20. “Always confident”
We close these chapters upon the Gospel of our Salvation with the inspired words, “Therefore, we are always confident;” and may this language be the heart utterance of each of our readers.
“Confident!” Yes, christian; yet not the confidence of ignorance, which leaves this life for eternity with a leap in the dark, which sleeps in false peace while the house burns below; nor that of self-trust, which boasts of security as the ship settles down to her watery grave. But the confidence of those whose eyes are open to eternal realities, who have looked upon sin and their own sins; have beheld the righteousness of God; have seen, by faith, into heaven and into hell; and who, in view of all, trust not in self, but calmly, peacefully, rest in God.
Such as believe not the gospel may have unstable reasons for their confidence; but we are those “who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil. 3:3.)
Neither is the word “confident” only, but “always confident.” Some of God's people have confidence for an hour and then they lose it; theirs is like the ray of sunshine which pierces the cloud and is gone; they are like the changeful ocean, now calm and again disturbed — one day the reflection of the heavens upon its bosom, the next the agitation of its own troubled waters; this is not being “always confident.”
Christian confidence, we say, is built upon a solid base, a rock, which shall never be moved, and because of this we have the therefore of the apostle. God Himself was the foundation for his trust. “He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore, we are always confident.” (2 Cor. 5:5, 6.) The rock upon which these men of old trusted was God; and since God was their rock they could look into their hearts and thence up to the throne of glory, where Christ sits at God's right hand; they could look upon themselves as servants; they could look upon the trials of their daily lives; the martyr's end; death; the coming of their Lord and ours yea, more: they could look upon the judgment-seat of Christ; and, in view of all, they could declare heartily, joyfully, “We are always confident.”
Confidence when looking within the heart as in the sight of God.
“God hath shined in our hearts.” (4:6.) Once these hearts were a moral chaos, once they were dark and dead; no light, no love, moved there, and enmity towards God strode across the gloom; sin and evil passions, the activities of moral corruption, teemed within. “We all had 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 the children of wrath.” (Eph. 2:3.) But God shined in; God said “Let there be light, and there was light.” There was a new creation, and it was entirely of God. The Creator brought into these hearts, by His sovereign grace,what was not born there; by His own light He showed what sin was, what self was, and proved by His love the excellence of His light. Yes! all believers can say, “God hath shined in our hearts.” We have had our guilt, our sinful being, discovered to us by the power of the Divine Spirit, and by no less a brilliancy than that which radiates from the Person of the Son of God enthroned in heaven. Yet more, we have had the heart of God, and His glory in the Person of His Son revealed to us. And further, our hearts have been rejoiced in the light of Life. God knows these hearts; every pulsation of our moral being is bare to His vision; He, and He alone, is acquainted with the density of the darkness which once filled them, and with our folly in seeking to cast the darkness out of our hearts. For we, in vain efforts to change our nature, were like men endeavouring to carry the darkness out of a shuttered room. And the overwhelming evidence of God being for us, lies here — God shined in. And the darkness fled before His light.
Where, then, is room for doubt — we will not say despair since God hath Himself wrought this selfsame thing? The marvel is, His grace; the wonder is, His love. “Therefore, we are always confident.”
Confidence in looking up into heaven.
From the darkest spot upon earth these men of old turned their gaze to the brightest place in heaven: from within their own hearts they looked to Christ on the throne in the glory. The eye of faith followed the sunbeam that shone into the dark heart to its glorious source. “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” “We see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor.” Yes! we see the once crucified Man throned in glory, and rejoice, for
“The light which shows our sinfulness
Shines from His face who bore our guilt.”
Those wounds of Jesus in glory tell the glad tidings of debt paid, judgment borne, self disposed of. Head of the New Creation, Firstborn from among the dead; He lives in glory, the Saviour of all who put their trust in Him — the Proof of their security — the Sample of their perfect salvation. And because He who died upon the cross in our stead lives in glory, and because God has made known the glorified One above to us, and shown us, in Him, our present security and what will be the result of our faith, the end of our expectations — even likeness to Christ above — “therefore,” as we look up into heaven, “we are always confident.”
