John 1:1-18; 1 John 1; 2:1-6.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
This manifestation of the Son - the coming of "the eternal life, which was with the Father," into the world, was in order to make known the Father, and to take us along with Himself into fellowship with the Father. The One who "was with God, and was God," "humbled Himself," "took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." (Phil 2:7.)
As to the manner of His coming into this world, that was altogether unexpected. John had testified of His greatness;* but that He who was the brightness of His Father's glory, "the express image of His person," should come in all the lowliness in which He did, taking into connection with His own person our nature, that was altogether unexpected.
There are many reasons why He thus took flesh, besides the great one of shedding His own blood for the putting away of sin. As a great Prophet, He came to speak in a language familiar to us all the great secrets of the Father God raised up a Prophet like unto us, that human lips might declare the great secrets of the Father's bosom. Again, He came that He might work the works of the Father, walking about among the children of men only that He might "declare" God.
He was "the living bread that came down from heaven" "made flesh," not only that He might shed His blood to put away sin, but also communicate His life. "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. .... Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life.... He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."
This wondrous person, the Son of God, coming from "the Father" - from heaven, thus declared to our faith, ever spake of Himself as having no connection with the earth, except, as such, in blessing a revolted world. How invariably He speaks as having no purpose here save as the "sacrifice for sin" to redeem that which belonged to Him, and as the "sent" One to reveal that which had been kept secret till then, giving a capacity to know and understand the Father. He came from heaven to speak of heaven. Over and over again these are His mysterious words, "Ye are from beneath ("he that is of the earth speaketh of the earth," John 3:31, 32); I am from above." He was ever the "Son of man which is in heaven," and as such "declared" the Father who was in heaven. He spake not of Himself save as the "sent" One of God - the servant of the Father. The value was not only in the message, but in the messenger; all His thoughts were upon the One He came to "declare." "I seek not mine own glory; there is One that seeketh and judgeth:" He never sought Himself. As one with the Father ere the world was - His "delight" from everlasting, He came into the world to speak of that which was from the beginning, from all eternity - to "declare" the secrets of the bosom of the Father, that which He alone knew. Yet He was not so much the messenger of grace, as the very grace of the message.
As the mysterious stranger, passing thus along the earth, He was unknown by the natural man. His countrymen asked, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" Others said, "We know not whence He is." But there were some who, by the Spirit of God, were able to discern Him as "the sent" of God - "the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth:" "to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
The eye that saw Him looked on glory, the ear that listened to Him heard of heaven, the hand that touched Him laid hold on "eternal life." The Son was manifested to communicate that which He revealed; He presented Himself to the eye, the ear, the touch; there was "eternal life" in seeing, hearing, handling this "Word of life." When the eye of a poor sinner rested on Him in spiritual discernment, it let in the light of heaven - the "life of Him whom it discerned; when, the ear heard, it communicated to the heart that which it heard; when the hand touched, virtue went out of Him; every sense that became sensitive to Jesus - had to do with "life" - the very "eternal life which was in God.
In speaking of these things, we must of course not forget that they are made known to us as pardoned sinners; "eternal life" could not have been communicated ere the removal of guilt and the possession of positive righteousness. Until after the blood had been shed, they knew but little of the meaning of those words - "Blessed are your eyes, for they see," etc. But what did they see? "the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" and what they saw, and heard, and touched, they received - "the eternal life which was in the bosom of the Father."
Coming from "the Father" the mysterious one, what had He to do with the world - with its associations? nothing! He walked in it, but He was not of it. Here for a little while on the errand of love He was separate from all its maxims, all its habits. It is not that He did not mingle in its busy scenes; but when there, His thoughts, His feelings, were ever with the Father; He was "from above," His place, the presence of the Father.
Beloved, I pray you notice these words of our Lord, when speaking of His people - "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world!" It is not as though He gave a commandment unto them that they should strive to be heavenly, but He says, "they are not of the world!" By birth, by being, they are heavenly - "born from above!" "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The man that hath this breath of heaven communicated to him, is constituted a heavenly person. Jesus often said to the Jews, "I am from above" - "I am not of this world" - "ye know not whence I am." He knew whence He was and whither He was going - others did not. So with the saints - "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." We have really life from God - are born from above, and go thither; though undiscerned by others, is not this the meaning of those words - "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit"? We are "from above" - no more "of this world" than Christ is "of this world." Ask a Christian man whence he has come - his answer ought to be in the language of Christ - "I am from above!" that which is true of Christ, is true of those who are His, though it is undiscerned by others whence they come, and whither they go. Dear brethren, this is not a mere title, but a reality; not a shadow, but a substance. We are not only reformed men - men changed, so as to have better thoughts and better feelings; but those who are "born of God" - "sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty!" substantially in possession of that life which was from the beginning in the bosom of the Father. It is a birth from heaven. Thus should we feel with regard to the world in which we are - "I am from above!"
