The gift of God is not to be limited to man’s desires for himself, or to his own appreciation of his need. Until he has received a little instruction in the school of God his idea of his need comes very far short of its reality. He may imagine that all he requires is relief from judgment; forgiveness of sins may be the utmost desire of his heart. But the blessed God knows perfectly his condition, and has come out to meet it according to His infinite acquaintance with its desperate character.
It is striking that to the woman at the well of Sychar, who, so far as one can see, was a thoroughly unrepentant, unconverted sinner, the Lord does not at the commencement of His discourse speak to her about her sins, but about the gift of God, living water. True, He does not leave her until He has told her all things that ever she did, but what He brings first before her is the greatness of the gift of God, and that He was the Giver, and that it was to be had for the asking. It is on a line with the word of Christ to His disciples that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Luke 11).
I do not think that one could designate forgiveness of sins as the gift of God. The Holy Spirit is that. Forgiveness is in the name of Jesus preached to all men, and to all men alike. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses. This was when Christ was upon earth, but now that He is risen and glorified, forgiveness is testified of in the gospel of God’s grace. The word that God sent unto the children of Israel has now come to the Gentiles. It is world-wide. It is the mind of God toward all in the gospel. It is as much for the Jew as for the Gentile, but no less for the Gentile than the Jew. It is for one man as much as for another. There are no preferences, and no exceptions. It is not for believers, but for unbelievers. It is not, as some think, that some men have the gift of faith, so that when the gospel comes to them they can believe it. No man can have faith until the testimony is presented to him, for if a man has faith there must be something to have faith in. Faith is the reception of the testimony and cannot be in existence before, for “faith is by report” (Rom. 10:18, N.Tr.).
The gospel comes to men as they are in their afar-off natural, sinful condition, and tells them that the mind of God toward them is perfect grace. There is no change needed in them to fit them for this grace on the part of God. Many think that if a change could only take place in them toward God, a change would then take place in God toward them. But the gospel lets them hear that as they are, guilty, godless, and undone, the mind of God toward them is forgiveness. And this when it breaks as precious light upon the heart turns it to God through Christ, in whose name it is announced. Men feel there is no reason for remaining at a distance. God is revealed to them in perfect grace and stands no more before the soul as an austere judge, and the revelation is attractive to the heart that receives it. Their eyes are opened and they turn to God.
This is what drew us like the prodigal from the far country, “bread enough and to spare.” But when he reaches his father there is no word from the father’s lips about his conduct. He has a great deal to say about it himself, so has his eider brother, but his father nothing. He is covered with kisses. What he receives is not limited to what he came for. There is no need to speak of forgiveness, he is made conscious of the father’s love. The kiss prefigures the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. Forgiveness is carried to us where we are in distance from God and when we turn to Him we receive the Holy Spirit
This is what is uppermost in the mind of God for us, not what is uppermost in our minds for ourselves, for we have but little apprehension of our great need. The stream must be healed at the fountain, and as this is not possible in our case, we must have a new fountain of life. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Man has by nature the spring in the flesh and it springs up bitter water unto death. “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9).
The cross is God’s estimate and removal of the flesh, that corrupt thing in which sin has its seat. Christ bore the judgment, and risen from the dead He is the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit. Forgiveness is preached through Him to all, and to everyone who believes on Him He gives the Holy Spirit. And now the believer is to find the spring of his life in the Spirit. He is to be independent of the flesh. Its will is no longer to be in activity. The Spirit is to be everything to him. By the Spirit he cries Abba Father, and mortifies the deeds of the body, and by the Spirit he lives to God. By Him all the good pleasure of God is effected in us, and all the change that God sees necessary to take place in us is wrought by His power even to the quickening of our mortal bodies. What boundless grace on the part of God that could bring Him out to attract us to Himself by the presentation of that which would meet our need as sinners, and when we turn to Him causes Him to meet us with such a gift as the Holy Spirit! And this great gift we need to have if we are to hear the voice of the Son of God, or appropriate the Bread come down from heaven.
We come to the work of God in John 5. The Father and Son are set forth in the activity of love working for the deliverance of man from death under which he lay. The law was powerless to help man. The things under the old covenant were spoken by angels (Heb. 2), which indicated that man was at a distance from God, and what was ministered did not attract him but really drove him to a greater distance than ever (Ex. 20:19; Heb. 12:19-20). It could curse, but not bless. But into this world of misery and death life had come in the person of the Son of God. What had this to do with the order of the old creation, sabbath days, and the like? This power of life belonged exclusively to the Father’s world, and could not be controlled by the elements of this world. It could not be bound by the fetters of Judaism. it wrought independently of every earthly principle for the deliverance of man from the judgment under which he lay.
The law of Moses commanded men to observe the sabbath day, but it had brought no help to this poor impotent man who had been for thirty-eight years under it. It did not give him the power that enabled him to carry his bed, and it could not control the power exercised by Another. And yet man in his blindness and hardness of heart would seek to subject the power of the Father’s world to the principles of this one, and with that same power at work among them for their eternal deliverance and blessing. Such is man! “It is the sabbath day. It is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.” But the One who gave the power had a perfect right to say how and when it was to be exercised. The subject of the work of God is delivered from the law of Moses and is under law to Christ. “He that made me whole the same said to me take up thy bed and walk.” This was enough for him. What debt did he owe the law? What had it done for him? Why should be pay any attention to it when a power was there to direct him which had made him every whit whole on the sabbath?
