"The church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:28
Atonement for sin stands or falls with the Deity of Christ. If we deny his Deity, we must deny the atonement, for what value or merit can there be in the blood of a mere man that God, for its sake, should pardon millions of sins? This the Socinians clearly see, and therefore deny the atonement altogether. But if there be no atonement, no sacrifice, no atoning sacrifice for sin, where can we look for pardon and peace? Whichever way we turn our eyes there is despair.
But when by the eye of faith we see the Son of God obeying the law, rendering, by doing and dying, acting and suffering, a satisfaction to the violated justice of the Most High and offering a sacrifice for sin, then we see such a glory and such a value breathing through every thought, word, and action of his suffering humanity, that we embrace him and all that he is and has, with every desire and affection of our regenerated soul. All our religion lies here; all our faith, hope, and love flow unto, and are, as it were, fixed and concentrated in Jesus Christ, and him crucified; and without a measure of this in our heart and conscience, we have no religion worth the name, nothing that either saves or sanctifies--nothing that delivers from the guilt, filth, love, power, and practice of sin--nothing that supports in life, comforts in death, or fits for eternity.
The way, then, whereby we come to a knowledge of, and a faith in, the Deity of Christ is first by feeling a need of all that he is as a Savior, and a great one, and then having a manifestation of him by the blessed Spirit to our soul. When he is thus revealed and brought near, we see, by the eye of faith, his pure and perfect humanity and his eternal Deity; and these two distinct natures we see combined, but not intermingled, in one glorious Person, Immanuel, God with us. Until thus favored we may see the Deity of Christ in the Scriptures, and have so far a belief in it, but we have not that personal appropriating faith whereby, with Thomas, we can say, "My Lord and my God."
"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Proverbs 19:21
A man in his fleshly mind is generally devising some method or other whereby he may escape a practical subjection to the gospel; some way or other whereby he may escape walking in the path of self-denial and mortification of the flesh, and the crucifixion of "the old man with the affections and lusts." He is generally seeking some way or other to indulge the flesh, and yet, at the same time, to stand in gospel liberty--to have everything that can gratify his carnal mind, and, at the same time, have a well-grounded hope of eternal life.
But the Lord says, "No, these two things are not compatible; he that shall live with Christ must die with Christ; he that shall reign with Christ must suffer with Christ; he that shall wear the crown must carry the cross." So, that whatever devices there be in a man's heart, or whatever ways and plans he shall undertake to bring his devices to pass, "the counsel of the Lord still shall stand." Divine sovereignty shall fulfill that which divine sovereignty has appointed, and the purposes of God shall stand upon the ruins of the purposes of the creature.
And it is our mercy (so far as we are children of the living God), it is our mercy, that it should be so. Where would we have been this moment, if the devices in our hearts had succeeded? We would have been in hell. Where would we have been, since the Lord has been pleased, as we trust, to quicken our souls into spiritual life, if all our devices had succeeded? Our "eyes would have stood out with fatness," and we would have "had more than heart could wish." We would have been now, if the Lord had left us to our own devices, indulging in some dreadful temptation, or already have disgraced our name before the Church of God; or, if we had escaped that, we would have only a name to live, while our hearts were secretly dead before God; have had "a form of godliness, while we inwardly or outwardly denied the power thereof."
And therefore it is our mercy that the devices of our hearts should not stand, but that "the counsel of the Lord" should prevail over all the purposes of our base nature. When a man is brought to the right spot, and is in a right mind to trace out the Lord's dealings with him from the first, he sees it was a kind hand which "blasted his gourds and laid them low;" it was a kind hand that swept away his worldly prospects, which reduced him to natural as well as to spiritual poverty, which led him into exercises, trials, sorrows, griefs, and tribulations; because, in those trials he has found the Lord, more or less, experimentally precious. Jacob found it so; he blessed the Lord for the path he had led him in. Though his days had been few and evil, he could see how the Lord had "fed him all his life long unto that day," amid all the changing vicissitudes through which he had passed in body and soul; and he blessed that hand which had guided him through that difficult way, and yet brought him to a "city of habitation."
"For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:11
What is meant by the expression, "our mortal flesh?" It does not mean the carnal mind, but our earthly tabernacle; and the expression is similar to another in this chapter, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." It is, then, in this poor body, compassed with infirmities, that the life of Jesus is made manifest. This divine life will often spring up in fervent breathings after God, in the actings of living faith, in the sweet communion the people of God have with one another, in reading the Scriptures, in the application of precious promises, and under the preached word. From time to time it bubbles up like a spring from its source. Sometimes indeed it runs underground, buried as it were under the load of "our mortal flesh;" but again and again it reappears, drawn up by the Sun of righteousness. "Spring up, O well." But its risings are ever proportionate to its sinkings. Thus in proportion as we cease to pray naturally, do we pray spiritually; as we cease to hope in the flesh, do we hope in the Lord; as we cease to believe with the head, do we believe with the heart; when we see an end of all perfection in self, then we begin to find perfection in Christ; and when we see nothing in our hearts but sin, misery, and wretchedness, then we begin to taste spiritual consolation. Thus in proportion as nature sinks, the life of Jesus rises, and is made manifest in our mortal flesh.
Is the soul, then, longing to have sweet manifestations of the life of Jesus? Where must it go to get them? What does the word of God say? "Whence comes wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept closed from the fowls of the air. Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears" (Job 28:20-22).
Until, then, we get to "destruction and death," the destruction of fleshly hopes and the death of creature religion, we do not so much as ever hear the fame of true wisdom with our ears. Thus, when we get into darkness, then light springs up; when we get into despondency, hope arises; when we are tempted with unbelief and infidelity, faith appears. Thus those are the wisest in whom creature wisdom has most ceased; those are the strongest who have learned most experimentally their own weakness; those are the holiest who have known most of their own filthiness; those are the most religious in a true sense who have least religion of their own. So that just in proportion as we are delivered unto death, and execution takes place on what the creature loves, so does the life of Jesus begin to rise and make itself blessedly manifest.
"Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." Psalm 118:27
Are you a poor broken-hearted child of the living God? Is there any measure of the Spirit of Christ in you? Is there any faint resemblance of his meekness and holy image stamped upon you? Then you feel yourself bound with cords to the horns of the altar. You feel the strong ties of necessity, and you feel the strong ties of affection binding you there. But with this, you feel also that you are a struggling victim; that you would gladly escape the troubles and trials that being bound to the horns of the altar brings upon you; you would gladly get into an easier path if you could; or if you dared, would willingly set up some altar yourself, made after the pattern of Damascus (2 Kings 16:10); and would gladly, like the Roman Catholic, worship with your body a material cross, instead of worshiping in your soul the adorable God-man who hung and bled there. You would gladly, if you could, step out of a self-loathing, exercised, tried, harassed, and tempted path, to get into the flowery meadow of doctrine and speculation, and there walk at ease without one pang in your conscience, or one trial in your soul.
But the Lord has said, "Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar." You are bound to the horns of the altar. From those horns you cannot escape. You may fume, fret, and rebel against all or any of these cords, but you cannot break them. Aye, you may, in your strugglings, stretch to their utmost extent these cords; but they are too firmly fastened round your tender conscience, and too strongly wreathed round your broken heart, for you to burst them. They would sooner cut your heart in two, than you could break them, or escape from them.
