John Alfred Trench.
Article 11 of 19 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 1.
(New and Enlarged Edition 1906.)
There are two great parts in the wonderful revelation God has given us of Himself. There is, first — and it is of first importance to us — He reveals Himself; for how else should we know Him? "Canst thou by searching find out God?" We had lost every true thought of Him from Eden, so early had Satan poisoned the very springs of our being against God — "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God," as the effect of sin — the mind of the flesh, enmity against Him. But the moment was come at last when the heart of God, long yearning to tell itself out in this ruined world, was to have its full suited expression. This we are brought to in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Blessed thought for us! — there has been from eternity with God, the Word that could perfectly express Him; "and the Word was God," for who but God could express God? For a moment we are introduced to the vast scene of the display of His eternal power and Godhead in creation (ver. 3), but this only to be dismissed in a word, to give way before what was infinitely greater, even the divine Word, the Creator Himself, come into the world that He had made, albeit to be unknown in it. Yes, it was even so, for "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" — God manifest in the flesh; and the opened eye of faith "beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father — full of grace and truth." For this was the character of His coming: "the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
Thus the light of all that God is, fully revealed, had risen upon this dark world. With what effect? Oh! has it to be told? None whatever, if left to itself! Such is man, such the total ruin that sin has made of us, that what is impossible physically takes place. "The light shineth in darkness." Perfect light was there; the darkness remained as it was, "the darkness comprehended it not." Such the profound moral darkness in which we lay! This the complete, awful proof of it: He was in the world, and the world knew Him not: He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Do we not know and own it as our guilt and ruin? Have we not had to prove it in our own souls? We saw no beauty in Him that we should desire Him. But mark the wondrous grace in the character of the revelation. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." He who was in the form of God emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. He veiled His Godhead glory in the lowly garb of manhood that He might bring down all the grace that was in God, right down to us where we were in all our need of it, to draw us by the very grace thus revealed into the discovered truth of our condition. Had the light come only to shine, we should have been left where we were, lost for ever. Blessed be God, it is not so. If light is come, love is come with it, for God is love as well as light. And love is active to bring in the rays of the light into our consciences and hearts that, being brought to know ourselves, we may know Him. Thus in connection with the revelation of all that He is the work of sovereign grace is brought in that any heart might open to Him. (Ver. 13)
Nor was the fact of an activity of divine love any new thing in itself in this poor world. God must needs have ever wrought that there might be anything of Him, of blessing, or of good, found in it. Only all comes out clearly in the light now, and we see what the first essential work of all is, and what its character. "As many as received him, to them gave he right to become the children of God (a place, therefore, that the saints had not before), even to them that believe in his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." When the darkness of our condition was wholly unaffected by the presence of infinite light, when there was no heart to answer to the infinite love that brought it here, God wrought in that love, applying His word by the power of the Spirit, as ever the blessed instrument of this work — that born of God, in divinely given faith, our poor hearts might open to receive Jesus, and that we might possess a nature capable of answering to, and (when set free) delighting in all that was presented to us in Him. Oh, think of the wonderful grace that wrought, when there was nothing in any of our hearts that answered to anything in His, to make us partake by faith of His own nature, that we might have capacity to know and joy in Him for ever! But this blessed joy is not the first effect of being born of God — far from it. There must be the bringing out between the conscience and God of our sins, as we never knew them before, that they might never have to come out in the day of judgment. Sooner or later self must be learned, too, to be nothing but sin. Thus we find ourselves out before God in the only truth of our condition — a condition that makes us totally unfit for His presence. What a place to be brought to, solemn and humbling, yet needed; and that is the sure mark, as it is the effect of a work all His own. We are brought at last where Peter was in principle, as in Luke 5, "he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord" — blessed taking of God's side against himself, as it was; but not to be left there. No; that never would have satisfied divine love. More was needed for God's own glory — more to give us rest in His presence. The answer to both is found in the glories in which the Lord Jesus is presented to us in the testimony of John the Baptist. But this brings us to the second great part of the way God is revealed, namely — to the divine work in all its completeness, by which we are put into the presence of His glory at perfect rest. We find it brought out in the verses before us, if not actually accomplished, yet at least in the glory of Him whose work it is, and the work part of His glory. How suited and exquisite the grace that, amid this full testimony to all the various glory of the divine Word as manifested on earth, we should find the complete work as an essential part of that glory, that was necessary if we were to have any part in it for blessing!
