2 Chronicles 29.
In reading the Old Testament histories it is important to remember that these things happened, and are recorded, for our admonition. in looking, then, at the history of Judah, during the reign of Ahaz, we see the most fearful results of backsliding from God. "He burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen." (2 Chron. 28.) How terrible! Man cannot turn from God, but he must turn to Satan. "He sacrificed also, and burnt incense in high places." And the nation went with him in this worship of devils. He was delivered into the hand of the king of Syria, and into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with great slaughter, "because they had forsaken the Lord God of their fathers." Having thus departed from Jehovah, he still adds to his wickedness, in looking to the world to help him. "At that time did king Ahaz send unto the kings of Assyria to help him." Instead of help, there is only increasing distress — Judah was brought very low. He then proceeded further in wickedness. "For Ahaz took away a portion out of the house of the Lord, and out of the house of the king, and of the princes, and gave it unto the king of Assyria, but he helped him not." How rapid the downward course! "And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz." And this is the downward course of every heart that departs from the living God. Sin cannot be played with. May the Lord use these solemn scriptures, in awakening the spirit of watchfulness, and dependence, in every child of God who shall read these lines.
"He sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him. and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria, help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel." Who can tell where departure from God may lead to? Mark the sad climax in the downward course of Ahaz, "And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God: and abut up the doors of the Lord, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem." This was the sad course of Judah's backsliding — the true picture of every heart that departs from God.
One of the first steps, then, in this downward progress was, the burning the little ones of Judah in the fire of Moloch. Oh, fearful thought to a parent's heart: the backsliding sin and worldliness of the believer now, may, unless grace prevent, sacrifice his children to everlasting burnings! The true path of faith is very narrow and strait. Satan's world lies all around on every, side. To turn aside is to lead my children, into the paths of the destroyer. Oh! think of this, ye parents who take your children to the world's concerts, and amusements; and think of this as those little eyes watch your ways at home. I believe we cannot depart one step from God without affecting our children. It is no use in such a case to pray for their conversion; this only hardens their hearts, if we ourselves are leading them into the paths of Satan.
As with the history of God's nation then, so in the history of his children now; departure from him must bring misery and sorrow. The nakedness and captivity of Judah, is a most striking picture of the spiritual condition of the wanderer in heart from God. The captives were indeed restored to the city of palm trees, Jericho. It was beautiful to the eye, but it was the city of the curse. (Joshua 6:26.) It is so with the child of God. If Satan has ensnared you, no matter what the circumstances, on earth, surrounded with beauty and plenty, yet it is the city of the curse. It is truly awful when the child of God, instead of returning to his Father, still plunges on in wilfulness and sin: he may seek help from the world, but all is in vain. The Lord brings him low; and in the time of distress, to still go on trespassing against God his Father! Such we know is the course of man's desperately wicked heart. Oh! how true this picture is! When the child of God looks for help to this or that, he finds ruin instead of remedy. Then the progress is rapid. A portion of time for prayer, or reading, or the means of grace, as we say, is given up to business or pleasure. The prevailing passion of the mind begins to get a fast bold in secret over the person; sin now gets such power, that soon the climax is reached; real worship is given up; the doors are shut, and the lamps are put out: and all this may take place, and yet a great show of outward religion. "He shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem."What numbers of the real children of God in this day are in a similar condition, instead of enjoying unhindered worship in the full light of the presence of God, with them it is as though the doors were shut and the lamps put out.
This then, was the state of backsliding Judah, when the history of God's restoration by Hezekiah began. One would have thought the case utterly hopeless. The confession of Hezekiah is very bitter: "For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel," &c. 2 Chron. 29:6-9. Thus he bows, and the priests and Levites with him, before the chastening hand of God. This blessed brokenness of heart before the Lord is a sure sign of restoration.
