John Alfred Trench.
Article 3 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
It is of importance that we should note the cause of the sorrow to which the Lord Jesus addresses Himself in these precious words for the comfort of the troubled ones; for, as I am persuaded, they will lose their deepest significance and blessing for any who have not known as their own the sorrow that is the occasion of them. For it is no ordinary sorrow that is here, such as abounds for every child of God in his path through this evil world. It is not any and every sorrow that here finds itself in the presence of the Lord for sympathy, whose heart has still upon the throne of God its kindred throb for every throb of ours, and comfort, too, to the full; but the very special sorrow of any who know Jesus well enough to miss Him in a scene out of which He has been cast by the unanimous consent of man. Brighter and more blessed things, it is true, have resulted to us from the cross of Christ, in the wondrous grace of God, that could make this culminating point of man's hatred the moment and place of the brightest display of that grace. But this does not lessen the guilt of the world in putting Him there, nor the sense of His rejection by it in our hearts as we pass through it. And so it is that Paul can say, "By the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world." Beloved, let us put it to our heart, do we miss Him? We have known His work for salvation, but have we gone on to know Himself for love? Has His work, with all its known results in our blessing, served in any feeble measure to attach us to Him who has accomplished it, and we do not miss Him in this world? Impossible that it should be so! For us, as for Mary, if He is gone, then all is gone that was of any value for our hearts here; and henceforth, in all this world's scene, there is a blank that nothing can fill. It is stained with the blood of our murdered Lord; His cross blights it in our eyes; our hearts can never dissociate the world from His cross that judged it, and we only live to show forth His death in it, while as strangers and pilgrims we pass on to our home above. Beloved, do our hearts know enough of the Lord Jesus to be desolate in a place where He is not? Ah, then, we know the disciples' sorrow, and to us as well as to them belongs the comfort of the words of Jesus.
And see how He counts upon the disciples' love and consequent sorrow; for He has no sooner broken it to them in gentle words, that only "yet a little while" (John 13:33) He can be with them, than He adds, "Let not your heart be troubled." Precious fruit of His own love, that wherever it is known detaches hearts from the world without Him by attaching them to Himself. Yes, He whom they had known, and loved, and followed on earth in such precious intimacy, was about to return to the Father, and they would now no longer know Him after the flesh; yet He was only going to take the same place as the unseen God, where He would be still known by faith, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me," and in all the deeper revelations of the glory of His Person that would result from that place; so that He will even prove that it is expedient for them that He goes away. And as we shall see, these deeper revelations of Himself will form the very staple of the comfort ministered to us in His words. Where else could comfort be found for hearts that have known Him ever so feebly? All joy is treasured up for us in the knowledge of Christ. There can be no different joy, but only deeper measures of the same joy; and this is just what He brings us into by going away.
But will He enter alone into His joy, and leave us in our wilderness desolation? No; He only goes to prepare a place for us there too, and to wait for the moment when He can come and fetch us into it. Beloved, He speaks to us of home; and if you say it is of His home, I answer, not more His than yours with Him now: for He has never left us, until He has accomplished a work in the world, on the ground of which He has introduced us into the very same relationship that He Himself, as man, stands in to God. "Go to my brethren," says He, from the mouth of the open and empty sepulchre, "and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." (John 20:17) Henceforth His Father is our Father, His God our God, His home our home. And if there are in it "many mansions," His love has already set apart the place for each individual object of it: for such I take to be the force of the words, "I go to prepare a place for you." None but the one for whom each place has been prepared by Jesus can fill it for His heart. How precious to be still and ever the objects of such love! Now, in His absence, we need the assurance of it, and He gives it to us.
