The essential thought of this psalm is, the tabernacles of Jehovah. We see that, at all times, the intention and the desire of God were to have a tabernacle; wherefore God shews to Moses on the mountain a pattern of the tabernacle.
In his song respecting the deliverance of Israel, and the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, Moses says, "Jehovah is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation, and I will prepare him an habitation," a tabernacle; Ex. 15:2. But God says, I will prepare Myself a tabernacle; and at the end of the times, after the millennium, this desire of God shall be accomplished, according as it is spoken in Revelation 21:3: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them." The word tabernacle has always the sense of a habitation of God with men. Thus David, after having said, "How amiable are thy tabernacles!" adds, "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God."
"Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young." It was thither that the soul of David looked. According to that providence of God which has prepared a place of rest for every creature, by faith he says, Well then, since Thou hast prepared a nest even for the swallow and the sparrow, Thou hast also prepared one for me; and he adds, "Thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts!" There is the nest or place of rest that he sought. "Thine altars, O Jehovah of hosts!" And, in fact, worship is the rest of the soul.
There is but one man, dear friends, who never had a place of rest. Even as Jesus says, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." And if now we have a nest, a place of rest in God, it is because for our sakes Jesus was without rest on earth.
Verse 4. "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee." Blessed are they, not who visit, or pass through; but blessed are they who dwell in Thy house. And impossible it is to dwell there without praising Him continually.
But, in another sense, we are not always in the house; we go out for service, as the swallow for food for its young; but (v. 5) there are ways which lead to the house, that is to say, divers ways of God with regard to us, which end at the house. These ways, dear friends, are sometimes stony, thorny, and murderous for the flesh. But they are the ways; and he whose heart is in the house, will prefer the rugged way which leads to it, to the easy way that leads away from it. For example, for the first disciples, the ways were hunger (v. 6), perils, persecution, death, or the valley of Baca, that is to say, all that is most sorrowful; but they "made it a well." It is thus, dear friends, that all. difficulties are changed for those who are on the way; they are made into wells, that is, into sources of joy, blessing, and glory. "The rain also filleth the pools." Not only the ordinary modes of assistance come to the help of him who is in the way, but even rain, or direct help from God, comes unexpectedly in the midst of the desert.
250 Verse 7. "They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God." There are, as it were, halting-places on the Christian's road, trials whence fountains spring up, which make him go from strength to strength.
Verse 9. "Behold … and look on the face of thine anointed." We can always present with confidence to God His Anointed, or Christ, and thus comfort ourselves concerning what we ourselves are.
Verse 10. "A day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." Many of God's children are satisfied with being at the door, and there are even some who keep themselves outside, while we ought to enter in and dwell in the house. Yet, if our unbelief, or the lusts of our heart, which desires other objects than God, hinder us from advancing, we have at least "the door," for Christ is "the door"; and "the door," though it be the door only, is worth more than all that is in the world.
Thoughts on 1 Samuel 1 and 2
What is said of Elkanah, who had two wives seems to us to present a type of Christ, and of the two dispensations (Israel and the church). Hannah would represent the Jews taken up again in mercy; Peninnah, the Gentiles set aside. Such is what we may distinguish in the prophetic song of Hannah. We also see the corruption of priesthood, and the judgment of God pronounced against the house of Eli. The priesthood of Aaron and of his sons was a type of the church.
The circumstances of the Jewish people, under Samuel the prophet, Saul and David, until the elevation of Solomon to the throne, figure the preparatory events which introduce the reign of the Messiah; that is, they present in types the principal facts which shall transpire from the time when God recommences to act for His people until Jesus comes to seat Himself on the throne of David at Jerusalem.
The word of God pronounced to Eli is the testimony that God raises up against this priesthood before the execution of His judgment. The church, which has the intelligence of what is going to happen, ought also to bear testimony that God is about to judge and reject the Christianised Gentile body; the judgment of God is about to be accomplished in those who share in the corruption introduced into the church Jude 15.
It is under the priesthood of Eli and his sons that judgment begins to take place against this order of things. As priest, Eli had no more the discernment required: in such a state, the ear is no longer attentive, so that one can be corrected; also, what is very remarkable, the sign which is proposed to Eli is the very judgment that God is about to apply; chap. 2:34.
The judgment against Eli's house has its full accomplishment only at the time of Solomon's elevation to the throne; 1 Kings 2:27, 35. The priesthood established by Solomon is, according to the word of Jehovah, pronounced to Eli by the man of God, "a faithful priest … who shall walk before mine anointed for ever," 1 Sam. 2:35. The accomplishment of this type presented under the royalty of Solomon will have place when Christ shall be seated on the throne of His glory at Jerusalem; it is the priesthood which is mentioned in the description of the order of the temple; Ezek. 44:15.
252 Aaron and his sons represented the heavenly priesthood in the character and position which Jesus took by His resurrection; the position of the church is that of Christ, the glorified Man before God the Father. That which is indicated as replacing what is rejected is "before his anointed." It is a priesthood in another position. The first is heavenly; it is what was figured in the tabernacle, the pattern of heavenly things; Heb. 9:24. The other is on earth for the temple at Jerusalem, in the days when the Messiah shall be seated on the throne of David. This priesthood shall not fall, any more than the restored Jewish people, because Christ will have taken the government in hand. That which was placed in the hands of man under responsibility has fallen in every dispensation; but God, according to His grace, maintained His election. Unto Him be all the glory.
An instruction of the highest importance for us Gentiles springs out of chapter 2:27-28. Before executing judgment on that which is corrupted, God ever recalls the nature of His calling according to His grace, as regards the blessing placed in the hands of the men who have been the objects of His goodness. God says to Eli, "Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy fathers, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house?" etc. The house of Aaron had been the object of a very special grace in the midst of the tribes of Israel. But this grace they had forgotten; and, therefore, having ceased to retain the memory of God's goodness toward them, they were fallen into a state of complete corruption, and accordingly judgment is the last remedy that God applies, whether to correct or to cut off irrevocably.
