Being addresses delivered in London by W. T. Turpin.
Tunbridge Wells. 1886.
London: G. Morrish, 20, Paternoster Square, E.C.
The little volume in the reader's hands is made up of Four Addresses delivered at Park Street, Islington, in the early part of this year. May He, who alone can apply His truth by His Spirit, bless it abundantly to the many who heard these addresses, and to all into whose hands they may now come in this printed form, and to His great name shall be all the praise and glory.
W. T. Turpin.
1. The Fact of Christ's Resurrection. Matthew 28:1-17.
2. The Fruits of Christ's Resurrection. John 12:20-24; Hebrews 2:6-15.
3. The Character and Power of Christ's Resurrection. Acts 3:13-16; 4:1, 2. Philippians 3:7-11.
4. The Ascension and Exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ. John 3:9-13; 6:53-63; 16:7-15; Ephesians 4:7-13.
The Fact of Christ's Resurrection.
It is pressed, beloved brethren, upon my heart to bring before you this evening and on the other evenings that one may be permitted to speak here, the great truth of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in its various aspects, because we may look at it from many sides, and it speaks to us in many ways. This evening I would go no further than to call your attention to the fact of the resurrection itself, the bare, simple, naked fact of it; next time, if the Lord permit, we will speak of the fruits of it, but it is the fact of it I want to bring very simply before you this evening. And in whatever light you may regard it (for I am speaking now for a moment abstractedly of resurrection, because Christ's was pre-eminently the great divine manifestation of resurrection) but whatever way you look at it, it would be impossible for any heart to conceive or any tongue to give expression to words that could exaggerate the importance of it. There is no subject in scripture more deeply momentous than resurrection, and there is no fact that the world, as such, has more cordially detested than resurrection. It has been to a great extent refused by the world. I am now speaking, remember, of the world in its widest and most general sense. You remember that, even with the Corinthians, who were far from being the world,, though they were permeated and leavened, by worldly principles and by worldly habits and lusts, the enemy had so far succeeded as to lead some of them to deny that there was any resurrection of the dead; so much so that the apostle devotes that magnificent chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, to the demonstration of the great fact of resurrection, and asserts the resurrection of the saints from the fact of Christ's resurrection. Christ's resurrection established not merely the great principle of resurrection itself, but established and secured the truth of the resurrection of all that are Christ's. Given His resurrection, and we have secured our resurrection. Take away resurrection in the abstract, Christ is then not raised; and if Christ is not raised, then there is nothing.
Now it will be well, beloved friends, that we should look at that for a moment. Why is it that science and philosophy so called, and education in all the various ages of the world have been sceptical as to this great truth? Observe, it has been called in question; men of science and men of education in the world have universally shrunk from it — why? I am assured that for the simplest believer here to-night, my calling your attention to this one fact is of the greatest moment. It is for this reason — resurrection cannot be accounted for by any natural law; indeed I might go further, and say that it is directly outside and beyond all natural law; there is no natural law known that can account for resurrection. It is the divine sovereign power of God in His own intervention according to His own will; and mark you, beloved friends, more than that, it is the intervention of the sovereign power of God into that domain which was the fruit of man's sin and ruin before God. "Man sinned, and death reigned," is the simple history of man. Put into the simplest language, the whole history of men in this world is summed up in that, "man sinned, and death reigned." And it was not the nature, the character of the sin. Hence the apostle says, "Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those which had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," that is to say, although there were those that had not sinned by the transgression of a positive known precept, still they had sinned, and it was not a question as I have said of the character or the way in which they had sinned; they had sinned, and so there was death. Death came in as the just judgment of God in consequence of man's sin. And so resurrection, beloved friends, is the fruit of the power of God, sin having been atoned for. It was witnessed in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He was down here in this world, for He put forth His power as the quickener of the dead, the Son of God and quickener of the dead; now and again He did so. But when He Himself, as man, went into that place, when He allowed the shroud of death and judgment which belonged to us in virtue of what we were, and where we were, to be wrapped around Himself in grace, when He. went into that dark chamber, what came out then was this, the power of God intervened to take the Man who had perfectly glorified Him, and who had bowed to death as the judgment of God due to sin and to man's sin (carried out too by Satan, who had that power), to take, I say, out of death, the Lord Jesus Christ who as, man went down into that death, and lay too in the grave, the power of God was there displayed in His own quickening might, the surpassingness of the power of God towards Christ as man, taking that blessed One out of that place where in grace He descended for God's glory and our eternal blessing; and further, mark, that power was thus displayed in right, yea, Christ was raised out from among the dead by the glory of the Father, and in wondrous right too, and He is now seated "at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come."
Now there is no natural law in this, it is divine power, it is God's power. Who could quicken from the dead. but God? And that is why the world dislikes it, and why men of science hate it, and philosophers sneer at it. It does not come within the range of natural law, and the, world as such, and men of the world as such, know nothing and will accept nothing beyond natural law. Natural law bounds their ken. That is why resurrection is disliked; it is of God, it is the mighty power of God. Faith accepts it, bows to it, delights and glories in it. It is connected with the very things that are called the prerogatives of God; for God "quickens the dead, and calls the things that be not as though they were." And the simplest believer here to-night delights in the sovereignty of God and the power of God that is far away beyond all that man by his poor, wretched, puny comprehension seeks to bring within his range.
Now there is another reason why the fact of resurrection is detested by the world, and that is because it was the great public testimony to the truth of Christianity, which was founded in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was God's great public manifestation in the world of the truth of Christianity, which was to be and which was an entirely new thing in. the ways of God down here in this world. You cannot blend Christianity with Judaism, though that is the attempt which has been made in the world. Christianity is a completely new system of God, introduced entirely when the old system was set aside for the time being. The Jewish system was God's system, up to the cross, and all that was connected with that system as such will no doubt find its place again in a new way, in connection with the earthly circumstances of God's earthly people; but Christianity was totally and completely distinct from all that went before. Eternal life was presented perfectly in that blessed Person Himself here; look at that blessed One down here in this world, the blessed Son of God who came down to be a man, and look at the eternal life there in His own Person. Mark what it says in 1 John 1, "That which was from the beginning;" from what beginning? from the moment of His manifestation on earth in time as man; there He was, the eternal life. And mark, beloved friends, when we speak of Christianity, you cannot separate from Christianity the eternal life, the Father and the Son. You get all these things, connected with it, they are especially and peculiarly belonging to Christianity as such. There I get the Son, here as man, come down in manifestation upon this earth; I have the Father, the Father's voice greeting Him when. He was here; the Holy Ghost descending upon Him as a dependent man when He was here; I find Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; I get the eternal life presented in Christ's own blessed Person, the eternal life that was promised before the world began manifested in His own Person here in time. But observe this, not a single individual could have, a place in that Christianity until after His death and resurrection from amongst the dead. Our place in it, our portion in connection with it, our title to it, awaited his death and resurrection, awaited the cross as the great upholder and vindicator of all God's holy attributes and righteous claims, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ out from amongst the dead, to take a new place as man, mark you, to be set as man in that new place, as the risen man who was to take, relations as such with others brought into that place by virtue of His victory and triumphs — all that is connected with Christianity.
It was as this great public vindication of the victories of redemption and of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, that resurrection became the great means of spreading this wonderful new order of things that God was about to introduce. And further observe what makes it of such deep interest is this, that in the chapter we have read, and also in the close of the previous chapter, there you see all the malignity and hatred of the nation combined to thwart His resurrection. See how well they knew, and how well the devil knew what was involved in it. Look at the close of Matthew 27, if you have the smallest doubt of it; "Sir, we remember" — the disciples might forget, but the Pharisees did not, their memories were quicker than the disciples' — "Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first." Observe what resurrection was to the enemies of the truth. It was more — I may say — to the enemies of the truth than it really was to the lovers of the truth. It was of more significance and greater importance in the eyes of the haters and opposers of the truth than it was in those who really loved the truth. And so even afterwards; as soon, as ever the resurrection is positively vindicated and established, look at this Matthew 28, where in the face of a sepulchre that was empty, and of a victory that was complete, and of a triumph that was unquestionable, so that no doubts could possibly be raised and thrown upon it, it was so palpable and plain that He had come up and gone out of death; yet in the face of it all, they plot and lie. Think of the value they put on resurrection, think of what resurrection was to them, look at their appraisement of it — anything to hinder it; and all for this very reason that I am speaking to you about, it was the display, first of all, of God's sovereign power, the intervention of God in power beyond and outside every known natural law, and it was that which gave the impetus to the spread of this entirely new order of things which was about to be introduced in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one other thing I should like to give utterance to before I look at this chapter. The apostle says, in Romans 1: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God (which he had promised afore by his prophets in holy writings) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." There He is connected with the promises; that is one thing; but mark more — "And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection out from among the dead."
Now look at those two things a moment, because they are exceedingly blessed for the establishment of our faith in God. You get promise in connection with His Person. Promise carries you back to what went before. But now you have more than promise, even power, promise was in connection with what God had spokes to David and to David's house; but you have power, and the power of God, mark you, in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, demonstrating this fact — for that is what it was here — viz., that His resurrection out from among dead people, by the power of God, was the public manifestation of that power by which He walked clown here in unsullied and spotless holiness; a manifestation of His being the Son of God in power. This is what comes out. The resurrection was the great declaration by God to the glory of the Person of Him who was the display, in His own blessed Person, of true Christianity. Because if you have not a Christ that has got all the glory, all the perfections, all the magnificence, around His Person that scripture gives to Him, you have got no system worthy of the name of Christian. He is the display of it, His work is the basis of it, and so you see here in connection with resurrection how it comes out. He was declared to be Son of God with power — How? By resurrection out from among the dead. The resurrection from amongst the dead was the great manifestation and demonstration on God's part that He was all that we (thank God!) know He was: it was declared; there was the manifestation. But it was the manifestation of that power by which He walked down here in this world, spotlessly perfect and pure, in the midst of a scene and people that were both corruption and corrupting. There He was, unique in all His spotless, holy walk down here by the Spirit -of holiness, and the resurrection demonstrated the power.
Well, now, that is most important, because it attaches itself at once to His Person. I feel almost unable to give expression to it as my heart apprehends it, and as I desire you should apprehend it; but I want to show you what importance God attaches to resurrection. I am not speaking of the fruits of it, that is an easier part of the subject; but I am speaking of the fact of it. And I assure you, beloved friends, increasingly the heart delights more and more every day in the great unalterable facts of Christianity. For the moment you come here, you are outside the region of debate. You may call in question consequences, you may say, I do not exactly see such a conclusion from such a premise, such a result flowing from such a ground; but you cannot debate facts that God records. You may refuse them — that do at your peril! — but they are past debate.
We are not debating it at all: here is the fact, attested in the presence of angels, of devils, of heaven, of the enemies of Christ, the naked solemn fact of His resurrection. And here is the great proof, the great demonstration of that fact, that He was all that was witnessed in His Person down here in this world, He was the Son of God. He became a man, perfectly true! and He was declared to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness, by that power that took Him out from amongst the dead. And that relates to His Person. And I could not exaggerate the importance of that to our souls.
The resurrection out from among dead people — I will speak of that again another evening when we come to the character of it, though it is hard to pass by the character of it now, for the character of the resurrection is of deep moment to us now, because it was not merely resurrection abstractedly, it was a certain kind of resurrection, it was a resurrection out from among the dead. And it was that, I may say in passing, that provoked all the hatred and dislike of the leaders amongst the Jews. And I believe it would provoke the hatred and dislike of a great many Christians to-day, who would own resurrection abstractedly, but who would dislike the character of Christ's resurrection. Why? Because God begins in that resurrection a totally, and completely, and perfectly new order of things altogether. That is why people shrink from it now, and that is connected with the character of it. There is the fact of it, and there is the character of it; the fact of it indisputable, the character of it beyond all expression magnificent, a resurrection out from among the dead, and defining for us, through God's grace, the character of our resurrection, for we shall be raised and others left in their graves. I need not say, that the saints' resurrection will be after the pattern and according to the character of Christ's resurrection.
