purpose which could not be accomplished till the law had done its work of stopping every mouth and bringing in, all the world guilty before God.
God would have a people with a life holy and according to God, which should have Himself for its object. Nothing less would accomplish His purpose, nothing less meets His heart. It must be a life of perfect liberty, liberty in a known position of nearness to God, liberty in an enjoyed relationship—"children by Jesus Christ unto Himself"; a life in a sphere beyond the judgment of sin!
It is said of Christ: "In that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God" (Rom. vi. 10). In His death, He not only died for our sins, but He died unto sin. By death, He passed out of the condition in which He had to do with sin (Himself sinless), and in which He was made sin. Free forever, "He liveth unto God." He is no longer in a scene where, for His love, He had hatred, no longer straitened till His baptism be accomplished. No, thank God! In the peace of the Heaven, He has entered "by His own blood," in the glory wherewith God "straightway glorified" Him, and in the rest of that love wherewith His Father loves Him because He laid down His life—there "He liveth unto God." That risen life, in a sphere where "all things are of God," is freely and peacefully for God.
But this is not the portion of Christ alone. The saints live off His risen life. We are "alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." God has delivered us from sin and from the law which is "the strength of sin," that this life might move and have its being in a sphere of holy liberty. "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
In considering this amazing privilege of living unto God, we may look at it first inwardly. This—the state of the soul—is of all importance, because "the Lord looketh on the heart,'' and because the walk and testimony before men will be but the outward expression of the inward condition.
Two things will ever characterize this life inwardly: (1) The enjoyment of God, and (2) the spirit of adoption.
(1) In the first part of Romans v., the Spirit of God leads the soul on to the highest point of blessing it can have here below before its God: "We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Justification before God, and consequent peace with Him—what blessings for God to give! How much for man to receive, even from a hand so bountiful! But though man might have been satisfied with such a portion, God could not be. He had set His heart—Blessed be His Name!—on lost and guilty man. He would bring him,
"Nearer still, thro' Jesus' blood."
He commends His own love towards us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Here GOD is revealed; His nature told out; His heart made known. And with what result for us? We are "reconciled to God by the death of His Son;" we are saved in all the power of the risen life of Christ, that blessed Son.
This mighty salvation gives us to "joy in God." He is not too righteous for us to delight in Him. His righteousness has justified us (Rom. iii. 26). He is not too holy; we give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness. The light which He is, has "shined in our hearts . . . the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." His love (and He is love) is "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost." God fully revealed, brings the sinner nigh—gives the believer liberty in His presence, boldness in the holiest. "We joy in God." Not only is fear cast out by perfect love, but God becomes the joy of our hearts.
"Thy gifts, O God, can ne'er suffice
Unless Thyself be given;
Thy presence makes my paradise,
And where Thou art is heaven."
''Whom have I in heaven but Thee!" "Thus will I bless Thee while I live; I will lift my hands in Thy Name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips. When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches" (Ps. lxiii. 4-6). What a heaven upon earth is the heart that can "joy in God!" The wilderness of Judah may be a dry and thirsty land; not so the heart which has so learned God as to delight in Him. It "shall never thirst." Living unto God, the soul enjoys HIM. "Holy and without blame," as seen in Christ, and soon to be so in every sense; it is "before Him in love." Precious purpose of God, and precious blood of Christ, which has made it good! Blessed risen life of Christ, and blessed grace of God that in it we "live unto God." O for hearts touched more deeply by such grace! O for ways formed by it!
Thus this life unto God has its sphere and exercise in the knowledge of Himself which our God gives. It delights in Him with the joy which this knowledge imparts. Immense as is this blessing, it is not all, for we live unto God---
(2) In the power of the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father. Choicest God-like purpose to have us before Him as children, and to form a life and create affections in us by the Holy Ghost which answer to the heart of our Father! Precious grace that He would possess us as the "many sons" whom He is bringing to glory, now and in the eternal day of His Own ineffable rest! Life unto God in such a relationship, what heart but His could even have conceived the thought of it! Yet it is ours, and ours for present enjoyment.
The law told man what he ought to be and what God's claims upon him are. It required of man, in God's name, that he should yield entire obedience; it cursed the disobedient. But it could not tell what God is, nor bring lost and guilty man to Him. Still less, if possible, could it reveal the Father's name. This, none but the Son of His love could do, after the law had done to sad, but just and needed work.
"I have declared unto them Thy name," said the Lord Jesus, Himself the only begotten Son, Which is in the bosom of the Father. He said it whilst dwelling among us, full of grace and truth. Who, but He knew that bosom of love which passeth knowledge? Who, but He could unfold its blessed secrets? He dwelt there in the repose of eternal love. Before the morning Stars sang together, and the Sons of God shouted for joy, the delight of the Father was the Son who lay in His bosom. That calm was undisturbed when He made the worlds. Nor was it broken when He came into the world. Though the humbled, emptied One here, He was owned of the Father as He began the public and active service of His life, and as, in a sense, He closed it, in sweetly memorable Words: "This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased." From the moment when His life-service was owned and the Son of Man was wrapped in the cloud of the excellent glory, down to the cross was but a second stoop of love and devotion: "As the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do." "Therefore doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again" (John xiv. 31 and x. 17).
