Matt. 1. 21-23; Rom. 8:31-34; 1 John 3:24.
John Alfred Trench.
Article 10 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
These passages are linked together naturally for all our hearts, and I may say divinely. We find in them God with us, God for us, and God in us; lastly, we get the fullest, deepest result of all this manifestation of God in privilege — where we are brought by it: we dwell in God.
First, there is Emmanuel, God with us; a more wonderful sight than that which attracted Moses in the wilderness, when he turned aside to see the bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed, and when God called to him out of the midst of the bush — a sight infinitely more wonderful, and yet the world passes on unmoved, indifferent to such a Presence; the same world today that had no room for Him in its inn — His first resting-place a manger, His last a sepulchre; and what came in between? "God was in Christ," showing forth all His grace, the manner of His coming into it so characteristic of the grace in which He came; the only answer of our hearts to all, "Away with him; crucify him, crucify him." The deliberate choice of men was, "Not this man, but Barabbas," the name signifying "Son of Abba," Satan's counterfeit, a robber and a murderer; that is what suited the world. But how wonderful to think of it! How blessed the grace that God should come into it knowing it to be such! Was ever an ambassage of peace more manifestly declared than in the way He came? He might have shone into the rebel world in all the majesty of His glory. Who could have borne His presence? It would have been our destruction. But no! He veils the glory of His Person in the lowly garb of humanity. In human weakness He is born into the world. What more perfect expression of it than a babe? Yet it is thus we see this wonderful manifestation of God — nay, God Himself manifested: "the Word of God," "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;" "God was manifest in the flesh." All the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell in that lowly Babe.
But there were two sides to this wonderful coming in of Emmanuel. We may look at His presence here, as the last of a long series of tests to which man (in Israel) had been subjected, to bring out to himself, that is, to us each, the full truth of our condition.
God had given promises; they were despised. Then the law was given by the disposition of angels; it was broken before ever it was brought into the camp. Prophets were raised up; they were persecuted and slain who "showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom" (as Stephen tells us, who gives us this inspired summary of God's ways) "ye have been now the betrayers and murderers." Or, as it is in the Lord's parable that brings us to the same point, "Having yet therefore one son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him … and they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard" — the last answer of our hearts to the last test God had to apply to them — the solemn proof, not merely of individual acts by which we were guilty, but of a condition in which we were all alike involved, and were lost. This is one aspect of the presence of Emmanuel, and more especially brought before us in the last three gospels, needed as it is to bring into our souls the full conviction of our total ruin. But there is another side of the truth: it comes before us fully in the Gospel of John. It opens with the result of all the previous testing. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." God Himself has come into the world, and "God is love." If He is here, then, we shall find perfect love. But He is light also, so that we shall find perfect light in His presence, too. Yes, the full light of all that God is in love revealed and shining. But "the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." Morally there is found what is physically impossible; the tiniest ray of morning light dispels the darkness of the night. But here the shining of the light has no effect whatever, it shines in darkness. The darkness remains as profound, as intense as ever, totally unaffected by it. But what brought in the light but infinite love? Then it has not come simply to shine, showing out the full character of the darkness. As surely as divine love has come into this lost world it has come to work, to bring in the light to transpierce the conscience, to lay bare the heart, to reveal us to ourselves and thus to reveal God to us.
