John Alfred Trench.
Article 6 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour."
These words of the Lord Jesus give us the character of the path to which He calls His servants in these last days. They also give us the power needed for it. We find all in "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me." This marks out the path and supplies the power by which alone any of us can take it. The path is His own path. The power to make it ours lies in the hold that that twice repeated "Me" has gained in our hearts. It will be seen, too, that the path is the given test of — not the service merely — but the servant. Surely they are words that may arrest us in this day of general activity! When the day of solemn scrutiny of all comes, it will not be a question of the quantity, but the kind of that which has passed for service. What, then, will be the standard by which it will be tried? "If any man serve Me." It is that only of which Christ has been the spring and the object, that will abide. Shall we wait till then to bring our hearts to the touchstone of Christ? Does He not apply it now — "If any man serve me, let him follow me." How solemn! It tests not only my work but me. I must know where His path is and take it as mine before I can truly serve Him. How many of us have begun at the wrong end, anxious about how to work for Christ, rather than how, first, to walk with Him! In result, we have been cumbered about much serving, with Martha, rather than choosing to sit at Jesus' feet and hear His word, and there learn how to serve Him as Mary did, and win His approval too.
It is only as Christ Himself is before the heart that everything else falls into its proper place. But this supposes the knowledge of what He is. I say not merely of what He has done for us, though this is needed and blessed too, but of what He is as the object of our hearts. We hear of one in the gospels who knew not, as yet, the full extent of His grace as we may know it, but whose heart — attracted by the display of it in all His ways with poor sinners like herself — had opened to Him as the One who now possessed it. "She loved much," and this before she heard Jesus say, "Thy sins are forgiven: thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." If we have begun to apprehend at all the fulness of the grace revealed to us in "the glad tidings of the glory of Christ," where every need of heart and conscience before God is met, shall we stop short here? Oh, what hearts we have that could find it in them to rest in the blessing and go out so feebly to Him in whom it is ours! Does not her love put us to shame? Nor was He revealed to her as He is to us. His glory was yet veiled in the grace of His humiliation. But now He is fully revealed from the glory in which He is, by the Holy Ghost, come to engage our hearts with Him, according to all the Father's delight in Him, expressed in that glory. What answer is there in us to all the displayed grace and glory of God in Him? Would we see Jesus? The hour has come; the Son of man has been glorified; the corn of wheat has fallen into the ground and died; He abides no longer alone. But, as the fruit of His death, we have been quickened together with Him, raised up together, and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Him. He has been able to unite us to Himself in the glory where we know Him. Is it too much that He should count upon all the deeper place in hearts made so wondrously His? Have we yielded them to Him? Then only have we got the power to enable us to take the path He gives us, or even fully to apprehend what its character is.
For what is the path as these words of the Lord open it out to us — "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die;" again, "he that loveth his life shall lose it; he that hateth his life in this world," and, "if any man serve me, let him follow me"? Oh! beloved brethren, are we prepared for a path like this? Have we apprehended what the Lord calls us to if we would really serve Him? There is the path of "life in this world." The Lord Himself has been found in it, and has set us the pattern of it — walking as man before God, perfect in obedience and dependence, but absolutely alone. There was no one to estimate such a path. The darkness comprehended it not. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Perfect goodness was for the first time found in a man — the object of God's delight. Divine love and light — all that God is, were shining out in fulness in Him before man — God manifest in the flesh. But no answer from the heart of man, only senselessly indifferent or else active in hatred. "They hated me without a cause." The world would not have Him.
The rejection of Christ thus early stamps the Gospel of John, and this it is that gives its character to the path He was now entering, and calling us to follow Him in. He goes to lay down His life in the scene in which He has been rejected, to take it up in the sphere where all things are of God. He surrenders all that was so fully His right as man upon earth, to accomplish, indeed, by His death, the everlasting glory of God; yet He does not develop the effects of it here, but gives to us the same path of death — "If any man serve me, let him follow me."