How fitted is He, to declare the Father's name whilst still in this world! (John iii. 13). Yet was the full adequate declaration of it only possible when Christ was risen. "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." He made good this Word the third day after its utterance, when He bade Mary to go to His "brethren" and say, "I ascend unto My Father, and your Father." Redemption had wrought a mighty change. It had opened up for man an entirely new position. The Father's name is fully declared, and, through the finished and accepted work of Christ, the believer enters into the fruit of it; the love wherewith Christ is loved is in Him, and Christ is in Him. He lives unto God, a Child before His Father.
How far, dear fellow-believer, how far have we apprehended the truth that our deliverance from the law and from sin is that we may enjoy God and taste the Father's love? Is the grace that has made us children of the ever-blessed Father, deeply wrought into our hearts? Do we bless our God every day that He is truly our Father, and our Father according to the excellence of the relationship His own Son had down here in humiliation, and has on high as the exalted One? Does this close and tender relationship form our hearts and our ways by its own unspeakable grace? Do the joys of the way and its sorrows come to us from a Father's hand? Are the mercies of our path and its trials fragrant to our hearts with the love that the Father bears Jesus, His Son, our Lord? Is the service we render the service of children whose hearts are fresh with the Father's love? And is the meanest work of daily life the service of an obedient and devoted child? As our God looks down into our hearts, does He see the answer to, and the reflection of, His own blessed love?
Beloved, the spirit of adoption is in us to produce the holy affections suited to the relationship in which we are with our God. His witness with our spirit (according to Romans viii.) is not a witness to our pardon, nor even to the favour in which we stand with God. Above and beyond these priceless blessings, His witness is that we are CHILDREN OF GOD. Witness beyond all price for a soul, hitherto a child of wrath! Witness sweet and refreshing as the dew of Hermon, yet mighty in the exceeding greatness of His power Who dwells in us, the Seal of divine and perfect love and the Earnest of assured glory yet to come! We have received the Spirit "that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." This same Spirit is "the power that worketh in us" that we may enjoy here below, in spite of the circumstances around and the weakness within, the love of the Father which is in us and Christ Himself Who is in us. How happy are we, beloved! How blessed our place! How deep our joys! How real the power our God has given that we may taste them! Soon our Lord will lead us up to that Father Whose name He has declared. In joy unspeakable for Him and for us, He will present us before the presence of His glory. Then unhinderedly and unceasingly we shall "live unto God" in His Own eternal home, purged worshippers before our God, adopted children with our Father. "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
THE OBEDIENCE OF THE CHILD OF GOD.
"That I might live unto God." If this living unto God is characterized inwardly by (1) the enjoyment of God and (2) the spirit of adoption, it is marked outwardly by (3) obedience and (4) fruitfulness.
(3) The obedience which the law required was the condition of attaining to life: "The man which doeth these things shall live by them." The obedience of the child of God is the fruit of life by the power of the Holy Ghost Which is given him. It is not the obedience of a servant in the outer court, but of one "brought nigh'' to God; of a child in the happy consciousness of his relationship with his Father. This nearness to God is according to the new place of the risen Christ, his relationship is that of Christ: "My Father and your Father, My God and your God." It is so with the obedience. We are called to obey as Christ obeyed. Alas, how short we come! Yet "he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked" (1 John ii. 6). We are sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ (1 Peter i. 2).
But oh, what obedience was His! As the Eternal God, it was His to command. Yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. Let no one imagine that this means that He learned to obey. Nay, verily; but He learned what obedience is, and that in its whole extent when obedience involved suffering, shame, and death.
We learn from His Own Words, the character of His obedience: "Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; Mine ears hast Thou opened. Then said I, Lo, I come: 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. xl. 6-8). Faithful Servant of the Father's counsel, whilst Son of His love, we would bow our heads as we contemplate Thy perfections; blessed Master and Model for us, we would learn of Thee, meek and lowly in heart as Thou wast down here!
"Lo, I come to do Thy will" characterized, we may say, all His path from the moment when He said it, coming into the world, "until the day in which He was taken up, after He, through the Holy Spirit, had given commandments to the apostles." What a pattern for us! "Mine ears hast Thou opened " (Heb. digged). That is, He had in obedience to the will He came to do, and taken the place of a servant and received of God the body prepared for Him. Compare with this Psalm, Hebrews x. 5 and Phil. ii. 7.
Further light is thrown upon the character of His obedience by Isaiah 1., and most precious it is. Himself Jehovah with His unshortened hand of might (verses 2, 3), He bows to receive from the Lord Jehovah the tongue of the learned; not, however, for high things and mighty among men, but for the manifestation of lowly grace in speaking a word in season to him that is weary. Compare Matthew xi. 28-30, where He is, as here, the rejected One bowing to the will of another, and receiving all, even rejection and heart-breaking grief, from Him.