These words may describe the state of my reader. You may remember the days of your spiritual youth, when the presence of your God and Father was your home and joy; in the light of that presence, you then knew that the blood of Jesus Christ had cleansed you from all sin. Oh, how sweet it was to pour out your heart to God in praise and thanksgiving. Well, now! How is it now? You may be as busy with outward religion as Ahaz. But have you in secret been turned after sin, the world, or Satan? Is your heart and your eye off the Lord? Is it dark? Have you shut the door practically of the Lord's presence? the happy, holy liberty of entering with boldness, by the blood of Jesus, into the holiest, within the veil? Is this your place of worship? Heb. 10:1-23. Or, as to the enjoyment of your soul: Is the door shut and the lamps put out? My reader may say, "This is all true, but it comes very far short of my case. I seem to have gone the whole length of Judah's sin and departure. My backsliding began so imperceptibly, I was not aware until my poor heart was ensnared with idols. I turned away from the Lord. I gave up prayer, for I could not bear to keep up a false appearance. I plunged into sin, and, oh! the anguish and misery, no words can describe it; since then everything has seemed to go against me. Nothing can give me relief or comfort. I have tried the world in every form, but it helped me not. Truly I am brought low, so low that I have no hope now of being better." If this should be the state of my reader, may God now deal with him as He dealt with backsliding Judah. As surely as He dealt in chastening with His people then, so surely must He chasten the wandering child now. May there be the same bowing of heart in brokenness before Him. Oh, broken-hearted one, thou mayest boldly come before the throne of grace: there the doors are open and the lamps are lit. (Heb. 4:16.)
This subject demands plain words. It is no mere theory — sin is a reality; temptation is a reality; human weakness is a reality; backsliding is a reality. But, blessed be God, His grace is a reality that abounds beyond it all.
Man would have said, The work of restoration must begin with breaking in pieces the idols, and in correcting the outward things. God's work of restoration begins in the holiest. I believe this is a deeply important principle. The real work of restoration must begin in the presence of God, who is still the Father of the wayward child. However the nation had disowned Jehovah-God, He did not disown the relation in which He stood to them. However the child of God now may disown and dishonour the relationship of a child, God can never disown the relationship of Father. I never saw this so forcibly as the other day. I found my fellow-traveller on the rails was, and had long been, in deep distress of soul. He had been a Christian many years; and, a happy worshipper within the veil, had long enjoyed the blessed relationship of a child in the Father's presence. But he had been overcome by sin and plunged in despair. Oh! what need we have of constant, watchful dependence on God. Well, I tried in every way to comfort him in the way my God had often comforted me; but all in vain. He got no relief. I could not understand the case, until one sentence explained it all. He said, "I want to come before God as a sinner, and feel my sin before God?" The thought came with such force — this is nothing else but wanting God to deny his relationship as Father. I tried to show him that, whilst a sinning Jew of old could most properly say, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and so an awakened sinner now; but that the sinning child may, and must, come, not as a sinner bearing guilt and condemnation, before God, but as a failing child, in full confidence, to a still ever-loving Father. If the believer sin, the New Testament does not say he has an advocate with God. No; but, "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1, 2.) What matchless grace is this! What a relationship! Nothing can break it! It is the knowledge of this relationship, even when the believer has sinned, that breaks the heart and restores the soul. Jesus is the propitiation. He has stood my surety, bearing my guilt and condemnation, before God. He has felt my sins before God; has borne them — so borne them, as to cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In that place as a sinner before God I, as His redeemed child, can never come. To go back and, as an unconverted sinner, cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and try to feel my guilt as a sinner before God, surely this must be to set aside the full value of the atonement, and, so to speak, seek one's own condemnation. Is there any wonder, then, that God cannot, own this ground. It would deny entirely the basis on which the Christian now stands as a child. If I could for once stand again before God as a guilty, condemned sinner, I should be lost. For Christ could not die for me again. Once, more blessed truth, He has borne my sin and died for me. I am, by His death, reconciled to God. He is now always my Father. And my only true place before Him, even if I should have sinned, is as a confessing child. I believe it is ignorance of this relationship that keeps numbers in bondage and misery.
To return to our chapter, then. It is most remarkable that the work of restoration begins in the house of the Lord. "And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord." "Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify; and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of the Lord." (2 Chron. 29:16.)