But observe well where it is He gives us our home, "In my Father's house." Oh, beloved, have our hearts entered into the blessedness of this? The Jewish hopes of the disciples were filled with the displayed glory of the kingdom, as was natural from prophecy; but the time for that display, depending as it did upon the presence of the Messiah, was not come yet, as was evident from Jesus' words, "Yet a little while I am with you." And when all seemed lost to their disappointed expectations in His going away, He unfolds to their faith what prophecy never thought of, the Father's house, and gives them and us our home there, in a love that is beyond all the glory; for the glory can be displayed, the love, never. What rich comfort for our hearts, troubled in this world at the absence of Jesus!
But there is more, and more there must be, to meet the necessities of those to whom, by these very revelations, the Lord Jesus is becoming more precious every day. Is this separation to last for ever? No; He could not bear it any more than we. And, coupled with the home presented to our faith to enjoy, He gives us just what He knows hearts that truly love Him could not do without — the promise (ver. 3), "I will come again, and receive you unto myself;" precious hope for us, beloved, till hope shall be lost in the consummation of it, and we shall see Him face to face. Nor is it only that we shall be with Him — for, "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," and thus in death we go to Him — but His word is, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself," and the promise is as sure today for our hearts as when He first gave it to us.* Beloved brethren, is the coming of our Lord more than a doctrine among us? Is it a deep spring of joy even in hope? Is it a living power in our souls? But the promise goes on, "that where I am, there ye may be also;" and this tells us that the necessity of our hearts is His own, that, not for our joy only but for His, we must be where He is. And, beloved, that is the heaven of the Christian's hope. Man's imagination has pictured a heaven of its own, well suited to it, no doubt, but not the least suited to the desires of Christ for us. Scripture has but little about heaven; for all desire, all joy, all hope, is summed up for any who know Christ ever so feebly, in that "where I am" of His. His presence is the very heaven of heaven to us.
*His coming for us, I need hardly say, is not the same as our going to Him.
Yet we are only approaching the kernel of joy for us, and comfort, while we wait, in the absence of the Lord Jesus, for the fulfilment of such bright hopes. And this is contained in what follows — ushered, in by the words (ver. 4), "and whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." He was going to the Father, of whom on earth He had been personally the full revelation before their eyes: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John 1:18) So then they knew where He was going, and the way, in the very revelation that He was of the Father (ver. 6), "I am the way." He is, "the truth" also, consequent as truth is on the revelation of God: for the truth about anything is its relation to God, which can only be known as God is known. Thus it was that when the Lord Jesus came into the world, all was tested and revealed in its true character. Then it was known that all that is of this world was one vast gigantic lie! Jesus alone, the truth, who thus testing and judging it, was rejected by it. "Men loved darkness rather than light." But He is also "the life:" for, if any found in Jesus the full disclosure of their lost condition by nature, they found also in Him the full revelation of God in grace and truth, and "this is eternal life to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3)
Moreover, if God is known in the Son, He is known in the character of this relation — or, in other words, as Father: "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also." (Ver. 7) And this is truly blessed. He died "to bring us to God;" but having come by Jesus, the only way, we find that it is to the Father He has brought us. Thus, we not only know our future place in His Father's house, but we know His Father, and we know Him as our Father. And this is needed to complete the consciousness that our home is there. Well may Philip say (ver. 8), "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." What joy could go beyond the knowledge of the Father? But then Philip ought to have known the Father as manifested in the Son: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known ME, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" and "from henceforth," says Jesus, "ye know him, and have seen him." (Ver. 9)
This, beloved, is our portion of blessing in our Lord's absence. The disciples enjoyed the presence of the Lord Jesus amongst them. In another day the Son of man will come in His glory, and the blessing of the earth in the kingdom will depend upon the manifestation of His glory. But oh, beloved, far beyond all in the richness of blessing is the way in which He is revealed to our faith now, as hid in God. Lost to the outward eye, it is only that He has taken His place according to the intimate nearness of His relationship with the Father; and in this wondrous intimacy we are given to know Him (ver. 11): "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me." What is the displayed glory of the kingdom compared with the home circle of divine relationship and love, into which such words introduce us? And this is our blessing. Power to grasp the full blessedness of such a revelation is another thing, and we are not left without this also, as we shall see. But such is the revelation, which is the strength of our comfort in the absence of Christ. He is not lost to us, blessed be God! but revealed to us all the more fully from the place He has taken in His oneness with the Father, so that we know Him in the Father, and the Father in Him, and "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Surely this is privilege beyond all that was ever heard of before in the wondrous dealings of God in grace with His people — beyond all that will be enjoyed by Jew or Gentile, blessed in the millennium in the personal presence and manifested glory of the Messiah; nay, beloved, privilege that depends upon the very place that the absent One has taken with God, having first fully declared Him in the world. Oh, for hearts duly to estimate it, and to take our place accordingly, in the sweet and precious fellowship with the Father and the Son, to which we are now consciously and intelligently brought as our privilege and joy. Well may the Holy Spirit say, instructing us in these very things (1 John 3, 4), "These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full."