Nor is it only the one stoop, stupendous as it was, of taking a servant's place: "He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ears to hear as the learned." It was the obedience of perfect love, which hung daily upon the will, and lived by the Word, of God His Father. Satan could not move Him from this entire obedience by his baits or his wiles. He presented to Him the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; but all in vain. He whispered a doubt of His Father's love in leaving Him for forty days without food, and sought to beguile the perfect Servant from the path of obedience. He would induce HIM, if he could, to use the power He had as Son of God to take Himself out of the difficulties and trials of the path of obedience on which He had entered as servant of His Father's will and counsels: "If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." Ah, Satan, all thy wisdom is folly in the presence of The Mighty Conqueror. The wiles of the devil were all in vain for One whose meat it was to do the will of Him who had sent Him. The Man Jesus Christ was here to do His will, to live upon His Word. Morning by morning, His ear was wakened—daily, absolute dependence! "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Equally perfect was the obedience unto death. Satan, vanquished by the Lord as He entered upon His public service, returns in view of the Cross to alarm the Lord, and to draw Him, if he could, from the path of full obedience, obedience, "unto death, even the death of the Cross." Up to this point, this path was in the clear shining of His Father's smile. Rejection by man could not touch this. Hunger and poverty could not hide the smile that lighted a path through a world estranged from God. The homeless stranger might pass His night on the Mount of Olives while the creatures of His hand slept upon their beds; all was light and favour above. "I always do the things which please Him." "This voice came not because of Me, but for your sakes." He needed no voice to tell Him that He was there, and then, and ever the delight of His Father.
But now the dark shadows of the Cross are on the path of the Lord, and Satan is there, as if with the last forlorn hope that the fear of death—death in all its dread reality as the judgment of God—might turn the One, Who loved supremely the presence and smile of His Father, from a path which must lead into the darkness of the forsaking of God. Who shall tell the anguish of that Holy Soul? The "strong crying and tears" and "the sweat like great drops of blood, falling down to the ground," tell the tale as far as our poor hearts can take it in. How the heart bows, dumb before "this great sight!"
"When we see Thee in the garden,
In Thine agony of blood.
At Thy grace we are confounded,
Holy spotless Lamb of God!"
An angel strengthens the obedient Man, Who became, in astounding grace, "a little lower than the angels."
Listen! "O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, THY WILL BE DONE." Satan is finally vanquished even in his stronghold—his goods are spoiled. The obedient One goes down to the Cross. "But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence."
"Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." The first man dishonoured God and lost everything by disobedience. The second man has honoured God supremely, and brought to His name a deeper glory, and a higher, than was possible in an earthly paradise; and He has won for man more than Adam lost. "By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous."
Beloved, we live unto God in the excellence of the life which Christ is. We are called to an obedience here below stamped with the character of His obedience.
"THAT I MIGHT LIVE UNTO GOD."
"And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak, therefore, even as the Father said unto Me, so I speak'' (John xii. 50). Such was the language of the perfectly obedient One, Who in Spirit had said long before: "Thy law is within my heart." His was obedience which, while extending to every detail of daily walk, had its seat deep in the soul. The Spirit of God would work such obedience in us. It is in the very terms of the New Covenant: "I will put My laws into their hearts and in their minds will I write them." What a marvel of grace! We are dead to the law, and thus free from its curse and delivered from its bondage. But we live unto God with His Word and will, wrought into the inner man, that our obedience may be "from the heart," the obedience of children who delight in their Father's good pleasure.
Even when our obedience is tested by direct and positive commandments, these have no legal character. They always imply an assured place before God, or a known relationship with Him. Love is the substance of the old commandment and of the new (see 1 John ii. 7, 8). Its measure and its motive-power are: "As I have loved you." Ointment more precious for God than the costliest that was poured upon Aaron's head and ran down upon his beard! Gentler dew than ever refreshed Hermon—than ever descended upon the mountains of Zion!" "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity"—-to manifest one to another the love which had its fulness and wrought in its perfection in the heart of Christ! Truly His commandments are not grievous.
(4) Even fruitfulness itself is a part of this blessed obedience—the obedience of Christ. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples . . . I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit" (John xv. 8-16).
This fruitfulness is an essential manifestation of the new life for, and unto, God. "That ye should bring forth fruit unto God" is given in Romans vii. as the purpose and object of our deliverance from the law, and of our new relation "to Him who is raised from the dead."
Here again, we are in company with Christ. As He was supremely the godly Man, Whose "delight was in the law of the Lord"—blessed obedient One!—so was He "like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season." And this is our calling—our unspeakable privilege. "He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit."
The law could never produce fruitfulness for God. It could not give life before God, and there can be no fruit without life. The law was addressed to man in his natural life and responsibility to God, and required of him, corresponding works. Life was proposed to man, offered to him on certain conditions. In this sense, the commandment was "[ordained] to life." But man, guilty and without strength, finds it, and must find it, to be "unto death." So far from giving life, it could only bring death into the conscience by applying the righteous and inexorable claims of God upon a creature who is gone away from God and is already under sentence of death. But life, without which is no fruit it could not give.
The believer lives unto God through the death of Him who died for him. His life is the eternal life which is in the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ, Whom He hath sent; it is life "more abundantly" by the breath of the risen Jesus.