Let us look at the Gospel of Mark, if we would learn further as to the path and its application to us. Here the Lord Jesus is presented to us as Servant — in the patient, unwearying service of divine love, from one scene of human need to another, till in chapter 8 He pauses to let the result come out as to man. (Ver. 27) "Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets." There is the current idle hearsay of the world; but no one cares to inquire seriously who He is! Such is the heart of man! He turns away from the general indifference to the little company of His disciples — "But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answered, Thou art the Christ." Blessed, divinely given knowledge (though not so fully brought out here as in Matthew)! But it was too late to make Him known now as such in the nation that had rejected Him. He turns from all that belonged to Him as the living Messiah on earth. It was no longer now the bright prospect of the kingdom. He was about to be "cut off and have nothing." (Dan. 9:26, marg.) "And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, — and after three days rise again. And he spake that saying openly." It is the turning point of the Gospel of Mark. How immense the change involved for the disciples! What a blighting of their long-cherished hopes connected with the kingdom, that seemed so near to be realised! But how quickly nature rises up to resent a change that involved in it nature's death! "Peter took him, and began to rebuke him," attempting to deter the Lord Jesus from such a path. It was Satan's work. "Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men," was the only answer of the Lord. Solemn words for Peter, and for us too, lest we be blinded by "the things that be of men," that we see not the path of the Lord and its practical consequences for us! "And when he had called the people unto him with the disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, shall save it."
Such was to be henceforth the path in the scene of the Lord's rejection, where He got the cross instead of the crown of the kingdom. Oh, beloved! let us put it to ourselves whether we are a bit more prepared for such a path than they were! True, we were never given the earth as they were; but have we not taken it, and allowed the things of the earth to entangle and tie down our hearts, if not the grosser things of the flesh? For it is not this last that is in question here. Alas! how we have walked in the flesh! But the Lord Jesus had none such to walk in or to die to. He speaks in view of the things of "life in this world," "the things on the earth," that had once their place for man in Eden — was still and definitely the sphere of blessing, if there had been any under the law — and will be found fully in place as such, and according to God, when the kingdom is established in power. Out of all this the Lord was passing now by His death, and summoning us into His path, as we shall see more fully further on. The cross would indeed lead to the glory of the kingdom in another day, and for a moment the bright vista of it opens before the disciples' eyes on the Mount of Transfiguration, not without witness, too, of a brighter heavenly glory in which man was yet to find a place. Still, it was but a passing gleam, and the Lord turns to the reality of His death, now fast approaching, as necessary to the accomplishment of both one and the other. It is constantly before Him through the rest of John 9. The disciples shrink from further insight into it. (Ver. 32) But in John 10 the Lord formally commits to them the path. It was the only possible one for any who had been drawn to Him as the central attractive object of their heart in the world that had rejected Him. Just so far as He has become this to us, beloved brethren, shall we delight to follow Him, and all the more readily, as we can follow Him in heart up into the heavenly glory, and know our place with Him there, as they could not yet.
The elements of the path are all out in verse 21, in the words with which the Lord convicts the conscience of the young man who thought he had observed the law perfectly. "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." Such was the path that was now so thoroughly to test man's heart. "And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions." The things of the earth bound him, and prevailed with him to turn away from the path of Christ. It was not anything that was morally bad. It is said "the Lord loved him," discerning in a naturally fine character traces of God's handiwork that yet remained amid the ruin of sin. It was not sin to have "great possessions." But these are now manifested to be the things that hold the heart back from the path of Christ in His rejection. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! The disciples were astonished at his words." Riches had been a mark of God's favour; it was the cross of Christ that altered everything. "They were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?" This brings out the absolute impossibility of nature entering such a path. The power of God was needed for it. This is connected with the resurrection of Christ, and He does not, therefore, say more about it here, save that "with God all things are possible."