We see a beautiful illustration of this wonderful work of divine love in John 4. Who sits by the side of the well wearied with His journey? God has stooped down to human weariness, weakness and even thirst. And now He becomes beholden (at least He asks — for we do not know that He ever got it) to a poor creature for a drink of water, Himself the Creator of every spring and source in this world. Why was He there? That He might reveal her to herself, and shine on in the revelation of God Himself to her soul. But having set her at ease in His presence by asking a drink of her, He goes on to open out what He came to give. "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (John 4:10) But no ray of spiritual intelligence is there to answer to such communications, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. 2:14) She talks of the well, its depth, of how Jacob gave it to them, and drank thereof himself, his children, and his cattle. That is all she makes of these richest divine and heavenly things of His grace. Patiently He waits upon her ignorance and goes on to unfold more fully to her the living water that He gives, but with as little effect. We can see, indeed, that she is attracted by the lowly condescension of the supposed Jew in speaking to her, a woman of Samaria, and in spite of seeming impossibility His word carries authority and is not discredited. "Sir, give me this water." Solemn it is to see that there may be all this and no real divine work in the soul. What then must still be done if this heart is to be won for God? He turns the light in upon her conscience. "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." How intelligent she becomes all in a moment. "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." She is herself searched out in the presence of One who knows her life, her sin-stained history; nothing in her heart is hid from the One with whom she has to do; God is present in perfect love to bring it out, as perfectly as it would have had to come out in the day of judgment. She does not go away from Him, like Adam, to seek a hiding-place in the trees of the garden. Light is doing its own solemn work, convicting her of nothing but sin; but love that makes the light binds her to the spot where she is convicted, that He may reveal Himself as nothing but love to the poor sinner. She makes one little effort to parry the blow that was telling in her conscience. If she had no religion of her own to boast in, at least "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." How natural it is — how often to be met with! That when truth is working this question of a place of worship is raised by the soul ill at ease under the effect of it. But how unreal! What did He want with her worship? He had come to seek, not hers, but her. When sought and found and infinitely blessed, and all the need of conscience and heart met and satisfied, then would be the time of worship; not till then. Jesus delivers her from this blind of Satan and judges all the hollow, false religion of the flesh's efforts by one little word, "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." Worship flows from the formed relationship of children. "The Father seeketh such to worship him." Well may He have it then! He never sought aught from us until He had given all that His love could give, and we had our place before Him according to the perfection of what He gave.
Thus we see God manifested, not in the majesty of His glory, that would have repelled us, but bringing near the light even into our own consciences, that He may shine into them in all the fulness of His love. There is no real work of God at all in the soul till the conscience is reached, and I am found out in all I have done in the presence of God, whose light is shining on me, whose heart is bent upon having me.
We might go from scene to scene in the gospels and never have exhausted this infinite subject of the ways of divine love, winning the heart to confide in Him, that divine light might search the conscience, and bring us into the truth as to ourselves and as to God. But if the truth be that I am guilty and lost in my sins, how can I be at rest in the presence of a holy God? This brings us to the second great part of our subject expressed in the verse read in Romans 8, "God for us." It is the summing up of the work that has been wrought for us to meet all the need of our condition, as the epistle unfolds both to us. When the effect of the presence of God has been to bring out in us, in our consciences, that we were only fit to be cast out of His presence for ever, we find Him giving His Son to accomplish the work for us, that puts us into the presence of God at perfect rest because in righteousness. And we find God, whom we thought was against us because we were against Him, proved in not sparing His Son, to be for us. True, He had given Himself to carry out this work, as it is written in the volume of the book, "Lo, I come. I delight to do thy will, O my God." (Ps. 40:7) And we have seen Him in the lowly path of its accomplishment when the heavens opened over Him, and the Father's voice declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." But "He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." Nothing short of such a sacrifice could meet the exigencies of our lost condition, according to the glory of God. But see how perfectly this work of Christ has done it.
What words are heard in Paul's — the chief of sinners — lips? "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" What a challenge to all the ingenuity of Satan to bring up one single sin to charge against the believer. Will Satan take up the challenge? Can anything be found against us before God? Impossible! "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again." What makes the challenge so unanswerable is that the God against whom we have sinned is the very One who gave Him thus to answer for all our guilt. As surely as we have been convicted of having nothing but sins, of being nothing but guilty and lost sinners, it is all for us. He "was delivered for our offences." There He met the charge of them; the Judge Himself come down from the throne of judgment in infinite grace, He took His place at the bar where we stood as poor, guilty, convicted sinners in conscience. Bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, He met the charge of them, enduring the judgment of divine holiness and righteousness against sin, so as infinitely to glorify God and to bring out God's character in holiness and righteousness against sin as it never had been manifested before, in perfect love, too. And when the work was done, "He was raised for our justification." Thus we have a risen Christ in the glory of God as our justification. Has the eye that has been opened on self and sins turned away to Jesus? Have we seen Him by faith as the One who endured the judgment of God to the infinite depths of the sorrow expressed in His cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" "It is finished." And now God has attested that cry from the glory. He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father. We believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, and a risen Christ in the glory of God as our justification fills the eye of faith instead of sins or self any more.
But the blessedness and security of it all to the soul is the more enhanced, when we see that it is not simply Paul, but God Himself that lays down this challenge — God who, as it were, thus calls attention to the absolute way in which He Himself, against whom all our sins have been, has justified us beyond the possibility of charge.
