Rom. 3:22-23; Rom. 5:2; Ex. 33:18, 20; 2 Cor. 3:18, N.Tr.
J. A. Trench.
Article 4 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
It is an immense thing for the soul when it is seen from the first that His own glory is the standard to which God will conform all those whom He is pleased to take into relationship with Himself. Nothing short of this will do for Him, nothing but what perfectly answers to that standard can ever enter into the glory of God. Now the gospel is the full revelation of that glory.
Only in the consciousness of being fit for His presence could any creature be at home with God; and such is His love that He will have us there in no other way. Nor is this true of the future only. God has wrought in blessed grace to bring us to Himself now, that we may be before Him without fear, every barrier broken down, no unsettled question between our souls and Him. The ground of such a place is found in that "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." The effect is known in the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given us. The Holy Ghost is also within us as the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry Abba, Father, in the childlike confidence and holy intimacy of such nearness to God, while God Himself has become our exceeding joy. Not a step is taken in the Christian path here before we can "give thanks to the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col. 1:12)
Who can bridge the distance between the first two verses that head our paper? It is "the gospel of the glory of Christ" alone that enables us to put them together; the whole revelation that God has given us of Himself in that gospel lies between these two points. But who could have conceived that the glory of God, the light of which convicts us as sinners in Romans 3, should become the hope of the believer in Romans 5:2? Well may it be said of us, even more than of Jacob and Israel of old, "What hath God wrought?" (Num. 23:23)
To "come short" in no sense refers to the innumerable shortcomings of conduct with which all who know themselves must charge themselves before God. But, that as in the public service there is a standard of height for the army and the like, and no one who does not come up to it can be taken into the ranks, so God has a standard for those He receives. It is His glory, long hidden behind the veil, but now brought to light in the gospel. Every creature must submit himself to it. Nor is it any question of the degrees in which we are short of it. "There is no difference:" we all fall short of the only standard of the sanctuary.
How fatal is the fallacy of measuring ourselves by any other; and we have all done this. "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, nor even as this publican," expresses not only the utter blindness of the religious Pharisee in the parable, but is the fruitful cause of blindness everywhere. Who does not know somebody to compare himself with advantageously or the reverse? It is all false ground to take, and the surest way to be deceived by the enemy of God and of our souls.
Romans 3:9-19 presents the glass into which we must look if we would know the truth of our condition. "All are under sin:" there is no exception. By every avenue by which what is in man could come out — the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth, the feet, the ways, the eyes — in awful sevenfold completeness nothing but sin is expressed: and this not the state of the heathen merely. It is the testimony of the law as to those who are under it, "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world be under judgment to God." (Ver. 19, N.T.) All nice distinctions between sinner and sinner, that men think to make in their own favour, utterly disappear before God. Measured by His standard, "there is no difference; for all have sinned, and fall short [R.V.] of the glory of God."
Yet if God had left us to apply the standard to ourselves, who would not have preferred his own estimate of himself? But it is just here that the goodness of God intervenes to lead the sinner to repentance. (Rom. 2:4) He it is who in sovereign grace takes His own way to bring home the light of the revelation to our souls. Nothing is calculated to affect the heart more than these ways of His grace, pursuing the soul individually, that would have never sought Him, to bring sins upon the conscience, without which there is no reality in the soul with God.
Isaiah gives us a beautiful case in point of this work of God. The prophet tells us of his conversion. He saw "the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up:" every circumstance of majesty was there. The Seraphim cried, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." John 12:41 clearly states that it was the glory of the Lord Jesus that Isaiah saw. What was the immediate effect of His glory upon him? "Then said I, Woe is me!" It was a wonderful interlude of grace to the prophet: he had been pronouncing woe upon every phase of iniquity in Israel (Isa. 5:8, 11, 18, 20-22), and had yet to complete the solemn sevenfold denunciation of it in Isa. 10:1 (Isa. 6 to Isa. 9:7 coming in as a parenthesis of God's purposes centred in the Virgin's Son, Immanuel). Now he has to pronounce it upon himself: "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips … for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Unclean lips would not do for the glory of the Lord.