Again: What is the language of Jesus in John 17? "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world." Whence came He into the world? From Nazareth? No; but "from above," "from heaven," "from the Father." We are "sent" whence He came, "not of the world," even as He was not of it, "given" to Him out of it, "begotten of God." The service to which we are sent, that of Christ, to serve for a little while here, in all love and self-denial, waiting, beloved, as having come from God, waiting till the Lord comes to take us to himself, to be for ever with Him.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle speaks of Melchisedec: he comes abruptly no one knows whence: he returns no one knows whither. The mysterious stranger: he comes to the exhausted Abraham, giving him bread and wine to refresh his fainting soul; and having executed his mission of blessing, he is again lost sight of: so Christ came, "without beginning of days," "without descent," "made flesh:" but then the eternal Word, the eternal Son of God, undiscerned except by the faithful, of whom Abraham was the type; receiving the rent flesh and shed blood of God's lamb, and paying the homage to priesthood and royalty combined, which the tithes implied.
What we need in mediation is one thoroughly acquainted with the Father, with all His thoughts and feelings, and yet able to sympathise with us. Connect one coming out from God, from the holy secret of His presence, one with God, the other, from among the sorrows and infirmity of the people, as Aaron, one with man, and you get the priesthood of the Lord Jesus; "made a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
Taken into union with such an one, with this stranger, this blessed Son of God, what are we? What He was - "not of this world."
It is true that all the restlessness and the questionings of the heart must be settled before we can search into this glory; but, dear brethren, though feeling our own wretchedness, had we the distinct apprehension that we are "born of God," thus taken up into union with the heavenly stranger, when getting the comfort of this in our own souls, - the question would be, What am I to do? What am I to think about, as regards occupation in this world? The moral man takes his own course in a respectable way - Is the Christian, as the reformed man, merely to become more moral than he was before, to conduct himself with more propriety? No! directly he knows that he is "born from above," "born of God," he feels that by nature, by birth, he is higher than angels! higher than Gabriel! (Gabriel is but a servant, though an exalted and glorious one, we children, sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty.) The question must then be, "How shall I walk worthy of being a son of God?" "Wherefore am I left here in the world as not of it?" well might he ask. "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world." What are the thoughts and feelings, what the impulses and necessities of this heaven-born man, what his objects? My brethren, would that I could impress upon your souls, as on my own, these words, "sent into the world;" they do so plainly declare to us a previous taking out of it. We are heavenly men in heaven, though left here, not as to our affections merely, but as to our nature; it is "from above:" we are "born again," made partakers of the life of Him who dwells in the bosom of the Father, who was "the Son of man" which is in heaven, "though made flesh" here.
Just then in the same proportion as that life is developed in us shall we have thoughts and feelings and motives like His; His desires, His delights, and affections will become the necessities of the new nature. It is "Christ in us."
And what did He when here but take the shepherd's staff, feed, guide, and keep His "sheep" together? Where did His thoughts ever rest? On those whom the Father had given Him - His "sheep" and "lambs;" they were the objects of His constant solicitude, His tender care. At the close of His ministry He prays, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept," etc. Whether in life or death, He came to "gather together in one the children of God scattered abroad." Gathering them out of the world, bringing them out of evil, watching and praying for them, waiting upon them, explaining to them about the Father, this was His object while here; and it was not His way then only - it is His way still! When leaving the world He said to Peter, "Lovest thou me?" What was this for? something for Himself? No! When the heart answers, "Thou knowest that I love thee," His claim is, "Feed my sheep! feed my lambs!" Such is His charge to Peter; such to each of us. He has not only given Himself, but He would claim all the grace He has communicated on behalf of His "sheep" and "lambs" - "feed my sheep."
It was this for which He came: knowing and acting according to His mind we must look around us - seek out in this wide world, and see who are the "sheep" and "lambs" of Christ. Whatever form or amount of evil they may be in, they are those upon whom the eye and affections of the "great Shepherd" rest, and they are to be the objects of our care. His claim upon us is, "feed my sheep!" His desire, their blessing - their being gathered out into what many of us have proved, though amidst much trial, the comfort of brotherly love. It is no question as to what is the character of the children of God; they are loved by Him. Ignorant they may be; foolish, obstinate, perverse; but on that account only the more needing our ministry of care and grace and love.
It is impossible that the impulses of eternal life can work in us, save after the pattern of our Masher, of Him who is all to us. Look at Jesus. I see Him girding Himself, bearing patiently with the ignorant, going on in His labour of love, washing the feet of His disciples, until it brought out "not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!"