Now there is another scripture in John 2:18, "Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing thou doest these things?" Now, mark, He had purged the temple, His Father's house, which they had turned into a scene of merchandise, He had asserted His right to clear that house, His Father's house, He turned out of it every defiling thing, and He was challenged at once by those money-making, wretched Jews in these terms, What sign do you show us if you do these things? He could not do it. in any other character except as the Son of God. As the Son, His zeal vindicated His right to cleanse that house from all defilement, and they challenged Him at once, What authority have you to do that? Now mark His answer, "He said unto them, Destroy this temple," that is, His body, "and in three days I will raise it up." There He is a divine Person. And there is the proof, observe, of the divinity of His Person, that He was the Son of God. Just as the Epistle to the Romans shows that He was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from amongst the dead, so in John 2, when He took that place as the Son of God to cleanse His Father's house of all the defilement that was there, and He is challenged as to His title and right to it, He says, Here is this temple — His own body — destroy it, lay your hands upon it, and in three days I will raise it up again. "He spake of the temple of his body."
His disciples remembered, when He was risen from the dead, they connected that with the resurrection. He Himself gives the fact, that He would rise again from amongst the dead as the great demonstration to it, when challenged as to His title, that He was a divine Person. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Now that will explain to you a little fact that you may have often been struck with, in reading the scriptures about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will find constantly in scripture that it is said that He rose; and, indeed, the testimony after He rose went out, "The Lord is risen," that is to say, the fact is connected with His own Person, which is perfectly true, beloved friends, and very blessed. And I will tell you why. Whenever the word of God sets Him before us in His divine glory, though He had become a man, His resurrection is His own act of power. His divinity is the great starting-point of the Holy Ghost in testimony (for though He became Man, He never ceased to be God; He became man because He was not that before; He was God, distinct in His Person, He was with the Father, equal with God because He was God) well, when the Spirit of God points to His divinity, His Godhead, even though He is speaking of His death, and what He underwent as man, He always sets forth His resurrection as by His own power; and hence He says, He rose; and hence the testimony was, "He is risen."
And what divine joy it sends into one's heart: just by faith to go back to that first morning, the like of which never was seen upon this earth before; for there never was such a day upon this earth as that first resurrection morning; and is it not like the outshining of the sun after a long, dreary night? I can well understand how the hearts of His own, fearing, trembling, clung to Him — ignorant and weak no doubt, yet they clung to Him, as it was His Person that attracted them — and they did cling to Him, oftentimes contrary to the poor, wretched, feeble convictions of their own poor hearts. Yes, I can well understand that, when the fact that He was, risen was established among the disciples, how they went about to each other that morning, "the Lord is risen indeed" — What a greeting! What a word to meet each other with on that first morning, after that long, dreary night of winter, so to speak, that had settled down upon this whole world of mankind, with that long and monotonous inscription that is recorded upon every great man in the Old Testament times: "he died." Not a single star to relieve the blackness of it, "he died."
You will find in the Old Testament everything is made of death, and burial, and funerals. Look at the patriarchs. Death was more important to them than life; death brought them into Canaan. And it was the belief of the Jews that they should be raised in Canaan, and therefore death was far more important to them than life. Because resurrection had not come out as a manifested reality; resurrection was not brought to light. As the apostle says, Neither life nor incorruptibility, had come to light before the glad tidings. It was not that they were not in existence, but God had not brought them out. But now we can understand, and our hearts can enter into the reality of the thing, that they should go about to one another and say, "The Lord is risen indeed." And what always is a delight to the heart is, that they connect with the fact of His resurrection the grace of His unchanged heart, for they say, "and hath appeared unto Simon;" poor Peter that denied Him — even though he had been warned — the man that trusted his own heart like a fool, in face of the remonstrance of Jesus; still, there was His heart unchanged, and connected with that blessed new testimony of His resurrection, was the testimony of the unchanged, unaltered heart of Christ.
Oh, beloved friends, there is nothing more precious than to see that, on the most blessed morning that ever beamed upon this sinful earth, the morning of resurrection, the testimony to the completeness of the glory of His Person, as well as the perfections of His triumph, there should go out that testimony in connection with the risen Christ that He was unchanged, His heart was the same; Peter might forsake Him and deny Him, but He was the same. Nothing could be more precious and more blessed for our hearts.
Again, have you observed how scripture always keeps two things together; and it is so good
to keep in our souls the associations that God places together. And you will find that a risen Christ always in scripture is connected with those that are asleep. Blessed for those of us who have laid the bodies of our loved friends down in the ground to think that the sleeping ones, those who have passed out of their bodies and gone to be with the Lord, are connected with the risen One. That is always so in scripture. It is a risen Christ and those who are asleep. Oh what a comfort for the mourner! What company they are put into! — a risen Christ and those that are asleep. I do not more than touch upon it now.
There is another testimony concerning resurrection, that will bring us to the chapter I have read, and that is not merely that it established the glory of His Person, but it was the great public manifestation of the completeness of His work. Now, beloved friends, if you think of it in that way for a moment, if you think of the Lord Jesus Christ having undergone death, submitted Himself to the sentence of death, it was in that, peace was made, it was upon the cross that the great work was finished which set our peace upon a basis that never can be disturbed. On that cross, the whole question of the believer's peace with God was once and for ever settled. And if it were a question of making it now, beloved friends, there would be and could be no hope. If it is not made, it never can be made, because Christ is never coming to die again. "He made peace by the blood of his cross," and when the scripture speaks of the blood of His cross, that is the expression of His own death. The fulness of that work, the completeness of it, the perfect satisfaction of God, in all that He accomplished, the perfect satisfaction of the nature of God in all that was rendered to Him, and the perfect expression of the completeness of what He gave to God, were all proclaimed in resurrection; His resurrection out from among the dead was the proof of it all. That is why you find all this opposition, both of Jews and of Satan; all that were opposed to the truth were amalgamated and confederated together against it.
Now that will bring us to our chapter, and in it you can see the first verse is not connected at all with the second; they are not consecutive at all. It is so blessed and comforting for our hearts to mark this. In chapter 20:1 we read, "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn towards the first day of the week." The fact is, it was the dusk of the Jewish sabbath. The Jewish sabbath was running, so to speak, the last sands out of its hour-glass. It was not the first day of the week, it was the end of the sabbath, the twilight of the sabbath. You will find in the chapter before, these women were found looking at the sepulchre. Joseph took the body down by the permission of Pilate, and he, placed it in his own sepulchre that had never covered man's corruption, a blessed testimony to the perfection of that blessed One whose body was laid in the grave. That sepulchre never had entombed man's corruption; and that was the spot that was prepared for the spotless body of Jesus; there it was laid. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, that is, the wife of Cleopas, were sitting over against the sepulchre, they saw it, the affections of their heart to Jesus detained them there, their eyes, their hearts, all their interest and powers, were riveted where they saw that blessed one.
In chapter 28:1 they visit the sepulchre again. The sabbath had nearly run its course out; it was on the twilight of that Saturday, it was not yet the early morning of the first day of the week; it was not the day dawn of the eighth day, the resurrection day, but it was the twilight of the Saturday. They come — and it is blessedly interesting and most precious for our hearts, because it shows the love and devotedness of their hearts to Jesus — they come again in the dusk; they see the precious remains put in; they could not stay away: it is hard for the heart to stay away from the spot where the heart's object is. The heart was there, and therefore the feet were found there, for the feet follow the heart. They came, but they did no more. The next verse is not connected with it at all. That is the interference of God to call attention to a fact that had taken place; but the women did not see it, the disciples did not see it, no one saw it except the soldiers and the watch. Some time — God does not say when — some time after Jesus had risen, not to open that sepulchre to let the Lord of glory out, not such a thought! Jesus had risen, He had come up by His own power as well as by God's power; when He had risen, "Behold, there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat upon it." Jesus was out of the tomb; He had risen, and to call attention to this great fact of His resurrection, to the great fact that God had intervened in power and taken Him out, and He had risen by His own power as well, for there was both, the angel comes.
How blessed to think that that sealed stone and that set watch could not keep Him! The seal of that stone had an inscription, I suppose, of Caesar's upon it; the king's head, I suppose, was upon the seal, as much as to say, That cannot be reversed; with that signet, who dare touch that stone? No man could, but at the cost of his life. But oh! beloved friends, the Lord triumphed over the grave; God who sits in heaven laughs to scorn all such puerile, puny attempts on man's part. The angel comes down, and, in the dignity of triumph, sits upon the stone which was rolled back, and brought the sentence of death upon the keepers of that sepulchre. The keepers trembled, "his countenance was like lightning and his raiment white as snow," the keepers shook, and were as dead men.
But when you come to verse 5, you come to another visit of these dear women. They come again now, and when they come look how different! and these words are most precious in connection with resurrection, The angel says, "Fear not ye;" it is just the very thing that God connects with resurrection; fear is gone, banished, disposed of — "Fear not ye;" it is just the very testimony that the Spirit of God brings out to dry up the fears of the heart, banish all misgivings from your heart; "I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified." I know where your hearts' affections are, I know the one you are looking after, you have no cause to be afraid, "Ye seek Jesus, which was crucified; He is not here, for He is risen, as He said; come, see the place where the Lord lay." Oh what a testimony! Think of the consolation that is connected with that, think of the drying, up of their fears, think of the assurance of their hearts, think how that declared that everything was done, that the ransom was paid, that justice was satisfied, that the believer was free. Every fear, every misgiving, every question that Satan could agitate and disturb the poor heart with, was all silenced and settled for ever now. "He is risen," that was the testimony; you are seeking Jesus, who was crucified — they do not speak of Him now as crucified — He "was crucified." And, beloved friends, is it not strange to think that there are so many who positively prefer to wear what I consider to be a denial of the truth of the gospel, than to have thoughts of the resurrection of Christ beaming on their hearts? Why, if I see, as alas, I do see, many wearing a crucifix, what is it but a denial of the great truth of the gospel? Do you inquire how? Because it is presenting what is not true now. "Christ is risen." This is the truth: "was crucified." More than that, it is presenting the instrument of shame and torture which the world that hated Him had nailed Him upon. The cross is the testimony to the world's hatred of God's Christ, and it was the Roman instrument of torture upon which that precious One was nailed.
What is the truth that should fill our hearts? Resurrection: the risen One who was crucified, Thank God, He is neither on the cross nor in the tomb; thank God, He was on the cross and was in the tomb. Thank God, He is not down there, but He is risen, He is on the Father's throne. And that is why I read Matthew's Gospel, because it does not go beyond resurrection; I purposely abstained from the Gospels which speak of ascension. It is the Gospel which presents Him risen and on earth again with the poor of the flock, that sets forth resurrection simply and purely. We know He is exalted and glorified at God's right hand, but here is the testimony to His resurrection.
I now recapitulate, for a moment, all the testimonies that are connected with it. First of all, it establishes the intervention of God in divine power. Secondly, it gave the start to the proclamation of the wonderful new order of things that was to come out in connection with Christianity. And thirdly, it was a great testimony of God to the glory of the Person of His Son to take that blessed, glorious Man out of death, and to give Him as Man a new place which He was surely entitled to in virtue of the glory of His Person, but which He took as man, who had finished the work which God gave Him to do. How well I remember when I first read a blessed old tract which some of my brethren here to-night will recollect, "The Resurrection the Fundamental Truth of the Gospel," how well I remember the comfort my soul got in its relationships to God. Oh, beloved friends, time would fail to set forth the magnificence of all the truths that are allied with that marvellous intervention of God. It is the establishment of the great fundamental truth of the resurrection, which is closely connected with Christ's death; in this His Person is proclaimed as well as the perfection of His work.
Am I speaking to a soul here who has doubts, or fears, or misgiving? Have you a doubt? I know very well that people say, I am thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. My beloved brother or sister, let me tell you this, if You talk about looking to the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, you are looking at Him where He is not. There is no such thing as the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross; how can you see Him where He is not? If you say to me, I look back by faith, I understand that, that is plain enough, I look back by faith and remember that He was on the cross, but you could not look back by faith and see Him on the cross, though you can look back by faith to see what He bore, and what He was and endured on the cross. Do you want to see Him? You must look up to see Him alive. He was dead, He is alive, He is risen. I see Him in His new place as man, victorious, triumphant man, the whole power of death and of Satan broken, the whole power of the enemy dashed in pieces by that magnificent victory of His; every hostile power put down, every enemy that had triumphed, triumphed over by Him in His death and in His resurrection. What fear can you have now? What are you afraid of? I am speaking perhaps to a trembling believer to-night, to some one who is not established in the truth of the gospel, who says, I am afraid of death. Oh, beloved friends, look here. He was the death of death, "that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Death has been vanquished; death has lost its sting; death has been spoiled of its victory, its power is broken, you need not be afraid of death. Sin? He came to bear away His people's sins; He bore them. Thank God, however feeble you may be, you belong to Christ, and I can tell you every one of your sins were laid by God on that blessed One on the cross. Perhaps you have sung the hymn,
"I lay my sins on Jesus."
