Grace and Government

J. N. Darby.

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2 Peter 1

We were seeing a little lately the place of the glorified Man in heaven, and of those associated with Him in living union, the heavenly position of the saints; but in Peter's Epistle that subject is not touched. Saints are looked at as saved ones, of course; but the subject is the difficulties that accompany their condition, with the hope of being in the glory.

Peter takes up the saints as strangers and pilgrims on the earth, God Himself being their governor, yet not displaying His government as among the Jews. Still He is watching over them and caring for them. "Every hair of their head is numbered." Nothing is allowed really to harm them, although they may have to suffer; and "if for righteousness' sake, happy are ye." Thus it is not only as saved ones that saints are looked at here, but as under God as their governor: His ways towards His children are brought out. Peter does just hint that there is something beyond, for those set in association with Christ; but the main thing is divine moral government. In the close of this Epistle we find the end of all things glanced at, "when the heavens shall be dissolved and the elements melt with fervent heat," the whole scene closed, and the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness looked for.

But what the Apostle is occupied with is the thought of God governing His children in the midst of this world's system, a system of evil without a proof in it that He is the governor. When Jesus came, the thought of many a heart was, that He would reign in righteousness, knowing that God would not clear the guilty nor let the wicked go unpunished. Israel was set up as a present scene of God's government; but, instead of peace reigning, Christ was called to suffer.

The only righteous man, the alone One who could have met the claims of justice, was condemned by injustice on the one side and by righteousness on the other. Righteousness and peace had not kissed each other, but the contrary. It was doing well and suffering for it. And this aspect - the one in which Christ was seen on earth - is what we see Christians contemplated in here. They are looked at, in a double character, as suffering. It may be for righteousness' or conscience' sake, or for Christ's sake in other ways. Sufferings may come upon us through our ordinary occupations, the daily routine of business, or the actings of every-day life.

199 The Christian cannot do as the world does. It is more consequence to me as a believer to live Christ than all else besides. The Christian cannot resist evil, nor assert his rights, nor maintain his place in the world. It is more important to me to keep clothed in Christ's character than to wear any other mantle. The Lord Jesus does allow His saints to suffer. Their portion is in heaven. Suffering is good for them. Their salvation is perfectly accomplished. They are united to Christ. Is their suffering essential to salvation? No, salvation is Christ's work and outside the acts of the Holy Ghost altogether, who convicts of sin and bears witness of God's righteousness. The Holy Ghost afterwards operates on the new nature - the Christ within; and practically exhibiting Him will bring on suffering. "For me to live is Christ." Not only do I desire to be in the place where He is, as Zebedee's children did, but to live out what He is. All the exercises of my heart, all my desire for God's government to be displayed in power, give way to the longings for the affections of Christ. And now He is in heaven, my one aim should be to manifest Him.

So we read in 1 Peter 2, "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God," etc. It is not the spirit of love yet. Again in chapter 3:10-14 the great principle is brought out. In chapter 4:12-17 we are not to think it strange if we have reproach and sufferings for Christ's sake, but to be glad with exceeding joy. Of course, none of us should suffer as evil doers. God will govern His children. Judgment must begin at the house of God. He will have His house clear. Indeed, strictly speaking, it is the only place God judges in; for He has committed all judgment to the Son. If the righteous are scarcely - that is, with difficulty - saved (it was with difficulty, but Christ overcame it), God never gives up what He is. He is the holy Father, and, when He saves sinners in sovereign grace, He makes them what He is. He will maintain His character. I may deserve chastisement and God may meet me in grace; but He will deliver me from my sin. He cannot allow evil, neither could Christ. He ever dealt with men according to their ways and the truth of their condition, while meeting them constantly in grace. It is true He could say, I am your perfect salvation, but it was on the ground of total ruin as the sinner's part.

200 The heart of God would give us everything: and the title to all is - we are in Christ, and He in us. You cannot say you have done a single thing perfectly, if there remains any part to be done. Salvation is fully wrought. It would be imperfect if there was one thing to be added. Christ keeps nothing back. He came to reveal the Father, and the Father He did reveal. "I have declared unto them thy name." "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them." "I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Language is exhausted in trying to maintain us in the place we are called to. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of the risen Christ. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ. We are sharers with Him in all His honour and glory, save that which is peculiar to His Godhead, while He always has the pre-eminence. God truly loves us. Not a sinner is saved, but therein the ways and dealings of God are displayed.

In John 15 the Christian is taken up as a branch in the vine. The word is, "Abide in me." It is not, I abide in you that you may bring forth fruit; but "If ye abide in me." He does always abide in us - that we know. But if I abide in Christ, I have the present enjoyment of the Father's love, and bring forth fruit to the glory of His name. "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." He does not say He will be our friend - this He ever was; but "Ye are my friends." Now, my dealing with my friend is after an order entirely different from what it is with my servant. I go and tell out my heart to my friend. Abraham was called "the friend of God"; and God says, "Shall I keep back from Abraham the thing I am going to do?" He tells and acts out His heart before His friend. This was what Christ did. In everything His end was to tell out the Father to those He called friends.

