The Altar of Abraham

Genesis 11:27; Genesis 12:1-7

J. N. Darby.

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We are going to examine the various circumstances which furnished Abraham occasion to offer his worship to God. We will also consider his walk and the character of his worship, and how he was led by faith to present this worship to God.

It is very precious to find in Genesis the elements and the broad principles of the relations of God with man in all their freshness, from the creation, sin, and the promise of the second Adam. We also see how the government of God was exercised; in what manner man fell; the judgment of the deluge, which put an end to the old world; the promises made to Abraham; the two covenants of Sarai and Hagar; the relations of God with the Jews in the beautiful typical history of Joseph. Thus, in a word, we find in Genesis, not only a history, but the grand bases of God's relations with man. Abraham under this holds a chief place as the depositary of the promises. We may understand this by what the apostle Paul says to the Galatians (chap. 3:13-14): "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit, through faith."

We see by this word, "blessing of Abraham," the importance of that which is attributed to him. In considering the blessing of Abraham, we shall see the position God has made for us, in His grace, as to the accomplishment of the promises; even in considering it as a principle, we shall better understand the glory of Christ, heir of all promises of God. It is true that the relations of Christ with the church were as yet hidden, having been revealed only after His death, save at least in type; nevertheless, the various aspects of the relations of God with man, in all their freshness, and the various cases in which they have place, are in the germ found in this book.

In chapter 9, after the account of the deluge, we find that Noah, to whom the government of the earth had been entrusted, fails in this position. He got drunk: we see then the iniquity of Ham, who mocked his father. Afterwards, in Babel, comes the separation of the nations, each after his tongue; chap. 10. In chapter 11 men, united amongst one another, exalt themselves against God. In the midst appears Nimrod, the violent man upon the earth; while the family of Seem, blessed in the earth, is that in the bosom of which God establishes particular relations with men. Babel presents itself, whether as the commencement of the kingdom of Nimrod, or as the false glory of those men whose unity was in Babel, and who were dispersed of God.

69 Such are the principal features of the three preceding chapters. Noah had failed; then the nations. Men exalted themselves against God instead of being subject to Him; they joined themselves together to make themselves a name, and not to be scattered; but their exaltation becomes the cause of their dispersion.

Before we stop at the race of Seem, concerning whom God is particularly occupied, one remark is needed. A terrible principle is come up in this state of things. Man exalts himself in separating from God. But, insufficient to himself he becomes a slave; he submits to Satan's power, serves him and adores him. Having abandoned God, Satan usurps this place; he alarms the conscience; he takes possession of the heart and energy of man, who gives himself up to idolatry.

You will find this fact in Joshua 24:2. It is the principle of Satan's power on earth; which adds to the history of man. Joshua furnishes us with this addition to the account of the things which came to pass after the deluge - the violence of man, the dispersion of the nations; that is, that the. family of Seem even, these children of Heber, worshipped other gods than the true and living God. The apostle tells us they were demons. "The things which they sacrificed, they sacrificed to demons and not to God." Such is the new world; Satan becomes the ruler of the one we inhabit (a circumstance we set too much aside). God can deliver us, in one sense, from the yoke of Satan as ruler, although it abides true that this latter can tempt us by the lusts of this world, and make us fall morally under his yoke. For example, if the gospel be received outwardly in a country, and if the word of God have its free course there, whilst in another country evangelisation is not even permitted, it is evident that, in this latter, souls labour under a yoke which does not weigh in the former, and that Satan rules over one of these countries as he does not over the other. I believe it is important in these times to discern these two things.

70 The simple fact of being entrapped by one's own lusts is a yoke of Satan, but is not the rule of which we speak. Now, it may happen that several persons of the enfranchised country may be more guilty, for the very reason that they have superior advantages; but the yoke is not the same.

Independence of God is the desire of all men. Man will do his own will, and he falls into the enemy's hand. Such was the state of Abraham's family, as of all other men. In the midst of this evil, God comes, and manifests these three principles to Abraham; election, calling, and the promises. He finds him in the evil, and He calls him according to the choice He has made; then He gives the promises to him He has called, and Abraham receives them.

Besides this, we have the manner in which God does this. He manifests Himself, then He speaks. Often, in those days, He visibly did so. He came down to the earth and spoke to the individuals, and He has even done so since. Let the manner be what it may, He manifests Himself to faith by producing confidence. For example, when Jesus manifested Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, He did so by a visible glory, but acting on the conscience and drawing the heart. Paul asks himself (1 Cor. 9) "Have not I seen Jesus Christ our Lord?" In Acts 7:2 you will find these words of Stephen: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Charran."

God manifests Himself to the conscience, which sees itself in the presence of God; it feels that God is there; it perceives beforehand a judgment which is impending; and, whatever be the lack of outward manifestation, man must find himself before God, must follow Him, whereas before this he did his own will. So it happened to Saul of Tarsus. Saul had not troubled himself about God's win; but as soon as he had heard Christ, he must enlist himself. The effect produced in the heart is expressed in these words: "What wilt thou have me to do?" The communication of life, we know, takes place in the soul. Also, God speaks, even though He should have manifested Himself to the sight, as to Saul. It is His word which makes itself to be heard, even when it is written; and the written word is in fact of authority, without question, to judge what is said, though it were an apostle who spoke. The Lord Himself refers Ms disciples to it ("they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them," Luke 16:29), and places it as an instrument above His own words. I say as an instrument, or rather, as a rule; for, whether written or from His own lips, it is from Himself.

71 The authority of the word is immediate. The Lord may employ Paul, Peter, John, as messengers, but He wills that it be received from Himself. The word of God, addressed to man, must be received on the sole authority, that it is God who has spoken it: if he does not know how to discern the voice of God and to submit to it, without the authority of man, it is not faith in God; the man does not receive it because it is God. In the natural state, the heart does not hear Ms voice. The principle of Abraham is, that he believed God, and God put him to this trial. There is hard work in the heart of man before the authority of God Himself be established in it.

I daily perceive more and more the importance of this. In an exercised soul which has felt that God has manifested Himself to it, which has known its responsibility, whose heart is in activity, the word has often but little authority. Such a soul may have received a strong impression. God has manifested Himself: the conscience is awakened; but it does not receive what God has said in that quiet faith which, having owned that God has spoken, is arrested by His word, confides to it unhesitatingly, unquestioningly, and is found in peace.

We must not despise the first of these positions, neither must we abide in it. If I belong to God, I can no longer do my own will, and this is what God says to Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred." … This is neither pleasant, nor easy; but hearken to what Jesus says: "Whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." There is the grand principle. God will have a people that absolutely belongs to Him.

Christ gave not Himself by halves: circumstances may vary, but the principle is ever the same. Whatsoever be the friends, the things which retain us, we must nevertheless come to this: "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred." … This order is terrible to the flesh; it is not that we must hate our father and our mother as the flesh hates; notwithstanding the chain that is in oneself must be broken. It is from within the heart that we are detained; it is also from this we would escape; it is with self that we must break.

72 But God, who knows the heart, makes it deny itself, by making it break the ties with the world, which are without it. "Get thee out of thy country," says He. He goes further: "And from thy kindred and from thy father's house." Because God had manifested Himself to Abraham, he must belong to Him entirely. Abraham does it, but not completely. He did not, at first, all he ought to have done. He truly left his country and his kindred generally, but not his father's house; he goes no farther than Haran, and stays there.

He desires not, like many, to take all with him: he gives up a great deal; but this is useless: Terah cannot enter into Canaan. He was not called. In chapter 11:31, Terah took his son Abraham, and Lot his grandson, and Sarah his daughter-in-law, Abraham's wife, and they went forth with him, from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran and dwelt there.