Is it not natural that such a life should bring forth fruit unto God? Is it not the purpose of Him who says: "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise" (Isaiah xliii. 21)? This is said of the Israel of God's purpose, and will be made good in a day soon to break in gladness for the ransomed of the Lord. But it is true of the people which God owns to-day—"a people near to the Lord:"
"Nearer still, through Jesus's blood."
Numbers xxiii. and xxiv. tell us God's thoughts of His people—of Israel seen" from the top of the rocks," seen "in the vision of the Almighty." His people are a chosen, separated people for Himself (chap, xxiii. 9); they are a justified people (verse 21); they are a people fresh with the beauty and fruitfulness of His Own grace (chap. xxiv. 5-9). How refreshing and strengthening to hear our God say: "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters!" What a change from the cruel bondage of Satan's power in this present evil world—from making bricks without straw in the fiery kilns of Egypt! What a change from the wrath of God abiding on us! Ay, and what a change from the vain striving, the bondage and the curse of a law which could only wring from the despairing heart, "O wretched man that I am!"
Now there are not only streams of refreshing, but there is water to spare for needy ones around: "He shall pour the water out of his buckets." Or in the language of the full revelation of God in Christ: "Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters." The Holy Ghost in His blessed ministry of Christ, is not only a fresh spring of joy and satisfaction within the soul, but also rivers of living water flowing forth in a dry and thirsty land.
The barrenness and selfishness of our old man, whether under law or lawless, is replaced by the fruitfulness of gardens by the river's side. Trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted, fresh and fragrant for Him, and a blessing from His hand—a precious witness of His grace to all around. The promise is made good in THE SEED, "I will bless thee . . . and thou shalt be a blessing."
If we turn to the days of Israel's decline, when Baal and the calves and all abominable idolatries had brought her to ruin, we read the same story of grace from the hand and heart of God. "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon . . .They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon" (Hos. xiv. 4-7). Precious fruit of restoring grace! And that grace through the blood of the New Covenant! Abundant fruit too, suited to the grace which produces it!
"Corn and wine and oil,'' God's well-known emblems of His fruitful blessing are here in God-like plenty. Well may Ephraim exclaim: "What have I to do any more with idols?" Tender and full of mercy, the answer of Jehovah, "I have heard him, and observed him!" (Compare Jer. xxxi. 18-21). Restored and confiding Ephraim replies, "I am like a green fir tree"; to hear in return from his God's own lips of faithful love, "From Me is thy fruit found."
May we remember it, beloved! May we be kept near to Him, from Whom alone our fruit is found! May we live upon His Word! May it dwell richly in us in all wisdom! May our hearts be kept in lowly dependence, continuing "instant in prayer!" May we be kept in holy separation from all evil, yet in a separation wholly unto Christ, supreme and perfect goodness.
It is to be feared, this positive side of Christianity is but feebly apprehended by us. Did we but enjoy our God better, we should be more truly "imitators of God as dear children." We should "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour." The bowels of Christ would be more free in our souls,—streams of living water flow more abundantly from our inner man.
The Lord grant it to us, for this is true fruit-bearing for God! "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." "If any man serve me, him will My Father honour."
"I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST."
It is thus that the just sentence of the law has been executed upon the sinner who believes in Jesus. It is thus that the righteous judgment of God has fallen upon him. The sentence has been executed, there is none remaining. The judgment has fallen, there is none to come. What a deliverance! As manifestly righteous as it is complete and eternal!
Faith cries with divine assurance: "I am crucified with Christ"; God has judged me already, my nature and all its out-goings. He has pardoned my sins on the sure and righteous ground of the blood-shedding of Christ. He has dealt too, not in pardon but in destruction, with the bad tree which bare all these evil fruits. He has crucified my old man with Christ, "that the body of sin might be destroyed." My old man, fallen, rebellious, guilty, and polluted, exists no more before God. I am dead—"crucified with Christ."
What peace has the soul which apprehends this entire deliverance! Not only is the voice of the accuser stilled as to sins, countless as the sea-sand though they may have been; not only is the conscience at peace as to ten thousand transgressions; but it knows that to the root of sin the axe has been laid—that before God, and by His judgment, "our old man is crucified . . . for he that is dead is freed from sin." (Rom. vi. 6, 7).
Here and here alone is solid ground for abiding peace. The more we know what our God is—the more we have apprehended the majesty of His throne, the holiness of His Being, the less possible is settled peace without the knowledge that the life in which we dishonoured God, has met its end in the Cross of Christ. But the deeper this knowledge of God, the more perfect the peace when faith lays hold of the thrice-blessed fact that sin, in its principle and root, has already been judged by God, Who in the Cross of His Son, has put an end to the life which was SIN before His eyes. "I am crucified with Christ."
A pious poet, in a well-known hymn, has prayed—
"Nail my affections to the Cross."
It is to be feared that many, who should be walking in the liberty where-with Christ makes free, are just where this writer seems to have been, i.e. vainly striving to accomplish in practical experience that which God has already done in the death of Christ. God has crucified our old man with Christ. He has done more—He has told us of it, that we might enjoy present liberty, and "that henceforth we should not serve sin."