Ah, no, you could not lay your sins on Jesus, God laid them on Him, God who knew them, the God against whom you had sinned, the God upon whose holy, righteous character those sins were an outrage, God laid all your sins, my dear trembling brother or sister, on that blessed One, and He rose again triumphant without them. God as God forsook Him as man on the cross when He bore them, but He is triumphant without your sins. What a comfort! Thank God, my sins are all gone; death is passed. I remember when I was afraid of death myself. I knew I should not go to hell, I knew my sins were forgiven, but I was afraid of death. I did not like to look at a corpse; I could not bear to come into the presence of death; death made me tremble; I was afraid of it, though I was not afraid of hell. Why? Because I had not seen the magnificent triumph of Christ over death. Now, thank God, you can see it, and you can rejoice in it. You can take up the song of victory. You can put your foot down on this unalterable platform that has been secured through His death and by His resurrection, and you can say, under the shadow of Christ's victory, that victory won by Himself alone, but for us, you can lift your voice and say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" That is what I read in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord grant that every heart here who has never read these magnificent precious realities may by faith in the simplest way look at that resurrection as a fact, and find the comfort and sustainment of it for their souls this night and for ever, through Jesus Christ.
The Fruits of Christ's Resurrection.
John 12:20-24; Hebrews 2:6-15.
We were considering together last week the great fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from among the dead, simply and almost exclusively as fact, without touching much, if at all, on the consequences and fruits which flow from His resurrection. We were occupied mainly in looking at it as the great basis and foundation not only of the manifestation of the glory of His Person, "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from amongst the dead," but as the public testimony which God was pleased to give through it to the full efficacy of all that Christ undertook to do.
And now this evening I propose that we should look, not at all (for it would be impossible in the course of an evening to look at all the mighty consequences of His resurrection), but at some of the consequences or fruits of it, both as regards God's glory and the blessing of all that are His own.
And, first, mark this, that up to the moment of His resurrection, the Lord Jesus Christ, both in that beautiful, wonderful life of fragrance and frankincense before God which His life as a man down here upon earth was, and in His precious death on that cross, and all that was involved in it, was alone, even up to the moment of His taking His place publicly as the risen Man upon earth, God calling attention to the fact of His resurrection and to all that was connected with it; He was the solitary Man; His life was entirely a lonely life, beautiful, unique, and there were none with Him. True, He chose and called His disciples that they should be with Him, but they never accompanied Him really. He was solitary beyond all thought. He brought none to His own stand-point. He walked alone through this world. That is what peculiarly marked the path of the blessed One. He was unique in the testimony of that beautiful life; but there was no other to be found on earth but Himself.
It was not that He did not feel for misery and distress, and that He did not enter into everything in His path as He met it. He did as none else could; but still there He was alone. And I need not say that in His death He was still more alone. There He entered into a solitude deeper than any heart could conceive. I speak now specially of that one transcendent moment when He was forsaken of God on that cross; never was there a solitude like that solitude. All through His blessed life, He was here, as far as men were concerned, apart from all; still, there was the companionship and sustainment of His Father. You remember those words, they are touching words, too, coming from His blessed lips: "The hour is coming, and now is, when ye shall be scattered every one to his own, and shall leave me alone, and yet I am not alone, but the Father is with me."
But, beloved, on that cross where He undertook to meet the judgment of a holy God due to sin, where He exposed Himself to all the full consequences of the divine judgment because of sin, where. He drank that dreadful cup, taking it from His Father's hand, where He met the whole of God's righteous, holy claims, and where He allowed the sword of divine justice to be sheathed in His own heart, so to speak, there He entered into a solitude indescribable by human lips: He was alone as no one ever was alone, He drank that dreadful cup, Be went down there under death alone. And when that blessed body was placed in the tomb, when it was enshrined in a sepulchre that never covered man's corruption (for, God reserved for the body of Jesus that special, peculiar honour), there He was alone.
And, in the very earliest moments of His resurrection, He is so in the moments, for instance, that are set forth in type and figure in that magnificent twenty-third chapter of Leviticus which speaks of the wave-sheaf, that sheaf of firstfruits which was waved before Jehovah in its own magnificent perfections, no offering for sin accompanying it, but the full complement of all the sweet savour offerings with it; there was the burnt-offering and the meat-offering — the offering that spoke of perfection in life, and the offering that spoke of perfection in life given up — but no sin-offering. Why? Because Christ could be presented in His own Person in all the spotlessness and holiness and perfection of it before God, and He was. But when you look at Leviticus 23, and see that sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest of Canaan, that which grew in that land and belonged to that land, when that was reaped by Israel, they were to take that on the morrow after the sabbath, on the eighth day, on the first day of, the week, and they were, to wave that, in its own beauteous perfection, before Jehovah; there, beloved brethren, was solitariness as well.
In the first moments, so to speak, of His resurrection as the firstfruits, He was there in all His solitary blessedness, in all the perfection of that which belonged to Himself peculiarly. And that it is which gives such sweetness and preciousness to the soul when read as the type of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not be under any misunderstanding as to this, for it involved all that was to follow, it was the pledge, the security, the pattern, the sample, of what was to follow; but there was a unique blessedness about that sheaf that belonged to itself, there was no offering needed there, but the burnt-offering and the meat-offering with their fragrance — life and life given up in their twofold perfection, all waved before Jehovah.
But that ended the solitariness of Jesus; He is alone no more. And that is why I referred you to that beautiful chapter, John 12, where He gives utterance to it in very touching words. Everything was ready for the glory of the kingdom, as it were. Israel for the moment received Him, the Gentiles come up and want to see Him, just what will come out at the coming day. The Spirit of God gives you a beautiful picture of the coming glory in all this: Israel and the Gentiles, and Christ the Centre. Whether it was but for the time being a feeble acceptation by His own people, as it was historically, or whether it was the curiosity of the Greeks that came up to worship at the feast that wanted to see this wonderful One, the kingdom in its glories and all its constituent parts passed before the eyes of the blessed Lord there. Mark the words: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone." Now that is just what we have been looking at, He was alone — He remained alone, alone in His perfection, alone in His blessedness, alone in all the preciousness of what He was in His own Person to God in all His life; but now, mark, "if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
And there, beloved, is the first thing that connects itself with the fruit of His resurrection. And it is a wonderful truth for our hearts to be occupied with, that the Lord gives utterance in those words to that which in grace He has made us to be, as part of the effects of His precious death — we are, the fruit of it, we are part of that fruit, we have sprung, so to speak, as to our new history, our new origin from Christ risen, as to the new start that God in His wonderful grace has given us, it sprang out of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a completely new thing that is begun in that risen Man, as such, we have sprung from that death. That death closed the door upon everything that went before. That death wound up and finished the history of all that had passed there before, whether under trial, whether tested by God, whatever it was, death judicially closed the history of that thing before God. But here, now, we are in company with a fresh thing, a new thing. And what an amazing reality for our souls to take in! Think of the dignity of the place God in His wonderful grace, and in virtue of redemption, has set us in; that you and I, beloved brethren, in virtue of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ associated with Him in His death, associated with Him in all the marvellous blessedness of that death, should be now united to Him — we are one with Him. For if I speak of our being quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, as we see it in Ephesians ii., it brings in both union and new creation. It is an entirely new thing, a new history; but it is fruit of His death, and that is what, through grace, we who believe in His blessed name are, even fruit of His death. We have sprung from that one only corn of wheat — I say it with reverence — that one grain as it were in God's granary, that alone could produce this new wonderful harvest to God's glory.
Well, now, in keeping precisely with that are the words prophetically applied to Him in Hebrews 2. The Spirit of God says, "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one" — how? There is one company before God; if you like to express it in that way, there is one lump, as it were, before God. How? that is the point. By Christ coming down and taking part with us in the old order of existence? Never! That would be to degrade Christ. And that is exactly what that doctrine, union in incarnation does; it degrades Christ, because it associates Christ with sinful men, it associates Christ, in all His perfections, with men in all their sins and wickedness, and distance from God. No; Christ by His precious death ends for ever, judicially before God, the history of that man that Moses in the school-house could not subjugate, the man that the law could not curb, for that restriction only brought him out into open light in all his lawlessness; the cross ends judicially that history for ever before God. I care not what men may say to the contrary, for faith the cross for ever has ended judicially before God the history of the first man. The Lord Jesus Christ was the second Man and the last Adam, and there are deep and blessed truths connected with both these expressions, for they do not express the same thing, they are part of the glories of that blessed One. He was the second Man, because He displaces for ever the first man; and He was the last Adam because there never will be another order of man after Himself. He is the second Man because He displaces for ever the history of the first, and He is the last Adam because, in that new, risen order of being, He is the only order of man before God; there is now but one order of man before God, and that is the last Adam; He is both the second Man and He is the last Adam.
Observe this, the Lord Jesus Christ brought them into His own new risen place before God, and thus He can own them, hence it is said of them in Hebrews 2, "They are all of one." He has brought them there, He has brought them to stand in this new place. Blessed it is, beloved brethren, to dwell upon it; hold it fast in your souls, mark it well, it is not by His coming down to where they were, but He, through His death, bringing them into His own new, risen, wonderful, blessed place before God. And mark what He says, just what came out prophetically in Psalm 22, historically in John 20: "I will declare thy name unto my brethren." You have the prophetic utterance of the Spirit of Christ in Psalm 22, the announcement that as soon as ever the suffering of death was over and the cross became a great reality, as soon as ever the whole thing was gone through by Himself, alone treading that path of death, alone enduring that judgment, but when it was all passed — mark the precious, beautiful words that our hearts have often dwelt on — "I will declare thy name unto my brethren." Yes, He never had brethren before. Thank God, He has got them now.
Think of what that moment was to the heart of that blessed One. In those earliest moments, when heard from the place where He was transfixed by death, "heard from the horns of the unicorns," an expression that conveys the most intense suffering of death, transfixed by death, He was heard — of course it goes on to resurrection — "I will declare," He says, "thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the assembly will I praise thee;" and going on then into the full, final issue, "My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation."
Now these are all magnificent and precious fruits of the triumphs and victories of our Lord Jesus Christ, the risen One. But I allude to it now to skew you what supervened, as soon as the solitariness of the Lord Jesus Christ was over. He is no longer solitary, no longer alone; He was, blessed be His' name, as we have seen, both in life and in death; but now He has a company associated with Him, a new company entirely, those whom He calls fruit of His death, those whom He has around and with Himself, and says, "They are all of one," and He calls them "brethren." So you will remember how that which was prophetically spoken of by David in Psalm 22 came out historically in John 20, when the Lord spake to Mary Magdalene — to her, moreover, to whom this world was intolerable without Him: it is blessed to know there was one who could not do without Him, whose heart was a desolation without Jesus. What was all in the world to her? Peter and John had their homes, and all the rest; but to Mary this scene was an empty place without Jesus. It skews you what He values — that He Himself should be everything to us, that is what He appreciates; not merely necessary to us for our souls' eternal salvation, and for our escape from coming judgment; but everything to us.
Is He everything to us, not merely in a little way, not merely as our Saviour, but is He everything? That is what He was to Mary, and He comes and shows Himself to her. He appears first to the one to whom He was everything. Think of the value He thus puts on devotedness. It was not doing great things for Him. That is not the meaning of devotedness. There are many persons who do great things for the Lord, and they are not after all devoted; true, they may be most earnest. God forbid one should depreciate anything. So little is there of anything really and truly done to the Lord, that I dread depreciating anything done, only we must call things by their proper names; and devotedness is a heart that values beyond everything in this world Christ Himself; a heart that has Himself as its object; and He delights thus to show Himself to it.
And now, mark, her testimony gathers the disciples. A poor, feeble woman, it is true; no preacher was she, and yet look at her ministry; it was her testimony which brought the disciples together. And when they are found together by the word which she announces of His resurrection, as He appeared to her first Himself, He stands in their midst to historically make good His promise prophetically expressed in Psalm 22, to declare all these wonderful things; He announces peace, saying, "Peace unto you," as the fruit of His death, peace as proclaimed in His resurrection, that is the first thing.
But, mark, again, He says to them (and do not for a moment think that I am attempting to be critical, I have neither the right nor would I presume to do so), "Receive," — not "the Holy Ghost," — but "Receive Holy Ghost," "Receive Holy Spirit," that is to say, He communicates to them His own risen life. And I believe the reason why the Lord used the expression, "Receive Holy Ghost," is just this, that the Spirit of God is the power of everything that Christ communicates to us, and therefore the breath of risen life is here connected by name with that which was to be its power. But that which He really communicated to them there as the risen One, as the last Adam, the life-giving Spirit, fulfilling the words of 1 Corinthians 15, was His own life in the power of resurrection.