Confidence in the presence of the righteousness of God.
Gladly would the godless welcome a gospel of no righteousness. Centuries ago the fool said in the desires of his heart, “No God.” For the fear of God troubles the sinner, and gives him weary hours; unless, indeed, his conscience has become seared as with a hot iron, and has become thickened with indifference, so as to be callous to the fear of judgment to come. But the righteousness of God is the very foundation of the gospel of God. God has built His palaces of love upon the rock of His righteousness, and the believer treads those courts in the liberty of the knowledge that his sins have been removed according to the righteousness of God, and that the cross of Christ, which his sins occasioned, has established the claims of the righteousness of God.
The righteousness of God once against us is now for us. It demands for all who are in Christ the blessings which Christ has secured for His own. The righteousness of God has raised up Christ from among the dead, and given Him glory, and “As He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17.) Such is our acceptance before God. “Therefore, we are always confident.”
Confidence occasioned by our very weakness.
We are but vessels, and earthen vessels,weak, and easily broken; but from felt weakness never arises lack of confidence in God when in His presence. God has chosen common and fragile vessels wherein to store His glory. In them He places the unutterable treasure of His own light; and He has put the light in, that it may shine forth! And its shining forth from heart and life expresses to the world, in some small way, the reality of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Would that the earthen vessels contained this light in greater brilliancy! Current infidelity out of its own mouth and life testifies to the impotency of the human mind to understand the scriptures. Without the Spirit of God the Word of God remains in man's hand a sealed book; but God has put His Spirit within His people that power may issue from them for His glory upon earth. He does not change the character of the earthen vessel for this end. Did He work in such a way, the vessel might be more valued than its contents. The excellency of the power is of God, not of us.
The weakness of the vessel continues. Circumstances are not changed by conversion. There are christians who expect to become golden vessels upon being born again; but although the treasure is richer than gold, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” While maintaining the place of vessels, God effects a shining forth of Christ that evidences the divine treasure within, and since God Himself has wrought us for this end, “Therefore we are always confident.”
Confidence in the trials of life.
Sorrow and pain are the inheritance of the children of men. Trials have to be borne, afflictions are appointed; and while the christian has trials which are common to the human race, he has others also of a different character. He has within him the Spirit of God, and thus has eyes to see sin and sorrow in some way as God beholds it. He has the mind of Christ, and, therefore, has intelligence to know the heart of his Lord, and His desires for His people, and ability to comprehend, at least in measure, the departure of men from Christ. And more, he is called to suffer for Christ in a world which is now, and ever was, against Christ. But shall suffering hush his triumphant song? Listen to these words, from those who suffered, as christians in our day seldom do: “Troubled on every side — yet not distressed; perplexed — but not in despair; persecuted — but not forsaken; cast down — but not destroyed.” Nay, these trials produced a sweet savour from their lives. These men were like the herb which, when beaten small, emits its fragrance, or like the grass which, torn by the bush harrow, fills the spring air with grateful sweetness. As they carried about in their bodies the dying of Jesus, the life of Jesus, His beauty and His grace, were made manifest in their mortal bodies.
When in heaven, in glorified bodies, there will be the fragrance of Christ issuing from His people, but while on earth, in weak, mortal bodies, there should likewise be the manifestation of the life of Jesus in us. It will be found true that those whose hearts know most of Christ glorified, will, in their lives, practically express most of Christ crucified. The knowledge of a glorified Christ is the sail of the vessel which catches the heavenly breezes, and hastens it to glory; the bearing about in the body of the dying of Jesus is the stability of the soul holding it aright in waves and storms. The heart filled with the Person of the glorified One, is filled with an object which calls out the vigour and energy of divine life, urging on the steps to heaven and Himself; the heart filled with the death of Christ — by which the world is crucified to the heart, and the heart to the world, and by which self is crucified with Christ — is filled with an intense and Christ-like spirit leading the steps to follow the path which the Lord trod when here on earth. It is a practical word, bearing about in the body the dying the dying on the cross — of the Lord Jesus, that the life — the character — also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal bodies.