And in your right mind, you would not be otherwise than bound with cords to the horns of the altar. In your right mind, you want the cords tightened, and so to be drawn nearer and nearer unto it; and to have the blood that was shed upon it sprinkled upon your conscience. In your right mind, you want to see with the eye of faith the Victim that once lay bleeding and writhing there; and as you look upon him, to drink into his image, and to feel the melting power and softening efficacy of that sight.
But, then, connected with it, there are such trials, such temptations, and such sacrifices, that you, in your fits of rebellion or flesh-pleasing ease, would at times as gladly get away, as at other times, you would gladly get near. Vile wretches that we are, who would often prefer to serve the flesh and the world, and take our chance, as men speak, for eternity, than suffer trials and temptations as the followers of Christ! But it is our mercy that we can neither make nor unmake, do nor undo, bind nor break any one cord of eternal love, but that, in spite of the creature, God will "fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power."
"And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead." Ephesians 1:19-20
Man needs to be roused by a mighty and effectual power out of his state of sleep and death. It is not a little pull, a gentle snatch at his coat, a slight tug of his sleeve, which will pull him out of his sins. He must be snatched from them as a person would be snatched out of bed when the house is on fire, or pulled out of a river when sinking for the last time. Let us never think that the work of grace upon the heart is a slight or superficial one. Indeed, there needs a mighty work of grace upon a sinner's heart to deliver him from his destructions. We always, therefore, find the work of grace to begin by a spiritual sight and sense of our ruined condition before God. But this alone will not suffice to make us true-hearted disciples of Jesus. It is a preparation, a most needful preparation for a sight of the King in his beauty, but it is not the same thing as to see and believe in the Son of God unto eternal life. We must have something far beyond any convictions of sin or any sense of our lost and ruined condition. We must have by faith a view of the blessed Lord more or less manifested to our souls by that Holy Spirit whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and to reveal them to the heart so as to see his suitability, his grace, his glory, his work, his blood, his obedience; and to so see these divine and blessed realities by the eye of faith, as to know and feel for ourselves that they are exactly adapted to our case and state; that they are the very things we require to save us from the wrath to come; and that so far as we have a saving interest in them we are saved from the floods of destruction.
Wherever this believing sight of Christ is given to the soul, it creates and maintains a faith that works by love. Thus wherever there is a view of Jesus by the eye of faith, wherever he manifests and makes himself in any measure precious to the soul, love is the certain fruit of it; for we love him because he first loved us, and, when we begin to love the Lord, love gives us a binding tie which creates union and communion with him. As, then, he unveils his lovely face, and discovers more and more of his beauty and blessedness, it gives him a firm place in the heart's warmest, tenderest affections, and then he comes and takes up his abode in the soul and rules there as its rightful Lord.
The following things therefore are indispensably necessary to true discipleship; first, a spiritual sense of our lost, ruined condition; then a knowledge of Christ by a gracious discovery of his suitability, beauty, and blessedness; and thirdly, a faith in him that works by love and purifies the heart, overcomes the world, and delivers from death and hell.
"Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace." Romans 4:16
Of faith we read expressly that "it is the gift of God." This is the grand master-grace of the soul; it is the grand wheel which moves every other wheel in the heart; it is the eye, the ear, the hand of the new man of grace. Only so far as we have faith, and the Lord draws out this faith in exercise, have we any true spiritual feeling. But what makes me prize the gift of faith? It is knowing so much and so painfully the indwelling and inworking of unbelief. Is not this the case naturally? What makes me prize health? It is having a poor, weakly body. What makes me prize rest? Fatigue. What makes me prize ease? It is pain. What makes me prize food? It is hunger. What makes me prize the cup of cold water? It is thirst. By these feelings, I not only know the reality by the lack of it, but also enjoy the blessing when communicated. It is just so spiritually, as naturally. What can I know of faith, except I am exercised (and exercised I am more or less daily) by the workings of unbelief, infidelity, questionings of the reasoning mind, and all the spawn of an unbelieving heart? As the soul is tossed up and down, (and often, it is tossed up and down on this sea of unbelief,) it learns to prize the harbor of faith. And when the Lord mercifully communicates a little faith to the soul, and faith begins to realize, feel, experience, and feed upon the truth as it is in Jesus, then we know what faith is by the possession of it.
What a mercy it is that the Lord has the gift of faith to bestow! Here are poor souls toiling, troubling, laboring, groaning, sighing, oppressed with unbelief--that great giant in the heart, who has slain his thousands and tens of thousands. How our souls sometimes sink down under this wretched unbelief! But how we prize the faith all the more when it comes! How all the sinkings make the risings higher, and all the sadness makes the change more blessed! As the tossings to and fro of the sailor upon the sea, with all the perils and sufferings of the voyage, make the calm harbor so pleasant; so all the tossings up and down of unbelief endears the holy calm of living faith to the soul.
"Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." Psalm 48:2
We have sometimes thought that the reason why Zion typically represents the royal throne of Jesus, is by many not well understood. Mount Zion literally was a steep hill of Jerusalem, so steep and inaccessible that for generations after the children of Israel had gained possession of the land, it still remained, like a little Gibraltar, in the hands of the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of the place. "As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out--"but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day" (Jos. 15:63).
But when David was anointed king over Israel, and had reigned at Hebron seven years and six months, he cast his eyes toward Jerusalem, as a preferable metropolis, and a more suitable seat of his extended empire. But as long as the hill of Zion was occupied by the warlike Jebusites, they would retain their command of the lower city. His first step, therefore, was, with the help of God, to dispossess the Jebusites of this their stronghold. But so strong was this hill-fort by nature and are, that the Jebusites ridiculed all his attempts to capture it, putting on the ramparts "the blind and the lame" soldiers of the garrison, what we would call the worn-out invalids of the army, as if these Chelsea pensioners, who could neither see nor walk, were amply sufficient to baffle all David's attempts at its capture (2 Sam. 5--6-8).
Joab, however, as a prize set before him, for which he was to be David's chief captain, mounted the hill, smote the lame and the blind on the wall, and the Jebusites behind the wall, and won possession of the coveted spot (1 Chron. 11:6). There David henceforward dwelt, as its conqueror, as in a castle; there he fixed his royal abode, and thence he swayed his scepter over the whole land of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. Its very name was typical, for it signifies literally, "sunny," or "shine upon," as facing the south, and ever basking in the rays of the warm sun. Thus the sunny hill of Zion, as a hill of conquest, and as the royal seat of David, became a suitable type of the throne of Jesus in the courts above, won by lawful conquest (Rev. 3:21), where is now his royal palace, and where he rules and reigns as the anointed King of heaven and earth. Thus mount Zion typically represents not the cross, but the crown; not the law, but the gospel; not the battle, but the victory.
"O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for you--be our arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble." Isaiah 33:2
Israel has often to pass through times of sorrow and trouble. Deep temporal and deep spiritual trouble is the allotted portion of many, if not of most of the people of God. But having found that the Lord is a Savior, and the only Savior who can support in trouble and deliver out of trouble, there is this conviction deeply implanted and firmly written upon their heart, that he is a Savior in the time of trouble. It is the purpose of God to hunt us out of all lying refuges, that we may believe in Jesus to the saving of our soul; that we may prove that he is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him; that we may learn what salvation is, and that we may know it for ourselves as a divine and blessed reality.
