Chapters 4, 5
I hardly know whether the thoughts I send you suit your little journal;7 but I trust that all that unfolds the way the blessed Lord presented Himself on the earth, the connection of the Old Testament with the New, and the revealing of God in man upon the earth, will be profitable to some of your readers at least.
I forward to you therefore some remarks on the Gospel of Luke, flowing from thoughts which have arisen in my mind while lately reading it. There are two great subjects in the life of the blessed Lord which Luke brings out: the fulfilment of promise; and the revelation of God in grace in the “Son of man.” These are presented to us in the history in a very interesting way. I will notice this as displayed in chapters 4 and 5.
In chapter 4 the Spirit of God has shewn us the blessed One led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, victorious in trial, as the first man had failed in it. He returns in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, having first bound the strong man.
Let me remark here, in passing, how faithfulness in trial and temptation shews the power of the Spirit as much as the energy of action. Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted, overcame Satan by the word through the Spirit, and returned in its power, working miracles and casting out devils. But the power had been exercised all through the temptation, only in standing fast. See Ephesians 6. Therein He had overcome Satan, baffled his power, really bound the strong man, and then had only to spoil his goods. He used too the weapon we have to use, the word of God: only we must remark, as we learn from Ephesians 6, that, to use the word, we must first have all the defensive armours, that is, the state of the soul must be right. Christ, of course, was perfect and used it perfectly. In the measure of our spirituality and uprightness we shall be able to wield this blessed weapon. But here even the sword was a defensive weapon. He met the wiles of Satan by it. Whatever reasonings or scriptures Satan may use, if we are spiritual enough to use it, the word of God suffices to confound him.
But to turn to my more direct subject. The Lord now stood as man, anointed of the Holy Ghost, having overcome Satan, to make good divine grace and goodness amongst men, and specially first amongst the Jews; but the glory of His divine person was not to be hid. But first He presents Himself as the anointed Man, fulfilling all that has been promised in grace.
I must remark another point. The Lord looks for rejection; and this, it will be seen, is the case in both the characters in which He presents Himself. First, then, as the anointed Man. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Thus He presents Himself as the fulfiller of promise, announcing the favourable and gracious time of God’s mercy in His own person. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” But at the same time He tells them that He will be rejected. A prophet has not honour in his own country. But He adds that grace, as grace, passed beyond the limits of the Jews; that God was sovereign in His goodness, and of old had sent help to two Gentiles, while many remained in sorrow in rebellious Israel. This the haughty Jews would not bear, and, gracious as His words had been, they are now ready to destroy Him for preaching a grace which Israel might lose all part in, as rejecting Him, and the Gentile get blessing by. They are ready to destroy Him; but it was not the time, and He passed through the midst of them.
Now see the character in which the demons own Him: how it meets this character in which He was really come. How sad a picture! Demons perforce own Him; men reject Him with hatred. It is remarkable how these evil spirits own Him according to the truth (as we may remember the spirit of divination did Paul), but surely only as dreading, and, if they could have done so, avoiding His power. “Let us alone: what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.” It was the reluctant owning of a power they could not avoid. The time was not come to cast them into the pit, but to deliver man. The demon came out of the man at Jesus’ word.
But it is well to note that this title was a prophetic one of Jesus; and His title as summing up all the mercies of God. It is unfolded in Psalm 89. The word “mercies,” in the first verse of that psalm, is the same as “Holy One” in verse 19: “Holy One” in verse 18 is quite different. Mercy was to be built up for ever, the psalm declares. How? “Thou spakest in vision of [not “to,” I think, but about, as we see that of the prophecy in Psalm 72, “A Psalm about Solomon”] thy holy One,” thy gracious One, in whom help and mercy is summed up. “I have laid help upon One that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant,” etc. Here, no doubt, the immediate subject is David: but in the mind of God a greater, even Christ, is here. The evil spirit owns that this Holy One is there in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Help was indeed laid upon the Mighty One, who, having overcome Satan wholly, could have delivered man from all the miserable fruits of his power, even death itself; but man would have none of Him. He must be redeemed or lost.
Next, in this fourth chapter, when healing many, the demons who are cast out own Him as the Christ the Son of God. This was owning His title as promised to Israel in Psalm 2; but which also witnessed to His rejection. Thus the power of present delivering goodness, in the promised One, was there. He is owned the Holy One of God, in whom mercies came to Israel; as the Christ and Son of God spoken of in Psalm 2. But in His own country He is not received. The prejudices and passions of man rise up against grace and this gracious One, while the demons own Him, but through dread; a strange but solemn picture! They could not but know Him. But what is knowledge when only such? Those He really came to would not receive Him.
In chapter 5 He is seen in another character. He reveals, and is, Jehovah. In the miraculous draught of fishes He makes Himself known to the conscience of Peter, who sees the Lord in it, and acknowledges himself a sinful man unfit for His presence. This is always the effect of the revelation of God to us, and indeed of nothing else. Jesus speaks words of grace, “Fear not.” From henceforth he should catch men. In what follows He heals the leper, which was Jehovah’s work alone. But there was a special circumstance connected with this, full of blessed significance. The leper recognised His power, but was not sure of His goodness or willingness to help him. “Lord,” he says, “if thou wilt thou canst make me clean.” The Lord does not merely say He is willing, He puts forth His hand and touches him. Now, if a man touched a leper he too was unclean, and must be put out of the camp. But here was a divine person come down, Jehovah, who could cleanse. One who could say, “I will”; “be thou.”— One who could not be defiled, but had for that very reason come down to touch the defiled one, and remove the defilement. He was Jehovah, come as man, to touch, so to speak, the sinner in grace. Jesus was one whose holiness was so perfect, as God become man, that He could carry divine love to the vilest—carry it wherever a need or a sorrow was, and as love touch the defiled, not to become so, but to heal. It is a wonderful picture of what Christ, Jehovah, present to heal was in this world. Thus revealing Himself to the conscience, and doing a divine work in love, in what was a figure of cleansing from sin, mark Him out as Jehovah in the world in grace.
He withdraws Himself into the wilderness and prays; ever the dependent, as the obedient and victorious, man. But other elements of divine grace are yet to be observed here. He was sitting with doctors of the law, ready to object to grace, and ignorant of how the Son of God had in manhood visited this sinful world in the power and title of divine grace. One sick of the palsy is brought to Him by faith. He goes to the root of all sorrow, and says, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” The question is not here how through the precious death of Christ forgiveness was consistent with divine righteousness and glorified it. What is here revealed is Jehovah present in unmingled grace. As the testimony and witness of this, the Lord does what is ascribed to Jehovah in Psalm 103, along with the forgiveness of sins. “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; and healeth all thy diseases.”
Lastly, the Lord shews, as the friend of publicans and sinners, that He had come in sovereign grace to gather, in the power of good, not looking for it in man. But thus also He must be rejected. This new wine, for it was so, could not be put into old bottles; Judaism could not receive and be the vessel of sovereign grace; nor could those who were used to Judaism easily receive the new wine of the gospel and Spirit of God. And so it ever is in all ages.