But what made his lips unclean? "Not that which goeth into the mouth" — as the Lord says in Matthew 15:11, 18 — "defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. … Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man." Here we are all in the same case, whatever the apparent differences as to outward life. "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually" is found to be not only an antediluvian state of things, but the truth of the heart of man everywhere and at all times: it is the defiled spring of everything that defiles. The moment Isaiah was brought to his true bearings before God, the answer of grace in the removal of his guilt, in as far as it could be known then, was not delayed a moment.
But the truth as to man's condition under the light of the glory of God goes deeper still. Let us turn to Exodus 33. Here the whole circumstances are such as to profoundly impress the soul. Moses had been admitted to an unprecedented privilege of intercourse with God. "The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." (Ver. 11) Emboldened by the favour shown him he proffers his request and is answered graciously. But there was a reserve of which he was conscious, and at last it takes shape: "He said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory." (Ver. 18) We may not all have been led to such a defined sense of need as to be able to express it in this way. Yet it may be confidently affirmed that no soul is at settled rest in the presence of God that has not found the answer to what Moses thus sought but that could not be granted to him.
"And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." (Vers. 19, 20) There were sovereign resources of goodness and grace and mercy in the Name thus proclaimed, upon which faith could count for the new relations of the Lord with the people, for whom otherwise all was lost in their total failure in the responsibility they had assumed. But the whole ground upon which men under law stood, and that was Moses' personal position (his typical place as representative of Christ as Mediator is not in question), was untenable, in the light of the glory of God.
For the law came to man, already a sinner, to demand that he should not be one; nor does it open to him any way of deliverance from that condition: it neither gave life, nor strength, nor object and in result can only bring him under the curse. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them," (See Gal. 3:10 and 21) When this was the revealed ground upon which Moses stood it was no wonder that there could be no manifestation of the glory of the Lord. It would have been his destruction.
We are brought to this, then, that it is not only that a guilty conscience cannot stand before Him who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," nor that the state of the heart unfits for His presence, but that man at his best will not do for God. Yet because nothing is so strange or contrary to the thoughts of men God had to allow the truth to come out in the long patient trial of the ages up to the cross of Christ. The history of the chosen nation which forms so large a part of the Old Testament, was just that of man proved under the most favourable circumstances.
The parable of the Lord in Mark 12 leads us to the result. God had sent servant after servant to His vineyard to receive the fruits of His culture, but they had been shamefully handled, sent away empty, or killed: "Having yet therefore one Son, his well-beloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my Son." But when they recognised Him, "they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard." It was the last answer of man's heart to the last test God had to apply to it — "Away with him, crucify him."
Stephen, at the close of his remarkable address in Acts 7, sums up the whole history. The promises were despised (for they turned back in heart into Egypt), the law transgressed, the prophets persecuted and slain, the Just One betrayed and murdered, and the Holy Ghost always resisted. What a history of man under probation! What a disclosure of the state of his whole race! Not a sound spot to be found in it: not a man that answered to the standard of God. How far has the solemn lesson been learned in our souls to this day, that having given up all hope of ourselves, we might submit ourselves without reserve to the absolute necessity of God's way of dealing with the race, as announced in His early sentence, "The end of all flesh is come before me"? (Gen. 6:13)
But if it should appear as if we were no nearer the discovery of how any of us could ever rejoice in hope of the glory of God, when the only effect hitherto of any rays of the light of it has been to reveal men, and all men alike, to be fit for nothing but the judgment of God; the truth is — and it is very blessed to be brought to know it — that all God's dealings with the race have had for their object to shut up the soul to the second Man, whom God has found for Himself, and of whom the first was but a figure. (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:45-49)
As the second Man the Lord Jesus Christ is contrasted with the first, for the question was of bringing in another man, instead of any further dealings with the first, to modify or improve his condition. He is the last Adam, as foreclosing the history of the first, the One and the only One in whom there was any hope for men from the beginning. To Him the eye of faith turns to find the perfection in which God delights. He it is who is made of God to the believer all that fits us for the unclouded light of His glory (1 Cor. 1:31), and to whose image we shall yet be conformed according to the eternal counsel of His love. (Rom. 8:29)
For there was another aspect of Christ's presence in the world than that of bringing out by His rejection the state of all hearts before God. An intimation of it is found at the moment of His entrance into it, in the outburst of heavenly praise over the new-born Babe in Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men." (Luke 2:14, N.T.) For that was the order of heaven's mind, if little thought of on earth. There must be glory to God before there could be peace on earth, or God's good pleasure in men. Can we in any little measure seek to follow out by the Spirit's teaching how that glory was accomplished? It must be as our eyes, closed upon all that is of the man under condemnation, are open upon the One in whom God finds His perfect delight. In Him we trace the path of man's perfection before God as had never been found on earth before. Man governed only by the will of Him who had sent Him. By every form of testing He was proved to be perfect in dependence, in obedience, in the devotedness of love to the Father, and the absolute refusal of the world's glory. His path was one solitary track of light across the darkness of man's world.