We are never told to crucify our flesh,—our old man. The Word of God bears distinct and repeated witness that our old man has been crucified. Rom. vi. 6, bears this testimony in terms too clear to admit of a doubt. The passage we are considering is not less explicit. In Gal. v. 24, the Spirit of God attributes to the believer (i.e. to the one who has submitted himself to God's righteousness and said "Amen" to His righteous judgment), the crucifying of the flesh. But He does not consent it as the duty of a Christian or as a thing which he has still to do; He does not speak of it as a matter of experience or of growth, but as a thing done and finished. For faith, as for God, it is done—"They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."
It is true that it is said in Col. iii. 5, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth." But the reader will remark, (1) that the Spirit of God says emphatically in the same passage, "For ye are dead," and (2) that it is not the old man which we are to mortify—that is crucified—but it is the fruits and works of the flesh to which death is to be applied. In other words, God has completely and finally judged and put to death our old man and we are to reckon ourselves "to be dead indeed unto sin." We are further to apply the sentence of death to every deed or work of the flesh. May our God effectually work both in our souls!
How admirable, how divinely beautiful is the way in which the Spirit of God presents the doctrine and the practical truth which flows from it in Rom. vi. 10, 11! Speaking of Christ, He says, "In that He died, He died unto sin once." It is not here, the truth most blessedly developed elsewhere, that Christ died for our sins. This truth is of sovereign importance both for the glory of God and for our blessing. But here it is said, "He died unto sin." In His life—all spotless and a sweet savour to God—He had had to do with sin in its countless and bitter fruits (Matt. viii. 16, 17; Luke v. 20, 24); and on the Cross, He was made sin. But in dying, He passed out of the condition and sphere in which He was made sin; He died unto it. He poured out His soul unto death. In the devotion of perfect obedience, He laid down His life. He never took His life again in the condition and sphere in which He laid it down. He has done with the whole state into which He entered in obedience to His Father and in grace for man; "in that He died, He died unto sin once."
The next verse applies the same language to us; the only difference being that in our case, it is "through Jesus Christ our Lord," or "in Christ Jesus." "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin." God would never tell us to reckon a thing which is not true. Thank God, it is true! We are "dead indeed unto sin." It is He who has wrought it. The law has no claim upon a dead man; sin has no authority over him. In the death which God has executed upon the believer in the death of Christ, the believer has passed out of the condition and sphere in which he lived. Was that condition one of guilt? He is dead; no guilt can attach itself to a dead man. He may have been guilty in life but he is dead.
Had the death taken place in his own person it would have been the second death, and scripture tells us that this is the lake of fire. The death has taken place in the death of Christ, which death perfectly met every claim of God upon the sinner who believes in Jesus. A new life in a risen Christ is his portion, but the old life is gone, and with it, all its guilt and defilement.
Was he responsible before God to keep His holy law? A dead man cannot be responsible. When he comes out in a new life, this life has its responsibilities and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to answer to them. But the law is for men living their natural life before God, alas! a fallen and rebellious life. This life for the believer exists no more; he is dead. God bids him to reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin. It is so, but there is great danger that he should fail to reckon it. Hence the solemn injunction.
O bless God! we are dead indeed unto sin; He says so. The judgment of sin can never come upon us again. Death has closed for us the whole old scene as it has for Christ. May He give us every day and in everything to hold ourselves as dead indeed unto sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus!
"I am crucified with Christ" tells of as absolute, a close, for faith, of the old life—the life we lived when we were in the flesh—as the Red Sea was of Israel's life in Egypt. With them as with us, the blood formed the righteous basis of God's dealings in grace. Impossible to pass the Red Sea without the shelter of the blood of the Lamb! Those who braved death, typified by the Red Sea, without the shelter of the blood "sank as lead in the mighty waters." For those who had found this safety in the blood "as of a lamb without blemish and without spot", DEATH WAS DELIVERANCE. It closed forever the life heretofore lived, with its distance from God, its guilt, its pollution, its flesh-pots and its bondage. And thus it is with every soul whom God has taught to say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
"Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
"CHRIST LIVETH IN ME."
This is indeed "life eternal." This is the life which the knowledge of "the only true God," revealed in the Son of His love, has given us. Well may the last words of Christ ere He crossed the brook Kidron, the night in which He was betrayed, linger in our hearts: "And 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 full fruition of this declaration of the Father's Name awaited the gift of the Holy Ghost. Nor could the declaration itself be completed until the risen Christ should breathe out upon His own the Holy Ghost. Blessed as was, the declaration of the Father's Name by Christ still down here, there was a reserve. It could not be otherwise. Christ had a baptism to be baptized with, and He was restrained till it was accomplished. The disciples too were dull of hearing; their understandings had not been opened as they were by the risen Jesus.
"Go to my brethren," said He, the day He rose, "and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God and your God." Here was a full declaration of the Father's Name, a declaration which put the saints in His own place before His Father. He had a place all His own as the Eternal Son of the Father. But He was Son of God as born into this world; "that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke i. 35). Is He thus a Son in all the conscious nearness, in all the sweet fellowship of that relationship? He sets us in the same blessed place, in the same holy relationship. On His side, Christ gives it freely and unreservedly; and the Holy Ghost comes down as the promise of the Father, and as shed forth by Christ, that on our side, it may be made good. The Spirit of God can now say: "Which thing is true in Him and in you" (1 John ii. 8).
