The Work of God

Well might the officers who were sent by the Pharisees and chief priests to arrest Jesus say, “Never man spake like this Man,” for surely it was so. Hitherto men had spoken of the claims of God, man’s responsibility and failure, but Jesus spoke of the grace of God to man; not of man’s righteousness, but of God’s; not of man’s goodness, but of God’s; not of man’s love, but of God’s; not of man’s work, but of God’s; not of what man ought to be, but of what God is. He did not set man to toil to obtain righteousness and life, but presented these blessings in Himself for all, through the rich grace of a Saviour God. He could say, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Moses had set the people to toil, with a promise of rest when they had fulfilled their obligations. They were to work their six days, and get their Sabbath when they had done all their work; but as they never did all their work, they never got their Sabbath. But Jesus gives the Sabbath to begin with. The prophets testified of the intervention of God in a coming day, but in the meantime man must go on laden with a burden which was altogether too heavy for him, but in Jesus the intervention of God was manifested, and the burden was to be transferred from the shoulders of the creature to His, who upholds the universe. Nothing had been accomplished by the efforts of man. At the end of man’s long probation Satan remained the oppressor of the human race, sin reigned in the power of death, and the power of darkness held undisputed dominion. The law had brought no deliverance for those under it, it revealed no object for the heart, and in spite of its prohibitions and denunciations man still wandered in his own wilful way. It was ushered in with blackness and darkness and tempest, and these accompaniments characterized its whole history, and its merciless curse blasted all under its sway. But in Jesus we are face to face with God fully revealed. He draws near to man in the kindness and love of His heart. He comes not in devouring fire, and draped in blackness, mists and obscurity, but through the human veil of the flesh of Jesus the light of His fathomless love shines in all its power before the eyes of men. God Himself is there in the Person of His Son as the Saviour of the lost, and Satan must relax his hold upon his wretched captive, the evils that afflict man must back into the shadows at His approach, and the brazen gates of death and hades confess weakness and defeat. The Seed of the woman that was to bruise the serpent’s head is revealed, and the strong man no longer retains in peace armed possession of his palace, for the stronger than he is there plundering his goods. The virgin’s Son, whose birth had been long foretold by the prophet, has come into the world, and God says to Him, “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.”

In the intervention of God on man’s behalf the co-operation of man is excluded. It is altogether outside and apart from nature. The Saviour is the Son of God. God claims Him as His. The sign given to the shepherds was “The babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” He was the Son of God, the Object and wonderment of heaven, and the One whose birth into the world filled the infernal powers with consternation and terror, but the One to whose presence man, and man only, was indifferent. And yet it was on man’s behalf He was come, through the direct intervention of God, and by His almighty power.

This did not take place early in the history of the fallen race. God waited patiently while the probation of man was running its course, and while it was being clearly manifested that there was no power in the creature to bring about his recovery. Every possible means had been placed at his disposal, but the means used only brought out more clearly that man was utterly unable to avail himself of the help extended to him in the goodness of God. And even the advent of Christ, who was in the first instance presented to the responsibility of man, proved as everything else had done, that there was not only weakness in the flesh but incorrigible enmity against God; this was clearly demonstrated in His rejection and death upon the cross. Hence if man is to be saved he must be saved through a work in which will be brought to an end all that he is after the flesh.

But in the Son of God, in Him whom God raised up as Saviour for the lost, there was might enough for the recovery of man. Whatever might be necessary for man’s salvation, power to accomplish it was invested in Christ. Through the grace of God He submitted to death, and by submission to it, broke its power, annulled him who had the might of it, and glorified God; and the power of God comes in, in consequence, and raises Him from the dead; places him in the supreme place of glory and authority, and gives Him all power in heaven and in earth, but gives Him this place in view of blessing for man. As it was for man’s blessing He died, so it is for man’s blessing He is raised from the dead. God has raised Him from the dead and given Him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God. He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification, and thus God comes before our souls in the activity of His love on our behalf. The fact that there is a Saviour for man in the place of power and glory is the evidence of the intervention of God for his salvation, and in this way God becomes the Object of faith and hope. This is the work of God. Righteousness and life are in the risen Christ, and available for all, and therefore He is Saviour for all.