It is just the same as regards the church. It also has forgotten the goodness of God, according to the calling of His grace; also this dispensation is about to be irrevocably cut off by the final judgment of Babylon; Rev. 18. It is then of the highest importance for the Christian not to be forgetful of God's grace as regards his initial calling: let us remember whence God has taken us, in order to avoid the application of the threat of Jesus to Laodicea, "I will spue thee out of my mouth," Rev. 3:16.
The wish of Paul in chains
It is much, dear friends, to say with Paul to Agrippa, "I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds," v. 29.
There is what the apostle could say from the bottom of his heart to those who surrounded him, that they might be such as he was, without his bonds. He might have answered to Agrippa, who had said to him "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian," v. 28. Would to God that thou wert. The answer would have been good and according to charity; but it would not have presented us with a state such as that expressed by the words of the apostle, whose heart, full of joy, overflows with this charitable wish. A happy heart does so naturally.
The apostle was pressed to say what he knew, that is, to express what was passing in a heart which enjoyed its position in God. His soul was so happy that he could desire the same thing for others of which he had the consciousness for himself. Joy is always full of good-will; divine joy, of love. But more; this wish describes to us the state of the apostle's soul, notwithstanding his circumstances. Notwithstanding his confinement, which had already lasted more than two years, his heart was completely happy; it was a happiness of which he himself could render a reason; and all that he could desire was that those who heard him, even the king, were such as he was, except those bonds.
Such is the effect of the strange happiness that is produced in a soul wherein Christianity is fully received. It possesses a happiness which in principle leaves nothing to be desired, and which is always accompanied by that energy of love which is expressed by the wish that others were such as itself. We see moreover here, that it is a happiness which outward circumstances cannot touch; it is a fountain of joy springing up the soul. The whole outward position of the apostle was but ill calculated to produce joy. He had long been prepared to expect bonds and tribulations; but none of these things moved him, neither counted he his life dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry he had received to testify the gospel of the grace of God; See Acts 20.
254 Paul had been taken and led to the castle because of the violence of the people. He had been dragged from tribunal to tribunal. He had languished two years in prison, obliged to appeal to Caesar. And, to sum up his history, he was a man that might have been supposed to be worn, harassed as he was, pressed on all sides by all that can break the heart and daunt the courage. But there is nothing of this: he speaks before the tribunal of what he came to do at Jerusalem, and not of his sufferings. He was in the midst of all these things, as he says himself, exercising himself to keep always a conscience void of offence before God and man. All the difficult circumstances through which he passed were idle to him, and did not reach his heart; he was happy in his soul; he desired nothing but this happiness for himself or others, and the happiness which fills with perfect satisfaction is surely a remarkable happiness. True, he was bound with chains, but the iron of his chains reached not his heart; God's freedman cannot be bound with chains. And he desired nothing else, neither for others nor for himself, save this complete enfranchisement by the Lord. All he could wish was that all might be altogether such as he was, without his bonds.
We are going to examine what gives this happiness, this tranquillity, which leaves nothing to be desired. We may have joy to a certain point, but not peace, when there is something to be desired. In Paul was to be seen a perfect happiness. A free and ardent love was found in it. Doubtless, he had not already attained to perfection, as he said himself, "I count not myself to have apprehended"; but there was happiness and love. He possessed a perfect happiness, and, being "before kings and governors," surrounded by all their pomp, he wished for them that they might be such as he was; and his testimony was so powerful, that Agrippa could say to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
Persons may be found here, all whose circumstances are painful, who have anguish of heart. Well, Paul was in a position to be "of all men most miserable"; not only did he suffer, but his work was stopped. He could not attend to what concerned the dear flock of the Lord; every spring of happiness that he might have sought in these cases as a resource failed him. But although, according to man, he might have had good reason to complain, he is there a model of happiness. That which he enjoyed was independent of all outward circumstances, for they were not what rendered him happy.
255 There are persons who imagine that, if such and such circumstances met together, they might be happy. But this could not have procured Paul the happiness that he possessed: God alone was the source from whence he could have drawn it. We may have sorrows, but the happiness which we have just spoken of will not be troubled by them; and we have need, dear friends, of the firmness of this happiness, for if we knew the circumstances of this life, whether among the rich, or among the poor, we should see that sorrows never fail. But, returning to relations with God, we are going to see the source whence Paul drew his happiness.
Before his conversion, he possessed not this happiness. His privileges as a Jew could not give it to him. He had a good conscience as a man, but ill enlightened: he did things which he thought he ought to do against Jesus; v. 9, 10. Conscience is so often falsified by education (and this was his case), that he followed its directions and obeyed its dictates; and, through that very thing, he opposed Christ with all his might. He did conscientiously what was the greatest possible iniquity. As for the rest, he was well instructed in the religion of his fathers, a Pharisee after the "most straitest sect," very active, and distinguished for his zeal. He had been taught at the feet of Gamaliel, he was directed by the high priest (v. 12), and in open war with the Lord Jesus; v. 14, 15. With all our conscience, our religion, our learning, and the approbation of the doctors of this world, we may be at open war with the Lord.
The enjoyment of all these advantages does not hinder us from being bankrupt before God. And it is a terrible and painful thing to be bankrupt before God; and so much the more, as the things we have so much esteemed not only do not support us, but are found to have been the instruments of the blinding of our souls. Although the apostle had a good conscience, was pious and directed by wise men, all these advantages had served in the issue only to place him in open war against God. One may boast and glory, no one can say anything against us (and it is the saying of many people); and finally one discovers that all this has led us to make war against the Lord.