Then, in the next place, it is not man in the flesh merely, with nature's gain accounted of more worth than Christ, but those who think that they have given up all to follow Him, that are to be tested. For the Lord will have reality; as surely as we profess attachment to Him, the time will come when we shall be put to the proof. "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the Gospel's" — that was the kind of path, and he who stood the test of giving up the most cherished things of this life for Christ, should have his reward — "an hundredfold now in this time … with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life." But — solemn warning for us as well as for them — many that are first in the energy of nature shall be last; and the last, seemingly slower, distrustful of themselves, as having no confidence in the flesh, would be in the end first. And so it was to prove with Peter and the rest. How little they knew themselves! "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid." They knew what such a destination foreboded. And the Lord would have them in no uncertainty about it. In patient, perfect obedience, He was going down to shame, reproach and death. (Ver. 32-34)
But the hearts of even true disciples are bent on other things. "James and John come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire." Oh, what unabashed self-seeking, in presence of His absolute surrender of self to do His Father's will! How terrible the cropping up of flesh in such a scene! And what was their desire? To be nearest to Christ in His kingdom. (Ver. 37) This was what suited man — not the cross, but the ease and peace and prosperity of the kingdom. Yet the cross was the necessary path to it. "Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized." It was this He could give: His own portion of rejection and suffering, involving death in this world. "But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give, but to them for whom it is prepared." It was not the time for the rest of the kingdom, or for making good the counsels of God as to a place in it. How many of us can esteem this last, as we look on to a place there, by the grace of God? But oh! how do we esteem the present path that belongs to it? What answers to the heavenly glory and Christ known there, is the cross and rejection on earth, in the willing surrender of all here for His sake! Time enough for the kingdom, when Christ gets it, for one who loves Him. It is the time now for passing out of everything that once held our hearts in this world, by the power of what we have got in Christ at the right hand of God.
All this testing of man at his best, and of the disciples who loved Him, by the only path that there was henceforth for one that would be fully His in such a world, and their proved failure, brings us to the question of the power needed for it. We have seen what power there is in a heart having Christ Himself simply as its object. But, if I am to go down with Christ into death, as to all that forms the life of man in this world, there must be something more. I must be in full, conscious possession of another life. It is only in the power of a life outside it all that I can accept death to it. Hence the importance of the principle upon which the Lord makes all turn in this chapter — "with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." A warm, loving heart like Peter's will not suffice. Nature's energy, that will carry a man through anything in the world, cannot enable him to take one step out of it. Hence the corn of wheat must die. The disciples must learn as well as the Jews (John 13:33), "Whither I go, ye cannot come," even though the Lord can say to Peter (ver. 36), "Thou shalt follow me afterwards." But if, apprehending the path in theory, Peter will try it now — "I will lay down my life for thy sake" — it is only to expose himself in the attempt, and prove the need of a power outside himself, and that works in human weakness, not in confidence, if the path is ever to be his. It is the fruit of Christ's death, and finds its first full, triumphant display in His resurrection. It is "the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of the might of his power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenlies." It has been further proved in the wondrous grace of God that has put us, once dead in trespasses and sins, in full association with Him there: for He has quickened us together with Christ, and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. We have eternal life in the Son of God, and, not only that, but we have the Holy Ghost as the actual uniting bond between us and Christ, gone up into the heavenly glory; and then we have the whole power — displayed in raising Him as man into it, and setting us in Him — now to usward, to sustain us in the path on earth that belongs to such a place with Him in heaven.