We see by this verse that Terah took Abraham; then he did not quit his father's house, and could not make much way. The thing is evident in Genesis 11; and Stephen speaks of it in these words, Acts 7:2, 4: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran," etc., "and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land wherein ye now dwell." God hid said to him: "Get thee out from thy father's house," but he leaves it not. just so it happens to a heart which has not understood that it must give itself wholly to God. It gives up a great deal for duty, it receives nothing. When the question is of following God, it keeps something for itself. Nevertheless, grace acted towards Abraham, but thus it is that one often plunges oneself into doubt.

The Lord had said, Get out and come into the country that I will shew thee. Abraham, not having done so, might have said, What win become of me? I have not left my father's house: what will befall me? I have only followed half way the command of the Lord; I have not done all that He said to me; my heart not being in it, I have here neither the word nor the promises, I am about to perish in Charran. But such was not God's thought. Now, in chapter 12:1-4 it is said "So Abraham departed as the Lord had said to him." All goes well. Lot goes with him; Abraham was seventy-five years old. They come not to Haran to live there, but "into the land of Canaan they came." That is to say, as to us, as soon as we will do God's will, all goes well, God takes care for all. Before this, Abraham had stayed at Haran, and there was no blessing. It is only when his father Terah is dead that he goes forth and comes into Canaan. This is what we see in the four first verses of chapter 12. We may remark how God presents Himself to Abraham. He does not reproach him. The obstacles are removed; he is put in the way of faith.

73 In verse 7 God appears to Abraham; it is a fresh manifestation. He says to him: "Unto thy seed will I give this land." He renews the promises in a more definite way; He had already brought him to live and walk in dependence on Himself; now, He shews him the land and renews to him the promises, explaining to him the accomplishment of them. He will give the land to his posterity. In our case, it is heaven. God wills that we also should be in blessing, walking in dependence on Him.

In verse 2 God had said to him: "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee"; in verse 3: "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." God will be glorified, and He will bless; two precious things, for He glorifies Himself by blessing. He encourages Abraham in the way of faith, by identifying himself with the blessing. He engages him to trust in Him; "I will bless them that bless thee." Thus Balaam cannot curse; and in Jesus we are blest. God Himself conducts us, and identifies us with the blessing of Christ. The church may be tried, may encounter difficulties; but the blessing resulting from it is assured in Christ.

God then brings Abraham. into Canaan: what is there for him there? Nothing as yet to be possessed. The Canaanites are there; enemies all around in this land of promise. He has only his faith for his pains, not a place where to set his foot on, which properly belonged to him. Stephen tells us so in Acts 7:5: "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child."

74 This also happens to the church. In the land of promise we find the wicked spirits, and we are pilgrims here below. Abraham also was a stranger and a pilgrim. He had not where to set his foot. It is a little hard to the flesh to have forsaken all and to have found nothing. But he cannot yet possess the country. This happens to us as well as to the Jewish people, who went up to the wilderness, and find but a wilderness. Man must sacrifice all he loves, and rise to the height of the thoughts of God. But thus it is that the call and the deliverance make us strangers even in the very land of promise, until the execution of judgment be come.

We read in Hebrews 11:8: "By faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went." There is that which characterises. his faith. "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country; for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." In drawing him by the path of faith and renunciation in the land of promise, God gives him nothing; but He sets him on a position elevated enough to see the city which hath foundations.

God draws us also into the wilderness; and when we are there, He gives us nothing; and if we ask for anything, God answers: It is not good enough. The disciples would have liked to remain and for Jesus to remain; but Jesus tells them, It is good enough for your heart, but not enough for Mine; I would not that you should remain where you are; but where I am, there ye shall be also. He desires a complete felicity for His own. He tells them, before leaving them, I go to prepare a place for you. For where I am, I desire that there ye may be also."

When we are come out of this world and of that which keeps back our heart, then He can receive us. Abraham being thus separated from his earthly ties, He shews him the city which hath foundations. The great principle we find here is that, these Canaanites (to us the wicked spirits) not being yet driven out, we are strangers in the land; but, on the other hand, Abraham being in the land, the Lord appears to him. He had the revelations from God, no longer to make him walk (it was no longer a question of manifestation for the walk), but for him who has walked in order that he might enjoy God Himself.

75 I have wished you to observe, that God begins by making the conscience act. Afterwards He gives the enjoyment of Himself and of converse with Him after we have walked; such is the difference. The God of glory appeared indeed to Abraham in Ur. Thus perhaps He reveals Himself to our souls to draw them. But after that, He will have the conscience touched, and completely separates us from all that nature would retain', or by which nature would retain us, and that we should walk as called of God and belonging to Him, that the heart may thus peacefully enjoy Him in communion with Him when we have walked.

God can speak to Abraham, not now to make him go on, but that he may enjoy Him and converse with Him; and, further, to communicate to him all His thoughts as to the fulfilment of the promises. God will bless. Here is his position. He has walked with God, but as yet possesses nothing of the inheritance in the place to which God has led him. The enemies are there. But the Lord appears to faithful Abraham. In the enjoyment there of this communion and of this hope, Abraham builds an altar to Him who thus appeared to him.

God introduces us into the position of promises, in order that we should render Him worship, and make us understand distinctly how He will accomplish His promises. When Christ shall appear, then we shall also appear with Him in glory. We shall have all things with Him.

The portion of God's child is communion, intelligence of the counsels of God for the enjoyment of what God will accomplish. Thou shalt be a stranger, but I will accomplish my promises in giving the land to thy posterity. "And Abraham builded an altar to God who had appeared to him." His first manifestation made him walk; this makes him worship in the joy of communion in the land of promise whereinto faith introduced him, and in the intelligence of the promise relative to it. We see God by faith, and how by-and-by He will fulfil the promise. He makes us see Jesus, the true "Seed" and "Heir" of all things, and gives us the enjoyment of it in our souls.

Abraham, stranger-like, goes here and there. He pitches his tent and builds an altar. It is all he has in the land. Happy and quiet he rests in the promise of God. And this also is what we ourselves have to do. Perhaps it will happen to us, as to Abraham, to buy a sepulchre (chap. 23), and that is all.

76 The Lord give to us a like position, that is to say, a quiet faith, like his who left all. God cannot be satisfied with a half-obedience; but, having walked in what God says, we may rest in His love and have His altar until He come in whom are all the promises; even Jesus, in whom all the promises of God are YEA and AMEN to the glory of God by us.

The Sufferings and the Praises of Christ

Psalm 22

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The result of the truth taught in this psalm, is, that "they shall praise the Lord that seek him." It is the fruit of unmingled grace, brought out in a very remarkable manner, and quite different from a hope or a promise. Assuredly that the Holy One should be forsaken of God is not promise, and such is the ground laid here for praise.

In Psalm 19 we have the testimony of creation and of the law. It is a solemn thought that whatever man has touched he has corrupted. Creation groans when a man has been there. But if I look where man cannot reach, at the moon, the stars, etc., all is glorious. The "heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy-work." Next (v. 7 to 11) "The law of Jehovah is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes." Here the point is not whether man can keep it or not, but its intrinsic perfection and its value for those who by grace profit by its light. Neither of these witnesses can be changed. Man early filled the earth with corruption and violence. "And God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt; and God said, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them." The heavens spread over all, and the sun going about in unwearied circuit from one end to the other, are the bright unchanging witnesses, above man's defiling hand, of the divine glory. As little does the law of Jehovah vary; but if man cannot change the law, he disobeys it. The effect of law is to claim from a sinful man that he should not be sinful.