I do not for the present make any remark on chapter 6. Only we may note that the Lord is gathering distinctly around Himself, apart from the nation, and that He addresses His disciples as thus separated—as those already called to possess the kingdom. But in chapter 7 we have the Lord brought out in a far greater character, and more fully revealed, than as the fulfiller of promise. He is entirely a divine person, and consequently reaches out beyond Judaism, and even human life, in this world. Still the Jews are recognised by the Gentile whom the Lord blesses; and this was right. The Lord did the same. It was the lowliness and submission to God’s ways which the knowledge of God, true faith, always produces.
Remark here, too, a principle which will be found to shine forth through all the Gospels, namely, that whenever Christ was manifested as God, it was impossible that He could be confined to His relationship to the Jews. God present in His own nature, as love, cannot be confined to the special relationships to a nation to whom He has made promises: although He may, and surely will, faithfully meet them according to promise. This is largely and specially brought out in John: where, indeed, however, the principle reaches further, and thereby assumes another character. The Jews are there looked at, already, in the first chapter, as reprobate, and so treated; though dealt with, still, all through the Gospel. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” The world, too, is viewed as blind. “The world knew him not.” It was that phenomenon known only in morals, the light shining in darkness. The effect of this is to bring out the Lord in two characters in that Gospel—first, as God, as light in the world, and as such, when forcing the conscience to attend to Him, bringing out the terrible truth that men love darkness rather than light—that they will not have God such as He is: this especially, and formally, in chapter 8, when His word is rejected, as His work is in the ninth. But this makes a turning-point in the Gospel after the first three chapters, which are preface. The first, Christ in nature— Christ incarnate—Christ in work of blessing on earth—Christ (as John Baptist also) calling and gathering on the earth; which reaches on, by His servants, to His millennial presence on earth; in all which, note, no heavenly character or office of Christ is given, as is ever the case in John’s writings. The second gives the millennial kingdom. The third what is needed for the kingdom, and heavenly things: where John also brings out His full person and glory in grace. Then being driven out of Judea, the new order of things is intimated, from God’s nature and the Father’s love, in the fourth chapter. Thereon, to the end of the seventh, Christ is presented as the divine lifegiving Son of God; in incarnation, and as the dying Son of man; the Giver of the Spirit, as the feast of tabernacles, the figure of earthly rest, could not yet be kept by Him. Then, His word being rejected in the eighth, in the ninth He gives sight, and this brings in effectual grace; and, rejected though He be, He will have His sheep. Here we have not simply God, who is light in darkness, revealed, but the Father sending the Son in grace. This distinction is always kept up in John. When grace is spoken of it is the Father and the Son! the Father sending the Son; while as mere light, it is God. But this expression of Father and Son refers to grace revealed and effectual, not to the love of God in His nature and character. Where this is spoken of, it is still God. “God so loved the world.” I may follow this Gospel and its character more in detail, if it suit you and the Lord so will, another time; but this leads me back to the general truth that Christ as revealing God shines necessarily out beyond Israel.
Thus, in a very striking and beautiful example, the Syro-phenician woman. There the Lord seems to hold back and confine Himself to Israel. “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to the dogs.” The poor woman says, “Truth, Lord, but the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Could He say, God is not so good as you suppose? He has no crumbs for the wretched, who even look to Him through grace? Impossible. It would have been denying, not revealing, God; and her faith is at once met. Remark, too, again here, how lowly faith is, and how it submits to God’s sovereign will! She owns herself a dog, and the privilege of being near God, as Israel was, as a nation. But her faith pierces through the difficulty, with a want, to Him who revealed God in love; and divine goodness, which had taught her to trust in it, met, and could not but meet, that confiding trust.
Now in the seventh chapter of Luke the Lord fully takes the divine place. He is owned by the Gentile as One who can dispose of all, as he himself ordered his soldiers about; and the Lord owns his faith. “I have not found so great faith; no, not in Israel.” In the next recorded event He goes farther in the display of divine power and goodness. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.” That was His first thought; and to the bereaved widow He spoke first, and this was God too, though as man near to her sorrow. But divine power was there too; and a word from Him woke up to conscious life the young man they were about to bury. But power, the fullest, divine power, did not obliterate goodness, and cannot. God uses power, but He is love. He delivered him to his mother.
This reaches the ears of John. The very dead are raised, and he remained in prison! He sends to know, Is the promised One come? He trusts the word of Him of whom he had heard such things, but he wants to know if He be the One that should come. John is to believe in Christ, not Christ receive testimony from men. But “He that should come “is the promised One. And John is to receive Him, as others, by the testimony which He gave of Himself, as setting right all the sorrows that sin and Satan had brought into the world, and in grace caring for the poor. But this was more than promise, though it witnessed to the promised One. It proved the presence of One who was love and had all power. But because He manifested God, He was the rejected One; and blessed was he who should not be offended in Him. If He came in promise, as man expected Him, it would not have been in the grace of divine power come down in love to every want. But because He did, though His arm was not shortened, “He was despised and rejected of men.”
However, when John’s messengers were gone, the Lord bears testimony to the captive one. He was Jehovah’s messenger, sent before His face to prepare His way. But it was really Jehovah who was come. But he who mourned to them, and He who piped to them, were alike rejected by that generation. One class alone received the Lord—the humbled ones who had owned their sinfulness. These intelligently justified God’s ways in both John and Christ. But it went far beyond a Messiah; they had morally met God. They owned they needed repentance; they had deserved the axe. They owned the suitableness of grace. It was not merely Messiah they received. Perhaps, in some of the happiest cases, they are not much occupied with this, though they may have recognised Him as such. They wanted compassionate grace, and they had found it. They recognised the justice of God in condemning them and calling them to repentance: They acknowledged His sovereign goodness in having to do with and in receiving worthless sinners. They justified God. One who was self-righteous thought John and divine grace alike out of place. Repentance was all well for others; they were the heirs of the kingdom.
Now this is characteristic of Luke. The promised One was there no doubt. But it was in grace to men, grace bringing home to them their moral state. They were meeting God. His way, such as He was in truth, John prepared; Him in His own person and ways Christ fully revealed; God manifest in flesh meeting sorrow, meeting Satan’s power, meeting death, meeting sin, in grace. They who felt all these found God in perfect grace there; the friend, indeed, not of the lame, and blind, and deaf merely, but, more wonderful still, of publicans and sinners. They—oh how willingly!—justified God in His ways; while they did so truly and righteously, in what led them to it, in the mourning testimony of John, .who coming in the way of righteousness, went into the desert alone (for there was none righteous; no, not one), and, calling for good fruit, found only that which sinners could, through grace, come with—the confession that they had borne bad fruit. But this gave understanding. The conscience, recognising the state he who has it is in, finds in the manifestation of God Himself in grace all it wants, and what infinitely attracts the heart. The knowledge of God is found through conscience, not through the understanding.