My fellow-believer, we have a Great High Priest, who rose from the dead on the first day of the week, yea, the first of months to us, and appeared again unto his weak and timid ones on the eighth day. That blessed High Priest is gone into the inner place of the house of the Lord. I speak not of a place of worship on earth. "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which were the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." Oh! my fellow-believer, has sin made thee groan? Look up; there is the Living One, once pierced, once dead for thy sins. God Most Holy, thy Father, sees that body once broken on the cross, and hears the pleadings of thy righteous Advocate. Oh! how little the backslider thinks of this wondrous One in brightest glory as He pleads for him. But such is the case. And where is the man on earth that could approach this inner place of living light and holiness, but through the living intercession, and precious death, of this glorified Surety-Man, Christ the Lord.
Oh! ye wanderers, ye fallen ones, ye sorrowing, desolate backsliders, the innermost place of His holy presence is opened to you by the presence of Him who bare your sins. Pure grace has thrown open the doors, and a Father's loving welcome awaits you. There all is light. I think I hear one say, Impossible! I have sinned too deeply. How can I be happy in such holiness and light? For it often happens that a backsliding child of God would own the fullness of grace to an unconverted sinner, and yet, as a child, or, rather, forgetting he is a child of grace, tries hard to find something to bring to God for restoration. But what was the next step in Judah's restoration? "Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he-goats, for a sin-offering for the kingdom, and for the sanctuary, and for Judah: and he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the Lord." It was not three, five or six, but the Hebrew number of perfection, seven, of each kind, that were killed, and their blood sprinkled upon the altar. How much depends on our receiving the testimony of God, to the perfect value of the one offering prefigured by these sacrifices. This is the only ground of restoration and worship. The moment I believe it my soul is restored. The testimony of God was very clearly expressed in these shadows. "The king and the congregation laid their hands upon them." The goats for the sin-offering showing identification, as God had directed in the law. And his words were most plain. "And it shall be forgiven them." (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35.) They knew it was so; for why should they doubt the word of God? And when the wanderer is thus brought back to God his Father, the word of God to him is quite as plain. "And the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7.) Why, then, should he doubt it? "From all sin." These are wondrous words of comfort.
"And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also, with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David, king of Israel." (Ver. 27.) What a change! Thus is the deep need of the soul met; not by looking at self-not by improvements of self. But God sets before us the one offering of Christ. The burnt offering sets forth the perfectness of His spotless person, and the devotedness of His heart in voluntarily offering Himself up to God. And just as we see this, the song of the Lord begins and continues. And the result is, bowing of heart; in worship. What is there to hinder joy and worship, when I see that He loved me and gave Himself for me — that He has met all my sins perfectly — not some of them, but all of them — that He has identified Himself with me. Yes, it is Christ that the Spirit sets before the backslider, and the moment He is seen again, the soul sings for joy. Think how deeply Judah had sunk; and yet now see the effect of these sacrifices, which were but shadows. What joy and profound worship! My fellow-believer, however far thou mayest have wandered, there is surely virtue in the precious blood to bring thee, a purged worshipper, into the very presence of God. There is something unspeakably sweet, when the restored soul bows and worships. And now they consecrated themselves and came with thank offerings. Surely nothing is more sweet to our God than thanksgiving. He would have our hearts filled with joy. Does not the rejoicing of Hezekiah and all Judah put us to shame. They only had the shadows-offerings that pointed forward; but we have the full knowledge of the true offering of the body of Christ; and yet how little real joy, and worship, and thanksgiving. Yea, many Christians never know the joy and certainty that these Jews had.
The next step (chap. 30) is the celebration of the passover — the feeding on the lamb in remembrance of redemption. Thus "They did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers." (Chap. 30:22.) What a sight this was, to see backsliding Judah feeding on the Lamb with great gladness. Does it not show us that Christ is not only the object of faith to the one that has wandered, but at once the food of the soul. Nothing yet about fruit or works. It is all Christ. "So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel, there was not the like in Jerusalem." Oh what volumes of wondrous grace does all this speak to the poor backslider! The Lord's presence is still open. The precious blood still speaks perfect peace. The post goes in all haste to invite to come and feed on the Lamb of God. They eat other seven days. Yes, He who is our perfect offering is also our perfect food. We need nothing more than His blood to take away our sins. We need nothing more than His own person to feed our souls.
"Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves." (Chap. 31:1.) This is God's order. The heart of a wandering child must be broken by the gracious, yet chastening, hand of his Father. (Heb. 12:5-8.) The soul must be brought into His presence, in the full apprehension of the perfect value of the blood of Jesus. Then filled with joy, then worship and adore. Then feed on Christ with gladness of heart. And then — but not until then — when all this is finished — they brake in pieces the images, and cut down the groves, "until they had utterly destroyed them all." it is only in the presence of God, feeding on Christ, with joy and gladness, that I can get strength to break in pieces every idol in which my heart might trust. Grace first spreads the feast. "So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" Man would say to the backslider, Lovest thou Jesus? If so, come and dine in His presence. Not so the ways of our precious Lord with His weak one. Thus was Peter's self-trust broken to pieces. Confession there must be. It was when the children of Judah kept the feast that they made confession to the Lord God of their fathers. (2 Chron. 30.)
It is the knowledge of this precious grace of God that gives strength to bring forth fruits. The wandering child has no more power to bring forth fruit than the dead sinner. Fruit can only spring from, an ungrieved spirit in communion with Christ. It was so in 2 Chron. 31. The sacrifices being finished, the soul filled with joy, the joy of communion and worship. The idols are broken to pieces, and then there is abundance of fruits. "And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children brought in abundance of the first fruits." Yea, such was the greatness of the store that the first fruits had to be laid in heaps. "And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps they blessed the Lord and his people Israel." (Ver. 8.)
Thus these chapters set before us in type God's gracious dealings with his wandering child. The priesthood of Jesus within the vail for us. Based on the full value of His blood meeting all our sins, past, present, and future — all borne, perfectly borne by Him. The soul that is brought to understand this, in the presence of God, is filled with love, joy, and worship; yea, feeds with unspeakable joy on Christ the Lamb of God. This gives power for practical sanctification. And in separation to God every idol is broken to pieces. All was barrenness and darkness; all now is light and fruitfulness. Oh wanderer! God is still thy Father — His presence still thy home. Jesus still pleads for thee. The blood still speaks peace. Still he says, Come and dine. Oh ponder this unchangeable love! Return to thy Father: thou wilt find Him as ready to receive thee as in the days of thy first love. The more thy heart rests in His grace, the more freely canst thou confess all to Him. His joy shall be thy strength, and in it shalt thou break every idol. And thus feeding on Him, and abiding in His presence, fruit shall abound to His praise.
It is very instructive to notice the teaching in these chapters, after Judah's restoration and blessing. "After these things, and the establishment thereof." (Chron. 32:1.) Well, one would have thought all was ended — the idols broken, and abundance of fruits and good works. So might the child of God think when restored to full joy and communion, feeding on Christ, separated front every idol, and walking with God, abounding in every good work, entering with holy boldness within the veil, his soul dwelling on the precious blood of infinite value, overwhelmed with a sense of the greatness of the finished work of Christ, until he bows in adoring worship, yea, with untold gladness, feeding on the precious Lamb. But ah! "After these things, and the establishment thereof." Yes, after he is established in the unspeakable grace of God, even then, as one may say, begins the tug of war. "Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came, and entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities, and thought to win them for himself." This is important to bear in mind. In like manner, often in seasons of sweetest enjoyment, Satan is bringing up his hosts to encamp around us, to watch every opportunity to win us to himself. It is very strange, but oft we find it so, that we are more off our guard at such a time of blessing than any other. Now, "when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, he took counsel with his princes, and his mighty men, to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city, and they did help him." (Verse 3.) Child of God, do not mistake, Satan means to fight. He can bring hosts of wicked spirits against thee. (Eph. 6.) Re can bring bands of men against thee. (Job 1.) He can harass with evil thoughts like fiery darts. Wouldest thou conquer like Hezekiah? Cut of, then, the enemies' supplies. How sadly the believer may minister to the adversary by supplying him with weapons of temptation. Ah! why shouldest thou supply water to the kings of Assyria? As the people stopped all the fountains, they said, "Why shall the kings of Assyria come and find much water?" And beware lest when Satan comes he should find much opportunity of tempting and harassing thee. Whatever gives a handle to Satan, cut it of. "Also he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken." In times of conflict, what need of being strengthened with might in the inner man! In this day, the wall of separation betwixt the world and the church has been sadly broken down. If the soul would have the victory, this wall must be rebuilt. Yes, as they "raised it up to the towers," so the believer must build the wall of separation up to the very watch towers: and, like Habakkuk, we need to sit on those watch towers, yea, watch against all conformity to the world. (Rom. 12.)
