John Alfred Trench.
Article 7 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
Christ the Pattern of Our Place.
(Prov. 8:22-31; Matt. 3:16-17)
There is nothing that our hearts are so slow to believe as the wonderful place we have in the love of the Father. Hence it is not to be wondered at that there is so little enjoyment of the reality of it amongst the beloved children of God; the love is so infinite in itself, and our hearts are so dull and insensible. It is all so unaccountable too if we look at ourselves. But then it is just as He said to Israel of old (they never had such a place as we have): "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you." (Deut. 7:7-8) This was the only reason for it; the only account He could give of such love. If it was thus with His love for Israel, is it not infinitely more so with the love He has for us, and that has given us such a place before Him?
The thought of this has led me to the passages before us, that we may seek in the Lord's mercy to us to realise it, or rather to believe it. For all realisation, beloved friends, is in believing and in nothing else. In nothing more nor less than the simple faith that takes God at His word, is found the enjoyment of these things, that have been revealed to us that we may enjoy them. And it may be that here, this evening, the Lord will lead our hearts a little more into the apprehension of our place in His love. Oh! surely we need to dwell much upon it here. These poor hearts get away so easily from the sense of the little we do know. There can be nothing beyond it to dwell on for ever. He has given us the Holy Ghost that we may be able now to apprehend the wonderful thoughts of His heart as He unfolds them to us.
The passage from the Book of Proverbs is one of the only two that I know of in the Old Testament that carries us back into the eternal activities of the heart of God, and gives us an intimation (if the time was not yet come for the full revelation) of what was in His counsels. (The other that I refer to is in Psalm 40) The veil is drawn just for a moment, that, in wonderful privilege, we may be let into the intercourse of wisdom with Jehovah, or, as we can say, of the Son with the Father. What a scene of divine communion opens out before us! "When he appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight." Does that surprise us? No! We know it could not have been otherwise. But what grace that lets us hear it thus! "Rejoicing always before him, rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth." These words indicate the direction of the activities of the heart of God, so to speak. Where was His love going out? If the Son (as we may say) was always rejoicing before the Father, the Father was rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth.
"From everlasting, or ever the earth was," before even the foundations of it were laid (not to speak of the later work that fitted it for human habitation, and man was at last created in the image of God), the heart of God was going out to the habitable parts of it. And in this communion of divine love, the heart of the Son went where the heart of the Father went, to find His joy where the Father found His, "and MY delights were with the sons of men."
How wonderful the thought! And that it should be revealed to us that we might know that we were objects of delight to the Father and the Son, in this divine communion of divine joy, before the foundation of the world. Do you believe it? Does any one say, How can this be? I know that He died to save me from the hell that I deserve, but how can I think it possible for a moment, that in me, a poor vile sinner, the heart of God could find delight? Let us then trace it a little through His Word, and see how it can all be so certainly for us. But before leaving this scripture I would call attention to what may be overlooked in it. It may have been thought by some that the heart of God found what answered to the eternal thoughts of His love, in Eden, when the man and woman were yet there in the perfection in which they had been created.
Not so. The first man never entered into the counsels of God as the object of these joys. For the simple reason that Adam never was nor could be of the "sons of men" of whom the passage speaks. If we bow to the Word of God we must pass over the first man. Not in his race surely, for it was fallen and corrupt; but not even in Adam in innocence in Eden did the heart of God find the suited object of His delight. I mean as he stood there in his innocence: for I do not question that as a sinner he became the object of God's seeking. No less came out in the first three words that fell from the lips of God on the ear of His fallen creature: "Where art thou?" Wonderful words they were, revealing man to be lost, but God come out to be the seeker of the lost!
What a condition it was that all at once came in by sin! The ruin is complete and final. In one instant, dear friends, in the entertaining of that first thought, and in that first act of sin, man had traversed the whole distance that sin could carry him from a holy God. Thus, "by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." But it is not all at once that we are willing to accept the truth of a ruin so complete. Hence the four thousand years of the testing of the first man. What a history of abounding iniquity it has been. And yet it is only the bringing out and development before our eyes of what had become a fact as to man's condition before God, the moment he reached out his hand to partake of the forbidden fruit.