The Father's estimate of that tested and perfect path, even if there was no other to enter into it, was declared on the Mount of Transfiguration, as we learn from the chosen witnesses of His majesty. "He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (2 Peter 1:16-17) At last there was a Man upon earth that the excellent glory could claim as perfectly suited to it, and in the moral contrast between Him and all other men there is the final demonstration that they are short of the only standard God can recognise.
But did the heavens then receive Him from the holy mount whose title none could dispute to enter into them, and did He leave the world to the judgment of God? No; blessed be God! He came down from that mountain to begin His last journey to Jerusalem to die. From His own words we learn the meaning of the descent. When Judas was gone out into the night to consummate his treachery, and prove what the heart of man was capable of, "Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him." Let us pause to note how in His perfection He counts it His glory to be able to glorify God, though it had to be in all the shame and humiliation of the cross. But He continues: "If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him." (John 13:31-32) God had indeed been glorified in His walk before Him in man's perfection. He had been glorified, too, in the perfect revelation of all divine goodness in man before men, as it never had come out before. But the full outflow of that goodness was still hindered, and Jesus had to say, "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished." (Luke 12:50)
The whole question of sin — for man's state was proved to be nothing but sin — had to be gone into, and God glorified as to sin. The blessed Lord was on His way to the cross to meet, in the baptism of divine judgment due to sin, the worst work of the enemy and turn it into the occasion of bringing the brightest glory to God, in the revelation of all that He is. The mighty works of creation had displayed His eternal power and Godhead, but told nothing of His nature, save as the general impression of beneficence might be gathered from the character of His works. But in the work of the cross every moral attribute of His Being has been revealed and glorified, and that when nothing but sin was in question. There what God is against sin has come out as fully as all that He is for the sinner. Divine holiness was manifested when Jesus was left in the anguish of His soul to cry, "My God, My God! why hast thou forsaken me?" Divine righteousness against sin, was there declared in sin's righteous judgment infinitely endured — not one drop of the dreaded cup remitted to Him who could alone exhaust it. The majesty of the throne was vindicated. The truth of God was maintained, light and love, what God is in Himself, were in full manifestation. GOD had been revealed and glorified.
And now the claim of the Lord Jesus was that if it were so indeed, that God was glorified in His accomplished work, He would glorify Him in Himself, and not wait for the kingdom to do it, but "straightway" glorify Him. Again, in John 17:1, He can say "The hour is come" (He takes His place as having gone through it), and claims glory by His divine title as the Son; while in verses 4, 5 He claims to take His place as man in the glory He had with the Father before the world was, on the ground that "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." Could the answer to such a claim be withheld? Impossible, in very righteousness, to say nothing of what we can conceive so little of, the satisfaction of the Father's heart in it. Before the devoted women that loved Him could be at the sepulchre that resurrection morning, the glory of the Father had been there: He "was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father." (Rom. 6:4) "God raised him up from the dead and gave him glory." (1 Peter 1:21) The Spirit witnesses of the full positive revelation of the righteousness of God in the place He has set Him in. (John 16:10)
"All the depths of Thy heart's sorrow
Told in answering glory now."