The relationship exists, and the love is not wanting. It was supreme and perfect love that counselled for us, and gave to us such a place; but the love is now according to the relationship already existing. God did love us although we were sinners. Now the Father Himself loveth us as His own children. He loves with the sort of love He bears to the Son of His love. This love is in us. Our bodies, which are the temple of the Holy Ghost, are the vessels of this unspeakable love. It is IN us, and Christ is in us.
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly" (John x. 10). We have life through His death; we have life, and life abundantly in the power of His resurrection. In His death, He gave Himself for us; risen, He gave Himself to us. Looking at the truth from another point of view, we may say that God gave His Son for us. Unspeakable gift! When that Son in grace for us and in obedience to the counsels of eternal love, had gone down into death, the working of the mighty power of God raised Him from the dead. But the might of that power is wrought towards us too, who were dead in trespasses and sins; it raised us up with Christ. Thus has God given us eternal life.
Now Christ is this life in us. He lives in us in the power of the Holy Ghost and by His presence in our body. It is thus that He lives in us, so that it can be said, "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (Rom. viii. 10), and that at the same time, He may be OUR life.
How can we bless our God worthily? The eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested unto us. How perfect the manifestation among men of "eternal life" when Christ walked down here! But what was it for God to look down upon! How the Father found His delight in it! If our hearts, as won for Christ, are moved to adoring wonder in tracing His path of faithful love, of holy devotion, of perfect grace, of unsullied light, what was that life for the One whose will He was doing—for the Father in whose bosom He dwelt!
"Faithful amidst unfaithfulness,
Mid darkness only light,
Thou did'st Thy Father's Name confess,
And in His will delight."
That same eternal life is now in us. Its manifestation is feeble, but the life is perfect. There is no feebleness in Him Who now lives in us. The life is the same whether seen in its perfection in Christ or dwelling in the saint. In Christ, as the Father owned His Son in Whom He was well pleased, and as the Spirit sealed Him, eternal life was perfectly manifested. In the believer, loved of the Father and sealed by the Holy Ghost, the eternal life subsists—however feeble, its expression. The "eternal life" is the same; there could not be two.
What blessing for us is this! As the Father looks down upon those in whom He has put His love—the same love He bears Christ—He sees the same eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us. He saw its lovely manifestations at the well of Sychar, near the pool of Siloam, at the gate of Nain, at the cave at Bethany, in the temple at Jerusalem. Who shall tell what the sight was to the Father of our Lord Jesus in His sanctuary on high! The sweet savour of that perfect life never failed in that holy place, whilst Jesus tabernacled amongst men. What fellowship of untold love, of perfect delight between the hallowed courts on high, and the hallowed place where Jesus walked in lowly grace! God's good pleasure was indeed with men. With what delight does the Father now see that eternal life in His dear children! With what satisfaction does He enjoy its sweet savour, as it now reaches the sanctuary from hearts which He has formed for Himself!
"And is this the manner of man, O Lord God?" Who but God could have thought toward us such thoughts of peace? Who but He could have loved us in our distance and alienation? Who but the Son of His love could have made good that love to us by a work which met every claim of God and revealed His whole heart? "How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!" Well may our hearts bow before this sovereign grace, before the God of all grace! When we were defiled before His pure eyes and guilty before His righteous majesty, He gave His own Son to die for us; He brought us nigh by the blood of Christ. What a heart is His! A heart which would not be satisfied with a less blessing for us than Christ in us—Christ the revelation of the Father—the eternal life that was with the Father! What a Father to know! And what a way of giving us to know Him! Truly "this is LIFE ETERNAL, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent." And what answer, dearly beloved, have our hearts to all this? Should not our answer be, a heart wholly given up to Christ, and ways which tell that He is dwelling there by faith? May our God work effectually in our souls to call forth this answer in an ever growing measure by His good Spirit which dwelleth in us!
"THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD."
It is of the utmost importance to remember that the eternal life, which Christ is in us, is in the power and sphere of resurrection. "The exceeding greatness of His (God's) power to usward who believe" which, quickening us, has given us this life "abundantly", is "according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places." And we have already seen, looking at the truth from another point of view, that it was not till Christ was risen that He breathed the breath of life eternal upon His saints.
It is a risen One who lives in us, a life in a new sphere and in new and holy and eternal relations. The old sphere where sin reigned unto death is left behind. The sphere of the law's divine authority lies on the other side of the Cross and grave of Christ. Where the risen Christ lives, grace reigns—not on the ruins of a broken law, but consequent upon its being magnified above all human thought—-not with sin still before the eye of God, but "through righteousness manifested in its eternal judgment in the death of Christ unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you" (John xiv. 20). That day is come with its unutterable blessing for the children of God. We are in Christ; it is our new and eternal place before God. He has put us there; there He sees us. But Christ is in us too; Christ the risen One; Christ alive for evermore; Christ "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead"; Christ is in us, our Life. Not only is He the eternal life which was with the Father; not only is He the One who can say, "I am in the Father," but He is truly in us by the Holy Spirit. It is thus that in the highest and fullest sense "old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. And all things are of God."