The words of Hezekiah are very beautiful here. "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid or dismayed, for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him; for there be more with us than with him, With him is an arm of the flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." (Ver. 7, 8.) And if they thus rested in his words may we not rest ourselves on the words of God? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" This is the great anchor of the soul when passing through conflict — "God is for us."
If we compare this account, in the book of Chronicles, with the account in 2 Kings 18, we find that the best side is chronicled. In the Kings we see what Hezekiah was in himself. The treasures of the sanctuary were given to the king of Assyria; yea, he even "cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it unto the king of Assyria." (2 Kings 18:15, 16.) In the Chronicles we see rather what God records about him. Precious grace! Whilst our sins and failures are blotted out, the gift of a cup of cold water in His name is chronicled above. Ye are they who have continued with me in my temptation, said he to them who were too sleepy to watch one hour.
The stopping of the watercourses, the building of the wall, the confidence of faith: these are the points the Spirit chronicles of Hezekiah. Yet after this came the hosts of Sennacherib to invade Jerusalem. Isaiah, who prophesied at this time, gives a full account of the rage and blasphemy of this enemy of God. Let not the child of God put off the armour and suppose the battle is over — we wrestle with wicked spirits in heavenly places. Hezekiah wrestled with wicked men in earthly places. His conflict was but a type of ours. The cities of Judah were taken. (Isaiah 36:1.) This looked very sad after such joy and worship. And sad indeed is the havoc Satan often makes, even amongst the most spiritual children of God. Hezekiah had given way in the matter of the gold of the pillars. Gold covering the stone and the wood was a striking type of Christ, our covering and righteousness. Now, as we are seen of God as to our standing, covered with Christ, "complete in him," (Col. 2) so practically should we before men put on the Lord Jesus. But only let us give way to Satan the least by putting off Christ, and we shall find instead of this satisfying the devil, he instantly takes advantage, and redoubles the attack. Suppose the believer finds himself in worldly company, he feels beneath the surface there is enmity against Christ. To put on Christ would give offence — Satan whispers, "You had better not name Christ here." If you listen you fail, and will assuredly receive damage. Which of us has not found this so to our cost? Boldly, yet meekly, to have put on Christ would have secured victory.
This is a very common temptation. Satan seeks first to get our thoughts off Christ, and then, so occupied with ourselves and our failings, that he may persuade us to make less and less profession of the blessed Lord we love. Faith he cannot destroy; whatever advantages he gets, still, with the real child of God, there is trust in Him. This enraged Rabshakeh to madness; be says, "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" (Chap. 36:4.)
Oh! terrible is the host of hell that Satan brings at such a time, to try the faith of the child of God. What threatening, crying, blaspheming, and hoaxing Rabshakeh's rage is an exact picture of Satan's enmity. "Answer him not," was the command of Hezekiah. All do not pass through this storm and tempest. It is well for those that do, to remember the trial of their faith is more precious than gold. When the wicked infidel letter was read to the king, he "went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord." These are two points of immense value to the tried soul seen in the conduct of Hezekiah during this fierce trial. "Answer him not," "and spread it before the Lord." Silence and Prayer. When Satan throws out a flood of infidel questions, answer him not, but spread all out before the Lord. Nothing can, at such a time, sustain the soul, but the most entire dependence on God. As Rabshakeh spake of the nations around, so Satan points to this one and that; they once professed to be the servants of God, and where are they? and you are no better, he says; you had better give up all profession of Christ and make a covenant with me — "cast off the restraint of Christ." Answer him not; get before God in prayer. The prayer of this tried soul is very beautiful: "O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art God, even thou alone." Oh! it is a blessed place to get before the mercy-seat, and contemplate God there. "Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear: open thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God," &c. (16-20.) And the Lord did hear, and did save, and did deliver. The angel of the Lord smote the camp of the Assyrian. Oh! what a relief to the tossed soul when thus brought through torrents of temptation. But the progress of a child of God does not end here. He may have learnt the value of redemption; he may have been restored by the intercession of his Advocate to communion in the very innermost presence of God. He may have long fed on Christ, the bread of life. He may have then broken the idols to pieces. He may have abounded in good works. He may then have passed through fiery trial. All this Hezekiah had passed through in the type; but the death lesson had yet to be learnt. And so with the Christian: he may have passed through all this, and yet the death lesson of the old man not yet learnt. Read, now, Isaiah 38.