256 The flesh has its religion, as its lusts; it does everything to hinder the conscience from meeting God. When Paul acted in the flesh, he was satisfied with himself, and, with the help of the good he did, that settled his affair. The religion that the flesh uses is put into the balance to make weight; if conscience says, Thou hast not been quite what thou shouldst have been, the religion which adds certain forms, certain ceremonies, that the flesh can accomplish, puts all into the balance, tranquilizes itself, and rests there: this is not faith, for faith draws nigh to God. One has no religion before God, one has a conscience convicted of sin, and one is too much occupied about the judgment of God upon it to think of one's religion; rather, one has none; and there is not one person here who, if he were in God's presence, could think of his religion. Worldly piety only serves when we need it not. When we do need it, whether before the justice of God, or on account of a broken heart, it is nought; it has only served as a means to turn us away from the consciousness of our need as sinners, which consciousness, through the grace which produces it, would have led us to the true remedy, to that which would have done us true service in the hour when it would have been necessary for us.
What made Paul happy? It was indeed the truth, but not immediately, for he found that he had made war against God, when he met the Lord on the way to Damascus. Hitherto he had been content, but no farther. See chap. 9. The Lord Jesus manifests Himself in glory to him, and convinces him of sin. He is three days without eating or drinking, upset as he was by meeting the Lord; he was not then in the position to say, "I would that not only thou, but all that hear, were such as I am."
The Lord sends him to Damascus to hear the word of truth; and after three days' sufferings, produced by the conviction that this Jesus, against whom he wrestled with so much fury, was the Lord, the same Lord sends Ananias to him, and then we see how complete was his conversion. From an enemy he becomes the friend of Jesus, and the apostle of grace. This is what God does: of a persecuting "Saul" He makes a "Paul," powerful witness of the love of Jesus.
Paul had been conscientious and very zealous for the religion of his fathers; but with all his conscience and his religion an enemy of God. He was the most wicked, and, as he says himself, the "chief" of sinners. And, nevertheless, there he is; he becomes in three days the most remarkable apostle of grace - and how did that happen? It is a very simple thing. He had become acquainted with Jesus. He could not at once manifest what he would be; for he had been terrified at seeing the state of death wherein he was, but he had heard in his heart the voice of Jesus.
257 Jew or Gentile, it is all the same, while the soul is unstripped, the conscience unconvinced of sin, and the man has not understood that all his religion is but enmity against God. The conviction of sin does not come to all in the same way; there are different circumstances, but it must always be that result in the soul being stripped, and that Christ reveals to the soul His relations with His own.
There are poor Christians, dishonoured by those who are in consideration, designated by injurious titles; well, to these persons despised and pointed at because of their faith, the Lord reveals His relations with them in a manner most positive and clear. The revelation that Jesus made to Paul is, that they are entirely identified with Himself. He says, I am all those men whom thou persecutest. Paul sees the glory, and he is arrested; no doubt that it is the Lord. But this Lord is Jesus, who shews him that he persecutes Him in persecuting the Christians. It is Myself, says Jesus, "whom thou persecutest."
There were in those days differences in faith, patience, and piety, amongst the Christians; but Jesus bears them all on His heart. He says, It is Myself. And there is a complete revolution in Paul, learned, religious, and a persecutor. The more there is of religion of the flesh, the greater enemies we are to Jesus. The finer the outside, the more honest and brave I give myself out for, exactly so much the more I am God's enemy, and so much the more opposed to the grace of Jesus. He who wallows in sin will not pretend to be the friend of God, to be reconciled with Him.
But as for those who have believed, Christ identifies Himself with them. In this room there are those who believe, and other - who do not believe. Amongst those who believe there are (without doubt) many degrees of spirituality, but I can say of all these latter ones, they are one with the Lord Jesus. It is evident that this simple truth changes all in the state of the soul - the being one with Him who is in glory.
258 Paul has been later caught up to the third heaven, and had precious revelations. When he was arrested on the road to Damascus, he had yet much progress to make, for he even thought himself lost, till Ananias had explained and made him understand that Jesus wanted of him. See Acts 22:14. Then Ananias said to Paul, "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will and see that just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard." But from the moment that he truly knew the Lord Jesus, he was one with Him, and he knew it.
Whatever, then, might be the circumstances of Paul, whether at Jerusalem, at Caesarea, before Festus, or before Caesar, he could say, "I would that you were such as I am, except these bonds"; for he knew what he possessed in Christ. It was a question of this truth, the being one with Christ. Of course, Paul had yet a great deal to learn of the Lord, but in spite of that, he was one with Him; he had understood that in persecuting the Christians, the beloved of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus: "Why persecutest thou me?" The nearer we are to the Lord Jesus, the better we understand that he who touches His brethren "toucheth the apple of his eye."
I will add a few words more on what we are in Jesus. All in us has been enmity against God, our religion, our works, our whole conduct, so that in this state it is impossible to please Him. It is sad, but, after all, it is true. Paul admits it; he no longer esteems what he thought was "gain"; on the contrary, he looks upon it "as dung." But he understands that by faith all are one in Christ. Faith makes him take his place with them. He does not ask if he has faith, he does not begin a metaphysical discussion to know what faith is; but he becomes a Christian, because he believes that Christians are one with the Lord. And this is the life and joy of our souls, to comprehend that Christ has not asked us if we have faith, but that He has said, I am one with thee.
All was sin in this world. There was no longer any means of entering into relations with God, and it was necessary, in order that these relationships should be re-established, that Jesus should come into the world to accomplish the will of God, and to manifest to sinful men the deep interest that God took in them. But in this case I have nothing to do but to weigh what Christ is for me, and that is all my business. I find in Him that which takes away all my mistrust, because He knows me altogether. He knows my sin better than I know it myself; in going to Him, my heart is free, because He knows all, and that He is come expressly for that. I find all liberty, all grace, and all goodness in Him.