There are two parts of this divine work, and they are brought out in further testimony to His glory: first, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world," and secondly, "He it is that baptizes with the Holy Ghost." These two parts of the work of the Son of God, which lay the foundation of, as they characterise, Christianity, are needed to be added to the primary work of the Spirit through the Word, by which souls were ever born anew, to complete the full position of the Christian according to the purpose of God. In the precious blood of the Lamb of God, foreordained before the foundation of the world, but now for the first time manifested, we find the righteous ground of all the work of God in blessing that there ever had been, or could be, in a lost world. He is here presented according to all the perfection found in Him, as the Lamb of God, and therefore in the full, complete efficacy of the work, even to the clearing away of sin for ever — in a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Of that first part of His work He could say, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and if God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself." And again: "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." So that, where God rests in the full settlement of every question of sin, as it affected His glory, there we rest in seeing our sins gone in His death who bore them, and we ourselves judged, condemned and crucified with Him. It needed, indeed, the whole glory of the work that lays the foundation of the new heavens and new earth to remove the stain of a single sin from our guilty souls; but it is there, and now an accomplished work for us; so that the moment the eye of faith turns from self, found out in its sin, to the Lamb of God, the scene is cleared for us, as it is for God, of all we have done and been. It lay in the perfection and glory of His work as the Lamb of God, to end all that was of the first Adam for faith, in infinitely executed judgment, and to lay the basis, in divine righteousness, for the accomplishment of all God's counsels, for His glory and our blessing, in the last Adam. Thus the end of all flesh is come for faith before God, and the self that was unfit for His presence is gone with the guilt that belonged to it, in the depths of the judgment He entered into for us.
But this brings us to the second part of the work of the Son of God, as He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. It is all here still wrapped up in testimony to the glory of His Person. But we know it as accomplished. Having finished His work as the atoning Lamb of God, He has taken His place as the accepted Man in the glory of God, and sent down the Holy Ghost. He is given to dwell within us, as each one receives the testimony of accomplished redemption, to bring us in power into the whole of the new place He has taken as Man, before that glory. He baptizes with the Holy Ghost. It is no longer the mere negative taking away of the man whose condition had been brought to an end in God's judgment, but the full, positive bringing in of a wholly new condition for man, in Christ risen, beyond death and judgment. Not till, in fact, the work of redemption was accomplished could the Holy Ghost be given; "for the Holy Ghost was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified." And so, in the same order as to the faith of our souls, "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." (Cp. Acts 19:16; Eph. 1:13) Given immediately upon, and the seal of, the faith that believes God's testimony to the accomplished work of a risen and glorified Christ, the Holy Ghost gives us the consciousness of our new and wonderful place in Christ. This testimony is conveyed to us in the forgiveness of sins. Hence it is at the point at which we receive the positive and conferred forgiveness of our sins, that we receive the Holy Ghost to dwell in us. Compare Acts 2:38; Acts 10:43-44, and the place of the introduction of the Holy Ghost in the Epistle to the Romans, after peace with God through justification — "the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Rom. 5:5) Also in type, in the case of the leper (Lev. 14:14-18), where the oil (type of the Holy Ghost) follows the application of the blood of the trespass-offering.
Thus, when the Holy Ghost was come, Jesus says, "Ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me, and I in you." When He had made peace through the blood of His cross, and became Himself the first messenger of it to His disciples, in John 20, greeting them with, "Peace be unto you," as the last Adam, a quickening Spirit, He breathed on them, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." It is the Spirit as the power of the life with which He was risen from the dead, rather than given as a distinct Person to dwell in them. For this we know they had still to wait till the day of Pentecost. The Son of God was come, "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The Spirit is the power of that life now possessed in a wholly new way, as it never existed before, in the risen Christ. Hence it can be said, "the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2), a positive, actual deliverance, by faith of the operation of God who hath raised Him from the dead. Further, He is the Spirit of adoption; if we are the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26), because we are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Gal. 4:6) Another blessed mark and effect of His presence is stated in 2 Corinthians 3:17: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" — liberty to gaze on the unveiled glory of God in the face of Jesus, which is the token of God's perfect acceptance of the work according to which we are accepted before Him in righteousness, that, as we gaze, we may be changed into His image. There is also another wonderful range of corporate effects of the gift of the Holy Ghost, as dwelling on earth and in the believer, uniting us to Christ; but these do not come within the scope of the Gospel of John, and it is profitable for our souls to distinguish the individual aspect of the baptism of the Holy Ghost from that which is corporate, for we must be established in the former before anything of the latter can be known in privilege and responsibility.