Still, even this does not bring out the full force of the wonderful words. They are quoted from Isaiah 50:8, "He is near that justifieth me … Who is he that shall condemn me?" The preceding verses leave no doubt as to who is the speaker; it is Christ Himself who, having put Himself thus in the believer's place to bear his sins and endure their judgment, now stands out of it all to raise the question, Can aught of all that was once laid to His account be now found against Him? God has justified the absolute perfection of His work by raising Him from the dead; who is he that shall condemn Christ? "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Faith can take up the very words of Christ — nay, the Holy Ghost makes them our own. If it is impossible that one charge can be brought against Christ, it is impossible that it can be brought against us. We are in Him who came up out of the depths of the condemnation He went into for us, and where He made an end, not merely of our sins, but of us who sinned — not of the fruit only, but of the root that produced it (Rom. 8:3), and we are in all the impossibility of condemnation for Christ. He once identified Himself in grace with our position in sins and judgment, and now the feeblest believer is identified with Him in the whole of His position as the risen Christ before God though here in Romans this is mainly applied to the more negative aspects of our forgiveness and deliverance from sin's power. But how full and complete the answer of divine love to all the need that the light disclosed of our guilty sins and state of sin, and in which God has been proved for us, and the only measure of His love that He spared not His own Son. "How shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" and, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
We get one more aspect of this wonderful revelation of God to our souls in 1 John 3:24, "God dwelleth in us." So again in 1 John 4:12. We know the words that introduce this last passage, and what is connected with them in the first chapter of the gospel. There, if "no man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him;" here the same truth is expressed, but it is added, "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." In the gospel the Son reveals God according to His perfect knowledge of Him as the Father, in whose bosom as Son He dwells. It is the perfect revelation of God in His own nature, perfectly manifested in the Son. Here, "if we love one another," God is love — we have been born of Him, and thus partake of His nature and know Him. The children that have been born of God are known by the characteristic traits of the nature of which they partake, when set free by the deliverance of the cross to express that nature. God wrought in His grace, as we have seen, to convict our souls of our sins by the inshining of His truth upon us. And we received Jesus, we believed in His name, we were born, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;" "of his own will begat he us by the word of truth." It was the first blessed work of God, a work in us essential to any discernment of divine things. But this was not peace, but the full awakening of our souls to the need of it. Our need was met, and far more, by the work of the Son of God wrought for us, outside every question of what we were, save that we were guilty and lost in our sins God Himself proved for us, to our full justification, in righteousness, from every charge that could be brought against us. Now this work for us, in which all divine love has been manifested towards us, so that there are no new depths of divine love to be revealed (see 1 John 4:9-10), is assumed as the basis of the Epistle of John as well as the work in us. "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." (1 John 2:12) Hence even the babes of God's family possess the Holy Ghost (John 2:20), for His presence dwelling in us is ever the seal of the faith that believes God's testimony to the accomplished work of the cross expressed in this forgiveness. The babes, too — these babes of John's epistle — know the Father. (Ver. 13) Thus, while the object of the epistle is to instruct us as to the eternal life we possess in the Son of God, that we may know it and know we have it, and as to the nature of that life, those who possess it are not looked at otherwise than as in the full christian condition, of which the blessed Spirit of God dwelling in us as the seal and power. It was not enough that we should possess the nature of God, but that nature in us must be set free from the dominion of sin by faith of our death with Christ, and in power by the Holy Ghost dwelling in us, in order that it should be displayed in its own characteristic traits where it was once displayed in all its perfection in Christ — "which thing is true in him and in you." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us," not simply as Christ become our life, but the Holy Ghost, too, given us. And inasmuch as "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given us," it can be added, "and his love is perfected in us." Our hearts may be but poor tiny vessels to contain it, but the love cannot be less than itself, the love of God in all its fulness, and this is shed in us as surely as the Holy Ghost has been given us — God dwelling in us. "And hereby we know that he dwells in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us" (1 John 3:24) — the power of the manifestation of His nature in us, that nothing but God and what is of God may shine out in us.