Daily growing by sorrow and affliction, becoming continually more like to the Master, exhibiting the life of Jesus in daily things, and suffering and being persecuted, the God-given word again is heard from their lips, “Therefore we are always confident.”
Confidence in view of the martyr's end.
Even this caused no distrust. Hourly conflicts, trials, perplexities, learning of the defection of some hearts from Christ, and of difficulties amongst others of God's people, were the portion of these noble men, and beyond loomed the martyr's end, “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake.” But their triumphant cry of faith falters not. The very end would but introduce into His presence who died for them. “Therefore we are always confident.”
Confidence in the presence of death.
Let us look calmly at death; it may soon touch us. How shall we greet the “King of Terrors?” as the world designates that which God, speaking to His people, describes as Sleep! With these words, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens?” “We know!” What assurance is here; and, again, the confidence is built upon God. The shifting tent will be exchanged for the building of God. True, God formed our bodies from the dust, and to Him we owe our existence upon this earth, but sin has spoiled the fair beauty of these our tabernacles. Decay has smitten them. Death will take them down. And what then! Laid in the dust, they will be found no more. But a permanent building will arise, a house awaits each ransomed spirit, a house eternal in the heavens. God has a resurrection body in the future, and a home in glory waiting for His people.
And God has wrought this Himself. Yet more, should death come, should we be absent from the body and present with the Lord, Jesus Himself will, in a special way, be with us in the hour of death. For as the weakness of the child calls for the special solicitude of its mother, so the weakness of His people in their hour of death does, in a marked way, call out the tenderness of the Lord for them. It may happen, that when the feet of a saint are brought to the brim of Jordan, like its waters, his heart feels cold. He may know forgiveness, and be assured of glory, but still lack the joy of going home. We call to mind such an instance. The pilgrim in question, who had known for years the blessings of christian life, and had no doubts concerning her salvation, when death drew nigh said, “It seems so dark and friendless.” Then it was that these words, “I will be with thee,” changed the gloom to brightness, and the loneliness to joy. “I am not alone now,” she said, “Jesus is with me. His Person, as well as His work, is now filling my soul.” And so she passed over that river, the strength of the waters of which, His death exhausted for His people 1800 [now 2000!] years ago.
The apostle, in his deep intimacy with the Person of the Lord Jesus, could say, “we are confident and willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” And we, too, as we consider for what God has wrought us, may exclaim, “Therefore we are always confident.”
Confidence in view of the coming of the Lord.
The Lord is near. His coming is more sure than death, for “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” How shall we meet Him? These men of faith desired not death; “Not that we would be unclothed.” Their prospect was the first resurrection, and the Lord's coming when they should be “Clothed upon.” Then would mortality be swallowed up of life. For as the sun-rising not only dispels but by its beams swallows up the darkness, so shall our Lord at His coming not only chase away our fears and sorrows but all that which pertains to weakness, to sin, to bodily and spiritual infirmity in us shall be eternally gone.
As we ponder His coming, the break of the resurrection morn, the song of gladness at the awaking light, the purity and the peace of that hastening sunrise, yea, beholding Him Himself as He is, who is the sun, shall we not declare that as God has wrought us for that day, “Therefore we are always confident.”
Confidence in the presence of the judgment-seat of Christ.
Let us look beyond death, beyond the coming of the Lord and resurrection glory, beyond that hour when His people shall be transformed to His image, and so enter the home above. Let us look on to the judgment seat of Christ. There deeds will be made manifest; there the creature will be brought face to face with spotless light. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” But perfect love casts out fear; the judgment-seat can be viewed in peace.