And then (for we must speak what we believe to be true, and what I believe I have scripture for asserting) the disciples were now for the first time put in possession of eternal life; they had not as yet the Holy Ghost, but they were now put in possession of eternal life, and this in virtue of His redemption work, and of the communication of this new wonderful life that was breathed from His own lips as the risen One from the dead.
I quite admit that when we look at the working of the thing now, you will find a great difference in working it out. But we have to look at the doctrine of scripture, not at the experience of people. It is the greatest mistake to look at people's experience instead of at scripture. It is scripture that must speak to you about the truth of God, and not experiences, or the throes and anguish of people's consciences through false teaching and all the rest of it. If you want to know what God says, you must get it out of this book, not out of human hearts. Most valuable as experience is in practically reaching the things of God, still there are things of God to be reached, and where are these things to be found? Even in His own word. So the Lord makes good that part of His word. He stands in the midst of the assembly in figure, in type, and in the midst He pronounces peace, He communicates His risen life to them as the last Adam, and He sends them out in the power of it into this world as His Father had sent Him. "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when. he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye Holy Ghost." Now all that is connected with resurrection, we are fruit of His death, we are of that new company He has brought to stand in that new position before His God; there in the relationship of children, so that He can own us as His brethren; He says of us, They are my brethren, as He says to Mary Magdalene, "Go to my brethren," I have now, others associated with me, "and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God."
But there are other fruits of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ which are collective. What I have spoken of up to the present moment are more individual, they are fruits that pertain to us individually, because as children of God being able to say to God, Abba, Father, and to use the language of Christ, that of course is an individual relationship. As the fruit of Christ's death, we are that. If you take it as put in the Epistle to the Colossians, it is individual there; risen life in Colossians is individual; it does not go into the corporate relationships. I do not mean to say that when we are quickened together with Christ in Ephesians, it is that; there we get another thing entirely, even that which is corporate. There are corporate fruits, and in order to bring out what these corporate fruits are, there is one scripture that I intended to allude to last Wednesday evening, but time would not permit, which is really the foundation of these corporate relationships, and that is at the end of Ephesians 1. I remarked last time that Christ is looked at and spoken of as rising from the dead in His own power, and also spoken of in scripture as being raised from the dead. Thank God, both are true; He was raised and He rose. He was the Son of God before all time and worlds, though He came down to be a man, and He did not cease to be God because He became a man, and therefore, looking at Him as a divine Person here, He could say to the Jews, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." There is the display of His own power as the mighty God, the Son of God, a divine Person who could rise; He was the quickener of the dead as such too, but He rose, and so it is said in scripture, "The Lord is risen from the dead;" "The Lord is risen indeed." That was the testimony with which they greeted each other on that first morning of the resurrection. But if you look at Him also as scripture presents Him you will find Him as man, and there we come to our passage in Ephesians — in Ephesians 1 He is looked at as the glorious man who accomplished everything for God's glory. He was the only man that could undertake perfectly to vindicate the whole of God's holy, righteous character, and secure His glory. And, thank God, He found in that Man one on whom He could stake all His glory, and He did stake all His glory on Him.
Thus then, in Ephesians 1, He is the glorious man, and the power of God comes down to the grave where that blessed One lay, and raised Him up and claimed Him as His own. The apostle prays that the eyes of the hearts of the Ephesian saints might be opened to know the surpassingness of His power, "which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named." When you and I think of might and dominion and principality and power, we cannot get beyond that; they are termini, as it were, with us, but they were the platform of departure for Him. Our poor thoughts even fail to reach to it, but see the blessedness, "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion." And what a comfort for our hearts who have tasted and know His love to look at this blessed One who went down beneath everything, exalted up above everything. When I read Ephesians 1, oh the ministry of it to the heart and affections; how great too the delight of thinking of that One who was trodden under foot as it were by man, who went down underneath everything, yes, Him for whom there was no shelter, in whose bosom the sword of justice was sheathed, who drank the dreadful cup, and who, exposed Himself to death and all that was connected with it as the just judgment of God due to sin. It is blessed to think of God coming down when everything had been finished, and Himself raising Jesus up "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come," and everything put under His feet. What delight to the soul that has known and tasted His love! everything under the feet of that once down-trodden Man, that Man that went down into death; and He given in resurrection, and more than resurrection, in ascension and exaltation too, to be head over everything, and that as man. Let me press that upon you. I quite admit the worth and glory of His Person as Son of God, and delight to think of Him in His glories as Son of God, but do not let us lose any part of His glory; and remember it was not the question here of the worthiness of His Person, He is entitled to this glory as man, and it is as man He made a claim upon God to exalt and glorify Him in the very highest place in heaven. And that is what our hearts ought to cling to, because Christianity, for our entrance into it, and our connection with it, depends upon this new risen exalted place that Christ is entitled to, and that God was delighted to accord to Him in wondrous righteousness. And if you fail to grasp in your souls this new place that Christ has got as man, entitled to it in virtue of what He accomplished as the glorious man, you will fail in your conceptions of what Christianity properly is. It is connected with that, it is a new place entirely, and Christ in it as man, head over everything to the church, His body.
Now I come to what is corporate, though I do not propose to go into the doctrine of it; but you could not have a body, until you have the head of the body. And here I get the power of God coming into death to take out of death the only man that ever did or ever could glorify Him, and to set Him there at His right hand in exaltation and ascension glory, head to the church, His body. And now mark what follows. In the second chapter you get the very same power quickening the members of the body of Christ; we are quickened together with Christ, raised up together, and seated together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. Here you have some of the consequences. I do not say the consequences only of resurrection, but consequences that could not come out till resurrection was a fact, that awaited His resurrection from the dead to give them effect. And mark this, that the church (and there we speak of the great corporate relationship) is not founded on resurrection, but on ascension. Of course to have ascension you must have resurrection. But why is it founded on ascension? Because it awaited His presence in the scene of exaltation and glory for the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, to be sent down from the glorified man. And it is the Holy Ghost that forms the church, it is He baptises believers into one body; and therefore you must have Christ in heaven before you have the Holy Ghost on earth. "The Holy Ghost was not yet," as the scripture expresses it, "because that Jesus was not yet glorified."
Now this is one of the first great corporate fruits, pertaining to us in connection with the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, going on, you may say, to ascension, which is a step further, but still, in which resurrection was absolutely a necessity; because, if He died, to lay the foundation of God's glory in the cross, He must be raised to ascend, and be exalted; therefore it is you get Him in Ephesians 1 "raised and exalted far above all principality and power." And in the second chapter you find the same power accomplishing the resurrection of the members of the body, along with the Head, co-quickened with Christ, co-raised, and co-seated in the heavenlies, not as yet seated, with Him, because they are not with Him yet as to fact, but in Him.
Now let me name another of the consequences, the fruits and effects of Christ's resurrection, and it is a very blessed one to think of — and that is the assurance, the security, the certainty of the resurrection of all that are Christ's. I referred last time to an association that is spoken of in scripture which is exceedingly blessed, and that is a risen Christ and those that have slept. A mistaken thought with some I would desire to remove, namely, that it was said that this was the "only" association. It is not the only association, for of course we are raised together with Christ and seated together in heavenly places in Him, and in that sense we are in association; but to me there is nothing more precious, when I think of the saints who have slept in Christ, than to see how they are spoken of in scripture; take for instance such a scripture as 1 Corinthians 15, "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." A risen Christ and those that have slept — is not that a blessed association? When we stand by the graves of those whom we loved in this world, when we consign all that is mortal of them, not to the gloomy tomb, but to God's keeping, to Christ's keeping, He who has the keys of death and of hades, and has the keys of His people's graves, and will open the graves of His sleeping saints in that day when He comes; when we put the body of a beloved saint of God into His keeping, sow it in the ground to be awakened by the Lord Jesus Christ in the morning of His glory when He comes, what a blessed thing to know that there is an association between that sleeping one and the risen Christ. "He is risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."
And again, when the apostle is reasoning as to the resurrection, and bringing out the fact, he says, If there is no resurrection of the dead (because you know, the Corinthians were so bad that some of them denied it), then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised your faith is vain. What is the good of faith in a Christ that died and did not rise again? You are yet in your sins; there is no proof that the work is accomplished or that God is glorified; and they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. See how he loves to keep up the association of a risen Christ and the sleeping saints. To me, the more I think of it, the more precious it is. And I will tell you what is so comforting about it. Oftentimes, when you go away from a grave, from a scene of death, the poor heart gets the sense that you have left something behind; but this, you see, is far from that, it is really a carrying it on to that wonderful, that glorious moment, that moment for which we wait, when. He will put forth His power as the quickener of the dead, and when all His own that have slept in Him, from every graveyard and every cemetery shall be quickened, shall wake up in resurrection life and glory. It is an association of uncommon comfort, a risen Christ and those that are asleep. And not only that, but they are the very ones who shall rise first. Is it thought that they have lost anything by passing off the scene, by not being here to witness in their bodies His returning glory? Well, beloved, if so, they shall be first in the day of His power; "the dead in Christ shall rise first." How like Him to put forth His power on the weakest, so to speak, so that where death, that which was the fruit of man's sin, had come in, and asserted its claims, Christ puts forth His resurrection victory in the day of His power. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together ""together," think of that, no more separations, no more partings then — "caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air," not to meet one another, but "to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Now His resurrection assures that; and let me give you a little and lovely instance of it. The very first moment that the blessed God could divulge this great and glorious fact, it was divulged. In the Gospel of Matthew, after the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, you get first of all the veil of the temple rent in twain from the top to the bottom; "the earth did quake, the rocks rent," every sphere felt the touch of the victor. He made His touch felt in heaven and on earth. "And the graves were opened," as if it was said to death, Hitherto you have had a right to hold, but no more. "The graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and went into the holy city after his resurrection, and appeared to many." Think how the blessed God, in the earliest moments of the victory of Jesus, gave expression to one of the effects of that victory, that the grave was no longer to hold, and that resurrection was secured. There were all the visible tokens of the power of His death and the power of His resurrection. Now that is a very blessed fact, that in the first moments of the victory of Jesus, we should have the resurrection of those that are Christ's brought forth in figure.
But now there is one other consequence and fruit of Christ's resurrection which is deeply solemn, and it might be thought perhaps that this is not the company in which to bring it forth. But, beloved friends, we have no right to pick and choose in the things of God; and if God connects with any one fact of His blessed book certain consequences, whether they are comforting or of deep momentous solemnity for our souls we have no right to accept one and leave the other. There may be some one here to-night for whom God has a special voice in this consequence, and therefore God forbid. I should keep it back.
In Acts 17:30 the apostle, amongst the cultivated and polished Athenians, speaking of the former times, and how God dealt with them, says: "And the times of this ignorance" — that was not paying much compliment to their polish, or learning, or philosophy, or wisdom, or education, whether sage or savage, they are all put in one lump there — "the times of this ignorance" — Oh the dignity of divine truth amongst men! — "God hath winked at:" that is, He did not take account of such, "but now commandeth all men everywhere" — mark those words — "to repent, because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." Now there is a passage of deep and solemn moment for every one of us here.
We have been looking at the privilege side, the side that pertains to the children of God; but there is another side, as to this resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ — a terrible side of it for the world. There may be some in this company who are not the children of God, who are still in their sins, away from God, guilty, and lost. Now mark this, resurrection is the assurance of judgment, it is the precursor of judgment, it is the certainty of judgment. Could anything drop upon the, conscience or heart with greater solemnity than this, that God has appointed the day and ordained the judge? Oh! if there is a sinner here to-night, think of that fact, God has appointed the day, and ordained the judge. Do you say, how do I know? He has raised Jesus from the dead, there is the proof of it. That resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from among the dead is surrounded by proofs, not merely from His own people, but the devil was made and the enemies of God were made to contribute to the proof of it; Satan and the Jews were made the instruments of the clear evidence of the truth of the resurrection. God has hedged round the resurrection of His Son with the most undeniable proofs, and, in connection with that, He tells us that "He has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world." Do not think it is a question of the great white throne; it is not a question of the dead here at all, it is a question of the habitable world, the scene of man's habitation. He will judge this world in righteousness. Thank God, He is dealing with it in grace now; but in grace for the last time. He will judge it in righteousness.