Thus though he is always a Savior, yet he is not experimentally a Savior in times of worldly ease, carnal prosperity, and seasons of carelessness. But in times of trouble, when none can do us any good or stretch forth a healing hand but the Lord alone, then to come to his gracious Majesty and find there and then how he can and does save in trouble and out of trouble, this is that which endears such a Savior to believing hearts.
And observe the expression, "time of trouble," and how it includes not only every trouble which may befall us temporally or spiritually, but clearly intimates that there is not a single season or time when trouble comes that the Lord is not able and willing to save us out of it. How well this corresponds with those gracious words and that sweet promise, "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."
"But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you." Romans 6:17
What reason have we to bless God that he so instructed his Apostle to set forth how a sinner is justified! For how could we have attained to the knowledge of this mystery without divine revelation? How could we know in what way God could be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly? How could we see all the perfections of God harmonizing in the Person and work of Jesus? his law maintained in all its rigid purity and strictest justice, and yet mercy, grace, and love to have full play in a sinner's salvation? But the Spirit of God led Paul deeply into this blessed subject; and especially in the Epistle to the Romans does he trace out this grand foundation truth with such clearness, weight, and power, that the Church of God can never be sufficiently thankful for this portion of divine revelation. His grand object is to show how God justifies the ungodly by the blood and obedience of his dear Son; so that "as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." He declares that "the righteousness of God is unto and upon all those who believe;" and that "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood," he pardons the sinner, justifies the ungodly, and views him as righteous in the Son of his love.
In opening up this subject, the Apostle (Romans 5) traces up this justification to the union of the Church with her covenant Head; shows us her standing in Christ as well as in Adam; and that all the miseries which she derives from her standing in the latter are overbalanced by the mercies that flow from her standing in the former; winding up with that heart-reviving truth, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound; that as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life."
This then is a "form of doctrine," or mold of teaching, into which the soul is delivered when it is brought into a heart-felt reception of, and a feeling acquaintance with it; and by being led more or less into the experimental enjoyment of it, is favored with a solemn acquiescence in, and a filial submission to it, as all its salvation and all its desire. And as the mold impresses its image upon the moist plaster or melted metal poured into it, so the heart, softened and melted by the blessed Spirit's teaching, receives the impress of this glorious truth with filial confidence, feels its sweetness and power, and is filled with a holy admiration of it as the only way in which God can justify an ungodly wretch, not only without sacrificing any one attribute of his holy character, but rather magnifying thereby the purity of his nature, and the demands of his unbending justice.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ--for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes." Romans 1:16
What is meant by the word "power?" It is a term much used in the New Testament. "The kingdom of God," it is declared, "is not in word, but in power;" and true faith is said to "stand not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." What, then, is power? It is a divine operation that God himself puts forth in the soul. It cannot be described by words, nor explained so as to be understood by our mental capacity. It must be felt to be known; and must be realized in a man's own soul before he can have any spiritual conception of it. "Your people," we read, "shall be made willing in the day of your power."
And when the gospel does come to the soul by the application of the blessed Spirit, and a divine power accompanies it, though the power itself cannot be described even by the person himself, it is made known by the effects which follow it. For instance, here is a poor wretch condemned by the law, and in his apprehensions lying forever under its fearful curse. He may, perhaps, see there is salvation in Christ, and know in his judgment there is salvation in no other; but he cannot lay hold of Christ, nor get from under the condemnation he feels. Why? Because the gospel is not made the power of God unto salvation to his soul. But how he begs, cries, prays, and supplicates God to have mercy on him. Continually he is endeavoring to seek God, and beseech him to have mercy on his soul. But he cannot get peace to his conscience; he is still in trouble and distress, bowed down with bondage, guilt, and fear. Here is a man longing for "power."
Now, when the Lord is pleased to apply some portion of his blessed word to his soul, or to speak home some particular promise, the power which accompanies this raises up a special faith, whereby that portion of God's holy word, which speaks of Christ, or that particular promise is laid hold of. Here, then, is "power" communicated with the gospel. The gospel has now come to him, "not in word only," as it might often have done before, leaving him all the while in guilt and fear, but with "power;" and, by the faith thus raised up, he believes in Jesus to the saving of his soul. He could not believe in him before, for his faith, such as it was, being devoid of power, left him where it found him, as forlorn and helpless as the man who fell among thieves. No. He might as well attempt to create a world, as to believe in the Son of God unto deliverance.
But no sooner does he believe what the Holy Spirit applies, than a sweet and sacred power comes into his soul, which takes away his doubts and fears; dispels guilt from his conscience; banishes the mists and fogs that for months have hung over his soul; reveals in him a precious Jesus; makes the promises of the gospel to glitter before his eyes like dew-drops in autumn; and gives him an unspeakable nearness to God, through the Person, blood, and righteousness of Christ, such as he never knew until the gospel came with power, and faith was raised up in his soul.
"Lord, give to me your mercies, the salvation that you promised me. Then I will have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word." Psalm 119:41-42
A living soul wants to return an answer to the one who reproaches him. But he cannot do it of himself, for he has not a word to speak in self-justification; that is utterly cut off; and therefore he needs to have that which shall furnish him with an answer to these reproaches. And what alone can furnish him with an answer? The mercies of God in his soul. "Lord, give to me your mercies, the salvation that you promised me. Then I will have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word." The coming in of "mercies" into the soul, and the manifestation of "salvation" to the heart afford an answer "for those who taunt me."
If you will observe, the word "mercies" is in the plural number, there being many mercies; but "salvation" is in the singular number, there being only one salvation. In what way, then, did the Psalmist want these mercies? Merely as standing in the letter of the word? Only as recorded in the inspired word of truth? As things to look at, as objects hung up, as it were, in a picture, merely for the eye to gaze upon? No; he wanted them in his heart, to "come to him," to visit him, to be breathed into him, to be made part and parcel of him, to be the life-blood that should circulate in his veins, to be the very kingdom of God set up with power in his soul.
And why did he want internal mercies? Because he had internal reproaches. Why did he need mercies in his soul? Because condemnation was in his soul. It was there the sentence of death was written; it was there the sentence of acquittal was to be recorded. It was there that reproach was felt; it was there the answer to the reproach was to be given. If the reproach were merely outward, the answer might be outward also; but the reproof being inward, in the heart, in the conscience, in the feelings, it was needed that the answer should be in the same place, written in the same spot, engraved in the same tablets, and brought home with the same or far greater power, so as to be a sufficient answer to the reproaches of him that reproached him.
"Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Psalm 107:10
What a blessed thing is light, the light of life, the light of God's countenance, of the glorious gospel, of Jesus' face! "Truly light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." But to whom? To those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. How such hail the first rays of light! If you were shipwrecked, cast by night upon a desert rock, how you would hail the first beams of the morning light to show you where you were, and what hopes there were of final escape. So, similarly, how a sense of danger, magnified by the darkness, makes the shipwrecked soul hail the first beam of light, that it may see the way of escape from hell to heaven. How sweet to such it is to have any divine light dawn upon the mind, to have any breaking in of the goodness and mercy, grace and glory, of the blessed Jesus.
