John Alfred Trench.
Article 5 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
There are three things that seem to me chiefly to give character to the Christian's path on earth and to form him in it: The Lord Jesus is not here; the Holy Ghost is here; and, lastly, the Lord Jesus is coming again.
Now before ever the presence or absence of any one can be anything to me I must first have learned to know them; and if I have learned to know one that has drawn out my heart to himself, and become everything to me, his presence or absence is of the greatest possible moment to me, and gives its whole complexion to my life. Now I ask my own heart, and yours, beloved, How far has the Lord Jesus so become known to us that His absence tells upon us and affects the whole scene of our path through the world? Have we learned to know Him well enough to miss Him? It is a solemn question, involving so much for the heart of Christ in us, and I feel must deeply humble each one of us before Him. At times perhaps some of us may have known what it is to feel His absence as that of the One we love; but, oh, how quickly He is forgotten again and the blank scarcely felt at all! Is this, beloved, as it should be? Why is it thus with any who know Him? But I fear the truth is that few of us have the Person of the Lord Jesus Himself sufficiently before our hearts. I am not now raising the question as to whether we know His work — or rather the benefits resulting to us from it. You know your sins are forgiven. You know that your peace is made. But do you know the One that has accomplished all for you? Has His love — displayed in what He has done for you — led you to such a knowledge of Himself as has made Him everything to you? "Unto you therefore which believe he is the preciousness." (1 Peter 2:7)
It may well humble us, in reading the gospels, to find how hearts there were attracted to Christ for what they found in Him, when they could have known so little of Him or of His work compared with what we might know.
Look at the two disciples in John 1. John the Baptist's eye marked Jesus as He walked — he is filled with the sight, and speaks as though involuntarily, "Behold the Lamb of God!" The Spirit of God bears home to the hearts of two of His disciples these precious words. It bursts in upon them what Christ was and at once detaches them from all else, even from their religious teacher (often the hardest link to break), by attaching them to Him. "And they followed Jesus!"
But the Son of man had not where to lay His head in the world that was all His own. It had rejected Him; will it make any difference to them? "They abode with him that day," casting in their lot with the One who had now become their all. Precious unison with the heart of God that found all its delight in that lowly One! Well does the Holy Ghost take care to record the very hour of the day on which, in the midst of the heartless rejection of the world, two hearts found in Jesus that which attracted them away from every other object.
Look again at Mary at the sepulchre in John 20. "The disciples went away again to their own home," but Mary had no home for her heart where Jesus was not. "She stood without at the sepulchre weeping." She wept because she could not find the dead body of her Lord. Your intelligence might readily rebuke her tears; but there is something more precious to Christ than intelligence, and that is a heart that loves Him. The tears told Him of one that loved Him on earth and missed Him now that He was dead, or that she knew not where to find Him. All her affections were about the spot where they had laid Him. Bright, heavenly visions are seen; angels are at the tomb; but what are they to one who has known Christ? They can but say, "Woman, why weepest thou?" Beloved, what place has our risen Lord — revealed to us now from the glory where He is, with its light shed back on all that He has done — in our hearts? He is gone from the earth, where we are still. Do we miss Him? Not that I would undervalue intelligence. Only intelligence of Christ risen could have dried Mary's tears. But do our hearts and consciences keep pace with our intelligence?
Yet there is a necessary condition of being able to love Christ, and therefore miss Him here; and that connected with intelligence of what He has done for us. It is that we should be free to be occupied with Him. Now, this would be impossible if there was still a question as to our interests for eternity to be settled with God. But even when Christ is known as the One that has borne our sins and put them away, there is still a deeper need, in order that the heart should be fully set free for Christ, namely, that we should know how God has dealt with the nature of sin within us. Christ not only "loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood;" but God "hath made him sin for us, who knew no sin," so that He has there executed judgment on all that I am, as well as upon all that I have done. He has judged me, "condemned sin in the flesh." Thus in the cross of Christ a full end has been made before God for the believer of all that he was in the flesh. He can say, "I am crucified with Christ." (Gal. 2:20) Until he sees this there will inevitably be the attempt to improve and make something of the flesh; but this is impossible, and the result is wretchedness in proportion to the sincerity of the effort. "Oh wretched man that I am!" may then lead on through the Lord's mercy to the cry, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" But until I see that the first man is gone from before God in the judgment of the cross, and that I am now in the second Man — Christ risen out from that judgment — the flesh still in me, but I no longer in the flesh — self is still the object, and not Christ.
So blessed and perfect is the way that God delivers us from all that would otherwise come in between us and Christ, that the affections may be free to go out after Him. All my need being more than met by Christ, I may now be occupied in learning of the One that has met it. He has loved and given Himself for us, and now counts upon our hearts for Himself.
Hear Him in John 14, "Yet a little while I am with you. … Let not your heart be troubled." Oh, beloved, has His absence ever caused us a tear? It is in the measure we have known the sorrow of His absence that we can enter into the provisions He has made for our comfort while He is away — opening the Father's house to us with the promise of His coming, and of the Holy Ghost being given to throw us into that wondrous circle of divine intimacy, that we may know Him as we never could have known Him on earth.