Should the believer lay his body down before the Lord comes, his spirit will wing its way to the Lord; “Absent from the body present with the Lord.” And when the Lord comes, the body will be raised from the dead a glorious body; the corruptible will have put on incorruption, and then the ransomed spirit will be re-united to its glorified body. But should the believer be present upon this earth when the Lord comes, the Lord will change the believer's mortal body, and give him a glorious body; and so shall this mortal put on immortality. And thus, whether raised or changed, all shall in glorified bodies meet the Lord at His coming. Therefore, it will be in already glorified bodies, in bodies made like to Christ's, that we shall “appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” This judgment-seat must not be confounded with the great white throne, of which we read in Rev. 20:11-15; the judgment which will take place at the end of this world's history, and after the earth itself has fled away. For on that judgment day those of the dead will be raised, who were not raised or changed at the coming of the Lord; “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. Blessed and holy is he who hath part in the first resurrection.” We may then look on even to the judgment-seat of Christ, and say, with holy boldness, “Therefore we are always confident.”
The practical results.
There is a strange temerity in unbelief, a presumption which dares to assert that a man is likely to be the holier for want of confidence in God, and that fear of not being saved at the last, is a wholesome check upon evil longings; or that assurance leads to loose behaviour. Allowing, for a moment, the false assertion that purity of life and distrust of God's word go together, we are met with a pure life actuated by motives in which God has no pleasure. For, from such seeds as slavish fear of Him, no fruits acceptable to His love can possibly be produced.
Divinely-given confidence is the ground for holy walking before God; this confidence is produced by the knowledge of God, and knowledge of God leads out the heart to Him who first loved us. It is this confidence which draws forth these words of the apostle, “Therefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of (or acceptable to) Him” (ver. 9). If, by grace, we can trace our way from those days when we dreaded the wrath to come, up to the hour when God gave us peace in believing, we can surely say that we are more anxious now than then, to please God. We can say that the removal of our fears, and the entrance of faith into our souls, by the Spirit's grace, has given rise to a standard of Christian life, and to motives for seeking to walk before God, and for desires after consecration to Himself, which previously were unknown to us; and indeed it cannot be otherwise. Faith works by love, and if faith does not work, then it is not real but dead faith. Not faith divinely given, but merely intellectually received. We have received from God life, and this life is energized by God the Spirit, who dwells within us, Christwards, Godwards.
The exceeding grace of Jesus, in giving Himself for them, and in laying hold of them for Himself, had so won the soul of the apostle, and the souls of those who were associated with him, that their one object was to be acceptable to their Lord; they looked on to the day of His tribunal, and laboured so that on that day they might hear His voice, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” There was not one thought that they might be disowned of Christ; but His love had energized their lives to labour to please Him.
Some look on to the coming day of His judgment-seat with thoughts of then gaining rewards. True, not so much as the cup of cold water given in His Name will be then forgotten, for it is not in the heart of Christ to forget the least thing, however simple, done by the humblest of His disciples out of love to His name, and even if the service be not rendered, He remembers the honest desire to serve and please Him. Love rewards, but working for reward and working for love are entirely distinct. The labourer in the vineyard, who wrought for his penny, gained his penny, but he did not obtain the smile of his master. It is the christian's happy privilege to work for love. It will be the joy of the Master to remember every service.
There are no stringent rules for service laid down in the New Testament, but there are numbers of entreaties and appeals for our entire devotion. It is a mistake for a christian to trammel himself by rules for living, unknown in the word of his Master; and, we may add, usually contrary to the spirit of his Master's word. We do not bind ourselves by rule to please our firmest friends, for love has already bound us. Our Lord says, “If ye love Me keep My commandments.” The spirit of love governs the whole of a man's walk and life in a way which the legal spirit, demanding for duty's sake so much time and so much service, is utterly unable to effect.
In the mystery of grace, the God of love gave His Son, and His Son, Himself, for us. In the presence of this unspeakable kindness, happy is he whose heart is for Him, who walks with God, and loving the Lord, keeps His commandments, and who, when before His judgment seat, shall, like Enoch, have this testimony — “HE PLEASED GOD.”