It would indeed tend greatly both to comfort and elevate our souls, if we realized the unclouded prospect before us. That which is before us is alone proper to us as redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb, and as born of God. The present, whether sorrowful or pleasant, is only to be regarded as the times that pass over us, or through which we have to go as we are on the way to our entering into our rest. The present good things and evil things are alike to faith old things which have passed away, because faith is the substance of things hoped for. And the things hoped for are alone substantial, permanent, unshaken, and satisfying. Every desire of good which man is seeking to realize now, the saint knows can alone be realized when Jesus is manifested in glory with his saints. He has to calculate on disappointment in all circumstances, while he most blessedly learns that hope in the Lord in the midst of all circumstances never disappoints. Often indeed, in his pilgrimage through present things, will he have to say, Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? But still, he knows in whom he has believed, and can say, "Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise him who is the health of my countenance and my God." But whilst there is the cheering thought of God's commanding his loving-kindness in the day-time, yet the soul is stayed by the prospect of the uninterrupted light of God's countenance — by the prospect, not of occasional, but of uninterrupted, praise.
The true spirit of worship would lead us on into this holy scene. Our present privileges are only ours now, because of what the grace of God has made us to be before him. God calleth things that are not as though they were. Sons before him in Christ, and predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ, we have the spirit of sons now. Kings and priests unto God, because washed already in the blood of Jesus, we have the spirit of praise given to us now. Hence it is the things which are to come with which we have to do. If we speak of the world, it is the world to come of which we speak; that is, our world, the world subjected to us, and blessed by us. We know the present world as being given into other hands, and therefore it is only the scene of our trial. If we speak of man, and of God being well-pleased in men, we speak of him that is to come, of whom Adam was a type. (Rom. 5:14.) If we speak of "good things," they are not the good things in this life, but good things to come. There is "the evil to come," out of which the righteous are taken; there are the good things to come, which the righteous enjoy. The rich man might remember, that he in his lifetime had his good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. And there might have been even thankfulness for the good things; but there was no enjoyment of God — no real worship of him as far above all the blessings he had given. This is the real spirit of worship, even when in the actual possession of all that God can give; yea, when glorified ourselves, to be able to see in God, and own in him, something far more blessed than anything that we have or can have, and to find the knowledge of him, and the enjoyment of him, to be indeed the pleasures which are at his right hand for evermore.
We find the worship of Israel based upon God's accomplished faithfulness in their enjoyment of present good things. This was prescribed for them of God in the wilderness, but it only took effect in the land. Israel, as God's constituted worshipping people, had to do with the priest in questions of sin, both in the wilderness and in the land; but the joy of worship was not known by them whilst they were in the wilderness. It was thus the ordinance ran: "And it shall be when thou art come in unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein, that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring of thy land that the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name there. And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day, unto the Lord thy God, that I am come unto the country which the Lord sware unto our fathers for to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thine hand, and set it down before the altar of the Lord thy God."
Here we have Israel's profession — the profession of the grace which had brought him into the present possession of the land, and of the enjoyment of the fruits of it. We have also the priest of Israel's profession, not occupied about details of sin, but more happily occupied in presenting the thanksgiving of the worshipper in the basket of first-fruits, before the altar of the Lord. This must have been the priest's most blessed service. Next comes the confession of the worshipper: "And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt . . . . and the Lord hath brought us into this place, and given us this land, even a land that floweth with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first-fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given me. And thou shalt set it before the Lord thy God, and worship before the Lord thy God: and thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given thee." (Deut. 26:1-11.)