The more we sit in darkness, the more we prize light. Many high professors despise all this, and run out against it as a building upon frames and feelings, and making a Christ of our experience. Poor things! Their light is not worth having; and their religion, it is to be feared, is but a fire of their own kindling, the light of which will never light them to heaven. But why do they despise it? Because they never sit in darkness and the shadow of death. Therefore, really and truly, what is their light? A will-o'-the-wisp, a gas-lamp, a meteor, a falling star, anything, everything but the dayspring from on high, or the Sun of righteousness. But the Lord's people cannot be put off with a gas-lamp, a will-o'-the-wisp. They must have Jesus. They must have his blood upon their consciences, his grace in their hearts, his presence in their souls; sweet discoveries of his Person and work, the whispers of his love, the touch of his finger, the smiles of his face. They must have Jesus for themselves. "Give me Christ, or else I die," is their feeling.
But what makes them break forth with these earnest sighs and cries? They are in darkness and in the shadow of death. Were they otherwise, they would be content to remain as they naturally are; dark and dead. But feeling their state, it makes them long for the beams of light; and when it breaks in upon their soul, they can bless it because it comes from and leads to God.
"But he knows the way that I take--when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10
What a purifying effect experience of trial produces; what a separation it makes of the dross from the ore! If a man has a grain of faith in his soul, trial will discover it; if he has a particle of living hope, temptation will bring it to light; if he has a grain of love, trial will extract it from the ore; if he has any patience, any humility, any fear of God, any desire to be right, any dread to be wrong, any honesty, any sincerity, any integrity, in a word, if he has any vital power in his soul, anything of the grace of God in his heart, trial will make it manifest, as the hot flame of the furnace, acting upon the crucible, manifests the gold by breaking up its alliance with the dross. You scarcely know whether you are a believer or an unbeliever until you pass through trial. You do not know what the nature of faith is as a divine gift and a spiritual grace, unless you have passed through this fiery trial. You do not know the worthlessness of creature religion, the emptiness of everything in SELF, until you have been put into the furnace of trial.
We are tempted sometimes, perhaps, to doubt the truth of the Scriptures, the Deity of Christ, the efficacy of his atonement, and many things which I will not even hint at in your ears lest I unwittingly sow infidel seeds in your heart. Now when we are thus exercised, trial as a fire burns up everything that stands in the wisdom and strength of the creature, and brings us to this point, that nothing but that which is of God in the soul can live in the flame. If, then, we find there is that in our heart which lives in the flame, that there is a faith which trial cannot burn up, a hope it cannot destroy, a love it cannot consume, a fear of God which it cannot conquer, then we see there is that in our heart which is like pure gold in the midst of the dross, and can say in some measure with Job, "When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
"Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?" Jeremiah 8:22
There is balm in Gilead, and there is a physician there. This is, and must ever be, our only hope. If there were no balm in Gilead, what could we do but lie down in despair and die? For our sins are so great, our backslidings so repeated, our minds so dark, our hearts so hard, our affections so cold, our souls so wavering and wandering, that if there were no balm in Gilead, no precious blood, no sweet promises, no sovereign grace, and if there were no physician there, no risen Jesus, no great High Priest over the house of God, what well-grounded hope could we entertain? Not a ray. Our own obedience and consistency? These are a bed too short and a covering too narrow.
But when there is some application of the balm in Gilead, it softens, melts, humbles, and at the same time thoroughly heals. No, this balm strengthens every nerve and sinew, heals blindness, remedies deafness, cures paralysis, makes the lame man leap as a deer and the tongue of the dumb to sing, and thus produces gospel sight, gospel hearing, gospel strength, and a gospel walk. When the spirit is melted, and the heart touched by a sense of God's goodness, mercy, and love to such base, undeserving wretches, it produces gospel obedience, aye, a humble obedience; not that proud obedience which those manifest who are trusting to their own goodness and seeking to scale the battlements of heaven by the ladder of self-righteousness, but an obedience of gratitude, love, and submission--willingly, cheerfully rendered, and therefore acceptable to God, because flowing from his own Spirit and grace. It is the application of this divine balm which purifies the heart, makes sin hateful, and Jesus precious, and not only dissolves the soul in sweet gratitude, but fills it with earnest desires to live to God's honor and glory.
This is the mysterious way the Lord takes to get honor to himself. As he opens up the depth of the fall, makes the burden of sin felt, and shows the sinner how his iniquities have abounded, he brings the proud heart down, and lays the head low in the dust; and as he makes him sigh and cry, grieve and groan, he applies his sovereign balm to the soul, brings the blood of sprinkling into the conscience, sheds abroad his mercy and love, and thus constrains the feet to walk in cheerful and willing obedience. This is obeying the precept from right motives, right views, right influences, under right feelings, and to right ends. This is the true Christian obedience, obedience "in the spirit and not in the letter," an obedience which glorifies God, and is attended by every fruit and grace of the Spirit.
"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." Proverbs 22:15
We profess to believe in an Almighty, All-present, All-seeing God; and we would be highly offended if a person said to us, "You do not believe that God sees everything, that he is everywhere present, that he is an Almighty Jehovah;" we would almost think that he was taking us for an atheist. And yet practical atheists we daily prove ourselves to be. For instance, we profess to believe that God sees everything, and yet we are plotting and planning as though he saw nothing. We profess to know that God can do everything, and yet we are always cutting out schemes, and carving out contrivances, as though he were like the gods of the heathen, looking on and taking no notice. We profess to believe that God is everywhere present to relieve every difficulty and bring his people out of every trial, and yet when we get into the difficulty and into the trial, we speak, think, and act as though there were no such omnipresent God, who knows the circumstances of the case, and can stretch forth his hand to bring us out of it.
Thus the Lord is obliged, (to speak with all reverence,) to thrust us into trials and afflictions, because we are such blind fools, that we cannot learn what a God we have to deal with, until we come experimentally into those spots of difficulty and trial, out of which none but such a God can deliver us.
This, then, is one reason why the Lord often plunges his people so deeply into a sense of sin; it is to show them what a wonderful salvation from the guilt, filth, and power of sin there is in the Person, blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the same reason, also, they walk in such scenes of temptation; it is in order to show them what a wonder-working God he is in bringing them out.
This, also, is the reason why many of them are so harassed and plagued; it is that they may not live and act as though there were no God to go to, no Almighty Friend to consult, no kind Jesus to rest their weary heads upon; it is in order to teach them experimentally and inwardly those lessons of grace and truth which they never would know until the Lord, as it were, thus compels them to learn, and actually forces them to believe what they profess to believe.
Such pains is he obliged to take with us; such poor scholars, such dull creatures we are. In order, then, to teach us what a God he is, what a merciful and compassionate High Priest; in order to open up the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of his love, he is compelled to treat, at times, his people very roughly, and handle them very sharply; he is obliged to make very great use of his rod, because he sees that "foolishness is so bound up in the hearts" of his children that nothing but the repeated "rod of correction will ever drive it far from them."
"Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Ephesians 2:19
If grace has touched your heart; if the love of God has come into your soul, it has placed you among the saints of the Most High, and given you every privilege which God ever did or could give to them. And what are their privileges? To be washed in the atoning blood of the suffering Son of God, to be clothed in the justifying righteousness of his perfect and meritorious obedience, to be consecrated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to have the love of God as their enduring portion, peace in believing, supplies of grace as needed, support and strength as they pass through this valley of tears, comforts abounding in proportion to the abundance of afflictions, everlasting arms beneath in death, a mansion of eternal bliss for the soul when the body drops into the grave, and a glorious resurrection of the body at the appearance of Christ in glory.
