Genesis 28:10-15; Genesis 35:9-20; John 11:1-5; John 12:1-3; Romans 8:26-31.
F. A. Hughes.
I had in mind to draw attention to the activities of divine Persons in relation to the circumstances of the saints, with the desire that we might reach Paul's note of triumph, challenging his own heart and the saints — "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?, Rom. 8:31. I believe, dear brethren. we have no authority to look forward to better times in this world; I think it would be fallacious for anyone to attempt in ministry to promise the saints better times; but what we can put our foot down upon without the slightest trepidation is the blessed fact that God is for His people, and if God is for us, all the powers of evil in their activities are not going to succeed against the saints.
I refer to these well-known Scriptures with the desire to encourage all our hearts as seeing the blessed activities of divine love in relation to the saints, in circumstances fully known and provided for; and that these activities secure not only the blessing , comfort and happiness of God's people, but a yield for the heart of God Himself. How often these Scriptures have been drawn upon, and yet ever remaining the powerful word of the living God to His people.
Note the dealings of God Himself with Jacob on this line; Jacob, a wandering man, as many of us have been, in his affections. If our feet have been kept outwardly in the pathway, we cannot perhaps say much about our affections, our hearts. But over against the wandering of our affections, there is the strength of divine love, the settled disposition of the blessed God to bless us, because of what he is, not because of what we are, Jacob in this movement, we might say, away from God, comes to the end of his day, lies down in a certain place to rest, and is withdrawn from the activities that engaged him in his pathway during the day. How often we are engaged in the passing things of the day, with no time for the things of God! But God in His mercy is withdrawing Jacob and securing his attention in his sleeping hours. Scripture abounds with the great things God can do with us when He closes our eyes to man's world, minimising the importance of present circumstances — for the main thing after all, is to learn what God is doing. God had much in mind for Jacob. The great thing God had in mind was to fashion him as a worshipper. God is moving in our circumstances in order to secure a yield for His own heart.
God allows Jacob to dream, and he sees a ladder whose top reaches to heaven. I believe God would encourage all our hearts in the understanding that heaven is not very far away. In our circumstances, and in our movements here, God would have us to understand that heaven is near to us and that angelic ministrations are available to us. These things show the deep and abiding interest God has in His people and in their circumstances. The angels of God are there in proximity to Jacob; these might beings who excel in strength and are always moving in relation to the will of God, are near to the saints. We do not know what may come in in the ways of God, but we do know heaven is near to us, and that all the power and all the skill resident in these holy beings are in close proximity to the saints, as Hebrews 1:14 would show. Above all that, "The LORD" — God in relation to His people — is standing at the top of the ladder. The word "stand" there indicates no casual stance, but the settled disposition of the blessed God to station Himself in relation to the circumstances of the saints, so that they are brought through with positive gain to become worshippers of God. Nothing will make Him move from that stance. In another connection the Scripture says, "He be not far from every one of us," Acts 17:27. That is in connection with moral matters. The blessed God is interested in you! How wonderful it is that the blessed, eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient God is interested in your circumstances and mine! It is no passing interest, such as marks us oftentimes. There appears to be in the history of Jacob a period of twenty years or so when he held little or no communion with God. But God shepherded him all the days of his life, including those twenty years when he did not commune with God. Oh, the continuity of divine love, in its disposition to bless us! The history of Jacob is chequered. He moves on into Padan-Aram, and in Padan-Aram he comes into contact with an atmosphere which would hinder his affections as to true thoughts of the intentions of the blessed God. If God is to bless us, He will do it in relation to Christ. He has in mind to fix our attention on Christ, and in Padan-Aram Jacob typically lost the view of Christ that God would give to him. The great lesson God was teaching Jacob is the lesson He would teach you and me; He would teach us that supremacy and pre-eminence stand in relation to Christ. All the blessing God has in mind for us is in relation to Christ. Even in regard to temporal blessings, food and raiment, it was because God found pleasure in Christ typically, in Noah's burnt offering, that He goes on with us. All God proposes to do for you and me is in relation to Christ, and God wants to show us the greatness and glory of this blessed Person.