Doubtless, we shall live this blessed life above. Its sphere, its home, is there Christ Who is our life is already there. It is His Father's house—ours too, because He has entered it for us. But we live this life now, though it is indeed a life away from home, a life in the midst of circumstances altogether opposed to it. Faith will not be needed when the rest of God is come and we have entered it. But for this life to be manifested in our mortal flesh—this indeed calls for a simple and earnest faith. It is our calling, it is our unspeakable privilege that the eternal life which we have in the knowledge of God revealed in His blessed Son, should be daily manifested in our mortal body; that "what we now live in the flesh" should be "by the faith of the Son of God."
In passing, let it be remarked that the apostle does not call our connection with the present scene "life"; it is rather "daily dying." But whatever we may call our present state in unredeemed bodies (Rom. viii. 23), it is given to us to live it "by the faith of the Son of God." It is only by faith that this life is brought into activity in the scene through which we pass; it is only by faith that it ever becomes a practical reality in our souls. Faith makes what is unseen to be an enjoyed and operative reality (Heb. xi. 1); it makes what is yet to come, when we shall live this eternal life in its own clime—in its own home, to be a present thing. It brings in God so that we walk in His fear, and we taste, and live in, His perfect love. We receive this life by faith, we enjoy it by faith, and we manifest it by faith. Law never enters into account here; it could not give life, it could not maintain it, it could do nothing towards its manifestation. Christ in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, known to faith and enjoyed by faith, is life and liberty, satisfaction and power.
But what is the faith of the Son of God? It is that which lays hold of His fulness and brings it into the soul. It is that which apprehends the beauty and grace of His path down here, and feeds upon Him as the heavenly Manna. It is that which bows adoringly as it contemplates His obedience unto death, and is so nourished upon Him there and thus, as to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; it is so strengthened as to love the fellowship of His sufferings. It is that which beholds Him as He is glorified on high, and is changed into the same image from glory to glory. It is that which brings CHRIST into every detail of doing and suffering, of service and communion in our pilgrimage, that judges of everything by Christ, that love's and brings into the soul the mind which was in Christ Jesus (Phil. ii. 5). It is that by which those who abide in Him walk as He also walked. It is the faith which is from the Son of God, its blessed Giver, which returns to the Son of God, its single, absorbing, exclusive object, and which owes all its character and all its power to the Son of God.
The eternal Son of God, as such, was never under the law. And when His stupendous stoop of purest grace brought Him under it, as born of a woman, born under the law, He not only magnified it in His life, but He bore its curse in His death; He was "made a curse for us." By resurrection, He was declared to be the Son of God with power. The veil had been rent as He expired, and His cry in that solemn hour, "It is finished," is now answered by a rolled-away stone and an empty grave. His undisputed victory gives Him those He is not ashamed to call "brethren" as the sharers of His victory and companions of His glory. Impossible to bring the risen Son of God or those given to Him by His Father under the law. "Faith is come" (Gal. iii. 25). By it we enter into the blessed fruits of His death; we are in Him as the risen One, and He is in us. The power of His resurrection is our triumphant deliverance, our eternal blessing. We enter into it by faith—the faith of the Son of God.
Oh, for this faith in a deeper and wider measure! But faith is ever formed by, is nourished by, and reposes alone upon the Word of God. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." If we have to deplore the feebleness of our faith, beloved, let it not be in idle lamentation; but let it be, through the grace of our God, in the diligence and vigour which feeds on, which lives upon the Word of God.
"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" (Col. iii. 16).
"WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME."
WHAT words are these from the lips and pen of the chief of sinners, snatched from the wrath to come in the hour when his mad and wicked rage was touching its highest point! What words for us to repeat with hearts throbbing their unspoken praise!
And did the Son of God love Saul of Tarsus? Was His eye upon him in compassion, in tenderest sovereign love, as the clothes of Stephen's murderers lay at his feet? Fathomless love! Love possible only in the bosom of the Son of God!
The importance of the place which Stephen's martyrdom occupies, its character as a sort of filling-up of the guilt of those who, with wicked hands, had crucified and slain the Lord of glory, and especially its relation to the subject before us, render desirable a few remarks upon it. The cross was the highest expression of the hatred of man against Him Who had come down from God in the pure grace which seeks and saves the lost. But to the Lord's prayer, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do." His murderers owed a "lengthening of their tranquility." Alas! that they should have used it to do despite to the Spirit of grace and to send a message by Stephen, "We will not have this man to reign over us!" Yet, just as Jesus of Nazareth was a Man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs which God did by Him, so Stephen, the witness of a glorified Jesus, was not left without divine testimony. Those who had deliberately refused the miracles and wonders and signs which God did by the Lord Jesus, sinned against the Holy Ghost Who shone in Stephen's face. Those who boasted that their great law-giver's face shone with the reflected glory of Jehovah, refused the same light when it testified that Jesus is Jehovah. The wickedness of man had reached its deepest depth. And Saul presided at that bloody scene! He consented to the death of a man in whose face the light of heaven beamed; a man, moreover, whose only crime was his relations with Jesus the Son of God.