The convicted sinner is wisdom’s child; he knows himself— the hardest of all knowledge to acquire. And God in grace meets his state exactly. But such a manifestation of God does not meet the Pharisee. Right and wrong he knows, and can judge of God’s dealing in grace; but not the smallest ray of it enters his soul. Yet God can only be so revealed to man who is a sinner, if it be not in eternal judgment; and even so He is not known, for He is love; that is, he does not know God at all. Intellect never knows grace; self-righteousness does not want it. We learn to know God through conscience, when grace has awakened us to feel its need.
Here the child of wisdom is found. The history of the poor woman and the Pharisee is the example of this. The poor sinner was the child of wisdom. She judged her sins with God; she had found Him in grace for her sins. She did not know forgiveness, but she had tasted love. It had won her confidence, the true divinely-given confidence of an humbled heart. This was Christ’s work in the world. At the beginning Satan had gained man to evil and lust by first producing distrust of God. Why had God kept back this one tree? Man would be like Him if he had it. Confidence in God was gone; then lust came in.
The blessed Redeemer, while coming indeed to put away sin, yet in His life as the manifestation of God, had come winning back the confidence of man’s heart by perfect love— grace in the midst of sin: humbled to the lowest to bring it wherever there was a want; to win man by his wants, and sorrows, and even his sins, where by grace the true sense of them was, back to God; that he might trust in God, because He was God, in love, when he could trust in none else, and thus know Him as God in the fullest revelation of Him—a child of wisdom, true in heart, and knowing God. Such was this poor sinner; justly feeling her sins, but feeling that being such, and feeling herself such, there was One she could trust. Had He been less than God, she could not—had no right to do so—no profit in doing it. It would not meet her case. What God was had reached her heart. She could not have explained it. But it had met her case.
How lovely is this, and yet how humbling to man! In the Pharisee we have clear intellect—the perception of right and wrong, as far as natural conscience goes. All that was in Christ, all that was in God manifested in grace, he had no perception of, he saw no beauty in it; his eye was blind as to God; he says, “If he were a prophet,” to say nothing of the promised One. This the Lord shewed He was, by exposing his heart, and noting to him what state he was in; He then leaves him, and the cavillers he was surrounded by.
His heart was with the sinner, the humbled one. Her sins, He had declared to all, were forgiven; but to her He turns, to unfold all God’s grace, to give rest to a weary heart—” Thy sins are forgiven thee.” No concealing, no marring integrity by softening matters with her; though owning all that grace had wrought (she loved much) standing by her, with the heartless. When He notices her sins, she would not have had it otherwise: we never would when grace really works. “Thy sins” —but He notices it as God, which He could, and could righteously, through His coming work— “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Man’s cavils do not interrupt His work of grace: “Go in peace; thy faith hath saved thee.”
What words from a divine Redeemer! Sins forgiven, faith in divine love owned, and salvation declared to be possessed by it! peace—perfectly divinely-given peace—for her! She had not trusted the heart of God in vain. He had revealed Himself that she might trust it. Grace was greater than sin, though it allowed none of it. It wrought conviction, confession, confidence; but it gave forgiveness, salvation, peace: for God, who had restored the soul, and more, by the revelation of Himself, was there. It seems to me, besides this profoundly interesting individual case, instructive to see how, while manifested clearly as the promised One, the Saviour in this Gospel passes on, by the way in which He is manifested, into His divine manifestation in grace. It is not followed here as in Matthew, which speaks of dealings with Israel, with woes to Chorazin and Bethsaida, though even there it issues in grace; but in the manifestation of God in grace, and the picture of a poor sinner become the child of wisdom, as taught her soul’s need, and the grace of God to meet it. Observe here, too, how love is known, and brokenness of heart trusts it, before the answer of peace is given by Him who could do so.
Our chapter gives us thus the God of the Gentiles; the God who delivers from death, raises from it; the God who meets the sinner in grace, when all sin is known, and sends him away in peace from Himself. It is well to have to do with such a God!
In this Gospel we constantly find the Lord going over the same ground again and again, in different aspects; but here He is pressing the rejection of His own person, not in connection with the kingdom, but in connection with men’s souls. It is not the kingdom as being set aside by His rejection, nor yet the connection of men’s souls and bodies with Him in future earthly glory—such as blessing the basket and the store—but the blessing of their souls for ever; therefore what is pressed here is the relationship of the soul with God. On this ground He says a man is but a “fool,” that “layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” For “what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? “He thus takes them off all dispensational teaching, to put them on the broad moral ground of the soul’s relationship to God; and then shews them the consequence of discipleship with Himself.
His coming again also is not in its aspect towards the church; but the consequence of His kingdom being set aside for the present is, that His disciples are to look for His coming again. And this also bears two aspects; the one for those in relationship with God, and the other towards the world. Both are taken up in this chapter.
But first He puts before the disciples some of the motives which should actuate them as His disciples (v. 19). “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, for there is nothing hid that shall not be made known.” It will all come out before God: whatever is said or done, it will all come out before God. Having made this appeal to their consciences, the next thing is, that He being rejected, power will be on the side of evil. Power would be there, and it would be against, them: still not one single hair of their head was unnumbered. This was for their comfort! but as to the government on earth by Christ, that was now closed for the present, and, Christ as Messiah being rejected, they must be rejected too, and bear the cross like their Master, being left down here in the midst of the power of evil unsubdued. So thoroughly indeed was power on the side of evil, that when the Lord was casting out a demon, the people said, “He casteth out demons through Beelzebub the chief of the demons.” The principle brought out in this is, that the saints are now down here in conflict with evil, but they are not to be afraid. “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear him which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him.” Think of your souls as being connected with God. The hairs of your head are all numbered. If men kill your body, do not be afraid; for they cannot touch your soul; and not a single hair of your head shall perish. You may be cut off by an ignominious death. What then? Why, “not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father.” “Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.”
Nothing can possibly separate us from God’s love. However hot the persecution may be, confidence in God is all that is needed. As Paul said, “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In all human efforts to preserve oneself from suffering, there is shewn a want of confidence in God. If I am delivered from suffering, I am thankful to God for it; but if it be permitted, I accept suffering as my portion, and trust God in it. Do not seek suffering; but in confessing Christ, you will be sure to get it: and then you should take the suffering and trust God in it. It is a privilege to suffer for the name of Christ. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” However severe the suffering, let your confidence be in God. Do nothing of yourself, leave everything to God alone; for God may make some man (a Gamaliel it may be) to stand up for you. God may use anything as a means of preserving you which you could not use yourself, even the wickedness of man. So that it is never a question of means, but of who is to use them. It is God Himself, and not you. And mark that this would not be indifference, or haughty defiance; it is simply trusting in God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
If a man persecute me, I would not say a word; I must be quiet and passive, whatever they may do, referring everything to God. As in the case of Peter and John, when the chief priests “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”
Then again, in verse 8, “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.” How thoroughly the Lord is supposing the hostility of man! He expects it, for in truth the gospel sets out with it. “I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” He did not say as lambs among lambs: but as lambs among wolves. Therefore, beloved, if you meet with this hostility, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” For what Christ met with in His own person while down here, He fully anticipates for all His followers; and therefore “rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” But then it is as lambs—not in rashness, but harmless as doves, though wise as serpents. Be prudent in not giving occasion to hostility; but if confessing the name of Christ brings it out, take is patiently, trusting in God.