Jacob comes into Padan-Aram. Many of us have lived there, morally. It is where Laban's house is, where speculation, and an attempt to get on without God, are rife; where Jacob is employing his own skill and wits in order to advance himself, and all the while breathing an atmosphere derogatory to the glory of Christ. No sense of the pre-eminence of Jesus is tolerated. God sets forth as a principle, "He takes away the first, that He may establish the second," (Heb. 10:9). God would withdraw our attention from all around us, which belongs to the first man and is passing away and going into decay, and fix our attention on the Second Man, out of heaven. Laban says, "It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born," (Gen. 29:26). It is a serious thing to live as to our affections in a scene that is not putting the second before the first! God says He takes away the first that He might establish the second. If God is to bless you and me, He does it by rivetting our attention on the Second Man, out of heaven.
Eventually Jacob is delivered from that atmosphere. He comes as having wrestled with God, halting on his thigh, a limping man, but as he limps out of that condition of things, the sun rose upon him, (Gen. 32:31). It is a good thing if we are weakened in our natural thoughts and desires, and brought into the shining of the light of Christ from heaven! May the Lord give this a practical fresh touch in all our hearts! Jacob limps out, a weakened man naturally, but he is in the shining of Christ; I would rather be weakened naturally and in the full shining of Christ in heaven than remain morally in Padan-Aram where the rights of Christ are denied. God makes known the settled disposition of His heart still to bless Jacob, and what eventuates is that Jacob puts up a pillar and pours a drink offering upon it, and oil upon it (Gen. 35:14). He is brought to the fact that God would still bless him, and he responds now to God. God has that in mind, not only to bless us in our circumstances, but to give us to have such a sense that He is for us, and Who He is, that there is an adoration of Him as the God Who has shepherded us all our life. Even a Joseph does not reach to the heights of Jacob's spirituality at the end. When Joseph would seek to change the order of the blessing of his sons, Jacob says, "I know it, my son," it was a truth that was substantial in his soul. He says as it were, "I know the great thing God has had in mind for me from my birth. I was the heel-holder, asserting my rights, but God takes away the first that he might establish the second, and if I bless the boys, I must be in accord with the God Who has blessed me." If we are to bring thoughts of blessing powerfully home to one another's affections, it is only as we are in line with the thoughts of God Who has taken us up in relation to the blessedness and glory of Christ. So Jacob wittingly crosses his hands and puts the second before the first, and shows his full acquiescence, as a man here, with the thoughts of God for blessing. He worshipped. What an end for the man to reach in relation to whose circumstances God has stationed Himself! While He is giving, and keeping, and blessing, He is bringing us livingly and affectionately into accord with His own mind. There is thus drawn out from our affections the spirit of true worship and a note of praise to the blessed God Himself.
I proceed now to John, in relation to the movements of the Lord Jesus. How full the gospels are of the tender, powerful love of Christ towards His saints! Jesus loved these persons, it says. The sisters send to the Lord and in what they say they reveal that they have but partly understood the greatness of the love of Christ. How immature our thoughts are of the love of Jesus! They used the word that would indicate they understood His friendly disposition towards them, and that is not to be lightly spoken of. Would to God that all the saints appreciated Him thus! It goes on to say when Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby." And it adds, "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." He does not use the word the sisters used, but the other word, as indicating that whilst there was some appreciation of His love in the hearts of the sisters, there was much more to be learned. He would say, "It is my settled disposition to love you right through everything," as it says in John 13, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." That word "end" suggests the thought of right through. Jesus was going out of the world to the father, and the suggestion is that He loves us right through the tunnel of circumstances into the Father's world. Such is the love of Christ! It is the blessed constancy of divine love. Whether it is expressed in God as Father, or in Jesus in Manhood, it is the settled disposition of divine love which will never vary. James says, "The Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." That reference is to the solar system, where the shadows lengthen according to the earth's position in relation to the sun; but the love of God enters into our circumstances, and is not altered by them. The shadow may be deep, and dark, and long; circumstances may be sombre, difficult and sad, or joyful and happy; but the blessed God remains the same, unchangeable, from Whom every good and perfect gift comes down.
Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. He loved them so much that He had in mind to produce in their hearts exactly what God was after in His movements with Jacob. The Lord Jesus was perhaps not pre-eminent in their affections. They loved Him very dearly, but listen to the words coming exactly the same from each affection, "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." The one large in the affections of the sisters was Lazarus, and the Lord was teaching them in the infinitude of His love that the first is to be taken away and the second established. He secures His end; He leads them to Bethany. Bethany is not the final thought, as it says in Luke 24:50 that He led them "as far as to Bethany," but what a wonderful place it is, after all; where the Lord Jesus lifts the shadow of death from our spirits; the house of victory, as Paul says, "Thanks be unto God Who giveth us the victory." Death is yours, says the apostle. The Lord Jesus would bring us into all that Bethany stands related to. Think of what divine love has secured there! Not only lifting the pressure of death from the circumstances of His people, but securing much for itself! "There they made Him a supper." They are brought into the liberty of the knowledge of the glory of the Son of God. He is glorified in their hearts now; no other person fills the picture, Lazarus was one of them at table with Him. There was no outstanding personality now in the affections of the sisters. Christ is supreme to them. Martha serves well; Lazarus knows the blessedness of association with Christ in risen life; Mary takes that ointment and anoints the feet of Jesus, and the whole house is filled with the odour of the ointment.
I love to think of the result of divine love entering into our circumstances. It may give us to understand that the very best that we prize is corrupt, but oh, to be brought into the realisation of the pre-eminence and glory of Christ, so that the whole sphere is filled with the fragrant odour of hearts which appreciate Him. Divine love enters into our circumstances not only to bring us from under the shadow of death, but to bring us into the light of the glory of the Son of God, so that our hearts go out to Him, bringing an atmosphere among the saints which is an odour of a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God Himself.
I close with a brief word on the activities of the Holy Spirit. What is said in Romans 8 is addressed to saints who understand the freedom following the exercises of Romans 7. We do well to refer ever to the searching, and yet liberating truth contained in that chapter. The chapter is calculated to help us into fellowship with one another. In the body of the chapter the writer is mainly using the singular pronoun, and at the end he says, "Who shall deliver me?" And his answer is, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." We find ourselves in happy fellowship with those who have passed through similar exercises, brought to a judgment of the first man, and into the light of the pre-eminence and glory of the Second Man from heaven. So the eighth chapter opens with this wonderful suggestion of blessing that belongs to the position, freedom and joy and expansion in the Spirit. How blessed it is to see a divine Person here so fully committed to the circumstances of the saints! He expresses those thoughts and desires and exercises that cannot be put into words, feelings we cannot find words to clothe, desires inexpressible. We cannot fully divulge the feelings of our hearts, but the Holy Spirit is with us, a divine Person, with divine power, and divine skill, and divine love, entering fully into all the circumstances and feelings of the saints and giving expression to them. We have but little thought of what we owe to the service of the Holy Spirit. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us, and as fully knowing the thoughts and desires of divine love, He enters sympathetically into our circumstances, liberating that which would never find expression if it were not for His blessed service.
And what is in mind is to bring us to the appreciation of the blessed fact that "all things work together for good to those who love God." The activities of the Father, the activities of the Son, and the activities of the Holy Spirit, would bring us to this definite conclusion that "We do know that all things work together for good to those who love God," (Rom. 8:28 N.T.). And what is the "good" that God has in mind? I believe we must take this section as a whole. The great thing in mind is that God will conform us to the image of His Son. I ask, could you think of any greater thought than that? Divine love has set itself solidly and constantly to bless us. Divine love has entered sympathetically into every circumstance we could pass through. And what has it in mind? To bring us to the realisation of this very fact that God will conform us to the image of His Son; every feature of the first man gone, and we fully conformed to the Second.