Well may we rejoice in the place He has taken. It is the seal of God put upon the perfection of the work of the cross that has so infinitely glorified Him, when the Son of God had given Himself to bear our sins and be made sin for us. Well may we rest where God rests. We are saved by nothing short of the work that is the everlasting glory of God.
We have already seen that God has been infinitely glorified by the work of the cross; and that we rest for salvation where God rests; so that the work by which we are saved will be the everlasting glory of God.
The full force of the expression in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (which must be rendered) "the gospel of the glory of Christ" will now be seen. It is not the "glorious gospel" of the A.V., expressing merely what is fine, and that even as connected with glory to the fullest degree, but it defines the glory, in which He is, as the point of the testimony. It is the glad tidings that God has found such glory in the work accomplished by the Lord Jesus as to our sins, that He has exalted Him to the highest point of heavenly glory.
The consequent position of the believer is now presented to us in wonderful contrast to that of Moses in the last passage referred to. (2 Corinthians 3) The law had attached the promise of life to the condition of doing: "This do and thou shalt live," but we needed life to be able to do anything. "The Spirit giveth life" to begin with, in contrast to the letter that killeth. That is, the glory of Christ, though hidden beneath the letter, had been the mind of God according to spiritual intelligence of it in the Old Testament. The Spirit now reveals Him as the object of faith, and so gives life where alone it is to be found, in Christ. The law demanded righteousness from those under it: "It shall be our righteousness if we observe to do all these commandments" (Deut. 6:25); and of course it would have been but man's righteousness. But as righteousness never came by the law, and there was "none righteous," it became but a ministration of death and condemnation to man. (Vers. 7, 9)
But now the gospel as Paul preached it is a "ministration of righteousness." (Ver. 9) From the glory where Christ is, righteousness is ministered to us. "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him." (Luke 15) And instead of man's righteousness (if there had been any), that never carried anything with it but long life and good days on earth — no ray of heavenly glory — it is the righteousness of God, so perfectly suited to the glory of God that it has already carried Christ into that glory as Man, from the very depths of the judgment where divine love had led Him for us. Him who knew no sin, "God has made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Finally, as completing the whole individual Christian position, there is a "ministration of the Spirit." (Ver. 8) To those who have received Christ as their life and righteousness, the Spirit is given to be the power of an enjoyment of the whole wonderful revelation.
Now looking at the position of Moses again, which was that of man under the law: there was, indeed, a place by Jehovah, a rock, "And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." No hiding-place is needed now, that the manifestation of the glory of the Lord might be only a partial one for us. There is no hiding in a cleft as the glory passes before us in John 17. Every ray of it is concentrated on that face once more marred than that of any man; and we can look upon the glory in His face; for it is that of Him who gave Himself for us.
But Moses could not be in presence of even the back parts of Jehovah's glory without bearing away a reflection of it; and so when he came down from the Mount the skin of his face shone. "And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses … they were afraid to come nigh him." They could not bear even the feeble reflection of the partial manifestation of it. The reason is not far to seek: what was that in his hands? The two tables of stone, rewritten by the finger of God — the "ministration of condemnation." The nearer the light of the glory came while it was still connected with the righteous claim of God upon them, the more intolerable it was. So "till Moses had done speaking with them he put a veil on his face." (Ex. 34:29-35)
No claim is connected with the glory on the face of the Lord Jesus. It was never revealed there till every claim of broken law and outraged holiness had been gone into and settled for ever. It is the witness to us of God's infinite satisfaction with the settlement made in the propitiatory work of the cross. Moses had, indeed, proposed to make such a settlement, "Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin." (Ex. 32:30-32) But no creature effort was of any avail. "None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him." (Ps. 49:7) The Lord Jesus did not go up to God till He had come down and given His life a ransom for many. Hence He could go up with no "peradventure" on His lips, but in the full consciousness of the indisputable claim He had established by His finished work to take His place as Man in the glory — a place He had won for us in divine righteousness.