The Lord sees the difficulties they will have to encounter, and cheers them by saying, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before the angels of God.” And mark how the Lord knows how to put His finger on the very point of the difficulty; “If you confess me before men.” It is not whether they could think of Him in their closets: of course they could do that, if they cared for Him at all; but that is not it. Do they “confess me before men? “Alas! how often we cannot find courage to confess Christ openly “before men,” when we can do it in our closets. But this is just a simple test how far the fear of man has more power over our souls than God. Still He would not have us to thrusting ourselves upon people; this would be no good at all. “Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” “Be simple concerning evil, and wise concerning good.” As they said of Daniel, “We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it in the law of his God.” Daniel was simply obeying God, and in thus simply and steadily doing God’s will, he had to suffer for it; and so may we. But then let us take care that we are suffering for doing God’s will, and not in doing our own will. Not as Moses in his rashness, going and slaying an Egyptian and then running away. There was no good in that. But go on steadily doing God’s will, giving Satan no handle: but at the same time having unhesitating boldness in confessing Christ, and in bringing out God’s truth; but not anything of the flesh to excite or offend the flesh in another, except it be by the cross, and that will always be an offence. As it is said, “The reproaches of them that reproached thee have fallen upon me.” He took Himself all the rejection of man’s wicked heart against God. He set his face “as a flint”; and so must we. But then we are not to fret ourselves by saying anything contrary to the grace of Christ, and thereby bring on us needless hostility.
Then again, it is not sufficient to be right in the thing that we confess, neither to be sincere. It must be God speaking by us. That which flows from me ought to be of the Spirit, in the power of the Spirit, and according to the time of the Spirit, or it is not of the Lord; it is not the manifestation of the grace of Jesus. This requires the will to be mortified, and the flesh crucified; for if it be otherwise, there will be the blustering out of something without any grace. But assuming the will to be mortified, the flesh subdued, and the Spirit of God working, He says (v. 10), “Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him.” The Lord is here putting them, in a sense, on higher ground than Himself. What an amazing encouragement to our poor hearts! If you speak, they are even more responsible if they reject it than in rejecting Me. This, of course, could only be true but as they spake by the Holy Ghost: there must be no water mixed with the wine.
Paul could say, “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.” I should not venture to say, If my gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Paul could say so, because he gave it out as pure as he got it in. But it is not always so with us; and therefore we cannot say what the apostle could, because it was the truth and nothing but the truth that was given pure from God. I could say so as to the truth of it; that is, I can say if you reject the truth you will be lost, though I cannot say if you reject the gospel I preach you will be lost.
Verse n. Here the Lord encourages the disciples for the warfare, supposing the hostility of the world, which must be expected if the gospel is set forth in power, and guarding them against the fear of man. He says, “When they bring you unto the synagogues, unto magistrates, and unto powers, take ye no thought how, or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” When God first sent out the gospel, He took care that it should go out pure. All we speak ought to be by the Spirit, as it is nothing but what is of the Holy Ghost that God can use. But when it is by inspiration, which is nothing but by the Holy Ghost, then God takes care that nothing else but the truth shall be spoken. But when I am speaking it is not necessarily so guarded as that no error is mixed up with it. Of course anything really good that is spoken is in a manner inspired. But when the truth was inspired by the Holy Ghost, God so kept the man that nothing but the truth came out. It is not so now. When God came forth in creation, it was by the Spirit. “The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.” Everything was always done by the Spirit. “He that God has sent speaketh the words of God, for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” This was spoken of Christ. But now there is no warrant that every man speaks the truth, because there is no man now so qualified, as to leave no doubt whether there is nothing beside the Holy Ghost.
In verse 13 one comes to the Lord, complaining of the injustice of his brother; “Speak to my brother,” says he, “that he divide the inheritance with me.” And the Lord replied, “Who made me a judge or a divider over you? “He was not come to set things right in this world then; though He will do this when He comes again. Had He been accepted as Messiah, He would have done so then; but the counsels of God were otherwise. It was quite right that the man should have his inheritance; but as Messiah He was rejected, and therefore could not then set “justice and judgment on the earth.” He was then come about men’s souls; therefore He says to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness.” For while the one sought to defraud, the other sought to obtain; and it was the same spirit in both. They were both loving the possession of these things, and this was the whole secret: therefore the Lord told them, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
He could not be occupied with dividing men’s inheritance, for His whole business was with their souls. The world was going to be set aside, therefore what had the Lord to do with men’s inheritances? His work was to go on with God, doing His will; and His entire business as to men was with their souls; and this ought to be our business too, for we are associated with God on new grounds. But if we are seeking the world or riches, the effect will be practically to separate us from God. I always tremble now when I hear of a Christian getting on in the world; for “how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?” And who ever escapes the snare of getting on in the world? Generally there is a getting down in spirituality, when there is a getting up in the world. It may all be taken up in service to the Lord, but that is quite another thing; then it would be a bright testimony. A person once said to me, What harm is there in riches? My reply was, Suppose they keep you out of heaven; what then? Oh! said he, I never thought of that! If riches do get possession of the heart, they surely must keep Christ out; and a Christless heart never got into heaven yet. The real mischief is in the riches of this world getting into the heart. Mark that most solemn word in 1 Timothy 6:9, 10, 11, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” It is they that have a desire for riches, who fall into “many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” It is not the question as to whether riches are right or wrong in themselves, but as to riches being the object of the heart. If so, they keep Christ out. A man will then say, But suppose I do not set my heart upon them; but the Lord who knows our hearts better than we do ourselves, does not deal in this way: for He says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”; and not as it is often quoted, “Where the heart is, there the treasure will be.” It is quite true that, if the Lord give riches, He can give grace to use them; but even then they are a snare. The language of the “certain rich man” to his soul in this chapter is, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”; but God says, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” So is he that “layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” Here come in the questions, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
“Therefore take heed, and beware of covetousness, which is idolatry.” For, be it ever remembered, that while riches are a snare to the rich man, to be jealous of a rich man, because of his riches, is as bad or worse in the poor man; for it just shews that he would also have them if he could. It is not a question about riches. The Lord wants to get souls into heaven, and riches will not take them there; that can only be by being rich towards God. The whole question is about Christ; for if Christ has His place in our hearts, the things of this world cease to be temptations to us. The man that is rich towards God has no desire for other riches. But the man that layeth up treasure for himself is not rich towards God; because self is at the bottom. All this has to do with the world.
