John 3 - 20.
We shall be greatly helped if we consider and are brought to see the end which God has before Him in connection with His work in our souls, in order that His end may be reached, that we may apprehend it, and realise what it is to be here for His pleasure and for the satisfaction of His love. He would so make Himself known to us, and so form us by the light which He gives us as to Himself, as that He has on earth a company in moral correspondence with Him, delighting and confiding in Him - a worshipping company, worshipping Him according to the revelation which He has given us of Himself, whether it be in regard to His attributes, His nature, or His name; and it is as the Father He seeketh such to worship Him. The assembly is what is for God upon the earth, and it is there where eternal life, the end referred to, is realised and enjoyed.
Now, those in whom this work is effected are by nature such as that there is nothing in them for God, and apart from God's sovereign work in them to that end they are incapable of receiving any testimony from Him. Man needs to be born anew ere he can see the kingdom of God. Hence new birth is the initial work of God in the soul. Until this takes place, there is no beginning for God in man, however cultivated, moral, religious, or orthodox he may be. It is remarkable that it was to one of whom all these things might be said that the words were addressed, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again" (or anew). From the fact, however, that, in contrast with those of whom we read in the end of chapter 2, Nicodemus came to Jesus, and from what is told us of him later on, the probability is that this sovereign and initial work of God had already taken place in his soul. Hence the Lord goes on to speak to him of another Man, another order of Man morally, of One who had come down out of heaven, the Son of Man which is in heaven, and of His being lifted up, like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that the whole state of man morally might come under God's eye for judgment and consequent removal, according to the requirements of His attributes of holiness and righteousness, so that everyone believing on Him might have eternal life. Such was God's love to the world, not to the Jew only, that He had given His only begotten Son, that everyone believing on Him might not perish, but have eternal life. The Lord, in a word, gives to Nicodemus the light of God's purpose of eternal life for man for the satisfaction of His own love. Now, the world has manifested its hatred of God in lifting up upon the cross the Son of His love, and hence the first step that one takes who believes on Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, and confesses Him as such, in its path towards eternal life, is to leave the world guilty of having rejected Him. He becomes identified in death with Him in whose death he was sacrificially and judicially ended after the flesh, that he may become associated with Him in life apart from sin and death outside the world.
John 4:10-14 brings us to the gift of the Spirit alluded to under the figure of "living water," which would become in the believer a "fountain of water springing up unto eternal life." Coming from a glorified Christ it reports to us His glory, revealing Him to our souls in such a way as to change the whole course of our life, setting our steps in the direction of Himself. The manifestation of Christ to our souls emancipates us, and thus we are delivered from that which would interfere with the normal action of the Spirit in us - springing up unto life eternal.
But the weakness of the flesh must be learnt as well as its sinfulness, and we are often hindered by legality and wearying efforts after self-improvement, as illustrated by the man at the pool of Bethesda, until sick of self we turn away from self to Christ and learn that we have been made dead to the law by His body, and that consequently there is deliverance for us from law through Him - the Spirit, as the Spirit of life which is in Him, setting us free from the law of sin and death. We learn not only that the Spirit is in us, but that consequently we are in Christ, and hence no longer in the flesh, the condition to which law applies. Hence a new state, and therefore "no condemnation," either from ourselves or from God.
Having appropriated by faith the death of Christ with a view to life, the Spirit in us (chap. 6:53), given consequent upon faith of Him as risen, we begin to learn the import of His death as the declaration of divine righteousness in our removal, as being after the flesh, sacrificially, and as being the commendation of divine love to us when we were yet without strength and ungodly. Hence His flesh becomes "truly food" and His blood "truly drink." We appropriate and feed on His death, and so realise the love of which they are the expression and witness, and are thus maintained in deliverance from the flesh and the whole system of things in which flesh subsists - in a word, the world. Such a one reaches eternal life in his soul. It is of such a one that it is said that he "has eternal life," and further, "I will raise him up at the last day," which is the thing in actuality.
Being in deliverance from sin (chap. 4), from law (chap. 5), and from the world (chap. 6), and going on in faith, characterised by it, as it is said, "lie that believeth on Me," a continuous thing, out of our belly flow "rivers of living water." We are thus qualified for testimony as being maintained in communion with Him with whom is "the fountain of life." We first of all drink for ourselves, and then become vessels for the communication of the living waters for the refreshment and blessing of others.