This is the place in which we are called to stand. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." We are to be debtors to Him - debtors to the service of Christ; but what then? Grace from Him leads into service. His love becomes so shed abroad in our hearts, that the Spirit of Service towards those who are around us flows forth, and constrains us to "wash their feet." We may have it said to us, "Thou shalt not wash my feet!" but then Christ ceased not for this.
If we let Christ into our hearts as a servant - our servant, we must go out in service. It is impossible to discern this grace in Him, girding Himself to wash our feet, and yet not gird our hearts for service. How can we stand before this stooping, humbled Son of God, and not humble ourselves? How can we see this and rest? Oh let us be debtors to Him for all - love Him, fulfil His desires, covet to embrace this privilege of doing as He has done! If He wash our feet, virtue goes forth from His touch, and our hearts are moulded into His image in this aspect of grace - this exercise of love. The grace communicated takes its original form, makes the heart the heart of a servant, and directs it to the same objects as His.
The life of God in the soul is love. When love is shed abroad in the heart, it suppresses all its horrid selfishness - the hateful passions that are there, and the special objects of it will be, those who are given to Jesus of the Father - His "sheep" and "lambs."
We have been made partakers of the divine nature, not only that we might be happy in being blessed ourselves, but also to have the happiness of seeing others made happy, and this is the happiness of love - pure love, which loves where there is nothing loveable in the thing loved.
Well, when they will let us, we should serve them; when they will not, still follow them with love. What are we doing? I see the Church of God mixed up with darkness; the saints, amidst every kind of corruption, glittering like pieces of silver in the midst of dust. I read - "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." What must I do? Gather them out. In the parable in Luke 15 we see Christ gathering the sheep and giving rest to their souls; in Matt. 18:12, 13, seeking to restore. Our services may differ, but the impulses of love cannot stop. Is there a child of God backsliding? The impulse of eternal life is to wash his feet. Supposing he reject my love, let me persevere till the answer is, "Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" Are saints in evil? Wait on them, if near enough; if out of reach, write to them; if at the end of the world, still send after them, in order to keep up the healthful circulation of life and love. It is true that the character of our service would differ; but our desire ought to be the same, "to gather together in one the children of God scattered abroad." Wherever a child of God is, however blinded by prejudice, the impulse of eternal life must reach. But love cannot stop even here. What will it be by and by? On what does the heart of Christ rest? All "the children of God scattered" abroad - "all saints." His heart, His care, embraces all. While we rest in spirit upon His bosom, we are compassed about with infirmities. He bears "all saints" upon His heart, glistening as bright stones on the breast-plate before the Father, exhibiting the end to which they are predestined as "heirs of glory." A sister in the Lord was led to read Romans 16. She pored over it for some time without making anything of it, till at last the record of Phebe, and the many other saints of God who had passed away from this world, awakened the thought of her own association with them, and pressed on her soul the blessedness of identification with living saints, and the privilege of ministering to them.
What have we to do with circumstances? Is Satan stronger than Christ? Is the eternal life to be checked? Let our hearts go forth, not in sectarianism, but in service to all saints. Wherever there is a child of God, whatever his circumstance or condition, it is still - "feed my sheep - feed my lambs!" The impulse of eternal life extends to all that are Christ's, whether near where my personal acts can reach them, or distant where letters of kindness are the only means it may be of ministering to them - it is still "feed my sheep!"
This service of love is not only for those who have any special gift, there is not one who knows the love wherewith he has been loved that has not received the commission - "feed my sheep!" Oh if you can discern the love of Christ in stooping at your feet, there is not a morsel, a particle of that love in your soul which does not respond to that word - "feed my sheep!" This meets the selfishness and coldness of our hearts; does the thought of His love press on your soul, it must be accompanied with that word - "feed my sheep!" It may be we shall have to do so amid scorn, amid harsh response, but what then? All His love was spent on the unworthy, the undeserving. How did "the eternal life" manifested among men act? how were its energies spent? what path did it tread? Was it that of taking ease, forgetful of the "sheep"? was it repulsed by indifference? No! in seeking out, waiting upon, washing the. feet of the unworthy, undeserving children of God. Oh let us take no ease! Remember He is girded; and His claim upon us, upon each of us is, "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye ought also to wash one another's feet."
I say not what may be attained; we wait for the coming of the Lord. Should we not desire to be found of Him, with our loins girded about, washing the feet of His disciples?
Love, like the stone cast into the water, forms one circle, and then another, and then another round it. The principle that locks two souls together cannot be satisfied until it embraces all. Wherever there is but one stray or diseased sheep of the flock of Christ, let us remember that word - "feed my sheep!"
The Lord give us to see our place, it will be to say, "Death works in us, but life in you." But would you not desire to have His love so shed abroad in your hearts that not one selfish thought should remain?
Oh for grace to deny self in all things! (Phil 4:5-7.)