All that the love of God can give; all that the blood of Christ has been a channel for communicating; and all that the Spirit of God can reveal to any heart, or has ever brought with power into the soul of any saint--all these things become ours when we become fellow-citizens with the saints of God; not indeed always or often by vital enjoyment, though we get sips and tastes, drops and crumbs; but as Abraham was given possession of Canaan when he had not so much as to set his foot on, yet was it his as much by promise as it became his children's by strength of hand. Does not the Apostle declare this, in the broadest and clearest language, where he says, "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours?" and why all yours? "for you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
"I and my Father are one." John 10:30
There is a great deal of caviling in some men's minds about the expression, "the blood of God." "How," say they, "could the Godhead bleed? How could the Godhead suffer?" But if it is not the blood of Him who was God, I might just as well rely for salvation on the blood of one of the thieves that were crucified with him. What is Christ's human nature? That is the rock on which many gallant ships have struck. It is not a person, having a distinct existence apart from the Deity of Christ; but it is a nature--what the Holy Spirit calls a "Holy Thing" (Luke 1:35); "a body that God had prepared for him" (Heb. 10:5), taken into intimate, mysterious, and inexplicable union with the Person of the Son of God. So that, whatever that human nature did and suffered, from its intimacy and union with the Son of God, the Son of God did and suffered. Did that nature bleed? It bled as having union with Deity; it being, so to speak, the instrument that Deity made use of.
To use an illustration--as my soul touches an object through my hand, or speaks its thoughts by my tongue; so Deity not being itself able to bleed, bled through the humanity. Did that nature suffer? It was not the mere suffering of a human person, as a man might suffer; but it was the suffering of a holy nature in intimate union with the Person of the Son of God. And did that nature obey? The Son of God obeyed through and with that nature. So that, to cavil at the expression, "the blood of God" is nothing less than to strike a blow at a great fundamental truth. We might object, on the same ground, to the expression, "God our righteousness," as the Prophet speaks, "And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our righteousness," that is, "Jehovah our righteousness" (Jer. 23:6). Who is our righteousness but the Son of God? And what was that righteousness but the obedience of his human nature, for Godhead could no more obey than suffer and bleed; and yet Jehovah is our righteousness. And if we do not object to the expression, "the righteousness of God," why should we cavil at the expression, "the blood of God?"
Now this is the grand mystery which faith embraces, and which is dear to the heart of every God-taught soul. What a power and efficacy, as the veil is taken off the heart, does faith see in that sacrifice! What a atoning sacrifice does it see made for sin by the blood of the Son of God! Faith does not view it as the blood of man! Can the blood of man put away sin? But when we see it as the blood of the Son of God, oh, what value, efficacy, power, and glory shine forth in it! But until the veil is taken off the heart we cannot see it; nor can we, until the Spirit makes it experimentally known, learn what a divine reality there is in this blood to purge the guilty conscience.
"We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts." 2 Peter 1:19
The "sure word of prophecy" is the mind of God revealed in the Scripture of truth. This is compared to "a light shining in a dark place." This "dark place" is the heart of man, and a dark place it is; and the light shining in the dark place is when the Spirit of God pours his own heavenly light into the dark heart. The Spirit of God works by the word of God. He makes use of the Scriptures of truth, by means of these blessed Scriptures to communicate light. There is no light in the Scriptures themselves; they cannot teach a man to profit, that being God's prerogative. They are a dead letter, nothing but a collection of words and syllables; there is no light in them, no, not a particle, but what the Spirit of God throws upon them when he shines through them.
I might compare the Scriptures to the moon--the moon has no light in herself, but she borrows all her light from the sun--blot out the sun from the sky, and the moon would cease to shine. Or I might compare the Scriptures to what James compares them--"If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass." Here the Scriptures are compared to a mirror, or looking-glass. But light must shine upon the glass. Of what use is a looking-glass in a dark night? It reflects no image; it presents to you no likeness; you discern not your features therein; it might be nothing else but a naked board, as far as any reflection it gives of your face. But let light come into the room, or let the sun rise and shine upon it, and your countenance is reflected therein. So with the word of God; it is utterly ineffectual until the Spirit shines upon it; and when he shines upon it, he casts at the same time a ray of light into your heart; and as he shines with this twofold ray, first upon the word, and then into your soul, he reflects from the word your very image, and you see yourself just as you are, clearly portrayed. Now this is the light shining in a dark place; the light of God's truth shining into your dark heart. This becomes "a sure word" to you; faith is raised up in your heart to credit what God has revealed; the shining in of this light into the dark place causes you to believe; and you, believing in the light which is thus come into your dark heart, receive the word of prophecy as a sure word.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." John 3:6
There is no promise made that we shall be set free in this life from the indwelling and the inworking of sin. Many think that they are to become progressively holier and holier, that sin after sin is to be removed gradually out of the heart, until at last they are almost made perfect in the flesh. But this is an idle dream, and one which, sooner or later in the case of God's people, will be rudely and roughly broken to pieces. Nature will ever remain the same; and we shall ever find that the flesh will lust against the spirit. Our Adamic nature is corrupt to the very core. It cannot be mended, it cannot be sanctified, it is at the last what it was at the first, inherently evil, and as such will never cease to be corrupt until we put off mortality, and with it the body of sin and death. All we can hope for, long after, expect and pray for, is, that this evil nature may be subdued, kept down, mortified, crucified, and held in subjection under the power of grace; but as to any such change passing upon it or taking place in it as to make it holy, it is but a pharisaic delusion, which, promising a holiness in the flesh, leaves us still under the power of sin, while it opposes with deadly enmity that true sanctification of the new man of grace, which is wrought by a divine power, and is utterly distinct from any fancied holiness in the flesh, or any vain dream of its progressive sanctification.
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." Romans 8:29
The risen body of Christ is the type to which the risen bodies of the saints are to be conformed, for "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." This is that glorious image to which the saints are to be all conformed. But though fully retaining all the essential characteristics of humanity, for otherwise it would cease to be manhood in conjunction with Godhead, yet so unspeakably glorious is this risen body of the blessed Lord, to the image of which the risen saints will be conformed, that in this time-state we can not only form no conception of its surpassing glory, but not even of that inferior degree of glory which will clothe the bodies of the saints at the resurrection. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be--but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
But of this we may be sure, that there will always be an essential and unapproachable distinction between the glory of Christ's humanity and theirs. His humanity, being in eternal union with his Deity, derives thence a glory which is distinct from all other, and to which there can be no approach, and with which there can be no comparison. The glory of the moon never can be the glory of the sun, though she shines with his reflected light. "He will change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body;" but though like, it will not be the same. It will be the saints' eternal happiness to see him as he is, and to be made like unto him; but it will be their everlasting joy that he should ever have that pre-eminence of glory which is his birthright, and to adore which will ever be their supreme delight. To have a body free from all sin, sickness, and sorrow, filled to its utmost capacity of holiness and happiness, able to see him as he is without dying under the sight, and to be re-united to its once suffering but now equally glorified companion, an immortal soul, expanded to its fullest powers of joy and bliss--if this be not sufficient, what more can God give?