259 Moreover, knowing that He is God, I know Him as the Saviour God. And what a revolution takes place in the soul which knows that it has to do with the God who never denies Himself, and who is love! Not only is He come to relieve me, but more, to save me. And what is exceedingly precious is, that when I have met the man Jesus, I have met God; I am one with Him, not upon the cross (there He had taken my place), but in all His privileges. He has taken up the cause for me as a sinner, and has given Himself as a propitiatory victim for sin. God cannot sue again for my salvation, because I am one with Christ there in heaven; and if I torment myself, it is only with myself, for I cannot have the least uneasiness before God.
Satan has done all he could, but it is only to shew that his power is destroyed for ever; there is nothing remaining which can disquiet me before God. He has everything to be the source of life and joy. I find all in Jesus, in whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." I find in Him all grace for my need, my strength, and my righteousness.
Another righteousness has succeeded that of man; it is the righteousness of God. Christ is become Head of all things, and all the glory is manifested at the right hand of God, as a consequence of the expiation which has been made for my sin. Thus all the fulness is manifested, and Jesus had said, being glorified, that He is one with us, and that He has sent His Holy Spirit to make us understand it. Christ has said of us, It is I. And I have only to examine what Christ is, and to rejoice too in seeking to manifest what He is, since He has said of His own, It is I.
The Holy Spirit is given to be in the heart of these poor worthless ones, the "seal" and the "earnest of the inheritance." When one has the Holy Spirit, is one not uneasy about oneself? Quite the contrary; for then we are one with Christ, who considers us as "his own flesh," and who looks after us; sometimes, perhaps, He must wound it a little, but He does so because He cannot neglect it, since it is His flesh. And the Holy Spirit makes us alive to all that, with which Jesus is not satisfied in us as being one with Him, His body; and the nearer we are to Him, the more alive we are to these things. Besides the fact of being one with Jesus, in order fully to enjoy this privilege, and that the heart might overflow with joy in the consciousness of possessing it, the Holy Spirit must not be grieved. If the heart of Paul had not been set at liberty, although the truth of his oneness with Christ remained, he could not have said, I would that all should be such as I am. His understanding would have recognised the truth of it, apart from sin; his heart could not have said it by the Holy Spirit; but the Holy Spirit is not crushed either by prison or by any kind of tribulation. Nothing hinders Paul from enjoying the grace of Jesus. He was able to call himself happy in every circumstance, and to say to those who heard him, I would that all were such as I am, etc.
260 When Agrippa says to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian," if this had been addressed to us, what had been our answer? Perhaps we should have said, Would to God that thou wert! but could we have said, I would that thou wert such as I am, etc.? This shews the inward happiness he possessed. Oh! happy is the man that can say so! and all can say it in Christ, for Christ has said of all, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest!" But, if we are not close to Christ, in Paul's state, we are not at liberty.
Alas! there may be many things in the life of the poor Christian which oblige Christ to chastise him, and there is a diversity in the manifestation of His love, but this changes not the truth. He is one with me. The Christian sees in God all goodness towards him, and, as a sinner, nothing but grace. There is in Christ the righteousness of God, the life of God, the glory of God, and that in Christ which declares him one with Him, and which says of him, It is I. He has the Holy Spirit that he may understand Him, and enjoy Him, and that he may know by this "earnest" that the fellowship and happiness of God are his for ever, and according to the sweetness of the peace which assures him of it. Is it, then, astonishing that, filled with love, he cries out, "I would to God that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds!"
Being in the presence of God destroys whatever we have put to hinder the conscience from being alive. With all your religion, would you be naked before God, before whom every veil is rent? All that we put before us to hinder us from seeing God, all the care, all the pleasures, all our religion, disgust us, when the conscience is awakened.
261 Are you content that your consciences should be naked before God? If it be so, Christ can say to you, You are one with Me, and God is occupied about you, because you are one with Me, like those of whom He said, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest."
May God give us grace, dear friends, to comprehend this truth, so powerful, so blessed to our souls.
Are you praising with Christ?
In the first Adam all men failed, and came under condemnation. We have failed; I have failed; not only do I belong to a world of sin, but I am a sinner. If I am honest, as to my state, I shall own I am under condemnation. It is not enough to say all men are sinners, but I am a sinner. "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest," etc. All men in their reason own they are sinners; but this is another thing altogether. I must learn that I am a sinner, and that God and sin cannot go together. Man, by nature, is in darkness, and light and darkness have no connection with each other. Man in the flesh is lost, not only because he is a sinner, but because he is in a sinful condition; there is mercy for him, it is true, but his position is ruin. He is not now in a state of probation. Once God did try him. He was in a state of probation until Christ came.
We must get back to our starting-point, and then we shall see man in himself, lost, ruined, without hope, without help, until he rests in Christ, and then he is saved. Man is lost; this is his condition. Ruin is where he starts from, as involved by Adam in condemnation. The believing man is taken up out of this place, in virtue of the second Adam. This is the grace of the gospel. All now depends upon Christ. Man got out of paradise, the place of earthly blessing, and he never can get back again. I cannot get there; but I have received the same place of dignity Christ has gained; not the paradise Adam lost, which was earthly: our place of blessing in Christ is heavenly; and what is before us is the ground and way of our blessing. We have Christ as the object of our faith, and we have Him as the effect in salvation. Called upon to believe that Christ died upon the cross, we hear God saying, You are saved - not you may be, or you shall be, but you are. "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life." We shall see how completely that work on the cross was done.