But now in verse 22 He says unto His disciples, “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.” “The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.” When speaking to the world He takes the lowest ground; but when He turns to His disciples He speaks differently. They may trust in God, for He presses upon them that as His disciples they were of great value in the sight of God. Poor worthless things in themselves, no doubt, still they were of great value to God. Do not you be uneasy, for God has a particular interest in you, and the hairs of your head are all numbered. If God feedeth the fowls, “how much more are ye better than they?” They were all God’s subjects by creation, for He had not given up His title to the world. In the peculiar teaching of the Book of Jonah, when God had given up Israel as an earthly testimony, we learn that God’s character of doing good to all, and caring for all was not at all touched. “Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much cattle?” “But does God take care of oxen?” In truth He does, for they are the work of His creative power. But to the disciples He says, You are of such value to God that He would have you reckon yourselves to be of value to Him even in the midst of this hostile world. Do not you be taking thought for the morrow; leave the morrow with God. Do not you be taking thought at all; for if by taking thought ye cannot do that which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? He is urging upon them unlimited confidence in God, who is to them as a tender Father. Therefore He says to them, “Seek not ye what ye shall eat, nor what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after, but your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Therefore, do not be uneasy in passing through the desert, for the kingdom is at the end. And if God is going to give you the kingdom, though as sheep you may be killed here, still He will give you the kingdom.
Then after shewing them what their relationship involved as His disciples, He speaks to them of His coming again.
Verse 35. They were to be “like unto men that wait for their Lord.” For though rejected for a season on the earth, He will return: and therefore He here tells us of the blessedness of those who will be found waiting for Him.
That which should characterise the saints is, not merely holding the doctrine of the Lord’s coming, as that which they believe, but their souls should be in the daily attitude of waiting, expecting, and desire His coming! But why? That they may see Himself and be with Him, and like Him for ever!— not because the world which has been so hostile to them is going to be judged, though God will smite the wicked.
It is true, there will be mercy to those who are spared. But we have obtained mercy now, and are therefore waiting for Himself, for what He is in Himself to us, and not because of judgment. That would not be joy to me, though it will be to some on the earth; for “In every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which Jehovah shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps, etc. (Isa. 30:32). This is not our hope, but simple waiting for Himself. The whole walk and character of a saint depends on this, on his waiting for the Lord. Every one should be able to read us by this as having nothing to do in this world, but to get through it, and not as having any portion in it; “turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” This is thought a strange thing now, but the Thessalonians were converted to this hope, for they belonged to a world which had rejected God’s Son; therefore they had to turn from these idols to serve the true and living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.
What I desire to press upon you all and myself too is the individual waiting for the Lord; not as a doctrine merely, but as a daily waiting for Himself. Whatever the Lord’s will may be, I should like Him to find me doing it when He comes. But that is not the question, but am I waiting for Himself day by day?
In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians the hope is connected with ministry, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” Then Paul would get the reward of His service to the saints. Then in the third chapter the hope is connected with our walk, as a motive for holiness, “unblameable in holiness, before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints.”
Then in the fourth chapter, the doctrine of the hope is unfolded; the manner of it comes out—” The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Thus we see what a present expectation the coming of the Lord was; therefore Paul says, “We which are alive and remain.” But why does he say “We”? Because he expected it then. This was Paul’s character then, that of waiting for the Lord. And does he lose that character, because he died before He came? No, not at all.
Though Peter had a revelation that he should put off the tabernacle of his body (2 Pet. 1:14), yet did he daily wait for the Lord’s coming then; and this will be Paul’s character when the Lord does come; he will lose nothing by his death. “Be ye like unto men that wait for their Lord.” The character of their waiting was to be like servants at the hall-door, that, when the master knocked, they were ready to open to Him immediately. It is a figure of course here; but it is the present power of the expectation that is alluded to. And the ruin of the church has come in by practically saying, “My Lord delayeth his coming.” “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.”
“Let your loins be girded about, and your fights burning” — “your loins girt about with truth” for service. You must not let your garments flow loose; that is, you must not let your thoughts and affections spread abroad, but be ready with your garments well girt up and your lights burning. This is not rest, for it is an exceedingly tiring thing to have to sit up and watch through a long dark night. But in the spirit of service the heart, affections, thoughts, feelings, and desires must all be girt up. And this requires real painstaking not to let the flesh go its own way; for it is a great comfort sometimes to do this, if but for a moment, but if we do we shall surely fall asleep like the virgins. For as the virgins went to sleep with their oil in their lamps, so may we go to sleep with the Holy Ghost in our hearts. But blessed are those servants who are found watching. The Lord says this is the time for you to be girded, to take your turn in love to serve and watch; but when I come again, and have things My own way, then I will take My turn in love, ungird you, and gird Myself, and come forth and serve you. You must be well girt up and watchful in the midst of evil; but when the evil is done with, then you may take your rest. When in the Father’s house, you may lie down and be at ease; and then your robes may flow down without any fear of their being soiled. In that blessed place of holiness and purity you may let your affections, thoughts, and desires flow out without the fear of their being defiled.
The Lord does not speak to us, as He does to the remnant on the earth. He does not say to them that He will come as a thief in the night, but He tells them the tribulation will be so terrible, that He notes how many days it shall last, and says, “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened, or no flesh could be saved.” But to us it would be nothing that our flesh should be saved on the earth—we would rather get out of the flesh. To them it would be everything to “fear not them which kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” They would be amongst those who would not have Christ, and therefore will have Antichrist; and so terrible will be the sorrow, that the Lord comes to cut short those days. They were too late for the other thing, but now, by reason of the sorrow, a short work will the Lord make of it on the earth. The Psalms express a desire for judgment, because those who express it then get their deliverance; but no Christian can claim this. Who could ask, “that thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and that the tongue of thy dogs may be red through the same? “Judgment will not be our deliverance, but going up to heaven before the judgment begins.
He will come in judgment; as it is said, “Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” But that is not for us—we are not His enemies; for He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. And we are perfected now, but we wait by the Holy Ghost to have that which is ours by virtue of our union with Him; and when He comes forth to judgment, we shall come with Him. The Lord comes with His saints, when He comes to execute judgment on the earth; but He comes for His saints previously.
I do not desire judgment, but I do desire that which is worthy of being desired, the hope of being with the Lord, as the Lord, and like the Lord for ever. It is the end of the whole thing as regards ourselves. Therefore, as the apostle says, The times and the seasons are nothing to you, for you belong to the day that will come, when the wicked shall be as ashes under the feet of the saints.
Verses 40, 41. The Lord then goes on to speak of the conduct of the saints while waiting for their Lord; and, “Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” Now observe that the answer of our blessed Lord was most remarkable, and in this way, that those who had the name of waiting for the Lord would become the world. In our country, in England, worldly people are called Christians, and thus they are responsible for the name they bear, and not only for the power. So they that take the name of ministers are responsible for the position they take. For people will be judged, not according to the power they have, but according to the place they have taken. They cannot say, I have taken the place, but have not the power, so you ought not to judge me. But you have taken the place, and therefore are responsible for the power, or you should not have taken the place. If a servant comes into your house and spoils all your goods, you judge him according to the place he has taken. Therefore the professing church or Christendom is responsible for having taken the place of Christianity without the power; and how can there be power where there is not life? If servants, they are to give to the household the portion of meat in due season, because it is a service to be done in the house while the master is away. So that whatever the place, whether little or great, the servant is to be in service to Christ, while He is away; and if faithful, He will make him ruler over all that He hath at His return.