But at last the moment came when that history was to close. Test after test in successive dispensations had been applied to our condition, bringing out only more and more fully that we were lost. "But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him. … And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." (Matt. 21:37-39) It was not now God, as in the law, claiming anything from anybody; but come in Christ to make Himself known in all His love in a world of guilty and ruined sinners. It was the last and most searching test of all as to the condition in which we were. And what came out? These terrible hearts seized the opportunity of the grace that brought Him so low, so to speak within our reach, to cast Him out of the earth as unfit for any place in it. The day for man's deliberate choice was come, and they chose "not this man but Barabbas," the robber and murderer — "Away with this man; crucify him, crucify him." It was the last answer of man to the last test God had to apply to his condition. Our sin was consummated in His cross, in sin's last worst act.
The solemn history has been rehearsed before us that we may each one learn our own hearts. It is we who are guilty. It is these hearts that have crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. For it is no use to plead that we would not have done it if we had been there. True; it will never be within our reach actually to cast the stones off the street at Him, or to cry, "crucify him, crucify him." But it has been within the reach of all to express what we think of Him. Can we deny it, that while our hearts have been open to every folly, and vanity, and sin that Satan could present to us, they have been only absolutely closed to the beloved Son of the Father? We are proved guilty. We have been each one fully identified with the world's rejection of the Lord Jesus. The Holy Ghost is here to "convince the world of sin, because they believed not on me." Sooner or later we must be brought to own it. God speaks to us; "The entrance of thy word giveth light"; and as surely as the tiniest ray of divine light thus penetrates the soul the effect is that we find out, not merely that we are guilty by our individual acts, but that we are absolutely lost in Adam. Then it is that we find that we are absolutely and for ever saved in Christ; for there, in the cross, He came and wrapped, as it were, my sins and all that I am, around Himself, and carried all into death. Thus He closed that dark history of ours for ever in the infinite depths of judgment that divine love led Him into, that we might know our place to be before God, according to all the perfection of His work and of Him, who wrought it.
This, beloved friends, is the gospel of our salvation. It sets us free to close our eyes on the moral morass of the first man and his history, and to open them upon the second Man, upon Him who alone could meet the mind and heart of God. To this we are brought in Luke 2, as we hear a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will in men." Thus they usher in the dawn of the accomplishment of the everlasting thoughts of God as intimated to us in Proverbs 8. But where does the heart of God find the object of its pleasure? In a Babe born in Bethlehem — the Son of man indeed, but none of the fallen race of the first man — Himself the second Man, the Son of God, now presented to us out here on earth in all the perfection of His being. See Him at the moment of His manifestation to Israel, as we have read in Matthew 3. Oh! how blessed it is when the opened eye of faith, turned away from all that is of the first man, rests upon the Lord Jesus. To Him the heavens were opened for the first time, and the Spirit in the form of a dove descends and alights upon Him, while a voice from heaven declares, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The heart of God has found at last in a Man upon earth all His delight and pleasure. The Spirit in the form of a dove is significant. The heavenly dove that found no rest for the sole of its feet in the scene under God's judgment in Noah's day has now found a spot where it can rest abidingly. "John bare record and said: I saw the Spirit descending in the form of a dove, and it abode upon him."
Let us follow Him with adoring hearts in His lowly path. What scenes of varied testing must He pass through, but all only bringing out the sweet savour of His perfection. We have seen Him in the opening of His public path, the declared object of God's delight. It is still the same upon the mount of transfiguration: "for he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came to him such a voice from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." There is a Man upon earth that the excellent glory can claim as perfectly suited to it. Who, then, could dispute His title to step into it? But what is this that we hear? In the intercourse of saints that appear in glory they speak of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. If from the mount of transfiguration He had taken His place at the right hand of the Majesty on high, it would have been to leave us to perish everlastingly. It was not for this He had become a man. He descends from the mount, to begin from the foot of it His last journey up to Jerusalem to die. The various stages of the journey may be traced in Luke.