It is permitted to us now to turn trom earth with its gnashing of teeth upon the follower of Christ, and its stoning of that shining face—to turn to heaven and learn its choicest thoughts. At the right hand of the majesty there, Jesus stands to receive the spirit of His beloved and honoured witness. The circle which is filled with joy when one sinner repenteth, was moved with fresh delight as the standing Jesus received that thrice happy spirit. Man had done his worst, and that "worst" was to put to sleep the object of his hatred. Hatred is never satisfied. It gnaws the heart in which it dwells. The unhappy murderers leave the scene of their wild and cruel rage with gnawings of hell in their bosoms. But love in its home above, kept high feast at that self-same moment. Ere the devout men had raised for its burial the disfigured body but lately bright with the light of Jehovah-Jesus' face, the released spirit was received into the arms of eternal love. It gazes, satisfied, on the face of Jesus. The joy of Jesus like the flow of David's loving tears exceedeth! He has more joy in receiving Stephen to the paradise of God than Stephen has in finding himself "present with the Lord." But LOVE IS SATISFIED;—love in its full fountain in that eternal heart, and love in its blessed stream in that ransomed spirit.
From that height, the eye of the Son of God is upon the chief of the persecutors as the mortal scene closes and as each takes up his clothes. Eyes as a flame of fire indeed, and yet full of unspeakable love! He looks down upon the blasphemer, the persecutor, the injurious man, not to take speedy vengeance, not to cry, "Depart thou cursed into everlasting fire." No, blessed Son of God! Thoughts of peace and not of evil are Thine towards Saul of Tarsus Thine enemy!
"Who loved me." Not a step of all that path of rebellion and hatred against God in His highest and fullest manifestation of Himself, but was known to the Son of God. Precious were the saints to the heart of Jesus; He calls them "Me" for indeed they were bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh! Of old it was said, "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of My eye." Doubly true was this of those whom Saul persecuted. Indeed, it was not for their own sake that he hated the disciples of Jesus. It was solely because of the Name they bare. Hear his own testimony before Agrippa of the "many things" he did "contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth"—"I punished them oft in every synagogue; and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to strange cities." (Acts xxvi. 11 ).
Truly, he was the chief of sinners. His malice against God manifested in the flesh, his turning the highest attainments, the most lofty position and the most perfect righteousness in the flesh to frustrate the best work of God, and that in which His heart was most engaged—in this he was truly the chief of sinners. With what abhorrence do the pure eyes of the Son of God behold sin? And such sin, how it grieved Him at His heart!
The heart of Paul felt his own former guilt as he wrote his burning words of warning to saints in danger of going back to a system, the sworn enemy of Christ and of His cross. How he judged afresh the wicked course which Christ Himself cut short in His heavenly majesty, in His mighty grace as Saul neared the scene of further havoc among the saints. But deeper than his guilt was his Saviour's love. Higher than his rage at its highest against Christ, was the love that knew it all, that saw it all beforehand, that felt it all and yet poured itself out in choicest blessing on his guilty head. How his heart thrilled again as he thought that he personally—the guilty persecutor—was before the eye of the Son of God when He yielded Himself to accomplish the ineffable purposes of God; then "He loved me and gave Himself for me."
And is there not a clear sweet-sounding echo in our hearts, beloved? Is there not more than an echo? Does not the fresh ministry of Christ to our hearts now call forth with renewed love this hallowed cry, "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me"? A cry sweetly personal! Had I been the only sinner to be redeemed to God by blood, Jesus my Saviour would have come, would have lived and died for me,—would have poured out His soul unto death on my behalf! I was before His eye—each child of grace can say—/ was dear to His heart as He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." It was for me, guilty, hell-deserving me, that He cried (drops of blood on His brow, and tears in His eyes) "If this cup may not pass from Me except I drink It, Thy will "be done." It was for me that at last, in the thick darkness of the place of a skull, He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Jesus, Son of God, what does this poor heart owe to Thee! What for the favour of God now! And what, for all the joys of Thy Father's house by-and-by!
And this, knowing all beforehand,—all the rebellion, all the guilt, all the heartless sin against perfect love in which we once lived. This, too, knowing all the waywardness and coldness of our hearts since we have tasted His grace! "Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Beloved brethren, with a heart moved as this priceless love and its precious fruits pass before the mind, let me press upon you the practical bearing of all this. "What I now live in the flesh," says the apostle, "I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Shall we not seek in a deeper measure, this present, abiding sense of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge? Shall we not seek that our hearts may be led captive by it; that our ear, our hand, our foot, sanctified by the sprinkled blood and anointing oil, may be given up entirely to Him who died for us and rose again?
Jesus, Son of God! take these feeble hearts, fill them with Thy PERFECT LOVE; work in them mightily by Thy good Spirit that, as Thou livest in us, so what we now live in the flesh may be by the faith of the Son of God Who loved us and gave Himself for us.