Mark, in passing, the order of God's dealings. When sin came in, God said that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. This is not promise to Adam, but the judgment pronounced on Satan: if a promise, it is one to the second Man. Then comes a word of positive promise to Abraham, the father of the faithful: "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Afterwards, when the offering had taken place on Moriah, the promises were made, uncondtionally as before, to his Seed. But the question of righteousness must be raised, because God is the righteous God. Blessing under law depended on man's faithfulness, as well as God's. At Sinai it was said, "If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." The law raised the question of righteousness, and put man under obedience, instead of his taking his place as a sinner. "All the people answered together and said, all that Jehovah hath spoken we will do." This was law, and Israel under it: but "as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." Long afterwards rises another Witness - One who testified to the moral nature of God as well as His power - One who manifested the righteousness of God instead of merely claiming that of man - One who came, as it were, with all promises in Himself, if He had been received.

78 And how was Christ received? He was entirely rejected. In Psalm 20 Messiah is viewed in the day of trouble. So the Jews will see in their latter-day trouble, identifying Jesus as their Saviour. Psalm 21 is the answer to their godly desire touching the Anointed of Jehovah, and the expression of their joy at His exaltation as King. He has been heard, and has His heart's desire given Him.

In Psalm 22 we have a totally different thing. It is Christ forsaken of God. Not that He is not despised of the people there: strong bulls of Bashan beset Him round, dogs compassed Him, the assembly of the wicked enclosed Him; but all this, felt as none but Christ could feel, what was it in presence of the awful reality of Christ suffering from the hand of God - of Christ suffering for sin? It is a sad but useful picture, the side of man; for it is all the same nature - such were we; but turn it round, and what is the other side? Christ has brought out what God is, and this is love, even when it is a question of our sins.

What is man? What was Pilate? An unjust judge, who washed his hands, while he condemned to death the One whom he had thrice proclaimed to be guiltless; and this at the instigation - at the intercession! - of the chief priests and the rulers of God's people. And the disciples, what and where were they? "They all forsook him and fled." "And Peter followed him afar off." When he comes into the palace, he curses and swears, and denies Jesus again and again. Take man where you will, and if Christ be there, everything is put to the test; only sin comes out. His cross, His death revealed the real character of all. The history of man, morally, is closed. "Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Man has been weighed and found wanting in every way. "The flesh profiteth nothing"; it breaks law, and abuses grace. The end of all I am as man I read in the cross. "But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." For there is another thing altogether there. On the cross hung the one spotless, blessed Man, yet forsaken of God. What a fact before the world! No wonder the sun was darkened - the central and splendid witness to God's glory in nature, when the Faithful and True Witness cried to His God and was not heard.

79 Forsaken of God! what does this mean? What has man to do with it? What part have I in the cross? One single part - my sins. Here then is One forsaken of God and saying it aloud before all men. There is none to see and sympathise as in Psalm 20. The women who followed from Galilee were there afar off, but they understood not. It baffles thought, that most solemn lonely hour which stands aloof from all before or after. How does not the perfectness of Christ shine in it! "The man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth"; yet was his spirit provoked. so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips. "Ye have heard of the patience of job?" yet he opened his mouth to curse his day, and murmured that the Preserver of man had set him as a mark, so that he was a burden to himself. In Christ nothing was brought out but what was perfect.

But if I have to say to Christ, what is my first thought? What do I bring to the cross? What have I in it? My sins. There is not a vanity we have not preferred to Him. What a humbling thought for us, for me! The Righteous One in suffering for sin, vindicates God, though to Himself the depth of agony, when God forsook Him, when most, we may say, He needed God. "But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm," etc. It was obedience - suffering - to the uttermost; but forsaken as He was, Christ says, His God was holy all the same. We know now, why it was. It was for sin, for our sins, not for righteousness. Our sins were our only contribution. What a tale that tells on our part: on His, O what blessed love!

80 The wonderful truth is that the Son of God came into the world, and in the cross God has made Him sin who knew no sin. The sinless Saviour has drunk the cup of wrath. It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him - to make His soul an offering for sin. He has borne our iniquities. What is the consequence? He died under the burden of sin, and what becomes of it? It is clean gone; not that it has been glossed over, but put away by the sacrifice of Himself.

Thus, before the day of judgment, sin has been thoroughly dealt with by God in the cross of Christ. There will be a day of judgment, and those who believe not will find everlasting condemnation there. But for those who believe, there has been already judgment in Christ. God must judge sinners; but were this all, where would be His love? If He overlooked sin, where His holiness? That would not be love but indifference to evil. When I see the cross, I see the perfect desert of sin, and that not in the destruction of the sinner, but in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, suffering once the just for the unjust that He might bring us to the God who was glorified in the sins being thus completely blotted out. Christ took sin in His own body on the tree, laid down the life in which He bore it, and rose absolutely without it. Now then the question of righteousness is not raised only, but settled. Neither is it any longer a promise, but a work done. There are promises for the believer to enjoy in their season; but the suffering on the cross is ended and past. Redemption is neither creation, nor law, nor promises, but a divine work wrought about sin and already accomplished in Christ through His blood - in Christ now accepted of God and glorified at His right hand.

Hence, if sin was judgment to Christ, it results in nothing but grace to us in and through Him. For if God takes up sin in my case at the day of judgment, I am lost. But I say, He has taken it up in Christ, wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; and now there flows a stream of unmingled grace. For it is not only that the unsparing wrath of God fell on Christ crucified, but that Christ enters into all the delight of God after putting away sin. God was now no longer a judge and an avenger, but a Deliverer from death and all the consequences of the sin Christ had taken on Himself; His glory as God and as Father was concerned in raising Christ from the dead, and setting Him in righteous glory as Man and in infinite delight as Son before Him.

81 What a change there is now! Christ is heard from the horns of the unicorns. Resurrection is the answer of His God and Father. But, mark, Christ has people whom He calls His brethren, and to them He must go and tell it all. God has righteously and in perfect love brought Him back from the grave; and now says the Lord, "I will declare thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise to thee." Never had the divine complacency in Christ been so complete as on the cross - never was God so glorified as in Him there; but there was not, nor could be, the enjoyment of communion in that awful hour, when sin was judged as it never will be again. But now, sin-bearing was over, and God so perfectly justified and glorified in it, that it became a question of Christ's bringing others into the place of holy joy and peace, and His own relationship to His God and Father.

Mary Magdalene wept at the grave, for she loved the Lord and knew not salvation in Him risen. "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." To her apprehensions, if He were gone all was lost. But Jesus made Himself known to her in resurrection, and says, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God." For whom was the work done, but for them? But more than this. God was His Father, He was theirs; if His God, He was theirs also. He brings the disciples into the same place He has entered Himself.

If you love your children thoroughly, you desire them to have the same place as yourself. It was so with Christ. He could suffer alone, but, that finished, could He praise alone? No: "in the midst of the congregation will I sing praise to thee." All the suffering and sorrow were His; His joy He would share with those He loved. He Himself leads their praises. He is come out from unutterable, unfathomable agony and shame, and does He keep silence? Does not His tone of praise well assort with the darkness He was in? Does not fullness of joy now answer to God's forsaking Him then for our sin? Compare verses 24, 25. He had been in the depths for us, but now He is out and praising; and how should we praise? With Him in the certainty of what He has wrought. God would have us free before Him in joy by virtue of what Christ has done; He would have us judging every evil, for it is a holy place, but the place He is in is the result of His work and He gives it - nothing less than it - to us. Could I go into the presence of God in my sins? I should flee from Him like Adam. But, believing in Christ, I am in God's presence, because He has brought me there.