Here I pause, that we may put it to ourselves how far we have apprehended the practical bearing of these blessed truths in our souls. Have we seen the death of Christ as not only for our sins, but as our own judgment under the hand of God, that has made an end of sins and self? This is essential to full, settled peace before God, as we have it brought out in the Epistle to the Romans. It is God's salvation beautifully shadowed forth in the passage of Israel through the Red Sea. (Ex. 14) Through the death and resurrection of Christ we have been thus brought to God a happy and delivered people. But there is more. The Epistle to the Colossians looks back, indeed, at our death with Christ, but carries us on a step further — to association with a risen Christ. "If ye then be risen with Christ." In Romans we had a life at the other side of death, against which no charge of sin could come, the life of Christ risen. Here this is carried on to its necessary consequence, we are risen with Him; in Ephesians we find the full result in being seated in Him, in the heavenlies. But what is at once the practical consequence of being risen with Christ? (Col. 3:1) "Seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth, for ye are dead." In Romans I reckon myself to be dead indeed unto sin, but in Colossians I am treated, and to treat myself, as dead to "things on the earth." My power to do this lies in that I am not only able to follow Christ up in heart and mind as my object to the right hand of God, but I know Him as my life, and am myself risen with Him. Heaven is to me the new scene of my life, relationships, interests, occupations, joys and hopes — all centring in Christ who is there. I am dead to the scene that gave me once my home, my object, my all. I have been translated in heart into a better and brighter one. It is not now a passing gleam of heavenly glory to light up the eye of the disciples (too heavy with sleep to enjoy it), ere the Lord led them down into the pathway of death. But Christ, my life, has gone up into the glory, and has shed down the full light of it upon me. I know Him there, and He has given me my place there. What can hold the heart any longer in the earth to prevent my walking through it thoroughly with Christ, till He comes to take me actually there? It is Jordan now in type and not merely the Red Sea. I go down practically into death with Him in the power of the life He has given me in Himself, when by His own death first He had made it but the path to the heavenly glory. "And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore." (Joshua 3:3-4) It is the way we must pass now: "If any man serve me, let him follow me." If I have my members still here I must put them to death (Col. 3:5), like Israel at Gilgal — able to use the knife of circumcision at the other side of Jordan as they could not in the wilderness. If I have relationships still on earth, as undoubtedly I have, see the new heavenly light shed upon all in the exhortations that follow! But I pass on from this — not my subject now — though so important in its own place, to see one fully apprehending and walking in the path, as in the Epistle to the Philippians.
We have seen that the first essential thing in taking such a path is the rising up of Christ before the heart as its fixed object. This impels us into it, and nothing but the bright, fresh sense of what He is kept up in the heart will maintain us in it. Then, besides this, there is the life we have in Him, needed to our fully accepting death to all outside that life. We see both combined and in their full practical working in that blessed servant of the Lord, the Apostle Paul, as the Holy Ghost presents him to us in Philippians 3. It is not now the doctrinal unfolding of the path as we have had it elsewhere, but one who has apprehended it and the power needed for it, and who is walking in it. Oh, beloved! what need there is that we give heed to it, lest in the day of abundance of truth we be only hearers of the word and not doers of it, deceiving our own selves; triflers with that which is the present means of our sanctification — a sanctification of which Christ in the glory is the source, character, measure and power! How inconceivable the loss of assenting to any part of the truth without the soul's subjection to it! It was far otherwise with the servant now before us. Christ, despised and rejected of men, has fully won the apostle's heart. Christ in the glory, the result of that rejection, was the one bright, blessed object ever before him. The attraction of the One whom he had seen in the glory of God irresistibly impelled him on, and drew him out of everything here, and up into that same glory to be with Him.
This is the power that makes practicable the path found so impracticable without it in Mark 10. Paul, too, could say, "touching the righteousness of the law blameless." He was rich, if any were, in those things that are accounted of most worth in the flesh, but instead of going away grieved from the path of earthly loss opening before him — "What things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ." Nor was it only in the flush of bright first love that he thus accounted of nature's gain. Have any of us known something of this? We have felt as if we would give up everything for Him in the first joy of forgiveness of our sins. Ah! has love been declining, instead of abounding more and more — link after link reforming with things you thought you had broken with for ever? How sad to look back upon days when the truth was fresher and Christ more brightly before the eye than now! I believe this declension is inevitable when the soul stops short at the blessing received, and reaches not to having Christ personally as its object. Nothing can sustain us for Christ against the strong current of everything around us but His possession of our hearts for Himself. There is power in the simple knowledge of what He is, to put Him thus in possession. And there is growth in this divine knowledge ever bringing with it increased power. So Paul can say, "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Nor was this all, for the testing time comes when profession will be proved — if it be real — "for whom I have suffered the loss of all things." And now, as he looks back on all he has lost for Christ, he puts away the previous thought of loss, "and do count them but dung."
What can resist the power of the shining down into the heart of the excellency and glory of Christ? What else is Christianity but the Christ known thus in glory for the complete severance of His people from the scene that has rejected Him? Oh! has He so arrested our gaze that we refuse and resent as of Satan all that would distract us from occupation with Him? Then there would be no effort of giving up what still bound hearts, but rather the dropping off, as the withered leaf of autumn, of all that is not Christ. What remains as the longing of the apostle — "that I may know him"! Who, we might well ask, has known Him as he knew Him — proved by so complete a break with all that has power over the heart of man on earth? Still he is not satisfied. The more he knew Christ, the more he longed to know Him, and so it must ever be. But there is more that he desires — "and the power of his resurrection." It is the power of the place where He has made us one with Himself above. It is just the combination of object and power that we have seen to be essential to taking the path of Christ — an object that puts the heart completely outside the scene, and a life to be able to go down into death to it. Both are found in Christ where He is.