"The light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:4
Oh! what beauty and blessedness shine forth in the gospel, when we view it connected with the Person and work of the Son of God! Take the doctrines of grace isolated from the Person of Christ; they are scattered limbs; there is no beauty in them; but view the truths of the gospel, in connection with the Person and work of the Son of God, what a heavenly light, what a divine glory is cast upon every truth connected with his sacred Person, atoning blood, finished work, and dying love! This is the way to receive the gospel--not as a thing of shreds and patches, a mere collection or scheme of certain doctrines floating up and down God's word, as waifs and strays from a stranded ship; but as one harmonious gospel, full of grace, mercy, and truth, impregnated with divine blessedness, and all connected with, all springing out of, the Person of the God-man.
How it seems to lift us up for a time, while the feeling lasts, above sin, misery, and wretchedness, to view our completeness in Christ, to see our saving interest in his finished work, to behold ourselves members of his mystical body, to triumph in his holy triumphs, to rejoice in his victories, and to ascend with him above the smoke and stir of this dim spot that men call earth. As one might rise out of a London fog into a pure atmosphere, and bask on some mountain-top in the bright beams of the sun, so the dear saint of God, when he is privileged to read his title clear, see his name in the book of life, feel the love of God in his heart, and rejoice in Christ, is lifted up above the fog and smoke of this dim spot, and sitting with Christ in heavenly places, he feels a sweet victory over every foe internal, external, and infernal.
And there is no other way whereby we can get out of it. Like a man in the London fog, struggling on with fog in the east, west, north, south, fog and smoke all around; so it is while we are struggling onward with sin and self--north, south, east, and west, there is nothing but fog, fog, deep and dense. We must be raised out of it to the mountain-top, and this only can be by being lifted up by a sweet testimony of saving interest in the blood and love of the Son of God. This lifts up, this lifts out; this gives strength, and this alone will give victory; and so far as we fall short of realizing these precious things, we grope for the wall like the blind, and stumble in desolate places like dead men.
It is true that for the most part the saints of God only have a little of these blessed things, from time to time, just brought in and taken away, but sufficient to taste their sweetness, to know their beauty, to see their glory, and therefore sufficient, while they last, to help them onward in their course, and keep them struggling on, until they reach that eternal glory.
"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." 1 Peter 1:2
Foreknowledge of the persons of the elect in the divine economy precedes election. "Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate;" and this foreknowledge was not any eternal foreview of their faith or love in time, as if that were the ground of God's choice of them; but it implies, first, that thorough knowledge which God had of them, and of all that should concern them, of all the depths of sin and rebellion, disobedience and ungodliness, of which they might be guilty before called by grace, and of all their grievous backslidings, slips, and falls, with all the base returns that they should make for his goodness and mercy toward them after he had touched their hearts by his finger.
And secondly and chiefly, it signifies the good will and pleasure, with that everlasting love of God the Father, whereby he foreknew them with a holy approbation of them, a divine affection toward them, and a holy and unalterable delight in them as viewed in his dear Son, chosen in him and accepted in the Beloved. And thus election is not, if we may use the expression without irreverence, a dry choice of them in Christ, but a choice of them as foreknowing, with a holy approbation, each of his elect family, personally and individually, and however they might differ among themselves in the infinite variety whereby one man varies both naturally and spiritually from another, yet that his approving knowledge of each and all of them in Christ Jesus was in sweet harmony with his determinate choice. To realize this in soul feeling, is very sweet and precious.
We do not know ourselves. We may have seen a little into our fallen state by nature, and may know something of the dreadful evils that lurk and work within; we may have had some passing skirmishes, or even some hot battles with our proud, rebellious, unbelieving, infidel, and desperately wicked heart, but we do not know ourselves as God knows us. And though we may cry, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts," yet how shallow for the most part and superficial is that knowledge and experience of ourselves! How little do we measure our sinfulness by the holiness of God, or look down into the depths of our nature as they lie naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do! When, then, we think that he who knew from the beginning all that we ever should be in the depths of the Adam fall, yet chose us by determinate decree in his dear Son unto eternal life, what a blessed lift does it give to the soul out of all those sinkings into which a sight and sense of sin is continually casting it.
"The Lord will give grace and glory." Psalm 84:11
Wherever the Lord gives grace, he in and with that grace gives glory. We, therefore, read, "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Thus he has already made them, even while on earth, partakers of his glory; and this by making them partakers of his grace; for as in the bud is the bloom, and in the bloom the fruit, so in budding grace is blooming glory--grace being but glory begun, and glory being but grace finished.
But what is "glory?" Viewed as future, in its full consummation, it is to be with Jesus in realms of eternal bliss, where tears are wiped from off all faces; it is to see him as he is; to be conformed to his glorious likeness; to be delivered from all sin and sorrow; to be perfectly free from all temptations, trials, burdens, and exercises, and to dwell forever in that happy land, "the inhabitants of which shall not say, I am sick;" where a weary body, a burdened conscience, a troubled heart, a faint and weary mind, are utterly and forever unknown.
In a word, it is to have a glorified body re-united to a glorified soul, and for both to be as full of happiness and holiness, bliss and blessedness, as an immortal spirit can hold, and an immortal frame can endure, drinking in to the full, with unutterable satisfaction but without satiety, the pleasures that are at God's right hand for evermore.
But no human heart can conceive, nor human tongue unfold in what the nature and fullness of this glory consist; for "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love him." Yet all this glory will the Lord give to those upon whom he has already bestowed his grace. He gives them grace now, to bring them through this wilderness world, this valley of tears, this scene of temptation, sin, and sorrow; and when he lands them on that happy shore, he gives them there the fullness of his glory. Then will be fully accomplished the Redeemer's prayer and will--"Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which you have given me; for you loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).
Their right and title to the enjoyment of this predestinated inheritance are securely lodged in the hands of their covenant Head; and he living at God's right hand to save them to the uttermost, all their temptations, enemies, sins, and sorrows can never hinder them from reaching the shore on which God has decreed they shall safely land. Satan may spread a thousand snares to entangle their feet; not a day or scarcely an hour may pass that they are not burdened with indwelling sin; a myriad of lusts may start up in arms from the depths of their carnal mind; and many a pang of guilt and chill of despair may seem at times wholly to cut them off from eternal life. But yet, where the Lord has given grace he will give glory; for when he gives grace with the left hand, he gives glory with the right; yes, we may say that with both hands he gives at once both grace and glory; for as grace and glory flow out of the same loving heart, and are given by the same loving God, they may be said to be given by both hands at one and the same time. A portion or foretaste of this glory is given on earth in every discovery of the glory of Christ; as the Lord speaks, "And the glory which you gave me I have given them"--already given them; and this he did when "he manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him" (John 17:22; 2:11).
"And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:7
When the Lord leads, we can follow. The path may be rough, but if the Lord upholds, we can walk in it without stumbling. Whatever the Lord bids, we can do if we have but his presence; whatever he calls upon us to suffer, we can bear if we have but the approbation of a good conscience and his approving smile. Oh, the wonders of sovereign grace! The cross is no cross if the Lord gives strength to bear it; affliction is no affliction if the Lord supports under it; trial is no trial if sweetened by his smile, and sorrow no grief if lightened by his love. It is our fretfulness, unbelief, carnal reasoning, rebellion, and self-pity which make a rough way a wrong way; but grace in its all-conquering power, not only subdues every difficulty without, but what is its greater triumph, subdues every difficulty within.