The first thing, when men fell, was the word that Another should come - "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." It is not a promise made to Adam, but a revelation in his hearing that his faith could take hold of, that Another should come. When Adam sinned, he was turned out of paradise, and all his posterity with him, and he never can take his place there again. Being in heaven is not blessedness in the garden of Eden. There is no going back to a state of innocence; that is impossible. If we have once done evil, we never can return to innocency. Christ came, the promised Seed of the woman, which Adam was not. To Abraham God had promised that in his seed, which was Christ, all the families of the earth should be blessed. It was unconditional, a settled thing, irrespective of man's righteousness. It was God's own act, and according to His way. The promise rested not on man's responsibility. I will do it, says God. It was independent of man's righteousness; nor is it that God is indifferent about righteousness: the flood settles that.
263 After the promise was given, God brought in the law, to raise the question of righteousness in man, and to make known his responsibility. It was not grace reigning through righteousness, but law claiming righteousness. Have you got this? The law says, Have you done what God requires? The law says, You should love God with all your heart; have you done it? The natural conscience tells you that it is right to do so. The world also pushes you, and says you ought; but you are without power. The question of righteousness has been raised by the law, to prove that every motion of our nature is sin. The law says, Do, and you shall live; obey, and you shall have life; but it does not give power, it leaves you without strength to meet its claims.
"What shall we say then? is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin but by the law." What does this mean? Would God give a law that man could not keep? why should He give it? This is the working of the natural reason. Why was the law given? That sin may abound. "I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." Man finds out that he cannot keep the law, and he must get to this point. The apostle, as man, says, "The law is spiritual, but I am carnal, and sold under sin." This is not exactly the right place. He must get further still: "That which I do I allow not; for what I would that I do not." And it is worse than even this: "What I hate, that I do." All must come to this place. We must find out that we are without strength, and cannot get help through the law; but we are slow to learn this lesson. God never meant to save by the law. The law was given between the promise and its fulfilment to test man, to shew out what was in his heart. And this is the case often with us, after we have grace; the law comes and shews us our sin, but gives us no help; it only makes us cry, "O wretched man that I am." There is the end of all strivings. I am in a ditch, and I have to cry out, Who shall deliver me? It is too late to help myself, I cannot get up. Where can I turn to? To whom can I look?
264 Now I am come to the point I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Now it is the question of the worth of Another. It is no longer, What shall I do, but what has been done by Another? If the law could have given life, then Christ would not have died. There was no life in the law; that has been proved. The first thing Israel did, after the law was given, was to make a golden calf. Man failed under the law; and then comes another thing; not a promise, but much more, the Yea and Amen of all the promises, Jesus Christ. To Abraham's seed was the promise made, but they could not inherit it by the law; had this been the case, it would have been no more of promise.
When Christ came, there was one sad thing more to be made known - that man's will was altogether wrong. Had it been only a question of power, Christ had power for anything; He could have broken the devil's power, He could bind the strong man, open the prison doors, and let the captive free, had that been all. But there was another awful truth to come out: "The carnal mind is enmity against God." "We will not have this man to reign over us." "He is despised and rejected of men."
Thus we get the whole history of man. There man, as man, ends: there you, by nature, were. Without law, you were lawless; under law, you were rebellious. Then God sent His Son, saying, Surely you will reverence Him: but you deliberately killed the Lord of glory. Now try your own hearts. Has not this been your state? Is it now your state? You think you ought to be righteous, and that is true; but you are slow to learn the lesson that you are without power; that help must come through another.
There are two distinct aspects of Christ's sufferings. They are of a double character. The one was for righteousness, and brings judgment; the other for sin, and brings blessing. In this Psalm 22, He is suffering from God, for sin, and it ends with nothing but blessing. The heart of God is seen delighting in blessing. The first aspect of Christ's suffering is from man: it is man against God manifest in the flesh. Christ suffered, because He was righteous and for righteousness' sake, from the hands of men. He suffered for God. "For thy sake I have borne reproach. The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me." In all these sufferings, it is our privilege to suffer with Him. Alas! how little fellowship we have with Christ in His sufferings! But every sorrow He passed through from the hands of men brings down judgment on them. We get the character of it in Psalm 21: "Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies; thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee." "Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven," etc. Christ is now in an expectant state at God's right hand, waiting to take vengeance on those His enemies, who, with wicked hands, have crucified Him. It is the effect of these sufferings from man that He gets the promise of having His enemies made His footstool.
265 Psalm 22 is altogether another thing; not so much suffering from the hands of man, though there are bulls of Bashan, it is true, but a wholly different kind of sufferings here. His cry now is, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" He repeats it: "O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. Be not far from me, for trouble is near." In all His sufferings from the hands of man the face of God was upon Him, but now His face is turned away. Why did God forsake Him? Was it for His righteousness, His holiness, His love? No. "He was made sin." When He suffered for righteousness' sake, He was representing God before man; but when He suffered for sin, He was representing man before God. He was forsaken of all; man fled; God hid His face. He was alone when He drank the cup of wrath, and those sufferings brought nothing but blessing.
If man was to be delivered, Christ must take his place before God. He must stand in the sinner's stead, and there and then He cries, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Why was He forsaken? That I might be owned; that sinful man may be delivered; that sin may be put away. Nothing that He suffered from the hands of man made Him cry, "Save me from this hour"; but the effect of those sufferings was of a totally different character. Suffering for man brings grace, and peace, and blessing. Sin is put away, and for ever gone. The believing man is delivered. We have died with Him; we have done with wrath. The power of Satan is broken. Christ took my place as a sinner. Grace brought Him to it. I met God at the cross in Him. I must meet God. Have you done it? Can you meet Him in nature? If you own the truth, you know that you cannot.
