It is when the soul enters upon and takes possession of its new standing and relationships as in Christ Jesus in heavenly places, that it necessarily becomes exercised as to the character of our walk down here. The reason is this. As long as the soul — a true believer, no doubt — found all its felt need met by the cross, as to sin and guilt, the question of walk was mainly as to morality, or propriety, and consistency in the world. But when he learns, through the teaching of the Holy Ghost, that the cross of Christ also declares the complete end of the first man — the Adam nature — as there put under the judgment of God, and he discovers also that the world, in thus rejecting the Son of God, had its doom sealed, he has a different exercise of soul. For all resources thus being cut off by the judgment of God in the cross, both as to man and the world, his confession is that he has no confidence in the flesh, and that he is not of the world. And all this becomes more and more real, as he is able to see that, in a risen and ascended Christ, God in His grace has given him righteousness, life, and completeness before Him; and not only sees, but enters upon and enjoys it in the presence of God. The conscience then becomes exercised about a walk down here suited to Him up there — a walk, not in the flesh, nor according to this present evil age, but suited to the calling and standing given us in Christ — a life and course fed and strengthened by Him in heaven, in whom God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. The walk now will be in the Spirit, and the life one of faith upon the Son of God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us. It will therefore be characterized by dependence, communion, and hope, which three points are blessedly brought out in the sixteenth psalm.
This psalm sets forth some of the perfect ways of our blessed Lord in passing through this scene. It is sweet to see that in it there was one object for His heart's delight — His saints, in whom was all His delight. These, too, He distinguished from the apostate people who were hastening after another god. And if His heart's affections flowed out so blessedly to the faithful little remnant in Israel, what must be His heart's love now to us who are "members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones"? Again, taking as He did everything from the hand of His God and Father, and walking always in the perfect sense of obedience to the will of Him that sent Him, He could say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places." And no doubt the great secret of our going through this world in the enjoyment of the peace of God is walking in the path of obedience, and taking everything, painful or pleasant, out of the hands of our gracious God and Father.
For the reasons above stated, our path necessarily must be one of absolute dependence upon the Lord Jesus. In the days of His flesh, He voluntarily took this place. He was truly God all fulness was pleased to dwell in Him; but we are told that He, being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, took upon Him the form of a servant, and became obedient, etc. We could not take upon ourselves the form of a servant; for we are servants, and never were anything else. In this way it is that the blessed Lord trod the path of faith perfectly, and has left us an example that we should follow His steps. Hence we are told that "when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously." And so in this psalm, the first words are, "Preserve me, O God: for in Thee do I put my trust." How wondrous is the love and lowliness that could take the place of such entire dependence! Surely when hungry for forty days and nights He could have commanded bread to be brought forth, and it could not possibly be withheld; but He chose this place of dependence, and replied, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Again, on another occasion, when men were seeking to swallow Him up in their cruel hatred, could He not have prayed to His Father, and He would presently have given Him twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26:53.) Most assuredly He could; but He chose rather the path of dependence and obedience as Jehovah's servant, and in this He has left a perfect example for us to follow. I gather, therefore, from this psalm, that a life of absolute and constant dependence will characterize those who follow Christ. As the apostle Paul forcibly puts it, "Having nothing, and yet possessing all things;" having no resources in self, no stock in hand, but unceasing and thorough dependence on Another for all our help. And I doubt not that the true effect of entering into our perfect standing, and full character of blessing in Christ, will be to seek to bring the power of all that into this present scene, as alone suited to Him whom having not seen we love. It is comparatively easy and natural to make God our refuge in great emergencies, and in peculiar trials; but to trust in Him at all times as the constant habit of our lives, in all the details of our brief sojourn here, is another thing. To look to Him about every matter, whether rough or smooth, painful or pleasant, and to go forth day by day watching His hand, obeying His voice, leaning on His arm, associating all the almightiness of His power, the infiniteness of His wisdom, and perfectness of His love with all our affairs, great or small, at home or abroad, things spiritual or temporal, must mark the character of those who thus live in dependence on God. So perfectly and unceasingly was this path of dependence trodden by the Son of God that we hear Him saying, "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. . . . Whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak." (John 12:49, 50.) Here we see the perfectness of the blessed Lord in thus depending on the Father for every word He should speak; and His seeking a solitary place in the wilderness for prayer, getting up a great while before day and going out into a desert place to pray, spending a whole night in prayer, and being usually engaged in prayer before any great event, such as choosing His apostles, the transfiguration, etc., all show the reality of the life of dependence which this perfect One lived. From all this, and other Scriptures, we learn how faith, prayer, and thanksgiving must ever accompany our exercise of real dependence upon God.