It is, and ever must be, one of the strongest principles of our faith, that every way must, in the end, be a right way if it be God's way. And is it not, according to the verdict of our own conscience, a right way to lead us forth out of the world, out of sin, out of self, out of pride and self-righteousness, out of evil in every form, into everything which is good, holy, gracious, acceptable, saving, and sanctifying; everything that can conform us to the image of Christ, who was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and make us fit for the inheritance of the saints in light?
And what is the end of all this leading and guiding? "That they might go to a city of habitation"--the new Jerusalem, the glorious city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. There, some of our friends have gone before; there they dwell as citizens of that blessed city which is all of pure gold, like unto clear glass; a city which has no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. This is the city of habitation where the saints will forever dwell; and the Lord is leading forth each and all of his wilderness wanderers by the right way, that he may bring them in the same way into his eternal presence, and to the enjoyment of those pleasures which are at his right hand for evermore.
"Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and fears unto him that was able to save him from death." Hebrews 5:7
The Apostle says that Christ was "crucified through weakness" (2 Cor. 13:4). We must remember, however, that weakness was not imperfection in him, though it is imperfection in us; for when we speak of the weakness of Christ's human nature, we mean its weakness as compared with the strength and power of his divine nature. Our Lord felt the weakness of his humanity, for though in union with his eternal Deity, though most blessedly upheld and supported by the power and strength and consolation of the Holy Spirit, yet it was inherently weak, and an experience of its weakness was a part of the sufferings that he endured.
Having, then, to bear as laid upon this weakness the whole weight of imputed sin, the whole curse of the law, the whole indignation of the Almighty, our Lord was brought to a spot where he needed special support. To be brought through that work safely, honorably, successfully, agreeably to the will of God and in the fullest harmony with the eternal purposes--to this point were the prayers and supplications of our suffering Lord directed; this was the solemn conflict which our gracious Lord had to endure in the garden in its beginning, and upon the cross in its finishing.
We know what he felt--at least the Holy Spirit has given us an account of that solemn agony in the garden, when he said, as in a moment of weakness, "Let this cup pass from me." It was so bitter in contemplation; it was so full of unmitigated wrath; the ingredients were so mingled with the anger of the Almighty against sin and the manifestation of his displeasure against every one who was chargeable with it, that as he stood there as our substitute, in our place, to endure what we must have endured without him, and to bear the whole weight of eternal wrath and indignation, which must have sunk us and all with us, were we millions, to a deserved hell, that he needed the special interposition of the help of God to hold him up as he drank it to the very dregs.
It was to obtain this help that he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears; and it was the vehemency of the conflict which made the blood fall from his brow and tears drop from his eyes, and his whole soul engaged in an agony of mingled grief and horror, fear and supplication, each increasing and stimulating the other, and the whole poured forth with prayers, cries, weeping, and supplications unto him that was able to save him from death; not from the death that he came to die, but to save him from everything connected with the original sentence of death, as involving in it the wrath of God and its consequences.
"And was heard in that he feared." Hebrews 5:7
There is something in my mind extremely mysterious and yet divinely blessed in the expression, "in that he feared," and it is right to mention that there is some little difficulty as to the right rendering of the expression. The word means in the original not so much fear, as indicating dread or apprehension, as a holy reverence and tender cautiousness. It means literally the great care with which we handle brittle vessels, and, as used in the New Testament, signifies a reverential fear of God. It is used, for instance, of Noah, where he is said to be "moved with fear" (Heb. 11:7), and is translated "godly fear" in those words, "whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28).
It does not, therefore, mean fear in any such sense of the word as would imply a servile dread. It does not mean that our gracious Lord was possessed with that servile dread of the Almighty which reprobates feel and those who never were partakers of the grace of God. But our Lord, as an exemplar of every grace of the Spirit, was possessed of that holy reverence and godly fear in its abundant measure of which we have but a small portion. Now just in proportion to the depth of the grace that was in him, the power of God that rested upon him, and the operations and influence of the Holy Spirit in his soul, so was the measure of holy reverence and godly fear which dwelt in his sacred humanity.
Contemplating, therefore, the greatness of the work; having before his eyes not so much the bodily sufferings of the cross as all the mental agonies--the distress of soul, the conflict with the law in its load and curse, the indignation of the Almighty against sin in the Person of the Surety, the hidings of his Father's face, and the withdrawal of the light of his countenance--foreseeing all these dolorous sufferings of the cross, and tasting the first drops of that shower which was so soon to fall upon his sacred head, it seemed as if his holy soul was filled with the most solemn reverence and deep apprehension of the majesty of God. This is the fear of which our text speaks. It is in the margin "his piety." But reverence, godly fear, holy apprehension, and tender awe convey the meaning of the word much better than the expression "piety."
It was prophesied of him that "the Spirit of the Lord should rest upon him, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord, and should make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:1, 2). Thus his prayers, his cries, his supplications, and his tears rose up with sweet acceptance into the ears of his Father, because they came out of a heart filled with reverence and godly fear under the promptings and influences of that eternal Spirit who wrought in him every grace both in its possession and its exercise, and through whom he offered himself without spot to God.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14
The Lord will make us feel that though his arm is not shortened that it cannot save, nor his ear heavy that it cannot hear, yet he is to be enquired of. He is indeed a God that works wonders; apparent impossibilities are nothing with him; he has but to speak and it is done. But he will make us know his power by making us feel our weakness. He will often keep at a great distance, and for a long time, in order to make us value his presence. He will make us sink very low that he may lift us very high. He will make us taste the bitterness of the gall and wormwood of sin that we may know the sweetness of manifested pardon. He will teach us to abhor ourselves in our own sight, and loathe ourselves for our abominations, before we shall see and know ourselves washed in his blood, clothed in his righteousness, and to stand before him without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
The Lord in one sense is easy of access upon his throne of grace, but in another very hard to be got at. He invites his dear people to come and spread their needs before him; he encourages them with a thousand promises; he says in our text, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" But he will make us set a due value upon his visitations; they shall not be given to us very easily or very frequently that we may not hold them cheap. It is not "ask and have" immediately. We have to learn what sin cost our dear Redeemer; we have to see the holiness and majesty of God; we have to learn that though mercy is free, and grace superabounds over the aboundings of sin, yet it must be got at after many a struggle, many a cry, many a sigh and groan, and many a fervent petition; that though all fullness dwells in the Lord the Lamb, and he invites us to come and take of the water of life freely, yet it is guarded on every side by many things that would drive us back.
And thus he teaches us to put due value upon his grace, upon the visitations of his countenance and the words of his lips. They cost the dear Redeemer the deepest agonies of body and soul, and sufferings of which no finite mind can form a conception; and, therefore, are not to be given out without teaching us to know through what channel they came, nor what it cost the blessed Son of God to give out of his fullness those supplies of grace by which he enriches our need.
"For you will not leave my soul in hell; neither will you allow your Holy One to see corruption." Psalm 16:10
When the adorable Lord by a voluntary act laid down his life, the last words that he spoke were, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." By his "spirit" we are to understand his human soul which at once went into paradise, into the immediate presence of God, as he intimated in the words, "And now come I to you" (John 17:13). Nor did he go there that day alone. A trophy was soon to follow him; the soul of that repenting, believing malefactor, who, a partner with him in suffering, had become by his sovereign grace a partner with him in glory.