266 Christ had to go to the horns of the unicorn when He represented man. Man's heart was at enmity with God, and Christ must go to the place of judgment that man might be delivered. "Save me from the lion's mouth," etc. (v. 21). When He had been to the very transit of death, He could say, "Thou hast heard me." The whole work was done. He bore the wrath. Christ settled all that was against man. He drank the cup; He endured the cross; and when that transverse spear entered His side, out flowed grace and peace and blessing. The gospel testimony can go forth. Righteousness is satisfied. justice cannot claim more. God's requirements are met, and now He is righteous and just to forgive sin. Christ had sin on Him once, but He does not exist in that state any longer. He died for sin once. He is gone up to heaven, and He did not take sin with Him. God was bound in righteousness to take Him to heaven. Christ had a twofold title to be there - one in His own right as Son of God, the other because as Son of man He had finished God's work. He is now "sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high." God's righteousness set Him there; and where He is, there I am. My unchangeable righteousness is in heaven. I am immovably there.
"I will declare thy name unto my brethren," v. 22. When Christ rose from the grave He declared God's new name - the God that raises the dead. He first sees Mary Magdalene, and He says to her, "Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father," etc. He had never so called them "brethren" before. "Touch me not," He says to Mary. I am not going to set up the kingdom yet; I will do that by-and-by. I am come now to declare God's new name. He is the God of resurrection - My God 'and your God. I took your sins, and you have the same place I have. How completely His work was done! It not only entitled Him to sit in God's presence, but He thereby associates His brethren with Himself. Where He is, you are; and what He has, you have.
267 But there is yet more than this: "In the midst of the congregation I will praise thee." After Christ had declared God's new name, He could only praise, He could not but praise. He will lead, and we should follow. "My praise shall be of thee." He will sing praises and then He will sing with us. In the midst of the congregation He praises, and then in "the great congregation." Christ associates His beloved bride with Himself, in all His glory (save His Godhead). He adorns her with all the blessings His completed work had effected. He has united her to Himself, and He would not, we may say, be happy in heaven without her. Do you know the love God has for Christ? If you do, He has the very same love for you. Christ, in communion with His Father, gives two reasons why He would have us in heaven: first, that we should behold His glory: and then, "that the world may know that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me." Do you believe that? If you do not, it is positive unbelief.
God loves me as He loves Christ. I dare to say that. He has glorified God by taking my place. It was a true transfer. He has suffered, and we are saved - not by our responsibilities, but by His work. He has taken us out of the ditch. We have done with judgment. Who is to judge us? Can Christ judge Himself? Will He judge those that are His, or condemn His own work? When He sits in judgment, we shall be seated on thrones around Him. When He takes up Israel, we shall reign with Him.
"The meek shall eat and be satisfied," etc. (v. 26). There is nothing but blessing for those that have found Christ. Have you found Him? or do you say you are seeking Him? Well, it is a blessed thing to see a man seeking. But Christ suffered for sin, and He must see of the travail of His soul. He says, "They shall praise the Lord that seek Him but there is no praising until you have found Him."
"All the ends of the world shall remember," etc. (v. 27-29). Christ is not content with having the church with Him, and seeing Israel in a state of blessing; He must bring in the millennial glory. He will take up high and low - "all the kindreds of the nations"; "all they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship; all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him." All the redeemed shall join in this song: "He hath done this."
268 It is all grace for us, the judgment Christ took. He could say, "I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished?" He could not declare God's new name until He had passed through death. Life, light, and love flow to us from His grave. He could not say, "My Father and your Father" before the resurrection. Do you know the risen Christ? This is the gospel. "If Christ be not raised, ye are yet in your sins." Have your hearts found rest in a risen Saviour? Can you claim a part in the praises in the midst of the great congregation? Christ came not only to put away sin, but to condemn sin in the flesh. Have you learnt the lesson that the flesh is irreconcilably bad and cannot be mended? You may take it to the third heavens, and then it will be proud.
Well, are you seeking Him? Christ is full of love. Come and praise Him.
The Communion of Abraham with God
Genesis 15 and 17
It is lovely enough to see God's ways of grace and condescension. He could come down and talk with Abraham, He would eat with him. But for us it is another thing: we are called upon to feed on Christ Himself, "the bread of God that came down from heaven."
Promises end in myself; they minister to my need: "As thy day, so shall thy strength be." This is most sweet and precious, and we feel the need of such a promise; but when we look at all these promises, we think of what we get for ourselves, and then our horizon is limited by what we need. In Genesis 15 God says to Abraham, "I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward." The word "thy" would bring the thought of self and of his need; it was what God was for Abraham, as One who could meet all his need.
On the other hand, in chapter 17 we have what He is Himself. The effect of God's revealing Himself to Abraham as his shield and his exceeding great reward was, that Abraham at once turned to the thought of his own need, and said, "Lord God, what wilt thou give me?" But directly God reveals Himself (Gen. 17), Abraham falls on his face, and God talks with him. It produces a closer, holier character of communion. And then, too, Abraham is not asking, "what wilt thou give me?" but he is able to intercede for others - he is taken out of himself.
It is sweet, again, to get back to what it was at first, and to see God able, as it were, to come down to the "tent door in the heat of the day." God came in the cool of the day to Paradise (Gen. 3), but it was in vain, as far as communion was concerned - Adam hid himself away. There should be a going of the soul to God in a far more intimate way than to any one else. Communion with saints is precious; but I must have intimacy of communion with God above all; and communion of saints will flow from communion with God. Then the soul, getting into this wonderful place of communion with God, takes His likeness. "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory." While there is dependence upon God learnt by need, still there is a deeper thing, a forming into the image of God by the soul's getting near to Him, and finding its delight in Him. This was, in a sense, true even of Christ Himself. The ways of the Father were reproduced in His ways down here, through the communion which He had with Him.