In John 8: 31-36 the light of God's calling is given us, viz., "sonship" - a feature, along with the gift of the Spirit, of eternal life. We are no longer bondsmen, but sons, the Son having made us free. Continuing in His word, we are truly His disciples, and as knowing the truth we realise the delivering power of the truth. The "house," too, the place of sons, comes into view - our eternal home; for the relationship, unlike to that of bondmen, is an indissoluble one. "The servant [bondman] abideth not in the house for ever: the son abideth ever." It is son in contrast with bondman. "So thou art no longer bondman, but son; but if son, heir also through God." (Gal 4:7.)
Having had our eyes opened, and having through grace turned from darkness to the light, we follow the light to the source from whence it came, and, as in the path of discipleship (chap. 9:28), are led outside of all that is religious that is not owned of God and that obscures the light, from the countenance of the world and from the influence of natural ties, to the One who is outside of everything here by death and resurrection, to Jesus, not simply as Saviour, but as Son of God. We reach the source from whence the light came, and He suffices for us. It is thus that the company is formed, and that we reach the company where "Christ is everything and in all." Up to this point all is individual. It is important to see that while the blessing is reached individually it is enjoyed collectively, because it is common to all. (Chap. 9.)
We come now to what is corporate, "My sheep," for whom the Son of God has laid down His life, the great characteristics of His sheep being that they know His voice, and that they follow Him. As the result of following Him, we are led out on to heavenly ground, for He has gone through death and is on the other side of it, and thus find ourselves in association with Him as risen. It is love that draws us - a known love and a known voice; and no doubt too in response to the heart's desire, awakened by that love, "Tell me, O Thou whom my soul loveth, where Thou feedest Thy flock, where Thou makest it to rest at noon." The flock is recognised to be His flock, of which He is the one Shepherd. His moral title to be the Shepherd lies in the fact that He lays down His life for the sheep. Laying down His life and taking it again, according to the authority given to Him of His Father ("therefore doth My Father love Me"), He becomes the giver of eternal life to His sheep, having secured it for them by His death and resurrection; for eternal life could not be imparted until sin had been removed and death annulled. It is the first time that He comes before us in this gospel as the giver of eternal life, and then it is in connection with His going into death and thus annulling it. How blessed to know that the One who is the giver of eternal life to His own, and the one Shepherd of the one flock - composed not only of the sheep of the circumcision, but also of "the other sheep which are not of this fold" - is "the Son of the Father's love"! In this chapter (10) the assembly, the "one flock," in association with Christ in life as beyond sin and death, is coming into view. In spite of all the scattering, that flock is here today, and not one sheep of those composing it can the enemy ever pluck out of the Shepherd's hand, or out of the hand of the Father who gave them to Him. But, alas! how few are gathered in the acknowledgment of the "one flock and one Shepherd." Unity, in love and in holiness, is Christ's great desire for His own, and neither unity nor holiness can be secured apart from love. Neither will it be attained save by the practical recognition of Christ's headship, and His title therefore to direct and control those to whom He is given to be Head. Where this is so, unity must be the result. Were Christ's sheep more true to their normal characteristics, "They hear My voice, and they follow Me," this result would be attained.
In John 11 and 12 testimony is given to His glories as Son of God, Son of David, and Son of Man, in view of the rising tide of man's hatred, which was allowed of God to result in their lifting Him up upon the cross. As Son of God He raises up from among the dead those whom He loves, and whom He is pleased to regard as His friends. Death cannot hold under its dominion those whom the Father has given to the Son of His love. "This is the Father's will which hath sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." It is very interesting to notice that it is "I will raise it [not him] up," as if it referred to what had been formed in them of God - the divine workmanship, of which nothing can be lost. What is of God cannot be holden of death, and all that comes out of death is approved of God and for God. But then, if the Son of God is to effect this, He must Himself go into death, for only thus can the righteous judgment of God be removed. God maintains His own judgment by Himself as man in the person of the Son coming under that judgment in grace to us. But then, if such a One come under the dominion of death, it must result in the destruction of that dominion, and not simply on account of His glory as Son of God, but further on account of His intrinsic moral excellence; for all that He was morally was of Himself, out of heaven, and divine. Mary's "pound of ointment of pure nard of great price," with which she anointed His feet, is significant of this, as He said, in justification of her act, "Suffer her to have kept this for the day of My preparation for burial" (N.T.), intimating it was now the time of it. She anoints His living body as that which could not see corruption. How this, along with the supremacy of His love as seen in chapter 10, presents His moral as well as His personal title to the Headship of His body, the assembly!