But we must get the meaning of His path from His own words. What brought Him on the road to death? (It is plain enough why we are there.) He interprets it for us: "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." (John 12:24) Mark the words: they call for our deepest attention.
We have been looking at the path of one perfect Man, if there was but one, across the moral waste of this world: One in whom the heart of God could rest, who was no other than God manifest in the flesh; and there we rest. But we have seen that His presence here was the proved absolute absence of anything in man's heart to answer to anything in God's. When we saw Him there was no beauty that we should desire Him. That was our estimate of the perfect object of the Father's delight: "he was despised and rejected of men." As He has to say in such solemn words: "They hated me without a cause." Clearly, then, there was no man that He could raise to His own level as a man walking here. He might have taken His place in His perfection as man in the glory of God, but if He had, He must have been alone in it for ever. How, then, would the counsels of God have found but a partial fulfilment: for "His delights were with the sons of men" — not one but many. The precious corn of wheat must die that it may not abide alone in its perfection, "but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit."
But there was more than this in that deepest point of His humiliation. Therefore it was that when Judas went out to consummate his dark treachery, Jesus could say, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him." (John 13:30-32) Let us pause and dwell upon what is here presented to us for a moment. There were two ways in which God had to be glorified. He had been glorified in goodness in the perfect revelation of it in giving His Son and in His whole path here. What an answer to the malignant lie of Satan! Had he insinuated in Eden that God was not as good as He appeared to be — that while He seemed to lavish upon them all earthly good, He had in reality kept back the best tree of the garden! How full and complete the answer when Jesus was there to say, "God so loved the world" (not of innocent men and women as in Eden, but of guilty rebels) "that he gave" — the best tree of the garden? Ah! that would never have sufficed to express what was in His heart — "his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God has been glorified in goodness by Him who was the only adequate expression of it in a world of sinners. But something more was needed. What about sin? What of the outrage upon the majesty of the throne of the heavens, of our very existence as rebel creatures? And God had seemed to overlook and pass it over! Now the whole question had to be entered into, and God was to be glorified as to sin. The cross was the scene of it. We find the Lord Jesus there entering into the whole question of sin as it concerned the glory of God. This was the first thought of the heavenly host in their praise, if it is too little thought of by our poor hearts. Yet the gospel inseparably links our blessing with His glory.
In the cross of the Son of God sin was turned into the occasion of bringing God His brightest glory. Creation had displayed His Godhead and power; but that tells me nothing of His nature. A man of power may be a very good man or the reverse; power as such tells me nothing of character. But in the cross the whole character of God has been revealed. Every moral attribute of His being has shone out and been infinitely glorified. What a triumph over the worst work of the enemy! There where men and the power of darkness were doing their worst in sin, the Son of God was making good the infinite glory of God as to every question of sin. Where do our hearts turn to see all the love of God? The cross of Christ is the full display of it. The enmity of our hearts that followed Him even in death with the spear-thrust of the soldier, only drew out the answer of infinite love, in the blood that cleanseth from all sin. Eternity will have no new depths of divine love to disclose to us. Oh! that our hearts might enter a little more into it now. But where we see His love, there also we see infinite holiness. That is what makes the cross the blessed resting-place of our souls for ever. There only do we learn fully what God is against sin, if we learn there too what He is for the sinner. There too righteousness has been declared, and the majesty of God's throne perfectly vindicated.
Now the proof of it was to be found in this: "If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him." Has He done so? Before even the devoted women that loved Him could be at the sepulchre on the resurrection morning, the glory of the Father had made way to wrap itself around the One who had so infinitely glorified Him. He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and we behold Him glorified in God Himself — the proof before the universe that God has been glorified in Him as to every question of sin; for the glory is the seal now, not merely of His own personal acceptance, but of the acceptance of the work He has accomplished about sin. And where God has found glory for Himself as to sin, there we may well find the perfect rest of our souls. In the work of the cross all our sins have been searched out — all I am as a sinner judged, condemned and crucified with Him — my history as in Adam terminated in justly executed judgment. Do we not bless Him for it, and only long for hearts set free to bless Him without hindrance for ever?