Verse 45. “But and if that servant say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming,” etc. Mark, he does not say He will not come, but “he delayeth his coming.” And the moment the church of God said, My Lord delayeth His coming, it got into the world; and the Lord’s coming was counted a heresy. For as soon as the church lost the practical sense of the Lord’s coming, it began to decay and decline, and the hope gradually dropped out, until it was entirely lost. What awoke the virgins at first was the cry, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh.” But they needed to be called out again from the place where they had gone to make themselves comfortable, although they had been called out before; and that which awakes them again is, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh,” etc. It is not that the church had been saying, He will never come again, but” My Lord delayeth his coming,” just shewing that the hope of His immediate coming had lost its place in her heart. The servant does not say he will be a heathen or a Jew, nor does he leave the other servants; but instead of giving them their meat in due season, he begins to beat them. And when it came to this, they began to eat and drink with the drunken; not that they got drunk, but that they readily went on with the ways, customs, and habits of the world from which they had been redeemed. Is that the wilderness? No. It is getting into the world and setting up a millennium in the continuity and perpetuity of the church down here, which is virtually denying the Lord’s coming. How can I make preparation for continuing down here, if I am expecting Him daily? Men tell me that the Lord is providing for the continuance of the church down here on the earth; but the Lord tells me in His word to expect Him daily to take me up to heaven.
It is a most solemn thing, that this thought of settling in the earth because the Lord delayeth His coming is fast closing in upon the blinded hearts of the professing church, and thus fitting them for the judgment that is fast approaching. The voice then ought now to be lifted up like a trumpet to meet this state of things. “Behold the Bridegroom cometh.” This will be the test again by which souls may yet be gathered out to wait for the Lord, and not settle down into the expectation of the perpetuity and continuance of the church down here.
Now mark the result of this (v. 46). “The lord of that servant cometh in an hour when he looketh not for him, and will cut him in sunder, and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” He is treated according to the position he has taken.
Verse 47. Christendom is in the worst case after all; it will be better even for the poor heathen than for it. “As many as have sinned without law shall perish without law.” That which now boasts itself as the church will then have peculiar judgment; for “it shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Verse 48. While the heathen who ought to have acted according to the light of conscience “will be beaten with few stripes,” God will not go on with evil, though He may bear long with it. And where Satan is working, believers cannot rightly deal with it, but by treating it as what it is. I have no power over it, for it corrupts the principles of the light within me, and brings darkness into my soul.
First, then, there is the waiting for the Lord Himself; and, secondly, the answer to the question, “Speakest thou this unto us, or to all?” is to all that call themselves, and take the place of servants. The Lord make us faithful as those who are waiting for Him! It will be no joy to my soul for Him to find me heaping up riches when He comes; for there should be the testimony to the world that He was coming. Individual faithfulness is first, and then love to Him and to souls will flow out naturally.
There are two great principles in God’s dealings, in connection with man on the earth, which are developed in the church of God, as such, and in the government of God. And these two things are very distinct the one from the other. In the church the riches of God’s grace are manifested; but in His governmental dealings, righteousness, and the display of His attributes, as justice, mercy, and goodness. We have an example of God’s governmental power in Exodus 34:6, 7, “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.” Here it is in connection with the Jews, and not only among the Jews, but it shews also that which is outside in the world in God’s dealings. What we get in Exodus 34 is not sovereign grace bringing a soul to eternal life, but governmental power; the exercise of which we may now mark every day around us. For if a man wastes his fortune, or ruins his health by intemperance of any kind, his children suffer for it. This is an invariable principle. We see also the exercise of righteous government in God’s not clearing the guilty.
See God’s dealings with David, because of the matter of Uriah. “The sword shall never depart from thine house… Thou didst it secredy; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun… Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child that is born unto thee shall surely die.” Now, here was judgment for David’s sin; and we know that in his after life, the “sword did not depart from his house.”
This also is true of the Jews for the murder of the Lord; as it is expressed in Galatians:— “What a man soweth that shall he also reap.” This, however, is not grace but government; still it is true of a saint as well as of a sinner. Both kinds of dealing God has with the saints now, that is, in grace, and in righteous government. I shall never reap the reward of my sins in eternal blessedness, for it is infinite grace; but in the way of righteous government I shall reap the reward of my iniquity down here. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked… He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” It is grace as to sins eternally, but righteous government as to iniquity down here. God never lets go the reins of government, even over the world, although for a season He did not interfere in governmental power. As it is said, “The time of this ignorance God winked at.” He did not say there was no sin; therefore they were responsible. So that “death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” There was sin and death, though no transgression, because God had not then come in with law. But Adam had received a positive commandment and had transgressed it. And sin must bear its consequence, which is death. But “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel,” then all will come out, and both will have their place.
The angels see and understand the government of God in the world; but in the church it is quite another thing, as Peter says, “Which things the angels desire to look into.” The angels had seen the various wisdom of God in creation, when the morning stars sang together; but here it was quite a new thing; for by the church the manifold wisdom of God is displayed. God is going to have a people not belonging to the earth at all.
In the prophets government on the earth is spoken of, because it is of Messiah’s kingdom that they speak. But God’s government towards Israel in its Messiah-character is now suspended, but it will come out again another day. When the kingdom is spoken of, it is government on the earth; but when the church is spoken of, it is as-connected with the Governor Himself. The position of Christians is such, that they have in it a motive for the very commonest affairs of life: so that their daily conduct should be suitable to their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We are united to Him who will judge the world; and therefore, when the apostle is going to counsel two foolish Christians that are going to law, he says, “what! cannot you settle such a trifling thing as that about money without going to law?” “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” Could not those who are destined to do such high things settle their own smaller matters, without going to law, and that before the unbelievers? It is the sense of their high calling that Paul places before them; which he desired might fill their minds as it did his. Therefore, if telling them as servants to be faithful in a house, and not to be guilty of purloining, he says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” The grace having appeared, the glory is looked for. Therefore the conclusion is, do you, as subjects of the grace and waiting for the glory, live righteously and suffer wrongfully, rather than avenge yourselves.
We have, then, God’s government of this world, and of the Jew in justice, though in patient goodness; and His taking out of the world a people united to Christ in governing. If you look into the prophets, you do not find anything about the church whatever, but about government, whether of the Jew or of the world. But when we come to the church we find a suspension of government, in its outward, visible, and settled order, because the world had rejected Christ, who was their Governor. In the church I get an entirely new thing; for the Son of God, having been rejected in the world, is gone back to the Father, and He now says to us, “Ye are not of this world, even as I am not of this world.” “Now is the judgment of this world, now is the prince of this world cast out.” Christ, who made all things, is also set over all things in government, as Heir of all things; though not yet openly exercising His power thus. But Christ, who is “Head over all things, is also Head to the church, which is his body”: a thing hidden from ages and generations; but now made manifest.