Thus the main elements that go to make up the christian position, individually looked at, are before us, brought out in the glory of His Person, and that too in the order of the work that brings us into it. First, life, and with it comes the conviction of our sins, for "the life was the light of men"; secondly, the blood of the cross, and a full and everlasting forgiveness by it; and lastly, the Holy Ghost, seal of the faith that believes God's testimony to it, that we may be established in Christ in our full position. Of course the work was not yet accomplished; it was only found in the testimony borne to the glory of His Person, save the present actual work of divine quickening going on, that any might receive Him. But all has been accomplished now.
What a salvation it is! How slow our poor hearts are to take in the greatness of the blessing, and the glory of God involved in it! All the divine fulness was pleased to dwell in Him, God thus revealed in man before men. Then He takes His place as man made sin before God on the cross, to take it away according to the exigencies of God's own glory and of our discovered condition. Next, as the consequence of the work so gloriously accomplished, we see man in Christ in the glory of God in divine righteousness, and the Holy Ghost sent down to dwell in the believer, putting him in power into that place — complete in Christ before the Godhead's fulness. And if we are in Him, He is in us. So that in wonderful answering responsibility, nothing but Christ as our life should be seen in us before the world. Such the amazing effect and necessary consequence for the believer of the glory of His Person and work as here testified to, when all was accomplished.
But now we come to what may well challenge our hearts as to the practical effect upon us of the infinite grace made known to us in such a Saviour and salvation. For it is just at this point in the testimony that we have an historical incident of surpassing interest brought in. These incidents are not many in the gospel, and always introduced to illustrate the doctrine in hand. Beautifully in keeping with the form of the truth in the minor divisions of the book, it opens with a scene that illustrates its doctrine as a whole. "Two disciples of John heard him speak, and they followed Jesus." Blessed effect of the truth in power reaching the soul, too often lacking with us! And they followed Him, not for anything more that they could get from Him, but with a divinely created longing His presence alone could satisfy. And, oh! what it tells of the manner of the love displayed in God come into this world in Christ! So completely had He won the confidence of these two hearts in attracting them to Himself, that their one object that first day they ever knew Him, is to find out where He dwells that they may dwell with Him. This first precious fruit of His grace, as He turned and saw them following, is sweet to the Lord, in a cold, heartless world, and He simply draws out the expression of it by His question, "What seek ye?" Has that question any application to us, beloved brethren? We rest in the wonderful position we have been established in. It is well. It is the basis of any proper fruit of Christianity. But what are we seeking? For let not our hearts be deceived into thinking that we are seeking nothing. It is impossible. The heart was made for an object, and a personal object, and nothing but a divine one can satisfy it, so that if we are not seeking Christ we are assuredly seeking something that is not Christ. Ah! is not this the secret of so much failure, of so little brightness and power of christian life, of so little true testimony for Him in separation from the world, where there is no question as to our place and acceptance in Christ? we have known so little of Christ as the heart's undivided object. Not so could these disciples know their place; but thus early in their knowledge of Him they were bent on one thing, "Where dwellest thou?" And the Lord accepts and ratifies the desire, as of His own awakening in their hearts, "Come and see." "He satisfieth the longing soul."
Thus, at the opening, and as it were the frontispiece of the book, we see the awakening of a need in the soul, to which the Gospel of John begins to supply the answer. The other gospels tell us that if the foxes had holes and the birds of the air their nests, the Son of man, Creator of all, had not where to lay His head in the world He created. But John is the revelation of the heavenly home of the Son of God. He dwells in the bosom of the Father. He has come to reveal the depths of the love in which He dwells that we may find our home now in spirit, and for ever, there with Him where He finds His. It was just what these two disciples, if there were but two, were drawn after Him to seek. Oh, to know more of the simple power of such an attraction! What would more blessedly prepare the way and educate the soul for heavenly association with Himself as our dispensed position in Christianity, to which this gospel is the divinely perfect moral introduction? In the light of what follows in it, "Come and see" is really the invitation to look into heaven now, and become familiar with it as His home and ours.