270 There were two things in the way in which God revealed Himself in chapter 17. First, there is the outspreading of grace to the Gentiles, "Thou shalt be a father of many nations"; because if He is the Almighty God He could not be cooped up, if we may so say, in Israel. The second thing is, I will be a God "unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee"; that is, more intimacy of communion, immediate relationship with God Himself. The nearer we get to Christ, the more shall we enter into this.
Wherever the heart was cast upon what Jehovah was in Himself, He must go beyond Israel; this title over-reached all the barriers. It is not the law, but in contrast with it, circumcision and promise without condition; though along with it, Abraham has principles made obligatory on him and his seed, which express the character of such as enjoy God's promises. (Compare John 7:22, and Rom. 4:10-13.) Circumcision set forth the mortification of the flesh; but this, not as a legal binding, though peremptorily enjoined as a confession of what man is, whatever may be the grace of God. In fact, nothing so condemns the flesh as that grace. As a matter of daily life, I am brought to trust in God Himself as the sole spring and source of all my blessing and strength. God revealed Himself to Abraham, and then said, "walk before me, and be thou perfect." Here is what I am now that is what you are to be in answer to me.
We see what a blessed thing it is to be loved of God. We have got God Himself in Christ, and that is our eternal life. When we see Christ walking through this world, our souls are attracted by the loveliness of all His ways; they delight in and admire all that we see, and get their life and happiness there. "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children." As a child of God, I have got the family likeness.
We do want promises; they are most precious, as meeting our need. But God's revelation of Himself is a creative power, which renews me into His own image. "I am thy shield"; then Abraham's heart turns upon himself, and therefore he says, "Lord God, what wilt thou give me?" God puts Himself forward as able to answer Abraham's wants, and then Abraham comes out with his wants. This is most beautiful and precious. It is what we have in 1 Chronicles 17:24. David wished that the God of Israel should be all that God could be to Israel. In 2 Corinthians 6:18, we find the two names by which God had made Himself known, Shaddai and Jehovah; but now that the Son is come, He takes the place of the Father. He who was "the Almighty" to the patriarchs, and "the Eternal" to Moses and the people, will now be a Father to us who believe. Genesis 15 accordingly ends with the earth. (See verses 13-21.) It is the promise to Israel, in connection with the land, and hence speaks of their suffering in Egypt, and of their deliverance by the divine judgment of their oppressors. It is an astonishing favour that God should thus come down and put Himself at our disposal. He binds Himself to Abraham by covenant, by death. We get the same principle in Philippians 4, "My God shall supply all your need": which is most sweet. Then Paul can say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." But still the thought here is of need, and of the power of God to supply it all.
271 Joy in God is communion, and a deeper thing; presenting a want to God (as in Gen. 15) is not communion. "God talked with Abraham … his friend" this is communion. What a different idea we are apt to have of God! Communion with God is the retiring place of the heart. It is essential for a soul to be brought into perfect confidence in God Himself, in order to a walk with God.
Promise always comes before law, and raises no question of righteousness at all. There was no question raised here as to the fitness of Abraham. Law does raise the question of righteousness, and God therein assumes the character of a judge. But now, under grace, it is even more than promise. "We are made the righteousness of God in Christ." Here, then, is an object worthy of God to delight in, and I bask in the sunshine; God looks at me just as He looks at Jesus.
Paul had seen Christ in glory - the pattern-man in heaven; and therefore he, as it were, says, I cannot rest till I am that. "The power of his resurrection" (Phil. 3) means, that no difficulties can stand in the way, because Christ has been raised from the dead. Everywhere and in all things the power of God to meet all need abounded. But afterwards (Phil. 4) we come to "his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." It is just so in Genesis 17.
272 If I am risen with Christ, and am walking in the power of His resurrection, what is all the world to me? Paul would not merely not have his sins, but he would not have his own righteousness; he was raised clean out of everything that he had valued as a man and as a Jew. This we have to learn often in the midst of failure, and in the details of everyday life. In principle the Christian is dead to all here, and has got a new life altogether. Christ never had a motive that the earth suggested; He walked through the world with divine motives. The thing in which the disciples were following Christ so tremblingly is what the apostle says he wants to have; namely, "to know the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." He does not count himself to have apprehended, nor to have attained, till he reaches resurrection. He goes on getting more and more; but he has not got it in full till the resurrection. just as we may imagine a lamp before us at the end of a straight path; we have more and more of the light as we go along the road, but not the lamp itself till we reach it. But the Christ that we get then is the Christ that we have got already.
It is well that a nature is really given to us independent of its development; there is such a poor display of it in our ways before men. Where is the "bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus?"
How wonderful for a man in prison like Paul to say, he can do everything. Many have triumphed in prison through God's grace, but still had a feeling as if they were shut out from service, and chastening was come upon them. Paul's being in prison may have been in some sense a chastening; but in his case the chastening came, to use a homely phrase, upon good stuff - upon a man with a single eye; and so it only purged away dross, and made him see clearer.
Abraham and Lot
Genesis 18 and 19
The destruction of Sodom is a figure of what will happen when the Lord comes. They carried themselves as if the world was to last for ever. Such is still the great sin of the world, and what marks the incredulity of the heart; 2 Peter 3. Men make all possible arrangements for the future; and yet, since the death of Jesus, the world cannot count upon a single day. God is waiting till the iniquity of the earth reaches its height, till it is all out and open before He exercises judgment. The world takes advantage of this. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil," Ecc. 8:11. It is the principle and the practice of infidelity all through: it was the history of the antediluvians and of the doomed cities of the plain; Luke 17:26-30.