There is not a single cloud of judgment in the present grace, and there will not be one single ray of grace in the future judgment. He will judge it by the Man whom the world spat upon and trampled under its feet, by that Man whom He has ordained — and He has given the most undeniable proof of it in raising Him from the dead.
Oh, beloved friends, when I think of that, the blessed fruits of His resurrection, the association that we are brought into in His resurrection, the wonderful things that pertain to us as children of God, so that we can call God our Father, announced to us by the risen Lord through Mary Magdalene: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." When I remember that through resurrection is preached to us the forgiveness of sins, through this Man, this risen Jesus, "is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins," when I reflect that from that risen, glorified Man the Holy Ghost has come down, when I reflect that all that are Christ's will rise in virtue of Christ's having been raised, when I dwell in silent meditation on it, I am lost in wonder; but oh I cannot leave this out, the day appointed and the judge ordained, beseech those that are not Christ's here to-night to let that word rest upon their hearts, "He has appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he has given assurance unto all men" — there is not a man in this world that is not without excuse as to it, there is the assurance before his eyes, "in that he has raised him from the dead." You may be like the Athenians, and you may mock as they did when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, just as that poor heathen, Festus, afterwards said, They have some question "of their own superstition" — it was not the things I thought were exercising their minds — they have some question "of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive." That was all he cared about it, and that is all you may care about it, sinner; but it is true, for all that. The sword of unmitigated judgment in righteousness hangs over this world where man it, and the day for the execution of that vengeance is appointed and the judge is ordained.
Oh may God, by His grace, give those that are not saved to think of that! Lay it to heart, I beseech of you! Think of what the resurrection testifies to you. And, my beloved brethren, may our hearts rejoice in what it brings to us, all the glories and blessings that it has secured for God's glory and for us, too, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Character and Power of Christ's Resurrection.
Acts 3:13-16; 4:1, 2. Philippians 3:7-11.
These passages, beloved brethren, contain the subject that is to occupy us this evening, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in its character and in its power or, to put it in another way, the character of Christ's resurrection and the power of His resurrection; indeed, you have both in the Philippians, The resurrection out, from among the dead was resurrection in a certain character. Now we were looking at the facts of the resurrection, and last week at the fruits of the resurrection, and very blessed it is to look at it thus in its various aspects; there are various glories connecting themselves with it; we have already had before us the simple facts clustered around it, as well as the various fruits of His resurrection. But to-night we have to consider the character and the power of Christ's resurrection. Now it had a peculiar character; which, thank God, connects itself with our resurrection too; because, as we have already seen, given the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in fact and in character, and you have got the resurrection of His people in fact and in character. His resurrection, in both these blessed aspects, determines ours. You cannot separate them. Christ's place determines ours. Everything that relates to Him determines what relates to us, It is most blessed to keep that fast in the affections of our hearts. His place determines our place, His resurrection determines our resurrection both in fact and character, and we are moreover the fruit of it, blessed be His name.
But there is one point on the threshold of our consideration to-night, which I very earnestly desire to bring before you, and that is, that in this character of Christ's resurrection out from among the dead, is clearly set forth the great fact, that God was about to establish and set up in the risen Christ, man in a new place and position altogether according to the counsels of God, God was about to begin an entirely new thing historically and in fact. And that is an immense thing to keep before our minds, because it was from that (and I will try to point out why presently) all the testing of Christ's own beloved disciples here, and also the opposition of His enemies, sprang. It was the power and character of His resurrection as inaugurating a new thing altogether in God's ways, that which was distinct from all that went before, the commencement of a totally new thing; the cross was the termination morally of all that was old and ready to vanish away, but in resurrection we have a new start. Now that is very important, and that is what provoked the opposition of the enemies, as well as disappointed the hopes of His friends. You know very well how the hearts of His own disciples lingered about things down here, and I suppose any of us that are exercised before the Lord know very well how our hearts linger about things down here, and how difficult it is to have the link snapped that connects us with the visible and what is around us, the terrible attractiveness of earth; I do not mean in wrong ways, I am not speaking of things that are unlawful, but things that are good and right. The native attractiveness of things below that binds us and ties us down here is so strong. And of course, with the disciples, who were educated in Jewish hopes and prospects, and who were looking for things on earth, it was doubly strong with them from what it ought to be with us, who never had earthly prospects held out to us, and who are not the earthly people. The disciples had to be taken out of all that; and to look at the death of Christ not merely as terminating all that, but as the death of earthly hopes, that was where the bitterness was. To the disciples, the death of Christ was the death of all that linked them with God's promises in relation to His kingdom or this earth; the heir was gone, the one in whom the whole thing was to be made good was gone. You may say they ought to have known differently, verily they ought. So ought we for that matter, but then, that does not dispose of the matter. There was where their hearts were, and therefore where there was not faith and where there was all this tie and bond linking them to things down here, it was difficult to accept the fact in the first instance, that God was going to begin a new thing altogether, which was to be as heavenly in its character as the other thing was earthly in its character. You may say, "I see all that." It may be quite true; but one often says to oneself, "I see that," but what we find out is that there is oftentimes a very long distance between seeing a thing and that thing being made good in one's soul. You may see it very clearly, but when it begins to operate, and to cut, and to work, then you find how very little you were prepared for it to come in its own power and work its own way with you.
That is the first thing I want to leave on your thoughts, that the character of His resurrection sets forth the importance of this new order of things altogether which God was about to set up and display, in Christ the risen man in a new place according to the counsels of God.
Now let me show that the assertions I have made are true according to scripture. Look at Mark 9: 9, 10, "And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen till the Son of man were risen from among the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from among the dead should mean." It was not, remember, the bare fact of resurrection, because resurrection in itself was believed in by the Pharisees, though rejected by the Sadducees. But resurrection from among the dead was another thing altogether, and that is what the Lord was presenting here. Keep, He says, these things amongst yourselves until the Son of man be risen from among the dead, until God sets forth that great manifest token of His own delight and complacency in that blessed Servant in raising Him up from amongst the dead. They did not understand that at all. That is what gives its character at once to it in the very beginning, it was a character of resurrection that was unknown to them, a kind of resurrection they were totally ignorant of.
Take another scripture, Matthew 17:22, 23, "And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry." Why? It slew all their earthly hopes; it was an end to all their earthly prospects. Now there is the scripture that substantiates what I have already said, that the death of Christ was to Jewish hopes the death of the heir, the death of the One who was their link to all the earthly prospects and promises that God had given to them as a people down here on the earth, and therefore their grief and sorrow.
To give you an illustration of it, it was exactly to them what it must have been to Abraham's heart, when, after he had got the heir, God told him to offer him up. First of all, God gave him the promise of the land as an inheritance, and then God gave him the heir, as Abraham had no child; and then, when he had got the heir, and the heir was almost grown up to an age that gave vitality to the prospects of the man's heart, God said to him, now take that son, "thine only son Isaac whom thou lovest," and offer him up. Snap with your own hand the link, and that a divine link as well, cut the link in all the chain of promise; go and blast all your hopes that are centred in that Isaac. That is what the death of Jesus was to the disciples. He was the true heir to all the earthly promises that God had given to the fathers, He was the link with them, and the disciples recognised Him (because their faith went very little if at all beyond that) as the One who connected them with the promises that God had made to His earthly people. For Him to die, was death indeed; no wonder they were exceeding sorry; it blasted all their hopes, and all their prospects, and left them resourceless, so to speak, here in this world.
Now turn to Luke 24:17, and you will find it even stronger there. The two disciples are going to Emmaus, and talking of the things which had happened, and Jesus Himself drew near and went with them, though they knew Him not. "And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?" Their hearts were heavy; they had left Jerusalem, they were going home, it was all over on earth. I think that Luke 24 is one of the most touching of scriptures, if you put yourselves in the position of the disciples for a moment. Their backs were upon Jerusalem, they had satisfied themselves that His body was not in the tomb, their faces were to Emmaus, it was the third day, and it was all over. No wonder their hearts were sad. "What manner of communications," says the blessed risen One to them, "are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?" Suppose you had been only a few hours in Jerusalem, is it possible that you could be ignorant of the crushing sorrow that has fallen upon us in consequence of all that has happened there? He replies (how skilful His love is in drawing out their hearts), "What things?" Well He knew, but there is nothing so skilful in this world as love, nothing. "And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people;" now you get the sense of how much they knew, and what their hearts were connected with as to His Person. He was "Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death and have crucified him; but we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to-day is the third day since these things were done."
Now is there anything more interesting and instructive for our hearts? It is wonderful to think of it. This day that is spoken of in Luke 24 was the brightest day that had ever dawned upon this poor sinful world. And yet, notwithstanding that (and I will show you the comfort of it in a moment, the exceeding comfort too), notwithstanding that it was the brightest moment that this world had ever witnessed, their hearts were in perfect contrast with it all. They were bowed down, they were broken in heart, they were disappointed, chafed, everything gone, all their hopes had been slain on His cross and buried in His grave. And why, what was the secret of it? I would like to point out to you two things that were the secret of that condition, that state, and to press them affectionately on my own heart and on yours. In the eighth verse it says, "And they remembered his words." Now mark that. Do you wonder and say, What is the force of it? This; their hearts had been leaky vessels as to those words; His words had dropped through those poor leaky vessels and were gone; they had forgotten them. Because the Lord had often spoken of it. The testimony was abundant as to the fact of His being killed by men, and by His own people, and raised up again the third day; but they had forgotten it all. And how often it is so with you and me; we have forgotten His words.
But now mark another thing, and this I would earnestly press upon you — memory is not faith; there is a great difference between them. Here you get memory resuscitated, revived; the memory of these forgotten sentences of Jesus all comes back, but it is no good, because, although they remembered His words, they turned their backs on Jerusalem, and they go to Emmaus as heart-broken, and disappointed, and vexed, and blighted in prospect as ever they had been before. Memory is not faith. I will give you a remarkable scripture in proof of that in Psalm 78:19. "Yea," says the Psalmist, speaking of Israel, "Yea, they spake against God: they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed" — there is memory; but, look at the next sentence, "Can he give bread also?" there is the absence of faith. There was the memory, the recollection of what He had done previously, but there was no present faith as to what He could do now.
And, beloved friends, it comes out in this history of the disciples as to the Lord's resurrection, and the divine moral of it is of the deepest importance and blessedness to our souls. Because what we want is not only the remembrance of former things, but that we can go on in present faith in a living Christ. You may remember well how the Lord helped you last year, or six months ago, or three months ago, but if you are not in present living faith in God and Christ to-day, the memory of the past will not be any help to your soul. It is present living faith in the word of Jesus, and not merely the recollection that those words were once spoken, and that all the pith, and substance, and power of them have gone from our souls, but it is living faith in those words. Now what I have noticed in my own poor wretched heart, and I have no doubt if you are exercised before the Lord you will find it in yours, is this, that there are a great many truths, things that people know are true, but they have no faith in them. What is the good of it? I will give you an instance. There is a truth beyond all price and preciousness to our souls expressed in those words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Where two or three are gathered to my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Now there is not a single person who has ever been taught the truth of that who does not know it to be true. But I feel in my own heart, beloved friends, and I have seen it in others (and I desire to condemn it a great deal more in myself), but I see there are people who know that to be true, but they have not any faith in it. It is not enough for you to say, "Oh yes, there it is, that is the ground, that is the position;" be assured there must be faith in it. And I do not mean credence; credence is not faith, but I mean such faith in it that I give myself to it, and go on with it, just as much faith in that, as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for my soul's salvation; it is just the same principle. If there is not that, it is mere credence of certain truths that have no living vitality and power in our souls. And that is exactly what their memory of Christ's words here was; they remembered His words; they had forgotten them; they were resuscitated in their memory by the women who gave the account of the resurrection, but there was no faith in the utterances themselves, and they were all adrift.
Now there is another cause in Luke 24 for the state they were in, and that is, that their eyes were down here on earth. And there is nothing that so perverts and distracts, and turns a soul out of the reality of what God in His wonderful grace would have our hearts in the full enjoyment of, and in the good of, as having our eyes bound by things of earth. You may say, "But it was the kingdom with them." Oh! but it might be something else with us. And what is the difference? If it be anything on earth, it matters not what it is, the results are alike. It was the kingdom with them, but it was a kingdom on earth; the locality, observe, is to the point here, and that perverted the disciples, their eyes were in the wrong direction. How many of our eyes are in the wrong locality. Alas, how often we are looking where the object is not to be found. If we were only looking up to heaven, to behold the church according to the thoughts of God in its true heavenly character, what a different thing it would be. What is the reason that so many of us are so perplexed disturbed and distressed? Because our minds are over occupied with the administrative side of church truth, it is here there is always failure; but if we would only dwell more on the divine side, on the conception of the thing in the mind of God, it would be all so different. The administration side brings man in, and there is bound to be failure there. How could you be anything but perplexed, and disturbed, and distressed, if you are engrossed with how man carries the thing out; whereas if your thoughts were governed more by the divine conception of it, the heavenly thing before God, you would get power to meet the crash in the administration side of it. Let us seek to rise to the divine side of things, for that is always the side of power, and that is the power to be manifested down here in the human side, where failure alas, comes in.