There have been men, and I suppose such could be found today, who are righteous in their own eyes, but it is very questionable if anyone could be found who is righteous in the eyes of his neighbour. Most people consider their neighbours capable of improvement, and he must be full of insane vanity who thinks himself all that he ought to be; and where a man may be found who thinks himself to be all that could be desired, you will not find in that same man one who thinks equally good of his neighbour: “I thank God I am not as other men,” is the prayer of the proud Pharisee; he does not know another like himself, neither would he have found another man who would have given him the same character he gave himself. It is all very well for people to say nice things about themselves, but no man will be able to convince his neighbour that he is a person to be implicitly trusted; he may speak of himself as righteous, but his neighbour considers him a sinner, and one who needs to be watched. And if a man’s neighbour will not believe in his goodness, what about Him who knows the secrets of the heart, and sees every thought in its inception, and who has said, “all have sinned,” and “There is none righteous, no, not one”? And added to all, there is death, which lies upon all as the judgment of God.

I have been told that death does not lie upon man as the judgment of God, but is quite as natural to him as going to sleep. All this is very fine philosophy for the obstinate and godless mind of the Christ rejecter, but it is a poor support in that dread hour, when the poor victim exhausted with the last struggle feels that hideous “sleep” gaining upon him, and beginning to enclose his powerless frame within its hideous embrace. He will find that that “sleep” will send its scorpion sting through the very centre of his soul. Sleep is sweet and refreshing and welcome to the weary body, but death is accompanied by darkness and horror unutterable, and how could it be otherwise, seeing it is the wages of sin? To the believer only it has no sting; it is powerless to hurt him.

Now I do not ask a man whether he believes the scriptures or not. He may profess to be seeking the truth, and groping about in the darkness for it, as if it had not come in the Son of God. But I would ask him this one question, “Where are you to find righteousness and life?” A Jew might tell me he will find it in the law, but the fact that death lies upon him is the witness he has not found it there; for Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that “The man that does those things shall live by them,” and therefore I say to him, “You have sought for righteousness in the law, but you have not found it there for you are under death.” A Christless Gentile might tell me he does not need anything but to live a moral life, and to see to it that he does no one a wilful injury. But I say, “Will this relieve you from death? Will you find life in this creed of yours?” And he has to confess that he must die like the rest of men, and life is just as sweet to him as to the greatest criminal, and death as much dreaded. The fact is man cannot arrive at righteousness by his works, and yet this is the ground every man is upon, except the believer in Jesus.

I know nothing that attempts to settle the great question of righteousness and life except the gospel of God. There I learn that all are lost in Adam, and that if left to himself man must perish forever, and that if left to himself man must perish forever, but that the blessed God has wrought in the mighty love of His heart, and has raised up another Head for man in whom there is righteousness and life for all. He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, and in Him there is redemption, righteousness, life, and salvation. And all this is the work of God. Man has had no hand in it. As God undertook to find clothes for two naked sinners in the Garden of Eden so has He found righteousness for all who are exposed to His judgment on account of sin. The aprons of fig leaves were not His invention, neither had He any hand in the making of them; and neither were the costs of skins the invention of man, nor had he anything to do with the making of them. It must be all of God on the one hand, or all of man on the other. Man’s work has gone for nothing, except to heap condemnation upon him. God’s right arm has brought salvation. Men are to stand still and see the salvation of God.

The danger today is not lest men do not strive to fulfil their obligations, but lest they despise the work of God. The apostle when he has set before the Jews the grace of God (Acts 13) gives the warning, “Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets, Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish; for I work a work in your day: a work which ye shall in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you.” “I WORK A WORK,” and in that work they were to believe. But the danger the apostle cautioned them against was the very danger which destroyed them. They went about to establish their own righteousness, and would not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. But Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to the believer. In Him he has found it.

The mighty power of God brought this Saviour into the world, and when man had rejected and slain Him, the mighty power of God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at the right hand of power, and in that risen Head and last Adam is vested the power of God for the recovery of His ruined creature. The apostle says, “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” He is become unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption. Our glory, therefore, is not in man or in his prowess, but in the Lord.

Thus our faith and hope are in God. Actuated by the mighty love of His heart, He has wrought for our deliverance and blessing; and the One in and by whom He has wrought is His Son. He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Through this Man is preached to all men forgiveness of sins. Our righteousness we do not find in works of law, neither does our life lie in the flesh, but Christ is become righteousness to us, and our life is in Him. To all who believe on Him He gives the Spirit, who causes our souls to live in the love of God, and in His own good time He will quicken these mortal bodies by the same Spirit which dwells in us; and apart from the flesh, and the world, and the judgment that relates to both we will live together with Him. He has power to bring this about, and He will, to His own glory and our eternal joy, and in that day we will witness to the universe WHAT GOD HATH WROUGHT.