Having said this much, beloved brethren, as to the character of our blessing in the absence of the Lord Jesus, I pass over intervening verses, however important in their connection, to note next the power by which alone we can enjoy such a revelation of God. This is promised us in verse 16, "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth. . . . At that day (namely, when He is come) ye shall know that I am in the Father." Thus has the Holy Spirit been given to dwell within each of us, that by His power we may grasp the present revelation of the Son in the Father — the power by which, though still in the circumstances of the wilderness, we may ever walk above them in full, unclouded fellowship with the Father and the Son. But more than this is known now that the Spirit has come; for verse 20 goes on to unfold to us (oh, amazing blessedness!) that we are associated with the Lord Jesus in all the nearness and intimacy of His place in the Father. "At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you." Beloved, can anything be added to such blessedness? The whole of our position here lies before us. While Jesus is withdrawn from the eye of the world that cast Him out, soon to come back again for the display of His power and glory in the kingdom, the Holy Spirit has come down, sent from the very place the absent One has taken in the Father, to be the power by which our souls are brought into the divine intimacy and fellowship of such a place, and of our association with the Son in all the wondrous blessedness of it.
But it will be easily seen that if our blessing is only to be fully enjoyed by the power of the Spirit of God, it is above all things essential to such enjoyment that nothing should be allowed to grieve Him in our walk. Hence it is that verse 15 occupies the place it does in this instruction: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Nothing grieves the Spirit more than when self-will is allowed to work. Obedience is the very opposite to this. Here, then, comes the third point in the Lord's instruction, as He tells us of the path and order, in which alone the joy of these wondrous links with heaven and with God can be entered into and maintained. How blessedly the power of an ungrieved Spirit was illustrated for us in the cloudless joy of the desolate path of Jesus on the earth! And the secret of it is unfolded to us in His words, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of. . . . My meat is to do the will of him that sent me." (John 4:32-34) Thus it is only as every thought of our hearts is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, that our portion of divine intimacy can be enjoyed by the power of the Spirit. And this is a joy absolutely apart from and independent of all earthly circumstances; it springs from the links that connect our hearts with the Father's presence and the place that the Lord Jesus has taken in the interval of His rejection by the earth. Oh, that nothing may be tolerated for a moment that would enfeeble the power of such associations in our souls!
