On the Ground of Grace.

John 12:1-36.

P. A. H.

Christian Friend, vol. 13, 1886, p. 85.

It is a wonderful thing for us really to be on the ground of grace. That, I think, is what is specially brought before us here - what God is in Himself, and what He is towards us. He has been manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ. God loved, and God gave; that is the beginning of the reality of it to our souls. But when we have that, we have set before such hearts as ours what God is in Himself, in His resources for us, and in the activities of His love; giving the most precious thing God has to give, that we may delight in Him. We bless Him and we praise Him as our Saviour; and so He is, but He is the blessed Son of God Himself - the Son of the Father - and by the grace of God, and in the power of the Spirit of God, that is what we have discovered - what He is in Himself. And it is in the measure in which the soul has apprehended that grace, and what He Himself is personally, that the soul counts all things but loss for what the Lord Jesus is in Himself, "the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."

We have a wonderful expression of that here, "Six days before the passover." (v. 1.) The Spirit of God settles the date for us, that we may have all the surroundings before our hearts, our consciences; that we may be, as it were, in the very midst of the scene itself. "He came to Bethany," the Spirit tells us. That is where Lazarus was, whom He had raised from the dead; the mighty power of God interposing on behalf of the little family at Bethany. Death had come into the home there. Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, calls Lazarus back out of the grave. In the face of that - in the face of the manifestation of the power of God bringing that one back from the dead - there is one in that house who sees something more - the Life-giver Himself must die. Where had she learned it? She had sat at His feet, she had heard His word, and this is what she had learned for herself. When, through grace, we have reached this, we have reached the blessed foundation of everything God would enable us to be in this world for His glory. Mary knows Him to be the Life-giver Himself, but the Life-giver must die. It is not the soul measuring grace by the way in which its own needs have been met, but we learn what it is to be before Him in His grace; not according to what there is in us, but according to what there is in Him. Learning that there is not one thought in His heart toward us of giving us anything on the ground of reward, but everything on the ground of grace, in the fulness and greatness of Himself.

We have then the one that sees, and the one that does not see - Mary and Judas. The one that does not see leads away the others after him; the one that sees had discovered that the Life-giver Himself must die, and she just goes and expresses that in a way that shows how she had been reached in the inmost recesses of her heart. She takes all that is precious, all that she could pride herself upon, and she places it at the feet of Jesus. Only think what it is! All that was most precious in her sight! Are you and I in that state of soul now? If we are not, we shall not see clearly the right way - the path. Further down in the chapter the Spirit of God shows us how clear that is for us now - Jesus glorified. Mary had heard Him; she knew Him as the dying One. Thus she has no reserve. She does not care what others may think, or may say. She does not say a word; but she takes precious ointment of spikenard, all that is costly, and lays it at the feet of Jesus. The one with the natural heart - the one who does not see - finds fault. He says, "That is waste, that is waste." It is the natural heart coining out, indignant at the idea of all this being bestowed on Jesus. "Oh," says the natural heart, "that is waste; consider the poor, consider the poor." Then the Spirit of God stops to tell us what the natural heart really is, and here we have a wonderful principle brought out. In Mary there was no such thing as covering up. She is not occupied with what she is doing, but with the One to whom she is doing it; and the whole house was filled with the odour of the ointment. What do you think delights the heart of God in this world? Seeing a number of the Lord's people together, and happy together? No. At the very last a few gathered round the Person of the blessed Lord, and appreciating Him through grace. That is what the Spirit of God will produce and keep here in this world - keep alive and responsive to Christ - until the very moment when He comes.

Now in Judas we have the very reverse of all this. He covers up, and the Spirit of God uncovers, and show it to us. He did not care for the poor, he cared for the bag, he bare what was put therein. In the blessed scene the Spirit of God comes down to what the natural heart is, trying to cover up its distance from Him, and using what in itself is a good object to do so. Nearness to Him is the heart uncovered in His presence because satisfied with Himself. There is no seeking to make a good appearance when we have Himself before us. We do not think of it then. It is not what we are doing, but He is there to whom we are doing it.

What always strikes the heart so in this chapter is, that what was outside, what was seen outwardly, was not what the Lord was doing; what He was doing lay beneath the surface. He was drawing the heart to Himself, and the blessed Lord was on the way to the cross. He takes upon Himself Mary's cause; He answers for her. She shall not be disturbed; He takes it all in hand. Then He makes His entry into Jerusalem, and the people begin to sing; they begin to treat Him as a Conqueror, according to Psalm 118: "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." They were all wrong, not seeing the ground on which alone victory could be based. "Thy King cometh." But how? With no earthly power and majesty; nothing that the eye could see, nothing that could carry captive the natural heart of man; but with His heart yearning over them in a way wholly divine. There was the secret of it in what He is in Himself. The secret had been discovered by Mary. How had she learned it? In her own soul first - her own need. Here is the Life-giver Himself; He has brought Lazarus back from the dead; but He must die, or He will abide alone. When by grace we have apprehended the Lord of glory as the dying One, we are on the road; we have touched the head and spring, the fountain of all the grace of God toward us. He enters into Jerusalem in this spirit: "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation, lowly," etc. (Zech. 9:9.)