This testimony of heavenly things comes very early. Only, going before, there is the earthly testimony of the need of our condition in view of the heavenly things about to be introduced, "Ye must be born again!" for so the Lord characterises the solemn truth that Nicodemus ought to have known from Old Testament scriptures. "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?" The Son of man had come down from heaven to tell of that heavenly scene He knew so well — "the Son of man who is in heaven," even when thus testifying of it on earth. (John 3:12-13) "He that cometh from heaven is above all. And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony." Still there was this testimony and grace working, as we have seen, that we might receive it — the Father drawing to the Son, that when we come, we may find the Son revealing the Father, as only the Son can, and as He came to make Him known in special character as the Son who dwells in His bosom. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Thus when the time was come (the testimony of His words and works being rejected) that He should leave the world and go to the Father, He leads the thoughts of His people to the Father's house for the first time in scripture (John 14), He can say, "Whither I go ye know;" as though He would say, You know heaven quite well; the Father's house is no strange place to you. How can it be possible? Philip seizes the truth, so far at least that the Father's presence must make all the blessedness of the Father's house, and he asks, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us," but only to show how far he had been from discerning the proper glory of the Lord Jesus, as of the only-begotten Son with the Father: "Have I been so long time with you, and hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father. … Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?" His words and works, all that He was, were the revelation of the Father, so that however little hearts entered into it then or now, there had been revealed and shining out in Him morally here, every characteristic trait of the divine and everlasting blessedness of heaven.
Nor was this all. He whose presence here had been the revelation of a place so new to the thoughts of His people, was now going to take His place as man, as the revealed and known centre of all the joy and blessedness and glory of that place. For "I go to prepare a place for you" — Himself the home-link, so intimate and precious, of their and our hearts with the place, as His going there was all the preparation possible or needed, to give us our place there in spirit with Him, till He comes to receive us to Himself. Hence the word never speaks of our going to heaven, but to Christ. The person makes the place, even in natural things, how much more in divine!
But there was more in His heart for us — more that we needed to connect us in power with the place thus revealed to us. He had been the manifestation in His own Person when here of all that makes heaven what it is for ever. He has gone to take His place there as the One who loved us and gave Himself for us, that our hearts might follow Him there, as to their own familiar home to dwell with Him. And now from that home of love and joy and glory He has sent the Holy Ghost to be the power of our association with Him in it, and thus of our enjoyment of such heavenly blessedness. (John 14:16-20) How full and blessed an answer to the awakened longing of the soul, "Where dwellest thou?" — the "Come and see" of Jesus in answer to it, that we may "abide with him." Only one thing more remains for which we have still to wait, and the promise comes in to meet the heart as nothing else now could, Christ being so known: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Thus we have before us in this gospel the richest elements, morally and divinely, that go to form a heavenly people upon earth, left here to express what is heavenly, and thus only truly to represent a rejected, heavenly Christ, while waiting for Him.
When the work was finished and the Lord Jesus was glorified, and the Holy Ghost was come to make known and put us in power into the glorious effects of it, as revealed through Paul, we find this expressed as the normal christian condition in privilege and responsibility. "As is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." We are constituted such by the grace that has called us to Himself. Nor is it without the revelation of a new sphere suited to the heavenly life and nature with its new affections, capacities and desires, which we have received. If the prophet is quoted, that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him," it is to contrast with this former state of things that which is true now in Christianity. "But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the depths of God." It is of immense practical importance to our souls then to see that there is no new element of blessing and joy in the eternal glory, none that has not been already revealed, and the Spirit who revealed them is our capacity in the divine nature we possess, to enjoy what is revealed. Not that there will not be increased power of enjoyment. For now the power of the Spirit, so often diverted to negativing the flesh ("that we might not do the things that we would"), will then be for ever only the unhindered power of our enjoyment of these heavenly things. There is our condition in the body too to be taken into account. "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." "In this tabernacle we groan, being burdened:" we are like birds in a cage that long to be free to soar into our own native air. But admitting all this and the vast difference of our condition when glorified like Christ, all the things we shall live in and find our joy in for ever, are revealed, that we may live and find our joy in them now. "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" — they must be perfectly revealed then that we may look at them. True it is only by faith now and not by sight; but so substantial and blessed are they to faith, that we are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord to enjoy them by sight. (See the connection of 2 Cor. 5:7 and 8) Thus in Romans 8 they are "the things of the Spirit," that they that are after the Spirit mind. It is the second great point of the delivered condition of the Christian as it is there developed; not only a deliverance of life in Christ in the power of the Spirit, but practically by the power of the new objects suited to that life. Now the things of the Spirit are the things of Christ — "All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine and show it unto you," that so Christ may be characteristically, as He is in fact, our life — the man formed by what he makes his object as ever even in natural things, how much more in divine.
