In seeking to have our souls well established in the knowledge of God, and of His truth as it is recorded for our blessing in the holy Scriptures, it is of the utmost importance that we should understand that we learn everything as we learn a Person, and that Person the Christ of God. From the simplest elements of Christianity to the most advanced unfoldings of the divine mind, everything is set before us in that Person. He is the truth, therefore the truth must be learned in Him. The “letter” is said to kill, and the “Spirit” to quicken; and “the Lord is that Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:6, 17).
I have no desire to weaken in the mind of the reader the authority of Scripture; it has, alas, already little enough power over the consciences of professing believers. I would, therefore, seek to guard the reader against thinking that, because all truth is set forth in Jesus, he may consider himself independent of Scripture. The fact is, it is in Scripture He is set before us, it testifies of Him, He is the Spirit of all Scripture. Therefore, when I read Scripture, if I do not find Him there, I have missed the mind of God in it. To God, and to the word of His grace, the Apostle commended the Ephesian elders, in view of a threatened invasion of evil, against which no human wisdom or power would be of the least avail.
There are two ways in which Christ can be viewed: one, as the manifestation of the invisible God; and the other, as the Second Man, the pattern of the heavenly race. In Him I see the true God fully declared, and in Him I see the only order of man competent to stand in the light of that revelation. I see God and Man in His Person, and I say, There is no other God, neither is there any other Man. The earthly Paradise, with the Creator and the innocent creature in happy relationship, is eclipsed by the heavenly Paradise, with the Father and the Son in unspeakable blessedness, for ever secure from the invasion of evil.
But before I learn what man is in the thought of God I must get hold of what God is in His approach to man. I learn both in Jesus, but I must learn them in this order. It is in His intervention on man’s behalf He comes to light, and this intervention has taken place in Jesus, therefore it is only in Jesus I can come to know Him. He cannot be found anywhere except in the One in whom He has come to light. We often sing:
“Thou wast the Image, in man’s lowly guise,
Of the Invisible to mortal eyes
Come from His glory, from the heavens above
We see in Thee incarnate—‘God is love.’”
The law given by Moses is said to be “the word spoken by angels” (Heb. 2:2); but it was not the setting forth of what God was, but rather of what man was as God had made Him at the beginning. Hence God is said to have been in the thick darkness. He kept Himself concealed while He occupied them with what they should be if they were to abide in His favour. He could not bring Himself to light, for the question at issue was not what He was, but what they ought to be.
But in Jesus God came out of the thick darkness into the light of revelation. It was no longer the creature, with his obligations, failures, transgressions, and the dreadful consequences resulting therefrom, which was to occupy the attention, but God Himself, declared in grace and love. The mind of man was to be diverted from himself altogether, and God was to fill his vision. The fullness of the Godhead dwelt in the body of Jesus. It was the true temple in which the Shekinah was enshrined, and through which, in word and work, the bright rays of that glory shone before the eyes of men.
This was peculiarly attractive to the weary and the heavy laden. It was not like the scene at Sinai, where the word of God struck terror into the hearts of those who heard it. The word from the lips of Jesus had a charm about it, which drew the most degraded from the haunts of sin into His holy presence. It was hated, as He Himself was, by the proud and haughty leaders of the people, but the wretched and the weak were attracted by it, and, crowding around Him, wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of His mouth.
But that veil, through which the Godhead glory shone so attractively, was rent in His death, and the full volume of light poured out its life-giving beams upon a sin-stricken and down-trodden world. We are told, “The Lord is known by the Judgment which He executeth” (Ps. 9:16), and this was above all true at the cross. In the judgment executed there against sin God came to light on behalf of man in love. That blow of divine wrath against sin rent the veil and revealed the heart of God. “The only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). The Father has come to light in the Son.
Therefore Jesus could say what no other could say: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There were those both weary and heavy laden—weary with fruitless contention against the evil of the fleshly mind, which was not subject to the law of God, neither indeed could be; heavy laden with a yoke of ordinances, which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear, and who could find no rest anywhere from the burdens which oppressed them. Here was a refuge from the storms of life, an island of quiet in the midst of a raging sea, an ark of salvation in which the soul would be secure, though the merciless wind spread desolation around. “Come unto Me.” What welcome words to the storm-tossed, law-anathematized, penitent sinner!