But if this be so, it becomes a solemn question for our souls: have we practically broken with the first man, and all that belongs to him, in the death of Christ — accepting death with Him — so as now to be only occupied with the second Man in the glory of God? The Spirit of God has come from that glory in which He is to bear witness of Him to our hearts. Every ray of the glory of God is concentrated upon that face, once more marred than that of any man's. Every ray of the glory on His face, is telling the satisfaction of God with the work that has cleared away my sins and me in judgment. It shines on the face of Him who loved me and gave Himself for me. I can gaze undazzled on the brightness of that glory. What a contrast with Moses — "Thou canst not see my face and live" was the answer to the request that told the need of his heart — the need of all our hearts for perfect rest before God, "Show me now thy glory." Moses must be covered in the cleft of the rock while the glory passed by. The revelation of it would have been the destruction of all who had their standing in the first man. Even the reflection of the partial display of the glory on the face of Moses as he came down from the mount was too much for the people. What is that that he holds in his hand? It is the law that claimed of man in the flesh that he should be all he ought to be for God. The glory on the face of Moses was still connected with the unsatisfied claim of a broken law. No wonder it was intolerable. Who could stand before it? Is there any claim connected with the glory on the face of the Lord Jesus? No! It is the witness that every claim of the broken law, and of the outraged holiness of God, has been perfectly met and settled. He has been glorified as the proof of it. God has been not merely satisfied — but glorified. There is no veil upon the face of Jesus — no hand needs to hide the glory of God, that is shining on His face, from us. We can bear and bask in the sunlight of it — "We all, beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled face" (note well — it is His face that is unveiled, not ours), "are changed into the same image." (2 Cor. 3:18) Where we have looked for peace that never can be disturbed there we must still fix our gaze for the whole practical power of Christianity.
But this is only part of the testimony connected with Christ in glory, though so blessed for us. If the glory of God shines before us in Him, we are in Him before the glory. And this last is what gives effect so far to the eternal counsels of God. The Spirit of God would fix our eye on Him, that we may see the perfection in which we are, before the eye and heart of God.
We must turn back a little to see how this is accomplished. I would recall our hearts to the scene of His death, when not a leaf of life stirred, so to speak, in the whole creation — man dead in sins, and the Lord of life and glory dead for man's sin beneath the judgment of a holy God. "Because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead." (2 Cor. 5:14) His death casts its solemn light upon the condition of all men. If God had to give up His Son to death, that any might live, it was the plain proof of the close of all God's ways in the past that had recognised man as alive in the flesh. The first man is given up as dead. What a scene of universal death it was, as the eye of faith looks out on it with God. One Man stands up out of that vast plain of death, victorious over sin, death and Satan: "raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father." Mark, beloved friends, there is but that one Man now before God; there are not two. There was the first man. We have seen his history open, develop itself, and close in sin, under God's judgment, executed in full in the cross of Christ for faith — in the lake of fire yet to be, for unbelief. There can be no possible revival of him or of his race. There is now before God the victorious Man, the last Adam, who has made good His claim as such in divine righteousness upon the glory of God. The answer to that claim is, "the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph. 1:19-20)
It is in that risen Christ that the believer has his place before God according to the eternal counsels of His heart. The Spirit of God unfolds all that He is that we may know that we are that in Him. He can bring it all out now, as He could not while the history of the responsible man was going on, needed, as that history was, in the patience and long-suffering of God, to bring us to the full discovery of ourselves. But now that the first man has been disposed of for God and for faith, the moment was come when He could unfold to us "his purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim. 1:9) This is what is fully brought before us in Ephesians 1. We are brought back to the standpoint of God's eternal counsels to find that we were seen in all the perfection of Christ before God. Now this perfection was manifested in Him when He was upon earth.
Hence I read the verses in Matthew 3, because it helps us greatly to enter into the wonderful place we have, to see it thus set forth in Him when He was here, before redemption was accomplished on the ground of which alone He could put us into it. Let us look at the wonderful details of it.