But the happy spring of this obedience is found in the words of the Lord Jesus, "If ye love me." It is as though He said, Dry up your tears at the thought of My leaving you — albeit these tears are precious in His sight — and prove your love, if it is true and real, by the more practical path of My obedience. And when the heart is taken up with Christ as its object, how easy and natural obedience to His commandments becomes! "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." (Ver. 21) But if Christ is not our simple and all-controlling object, there is nothing that is more distasteful than this obedience. Ah, such is the treachery of these hearts of ours that we would be serving with unwearied zeal, according to our own thoughts of what He would like, throwing every energy, every power, into such service, rather than yield Him the unreserved obedience that is for this very reason the test of true love. Not that I would depreciate service in its own place, beloved brethren; but true service to Christ is rendered in the path of obedience, or else it will want, as Martha's did, that which would make it most sweet and acceptable to Him. As the loving eye of the Lord Jesus rests upon each one of His in the earth, it is not they who seem the busiest and most active and zealous for Him who most meet His approval, for this suits too well oftentimes the restlessness and pride of nature; but the quiet, unobtrusive walk of one little noticed, it may be, by men, but governed in every detail of it by the commandments of Christ: "he it is that loveth me." And love for Him thus manifesting itself becomes, as it were, a fresh bond between us and the Father, for Jesus is the object of the Father's love, and thus we are found to have an object of love in common with the Father. We know what bonds are formed between hearts by some common object of love: "He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him." It is not that there is any difference in the love wherewith all of us are loved: for, as to the Father's love, we are each accepted "in the Beloved," and the world shall know in another day that "thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me" (John 17:23), and if we would know the only measure of the love of Jesus for any of us, He gives it us in John 15:9, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you." But the obedient one only can enjoy this love, which yet knows no change. The disobedient child misses all the caressings of love, albeit he is not loved the less. But more, "I will manifest myself unto him." Does the Lord call us by His obedience to a path that few have courage for — there, it may be, to walk alone? Not alone, beloved, for He is with us in it; and will any heart that knows the Lord dare to say that it will be lonely then? To yield up my own will at His command may bring upon me the frown of all; but if I know the smile and approval of Jesus, is it not enough? Are we listening for the voice of the Lord to take us, according to His promise to us in verse 3, to be where He is, and is His presence to us the deepest joy of heaven? What shall we say of these manifestations of Himself to any who will but obey Him? It is heaven's deepest joy in character brought down to my heart below!
But would you ask with Judas (not Iscariot) what this private manifestation of Himself to one, and not to another, means — so foreign as such a thought was to Jewish expectations, that waited upon the public manifestation of the Messiah to all, and how it is to be enjoyed while He is hidden to the eye of sense? Then you must learn the meaning of the Lord's answer (ver. 23), "If a man love me, he will keep my words." This is more, beloved, than keeping the commandments of Jesus. Obedience to His expressed commands leads me into a place of ever-deepening intimacy with Himself. To this place of deeper intimacy belong His "words." I do not command my intimate friend; my mind is expressed in my words, and he knows my mind and acts accordingly, by the very intimacy and fellowship he enjoys. A little word has ten thousand times greater weight with him than my command has upon one at a distance. The servant gets his commands and obeys them, but "he knoweth not what his lord doeth;" my friend walks with me in intelligence of my deepest thoughts. Oh, beloved, are we walking in this intimacy with Him who has not called us "servants," but "friends;" and, hanging upon the precious words of His lips, are we getting into deeper intelligence of His mind? How often, when at a distance, we find our excuse for doing our own will, in that we have no express command from the Lord Jesus! Oh, that every little word of His may have its irresistible sway over us! This, again, is the expression of truest love, and what an answer it receives! Is it joy to us to think of being received to the Lord Jesus just now in the mansions of the Father's house? But the promise in verse 23 brings the Father and the Son down to make their "mansions" (for the word is the same) in the path with any who only thus love the Lord.
Beloved, I can say no more. What more could be given to encourage and sustain the heart in faithfulness to our absent Lord? Has God resources beyond what are here revealed for our joy? Oh, to be filled with the Spirit, that we may comprehend the full blessedness of our portion and have capacity to enjoy it! Well, well may He say (ver. 18), "I will not leave you comfortless," when He only goes away to reveal Himself from His place in the Father's presence, in oneness with the Father, in the full brightness and joy for our hearts of all that He is, even while we tread the path of this dark world. "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you," and so faith enjoys His presence still, and knows Him in the Father as it never could have known Him while He was in the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us, and all that is wanting to the full consummation of our joy is to see Him face to face, and be like Him and with Him for ever.