82 Are you then seeking God? Have you heard the voice of Christ? It is no longer the cry of deepest grief unheard. The atonement is made, He Himself is raised from the dead, the accepted glorified Saviour; and what to Him the change from the affliction of the afflicted to His joy as risen? He gathers around Him those who receive Him, and in their midst sings praises to God. If you seek God now, you are entitled by His work to take up and join in His songs of praise. For it is not a promise, but an accomplished fact. Do I believe in Christ? If so, I am before the throne of God (in title, not in fact, of course) by virtue of the cross; I am inside the veil, and my sins are left for ever behind me.

From verse 22 we find nothing but grace. Do you who seek God say, Oh that I could find Him? But He has found you. Come then and praise Him. Christ has been on the cross, bearing our sins. You have to learn it as an accomplished fact; not saying, I hope He will do it. The work is done, sin is entirely put away, and Christ the leader of praise, according to His estimate of sin, of wrath due to it, borne in grace, and of the perfect deliverance displayed in His own resurrection. Thenceforward is heard praise, and praise only. First, Christ in the midst of the congregation praises God, and those that fear Jehovah are called to praise Him; v. 22, 23. Then His praise is anticipated "in the great congregation," and "they shall praise Jehovah that seek him: … all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord," v. 25-27. In the millennial earth the homage will be universal, "all they that be fat upon earth" - "all they that go down to the dust"; yea, and not that race then alive only, for they "shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this."

In the light there are exercises of conscience, but how do I get there? Because Christ put away sin and I receive Him. True, we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; but it is the judgment-seat of Him who loved me and gave Himself for me, who saved me and in whom I am accepted. If Christ had to do with a Pharisee, He soon unmasked him; but to one who came to Him as a poor sinner, He was always grace, as to the woman in Luke 7. Never did He deal roughly with one soul who came in the truth of its condition: to such He spoke and wrought in the truth of His own grace. That sinful woman was attracted by divine love in Christ, and hears Him pronounce her many sins forgiven. She knew His great love, and loved much. When He comes to this, He does not trouble Himself more about the Pharisee, but says to the woman, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." And no wonder; for it is the self-same thing which brightens heaven that made her heart bright.

83 We must, then, be all manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, before the Person who by His death put away all my sins. What a blessing to find Him on the judgment-seat! There is nothing in this to disturb the peace He has made by the blood of His cross; and peace we must have in order to enjoy communion with God. Can two walk together, except they are agreed?

Then think how it is we get there. Christ will come and receive me to Himself, because He loves me, and wants me to be with Him where He is; and how do I arrive? Glorified in a body like His own. Do you ask, How can people speak thus? I answer by the question, How can you be in heaven in any other way? He who of God is made unto us righteousness is the Judge. To believe in His name and yet doubt that we have peace, is calling in question the value of His work. He who suffered and is now glorified will not gainsay it when He judges. But then there will be nothing secret - all will come to light. What a lesson for us when in glory! And what is the effect? I look on my past life, and what have I been? I look since I have been a Christian, and what feebleness, what failure! But am I therefore to be afraid? No: I look at God and say, What a God I have had to do with! Every step is a manifestation of my Father's love, who has led me along the way. In glory I shall see all my foolishness, but it will be in the body risen or changed. I shall learn the love of Christ in every tittle of my life from beginning to end.

Are your voices tuned to praise with Christ? He is gone from the wrath and darkness of the cross into the light and love of His Father's presence, and is praising. Can you praise with Him? There all trembling disappears. Do you believe "he hath done this"? Oh, beloved, how those who seek Him lag behind His heart! What is it you believe? and in Whom? Do you not know that He drank the cup to the dregs? and is all uncertain to you still? If you think of what you are, I say you are a thousand miles off what you ought to be. If you seek Him, His word warrants that you shall praise Him. He is in the presence of God as the consequence of His work. May your hearts set to their seal that God is true! As a Father, He may chasten, but the chastenings are a Father's ways with children's hearts. May you not reject the testimony of Jesus that He has spent His life, having suffered once the just for the unjust, that your souls may have present peace with God. "He hath done this."

Sifted as wheat, or, Simon Peter

Remarks on Luke 22:14-34

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How good and precious it is that we have at all times the Lord to look to; for if our eye had always to be fixed upon self, not only should we not advance, but we should be thoroughly discouraged by the thought of the evil within us. We confine ourselves to the idea of the evil, and thus deprive ourselves of the strength which can overcome it.

The nature of the flesh and the blindness of man's heart are worthy of remark. What foolish things come between God and us, to hide from us that which we ought to see! How strangely, too, do the thoughts of the natural heart follow their natural course (even when the Lord is near us), and deprive us of the consciousness of the most striking things, which have a sensible effect around us! We find this presented in the portion before us.

The Lord Jesus was about to accomplish that work which can be compared to no other; He was on the point of bearing the wrath of God for us poor sinners; He was in circumstances which ought to have touched His disciples' hearts. He had just spoken, in the most touching terms, of the Passover which He desired to eat once more with them before He suffered; He had told them, too, that one of them should betray Him. All this ought to have rested upon their minds and have filled their hearts. But they? They were striving among themselves which of them was the greatest!

To us the curtain is withdrawn; and when reading of this fact, we can hardly understand how they could be busied with such things; but we know what was then about to take place. How many things have power to turn even us, who have more light than they, from the thought which then filled the heart of Jesus! Such is the heart of man in presence of the most serious and solemn things. The death of Jesus should exercise the same influence on our hearts as on the disciples'; it should be precious to us.

The Lord is with us when we are gathered two or three together; and yet we well know the thoughts which then pass through our hearts and minds. Here we see the same thing under the circumstances most calculated to touch the heart. Jesus tells His disciples that His blood was to be shed for them: "the hand of him that betrayeth me is with meat the table, but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed"; and they inquire among themselves which of them it was that should do this thing. One might suppose that they would think of nothing save the death of their gracious Master; but no! "There was a strife among them which of them should be accounted the greatest." What a contrast! But alas! if we examine our own hearts we shall find these two things generally brought together, namely, real feelings which bear testimony to our love of Jesus, but also, and perhaps within the same half-hour, thoughts which are as unworthy as this strife among the disciples. This shews the folly and vanity of man's heart; he is but as the small dust of the balance.

86 The Lord, ever full of gentleness and meekness, forgets Himself in His care for His disciples, and says to them, "He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." He knows how to teach them, by His own example, what the love of God is; and at the same time He shews them the grace which is in Him, and all the faithfulness for which they are indebted to Him. It is as though He had said, Ye need not raise yourselves: my Father will raise you. "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations, and I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

Instead of being irritated by the abominable conduct of His disciples, He shews them that, if there is no grace in men, there is grace in one Man, that is in Himself. This grace is perfect in Jesus; and He places His disciples in it, whatever they may have been toward Him. He has fixed them firmly in the principle of grace, instead of the folly of the flesh which had just shewn itself among them; as though He had said, I am all grace towards you, and I trust the kingdom to you.

We are put under grace, and its voice is always heard. It assures us that, notwithstanding all our weakness, we have continued with Jesus, and that He gives the kingdom as His Father gave it to Him. Nevertheless the soul which is to enjoy these things must be exercised. The flesh must be made manifest to us as men; and therein we see the needs-be of all the trials we pass through; but Jesus enables us to persevere, because we belong to Him. If He says to His disciples, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, ye shall Sit on thrones," etc., etc., He takes care to shew them what the flesh is.

87 "Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." He does not say, Thou shalt not be tempted; I will hinder Satan from sifting thee; no, nor does He do it. We see here that God often leaves His children in the presence of their enemy, whom lie does not destroy; but, even while thus in the presence of the enemy, He watches over His own; as we see (Rev. 2:10), "The devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

Peter might have said to the Lord, Thou canst hinder my being thus sifted, as Martha and Mary thought Jesus could have hindered the death of Lazarus; and, truly, He who can give the crown of life can shelter us; but He does not do so, that we may be tried. Satan desired to have Job to sift him like wheat, and God permitted him to do so; and this happens to us also. We often say within ourselves, Why has He dealt thus with me? Why has He put me in such or such a crucible? Ah, it is Satan who desired, and God who permitted it. Things often. occur which we cannot understand; such things are intended to shew us what the flesh is.