"And, lo, the heavens were opened unto him." In the fullest way they are opened now to us. "And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son." In Ephesians 1:5 we find that is the relationship we have been brought into — "having predestinated us unto sonship by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will." What blessed words — "to himself"! See, it is not God meeting our need; it is the heart of God satisfying itself. It was not to make us happy — He has made us happy — but it was for His own joy, to Himself, He counselled it. And faith just lets God have His own will and way in blessing, and takes up the place He gives us. We got the first intimation of such a glorious position in the message of Christ from the mouth of the open sepulchre — "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father: and to my God, and your God." His redemption work accomplished, He has been able to associate us with Himself in all His own position as man with God — Son with the Father. And because we are sons, He has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. This name of intimate relationship had only been heard upon His lips before; now it is heard upon ours. Such was the good pleasure of His will.
But the voice from heaven said: "In thee I am well pleased." And is this for us too? It is: "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Was not that just what He was: holy, without blame, in love, and before God? Thus He has had us before Him in His eternal thoughts, "rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and my delights with the sons of men." "Before him" — what an expression of His delight. Just as a mother puts her child out before her eyes that she may gaze upon it and be satisfied in her love, so has He set us before Him in Christ.
Nor is this all. The voice declared, "This is my beloved Son." And, "to the praise of the glory of his grace, he has taken us into favour in the beloved." Not one thing is reserved from us of all the blessedness of Christ's place. It might have been said, "in Christ." It is the keynote of the epistle that we hear again and again throughout it. But here the expression is purposely changed, "in the beloved," that we might know that in the depths of the Son's place in the Father's love, we have ours. This is especially what He counts on, to be to the praise of the glory of His grace. And so it will be for ever. The Lord Jesus will have the world know it in another day — "that thou hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." We know it now. How wonderful it is! It surpasses all our thoughts! But this just stamps it to be His own thought.
There is one more point brought out in the position of the Lord Jesus. It is that the Spirit descended and abode upon Him. This too is made good to us. Only in His case the Spirit was the seal of His own personal acceptance. Given to dwell in us, He is the seal of Christ's perfect work of redemption, and of our acceptance by it. "In whom also after that ye believed" (the glad tidings of a salvation that has taken us out of all we were in Adam, and put us into Christ) "ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." Thus we have received the Spirit, the seal for God marking us as His, earnest for us of all that is before us in the glory of the inheritance. Such were the counsels of eternal love, such the place we have been given by them, as God saw us in Christ, not in the first man, but in the second, before the world began. We have seen the pattern of it in Jesus when He was upon earth — then absolutely alone in it. Now He has won the glorious title by redemption, to have us associated with Him, in all the blessedness of it. And we have been given the Holy Ghost that we may know Him in the Father, and that we are in Him and He in us.
One thing must be borne in mind, to guard the glory of the Lord Jesus as Scripture ever does. What He was declared to be in the words before us, He was personally in Himself, the perfect object of the Father's delight. It is only as in Him according to the eternal counsels of the Father, and the work by which He has accomplished them that we are brought into the same place. Personally in ourselves — how immeasurable and infinite the contrast! Blessed be God! we are seen no more in the flesh in Adam, but in Christ.
Christ the Pattern of Our Path.
We come now to another side of the truth that is so blessed for us and inseparably connected with it by the Holy Ghost, as we have already seen from the passage in John 14:20. That is, that if we are in Christ in perfect righteousness before God, Christ is in us as our life here in this world. Hence if He has given us in Himself the pattern of the place He has set us in before God, we find also in Him the pattern of the path that answers to it in the world. If the verses read in Matthew 3 give us one, those read in Matthew 4 give us the other.
The path follows from the place. It is a simple principle, yet how many are trying in vain to reach the place, as if it depended upon the path! But thus neither the place nor the path according to God are ever known. It is the reversal of the whole order of God; the only possible one for His glory and our blessing. The place must be settled first, and the soul settled in it in the sunlight of His favour, then the path flows from it. The only place that God has for any one is in Christ. It is Christ's place before Him in perfect favour and acceptance. Hence the path that flows from it is Christ's. It is impossible that it could be otherwise. He has associated us with Himself in His entire place before the Father and God. He cannot dissociate us from Himself by giving us a path other than His own. Too often we practically dissociate ourselves from Him by ways unsuited to Him. But this is our failure and sin.