All Christians have their sins forgiven them. There is no uncertainty about that. The grace of God has brought salvation. The Father sent the Son. To be saved and to be a Christian is the same thing. Some will say, I know all men are called Christians; but am I a real Christian? See Acts 13:38, 39. Exercises of heart in that state never get beyond the desire to know if I am a Christian. I believe, one says, that God sent His Son to save sinners; but I do not know that I am saved. What nonsense it is! "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life." Now all such exercises of heart, though they may be well enough in their way, will only prove just this - that I have nothing whatever to stand upon. If I have conflict, it shews there is evil, and evil cannot stand before the holiness of God.

201 Where, then, is my hope? "Christ is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." There is nothing God does not do for me. The very thing that brings me into His presence without sin and without fear is that which He has done for me in Christ. In 1 John 2 we have three classes of Christians addressed. The "little children" of verses 12, 13, are quite distinct. The former (v. 12) embraces all Christians - the latter only babes, or young, immature saints. All Christians are forgiven - all needed the blood of Christ. The babes rest on it as much as the fathers. It is not what they think of it that is the comfort, but what God's thoughts are about it. It is through the blood of Jesus Christ His Son I get to the Father. And what is the Father? - what is God? He is perfect love. I see Him at the well of Samaria - taking up children - weeping at the grave of Lazarus. In Him there is no evil - no hatred; never rejecting one who comes - never condemning the self-condemned - "I judge no man." The Father was perfectly displayed in the Son. How can I make known to you what my Father is but by telling you what I have known Him to be - by living Him before you? This was what Christ ever did; and it is what we who have the Spirit of adoption should be doing.

In John 8:19 we hear Christ say, "If ye had known me, ye should have known the Father also." He came not only to bring light, but "the light of life." If He heals the sick, or restores sight to the blind, the moment He touches them, there is light and life shewn in grace. If He is the Good Shepherd, He is the first out. He goes before the sheep; John 10:4. He not only shews us God as the light, but He unfolds the Father. The babes in Christ have these two things - the new nature and the Spirit of adoption. So have the young men, and it is only in the energy of this Spirit they can overcome the world. When the fathers are addressed, it is "because ye have known him, who is from the beginning," and that is all he has got to say. It is not their experience he has to speak of, but Christ: He is the object, and He is the title to all blessing. If my failures grieve me (and they ought), my comfort is that Christ is not changed.

202 Even a revelation does not fit us for conflict. This we see in Peter. When he had a revelation from the Father of the very truth or confession on which Christ was about to build His church, in the self-same chapter he is treated as Satan! The flesh in Peter was not broken. The object before him was not Christ; he was not practically occupied with Him. If I come to Christ, I rest upon the love and power of One who has overcome. He has been tempted and knows how to comfort. I may have to suffer - He had. The Captain of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings. Our ways, too, may cause God to deal with us now (1 Peter 1:17), for holiness the holy God must have. But if we are walking with the Lord, He will only bless. Suffering for Christ's sake, is a position of honour and favour; Phil. 1:29. God cannot ever brook evil in His house. The ark and Dagon cannot dwell together. God will vindicate Himself. If there is an Achan in the camp, it must be known. No matter how bad things are around. God is still God. Compare the days of Solomon with those of Elijah. Was Solomon more to God than Elijah? No. The ark was once in the land of the Philistines, but God will not give up what He is, neither will He give up the objects of His love. If we do evil, His grace may meet us; but His love must deliver us from evil. If we are walking with Him, either as an assembly or as individuals, He will only communicate His love. The Father will discipline His children; if needs be, He will chasten them; but come what will, Christ is not changed.

In the chapter before us, the first thing we see is that those who have obtained like precious faith have all things that pertain to life and godliness, and are called to glory and virtue. It is too often the case, that the conflict takes place when Christ has not power in the soul; then we are overcome, for all power is in Him. Therefore, the need of giving all diligence; "add to your faith," etc. Whilst we are practically exercising these graces, we shall never fall. There will be no room for the flesh, but "there shall be ministered unto you an abundant entrance." We shall have the kingdom of our Lord in power in our souls. The third thing we have in this chapter, is that Peter had seen the glory and could say he was an eye-witness of His majesty. But did this save him in the hour of temptation? No. He had been sleeping instead of watching, and so lost all power of escape.

203 In verse 19 we find a sure word of prophecy, a lamp shining in a dark place until daylight dawn. Mark this. The lamp of prophecy shews the children what is coming on the world, the judgment of the quick, etc. And surely in this our day we see these two things (though so contrary the one to the other), men's heart failing them for fear, and yet saying peace and safety. Thus is an important testimony, to which we do well to take heed. The loving Father has told us of a coming kingdom. Then will shine the broad day, which the world shall see; but the dawn is for those who, through the darkness of the night, are watching. The day-star here is for the saint's heart, not for the earth.

In Revelation 2:26, not only is there a promise to the saint of power over the nations, but "I will give him the morning star." Blessed portion with Christ! Yes, those who have believed on Him who is not seen shall be with Him where He is not seen. I will give him the morning star - a portion with Myself, and in Myself. I will give him Myself above, before I am manifested to the world. So in Revelation 22:16, Christ is the bride's object; and the moment He says, I am the bright and morning star, she, directed by the Spirit, says, Come. "And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely." The bride is not the water of life, but she has it, and can invite others. It is in Christ for the poorest sinner.