Moses had set them a task too great for them; their lawyers bound heavy burdens upon their backs; they had been hewn by the prophets, and slain by the words of the lawgiver’s mouth; they had been oppressed by their own rulers and enslaved by the Roman power; but rest had come to them in the Person of the Christ. Rest in the blessing of forgiveness of their sins; rest from the curse of a broken law; rest in the favour of a Saviour-God; rest in the knowledge of the Father. All this had come near to them in Him who stood in their midst, full of grace and truth. God was before their eyes fully revealed, making no demand upon them, but with rest for every sin-burdened soul.
The only question was, Would they come to Him? Would they believe on Him? Would they avail themselves of the grace which was there without limit in Him, who was now speaking to them as never man had before spoken? Alas, the mass of the people despised Him! They saw and hated the Father and the Son. They were not satisfied with God when they saw Him in Jesus. He was not after their hearts. Their pride was offended, because the grace which came in Him made nothing of their righteousness. But there were those to whom He revealed the Father, and that revelation became the very life of their souls.
Now I must turn to consider this glorious Person as Man. We can learn the truth only in Jesus. God has been brought to light in Him: “He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20); but also I learn in Him the only order of man that will do for God. The old Adam order has been tested in every way possible, and failure has been the result. But there is no failure in the Second Man and Last Adam. In Him gone back to the Father I get Man in the condition and place which God designed for Him before the world was.
Now to Him the believer is to be conformed. He has died for us, and by that death not only put away our sins, but “Our old man has been crucified with Him.” In the judgment of the cross the man who committed the sins has been dealt with and judicially removed. Now we live in the life of Christ risen, and we are in the same grace and favour in which He is, for we have been taken into favour in Him (Eph. 1:6). His Father is our Father, and His God our God (John 20:17); “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). Our home is where He is, and our citizenship also, and from thence we look for Him as Saviour. He will change these bodies of ours, and fashion them like to His own body of glory (Phil. 3:21).
How very wonderful that such an alteration can be made in poor things like ourselves! Naturally, we prefer to be just what we are, and each one of us loves to boast in his own good qualities. But when we get a sight of Christ and see something of His excellency, our boasting in ourselves comes to an end. Indeed, when we see ourselves in the light of God, we find we have no room to boast; rather the opposite, for we find there is no good in the flesh. But the learning of this is sorrowful though very profitable exercise. In Psalm 139 we have a man upon whom the light of God arises, but we find him at the first very averse to the searchings of that light. He would fly from it if he knew where a hiding-place could be found. He says, “If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there … If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.” He has to learn there is no hiding-place from God, and that God knows him perfectly. In that light, and by those searchings of God, he gets to know what a wonderful being he is. He says, “For I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works: and that my soul knoweth right well.” In the light of God one gets to know how fearfully and wonderfully man is made. When one sees what man is capable of, one gets a little glimmer of how fearfully he is made. Innocent one hour, fallen the next, a lawless, law-breaking, God-hating fratricide, fit only for the flames of an eternal lake of fire. And how wonderfully! Capable of being so changed that he will love God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and give his life for the brethren. In the school of God our souls get to know this truth “right well.” God can change him—does change the believer after the pattern of Christ. Soon our bodies will undergo a change, at His hands who is able to subdue all things to Himself.
Therefore Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.” He takes us into His school to teach us Himself, that we may take character from Him, “who is meek and lowly, in heart.” His yoke is absolute unquestioning submission to the will of the Father. Everything was against Him here, on account of the way the Father was taking in His grace with men. He took up those who had no influence in the world as His own, and drew such to Christ, rejecting the wise and prudent, and therefore it is a cross, and not a crown, which rises up before the vision of Jesus. But it was the Father’s will; it was good in His sight, and therefore was it admirable in the mind of Jesus. The Father was “Lord of heaven and earth,” and His right to do as He pleased was not to be questioned. Jesus is submissive, though it meant rejection and death for Him; and He is not only submissive, but filled with praise as the Father’s ways develop before His vision. He felt His yoke to be easy and His burden light.
Who would not wish to be like this glorious Person? Well, for this we have been taken up. God has predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and “whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30).
May He be our study from day to day, and in learning Him we shall be better acquainted with the thoughts of God; and be able to say, “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great the sum of them! If I should count them they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139:17-18). They are all set before us in Jesus, therefore let us study Him.