When God is about to use a Christian in His work, He takes the one who has gone the farthest in the path of trial. Thus here it is said, "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you." The danger is presented to all; but He adds, speaking to Peter, "I have prayed for thee," for thee in particular; for Jesus distinguishes him from all the rest because he had taken a more prominent position than the others, and was thus more exposed, though they were all sifted at the death of Jesus.

The Lord then says to Peter, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." He was not going to spare any of His disciples the sifting; but Peter was to be the most severely tried, and, therefore, the best to strengthen his brethren. Notwithstanding all this, Peter is full of self-confidence. "I am ready to go with thee both unto prison and to death." But Jesus replies, "The cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me."

The flesh acting in Peter had only power to carry him up to the time of trial, and there failed; for Peter denied the Lord Jesus, even in His very presence. He might have seen his Saviour, if his heart had not been turned away from Him. Jesus was looking at him; and yet he denied Him to the maid, saying, "I know him not." He had been warned; but the Lord would not allow him to be kept by divine power at that moment, because he needed to learn by experience what he was in himself

88 If we notice all that Christ did, we shall see how He was watching at this time over Peter; His grace (so to speak) went out to meet him, and took care of him all through the temptation. The first thing that Jesus tells him is that He has prayed for him. It is not that Peter's repentance led to Jesus' intercession; but the intercession of Jesus brought about Peter's repentance. "I have prayed for thee," and "Jesus looked on Peter." As to Judas, he denied the Lord; and, when his conscience was awakened, he killed himself. No sooner was the crime committed than all confidence fled, and he went and killed himself. But, here, the effect of the prayer of Jesus was to preserve faith at the bottom of Peter's heart, so that, when Jesus looked on him, he was broken down.

The first thing to remark is, that the Lord had prayed for Peter; and the second, that He always remembered His disciple, and as soon as the cock crowed, Jesus looked on him, and Peter wept bitterly. It is in this way the Lord deals with us, He prays for us, and allows us to go into temptation. If He conducts us when in it, He also bids us to pray that we enter not into temptation: but God permits all this because He sees the end of it. If Peter had been conscious of his own weakness, he would not have dared to shew himself before the High Priest. This trial was the natural consequence of what he was in the flesh; but it was God's purpose to use him, and even to put him in a prominent position in His work. The cause of his fall was self-confidence; the flesh was actively present.

God did everything well for him, and Peter saw what was the power of Satan's sifting. The other disciples, not having the same fleshly strength, fled at once. They had not so much confidence as Peter; but God left him to struggle against Satan, and Jesus prayed for him, in spite of his fall, that his faith should not fail. The moment Peter fell, the eye of Jesus was turned upon him. That look did not give peace, but confusion of face; Peter wept; he went out, and it was all over. He had learnt what he was. There was his failure - the sin was committed, and could not be undone; it could be pardoned, but never blotted out. Peter could not forget that he had betrayed the Lord: but Jesus made use of this fall to cure him of his presumption.

89 It is the same with us. We often commit faults which are irreparable, from too much confidence in the flesh. When there is no possibility of correcting one's faults, what is to be done? The only resource is to cast oneself on the grace of God. When the flesh is too strong, God often permits us to fall, because we are not in that precious state of dependence which would preserve us.

Jacob had too deeply offended Esau not to dread his anger; yet God did not leave him in his brother's hand, but gave him enough faith to carry him through the difficulty. God wrestled with Jacob, and the latter prevailed; but he must have felt within his heart what it is to have had to do with evil. God would not allow him to be given over to the hatred of Esau; and at the end of his course Jacob could say (Gen. 48:15-16), "The God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil," etc.

When God tries the heart in this way, He sometimes leaves it in Satan's hands, but He never leaves the consciences of His children in the enemy's hands. Judas' conscience was in Satan's hands, and, therefore, he fell into despair. Peter's heart was in his hands for a time, but his conscience never. Therefore, instead of despairing, like Judas, the love of Jesus, expressed in a look, had power to touch his heart.

Directly grace acts in the heart, it gives the consciousness of sin; but, at the same time, the love of Christ reaches the conscience, deepening the consciousness of sin; but if this is deep, it is because the consciousness of the love of Christ is also deep. Perfect as was the pardon of Peter, he could never forget his sin. Not only was he fully forgiven, but his conscience was in the Lord's hand when the Holy Ghost revealed the fullness of the heart of Jesus to him. His conscience had been so fully purified, that he could accuse the Jews of the very sin he had himself committed under the most solemn circumstances. "Ye denied the Holy One and the Just," were his words. The blood of Christ had fully cleansed his conscience; but if the question of his strength in the flesh was raised, all he had to say of himself was, I have denied the Lord; and, were it not for His pure grace, I could not open my mouth.

90 Jesus never reproached Peter with his sin in those conversations He had with him. There is never the question, Why hast thou denied me? No; He does not once remind him of his failure: on the contrary, He acts according to that expression of love of the Holy Spirit, "I will remember their sins no more." Jesus had forgotten all. But there was one thing He had to shew Peter; it was the root of the sin, the point where he had failed. Satan's temptation, with his own want of love, had been the cause of his fall, and had destroyed his confidence; but now, his conscience being touched, it was needful that his spiritual intelligence should be formed. Peter had boasted of more love to Jesus than the rest; and Peter had failed more than all.

Then Jesus said to him, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Where is now Peter's self-confidence? Jesus repeats three times, "Lovest thou me?" but He does not remind him of his history. Peter's answer is, "Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." He appeals to Jesus, and to His divine knowledge; "Thou knowest that I love thee." This is what Jesus did for Peter, and that after his fall.

Jesus had foretold his failure; and here He asked him, "Lovest thou me more than these?" Peter can say nothing, save that he has learnt his weakness and that he has loved Jesus less than the other disciples. The relationship between Jesus and Peter is all of grace; he had no resource except to confide in Jesus, and now he could be a witness for Him; he had felt the power of a look of Jesus.

Peter seems to say, I confide in thee, thou knowest how I have denied thee; do with me what seemeth thee good. Then we see Jesus sustaining His disciple's heart, lest Satan should rob him of his confidence, and saying, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." What enabled him to strengthen his brethren? His denial had so taught him what the flesh was, that he would no longer bind himself to anything; he knew. that he had nothing to do save to trust God. Whatever his own incapacity to resist Satan, he could appeal to the grace of Him who knows all things. The knowledge that he could confide in Jesus, was that which made confided His sheep to him: "Feed my lambs" - and it was not till then that he could strengthen his brethren.

91 The flesh has a certain confidence in the flesh, and this is often the folly into which we fall. It is then necessary for us to learn ourselves by conflict with Satan; every Christian has to learn what he is through the circumstances in which he is placed. God leaves us there to be sifted by' Satan, that we may learn our own hearts. Had we enough humility and faithfulness to say, I can do nothing without Thee, God would not leave us to this sad experience of our infirmity. When we are really weak, God never leaves us; but, when unconscious of our infirmities, we have to learn them by experience.

If a Christian does not walk under a constant sense of his infirmity, God leaves him in the presence of Satan, that he may there be taught it. It is then also that he commits faults which are often irreparable; and it is this which is the most sorrowful part of all.

