J. A. Trench.
from 'Truth for Believers' Vol. 3. — Miscellany.
It is evident that the primary application of those words has passed away, with the circumstances that gave occasion to them, never to find their parallel. But I am persuaded that a very real and solemn application of them remains to us. Often as we turn to the familiar scene, precious to all that love Him, we find it yields some fresh aspect of blessing.
Testimonies were accumulating at this point in the gospel, on the part of God, to the glory of Him whom men despised and the nation of Israel abhorred. The sickness of Lazarus had been to "The glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby" — in the midst of death manifested to be the Resurrection and the Life. Just now He was to be presented to the Daughter of Zion as her King, coming sitting on an ass's colt, while multitudes greeted Him with "Hosanna; blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord"; so soon, indeed, to be changed into the cry, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him." The Greeks, too, desiring to see Jesus was the occasion of bringing out that He was Son of Man, and bespoke the day when He should be glorified as such, in a wider sphere of glory that belonged to Him than as Israel's king. And this threefold testimony to the glory of His Person was ordered of God as the answer to the definite rejection of His words and works in John 8, John 9. (See John 10:25, 37, 38.)
Still there was that which lay nearer to the heart of the Lord. There was a path He was about to enter, necessary, indeed, to the full manifestation of His glories that had been borne witness to, but in which He should be glorified in a deeper way in glorifying God (John 13:31), and laying, in the Cross, the foundation for the accomplishment of God's eternal counsels. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." His death was full in view. Had it not been very present to His heart when He walked with Mary to the tomb of Lazarus? Feeling the sorrow and desolation of death that was upon all, but as none else could, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. Jesus wept! — precious tears of perfect human sympathy, of divine love that had come down thus to have its part to the full in human sorrow! "Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the tomb." Was not that deeper groan the expression of how He felt that which had brought in the sorrow — sin the source of it all — entering into this as He alone could, for He was in the way Himself to be made sin, and to endure in infinite depths of sorrow, the judgment of God that was due to it? Yielding Himself up to death for the glory of God, He was the perfect object of the Father's delight, and would even give Him new ground for it. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again."
Was there to be no testimony of this deepest character of His glory? Impossible that it should be wanting! But how shall it be rendered? How blessed the fruit of His grace that had prepared a suited vessel for it in one, if there was but one, who in heart entered in any measure into the true character of what was transpiring. It was Mary — she who had learned to know Him as no one else seemed to have known Him in the Gospels. Her heart, formed by the object of God's heart, in the instincts of this communion, anticipates what lay deepest in His even before it had found expression in His words. She felt, what perhaps she could not have defined to any, the shadow of His death was fallen upon her while men were compassing it, and He could say, in giving Himself up to it, "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name." The secret of the Lord was with Mary, as with all who fear Him; and so, with intelligence of the suited moment, she took "The ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair." "Because of the savour of thy good ointment, thy name is as ointment poured forth." So it was that day — "the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."
But what is especially before me, in seeking this little word with the Lord's beloved people, comes out in the way He expresses His estimate of the act of her devotedness, in contrast to the thoughts of His poor disciples who understood nothing. "They had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?" Judas adding, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Then said Jesus, "Let her alone; against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always." He will receive no more the anointing of our hands; He has passed beyond the reach of such, though not beyond the expression of our love. Yet there is a sense in which His own will have Him for ever, and in a more blessed way than they had Him while He was yet with them upon earth. The part that Mary chose by His grace we know shall never be taken away from her. Still there is a way in which we have Him now in this day and scene of His rejection that we shall never have Him in glory. There is a fellowship of His sufferings, more intimate and sweeter if possible than the fellowship of His glory. What if we were to miss it? This is what affects my heart. If Mary had failed to seize that last night, to render love's adoring testimony to His preciousness, she never could have recalled it through eternity. How exquisitely suited to the moment, that testimony to the perfect fragrance of His death before God, whom men counted worthy only of a malefactor's cross. She had come beforehand to anoint Him for His burial. How soon the opportunity would have been for ever lost! It is not that love will not find new and as perfectly suited ways of expressing itself to Him in the everlasting glory; but it will not be in the way in which He looks for it now, and misses it if wanting.