In Ephesians this is fully brought out, but there we have more of the fulness of the body; while in Colossians there is more about the fulness of the Head. This is because the Colossians were in danger of slipping back from the Head into the observance of ordinances; therefore the apostle presses upon them the fulness of the Head to bring them back again. But in Ephesians he dwells on the church, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. The church, as His body, is the completeness of Christ.
In Ephesians 3 we read of the promise in Christ by the gospel given in the eternal purpose of God to the church before the foundation of the world; whereas the promises given to Israel were given to them on the earth and not before the world was. The church was called in the eternal purpose of God before time; while the Jew was called out in time. In Colossians 1:23-25 we read, “Be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I, Paul, am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, in my flesh, for His body’s sake, which is the church; whereof I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfil [or, more properly, to complete] the word of God.” That which still remained for God to give, and which we now have, is the revelation of the church; for until the church was revealed, the word of God was not complete. But now that which for ages and generations was hid in God is fully told out.
Here we see Paul’s two ministries, first, that of the gospel, and then that of the church. And the form which a believer’s life now takes is, “Christ in you the hope of glory.” A Christ in heaven, and at the same time dwelling in the saints now on the earth, is a thing which was hid in God before the foundation of the world. Unto the Jews had been committed the oracles of God; but they knew nothing of a body on the earth united to a Head in heaven, even to the man Christ Jesus, as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Until the church was revealed to Paul, this was still hid in God’s eternal purpose. As soon as all God’s dealings, in the sense of proving man, were closed with the earth, by the rejection of His Son (“This is the heir, come let us kill him”), all was closed to men in the flesh, and the church is brought out in connection with a Man in heaven.
God sent His only Son, and Him they crucified. He had no other messenger. Christ was rejected as Prophet, as Messiah, as Son of man, and as Son of God; and when man, as man, was thus fully shewn out, God comes in and acts for Himself. Him, whom man had put to death, God raises from the dead, and sets Him down at His own right hand in heaven; in virtue of which the Holy Ghost comes down and unites a people on the earth to this risen Man in glory. This is quite a distinct thing, and therefore it is that in Scripture we constantly find a gap, as it were, leaving space for the mystery of the church, “which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God,” to be brought out.
Therefore, as we have previously remarked, the church is not found in the Old Testament; but Christ’s coming in humiliation, and His coming in judgment, are spoken of close together, without saying a word about the church coming in between the two events. So, in Luke 4 when the Lord was in the synagogue at Nazareth, after preaching from Isaiah what referred to His then mission of healing the brokenhearted and preaching the acceptable year of the Lord, He closed the book and sat down, saying not a word about “the day of vengeance” —that being deferred until the mystery which had been hid from ages and generations had been manifest to the saints; or, in other words, until after the church had been brought out.
It is of immense importance, for the steadiness of the soul, to keep these two principles quite distinct; for what often confounds people in the study of prophecy is their not seeing the distinctive place which the church of God holds apart from God’s government of the world, or of Israel. But the very essence of the church is, that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. They are all sinners alike; but, when reached by God’s grace, are all brought into one body. The very principle on which the church is based, would have destroyed the whole basis of the Jewish system. All along in the Jewish system their righteousness consisted in maintaining a distinct separation between themselves and the Gentiles; but now “there is no difference”; for both Jew and Gentile are made one in Christ. If the barrier which God Himself had originally set up had been broken down before Christ was crucified and risen, it would have been sin: therefore the church could never have been even hinted at in the Jewish scriptures. The principle of the church could not be brought in, while the “handwriting of ordinances “remained. But this being “blotted out” “\in Christ, “the twain, Jew and Gentile, are made one new man.”
In going back to our chapter (Luke 13), we see the Jews had the thought of God’s government in their minds. Nor was it wrong in itself. They thought that God could not let such a guilty wretch as this Pilate live, who had been mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. But Christ brings them to a new principle by which to judge of things, and tells them that Pilate is but a mere instrument in the governmental dealings of God with the nation. Judgment was going on in this present evil world. “Suppose ye,” says the Lord, “that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans? I tell you nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” It is not that they were finally condemned as sinners here, but it was governmental judgment in this world which would overtake them all unless they repented. God had sent forth His judgment and caught these Galileans, and would catch the Jews also unless they repented. For not only Pilate but God’s Son was there, and they were practically rejecting Him. And how many of the Jews had their blood mingled with their sacrifices by Titus in the destruction of Jerusalem!
Christ had said to the Jews in the close of chapter 12, “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.” This is not a question of eternal salvation, but it simply refers to the state of the Jews: that is, the Jews will not come out till they have paid the very last mite. Jerusalem will not get out till she has received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. But she will get out from the chastenings of the Lord when they are complete. It is very evident that this passage refers simply to God’s government of His people.
In verse 56 of the preceding chapter the Lord asks in the way of reproach, “How is it that ye do not discern this time?” And ought not we always to discern the time? Surely the Lord might often reproach us by saying, “How is it that ye do not discern this time? All the world is rejecting Me, and if they do not repent before they get to the judgment, there is no hope. Natural conscience ought to tell you Jews not to reject your Messiah, for God is going all the way along with you to the magistrate, dealing with you in patient grace; and if you do not repent and be reconciled, judgment must come upon you; and then it will be the same with you, as with those whom you think to be such sinners.”
“I am come to send fire on the earth,”—(the fire of judgment) “and what will I if it be already kindled?” (v. 6). The Lord is here dealing with the same state of things. The fig-tree also is Israel; for God came seeking fruit in them, but He found none. In the gospel there is this difference, that grace sows in order to produce fruit; but in connection with Israel’s responsibility, He came seeking fruit and found none.
The sentence upon the fig-tree then is, “cut it down.” He not only found it useless, but His vineyard was cumbered by it. “The name of God is blasphemed through you among the Gentiles.” Then comes in Christ’s mission. “Last of all he sent his Son.” God had planted a vineyard and pruned it, but found no fruit. Then a new Gardener comes in to try what He can do, and He said, “Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it,” etc. This was all done, but still there was no fruit. All was useless, as far as Israel was concerned. Then God says, I will get rid of the whole thing: “cut it down.”
The woman with an infirmity (v. n), whom Jesus heals on the sabbath day, brings out another thing that was working in their hearts, that is, the abuse of the law, which brought in hypocrisy. They would lead an ox or an ass from the stall to water on the sabbath day, but they could not bear that a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound eighteen years, should be loosed on the sabbath day. One of the infirmities of man’s mind is to use possessed truth to resist revealed truth. Paul was an example of this. As “touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless”; still Paul thought he ought to do many things contrary to Jesus of Nazareth. And so also Christ says of them in John 16:2, 3: “These things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father nor me.” They were using the name of the Godhead which had been given them (“Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah”) to reject the Son; for when Christ came in humiliation, they would not receive Him. Orthodoxy is used to stop the reception of truth. When truth is the ground of a man’s standing, it gains him credit; but when a new truth comes in, it puts faith to the test. So the unity of the Godhead was used by the Jews to resist the reception of Christ.