The last verses of 2 Corinthians 3 bring us to the focus of the contrast of the Christian's position with that of Moses and Israel. Only we must read verse 18 a little more true to the original. It is not our face that is unveiled: it is the glory of the Lord. "We all beholding [or looking upon] the glory of the Lord with unveiled face are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit." Moses had to put a veil upon his face for Israel: the Lord Jesus has not to do so for us; though the difference is great between the reflection of partial glory in Moses' face, and the whole glory of God shining in the face of the Lord Jesus. What would have been Moses' destruction is the holy liberty of the Christian in the power of the Holy Ghost: for "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." The light of that glory tells of peace made by the blood of His cross, and of the perfection of the work on the ground of which we are identified with Him in life and righteousness. Every motive of divine and unutterable love engages our hearts to be occupied with that glory as it shines for us in His face. Look round the circle of the nearest and dearest to us; is there any face we have the same title to look into as His who gave Himself for us, all radiant as it is with the glory of God?
The prayer of Moses is fulfilled, for the simplest believer, in a way beyond all that he could have conceived. So that it only remains for us through the Spirit to wait for the hope of righteousness by faith, as Paul expresses it in Galatians 5:5, which is defined to be the glory of God (Rom. 5:2), the hope of which has become so real as to be the present power of exulting joy in our lives.
One thing more of the deepest practical importance to our souls flows out of the contrast the Apostle so fully develops between the glory of the system under which Moses stood, "which was to be done away," and the glory which excelleth and remaineth brought in by Christianity. It is that which lies between the powerlessness of the law to effect anything, as the stones were cold and unimpressionable upon which it was graven, and the full positive effect of the gospel of the glory of Christ in forming the assembly as a letter commendatory of Christ in the world. This was produced by a ministry through the Apostle by which the Spirit of the living God wrote Christ on fleshy tables; that is, the affections of the heart. The realisation by the assembly of this, its wonderfully privileged and responsible place, depends upon the response of heart, in the individuals that compose it, to such a ministry. Verse 18 brings out the formative power of it; first by the Object presented to our hearts, and secondly by the indwelling Spirit — "the Lord the Spirit," referring to verses 6 and 17. "Looking upon the glory of the Lord … we are transformed … into the same image even as by the Lord the Spirit." The Spirit dwelling in us is the power both of the objective presentation and the subjective effect produced. As the light of the unveiled glory in His face streams upon us from the opened heavens by the ministry of the Spirit, and the eyes of our faith are fixed upon an Object so worthy to absorb, by the power of the same Spirit, the affections take the impress of their Object, and the glory of Christ is reflected in the life and ways suited to Him of those who are His own.
Moses even bore the reflection of the partial glory he had seen. Could it be possible that we should look upon that unveiled glory that shines for ever on the face of Jesus, and not bring some of the reflection of it amongst those we come in contact with? This will be known in the moral traits of His glory, that lowly life of confidence, and dependence, purity, singleness of purpose, obedience, and devotedness, and all that was true in Him who is now become our life, being reproduced in us. As long as we are here it will only be in degree, and just that in which the growth of our souls consists "from glory to glory." There is no perfection of condition known to Scripture short of reaching Him; then we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is; meanwhile, having this hope in Him, we purify ourselves even as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3) The Lord Jesus has set Himself apart in heavenly glory that we may be set apart by the truth of all that He is there. Growth, then, in the Christian, in the blessed likeness of the Lord depends on His being before our souls continually. No effort of ours enters into it, or could produce any trait of His life in us. Nor can the eye be turned in upon self, nor diverted to any object in the world, without obstructing the transforming process. Not that it is meant that the soul should be ever conscious of the transformation. A shining face never sees itself. Moses wist not that his face shone, though Aaron and Israel were well aware of it.
May our hearts then be simply set upon a life of increasing, adoring occupation with Christ. The result is assured. We shall then answer a little more to what we are by His grace and calling, the epistles of Christ known and read of all men, to His praise and glory. May the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in us before we go to be glorified in Him for ever, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thess. 1:12)