It is just what Colossians gives us in very full development; only there we are risen with Christ, though not looked at as seated in the heavenlies, but as a risen people upon earth, set to "seek those things which are above" — and here we see the practical power of the link of Christ's presence there, for our hearts — "where Christ is, sitting on the right hand of God." (Col. 3:1-2) And note, it is the mind we are exhorted to set "on things above, and not on things on the earth," for the Spirit of God assumes that our affections will be there, and says nothing of them. The mind is distinct from the affections. As it has been truly put in illustration of the difference: a man's affections may rest in his family and his mind be all the while engrossed in his business. Now the Spirit would have our minds engrossed with Christ. For many walk, the same apostle tells us weeping, in Philippians, who mind (using the same word) earthly things, and are enemies of that which is the distinctively separative power of Christianity, the cross of Christ, whatever their profession to be His friends. And then in one blessed expression of it he sums up the whole christian position, viewed practically, "our citizenship is in heaven." He uses a word of far-reaching force for a Greek mind, who held all other relationships and interests in life subordinate to his citizenship — as though he would say: All that forms the life morally, in relationship, love, motive, object and joy, is found for us in heaven now; so that we only await, in hope too thence, the Lord Jesus as Saviour, to change this body of humiliation into the likeness of His body of glory according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.
In Ephesians, where we have the fullest unfolding of our place in Christ, from the point of view of God's everlasting counsels, there is no place for the formative power of heavenly objects, presented to a risen people on earth. We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ in the heavenlies, even as we are seated in Him there, with our testimony to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, and are in conflict there with those of Satan. All is heavenly, not only in life and nature, object, hope and character, but in present position in Christ, and our answering responsibilities are simply to come out thence to display on earth what the nature of God Himself is in love and light, where it was once displayed in all its perfection in Christ.
Thus fully, in infinite grace, in a way beyond all that could have been conceived by the two disciples that followed Jesus, the desire that He awakens in hearts truly drawn to Him has been met — not merely by the revelation of heaven to us in every divine trait of its blessedness in His Person here, but when His work was done, in giving us our place there in Him as a present thing, in all the cloudless light and favour of His place, so that we are only waiting for Him to come and change our bodies in the twinkling of an eye and take us actually to be with Himself for ever. His place and home in heavenly light and love is revealed as ours already. But is it merely to rest in the assured certainty of it? How soon then to become but the barren doctrine — so much the more dreadful as that — of the highest privilege or knowledge that puffeth up, in that it is of so exalted a place and calling. No, my beloved brethren, it must not be so with us. What alone will keep the heart in the power of what is heavenly, and impart the tone and character of our associations with Christ there to our walk here, is the active seeking of His presence that makes heaven now and for ever. If our hearts are set for this by His grace, we cannot find Him in the world out of which He has been rejected. He has ascended up to the scene of which morally He had been the full revelation in His own Person here, and our hearts follow Him. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. He draws them there by the excellency of His glory, and beauty, and preciousness. As even with one of old — before the whole glory of God shone perfectly revealed as for us, so that we may gaze upon it with adoring hearts, in the face once more marred than that of any man, — "one thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord." And does He not satisfy the longings that He creates, as in figure with the two disciples "they came and saw where he dwelt and abode with him that day," if even now with this satisfying there comes increased capacity for enjoyment, and therefore fresh longing (and in this consists the soul's growth), till in the divine fulness of His presence we are satisfied for ever?
"Whither I go ye know" — well we may! What has been left undone to make us familiar with the heaven of His home, and ours now? So that abiding in spirit with Him, seeking His face, we may be formed practically by all that is there, to show out nothing but what is heavenly in tone and character and ways, carried out into everything on earth. The power for it is found, not in fruitless effort to be heavenly when we are not, but in realising what we are, as constituted such by the power and grace of our calling, and given the Holy Ghost to fix our hearts on Christ. He has ascended up far above all heavens that He might fill all things. May we know Him as the One who fills our hearts, as He alone can, and shall for ever!