Jacob halted all his life. Why was this? It was because he had halted, morally, during one-and-twenty years. He wrestled mightily, yet he must have been conscious what a feeble creature he was in the flesh, although God did not leave him to struggle with Esau. We need never be surprised if the Lord leaves us in difficulty; it is because there is something in us to be broken down, and which we need to be made sensible of; but grace is always behind all this. Christ is all grace, and if He sometimes appears to leave us to learn our weakness, still He is grace, perfect grace, towards us.

It was not when Peter turned his eyes towards the Lord that Jesus shewed Himself to him; as to communion, indeed, this is true, but it was before his fall that Jesus had said "I have prayed for thee," for it is always grace which anticipates us. Jesus sees what Satan desires, and leaves us to that desire, but He takes care that we should be kept. It was not when Peter looked at Jesus, but when Jesus looked on Peter, that the latter wept bitterly. The love of Christ always precedes His own; it accompanies us, precedes us in our difficulties, and carries us through all obstacles. While it leaves us in Satan's hands, that we may learn experimentally what we are, it is always near to. us, and knows how to guard us from the wiles of the enemy. Here we see the perfect goodness and grace of the One who loves us, not only when our hearts are turned towards Him, but who adapts Himself to every fault in our characters, that we may be fully and completely blessed according to the counsels of God.

92 All this should teach us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us in due season. When I feel cast down and grieved in thinking of myself after a fall, I ought not then forthwith to seek comfort, however natural that may be: no; it is not that which I am to seek, but rather, and first of all, the Christ who is there; I have to learn the lesson which God has traced for me.

If, in the midst of painful circumstances, you say that you cannot understand the teaching, God knows what it is, and He leaves you there to be sifted, in order to bring you by this means to a deeper knowledge of Him and yourself; He wishes to shew you all He has Himself seen in you, so that we ought not to shrink from this sifting, but rather to seek to receive the precious teaching which the Lord offers us through it; and thus we shall obtain a much deeper knowledge of what He is for us.

We must learn to yield ourselves to His mighty hand, till He exalts us. May God give us to know Him alone! If we had only to learn what we are, we should be cast down, and sink into despondency; but His object in giving us a knowledge of ourselves and of His grace, is to give us an expected end.

One can say then, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

The Last Words of David

2 Samuel 22; 23:1-7

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There is a remarkable contrast between the two songs in these chapters: the song of David after he had done with an his enemies (that is, after his trials by Saul), and the song of David after he had done with himself; here brought together by the Spirit of God.

At the end of his trials, when looking back at his enemies, he sings of joy and triumph: all is exaltation. After his experience of the blessing, it is, "Although my house be not so with God." The end of all the sorrow and trial with Saul is rejoicing, exaltation, and strength. "The waves of death had compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid, the sorrows of hell compassed me about, and the snares of death prevented me"; yet, the result of all he thus went through, in deep and bitter exercise of soul, is triumph, thanksgiving, and praise in the first instance, when he recounts God's deliverance; while, in the second, the result of the place of honour, blessing, and triumph, is deeper and bitter sorrow - the confession, "my house is not so with God!" Not that he was without something to sustain his heart under it all; for he adds, "yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure." For this he waited until the "morning without clouds." But the end of all his blessing here is, "my house is not so with God." This contrast makes trouble precious, and is a check to any desire to get out of it.

So practically is it with us. We need to guard against the effects of success; the pressure of circumstances which keep me down produces nothing but joy and praise in the experience of God's goodness; the effect of circumstances which lift me up is sorrow. How often has a saint, when in trial and conscious weakness, cast therein upon the Lord, cried unto Him, and as a faithful servant been sustained, had blessing and acquired influence, godly influence too; but how often satisfied with the blessing and the influence thus acquired and losing the sense of his weakness, has he stopped suddenly short in his course, been arrested in the point of influence obtained, and become comparatively useless in the church of God! This should lead us to desire conformity in suffering to Jesus. The path of grace is, like Him, to be getting on nearer and nearer to the Father, but to be getting nothing here.

94 There are three things brought before us in these chapters: one of them intended to give us solemn warning: First, the result of David's trials at the hand of Saul. Then, second, when set upon the throne, the consequence of his being surrounded with all the earthly blessings. And, third, the joy at the end, of "the sweet psalmist of Israel," in anticipation of the "morning without clouds."

Whilst the heart receives the warning against the effects of success, or anything in present blessing, are we looking out for and resting on, the full, distinct, and perfect blessing, which will be in that day when the Lord Jesus comes? We see here the way in which the Spirit of Christ gathers up the history of Israel in Christ as a centre, and makes the harp of David that on which it should be played. There is perhaps nothing of deeper interest than to see how God takes up the history of David in the Psalms, writing as it were upon the tablets of David's heart the history of the Lord Jesus.

In the first song there is a remarkable allusion to the whole history of Israel, to dealings of God with them, of which David felt the moral power in himself. We have a wonderful variety of circumstances, backward, forward, and around, gathering up all the history of David, and the triumphs of David; unfolding the sympathies of Christ with the heart of David in sorrow, until he is made the head of the heathen, his own people being blessed under him.

In chapter 23 we get "the last words of David." And here we learn where his eye and heart rested, amidst consciousness of his own failure, and the failure of his house. He was looking for the "morning without clouds," for the One who should rule over men in the fear of the Lord, who should build God's house, and in whom the glory should be manifested. These men of Belial too, there must come one in the sternness of judgment to set them aside: then "they should all of them be as thorns thrust away." There is the deep consciousness of all the ruin, but the effect of the coming morning shining into it. The effect of the coming of the Son of David on David's heart, and the failure of everything around, leading him to reach forward in spirit to the full triumph of that day when all should be full of blessing.

We thus, in the two chapters, have the unfolding of the sympathies of Christ with the heart of David, gathering up all the sorrows of the history of Israel; and also the heart of David resting in the consciousness of what the "morning without clouds" would be. We should seek so to get the power of the Spirit in the sympathies of Christ, and at the same time to reach out to the hope which the Spirit of God sets before us, as by the way to be thrown upon the fellowship of Christ's sufferings.

95 Let us now trace a little what David was, up to the time of this success. It is ever just the very thing that seems hopeless in the eyes of man, which is taken up of God. See Sarah, Rebekah, Zecharias, and Elizabeth, so too here with David. In him there was everything contrary to the thoughts of the flesh. Contrast him with Saul. Saul was the comeliest in Israel, taller than them all by the head; "from the shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people" - strength in the flesh. But all this is passed by, and it is the "lad keeping sheep" that is taken up! Saul is unfaithful - rejected from being king, and then God sets His eye upon David.

Samuel, by the Spirit of prophecy (1 Sam. 16), goes down to Bethlehem, to select from among the sons of Jesse one who should be king in the room of Saul. He causes them to pass before him. Seven come in. Samuel asks, Is there not another? Yes, a lad keeping the sheep. "Send and fetch him." David comes, and is designated by the Spirit of prophecy as the anointed of Jehovah. All that is great in Jesse's eyes is suffered to pass unnoticed; the seven were personable men, but it is the lad keeping the sheep, the eighth, the weak one, that is preferred and taken up!

From that time the Spirit of God departs from Saul, and an evil spirit falls upon him. David is brought into his company as one who could play upon the harp. Here we find him of no importance, so that afterwards, when he had killed the giant Goliath, on Saul's inquiring of Abner, "whose son is this youth?" Abner says, "I cannot tell." His brethren too ask him, "with whom he has left the few sheep in the wilderness."

But what traits do we find in David? Deep consciousness of having God's strength, and forgetfulness of self in all the difficulties which come in the way of duty. He keeps his father's sheep: a lion and a bear come to take a lamb of the flock. It is his business to guard sheep, and he goes at once against the lion and the bear., and slays them. These energetic works are done with simple reference to duty: therefore the difficulties are as nothing.