The church, the Christian, has properly but one object - Christ in heaven, and therefore is called to be in heart separated from everything here below. Abraham, as far as he was a stranger and pilgrim on earth, is the type of the faithful; Heb. 11. He saw the promises afar off, was persuaded of them, embraced them, and confessed himself a pilgrim here below. Of such God is not ashamed to be called their God. He would be ashamed to own as His people those who make this world their fatherland. "And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned: but now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." Abraham had only a burying-place in the land of Canaan. As he followed God in the main faithfully, God took a particular interest in him: Abraham is called "the friend of God." There is no uncertainty in his movements. He quits Ur of the Chaldees; he and his leave Haran subsequently. "They went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came."
On the other hand, Lot's wife ("remember Lot's wife") left Sodom in bodily presence, not in heart. Her judgment is recalled to mind by the Saviour. Which of the two does Christendom resemble? His people are not in a state which God can own, if they do not say such things as Abraham, if they say them not in deed and in truth.
274 God communicates His thoughts to Abraham, and Abraham responds, in his measure, to such grace on God's part. He is not here, as in Genesis 15, asking something for himself; he intercedes for others. There is no lovelier scene than the opening one of Genesis 18, upon which the infidel spues his wretched materialism, and proves his moral incapacity to appreciate God's gracious condescension to his "friend." "This did not Abraham." Accustomed to the ways and words of God, he quickly feels the divine presence; yet he beautifully waits till the Lord is pleased to discover Himself, acting all the while with a touching and instinctive deference.
Indeed, such intimacy was not only most suitable to the infancy of man in the revealed blessings of God, but it was the fitting prelude and preparation for Abraham to learn the high privileges in store for him; above all, for that precious communion, which rejoices in another's blessings, and sympathises in another's sorrows. God therein assured Abraham, in such a way that he could not possibly mistake, of His interest, and His confidence in him. "And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him," Gen. 18:17-19. Abraham enjoys the closest intercourse with Jehovah, who reveals His counsels to him. Not only is he told afresh, with fuller light, of the promised seed, but he learns from God the imminent destruction of Sodom.
Now God has displayed other, richer, and more spiritual means of assuring our hearts of His love; but nothing could be more appropriate then than His dealings with Abraham. He appears to him in the plains of Mamre. He comes before the tent door, enters, converses, and walks with Him. He wanted to confirm the heart of Abraham practically; and He succeeded, we need scarcely add. The effect appears in pleading before Jehovah. For us, through infinite grace, He has provided something better still. He has come and manifested Himself in Jesus. And we have the certainty that we have, in the Man Christ Jesus, One who ever intercedes for us; yea, we see ourselves in Christ before God; and the Holy Ghost gives us an intimacy with God, which even Abraham did not and could not enjoy, because the basis which renders it possible was not yet laid. It is too likely that we have made little progress in using this nearness to God; but such is our standing privilege; though it be not a palpable visible thing, the reality of this intimacy is not the less great. The counsels of God are revealed to us in His word, and the Holy Spirit is given to us that we may know and enjoy them. What we fail in is the simple and strong faith of Abraham.
275 Abraham does not dread the presence of Jehovah; such fear is the effect of sin. If we have seen the glory of God in Jesus, the divine presence becomes sweet to us; we find there full strength and confidence. To know Him is indeed life eternal, and His presence makes us happy with the deepest possible joy.
When a soul is in this confidence, God shares His thoughts, as here He treats Abraham as a friend, telling him even what concerns the world. With a friend we do not speak of mere business, but of what we have on our heart. Intercession is the fruit of the divine revelation and fellowship. Abraham, separate from the world, and with the Lord upon the mountain, communes of the judgment which was about to fall upon the world below. The church is, in a still more positive and complete way, separated to God from the world, and beloved of Him. God confides to the church His thoughts - not merely what He means to do for her, but what is hanging over the world. The Son of man is going to judge the quick as well as the dead; and He has told us of it.
God shews the world the utmost patience. He lingers He "is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." If His love be displayed to us in ways beyond and more spiritual than that which the elders tasted, His forbearance to the guilty world is also more marked. If a man had to govern the world, he could not endure its ingratitude and iniquity for an hour. God brings His friend, in some degree, to enter into His own long-suffering, and even reproduces it, as it were, in him. The angels, in the guise of men, turn their faces and go toward Sodom; but Abram stood yet before Jehovah. Such also is the portion of the church - to stand before the Lord and learn His purposes and thoughts. She is familiar with His love for her, and has the consciousness of it. She intercedes for the world, in the hope that there is still room for grace. The heart then leaves circumstances to draw upon the love that is in God. If we cannot intercede for a person, the sin is stronger than our faith. When we are practically near God, the Spirit which sees the sin intercedes for the sinner.
276 Abraham is silent (v. 33), "and the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham"; but He did more than Abraham asked. He withdrew Lot from Sodom and saved him. Nothing could be done till Lot was safe; Gen. 19:16, 22. God's eye was upon him. What blessedness to be able to reckon on His love for the righteous!
Abraham persevered in intercession, though he stopped short of the fulness of God's mercy. We know not as God knows all He is going to do. Nevertheless we may intercede with faith. Abraham grows bold as he goes on; his confidence increases. In result he knows God much better than before. The peace of God kept his heart. The fruit of it all is seen in Genesis 19:27-28, where Abraham gets up early in the morning, to the place where he stood before the Lord, and looks down on the plain, now smoking like a furnace. From far above he sees the effects of the utter destruction. Such is our position if we are heavenly. It is thus that we see the judgment of the wicked.
On the other side, Lot and his daughters had been spared - saved so as by fire - not to their honour, but through the faithful care and tender mercy of the Lord. It was his unfaithfulness, indeed, that had placed Lot there; it was his unmortified desire after the good things of the world. "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord … Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan" (Gen. 13); then he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Next he dwelt in Sodom; Gen. 14. On the eve of its downfall, "Lot sat in the gate of Sodom," in the place of honour there (Gen. 19:1), sad example of the earthly minded believer in the path of declension! Such men dishonour the Lord, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.