And this is just the significance He gives His supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Listen to the voice that, speaking to Paul from the glory, tells us what we are to Him even there, "This do in remembrance of me." He cannot bear to be forgotten by those He loves on earth to the end. Worthless hearts! we may say truly. Yes; but Jesus cares for them; He has died to make them His, and counts on our remembrance of Him — giving us only that that may be the sweet expression of it. If the supper of the Lord means anything, then, as we partake of it, it means this — that we love Him, and miss Him in the world that has cast Him out. He invests it with just this character Himself: "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show forth the Lord's death till he come."
It is the weeds of the church's mourning in a scene that has been desolated for her by the death of Christ, and in which she finds no rest for her heart, only lingering round the spot where His cross and sepulchre express the heart of this world towards Him. We know Him by faith in the glory, and have rest in communion with Him there; but this only makes the rejection of Him more keenly felt, and the cross, that by which the world is crucified to us and we unto the world, as we turn to our path through it. "Away with him, away with him! crucify him, crucify him!" rings in our ears. It is the judgment of the world, and the links that connected us with it are broken. The cross, the death of Christ, henceforth characterises the one that loves Him. We call in our hearts from the blighted scene, and get away in spirit as far as possible from it, only seeking more complete identification with Him in His rejection, as the best and brightest portion He could give us in such a world. It is not the attainment of an advanced Christian, but what Christ looks for from every heart that knows Him.
Well — He is gone, and the opened heavens show Him to us, to whom the earth refused a place, raised as Man to the highest point of heavenly glory. And this is the consequence of having glorified God on earth as to every question of sin, so that He is able to give us a place with Himself there. But for a little while we tread the scene of His rejection; yet not to be left comfortless in the desolation of it.
This brings us to the second thing that forms the Christian's path. God the Holy Ghost is here. And if we have challenged our hearts as to the effect of the absence of Christ upon them, it becomes us now solemnly to ask, What sense have we of the presence of the Holy Ghost, that other Comforter? I am not now speaking of the work of the Holy Ghost in quickening souls, but the presence of a divine Person here, of whom Jesus said, "The world cannot receive him, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14:17) This is consequent upon the glory of the Son of man at the right hand of God; for before His ascension it could only be said "The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39), and the Holy Ghost's presence in the world ever since has been the witness of that glory.
What an important bearing this truth must have upon our path, beloved. The Lord has even said, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." (John 16:7) But, oh, how sad it is to find that for the most part Christians scarcely know whether there be any Holy Ghost, as for any practical recognition of His being here! Thousands of sincere people pray for Him to come, as though the Lord had forgotten His promise these eighteen hundred years, or else they pray that He be not taken from them, as if He had been unfaithful to it now that He has sent Him — for He said, "He shall abide with you for ever."
How far, beloved, has the presence of God the Holy Ghost dwelling in us, become a reality to our souls? How immense the consequences that flow from such a truth! Let us think of some of them. The Spirit of adoption sent into our hearts — by Him we cry Abba, Father. Come from the glory yet to be revealed to us — joint-heirs of it with Christ — He brings the power of it as a present reality into our hearts, making the desert more real as we pass on to it. He links Himself up with our present suffering. Do we groan within ourselves in sympathy with a suffering creation? It is the voice of the Spirit making intercession for us according to God. By Him we know Christ where He is, and are united to Him — making the scene of the glory the home of our hearts, if His cross has desolated the earth for us. What "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man" God hath revealed unto us by His Spirit. The seal for God upon us, He is the earnest in our hearts of all that is yet before us in actual possession. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. He is the power of the life we have from God, rising up to its source and level in Him in communion, forming thus within us the "well of water springing up to everlasting life," of which, as we drink, we never thirst again: the power, too, of the overflow of the joy that goes up to the Father in the worship He seeks; while out of the fulness of it "flow rivers of living water" to the desert scene around us.
Oh, beloved, is it true that the Holy Ghost has come down and dwells within us! He brought us the sweet tidings of the One that is gone, that have won our hearts for Him. He now takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us that He may satisfy us with Him. He has not come to supplant Christ in our hearts to present another object to them, but to absorb them with the One we have.
Could you tarry "ten days" in the scene from which He calls you away to such an One? Had we even the decision of Rebekah for Isaac, not a moment longer could we consent to a tie holding its power to connect us with a place where He is not. We will go to the One whom, having not seen, we love, albeit the desert lies between. But the Holy Ghost will keep us sweet company by the way, be it short or long — never ceasing, if we only let Him, to occupy us with Christ.