96 Here we see faith in operation. Faith recognises God and duty to God; and then the thing is a matter of course. Put a child to raise up a stone, and it is all effort; put a strong man, and the thing is easily accomplished. Faith realises the strength of God without reckoning on self, and so does that which comes in the way, and thinks nothing about it. David here in the path of duty gathers up the consciousness of having God's strength with him to be used in after trial. The secret of strength, thus learnt in retirement, prepares him for that which the Lord has subsequently for him to do. Blessing still followed the career of Saul; we read "whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed his enemies." Though evil, seeking his own, and rejected from being king, there is blessing to Israel through him. But the Lord in secret had set His eye on David.

The Philistines are gathered together to battle against Israel (chap. 17): David goes up to the camp, sent by his father, with provisions for his brethren, where he hears Goliath challenging Israel. Having learnt in the simplicity of the path of duty with the God of Israel, when no eye was upon him, that He was a faithful God, now that he comes to see the people of God, and Goliath against them, he is astonished at finding them all afraid, and asks, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" Why, he is an uncircumcised Philistine, and he is defying the armies of the living God! Bad motives are imputed to him by his brother, for coming to the camp; but there is in him such simplicity of heart in recognising God, that the path of duty is straightforward, and in power. Whether as a shepherd, whose business it was to guard the sheep, if the lion came, he took him by the beard and slew him, or the bear in like manner, he slew it, without display and without boast; they were simply matters of duty, and are untold until there is a needed occasion for mentioning them; or, if afterwards, it be this uncircumcised Philistine, it is the same thing, "he shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God!" Onward he moves in the energy of faith; he looks not to Israel for help; he rejects the proffered armour of Saul; he thinks not of the spear like a weaver's beam. Is this uncircumcised Philistine to defy the God of Israel? that is the question; and he says, "This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hands!" His heart is on Israel, he takes up the relationship of God with Israel. Although the exercise of faith depend on a single individual, "the battle is Jehovah's; he identifies the glory of God with Israel, and then the uncircumcised Philistine" can have no power at all. With a sling and a stone from the brook he destroys the Philistine, and cuts off his head with his own sword; as it is said of Jesus - that He destroyed through death him that had the power of death, by the very weapon of him who had the power.

97 His heart rested on the faithfulness of the God of saints. This was the secret of his strength, learnt by himself, to be acted upon in any circumstance. And this is always the character of faith. Faith, when acting, brings in God - makes God everything, circumstances nothing. Whether it be the lion and the bear, or the uncircumcised Philistine, it is the same thing. The secret of God's strength, learnt when alone, is that by which faith looks upon every circumstance as the same, making God the great circumstance that governs all else.

After this they begin to sing, Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands "and then David becomes the object of Saul's hatred." Saul eyed David from that day and forward." Subsequently we find in the character of David, when in the midst of mighty enemies, the consciousness of weakness and infirmity, and the absence of all thought of avenging himself against Saul. He never takes a single step without consulting God, save in one instance; and then he gets chastened for it. Everything is against him: he is conscious of being in the midst of subtle enemies, and of conflicting with a power which he cannot set aside. Saul seeks his life (chap. 18:10-11), but he has no right to set aside the power of Saul.* The enemy cannot be got rid of, and therefore he is forced to go to the Lord for guidance as to every step he takes.

{*It was righteous power, for God had set him in it; but not rightly used.}

So is it with the saints. And this is just what they need now - the consciousness of conflicting with a power which they cannot set aside; and the sense of their own utter weakness, so as to be forced into direct reference to God in every circumstance, to be thrown into dependence upon Him for every step. At last Saul drives him fairly away: full hostility is manifested; and he becomes an outcast. All this is necessary for the exercise of his faith, and he gets practised thereby in waiting on the Lord, "In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God." He escapes to the cave of Adullam (chap. 22), is separate from all that God is about to judge, and gathers together his mighty men. The beginning of this chapter opens with a most miserable scene, "Every one in distress, and every one in debt, and every one that is dis-contented," gathering themselves unto David in the cave of Adullam; but with these outcasts, we find God's prophet,* God's priest, and God's king: all that God really owned was there.

{*Saul had slain the priests; but Abiathar, one of the sons of Abimelech, escaped, and fled after David; and, in verse 5, we find Gad, the prophet of the Lord, mentioned as also being there.}

98 Let us follow David in his course. Through all the scene we find him in constant dependence on God's strength, not avenging himself, but ever gracious to Saul when in his power. See chaps. 24, 26. Such is his constant dependence on the strength of God, that no matter what the consciousness of weakness, however reproach may break his heart, the moment he is in the presence of the power of ungodliness, he confesses unworthiness of self; but still he can take the place of superiority, just as Jacob when recounting all the misery of the days of the years of his pilgrimage, blessing Pharaoh there. That poor weak man became identified with God, could stand in conscious superiority in the presence of the power and glory of the world, as faith always does; and thus, in the very confession of weakness, take the place of the better: "the less is blessed of the better."

David had led a miserable, sorrowful life, because of Saul; and when Abishai says, "God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand, this day," he answers, "Jehovah forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against Jehovah's anointed." Again, when pleading with Saul, "Jehovah judge between me and thee, and Jehovah avenge me of thee, but mine hand shall not be upon thee." "Jehovah deliver me out of thine hand." So was it with the Lord Jesus, "when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed his cause to him who judgeth righteously."

99 And this is what the church is called upon to do amidst enemies whom it cannot set aside. If seeking God's glory, we shall not want to justify ourselves: there may be entreaty ("being defamed, we entreat"), but not haughty self-vindication. Peter says, "If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." This is a strange principle for anything but faith. But as a saint I cannot, whilst the usurper is in power, take my portion (just as David could not touch Jehovah's anointed); there is "a morning without clouds" coming, when the true King will be set up - then I shall have it: now it is doing well, suffering for it, and taking it patiently, just what the Lord Jesus did; but with this comfort - the consciousness that "that is acceptable with God."

At last (chap. 28) Saul is in the sad, terrible condition, that Jehovah has departed from him. The day comes when he has to sink down with the consciousness of not having the answer of Jehovah, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. All depart from him, and are with the suffering man who had nothing here. Then Saul falls, Jonathan falls, and David takes the kingdom. And now we come to a sad picture; we see a different line of conduct in David.

What marks his confidence as king in his own house? He trusts in his own power. "I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains"; he is going to build the temple when he had no word from Jehovah to do it. The thing itself is not bad which he purposes, but he has not the perception of the mind of Jehovah about it, because he has not consulted, he has not waited upon Him. We find in him now the want of that direct reference to Jehovah which had so marked his previous course,* he trusts in his own strength, lives in self-indulgence, and then falls into gross sin.

{*When about to bring back the ark in the desire to build Jehovah's house, we see him going to the Philistine, the world, for help.}

Self-will having come in, self-indulgence follows; then there is the breaking out of positive sin in the murder of Uriah, and adultery with Bath-sheba: and afterwards distrust of Jehovah, in the numbering of the people!

The end of all this is the word of Jehovah by the prophet, that the sword should never depart from his house. David is chastened, repentance given, and the sin put away; but the sword departs not from his house.

100 In this latter part of the history of David, we see the consequence of blessing, the result of faith, when used in the flesh and for himself. It is not that he was like Saul, beginning in the flesh, ending in the flesh, and not blest at all. It is a lovely picture of faith, a humble, gracious walk, up to the time of his being king in his own house. Jehovah had said, "I have found a man after my own heart" (not that his conduct was so, but "a man after mine own heart"); he was a godly man with grace shining in a lovely way, and in the end there is rich blessing.