But the disciples (and that comes before the heart with exceeding clearness now) were looking for a kingdom here. "We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." There was the egotism of Judaism filling their hearts. What they needed was to get into the largeness of God's thoughts as manifested in a risen Christ. The Lord keep us from a like principle. There are a great many other kinds of egotism besides Judaism.
Now we have looked at the effect of the resurrection in testing the disciples. Let us for a little look at the effect of it in testing the enemies of Christ, and that will bring us to those passages in the Acts. Note the words in chapter 4, and observe this — that ecclesiastical authority and hatred of the truth always go together. An awful picture when you think of it, ecclesiastical authority combined with hatred of the truth. That is one side of it; on the other side, the power of God in a risen Christ, witnessed in all the needs of men. This it was that aroused all the hatred and suspicion of those in authority in Acts 4, "Being grieved that they preached through Jesus" — through this risen Man, through this blessed One who had come up from amongst the dead, raised out of death by the power of God — "preached through Jesus" a character of resurrection, namely, resurrection out from among the dead, not purely and merely resurrection. And they could do it now in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is beautiful to see how fully they now had been led into the truth, how different from Mark ix., where they did not understand what He meant when He spoke of resurrection out from among the dead. Now they not only understand it, but they can preach it. They preach it through this blessed man, this Jesus, resurrection out from among dead people, and they brought hatred and opposition on themselves because of that.
Now why did men hate and dislike that truth? What was there in it that so excited their animosity and violence, which the bare fact of resurrection itself would not have done with the Pharisees or Jews? I will tell you. They had killed the Prince of life; that is what the apostle brings home to them in the third chapter, there was that holy One, that just One, you murdered Him: God has raised Him out from among the dead. Now you Jews and God are at issue. The Man that you murdered God has put honour upon; the Man whom you spat upon and nailed to that gibbet, God has raised Him out from among dead people. There was the issue. And mark this, there was the complacency of God expressed in Christ's resurrection, there was the satisfaction of God expressed in it; further, it was an elective power, it was not only that He was raised, but others were left behind in their graves; that is the point. Therefore there was pleasure in it, there was complacency expressed and satisfaction as well. Every attribute of God, and all the satisfaction of His nature (I say it with reverence), combined to take that blessed, glorious Man out from among dead people. That is what they could not endure. They had crucified Him, hated Him, got rid of Him, nailed Him to the cross; God had exalted Him, glorified Him, expressed His satisfaction in Him. There is how it tested all these people, It brought out that they stood at variance with God as to Christ, the dealings of the Jewish people and rulers, with that blessed Lord Jesus Christ, made it all clear. And you will find everywhere that Christ is the test, wherever you go, amongst the saints or into the world. Christ is the test; bring in Christ, a crucified Christ, a risen Christ, a glorified Christ, and you have the test. All stand out in their true character in relation to Christ. The Lord give our hearts to bear these things clearly in mind, beloved friends.
Let me for a moment more state the three things I have before me —
(1) that the character of Christ's resurrection gave the manifestation of the new order of things that God was about to set up in that risen Man according to His counsels
(2) that the disciples were tested because their hopes were all bounded by earth and the things of earth; and
(3) that the enemies of the truth were tested because by it was manifested that God and the nation were at variance with reference to their conduct towards Him.
And now let us look at Philippians 3, where we have the two subjects brought together in the case of a man of flesh and blood like ourselves, and where we see the beauty and power of them in relation to the apostle Paul, once Saul of Tarsus. He says, The longing of my heart is "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection out from among dead people." Now there are these two things, "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead," that is the character of the resurrection; and the other is that he might know the power of it.
Let us look at this, for it is a blessed point in the history. What was it that left such an impress, as it were, on the soul of that man? He was as distinctively stamped by that which comes out in this, as he had been stamped in his former life. He was as distinct and ardent in his pursuit of these wonderful things as he was malignant in his pursuit of the saints of God and a glorified Jesus previously. What did it? Look at Acts 26:8, a scripture you are familiar with, but I desire to refer you to the old things; this is not the day to be looking after new things, it is the old things that are so precious. This is Paul's defence of himself before Agrippa. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" Mark how he starts with this. He was speaking to people who denied this, whose hearts were at variance with God. "I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth," the risen One, "which thing I also did in Jerusalem; and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."
It was no half-and-half measures with him; he did not deal out persecution by driblets, not a bit of it, it was a whole-hearted, thorough, real desire to obliterate every trace of Christ and Christ's from off the scene. "Whereupon, as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me, and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth" — it is wonderful the way God brings us down to listen to His voice, as though He said, I am going to have a hearing; they are too busy, tog occupied, the will is working too strong, the mind is too much at work, I must have a hearing. "When we were all fallen to the earth," ah! beloved brethren, there is no place so blessed as to be down low before the Lord; do you know the point that is nearest to heaven? down low on earth before God. "And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise." Oh, think of that; look at the two things that come together there; "fallen to the earth," "rise." It is the man that is down that God can take up; down on the earth, down in the dust in very truth, that is the man God can take up. It is what we want, beloved brethren, I am convinced in my soul, to be low enough down for God to take us up; according to the words of Hannah in another day, "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." He sags, "Rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou halt seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee," and so on. Do you know what gives these words immense interest? Not merely the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, but those were the last words Jesus ever spoke from heaven to earth. Acts 1 are His last words on earth; Acts 26 are His last words from heaven to man on earth. And there is something very precious about last words; our hearts like to remember them.
Now what happened? Christ, a glorified Christ, the risen Man, imprinted His own blessed Person on the heart of that poor persecutor, and that blessed risen glorified Christ being revealed in him, the heart and affections of the man who was once Saul of Tarsus, the man whom all dreaded for his persecution and hatred, there was not a thing that was before that man's heart and thoughts afterwards but Christ. Christ had imprinted Himself upon his soul, upon his spiritual affections, God's Son was revealed in him. And what the apostle says here is this, as it were, That blessed One so fills my gaze, so fills my soul, that everything is gone; it is not bad things in Philippians 3, but good things. Numbers of people would be glad to get rid of bad things, but how many would like to be free from all things? You would like to drop the bad things, but are you prepared to drop everything, that is the question? He does not say, I count the bad things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, but "I count all." The things that were gain to him were not the bad things, they were good things. And what is the thing before him? One desire, "If by any means," that is, I will go through anything, I will go through death, I will accept martyrdom, anything if only I may become assimilated to that blessed One, in that wonderful new character of resurrection which He inaugurated in His own Person, "If by any means I may attain to resurrection out from among the dead." There was how Christ's glory fastened itself in its own blessedness on the soul of the apostle.
And then he says, What I desire now is to know Him; there is the person, "that I may know him." I never saw a person yet, beloved friends, who knew anything of Christ who were not impressed with how little they knew of Him; and I never saw a person yet who thought they knew Him that knew a single thing about Him. One that knows Him feels, oh how little it seems; and why? Because in that case there is something to measure by. It is like a man going up a mountain, the nearer he gets to the top, the greater it seems to him, and the farther away it seems; and when he is down at the bottom he thinks he is very near; that is exactly how it is. "That I may know him," it is the longing of his soul; he has tasted, as it were, of the peace of being in that blessed One, so he says, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection."
Now what is the meaning of "the power of his resurrection"? I do not think it means the power by which He was raised, I used to think it was, "that I may know the power by which he was raised." No; I believe that you and I through grace are morally, in our souls, exemplifications of the same power, because we are co-quickened and co-raised with Him, and by-and-by we shall be literally and historically the exemplifications of it, for we shall be raised up in our bodies. But the power of His resurrection is a moral thing. In Acts 1 I look at the risen Lord alive on earth forty days after His resurrection before He went up into heaven. Now, beloved brethren, what had He to do with earth? What was earth to Him? He had left everything behind, He was a risen man down here on earth, and the whole thing was gone to Him. Of course things on earth were never anything in that sense to the Lord Jesus Christ, but I take the fact to illustrate what I mean; there He was on earth, His dealings with Israel all over, His presentation of Jewish hopes and prospects all over, His dealing with that nation all over; for the Jewish system was God's system up to the cross, but the cross was the end of that system and the end as well of man morally. But here He was on earth forty days, and He talked to His disciples about the kingdom of God, He kept their prospects for the time being on earth, because although the system was morally given up, God was lingering in patient grace over them. But if we belong to Christ we are risen with Christ; that is, if we are Christians at all, and the power of His resurrection is this, that it cuts for us the link with present things, with the world, with everything down here — what have you and I to do with it? What real interest have we, if we have the power of His resurrection in our souls, with things that belong to the earth? Take politics, for instance; what interest has a risen man in politics? He is not bounded by things down here, he does not belong to the world, he has no vested interests in it; where are they? The apostle tells you himself. He says, "Our polity, the state to which we belong, has its definite existence in the heavens, and from thence we look for the Lord Jesus as Saviour; there all our hopes are, there is our country, there is our home.
How blessed, how glorious that redemption, in the power of which all who believe have been brought to God, extricated from all the misery and ruin introduced by the first man; we are through grace now in Christ the second Man and last Adam, and we have as such, thank God, a new position. And this new position in the risen Christ was manifested in the first instance by Himself when He rose from the dead, now in glory, a Man in a new position according to the counsels of God. That is our position, or, as it is commonly expressed, that is our standing before God. The power of it is the Holy Ghost which came down on the day of Pentecost, but do not confound the position and the power; they are not the same thing. There is a new life, and a new position, and there is a new power, and the Holy Ghost is the power of the new position, as also of the new life. The character of His resurrection sets forth that complete victory which God had manifested in His own Son, the risen Man; and when the Holy Ghost came down on the day of Pentecost, there was the power for the enjoyment of it.
Now the apostle says, "That I may know him and the power of his resurrection;" this alone can take us out of things here. And, beloved friends, it is only in the power of this, that we can be preserved from the snares that await us on every hand. We often say, The danger is in having any other object but Christ. That is true; but there is another danger, and I believe there are those who have not any other object but Christ, but they have distractions, and distractions are as disastrous as other objects. Let us challenge our hearts, Have we any other object, beloved brethren? Have we distractions? I do not know anything that will eat out the vigour of the soul like distractions, I do not know anything that will sap and mine the vitality and power of a living Christ in the soul like distractions. You know what it is in earthly things. A man that is distracted can do nothing at all, driven hither and thither on every side. Be assured nothing can keep us, through God's grace, free from other objects and from distractions, but a fixed, steady gaze on Christ in glory, and a jealousy over our own hearts, to set the Lord always before us. The Lord create and keep alive such holy jealousy in all our souls. It is the only kind of jealousy we ought to cultivate, that we ought to allow. I suppose there is nothing more hateful and detestable in this world than jealousy, but there is a right kind of jealousy, even over the heart within, that only Christ and the things of Christ should be there, engaging and occupying to the full our affections and powers.
The Lord give each of us to understand better, through His grace, the character of His resurrection and the power of His resurrection, for His name's sake.
The Ascension and Exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John 3:9-13; 6:53-63; 16:7-15; Ephesians 4:7-13.
These scriptures, beloved friends, set before us the great truth of the Lord's exaltation into the heavens, having ascended up on high as the exalted Man; there are here set forth one or two aspects of it which I wish to bring before you simply this evening. We might travel over a large field, but it is well to keep our minds on certain definite points for profit.
His ascension into the heavens, His exaltation, connects itself in the first instance with the competency of which it was witness, which was in Him and in Him alone, to bear testimony: that is simply, His own going up into the heavens was the distinct witness to His competency to bear testimony either to earthly things or heavenly things. And that is what is set before us in John 3.
In John 6 He brings forward His ascension to show how completely outside all the vision of man, as man, was either the, cross or the glory; they did not come within the range of man's vision at all. Man understood as little about the cross as he understood about the glory. Both were equally outside man, as man. Because it was when they murmured about Him setting Himself forward as the source of life and the sustainment of life — the One who died and shed His blood was to be the source of life to perishing sinners, and also the sustainment of that life — He says, Does that offend you? If you stumble over that; what will you say to my exaltation into the heavens? "What and if ye shall see the. Son of man ascend up where He was before?" That is the second.