Communion, unbroken communion with Jehovah, also marked the path of the blessed man Christ Jesus, the true Son of David. He could surely say, "I have set Jehovah always before me." (v. 8.) Not a moment of unbroken communion did He know, until our sins were laid on Him, and He as the sin-offering was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. Then He who is of purer eyes than to behold evil must abandon His own well-beloved Son, because sins, our sins, were upon Him. Hence that bitterest of all cries was wrung from His holy, pure, and loving heart in deepest agony and distress — "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" It could not be otherwise; for God is holy. But, except that time, when His soul was made an offering for sin upon the tree, He was always in uninterrupted communion with the Father. This was His perfectness and joy. He could under all circumstances say, "I do always those things that please Him." "I have set Jehovah always before me." So should it be with us; for we are called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, and He has sent forth the other Comforter, the Holy Ghost, to dwell in us, not only that we might know the things that are freely given us of God, but that we should enjoy them in the communion of the Holy Ghost. With us we easily allow a trifle to come between us and our adorable and loving Lord; and then a process of self-judgment, humiliation, and confession may be called for, in order to our enjoyment again in faith of the unclouded sunshine of His blessed presence inside the vail. In fact, the moment we allow anything to come between us and the Lord, we get away from Him, and our communion becomes interrupted. It is well, therefore, to habitually receive everything from Him, to refer every matter to Him, to cast all our care upon Him, and to know that all our springs are in Him. As long as He is consciously known as our fountain of living waters, the broken cisterns which come in our way will have little attraction for us. The question should not be so much with us in this day — How much do you know? as, "How much do you enjoy?" It is impossible to know the Lord Jesus as the satisfying, commanding, absorbing object of our souls, without having that deep, calm joy which is more easily felt than described, and is known in no other way. And there is another point here; He could not only say, "I have set Jehovah always before me;" but could blessedly add, "Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved." And there is an important connection in these two sentences, and highly instructive to us. The Lord always realized the presence of God and power of God with Him — the right hand of Jehovah. And do not we realize it in our measure, too, according as our hearts are looking to Him? But if we grow cold and careless, it is no marvel that we have little sense of the power and presence of God with us. Instead of this, such souls must necessarily be walking in darkness; and when they need the "right hand" of God to sustain and comfort, they do not find it. Instead of this the Spirit is grieved, and there are questions as to the state, the walk, the conduct to be settled, before the soul can be restored to the enjoyment of His holy presence who is light and love, and again know the present power of the Father of mercies and God of all comfort with them. Oh the blessedness of being able in a goodly measure to say, "I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved!" May our souls realize this, beloved, more and more, and our affections be drawn and fixed upon the Lord Himself, by His mighty and irresistible attractiveness! Surely, Mary made a wise and happy choice when she took her place at Jesus' feet to hear His word; and it was not less pleasing to the Lord than needful and profitable to herself. She learnt that this place of dependence was the secret of comfort and power, as well as the only way to get into the circle of His thoughts and the current of His affections, With what a holy dignity and style we see her afterwards breaking the alabaster box, and pouring the very costly ointment on this precious object of her heart, until the whole house was filled with its sweet fragrance, and she realized the Lord's approval! What a vast range of blessing even now may be known by those who unfeignedly take this place of dependence, and set the Lord always before them! May those of us who have somewhat tasted it know it better; it is wise, I am sure, and "wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Blessed Lord, it is Thyself, Thy perfectness, Thy glory, we long to see, and now enjoy by faith, through the power of the Holy Ghost! for we do say —
"What in Thy love possess I not?
My star by night, my sun by day;
My spring of life when parched with drought,
My wine to cheer, my bread to stay;
In Thee, my strength, my safe abode
Now made the righteousness of God."
But there is a third point to notice in this psalm; it is "hope." The blessed Lord knew every step of the path of suffering He would have to go. He knew all things that would come upon Him, and could see beyond it all. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross and despised the shame. His hope was in His God. He could look through all the sufferings and death on Calvary, and the reality of the sepulchre too, and say, "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory (or my tongue) rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (hades); neither wilt thou suffer Thine holy One to see corruption." Hence our adorable Lord could contemplate His own death, the actual separation of soul and body, the soul going into hades (the place of departed spirits), and the body into the sepulchre, where all others go to corruption. But this He knew could not be the case with Him; for it was not possible that this spotless, stainless, holy One of God could be holden of death; and we know that He saw no corruption. But more than this, His confidence was in Jehovah the God of resurrection. He knew that, as He said, He would rise again the third day, and that He would be raised again from among the dead by the glory of the Father; nay, more, that He would be seated at the "right hand" of the Majesty on high. Hence He says, referring to resurrection, "Thou wilt show me the path of life" — a path which, though beginning from the sepulchre, would extend to the right hand of God, as He so blessedly adds: "In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." What a triumphant path in the power of faith and hope! And surely our privilege, too, is to be rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, yea, to be abounding in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost; for we triumph in His victories, we look forward to eternal blessedness based upon His already accomplished work. And though our destiny is to share His glory, yet how different is the path of hope for us from what it was to Him! But if He went down into death and the grave, and grappled with sin, Satan, the grave, and judgment, what was it for, but to give us present and everlasting triumph over all these enemies and intruders into God's once fair creation? Our hope, then, is not to follow Him into death; but, because of His having accomplished that triumphant work for us, it can now be said, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye," and "caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so be for ever with the Lord." We thus "desire our house from heaven, not," as the apostle says, "that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." Our precious Lord therefore, by His death, and triumph over death, Satan, and the grave, has given us a near way into glory at His coming — a momentary journey, a rapid flight, like a lightning-flash, changed and translated, and so to be for ever with the Lord.
"Then shall we fully know,
Not till then, how much we owe."
Oh the perfect bliss of this hope, based on the atoning work, and made certain to us by the risen Jesus having gone into heaven by His own blood! How divinely real it is! A curtain only, as it were, between us at this moment and the positive and unchanging possession of eternal glory! The Head in heaven and members on earth, already joined by one Spirit, soon to meet in the air! How very near this may be! We know how intensely the heart of Jesus looks forward to it. His desire is, that we should be with Him, and behold His glory. The thrice-repeated "I come quickly," of Him who is "the Bright and Morning Star," should nerve our souls to hearty, loving response; for the Spirit indites the cry in us — "Come." "The Spirit and the bride say, Come." Happy those who so know the blessedness of the life of faith, as to tread the path of dependence, communion, and hope!
"When faith and hope shall cease,
And love abides alone,
Then shall I see Him face to face,
And know as known.
Still shall I lift my voice;
His praise my song shall be;
And I will in His love rejoice,
Who died for me."