But we see the godly man blessed, and the results of his fidelity too much for the faith that brought him there! Grace shines through, and there is lovely humbleness afterwards, most precious grace; but at the same time we have in his history solemn warning as to the result in blessing of faith being too strong for the faith through which it came.

The only safety for us is in the word in Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" the going down, down, down, always humbling oneself. David was blessed as much when king, whilst humble, as when an outcast he was hunted by Saul, like a partridge in the mountains.

In these "last words of David," as we have seen, there is deep consciousness of the failure and ruin, "My house be not so with God." Where did the heart of David find rest amidst it all? In this, "Yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, for this is all my salvation and all my desire, although he make it not to grow."

Where does the church find its comfort, resource, and joy, upon the perception of ruin, when, in looking upon its present state, it has to say, "Not so with God"? And is there a single heart, having the Spirit of God in it, that does not feel thus, as not satisfied with any honour now resting upon the house of Christ? Is there one not bowed down at the condition of Christ's house, looked at in what way you please? Is it such as can give joy and gladness, or has not one to say, "Not so with God"?

Well, we should have sorrow and humiliation at this, though all turns to practical comfort as to the end; for David's house shall yet be glorified in the Person of Christ, in the midst of the nation now "scattered and peeled"; and we shall be along with Him in His glory, as the head of His body, the church. There is "a covenant, ordered in all things and sure," in which we stand, an everlasting covenant, a covenant established before the foundation of the world; and this we need to sustain our souls.

101 But is it the effect of having the assurance of that covenant to make us content with the ruin, satisfied with the want of honour now given to Christ's house? When David felt all the ruin of his own house, although he could still say, I have a covenant, ordered in all things and sure, could he be content and happy? Impossible! It was David's feeling about David's house. So should it be with us. If we have the Spirit of Christ, there will be grief and sorrow of heart, because the house is not so with God; we shall say, after all the manifestation of Christ's honour and glory in the day of His appearing is revealed to us as an assured thing, what I have to seek is His glory now. So will there be sorrow of heart at His present dishonour.

102 It is a most terrible thing to say, The covenant makes all things secure for me for ever, and therefore I do not care for Christ's glory now; it is just saying, Christ's glory may go for nothing. This is practically antinomianism as much in the church, as the making the grace of God a cloak for licentiousness is antinomianism in an individual, though not so tangible.

Still, amidst all the ruin around us, it is a comfort to know that that which is before us is blessing. We need, for the sustainment of our souls, what is presented to us as our hope, the coming of the Lord. This it is which really brightens up our hearts. It is most important for us practically to have that upon which our hearts can rest, as a sphere and scene of blessing amidst our present trials. Where will you find the manifestation of happy affection in an individual? It will be in the one who can turn to a home where those happy affections are in exercise. And so with us as Christians: it is most important that we should have a full unhindered sphere where our affections may be called forth, and all our associations be pure and happy. Where is there the man who, being always occupied in cleaning that which is dirty, does not get a little dirty himself? I want to have my soul sometimes undividedly occupied with what is good; it must centre in God. But He has not shut Himself up! Being love, He has come as it were out of Himself and flowed forth in the communication of love. We should seek to have our associations in that sphere where God becomes the centre of communicated blessing.

It is when God shall have put all things under the Lord Jesus Christ, as the one that is "just, ruling in the fear of Jehovah," when the power of evil shall be set aside, the men of Belial be "all of them as thorns thrust away," at the revelation of Jesus Christ, that the thoughts of the Lord's mind may be exhibited.

Then, too, man is set as the head and centre of all this blessing, man as the executor - the Lord Jesus Christ. Man has failed in every dispensation of blessing from the hand of God; left to himself, after he has seen the glory, he will fail. But God's heart rests on the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the unfailing Man, as the centre of all the blessing. It is when He, the great Melchizedek Priest, comes down out of heaven from God, that the fullness of the blessing will shine forth. There is that which is from heaven now, but it is the Spirit which makes us cry, as conscious of all the disorder here, "not so with God!" Then there win be an ordered state of blessing in this world, a time when the Orderer of blessing, and the Communicator of blessing comes down from God. This is the great character of "that day," blessing according to God's mind coming down from heaven in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Everything takes its place, then, in reference to its relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. If the church is the bride of Christ, the church takes its place in its proper relationship to Him as such. So again with Israel it is the same, "He that ruleth must be just, ruling in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain." "Behold the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our righteousness," Jer. 23:5-25. But if He shall reign, we shall reign with Him, as the wife, associated in His glory. Israel will be blessed under Him as their king; but still He is "the head of his body, the church, the fullness of him that filleth all in all."

103 So too the Gentiles. Israel will then be the centre of the blessing on earth, yet "in him shall the Gentiles trust." "In that day there shall be a root of Jesse which will stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek, and his rest shall be glorious," Isa. 11:10. "All nations shall call him blessed," Ps. 72:17.

And further, "All things were created by him and for him." He is a "faithful Creator": this too is a sphere of blessing which He is to reconcile to Himself, in which His power is to be manifested. Dominion is already put into His hands, "all power is given unto me in heaven and earth"; but the power is not as yet applied. "We see not yet all things put under him."

It is not for us to be looking for blessing here, apart from the future manifestation of Him in whom the blessing comes, in the "morning without clouds." Until the power of evil is set aside, the effect of the energy of the Spirit is to make us groan and suffer in proportion to it. Our groaning, as saints, should ever be that of the Spirit because of holiness of mind, as amidst the evil, and not on account of our own evil. So was it with Jesus: He groaned because of holy affections, and not because of unholy. Until the power of evil is set aside, the greater the energy of the Spirit, the more is the individual in whom it is manifested exposed to the fury of Satan.

These "men of Belial" too, the saint has to do with them. The soft hand of grace cannot touch them; "they shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands; but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear, and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place." Tares have sprung up among the wheat; Matt. 13. Grace cannot take the tares out of the field, grace does not turn the tares into wheat! They must be "let alone until the harvest." Then they are to be gathered together in bundles to be burned.

There was no reckoning in David, of setting the house in order again, when it had failed! He was looking for the "morning without clouds," when there would be full blessing. So it should be with us. Take Israel, the church, David, whatever it may be, all have failed; the "house is not so with God." Man has failed - must fail. Paul had to say, "no man stood with me, but all men forsook me; notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me and strengthened me." God must be the centre of our blessing. We feel that we need something: the bright energy of faith realises God; not the increased outpouring of the Spirit because of our faithfulness, but God's faith fullness in spite of our failure. "If we believe not, he remaineth faithful, he cannot deny himself" But it is a good thing for us, not only to be able to say, "God is faithful," but to have our affections unfolded and exercised in a sphere where all is perfect blessing, to have them engaged with those things which satisfy His heart. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him; but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." That which the Holy Ghost reveals unto us is the display and character of the glory in heaven and earth, which the Lord Jesus Christ will be the centre and displayer of by-and-by, when He comes again. This is a sphere of joy, comfort, and rest for us. Affections raised by the Spirit of God never can get their rest until they find it where His own heart rests. Here is their centre, their sphere, and their rest, the glory of Jesus.

104 The practical effect of all this upon our hearts and consciences is to throw us into the first part of the history of David. Be it in what it may, if we are faithful in singleness of eye in the camp of Saul, we shall soon find ourselves in the cave of Adullam, taking, as the portion of our souls, fellowship in Christ's sufferings. It is there we shall have all the unfoldings of those internal affections, those secret affections of heart, which were in David when humble. It was when David was a partaker beforehand of the sufferings and afflictions of Christ in the cave of Adullam, hunted as a partridge upon the mountains, that he was compassed about with songs of deliverance.

The Lord give us singleness of eye, and in the power of His resurrection to have fellowship with His sufferings.