And then Ephesians is simple enough, and that is, that as exalted, and having ascended into the heavens, He received in His human character, for that is the meaning of "He gave gifts unto men;" He thus received, as the exalted Man, these dowries, these gifts, which were the affectionate expression of the deep eternal love which was in the heart of Christ for His church. And is it not wonderfully comforting to read it in that way? I do not know any scripture that clothes ministry according to God with more divine sanction than the fact that all true ministry, that is to say, gifts, persons, remember, not qualifications, flow from Him the Head in heaven; observe, it is persons that are spoken of in Ephesians 4, "He gave, some apostles;" and an apostle is a person, a pastor is a person, an evangelist is a person — it is not here a question of the qualification at all, it is a fact that He gave the persons; the gifts came from the exalted, glorified Head over all things to the church His body, and they were for the work of the ministry down here upon earth, and the edification of the body of Christ.. We may well ask what human sanction for ministry — what authority could be equal to that? What endowment could man provide which would be equal to that? A ministry that does not emanate from any human source down here, it does not come from the most exalted of men, however great and noble he may be; but from the ascended Christ in glory. Think of the dignity it attaches to ministry according to God. And it is important to bear that in mind, and it is well too we should be clear, that though we refuse human authority as, to ministry, we do not at all disown or make little of ministry according to God, a divinely ordered ministry. It is one thing to refuse a counterfeit, it is another thing to recognise with the deepest affection the true genuine thing. And that is what ministry according to God is, persons given direct from the ascended Christ in glory, no doubt provided with all the suited and fitted qualifications which He Himself must bestow for the carrying on of His work on earth.
Now I invite your attention this evening to those three points. First, in John 3, mark how the Lord claims — and there is a point of exceeding blessedness in it for our souls — He claims, I say, that His ascension into the heavens is the great proof and demonstration that He was the One who had both right and competency to reveal earthly things or heavenly things. Bear in mind that there are the two, earthly things and heavenly things. The Lord was speaking to Nicodemus about the new birth. We do not go into that subject now more than to say this, that for man to have to do with God in any relationship, whether it be earthly or heavenly, he must be born again. There can, be no connection and no relationship between God and man in the state man is in by nature; there must be a new birth. And it must be a new birth of this nature — not merely born from above, but a totally new thing altogether. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." Of course, I need not say it is from above, but that is not the force of it; it is not the source from whence this new birth comes, but it is the character of it, the nature of it, it is an entirely new birth. The Lord said that to Nicodemus, and that was connected with the earthly part of His glory; He was speaking of that which was necessary for the kingdom, which Nicodemus ought to have known. He should have known that in order to enter the kingdom, to have a part in the kingdom, man could not boast of his descent from Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob; he must be born again.
But, beloved friends, and I wish to emphasise this fact, that though new birth is beyond all question needed for man in the state he is in, new birth does not set forth the distinctive and special privileges and glories that attach to Christianity. Quite true he must be born again, quite true new birth is indispensable, it was necessary even for the earthly part of the kingdom. But when He comes to speak of heavenly things, what does he say? What does He set forth specially and peculiarly as connected with heavenly things? That which follows. And what is that? Eternal life. And hence, when the Lord speaks of this, mark what He brings out in connection with it. He speaks of Himself being lifted up on the cross; He speaks of Himself as the antitype of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, that "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up,?' not lifted up upon the earth, but lifted up on the cross, between the heavens and the earth, the great manifestation that there was no link between man as man and God; so that, blessed One was lifted up between the heavens and the earth, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Observe how it is in connection with that, and with the Father's giving the Son according to all the blessed, precious thoughts of His own heart, that the Lord says to Nicodemus, If I have spoken to you about earthly things, if I have pressed upon you the fact of having to be born again to have to do with God's kingdom down here, and you refuse to believe that, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And what was His competency to bear witness to either? This; "No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." There, observe, His exaltation comes in, and verily beyond all question it is precious. It is blessed too that He brings forward His exaltation as the ascended man, before it became a fact historically, as that which was to be, the proof of this great certainty, that He was the alone Person that was competent to bear witness to either heavenly or earthly things. Now why? It is not that there had not been communications from God through men down here on earth; God had spoken in previous times, as He Himself tells us.
Let us turn to Hebrews 1, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets." God had previously given communications, and the prophets uttered those divine communications as coming direct from God; they gave the message they had from God. But that was not Christ. A prophet could only speak what he had got. But Jesus, a man and yet God, as much God as man, truly God and truly man, in communion with the Godhead, spoke what He knew Himself. There is the preciousness of the testimony of Christ. It was not that He received it. There is a. point of exceeding beauty in Hebrews 1 as to the question of testimony and communication of the mind of God. The apostle says, in verse 1, that God spoke through the instrumentality of chosen vessels, to whom He communicated His mind; "Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." But now mark, "Has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son," not spoken by His Son just as He spoke by the prophets, that is not the force of this scripture at all, it neither means nor says that; what it means and what it says is this, that God had spoken "in the Person of the Son," that the Person of the Son down here was God's own voice speaking; if one might use such an expression, it was God speaking to us "Son-wise;" it was not through a medium like a. prophet — a prophet was only a medium, albeit a divine medium, but Christ spoke of things which He Himself knew as God, being God. Look at the difference. He was a divine Person down here in this world, though a man. He was here communicating the things which He knew Himself, "We speak that we do know." Whereas, when you think of a servant, or an ordinary vessel that God may be communicating His mind through, take Paul for instance, look at his utterance, "We believe, and therefore speak." He does not say, "We speak that we do know," but, "We believe, and therefore speak." But Christ could say, "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness."
There was the most distinct competency in that blessed One to communicate those things in communion with the Godhead, because He was God. And the stress that is laid upon that is this, to guard the thought that His becoming a man detracted in the least from the fact that He was ever and always God. His divine Person, and the dignities and glories attached to His divine Person, lost nothing by His becoming a man. He was as truly God as He was truly man. But He was down here in this world veiled in flesh, and it was the veil of His humanity, and His being a man whom men could set aside, and spit upon, and cast out, and reject; it was the reality of the lowliness that characterised Him that made, as it were, the veil too thick for human eyes, and that concealed Him from the unbelieving heart, even where there was not faith to pierce through that veil, and see the divine glory that was there. How blessed then to dwell upon His competency! He could tell, in virtue of what He was Himself, of these earthly things, and of these heavenly things.
Now let us look again at the two parts of these earthly and heavenly things. As to the earthly things, here was the new birth. And what did that new birth declare? What was the meaning of it? This; that there was nothing to be got out of man as he was. What a solemn commentary upon everything connected with humanity, that is. The meaning of new birth is that man as man is not fit for God, that you cannot educate him, or change him, or re-cast him, or re-model him. He must be born again, he is not fit for God, even in the very lowest part of His glory, he is not fit for the earthly part of His kingdom. Now Jesus testified of that; He spoke of earthly things. And you may remember (and it is a solemn scripture in connection with this) how, in the close of John 2, there were people attracted when they saw the miracles; and there are people now that are attracted when they see some wonderful thing, something that appeals to sight; because there is in the heart of man an admiration of power, a man may not possess it himself, but he admires it, he is attracted by it when he sees it in another. "When they saw the miracles they believed." What was that? Mere credence; it was not faith. Miracles are never the real ground of true faith. Whenever a person stands upon miracles or wonders as the ground of their faith, you will find that when miracles and wonders are not there, faith is not there. But Jesus did not commit Himself to the people that believed in His name when they saw the miracles. Why? Now mark the solemn words, "He needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man." How did He know? He was God. It was a divine Person searching the depths of the depravity of the heart of man. "He knew what was in man;" He needed no one to testify to Him. And it was not merely that He knew about man, but He knew man.
Now that connects itself in a very simple way with the earthly part of His testimony. He was competent to bear testimony with regard to earthly things, because, being a divine Person, though a man, He knew what was in man, He knew what man was made of, He knew everything about him, and He knew it intuitively, because He was God, and in virtue of the glory of His Person. And I need not say He could tell of heavenly things, for who knew what God was but Christ, and what could you and I know about God if it had not been for Christ? He knew what was in heaven, He could speak of God. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father," not who was, but "who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him;" there He was a man on earth speaking, and yet He is in the bosom of the Father, "the only-begotten Son, who is in, the Father's bosom, he has declared him." Could anything be more precious to our souls than to be committed to such testimony as that? That is the testimony, whether in relation to ourselves, or whether in relation to God, and to heaven, and to the things above, and to the Father, all emanating from Jesus. He is the Revealer, He is the One who manifests God, who reveals the Father, who could speak of things as He knew them. How blessed to think of the Son in the bosom of the Father, and the deep eternal love set forth in those words. And, beloved friends, may not we say together with all affection, that in all the heat and warmth of that bosom, the declaration of the testimony came from Him the Son, that all the deep affection and love of the Father's heart was revealed in and by that blessed One, as no one else could reveal it but Himself?
I trust you see now how, in this passage in John 3, His ascension is brought forward by Himself, as proof of the competency to speak of heavenly or earthly things. "No man has ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven." A man may be taken up into heaven, you know that. Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven, and angels came down from heaven, but no man has ascended up into heaven; no man ever went up there in the way the Lord was speaking here; no one ever went up there in wondrous right. For whilst His incarnation was the witness to how God came down in lowly grace to man, His ascension was the witness to how man had gone up in divine right and righteousness to God. You have there the two realities. In that wonderful child in the manger at Bethlehem, you have the witness to all the lowly grace that was in God, who came down, and stooped, and emptied Himself to become a man. It was not that He laid aside His glory. I do not think that expression is quite correct. He veiled it, if you please; He never laid it aside; faith, I believe, may have pierced the veil, and seen it. I grant you there was very little faith; but wherever there was the smallest exercise of faith, it pierced the veil, and gazed upon His glory. The expression is borrowed from an old hymn, but I do not believe it to be correct. It was God come down here in lowly grace that was witnessed in the incarnation. But when the cross had become a reality, and the Lord Jesus Christ was risen from among the dead, and was ascended into
the heavens and exalted to the right hand of God, there we find man gone up to God in right and righteousness. And that is a wonderful thing for ourselves; for, as I tried to press upon you here before, it was not that the Lord Jesus Christ was not perfectly entitled in virtue of the glory of His Person to every expression of divine complacency, for assuredly He was, but it is an immense thing for our souls in connection with Christianity to know that. He won it, He got it in virtue of the completeness and perfection of His work, and that according to the counsels of God.
There is this difference, that when John speaks of Christ, whatever subject he touches, he always speaks of the glory of His Person; if he speaks of His ascension, it is in connection with the glory of His Person. When Paul speaks of it, he speaks of it in connection with the counsels of God and the work of Christ. With John, it is always the nature of that blessed One, the only-begotten Son in the Father's bosom, the eternal Son before all time and worlds, the One who ever was with the Father. With Paul it is the counsels of God in relation to that blessed, glorious Man, and the perfection of that work which gave effect to those counsels. You will see this very clearly in Ephesians; brethren, it is well to know these things, and moreover it is an immense help in reading the scriptures. We should not read them as though there was no distinction and no difference. God means us to profit by what is given in different parts of His word, and to see how He sets forth the various points of the glory of His Son. So in John; no one ever ascended up to heaven but the One that came down. "No man has ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven."
Now let us turn to chapter 6, and there is a second aspect of the ascension there. Observe what the Lord was unfolding there. The three subjects in John 6 are His incarnation, His death, and His ascension; Christ incarnate, Christ lifted up on the cross, and Christ ascended up into heaven. I do not go into them now, the subject is so full and large. But the ascension is brought out in John 6, just as I said at the commencement, in this way — that man stumbled at His humiliation, and equally would stumble at His glory; that His ascension into the heavens and the exaltation that was connected with it was as much outside his field of view as the glories of His humiliation and His cross; he believed neither the one nor the other. And so the Lord says, If I have spoken to you about being lifted up on the cross, about giving my flesh and my blood, about eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking His blood, and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things; and mark it well, beloved friends, there was no life for any one that did not eat His flesh and drink His blood, and neither is there now; "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." There is no way by which a poor sinner can have life, except he appropriates to himself by faith the Christ who gave His flesh and shed His precious blood. And the Lord says, Just as you eat and drink, that is, as you appropriate what you feed upon, so you appropriate Christ who died and shed His precious blood upon the cross. And, observe, it is a definite thing, once for all, it is never repeated. Once for all, as a poor, wretched sinner you appropriate by faith to the needs of your soul a Christ who gave His body and shed His blood, you feed on Him in death. He is the only source of life; thus we get life in its source, coming from the Saviour who died upon the cross.