Then testimony is given to Him as King of Israel. He who called Lazarus out of the grave, and raised him from the dead - the Son of God - is also Son of David, and therefore heir of all the rights of David according to God's covenant with him, "ordered in all things and sure." The people who were come to the feast take branches of palm trees and go forth to meet Him, while He presents Himself to Zion as her King, according as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold thy King cometh, sitting on an ass's colt." But if the sure mercies of David are to be secured He must Himself become the true Paschal Lamb. Israel may reject Him, but in the faith of the Church He is the One upon whom not only her hopes, but also the hopes of Israel and of the nations depend; for all nations of the earth are to be blessed in Him.
Then again, in connection with the desire of the Greeks, who had come up to worship at the feast, His glory as Son of Man comes before Him, and He says, "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." But then He must have taken that glory alone unless He had first of all gone into death. He was, according to Psalm 45, to be "anointed with oil of gladness above His companions," and this could not be save in resurrection, for only on that platform could any be "all of one" with Himself. Man, as of Adam, sinful and under the judgment of death, was on an altogether different platform from that of the Son of God, sinless, and on whom therefore death had no claim. Hence it is that He says, "Except the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit." Therefore, now it becomes a question of hating life in this world, transitory as it is, that we may keep it unto life eternal - that life which is beyond death, realised now in association with Christ as risen, which involves our being risen with Him. The actuality of it will come when we are raised. Meanwhile it is what is presented in Him, the One who was made sin and bare the judgment of death on our behalf, but who is now out of the whole condition and place into which He had come in grace when on the cross.
The light of His glory having been given us in chapters 11 and 12, the Lord, in the five chapters which follow, is seen in seclusion with His own. We might say that they are for our education in view of our taking our place in the assembly, coming to the ground of it in our souls. As having gone to the Father, while we are still on the earth, He would by His present service of love maintain us in practical suitability to himself, and to the place whence He has gone, so that we might not be in any way hindered from the enjoyment of that intimacy with Himself and with the Father which is our privilege, or, to use His own words, "part with Me." What an immensity is contained in them! Then in chapter 14 He speaks of the new place in the Father's house which He has prepared for us, and to which He will bring us for His own delight and satisfaction, "that where I am, there ye may be also." Then of our privilege, meanwhile, of approach to the Father, through Himself "the Way and the Truth and the Life," suggesting to us the thought of "the Holiest," for entrance into which we have both title and suitability, as also the thought of the "great Priest over God's house" by whom we draw near, His presence there giving us confidence in our approach -
"He's gone within the veil,
For us that place has won."
Then He further comforts them with the promise of the Comforter and His abiding presence as indwelling them. What could not be true of Christ, for He could not abide here, nor could He be in His disciples, would be true of the other Comforter. All this is made good to us now, and it is by the Spirit as indwelling us that we know not only that the Son is in the Father and we in Him, but that also He is in us. But He says He would not leave them comfortless - "I will come to you," are His words. Note here that it is not "come for you," that is, by-and-by; but "I will come to you," that is, now. The promise was made to them as a company, and therefore it is to the company that it is made good, for which purpose the company is gathered together; and no doubt it is by the breaking of bread that it is called together, that by means of it, the testimony to His love in that which is the memorial of His death, we might call Him into conscious presence. Surely if the privilege of being of the company or assembly, and of being with the company when in assembly, were more appreciated, and our walk throughout the week were in keeping with it, where we are thus together would be to us the "days of heaven upon earth."
John 13 and 14 are the inside - the company in divine seclusion with Christ; whereas chapters 15 and 16 are the outside - the saints in presence of the world. We must know what it is to have part with Him in the presence of the Father, and what divine seclusion is, before we are really qualified either for fruit-bearing or testimony. Chapter 15 is fruit-bearing, which is for the Father: "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." This, no doubt, will result in testimony to the world, for "by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another," but fruit itself is for the Father. What was true in Christ is now to be true in the saints, the same nature demonstrated by the same fruits. Love and obedience were the precious fruit for the Father's eye, which was seen in Him, and hence His continuance in the Father's love; and keeping His commandments was to be the ground of our continuance in His love: "This is My commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you." Obedience to Christ's commandments, resulting in love one for the other and in practical righteousness, is the fruit that the Father looks for in those who are of Christ and derive from Him; for "apart from Me ye can do nothing." Chapter 16 is testimony to the world, the Holy Ghost's testimony, but rendered in the saints, for the saints are now the vessel of testimony - first, to the world's sin in the rejection of Christ; secondly, to righteousness, that there is none in man, and that the righteous One has gone to the Father - when He was here righteousness looked up to heaven (chap. 17:1); but now righteousness is in heaven, subsists before the Father's face in the person of the only righteous Man, who is now the righteousness of His people and the source of all practical righteousness in them (1 John 3:7); and then of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. The_ world has been judged in its prince, and the testimony to this is maintained in the saints by their absolute separation from it as a judged system. Where this testimony is maintained in faithfulness, and witness is borne to the truth that Christ is still in rejection, and, further, that the man that is here is refused, man after the flesh, as being unmendably bad, and that no amount of cultivation of him will render him suitable to God, and, again, that the world system is a judged thing by a rigid separation from it, no doubt tribulation will be the result to those in whom this testimony is rendered; but then, their compensation is the consciousness that they are loved of the Father, and that if in the world tribulation is their portion, in Christ they have peace.