"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." Conflict follows upon blessing. That is what we are immediately brought into. There was no conflict once. We drifted on to a lost eternity in peace. The current of present things did Satan's work effectually till the entrance of the Word brought in light and life. At once we were in conflict. It was the flesh first occupied us, till we learned to give up the struggle as hopeless and to take our place according to the deliverance Christ had wrought for us, to know our place in Him, and no longer in the flesh. Now it is Satan, setting himself to dispute every step of the path in which the Lord has called us to follow Him. Perhaps we were hardly prepared for this, beloved friends: that when the full light of His presence, and of the way we have been brought into it, shone upon our hearts, the path according to it had to be taken in the teeth of Satan's antagonism. But it was not one moment sooner. First, the unclouded light in which we have been set; then conflict with Satan.
We have the example of it in Jesus. We have seen the heavens opened to declare Him the beloved object of the Father's delight. The very next thing is — He is tempted of the devil. But He who was ever with God has to be led of the Spirit to be with Satan. It is the exact opposite with us; we were always with Satan and have to be led of the Spirit to be with God. "And when the tempter came unto him, he said, If thou be the Son of God." Was it, if possible, to cast a doubt upon the relationship, just so fully declared? Are we ignorant of his devices? Can we expect to escape? How blessed to have the Word of God simply to take our stand on and the Lord Jesus our example of how to do it. Let us look upon the wonderful scene, and note the character of the temptations, for we have in them the whole range of that with which Satan would lead us from the path of Christ.
What circumstances they were in which He was tested! "He had fasted forty days and forty nights, and was afterward an hungered." Satan suggests that He should prove His Sonship by helping Himself to bread. "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." But if He had stooped to become a man, man's place was to obey, not to command. Satan seeks to turn Him from obedience. Mark the subtlety of the way he works; for it is often in this very way we are taken off our guard, and the enemy of our souls gets a footing. There was nothing positively evil in what he presents to the Lord. Too often we are drawn away by positive evil, but not always or ordinarily. It is rather by his presenting something of which it cannot be said that there is any harm in it. Let us be warned. Wherein could be the harm of turning stones into bread if one needed it and had the power? It was not possible that the Lord Jesus could entertain such a question. The moment we do Satan has gained his point. It is to give up the ground of obedience. How does the Lord Jesus meet it? "It is written" [note! always "It is written": "by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer"], Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
Was there any word out of the mouth of God for it? He will not act without it. He lived by it: it was given that man might. It is not by His divine power that He stands against Satan, or it would have been no example for us; but by keeping the place He had taken as man in perfect obedience. The Word was given not merely to guide and direct man's path. It was to originate and form every movement of his being. It did so with Him. And thus we have the pattern of the Christian's obedience. We have been sanctified to the obedience of Christ — neither to think or speak or act save as the word of God is its spring. It is not the same thing as obedience to law. It is entirely different in principle. It lowers the whole character of christian obedience to make it obedience to the law. The law supposed a will contrary to it — "thou shalt not" — "thou shalt not." You tell the child to do something it does not like; the child gives up its will and obeys: that is called an obedient child. That was not the obedience of Jesus Christ. He never had a will of His own in that sense to give up. Christian obedience is to have no will but His. We must never again then let into our hearts the question — Is there any harm in it? The only question for us is — Is it my Father's will, that I may obey? Is it as Christ would have acted? Is it what I have learned of the meek and lowly One, who bade me take His yoke upon me that I might find rest in walking in His obedience? It is the only path of perfect liberty. Then Satan changes his ground. You know the circumstances. "He taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down" — and this on the ground of a promise from God to see if He would be as good as His word. Thus he sought to turn Him from dependence. "It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." What is tempting God? I will tell you what people commonly think it is: they say it is to rely only on God, instead of doing the best you can for yourself. It is exactly the reverse of the truth. We tempt God when we do not trust Him absolutely. Did Jesus need to tempt God to see if He would be true to His word? He knew His heart too well. And has He not revealed the heart of God that you and I may know it? It ought to be easy for us to trust Him. We have trusted Him for eternity. How do we trust Him for time? for the details of our daily need — our families, our business, etc.? Ah! it is often in some such trifle of present things our hearts are tested, and Satan gets entrance to lead us from the path of Christ, from simple blessed dependence upon the known heart of God.