For has He not come, and died, and risen again, to win our hearts for Himself? Does He not state it as the express object of the grace that has brought us the full and free forgiveness of our sins? "When they had nothing to pay, He frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?" He looked for nothing short of this to be the effect of that grace. It sufficed to distinguish the forgiven one in Simon's house, even before she knew all that His grace had come to bring her. "Seest thou this woman?" He had not seemed to notice her before, but now He recounts every token of her love, for it was precious to Him. Is it thus with us? I put it to myself as I do to you. Can we, as His forgiven ones, be known in a cold, heartless world as plainly as she — even by love that seeks to lavish its expression on this precious Object, our life this, and nothing else? "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." He looks for it in glory, and makes so much of what nothing but the love that drew it forth would appraise as of any worth. Not that the action of this dear woman in Luke 7 is to be confounded with the outwardly somewhat similar one of Mary of Bethany, as though it were of the same order of intelligence. But they were alike as the expression of love, of real devoted attachment to the person of the Lord Jesus, that gave what they did, its spring and perfect suitability and acceptance, each in its own place and measure. The former, the first awakening and fresh gush of love, as when first He attracts the heart to Himself by all His blessed grace; the latter, the fruit and expression of the deep-tried experience of what He is in Himself, the heart satisfied, that marks and in itself constitutes the growth of the believer.
We love Him then because He first loved us. And can it be that we shall not seek to express it? But do any ask, How can we know what would suit Him now? Ah! love finds it out, because it studies its object, as Mary did, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Thus she gained the instinctive intelligence with which she acted. Thus the Lord says, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." The possession of intelligence of the mind and will of the Lord is the first-fruit and proof of love. And love needs to be guided by the intelligence it thus gains in order to express itself acceptably to the Lord. Mary of Magdala needed it when she conceived the thought of carrying away the dead body of the Lord. To what end? But she loved Him, and this detained her in the place where she acquired the intelligence in the richest way. Then again, love has its own way of expressing itself, that no mere intelligence could imitate, the Word indicating generally that obedience is that way. (1 John 5:3; John 14:21, 23; John 15:14.) But into how many innumerable details the principle enters, love finding its joyful liberty only in carrying out His will under His eye, into every particular of the life, love giving its peculiar character and acceptance to the obedience.
The very way we have Him now as in the presence of the world that has cast Him out, affords constant opportunities that love will be quick to appreciate and seize, as Mary did, to express itself. In the glory there will be no self to deny; no cross to take up; no world to refuse; no breaking of the dearest ties of kindred; no misjudgment of fellow-believers to face; no loss of any kind to encounter for love of Him. All hearts will flow together to Him there. Now, according to His Word, any or all of these things supply the test of our estimate of Him, afford the privilege of proving what the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord is to our souls, as he found it who could say, "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse."
Alas! in the base treachery of our hearts it is too easy to escape it all. Go with the ordinary profession of His name; use the security that infinite sovereign grace has given you from judgment to come, to settle down at ease in the world that has rejected Him; do good to men, as with the ointment sold for so much and given to the poor; these things will gain for the Christian the favour and esteem of the world, and the reproach of Christ will be unknown. But at what incalculable loss His touching words remind us, "Me ye have not always."
When the glory is come "His servants shall serve him," perfectly then, as surely as we shall "see his face," love finding new ways to express itself to its object in the glory; but if He came tonight to take us into it, never, if we have missed it here, would He call us to go forth to Him outside the camp bearing His reproach; never ask again, "This do in remembrance of me," leading our hearts to announce His death; never look for or receive from bridal affections formed by the Spirit the cry that bids Him "Come"; never look for us to be identified with His interests in the Church and His testimony to the world. All this and much more is over for ever, and the opportunity past if we miss it now. "Me ye have not always."
Oh, to know the power of these words to stir up our souls to more devotedness that will make the most of days, numbered as they come, and so quickly passing never to be recalled! Oh, to be found for Him, in the face of everything, accounting anything in which we taste the fellowship of His sufferings our greatest present gain and glory!