There was, then, an actual separation of the Redeemer's body and soul; but this did not destroy or affect the union of his Deity with his humanity. That union remained entire, as his holy soul went into paradise in union with his Deity, and thus he was still God-man as much in paradise as he was at the tomb of Lazarus, or at the Last Supper. But his sacred body, though by the act of death life was gone out of it, still remained as before, "that holy thing." Death did not taint that sacred body any more than sin did not taint it in the womb of the Virgin. The promise was, therefore, "You will not leave my soul in hell [rather, in Hades, or that paradise in which it was after death], nor allow your Holy One to see corruption."
This holy body was essentially incorruptible, as being begotten of the Holy Spirit, by special and supernatural generation, of the flesh of the Virgin; but as in all other acts of the sacred Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all engaged that no taint of corruption should in death assail it. The Father promised, and as a God that cannot lie, performed by his almighty, superintending power; the Son, by the same innate, active, divine energy by which he assumed that body in the womb of the Virgin, preserved it untainted, uncorrupted in the grave; and the Holy Spirit who formed that body in its first conception, breathed over it his holy influence to maintain it, in spite of death and the tomb, as pure and as incorruptible as when he first created it.
These things are indeed difficult to understand or indeed conceive; but they are heavenly mysteries, which faith receives and holds fast in spite of sense, reason, and unbelief. For see the tremendous consequences of allowing any taint of corruption to assail that blessed body. Could a tainted body be resumed at the resurrection? Corruption would have marred it as it will mar ours; and how could a corrupt body have been again the habitation of the Son of God? We are often instrumentally preserved from error not only by knowing and feeling the sweetness and power of truth, but by seeing, as at a glance, the tremendous consequences which a denial of vital, fundamental truths involves.
"For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified." Hebrews 10:14
To be "sanctified" is to be made a partaker of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; to be made a new creature; to "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness;" in a word, to be "made a partaker of the divine nature," and thus have the holiness of God breathed into and communicated to the soul. Without this inward sanctification, none can enter the gates of heaven. To be made fit, therefore, for the heavenly inheritance, you must have a heavenly heart and a praising, adoring, loving spirit; you must delight yourself in the Lord as being so holy and yet so gracious, so pure and yet so loving, so bright and glorious and yet so condescending and sympathizing.
Now this fitness for the holiness, happiness, and employments of heaven is communicated at regeneration, in which the new man of grace, though weak, is still perfect. Look at the thief upon the cross--what an instance is he how the Spirit of God can in a moment make a man fit for heaven! Here was a vile malefactor, whose life had been spent in robbery and murder, brought at last to suffer the just punishment of his crimes; and as we are told that "they who were crucified with him reviled him," we have reason to believe that at first he joined his fellow malefactor in blaspheming the Redeemer. But sovereign grace, and what but sovereign grace? touched his heart, brought him to see and feel what he was as a ruined sinner, opened his eyes to view the Son of God bleeding before him, raised up faith in his soul to believe in his name, and created a spirit of prayer that the Lord of heaven and earth would remember him when he came into his kingdom--perhaps the greatest act of faith we have recorded in all Scripture, almost equal if not superior to the faith of Abraham when he offered up Isaac on the altar.
The dying Redeemer heard and answered his cry, and said to him, "Today shall you be with me in paradise." Spirit and life accompanied the words, and raised up at once in his soul a fitness for the inheritance, and before the shadows of night fell, his happy spirit passed into paradise, where he is now singing the praises of God and of the Lamb. Many a poor child of God has gone on almost to his last hours on earth without a manifestation of pardoning love and the application of atoning blood; but he has not been allowed to die without the Holy Spirit revealing salvation to his soul, and attuning his heart to sing the immortal anthem of the glorified spirits before the throne.
"The eternal God is your refuge." Deuteronomy 33:27
Who is this eternal God? He is the great and glorious Jehovah, eternal in his Trinity of Persons and in the Unity of his Essence. And what a depth of blessedness there is in this God being an eternal God; and that in and of this eternity, each Person of the Godhead has an equal share. Look at the LOVE of the eternal God. How eternal was that--not a thing of time, not fixed upon us when first brought into being, not issuing out of his bosom first when we were quickened into divine life; but a love from all eternity, as being the love of an eternal God. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you."
And how eternal are the THOUGHTS of God; those thoughts which were of good, not of evil. They were eternal thoughts of peace to the Church; eternal thoughts of mercy to his beloved family; eternal thoughts of manifesting his grace in the Person and work of his dear Son; eternal flowings forth of goodness and love to those whom he had chosen in Christ, that they might be one with him, members of that glorious body of which his dear Son should be the Head. And eternal PURPOSES also that nothing could defeat, that all the waves of time could not break through; eternal WISDOM also to devise, and eternal POWER to accomplish.
Oh, this eternal God! We look back into eternity; we see what a God he was from all eternity; and then we look forward to what he will be to all eternity. And we see him unchanging and unchangeable, resting in his love without variableness or the shadow of a turn, whether in eternity past, or in eternity to come. We think of the spirits of just men made perfect; we follow in faith and hope the souls of our dear departed friends; we view them drinking the pleasures which are at his right hand forever; and so they will be there to all eternity, ever basking in the smiles of an eternal God, ever living in his favor, ever conformed to the glorious image of his eternal Son, and ever drinking fresh draughts of love and bliss in his eternal presence.
Oh, this eternal Father in the depths of his fatherly love in the gift of his dear Son! Oh, the love, condescension, and tenderness of this eternal Son in the depths of his mercy and grace in suffering, bleeding, and dying for poor, guilty sinners! Oh, the wisdom, the power, the grace, and the blessedness of this eternal Spirit, in taking of the things of Christ, unfolding the Person of Jesus, bringing him near, revealing him to the soul, sprinkling the conscience with his blood, and making him known and precious! What a depth of gratitude is everlastingly due from the redeemed Church of God, to all the three sacred Persons of the glorious and undivided Trinity, and that both in his Trinity of Persons and his Unity of Essence the eternal God should be their refuge!
"Yet does he devise means that his banished be not expelled from him." 2 Samuel 14:14
The promise runs, "I will bring again that which was driven away" (Ezekiel 34:16). Guilt, temptation, Satan, doubts, and fears had driven them away from the shelter of the tabernacle. Yet the Lord has respect unto these also. He says, "I will bring again." But how? By nothing but a sense of mercy. It is not by frowns, but by smiles. "I drew them," says the Lord, "with cords of a man" (that is, the tender feelings that are bound up in the human heart), "with bands of love." You may thunder, you may lightening, you may take the whip and flog a poor backslider--but you can never flog him home. He must be drawn by mercy, by the goodness of God, which leads to repentance.
How was Peter brought back? By that look which Jesus gave him, as he stood in the hall of the high priest; that look of mingled love and reproach. It was this that made Peter go out and weep bitterly. A frown would have driven him into despair, and made him hang himself by the side of Judas; but that look of mingled reproof and love wounded and healed, filled heart and eyes with the deepest grief and sorrow; and yet poured such a healing balm into his mourning soul that when Jesus was risen from the dead, and by his angel sent him a special message that he would see him again in Galilee, he leaped into the sea to meet him, when he stood on the shore of the lake Tiberias. But for that look and for that message, he would rather have leaped to the bottom with self-reproach, than leaped to the shore with love and affection. Thus was brought again poor driven-away Peter. And thus too, by the voice of pardon, was brought again poor driven-away David. For the Lord devises means that his banished be not expelled from him.