Thus it is that the Lord has shut us up to the Holy Ghost for comfort. How far is it practically so with us, that all comfort in Jesus' absence flows from His presence with us? How sad when we think how often we grieve Him and thus hinder the enjoyment of this rich provision of the Lord's love. Too often the positive testimony of Christ to our souls is hindered by our allowance of the flesh, and the Holy Ghost has to turn to negative this, and thus days and weeks are lost, never to be recalled. Oh, beloved! let us keep watch that our eye may be fixed on Christ, that our ear be only open to His voice, that the inward movements of the heart be formed by His word, lest we lightly grieve the blessed Spirit that dwells within us, and so hinder the whole power of our present blessing.
Then, again, if we pass from individual blessing, flowing from the presence and action of the Holy Ghost in us, there is "the house of God;" "in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. 2:22) Committed to man to build (1 Cor. 3), he has terribly failed in it and admitted all kinds of corruption; but God in long-suffering lingers in it still by His Spirit on earth, although a man must purge himself from all that is unsuited to His presence to enjoy that presence. But, looking deeper with God, in the midst of the outward profession there is that which is still more precious and which is out of man's reach to mar: there is the body of Christ constituted by the Holy Ghost. "For by one Spirit have we all been baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:13) Such is the bond that unites all saints upon earth with their Head in heaven and one with another, in spite of all that by which Satan has for a little time apparently divided them. But is it only given us to know this for privilege and joy? Surely, beloved, such a truth has its practical responsibilities, and to these we are summoned in Ephesians 4:1-3. How far have we owned them and thrown all we have and are by His grace into "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"?
Few may be found with heart and courage for such a path, apart from all that disowns it, in the varied unities of man; but the Lord Himself will be there with the two or three that are gathered together in His name. What more could we need for joy to the full till we see Him face to face? Nor has He left us without the ministry needed by us till then. Tongues and miracles, manifestations of the Spirit's presence to them that believe not, may be gone; but all that is most precious and requisite for the saints remains, for the Holy Ghost is still here, "dividing to every man severally as he will."
Again I ask: Do we own Him in all this, or are we consenting to what man has substituted in room of the Holy Ghost?
But I pass on from a subject of so wide a bearing and range on our walk as Christians, to speak of that which is given us to fix our hearts in hope and expectation — the coming of our Lord Jesus. It is linked with all that we have seen as to the effect upon us of His absence, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. In the measure in which we miss Him we shall long for Him to come again, and the Holy Ghost revealing Him to us from where He is only makes Him more necessary to us, and therefore more missed in the place of His rejection. Besides, the Holy Ghost dwells in us to bring us into the consciousness of present relationship with Christ as His body, His bride, and to form our affections according to it. Has Christ loved the church and given Himself for it? Is it the all-absorbing interest of His heart, even though He must be away? Has He put off the kingdom and possession of all things in heaven and earth that He may possess our hearts — now calling us into His own path of rejection, but by and by to share His throne and crown and kingdom? Does the Holy Ghost dwell in our hearts to be the power of our consciousness that we are all this, and more than words can tell to Him? And is His absence nothing to us? Is His long tarrying nothing to us? Oh, beloved, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come." If He waits, His desire is that our hearts may be directed into "the patience of Christ." If He gives us His word to keep, it is "the word of my patience." But He closes the book of God with the promise — the last words that were meant to ring in our ears, and have such sweetness to us, and sustain us while we wait for Him — "Surely I come quickly." It was not for us to say "quickly," though we desired it; but He knew the longing and said "quickly." Oh, has He had the deep, loving response from us that He puts upon our lips — "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
Do we miss Him on the earth? He counts on it. Listen — "I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." He misses us in the heavens! But it shall not be always so — "Father, I will," and it is the word of One whose will none dare gainsay — "that those also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." Ah! it was not in mercy only that He saved us, it was in love that must have us now for Himself and with Him for ever. He cares to have us with Himself! Who could have conceived such a thing — after all our faithlessness and treachery of heart and constant backsliding and denial of Him! Oh, if we only believed His love and the place He has given us in it, there must be a response in us, and this is the spring and power of the hope of His coming.
See, too, how blessedly it takes us out of the earth and its objects, interests and hopes — keeps us, as waiting, loose to all that, out of which the One for whom we wait comes to take us.
The object of our hope has an immensely formative power over us, even if it be in earthly things. How important, then, that His coming should be ever brightly before our hearts as the only hope given us of God. Then shall we not only hold the doctrine of His coming, but be "like unto men that wait for their Lord."
Nor will it be to fold our hands in sloth and indolence; but, as really waiting for Him, we shall be alive to all His interests here, finding it our solace in His absence that we have something to be doing for Him — something in which we can express our love. And it will not be anything we take it into our heads to do, but we shall be seeking out the thing that suits His heart, to spend and to be spent in it.
How precious to the Lord to find one thus employed on earth. He looks from the glory for such as love Him, and comes and manifests Himself to them. Do we not hear Him say, "This do in remembrance of me;" and again, "Ye show forth the Lord's death till he come." Is it not as though He said, Do they miss Me? Do they long for Me to come again? Oh, beloved, what answer do our hearts give to the challenges of His love?