John 17 is unique. It is the breathings of the heart of the Son, whose dwelling-place is the bosom of the Father, in its desires in respect of those whom the Father has given Him out of the world, to know whom and Jesus Christ as His sent One is the present form and character in which we have eternal life; not a definition, but a feature of it. He prays for their sanctification, the answer to which prayer involved for Him the cross; for it was only by the offering of His body once for all that it could be accomplished. Then the glory given of the Father to Him He bestows upon them, and further desires that they may be with Him where He is, that they may behold His glory. We might speak of verse 9 as love's demand, of verse 22 as love's bequest, and of verse 24 as love's desire. Then "I have made known unto them Thy name, and will make it known, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them." The Father's affections are still here, and still find their rest, because He who was the supreme object of them is now in the saints. They are loved as He is loved. It only remains now for Him to effectuate by His death and resurrection all that He had given them the light of; anticipative at the moment of its being spoken, but actual in the main now, for Jesus is glorified, the Holy Ghost has come, and the assembly has been formed.
His hour has come, and He now delivers Himself up to those who seek His life, but it is that the Father's counsel may be accomplished: "The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" This is chapter 18. In chapter 19 He is presented, as the Sanctifier, as, lifted up upon the cross, the glory of God is made good in respect of sin, and the will of God established as regards our sanctification by the offering up of His body once for all. No one takes His life from Him, but when all is finished He bows His head and delivers up His spirit. Sin is thus removed from under God's eye in a spotless Sacrifice, and the judgment of death borne. Holiness and righteousness are no longer opposed to love in their relation to men; but on the ground of their perfect conciliation through the work of the cross, love is free to accomplish all its counsels for its own delight and satisfaction, and for God to have man before Him in perfect accord with righteousness and holiness and responsive to love - "holy and without blame before Him in love."
In John 20 we see the Son of God risen, and hence we can say the climax is now reached -
"Sin and death no more shall reign,
Jesus died and lives again."
Jesus makes Himself known to Mary Magdalene, and through her sends the message to the disciples, scattered consequent upon His death, by means of which they are regathered. "Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God." They are now on new ground, He having ended them after the flesh, their sinful condition, "in the body of His flesh through death," and He now recognises and owns them as His brethren, having the status of risen men, though they be not yet actually risen. They are risen with Him, and hence are on His own platform. "He the Sanctifier and they the sanctified ones are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren." All on a common platform, that of resurrection, and therefore apart from sin and beyond death. Sin has been put away, and death has been annulled. As gathered together He comes into their midst and proclaims peace to them - "Peace be unto you" - every disturbing question involved by sin is settled, and the enemy's power, as seen in death, broken. "The Lord hath triumphed gloriously." Eternal life is now not only reached by them individually, but realised and enjoyed collectively, as a company risen with Christ, and in association with Him in life before the Father's face. The Father's name is now fully made known to them. What is eternal in character has been reached, and that too on earth, where all is transitory, passing away. Saints are together in the enjoyment of divine affections - the affections of the Father, now fully made known to them, and the affections of the Son, as quickened together, Jew and Gentile, which could only be as mutually appreciating and reciprocating divine affections. This is the assembly on earth, where sin and death still are, but outside the sin and death scene as risen with Christ, and as the sanctified company "all of one" with the Sanctifier. John 20 is thus a beautiful pattern, only instead of Christ corporeally present and He made known to them by "His hands and His side," we have the supper, as that by means of which the absent One is called into conscious presence, and thus the promise is realised, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."
We know (are conscious) that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20.) T. H.
The object of all God's dealings with His people is that Christ may become everything to their souls. Every trial and sorrow, all our wilderness experiences, may be interpreted in the light of this purpose of His love.