But those who found fault with the One who exercised this power had better look to it, for the Son did nothing of Himself but what He saw the Father do. It was the Father they were finding fault with in finding fault with Christ. But the Father’s work would go on in spite of these unrighteous judges, and the Son would be shown greater works than the giving of strength to the limbs of an impotent man. As the Father had life in Himself so had He given the Son to have life in Himself, and the Son would quicken men out of death, and that in the power of this life which would place them beyond its reach forever, and in the end would raise out of their graves and ,judge all those who came not under the life-giving influence which was in Him.
But the hour of resurrection and judgment had not yet arrived; the hour was present when He was to utter His voice, and all who heard it would live. This life-giving voice was to be heard resounding in the domain of death. The meaning of this voice is, I have no doubt, that the love of God has been declared in His death for us. His death is the witness of God’s love. “God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This the Holy Spirit, when given to us causes us to hear by shedding it abroad in our hearts, so that we can say, “We have known and believed the love that God has to us” (1 John 4:16). The love of God has been declared to us not in word and tongue but in deed and in truth, and “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And thus we are in life by the life-giving power of the Son of God, the last Adam.
In chapter 6 we come to the Bread of God, that a man may eat thereof and not die. But for the appropriation of this Bread the gift of the Spirit was necessary, and so He informs His disciples. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life” (v. 63). The words He spoke to them had a spiritual meaning, and were not to be taken literally, and the Holy Spirit which He would give believers would make all this good to them when He had ascended up where He was before.
The Jews had seen Him and believed not. It became now a question of the Father’s drawing power. “No man can come to Me except the Father which has sent Me draw Him” (v. 44), and “all that the Father gives Me shall come to Me” (v. 37). On the one hand, the value of man’s pretensions to fleshly goodness and discernment of what is of God is apparent; on the other, the grace of the Father’s heart comes into relief. “The flesh profiteth nothing.” It is utterly worthless and incapable of rising above carnal ideas. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
They tell Him “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert;” they neglected to add what the Lord reminds them of, “and are dead.” They had not found life in the law, the manna, or the springing well. They ate the bread of the mighty, angels’ food, but they had died like men, and their carcasses fell in the wilderness. These mercies were ineffectual to deliver them from death, because of the perversity of the flesh. But here in their midst was the Bread come down from heaven, “that a man may eat thereof and not die,” and this Bread was His flesh which He was to give for the life (not of the Jews only) but of the world. Life had come near to them in Christ. He had come in flesh that in death He might end that condition forever, and bring man into life by the Spirit.
Flesh must be brought to an end. It is incorrigibly lawless, disobedient, God-hating, and hateful to Him, and there is no mending of it. Christ gave His flesh in death, and that is the end of all flesh for me. I take it to myself. It is the end of all flesh, and I say it is the end of me as a man in the flesh. I eat it. His flesh gone is my flesh gone, and for this purpose He took it that the whole condition of flesh might be brought to an end in Him who bore its judgment and that He might give the Spirit to those who believe on Him that He might be in them a new fountain of life, and that they might be able to accept His death as the termination of their history as in flesh.
His blood has been shed. There has been no resumption of the life of flesh by Him. Christ after the flesh has disappeared in death, never to reappear. His shed blood is the witness to this. I am glad of it. I drink it, and know no man after the flesh, not even Christ after that condition. And this is the true Bread the Father gives. How blessed!
I am now free from all that to which death applies, and I abide in Him. He is the Fountain of my life, and He also abides in me. And not only this, but I eat Himself. I realize that Christ is the thought of God for me; that I am to appropriate Himself. The righteous, holy, meek, lowly, gracious, patient Son of Man is myself in the thought and mind of God. Nothing else will do for God, and nothing else will do for me. Practically I may be far from the mark, but He says, “learn of Me.” Whatever I am in God’s account, it is Christ; nothing else is acknowledged. It is no longer to be the improvement of nature in me, Christ has displaced self. Not I, but Christ. He has become everything to me—wisdom, righteousness, holiness, redemption. He supplants me before God, and in the presence of men, and I await the putting forth of His mighty power to raise me up at the last day, or change me, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.
We are only free from death in the measure in which we appropriate the death of Christ. I am in His life by the Spirit; death cannot touch that; it can only touch a man in the flesh. “Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9). But if I return to the flesh and live after it, I am about to die. Death is the end of that, because it is the judgment lying upon all flesh. But if I am in the life of Christ I am glad of the cross for the old man, the flesh. It is the way of deliverance for me. In the life of Christ I am apart from all that death can touch. This is easily stated, and thank God it is a most blessed reality, but how little one is in the real power of it. It can touch this body, but it cannot really touch me. “He that keepeth My saying shall never see death” (John 8:51). If the earthly house of this tabernacle become dissolved it is gain to me, I depart and am with Christ, which is very far better, and I have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Death tests us as to how far we have dropped this scene, and a very real teat it is. Perhaps few of us would be in a strait betwixt two, desiring to depart to Christ, but only detained here out of love to the saints for Christ’s sake.
One’s only desire is that as we have received the gift of’ God, and are subjects of the work of God, we may eat the Bread of God, and find ourselves in a life that is forever beyond the reach of death, and if we know little about these things, let us get near to the Lord and tell Him so, and we will find Him gracious and ready to conduct us into the good of all by the power of the Holy Spirit.