The next thing the Spirit places on record is the coming of the Greeks to see Jesus: "Sir, we would see Jesus" - Jehovah saving His people. So Andrew and Philip bring them to Jesus; and He says, "You must see Him as Mary has discovered Him - the corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies." Now let us go back to the entry into Jerusalem, and read it in the light and spirit of this, and what a wonderful insight we have below the surface. The people shout and sing, and strew palm branches before Him; they celebrate victory, but victory for them can only be through His death. We have before us what was in His heart in the midst of their shoutings. Wonderful and most blessed!

The whole secret comes out to the Greeks, but Mary had discovered it beforehand. She had herself anointed Him for the burial; she had learned that He must die; and He discovers to the Greeks the very thing she had learned and had anointed Him for. Wonderfully blessed this oneness of thought between Mary and Jesus! It is what you and I can have, and by the grace of God do have - oneness of thought with our Lord Jesus Christ. But some may say, "I see all that, but how am I to get along down here? How are we to find the way through all the troubles and difficulties and sorrows down here?" Well, the way is Christ Himself. If we can only bring all the troubles and difficulties, the things that distress us, into the light of His presence, we discover the way directly; the Spirit of God enables us to look at them in the light of His presence. The darkness of the path has been turned into light by looking at it in His presence. What is for the glory of Christ? What will glorify Him? Ah! but we have so much to get rid of, many of us. The darkness lies in the state of our own souls towards Himself; the defect lies there. Mary was counting all things but loss for Himself. The soul may be a little away only from Him, the eye a little off Him; it is quite enough to make one dark. If we are not looking at Christ, not considering Him, darkness comes in.

The Lord goes on to speak of the denial of self, the judgment of this world, and His being lifted up and drawing all to Him. The people answer Him, "We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever … Who is this Son of man?" He says, "Walk while ye have the light with you." That is all. There was an opportunity for Him now to make a great display of His glory. Not a word of it. He appeals to the heart and the conscience: "Walk while ye have the light." There is one of the children of light in the chapter; it was the one that sat at His feet and heard His word. That was the one that spent all that was precious upon Him, that abased herself, emptied herself at His feet. "Who is this Son of man?" they say. "Walk while ye have the light," He says, "that ye may be the children of light." Oh, beloved brethren, it is really a great thing to be searched out! We do not know much of it, but that is what we have come to - really and truly to be searched out in ourselves. We see the needs be of this really individual searching out, in order that we may be fit to be here in this world for God and for Christ. Paul learns it, and says, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing." We are really before God now on the ground of His grace. We know all our needs are met; but to know God is for us, that He is towards us in His grace, everything we hold to of the old man we have to let go, and to learn what real dependence on "me and my grace" is. (See 2 Cor. 12.) Look again at Peter on the housetop. Alone with God; a wonderful place to be in. And what has God to say to him? He lets down the sheet from heaven: "Arise, Peter, slay and eat." "No," says Peter, "nothing common or unclean has ever entered into my mouth," forgetting what had come forth from his poor lips - the cursing and swearing and denying His blessed Master. Have we learned this lesson, the lesson of His grace? Peter had well-nigh forgotten even the grace that had met him in his need, and there, alone with God, he had to learn this; and so at Jerusalem he says, "The lesson I have learned is this: God hath cleansed." That is what God gave him. God spoke to him, distinguishing between what God was in Himself and what He had done, and what Peter was in himself and what he had done. And that is how God speaks to us now. Peter could now go forth. Who could he reject now? It is just a question of God and His grace. "What God hath cleansed call not thou common."

But to return to our chapter. In all this that went on there is this wonderful apprehension of this child of light shown forth in her actions; she says not a word, but actions speak louder than words. Then the entry into Jerusalem. These things, the Spirit of God says, His disciples did not understand then, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered, etc.; i.e., when the Spirit of God is down here, He brings to remembrance all things that had taken place or had been spoken. When this chapter is before us, we bless God for this wonderful apprehension of Jesus as the dying One here; but we have higher ground, the Holy Ghost is here. Now we begin to think about subjection to Him, really entering into the mind of Christ. It is not merely light on the way here, it is the way itself; it is the Spirit of Christ, and learning what it is that glorifies Him. We have the Spirit of God; the Spirit of God always leads according to the mind of Christ. When you hear people say, "I do not see," why do they not see? No mortal man can give them eyes; but if they have the Spirit of God, how is it they do not apprehend? It is no light thing now not to see, and see clearly too. The hindrance is always oneself. Search your own heart and soul before God; set your own conscience before Him, and you will discover it.

The reason of all the inability to apprehend, and to act for God, is distance of heart from Himself; that is the real, true secret of it all; and if of the grace of God we really search ourselves out, and get near to Himself, we shall have the blessed knowledge of His mind, of Himself. The power of evil is conquered, under His feet. You go to people and say, "God has put all things under the feet of Jesus." "Oh," say they, "we do not see it! What confusion and distress there is around - the power of evil rising up." I say, "God has done it now." Where do I look? I see Jesus, and have faith through grace; all things are put under His feet, everything, everything the souls of people can be led astray by, everything is under the feet of Jesus. I look to Him. I see not yet all things put under Him, but I see Him under whose feet they are put. Mary saw Him here the dying One; we see Him the risen One, sitting at the right hand of God in heaven. All things are working out His mind and will, conducing to further His glory; and the question for its is not, "Where is power?" but, "Where is subjection to Himself?" That is where power lies. If you say, "Where is power?" I say, "Where is subjection to Christ?" It is the having to do with Himself, the heart satisfied with Himself, contented that Jesus should be glorified, and really thankful to be in this world only for Himself, for His sake. The Lord grant us to know more of it. P. A. H.