Immediately we see the apostle in the path that Peter and the rest so shrank from in Mark 10. Amazed and afraid, they followed. Paul only desires more complete identification with Christ in it, to know "the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death." It was with a view to this that he desired to know Christ better; to get to the sources of power for more thoroughly going down as to the things of nature, into Christ's path. No fear of, or shrinking from, the consequences fully apprehended by him, but a fixed, earnest purpose of heart to press more fully into the whole path. Does it not lie within the power of earthly love so to unite hearts as to make them desire to share each other's circumstances, be they what they may? And shall the love of Christ have less power with us who know Him? Say not so, beloved brethren, but let us yield ourselves up to Him, that while He gives us His own path here, we may esteem it the best and brightest He could give, and follow it out without reserve or hesitation.
Nor is the end of such a path uncertain. "Where I am, there shall my servant be." With Him, in whom I have already found glory and blessedness? Yes. Paul cannot be satisfied with less. What could there be beyond it? And here, again, in contrast with the disciples in Mark 10 — Did they seek the highest places in the earthly glory? Ah! there was that to Paul that was above all the glory — "That I may win Christ." That is his prize, his full reward. It is the object in pursuit of which he girds his loins and casts away the best earthly thing — "if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead." It mattered little what befell in the path, if this was to be the end of it — the goal ever in view. "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do." Oh, beloved, do we know anything of the power of this — of a heart set absolutely upon one thing? And this one thing, not of the world, but lying completely outside it: to lay hold in and with Christ, in full resurrection perfectness, of that for which He has laid hold of me. Is it so with us? Have we allowed other objects to divide our hearts with Christ? Is not this the secret of such little apprehension amongst us of the path the Lord has set before His servants? Or, when this is apprehended in some measure, of such lack of decision in taking it — of steady, even walking with Christ when we are in it? Shall we allow what has divided us a moment longer? Shall we dishonour the Lord Jesus, grieve the Spirit, by thus practically declaring that there is not enough in Christ to fill and hold the heart? Yet, sooner or later, all that has thus had power over us beside Him must be gone. In eternity it will be only Christ. Shall I, in the power of what He is to me now, let the last link be snapped with ought that held me back from being wholly for Him? Or shall I hold to nature's ties and to the things of the earth till He comes, or death, to wrest them from my grasp — till I can hold them no longer?
How the apostle weeps over those "who mind earthly things," in direct contrast with all that we have seen of the true power of Christianity — of the life of Christ in the Christian — its joys, objects and hopes. "For our conversation (politeuma) is in heaven." There is where the Christian's moral life is spent; "from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our body of humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto his body of glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." It is according to the same working, here carried on to its full result in glory, that He is able to subdue our hearts even now to Himself. It is found in the knowledge of what He is, revealed to us from the bright and blessed scene where He is, by the Holy Ghost. Let us, then, in the full presence of such light and glory, write death upon all that has held the heart a moment here, and press on without encumbrance to be with Him. It is easy for us with the flesh still in us to slip out of the path. Communion with Him is the only thing that will keep us in it. If Christ only be before the heart nothing can resist His power. In dependent weakness and fear of ourselves let us cling to Him. If the heart is true He will cherish its feeblest desire after Him and strengthen and satisfy it. It is precious to Him to find one here and there who desires to serve and therefore to follow Him. "If any man serve me, him will my Father honour." In 2 Corinthians we find too that God will order circumstances so as to be auxiliary to the servant honestly taking such a path. (2 Cor. 4:8-9) "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake." It is a solemn path utterly foreign to every principle of the flesh. The Lord give us grace to learn it of Him where only it can be learned, and where only the spring and power for it can be found. For it is only as we walk in His path that we can be His servants. "If any man serve me, let him follow me."