Once more Satan changes his ground. "He taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." Luke adds, "For that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it" — not in possession indeed, but as an object to attract the heart. The character of this last temptation is, the world. Let us be warned: as surely as anything in this world is presented to us as an object to be pursued, it is of Satan. God cannot offer us anything in a world that has cast the Son of God absolutely out of it. We are heirs of it with Christ. By and by He will put us into possession. When He takes possession it will be time enough for hearts that love Him to possess it. He will never dissociate us from Himself. When He takes the inheritance of all things in heaven and earth we shall take it with Him. Now He calls us into the lowly path of His rejection, and gives us His obedience, and dependence and absolute refusal of the world, to be our pattern in it.
The order of this last temptation is significant, as connected with the solemn words of the first Epistle of John. He writes to the fathers, young men and babes, according to the different stages of growth in the family of God. (1 John 2) To the fathers he could only say, "Ye have known him that is from the beginning." They know Christ. There never can be any knowledge beyond that. There is no end to it. What could the world, if decked out in its brightest by Satan, offer to such? For them there is what shines brighter, eclipsing all the glory of it — "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung." But the young men have not made such progress in the knowledge of Christ. They were strong and had overcome the wicked one, having for the secret of their strength the word of God abiding in them. We have seen the perfect example of this in the Lord Jesus. They all needed the warning, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
That was the danger for those who had overcome Satan when he came openly. Do you not think you will be tested by the world? I tell you — you will. Not one escapes it. The devil, turned away at the front door, comes round to the back door in the disguise of some worldly object. But you may say, "The world would be no attraction to me." For each has his own estimate of what "the world" means: it is always just the least thing beyond what the poor treacherous heart is aiming at for itself, so easily are we deceived. But John says, "Neither the things that are in the world." Ah! that searches us. Is there one thing in the world that the heart is upon as its object? "All that is in the world … is not of the Father." We belong to another world: we have been brought to the Father. Heaven is the revealed scene of our home, relationships, interests, joys and objects. We have been set to seek those things that are above — "Set your mind on things above and not on things on the earth." Christ is there and we belong there. There is not one thing in common between the world of the Father and this world. Not that Satan needs to present to you and me all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, but it is his sphere in which he has power. If a less bait will not take, he can enlarge the bait up to that measure; yet there is nothing in it to satisfy even the natural man — our only safety lies in the absolute refusal of the world and all that is in it.
Still we need what is positive to be able to refuse the world. The words of Jesus supply it, "It is written again, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;" that is what is to make up the life of one who walks in His path. Nothing but God before the heart for worship and service — that is the path of simple and blessed power. It is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that alone gives us an object that satisfies outside this world, and so governs the heart as to make us superior to it.
The path of Jesus through the world gives us the pattern of ours, not of it, even as He is not. "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as he walked." If our path has to be taken in the presence of Satan, there is a vast difference between the way we meet him, and the way the Lord Jesus had to meet him. He had to meet Satan in all his unbroken power, flushed with centuries of victory over the first man and his race. And He met him and totally vanquished him. It is only a vanquished devil we have to do with — "He that is born of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."
The Lord give us, beloved brethren, in the simplicity of faith, to take up the place He has given us, with a little deeper apprehension of the wonderful blessedness of it. It is full association with Christ in all that He is before the eye and heart of God, and this the eternal thought of His heart about us. The path but flows from it. Would we like Him to dissociate us from Himself in any way? He could not bear it. He is our life. And that life is a dependent one, as it was in Him when He was here. May we live in the atmosphere of His presence, abiding in Him, drawing upon the resources that are all there for us in Him, that we may answer a little more practically to Him here. Soon the time of testing and responsibility will be over. We shall see His face, and shall answer perfectly to Him in glory, and then, too, we shall be with Him, and that for ever. The Lord is at hand. Let us seek grace that we may be faithful to Him.