But there is another thing that the Lord brought before them in John 6, and the two things together stumbled them, and that is, that there was no sustainment for that life if they did not continually feed on Him. It is not appropriating Him now to their needs as poor perishing sinners to get life through Him, but in communion with Himself, feeding upon Him, who was the source of their life, eating Him for the sustainment of that life which they had from Him definitely when they appropriated Him to their needs at the beginning. And there comes a solemn question for all our souls — is not that the secret of the feebleness of the lives of many Christians? You often say, I think that person has got life. But how sickly it is; there does not seem to be any vigour in it. I do not know anything more wretched than to see a person dragging out an existence, as it were, whether it be in body or in soul. A bare existence is to me the most melancholy thing in this world. Look at it in Christians. You judge before the Lord yourselves, and let me judge before the Lord myself to-night as to whether this little point here is not the secret of the feebleness and sickly character of our lives as Christians — we do not feed continually on Christ. What do we feed on? What is the sustainment of the life within us? What is it nourishes us? That is the question. Alas! far be it from me to go into the details of it, but I know too well, I am sorry to say, how hundreds of things become the food of one's life instead of the only thing that really can nourish us. Nothing can nourish the life we have from Christ but Christ, and if Christ is the sustainment of our life just as He is the source of it, the blessed One Himself is the only One that can keep that life going in energy, power, freshness and distinctness; what a blessed reality then feeding on Him is.
The ministry of Christ, I admit, is by the Holy Ghost and the scriptures. There is the preciousness of the word of God, the Spirit of God ministering out of the scriptures to our souls that blessed One, so as to sustain our life. How much time do we spend over it? How much do we meditate in it? The Lord knows I often think it over in my own heart in real sorrow and grief. I hear people talking about reading meetings, and I am afraid a great many reading meetings are little more than debating meetings; and what a miserable kind of thing that is! What we want is (I trust I may be forgiven for using a word that has the appearance of cant, which I cordially detest), but what we want is feeding on Christ in our souls, food for our souls, sitting down to the word of God as a hungry man sits down to his meal, to find through the ministry of the Spirit of God, that living, blessed, precious Christ to, feed and sustain us, and to rise from the word in the sense of the nourishment that Christ has supplied to the soul, and Christ Himself precious to us as that food. It must be gathered and eaten, and there must be purpose of heart to search for it.
What did the children of Israel go out into the wilderness to look for? The manna; that was their definite object; they searched for the manna. And when you and I go to the scriptures, do we search for Christ in them? And when they had found the manna, what did they do with it? They dressed it; they subjected it to a process that set forth the sufferings of Christ; they did not eat it as they found it in the field. And we could not feed on an incarnate Christ, it is a dead Christ that is the food of our souls. Therefore the manna was dressed; it was, we read, ground in mills, or beaten in a mortar and baked in pans; all this sets forth His sufferings. And thus they ate it. And it was of this Moses said, you shall be filled; and mark this, "And ye shall know that Jehovah is your God." And exactly the same thing is said in John 6, where the Lord is the great antitype of it. In the beginning of the chapter He fed the people, I believe, as a picture of it; and what is said about that multitude is that the Lord took the loaves, and distributed them, "and they were filled." And there is another word to show that no amount of need could be any adequate measure of the supply — there were fragments to a large extent taken up. And so our need may be great, it may be varied, but it never can measure the fulness of the Christ of God, never. And therefore on every occasion when the Lord fed the multitude in the gospels, there were fragments — twelve baskets you get in Luke 9. Why? To show, as I have said, that God's supply could never be measured by man's need. How could finite need measure infinite fulness? Impossible. But I press this earnestly, that herein lies the secret of our life not being in vigour, but that it is sickly and feeble, and not rising up to its source to delight itself in its object; even that. Christ is not fed upon in the scriptures through the ministry of the Spirit.
And observe how, in connection with this very thing here, they murmured; and the Lord says, as it were, Do you murmur, and do you complain, and do you stumble? And many even of His own disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. And why should we be surprised at any one turning away from the truth of God to-day, when there were people that turned away from the Christ of God? And yet how we wonder, and say, What a strange thing! But they turned away from Christ. Who? His disciples. "Many of them went back, And walked no more with him;" and He replies in the most touching tenderness, "Will ye also go away?"
Now mark what comes in here in connection with this too as to His exaltation, and that is, the Spirit; and that will bring us to John 16. The coming down of the Comforter was connected with the exalted Christ. It was as exalted that He sent down the Holy Ghost. He speaks of His going away, which was His exaltation, and the necessity for them that He should go away, and that if He did not go away, the Comforter would not come, but that if He departed, He would send Him. And the Lord forecasts it in John 16. And observe these three things about the Comforter, for they are very precious. When the Comforter is come, He shall be a convicting Spirit in the world. It is not, mark, the operation of the Spirit here, it is the fact of His presence. His presence would be the conviction of the world. The world is convicted, and the saint is comforted. As to the world, He was to be a convicting Spirit; as to the saints, they were to be comforted and guided into all truth; and as to Jesus, the Holy Ghost would glorify Him. Those three things are most beautiful. "He shall glorify me;" He will comfort you and guide you into all truth; and as to the world, His presence here will bring home the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He shall convict the world "of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness" — there is none in the world, they cast Christ out — "because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged;" for it was in that character he led the whole world on to crucify Christ. But it is all forecast there; it is the forecast of the coming Comforter when Christ should be exalted.
We have the thing in fact in Acts 2, when the Comforter came. But look at the way the Holy Ghost came down there. When the day of Pentecost was fully come they were all brought together; God so arranged that they should be together in one place; and there came the sound of a mighty rushing wind, filling all the house, and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire — keep those two things before your mind — and sat upon each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. You will see the contrast in a moment. When Jesus was down here as a man upon earth, He was sealed by the Father, "the Holy Ghost descended upon him in a bodily shape like a dove." "Him hath God the Father sealed," that is to say, by the Holy Ghost coming down upon Him, He was marked off in that peculiar way. It was not that there was anything added to His Person or glory, that could not be; but He was set forth as the One whom God specially and peculiarly marked out in that way. But I think it is most precious that the form which the Holy Ghost took when He came down upon Christ was in a bodily shape like a dove. How suitable if you think of Him who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, that precious, gracious, gentle, blessed Saviour! The very form of the seal, because that is what the Spirit of God was, is very blessed, it was the Holy Ghost came down upon Christ without blood, God putting His seal upon Him, beyond and outside all others, none like Him — but the form of the seal set forth His own precious Person, He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners," and therefore it was the dove; and then there were the opened heavens and the Father's voice.
But that is not what you have in Acts 2. That blessed Person passed through His baptism of death, having gone down to the very depths of judgment on the cross, and ascended into the heavens, and the Holy Ghost came as sent down from Him, for He received the Holy Ghost as the promise of the Father, and shed that Spirit down Himself as the exalted man from glory. But what form does the Spirit take? He takes the form of that which sets forth testimony, that is to say, the tongue; because now there was to be testimony all the whole world over to this blessed One, and therefore it was parted tongues or cloven tongues, that is to say, it was to be a far-reaching testimony, it was not to go to one nation or one people, it was to take in Jews and Gentiles everywhere. Hence they were parted tongues, cloven tongues. And then, "like as of fire," because fire set forth the divine holiness and judgment as against sin, of which the cross was the great witness in this world. The Holy Ghost that came down from the Man that was on the cross but is now on the throne, takes this shape of parted tongues in testimony of the fact, that the whole earth now is to receive the tidings; and it was as a fire in connection with the fact of the intolerance of God's holy, righteous nature of all evil, of which the cross was the great witness in this world.
Now if you turn to Acts 2:29-36, there you will see how it is explained. It was forecast in John, it came out as a fact in the beginning of Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, and now it is divinely explained by Peter through the ministry of the Spirit, because he is speaking by the Holy Ghost. And there is one point in Acts 2 which is exceedingly precious. When the Holy Ghost did come down, and when He was here upon earth, dwelling in the whole house of God, as we know He does, yet He sat upon each of them particularly, for each of them had these cloven tongues particularly, and the whole house was filled. But look at the difference in the testimony now, see the power of this testimony, and the force that was given to this testimony; it is perfectly exquisite. There is nothing that delights the heart that loves Christ more than to see how, wherever they turned, they found Christ. They found Him in the prophets, they found Him in the Psalms, they found Him everywhere. When Peter, who is the vessel for the communication of the mind of God here, opens his mouth in company with the Holy Ghost, where-ever he goes through the scriptures, he finds Christ; Christ in the Old Testament, it is not David, "David is not ascended into the heavens." He can interpret everything now; he has got the key? What is the key? Christ. He is the key to unlock all the treasures of God. And the Holy Ghost is the one who can and who delights to minister that blessed Christ to our souls. He says, "He shall take of mine;" "He shall glorify me;" "He shall not speak of himself," that is, as an independent witness; He will become a servant for the Son's glories, as the Son became a servant for the Father's glories. The Spirit of God delights to take of Christ's things in the scriptures, and show them to us.
Now look at that scripture in Ephesians 4, which is the third aspect of Christ's ascension. There it is in connection with ministry, it is what Christ received for the church as the exalted man, head over all things to the church His body. I am only giving utterance to what is old truth, not new. What is new is generally false; and what is old is true. You find three precious things in that Ephesians 4. You get a Man ascended, a victorious Man, Man gone up in divine righteousness as Victor, Conqueror of death, exalted "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named." That is one thing. But you get more — that exalted Man leading in captivity him who held men in captivity, "He led captivity captive;" the very one who led men in captivity is in captivity himself now; He ascended up on high, and "led captivity captive." The ascension of Christ is the proof of it. And here it is that ministry comes in. He takes poor wretched creatures who were once the slaves of that one whom he leads in captivity, once the slaves of Satan, and He uses them, as the vessels of His power against the very power that once held them. That is what ministry is, according to God. It is not the tongue of an angel or archangel. No angel or archangel could be a suitable and competent witness to His glories who has glorified God in such marvellous ways as Jesus has, but poor creatures like you and me, if it please God in His sovereignty so to elect that it shall be the case, once poor slaves of Satan, once in bondage and in captivity themselves, delivered now through grace from the captivity of Satan, and from under the hand and dominion and power of the enemy, and then used in divine grace against the power that they once had to succumb to, themselves. And therefore, as has been often, said, no angel or archangel could speak as a poor creature like you and me could speak.
How blessed to think that when He would give these gifts as dowries for His church, proofs of His love, for the edification and sustainment and refreshment of His church in this world, He goes into Satan's domains, having first of all led him into captivity, and then takes from under the power of that enemy, now broken and subdued, poor things like ourselves, and makes them vessels of His grace. Because the gifts, as we have seen, are persons; they are not qualities; they are quite distinct from the manifestations of power such as you find them in 1 Corinthians, displays of power down here on earth, but those gifts in Ephesians 4 always go on. We have got them "till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." It is not restoration of an apostolate, but it is the perpetuation of these gifts from the ascended Man in glory "till we all come." Perpetuation of ministry and restoration of ministry are not the same things. The thought of a revived apostolate for ministry is false; the perpetuation of gift as emanating from that blessed One in heaven, is true, "till we all come." And therefore, as long as ever that has not come about, there will be down here upon this earth, as emanating from that exalted head over all things to the church His body, the proofs of His love for His assembly, gifts to edify, and for the gospel, till what God has in His purpose and mind is accomplished.
I commend this to you. If the study of it gives to you the delight it has given to me, as I think it over and dwell upon it in all its blessedness, you will be well repaid for pondering and meditating over it yourselves, and seeing what comes from the exaltation of Christ. And above and beyond all, when you think of that blessed One who went down underneath the waves of death and judgment, who was here for God's glory the trodden-down man — what a thing for the heart that has been won by His humiliation to see Him exalted, to look at that Saviour that came down here to win our poor worthless hearts for Himself, He who went down into the lowest depths, to think of Him exalted. What a comfort for the heart that knows the love of Christ, and has that love as a constraining power there, what a comfort to see that Saviour in the highest place now, exalted, glorified, and soon coming too to take us to Himself!
The Lord grant that each one of our hearts may drink in all the deep eternal preciousness and blessedness that comes from it, and through His grace become better acquainted with Christ and His glories, for His blessed name's sake.