How blessedly was the soul led of God to worship and joy. There was no element of law here, but only the thought of grace. The sense of personal unworthiness only tending to the magnifying the grace of God which had regarded the affliction and oppression of the poor destitute. Redemption ascribed solely to the power of God, and not only known as deliverance from present misery, but as introduction into present blessing. And then the blessings actually enjoyed leading on still to the acknowledgment of God who had given them. And now I have brought the first-fruits of the land, which thou, O Lord, hast given, me." This is the true spirit of worship. The soul is led from the blessings enjoyed, to him who is blessed for evermore; from the gift to the Giver. The joy will not be less in the gift, because there is the acknowledgment of the Giver. "Thou shalt worship before the Lord thy God" — this is the first thing; and thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given thee. The spirit of false worship is to rejoice in the work of one's hands — "They made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the work of their own hands." But in true worship, God himself is the glory of the worshipper; it is in him that the soul makes her boast. There could not be an ordinance of more joy to Israel than this of the basket of first-fruits: this profession was indeed a blessed one, and the coming to the priest on such an occasion must have expanded their hearts with thankfulness.
But now the Great High Priest is passed into the heavens. And whilst his service there meets all our present necessities, his priesthood connects our souls with good things to come. And we coming to him by faith now are enabled to make our profession, and to present our basket of first-fruits, and to worship before the Lord, and to rejoice. It was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob, to sing aloud unto God their strength; and is it not equally our statute and the law of our God unto us, to "rejoice evermore"? But then we must worship before the Lord first. We must be in the attitude of worshippers, in order to be able to rejoice before the Lord, and rejoice in his own blessings.
First, we have our profession connected with priesthood. Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Our worship is based on our profession, and our profession is maintained by the priesthood of Jesus. "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." It is indeed a lofty profession that we make. "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." This is our profession now. Glory will be the actual exercise of that which grace has made us to be. "By grace we are saved." Before God we stand as his own grace has made us; not as we know ourselves to be in our actual circumstances. We are even now blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. It is the Spirit alone which makes us to know, and gives us to enjoy, these blessings here, which are freely given us of God. We are not in the inheritance which God has made ours, but we have the Holy Spirit of promise as the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of promise, and Jesus is the High Priest of good things to come. The Holy Spirit comforts now by showing "things to come," such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man to conceive. But when we look to Jesus, we see him already entered into the good things, and entered there for us. It is one of the good things to come, that the world to come is to be subject to Christ and his saints. We do not yet see all things subject to him, but we do see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, on account of suffering death, crowned with glory and honour. It is thus that his exaltation maintains us in the profession that we shall judge the world. "God commands all men to repent," upon the ground that he is about to judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." As risen, he is to judge the world in righteousness; but he has tasted death for us, and as risen too, we shall reign with him, and order this world in righteousness. What a solemn joy would the spirit of real worship afford to the soul, if it were thus connected with coming good things! It would exalt, it would sanctify, at the very time the soul was owning its absolute dependence on grace. "A Syrian ready to perish" would be the real expression of that soul. A sinner dead in trespasses and sins, quickened by God's grace, and brought into union with Christ, would never forget his own previous condition, and would gladly remember it, to ascribe worthiness to him alone to whom it is due. "Thou art worthy; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, and made us kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth."
To be actually in the sanctuary before God is one of the good things to come. But hope carries us there now, because Jesus the forerunner is there for us already entered. We are exhorted to hold fast "the profession of our hope without wavering." Our hope is actually to be where Jesus is for us now. But in spirit we can worship as being there, because Jesus is there for us; he is a High Priest of good things to come. It is that which we hope for which stamps our character on us. It is so in man — the object he aims at gives the mould to his character. And this is most blessedly true of the saint. "It hath not been yet manifested what we shall be, but this we know, that when he [Jesus] shall be manifested, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; and every one that hath this hope in him [i.e. Jesus] purifieth himself, even as he is pure." If there be hesitation in our souls as to the accomplished work of Christ, that he has by himself purged our sins; if we consider not the High Priest of our profession as exercising his ministry for us as already brought nigh to God by the blood he hath shed, so that our hope be pardon and acquittal rather than glory, it will stamp its character on our worship, and make it cold and distant. Neither shall we see the purification of the sanctuary as our purification, but shall be content with the standard of conventional righteousness. How deeply important is it to recognize our profession as a profession of hope, and to own the priesthood of Jesus, not only as meeting all present failure, but as enabling us to maintain our profession of things hoped for! We can, and we ought to, come before God as those who can now say, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest it. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places: yea, I have a goodly heritage." This is our basket of first-fruits; for faith is the substance of things hoped for. Jesus, as risen and ascended now, knows the path of life; he knows that in God's presence there is fulness of joy; he already knows the pleasures at God's right hand for evermore; for it is there he is exalted. But he knows them for us. He is a High Priest to us of these good things to come. Our blessing is to consider him.