But this wondrous fact of His grace, amazing truth, become absolute to our souls by the possession of His nature that loves, and the Holy Ghost as the power of it — God Himself in us — is not all, but leads to what is the deepest, richest privilege of our souls in infinite and everlasting blessing — "we dwell in God." God Himself has become the refuge, and shelter, and hiding-place, and known home of our hearts. What unspeakable rest, what calm, undisturbed repose of heart, what unfathomable depths of joy are found in what is thus made known to us! Impossible if God did not dwell in us, yet going beyond this, as the effect of it, and thus more connected with the practical state. But first, as to the privilege itself, "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit" — not, mark, simply now "by the Spirit which he hath given us" (as in 1 John 3:24), but "of his Spirit," expressing that the Spirit who dwells in us is His Spirit, so that we might understand we share His own Spirit, and thus know and enter into, in a way more intimate than with any man, the mind and thoughts and heart of God. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." The immediate effect is, therefore, that "we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world"; we enter into the joy found for God in such a testimony, and are impelled to have part in the testimony itself. It is the deepest conceivable expression of divine communion — inconceivable save to faith and by the power of the Holy Ghost, and as the effect of God dwelling in us. But being communion, it is much more connected with our practical state. Hence we find, as the practical conditions of it, "he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him" (1 John 3:24), and "he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16)
These are the two great principles of the christian life, seen in the Lord Jesus Christ, obedience and love; these made up His life, and were the path of that life as manifested in all its perfection in Him. "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me," He could say, "but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do." (John 14:30-31) He is our life, hence it is the test of true abiding in Him that we walk as He walked. (1 John 2:6) Our hearts condemn us the instant we do not, and confidence in God is hindered. If God is love, how could we dwell in God if we did not dwell in love? And love, as we have seen and known so well for our own souls, is active. How cold and withered up hearts are when love is not active, going out to all the family of God, God's first circle of interest, embracing all that are His, seeking their blessing, and to serve and give up self for my brother. Then again, there is the world lying without, but not outside the activity of His love, nor of ours to whom He has given of His Spirit. There is freshness when His love is active in us. It is the atmosphere in which He dwells — and we, too, if we dwell in love. Any infringement of love is the absolute hindrance of such dwelling. But oh, what incentive to love we possess — it was "not that we loved him, but that he loved us." "We love him, because he first loved us." And now we possess the very nature of Him who so loved us. How blessed to be seeking to express it! But the deep spring is in Him, and abiding in Him it is impossible but that it should flow out. And as we dwell in love we dwell in God.
This is one side of the life, the other is obedience. We are sanctified to the obedience of Christ; abiding in Him, this, too, will be expressed in us. It is the necessary test of the love as to whether it be true divine love and no other. "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." It is the only path of liberty and joy to have no will but His. His commandments perfectly expressed this life in Him, that they are now given to form and direct, in His blessed ways, in us. His life was only and absolutely the obedience of love, and He is our life; how could it be anything else in us? Keeping His commandments we dwell in God. Reserve a corner in the heart for self-pleasing, doing our own will, and there is none. How could there be? The heart condemns us, "and if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." His estimate of aught that hinders the heart's confidence before Him is far deeper than ours.
Truly we have been brought to the springs and sources of everlasting joy in being brought to dwell in God. There can be nothing beyond it for ever. It may be all ours to enjoy now. And this leads me to what is important, for it may be said, You speak of what is not for me. Only such as are far advanced in the divine life can know such privileges as these. How blessed the answer to such workings of unbelief when we hear Him say, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is [not the Christ merely, though whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born — truly born of God — but] the Son of God" — that is, in the full glory of His Person as known in Christianity, known now that the Holy Ghost is come, and we know Him in the Father — "God dwelleth in him, and he in God." All belongs to each dear simple child of God, to the very youngest and feeblest that has been brought to the full knowledge of the glory of the Son of God. But shall we be content that it is ours in grace? Or shall we not rather now seek earnestly the path of His life in love and obedience, for the little while we are waiting for Him, so that we may prove in our souls the rest and joy beyond all that can be expressed, of dwelling in God, and God in us. What nearness, what intimacy of communion is involved in it, what a retreat for the soul amid the storm and conflict here — God Himself become our hiding-place and home of our hearts before the glory! May nothing short of the abiding realisation of it satisfy us. Let us seek practical nearness to God, that we may know Him better in ever-deepening blessedness, according to the wonderful revelation He has given us of Himself, as God with us, for us, in us, that we may dwell in Him.