"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death," and the word of the Lord to him is, "Thoushalt die and not live." Yes, and after all the blessed enjoyment of Christ we have been speaking of, to find nothing in self, the old man, but corruption and death. This, indeed, makes the believer, who has not learnt the death and resurrection lesson, cry out, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me? Ah! old me, old I, must die, must perish, must be turned to the wall. Poor Hezekiah, he turned his face to the wall and wept sore. Like Job of old, this brings out the leaven of self-righteousness. "Remember now, O lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked, before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight; and Hezekiah wept sore." Oh, and it is sore work to learn fairly the death lesson of the flesh. The rage of Rabshakeh without is but a mere trifle compared with the full discovery of the death within. What mourning and pining in secret. For peace, Hezekiah had great bitterness. A new third day life of fifteen years is granted Hezekiah. In a word, death and resurrection is the solemn, yet precious, lesson of this chapter. This history reminds one of the order of the Epistle to the Romans. After righteousness, redemption, and justification have been dealt with, in chap. 3-5, still the death and resurrection lessons of 6, 7 are needed to introduce us to the full blessed truth of no condemnation in Christ. (8.) I have no hesitation in saying, that though this death and resurrection lesson is the most difficult to learn, alas! how few do learn it; yet it is the most blessed lesson of the Spirit of God. It is truly blessed to learn the value of that precious blood that brings us to God. To feed on Christ with joy and gladness; thus to have strength to break in pieces the idols, and so to taste the sweetness of restoring grace, as to abound in good works. To be sustained of God when passing through fierce conflict. But to learn that we are dead with Christ, and risen with Him; and that, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." And that if thus justified there can be no condemnation and no separation. Oh! my fellow Christian, this, this is the lesson God the Holy Ghost would have thee to learn; and this forgotten truth is the very foundation of Christian doctrine, as taught in the New Testament. Do read the sixth and seventh of Romans, and ponder what is involved in being dead with Christ any risen with Him. This is the heavenly key that unlocks all gospel truth. True certain peace with God cannot be enjoyed where this is not known. No longer under law — the power of death — but under grace, bringing forth fruit to God through the power of the risen life. "Dead with Christ." (Rom. 6:8) "Risen with Christ." (Col. 2:12.) Ah! this gives peace that the rage of the adversary can never shake.
But as my object in writing this paper was chiefly to address the backslider, if such should be my reader, let me take you by the hand, and lead you into the presence of your Father. You may be ready to say, "It is of no use; it is all darkness. My sun has gone down in the sun-dial of backsliding Ahaz ten degrees." Well, God shall give you this sign — He shall bring it back. Just as we know that it is not the sun that actually goes down, but the world that turns away from the sun, so is it with the Christian now: Jesus, his Sun of Righteousness, is ever the same; it is himself that turns away: and according to the degree of his backsliding, so is the darkness of his night. He restoreth my soul, and all is light. Come, then. You have wandered; you have sinned. Worship given up; doors shut and lamps put out. I would not hide the fact; sin against God as your Father makes sin more fearful. Do you feel this? The sorrows of Judah were a faithful picture of your own in departing from Christ. But look now within the veil. What an Advocate! "And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins." It does not say, If any man reform, and deserves an advocate. No; "if." And what an "if!" "If any man sin." Boundless grace, thus to meet the need of the fallen one! "And he is the propitiation for our sins." God can never forget Calvary. He who bled and died is the living, tender Advocate. Hark! He pleads His blood. God is faithful to the full value of that precious blood. Oh! what shall hinder now the full outpouring of thine heart in confession? He waits, He delights, to forgive. The love of God — the tenderness, the blood of Christ. Dost thou confess? Jesus claims thy forgiveness. God is faithful. Oh! hast thou confessed to Him? Then, on the certainty of the faithfulness of God, thou art pardoned and cleansed. (1 John 1:9.) Remember the seven bullocks. Oh! ponder well the sacrifice of Jesus — that one perfect offering for sins — all thy sins. Think of that voluntary love. I think the song of the Lord begins in thy heart. Yes, thou mayest sing again, and bow thy head in worship, thanksgiving, and praise. Thou, restored one, art welcome to God. The table is spread. Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me." In sweet communion, feed on the Lamb. Yea, feed again, again. Is thy heart filled with Christ? Oh! still with gladness feed again; abide in Him. Now break the idols. Follow Jesus, heart and soul. Snap goes a band that held thee to the world — down goes an idol that drew thine heart from Christ. Strike again, and do not spare. God give thee entire separation to Himself! And now for fruits. He claims thee, body, soul, and spirit. Give all to Him. Seek His glory alone. Seek to please Him — the obedience of faith — the service of love. Oh, how sweet! But take care be not puffed up: torrents of temptation lie before thee. Thou hast to march straight through hosts of raging men and devils — men and devils who hate thy Christ and hate His truth. Answer them not. Be much in prayer. There is no safety but in entire dependence on God. "With us is the Lord our God." (2 Chron. 32:8.) Human resolutions may all fail in the hour of temptation; but God will never fail the soul that trusts in Him. What calm peace this gives, thus to know God is for us, and God is with as. This can never be enjoyed with a bad conscience. Surely the thought is horrible; allowing known evil and God for us — God with us. What! the child of God cherish one secret sin, and have God approve. Impossible the thought!
Let not my reader mistake: if thou wouldst have victory over the enemy, not one idol must be allowed. Thine heart must lean on none but God. "Be strong and courageous; be not afraid nor dismayed." Satan may come like Sennacherib against thee: he may roar about past failure: he may seek to frighten with present danger. Poor trembling one, keep up heart; God is for thee, God is with thee. Ah! and if He turns thy face to the wall, and shows thee the deep corruption of thy old nature, even this shall work for thy richest good. It is hard work to fairly give up the life of the old man. "Remember now, O Lord," says Hezekiah, "I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight: and Hezekiah wept sore." (Isa. 38:3.) This may be, too, the struggling in my reader's heart. If so, no wonder you should, for peace, have great bitterness. No pen can describe the pang of that heart, which, whilst sincerely seeking to be righteous, finds only corruption, like the boil of Hezekiah.
Poor leper! there is no relief but in owning thyself a leper all over. In our old man, human nature — yes, boasted human nature, morally speaking, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is no soundness — all is ruin: wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores. The blessed cross of Christ is the end of this ruin, and His grave its burial. Has my reader well pondered this fact, that God is perfectly justified by the death of Christ, on the cross, in dealing in unbounded grace and mercy. Even the believer that has long travelled the journey, does well to ponder this fact. If God reckons you dead and buried with Christ, is not that enough? Is it not the end of your old self before God — the full end of sin and the curse? The judgment of the most holy God fully borne in death, by Jesus the spotless Lamb of God. If all this is put to the account of the weakest believer, then as to condemnation, he no longer exists. He had been condemned, and put to death, in the person of his substitute. But this is not all. If the death of Christ is the end of my old Adam nature, the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of my new nature. How simple God's gospel is; how opposite to man's confusion. Dead with Christ, risen with Christ. These two facts settle everything, as to standing, hope, and walk. As to standing, the believer is simply as Christ is — once dead, now alive for ever; once condemned, now no condemnation. Yea, the resurrection of one could not take place, except as the guarantee of the other. Risen with Christ. Sin, death, and condemnation left for ever behind. Is not this so of Christ? Then is it not so with my reader, if risen with Him? What a justification is this; how infinitely beyond mere pardon! Our sins are forgiven for His name's sake. This is blessed. But to be risen with Christ, one with Him, complete in Him. As He is, so are we in this world — justified as He is justified; both of one, he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified. If you ask what is justification, Scripture replies, Dead and risen with Christ. (Rom. 6, 7.) And therefore there is now no condemnation. "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." Yes, my reader, if you clearly understand what it is to be risen with Christ, death and judgment behind you, as to your standing; it must be the standing of Christ; not as keeping the law on earth, but as risen and in heaven. Where this true simple doctrine of justification by death, and oneness with Christ in resurrection, is not known, all is pitiable confusion. Men will even tell you, though you break the law, yet Christ kept it, and therefore this justifies you — that is, Christ keeping the law justifies you in breaking it. This seems to me to be sheer nonsense, and worse. Where does the scripture speak of Christ keeping the law as a substitute, that the believer, though breaking it, may be justified? I ask, where? The whole theory is false and unscriptural, and they who teach it cannot appeal to scripture, but to mere human opinion for proof. If I am under the law at all, its authority cannot be, maintained except by cursing me. It saith to all that are under it, "The soul that sinneth shall surely die." (Ezek. 18:20.)