Mansions in the Father's house is the most blessed portion of the saint's good things to come. They have not come unto them now; in this sense they are not come into the land. But Jesus, the Son, is in the Father's house, and he comforts us by telling us that there is room there for us as well as for him. He is preparing a place for us, and will come again and receive us to himself, that where he is we may be also. But the great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, is passed into the heavens for us, and presents us as sons; and in the spirit of sons, because he is there, we worship him now. How blessed is this. God would not have us to wait till we are manifested sons, in order to enter on our happy worship of the Father; but whilst we are sons only in hope, by having the spirit of sons given to us, and having Jesus the Son before God, we can cry, Abba, Father, even now. How truly are we saved by hope. How needful is it now for our soul's strength and joy, to have Jesus for us in heaven, and the Holy Spirit in us here, that we might both hold fast our profession, and use it now in holy worship. We know what it is, because of having the first-fruits of the Spirit, to groan within ourselves, and these painful groanings would hinder the maintenance of our profession; but then Jesus is on high for us, and we only wait his coming forth to be manifested in all that which we profess already to have received. Then we shall have, not only the spirit of adoption, but the adoption itself — standing in our own proper place as sons, even in fully manifested heavenly glory. We anticipate this place now, because Jesus the Son of God is passed into the heavens, and when the good things to come are actually ours in possession and enjoyment, our worship will still be in him and through him. We know so painfully the need of Jesus as the High Priest that can have compassion on the ignorant and those that are out of the way, that our souls little reach forth to the good things to come, so as to give its high and cheering character to our worship. He stoops down to our necessities and washes our feet; but how little do we consider him as the High Priest of our profession, and all the good things to come which that profession involves. It is one sad mark of declension, that this very word profession has become of such equivocal signification. It is often taken to imply that we are not in truth what we profess to be. But it is a blessed word. All that God by his grace has made us to be in Christ, which will only be manifested in glory, we profess to be now; and the priesthood of Jesus enables us to maintain our profession. All the good things which he by his grace has given to us, God reveals to us by his Spirit now, and therefore we worship God in the spirit now, on the very ground of being already blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We wait not to be blessed, we are already blessed. All that God has made Christ to be unto us, unseen, unmanifested, and only taught the soul by God himself, we take up now, and say, Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift. Our profession involves all that we are in Christ, all that Christ is unto us, and all the good things that God has prepared for them that love him. Surely we have a basket of first-fruits indeed to bring now to the Priest to present to the Lord. And is it not often so in the season when the soul first has known liberty? Has there not been the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness? and the soul has said, Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. But we often forget them and when the soul comes to be exercised in the truth before God, proving what sin really is, when it becomes acquainted with the deceitfulness as well as the desperate wickedness of the heart, the joy is frequently turned into mourning. But here it is that we find peculiarly the value of Christ as the High Priest of good things to come. Whilst the soul is learning experimentally the need of his present ministry in meeting present failure, how blessedly is it led on through the priesthood of Jesus to the time of undisturbed worship and of unhindered praise before God. No sin will there be then to confess, but only praise for mercy and grace accomplished in glory. This is the value of his being the High Priest of good things to come, that even now it can be said to us, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, making confession in his name." "I will bless the Lord at all times his praise shall continually be in my mouth;" for in the midst of our changeableness, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.