Yes, dead with Christ, risen with Christ. This is the believer's standing, justified from all that he was; and justified for ever in all that he now is, as a new creature in Christ Jesus.
And this, too, is the base of his hopes. He cannot hope for the improvement of that which is ruined and dead, nor does he. No, he waits for the risen Christ, and longs for that day of redemption when, fashioned like Him, he shall see Him as He is, and be like Him. "And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as he is pure."
Yes, my reader, so far from the moral law being thy rule of life, it will be found as God describes it — the rule of death. (2 Cor. 3:7.) As a young man said to me the other night, "I have been trying for twenty-five years to keep the law, as I was told I must, and I have only got worse. I have resolved and prayed when I arose in the morning, and before night I have felt myself so bad that I have been almost in despair." And is not this the general effect of modern preaching? Now the rule of walk is — dead with Christ, risen with Christ. And most certainly the power of walk is the Spirit of God. But this walk in the Spirit cannot be, if you are put under law, as says the scripture, "But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye, axe not under law." (Gal. 5:18.)
But my reader may say, What has all this to do with me as a restored backslider? It has, this to do with you: if you allow false teachers to put you under law, you are sure to backslide again. Here are the two things: man would lead you under the law, the Spirit would lead you to Christ. If under law, you break it, and are again entangled in bondage; if led of the Spirit, you bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. Do you ask, "Then am I to break the law? do you mean that I am at liberty to sin?" Far be the thought. (See Rom. 6.) Dead with Christ, risen with Christ. Are you dead, with Christ, that yow may sin? are you risen with Him that you may sin? The precious pattern and example, Christ! does looking to him teach you to sin? Dead and risen one, the Spirit loads thee to Christ as a new creature, Christ is thy delight. What was the rule of His holy life? The Father's will. Not merely the law. The law did not command the scenes of Calvary; yet even there the beloved one could say, "Lo, I come to do thy will." Let thine eye rest on that blessed obedient Holy One. May the Spirit of God keep thee pressing toward that mark. I ask, is this antinomianism? Then give me more of it. It is the path that shines brighter and brighter to the perfect day — the path ever hated by man; but blessed are the feet that walk therein.
Dead with Christ, risen with Christ. Lowest thoughts of self, highest thoughts of Christ. As a child of Adam, nothing but sin in me, but dead and buried; as a child of God, risen with Christ, His nature mine, His life mine, Himself mine, my wisdom, my righteousness, my sanctification, my redemption, my all and in all!
But oh! his love, his love to me, once lost, now found; once dead, now alive again. He loved me and gave Himself for me. Does my heart know His love? Then shall not His will be my delight? How sweet the obedience of faith that works by love! Can we not say we love Him because He first loved us. If there be no power for obedience in that law which could only curse me if I were under it; yet there is power in the blessed Comforter sustaining the heart, in the sweet sense of this grace and love. Oh! my reader, art thou redeemed by the blood of Him who loved thee, and gave Himself for thee? Then he claims thy whole heart, He has given thee a new nature, that delights in Himself; He has given thee His Holy Spirit, the source and power of fruit to God. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Col. 2:1-3.) If ye live in the Spirit, then walk in the Spirit. There can be no enjoyment of communion with God unless we are thus walking in holiness, and bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit. Whilst the old nature is turned with its face to the wall, may we learn to walk softly and meekly, in watchfulness and prayer, in unfeigned dependence on God, knowing truly our own weakness, but proving also the power of His Spirit; may we be kept from the ways of this evil world, the corruption of our old evil nature, and even from the ways of the professing Church; and thus, "with open face beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."