The ruler of the synagogue said, “There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” But he ought to have known that the Lord of the sabbath was there. That single word “daughter of Abraham” ought to have told him who He was that stood there. And the Lord answered him and said, “Thou hypocrite,” etc.
In verse 18 the Lord goes on to say what the kingdom will be like, while the king is rejected and away. While the king is sitting on His Father’s throne, until He comes to take His own throne, the kingdom is like a little seed thrown into the ground which springs up and becomes a great tree; just what we see in Christendom. This fills up the gap between Christ’s rejection and His coming again. There is no royal power exercised while the king is away; as it is said in Mark’s Gospel, “It springs up men know not how.” But when the harvest is ripe He will come again. He sowed the first time, and the second time He will put in His sickle. He does not, however, come looking for a great tree, but for heavenly fruit; though, instead of the fruit He expected, He will find the seed has become a great tree, with the fowls of the air lodging in the branches. Pharaoh was a great tree; Nebuchadnezzar was a great tree; the high and great ones of the earth, the representatives of earthly power. Even Israel, who had been planted “a noble vine, wholly a right seed,” was bearing no fruit. Therefore, as it is said in Ezekiel 15, “What is the vine-tree more than any other tree,” if it bears no fruit? It is only fit to be burned. We all know that the vine is the most fruitful thing that grows upon the face of the earth, and that the branches when cut off and withered make the best firewood; but they are useless for anything else. It was not a question of the kingdom here, but of fruit-bearing. The word sown in the heart does not come to a great tree, but produces fruit.
In verse 21 the kingdom is likened unto leaven; and leaven is just that which spreads throughout the whole mass in which it is placed, and also gives a character to the thing in which it is. It is the nominal profession of Christianity which is spread into a great mass—a great system. Looked at as a doctrine it has leavened whole countries. Still it is not what the Lord could own; as leaven in Scripture is never used in a good sense. The idea is, the spreading of the doctrine while the king is away.
It should be observed that there is not a word here about the power of the Holy Ghost in connection with the spread of Christian doctrine. He is simply speaking about the effect produced in the world.
In the question of the disciples (v. 23), “Are there few that be saved?” the word “saved” is the same as that which all through the Old Testament signifies the remnant spared. Therefore the question really was as to whether this remnant that would be spared would be few or many, when the judgment came. But, this being a mere idle question, the Lord does not answer it, but says to them (v. 24), “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Those who would get in may. The strait gate was receiving Christ at that time. Some however would come and knock when the door is closed, to whom He will say, “I know ye not whence ye are.” Strive to enter in at the strait gate, through which Christ goes before you—that is, rejection. “For many [all Israel] shall seek to enter in and shall not be able.” For, inasmuch as they did not receive Christ in humiliation, He says, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.” It is all most simple when we see the rejection of Christ. For those who reject Christ in the day of His humiliation will themselves be rejected in the day of His glory; and, instead of being His companions in the kingdom, will be thrust out. The unbelieving Jews shall see the Gentiles come into the glory of the kingdom, while they remaining in unbelief will be cast out.
The Pharisees came and said to Him, “Get thee out and depart, for Herod will kill thee” (v. 31). Now Herod was an Idumean and became their king; but what had this Idumean king to do with God’s promises to Israel? Nothing whatever. In Herod we have a kind of figure of the wilful king, first in his trying to kill Christ, and then in his having no faith in God’s purposes or Christ’s glory. But Christ answers, “Go tell that fox “I shall do my Father’s will till the moment come, for I am come to shew divine power, and when rejected here shall be perfected in glory. What divine contempt for the apostate king was here combined with the most perfect human obedience! “Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and to-morrow, and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! “After all, Jerusalem is the guilty place. Let the Idumean king say and do what he will, it is Jerusalem that is guilty; for Jerusalem was nearest to Himself. And the nearer I am to God, if I reject Him, the worse is the rejection, and the more dreadful the judgment, because it is the place of love. Look at Psalm 132, “The Lord hath chosen Zion, he hath desired it for his habitation,” etc., and at the end of Psalm 78 it is the same election of Zion from verses 65-68. “But chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved.” And in Psalm 87, “What is Rahab and Babylon?” I am not ashamed of Zion to compete with them. But Christ does not put the sin upon them until they have rejected both Him and His Father.
But before bringing out this purpose of grace, God dealt all through with man on the ground of responsibility, and the last effort He made was in sending His Son. The fig-tree yielded nothing—responsibility was fully put to the test, when the soil itself was found to be bad. I have tried the chosen portion, says God, and find the whole thing so worthless that nothing can be done with it. It is as though one had taken the sand of the sea and found it so impregnated with salt that nothing could be done with it; and, the more digging and pruning that was given to it, the more bad fruit it produced. And we all are no better than the Jews were, for we were, by nature, children of wrath even as others. What! condemn everybody? Yes, to be sure, but then I condemn myself! Man’s “heart is enmity against God.” And the more pains God has taken, it has only brought out the more hatred. The old man is condemned, and the gospel begins with seeking and saving that which was lost. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? “And do we not find the truth of all this in ourselves?
But notice how the divine person of the Lord comes out here, “O! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered … and ye would not!” Now a prophet could not say this. Though Christ was a prophet, it is true, still He was more than a prophet. He was Jehovah; for none but Jehovah could gather Israel. As it is said, “He that scattered Israel will gather him.” Israel had rejected Jehovah, when under responsibility; but Jehovah will own them when He comes in grace. The church will go up to heaven, and the kingdom will be set up on the earth. And mark how the deity of our blessed Lord shines out again and again in the Gospels, while at the same moment the humanity remained so perfect. And here I would say a word or two as to the way of bringing this blessed fact out. For surely the circumstances through which the Lord passed in His path down here did bring out in a far brighter way who He was, than any text that could be adduced to prove it. Not that I would set aside any text, but suppose you believed there was a God as a truth; if He were to come down by your very side and say, Here I am, would not that be a very different thing? And though Christ was the humbled Man all through His path here (for He was ever the servant of all), yet when the service was of no use, then it was that God shone out. “Before Abraham was, I am.” See Luke 13:33, 34. The moment He said, I must die, since you reject Me, immediately Jehovah shone out. “O! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee” —and who could gather Israel but Jehovah Himself?— “but ye would not,” therefore “your house is left unto you desolate until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
The complaint in the Psalms is, that there is none to say, “How long?” —none to count upon the faithfulness of Jehovah to His people. (See Psalm 74.) The expression, “How long?” is often used in the Psalms, and in Isaiah 6 it refers to chastening, and not retribution. How long is Israel to stumble or fall? (Rom. 11). In Isaiah 6 the prophet having uttered those words, “Make the heart of this people fat,” etc., taken up by the Lord in John 12, the prophet then says, “How long?” He was in the faith of God and reckoning upon God, and having God’s mind, he cannot believe that God will give them up, and therefore asks, “how long” the chastening is to continue. To which the Lord God answers, “There shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land, but in it there shall be a tenth, and so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” The sap is still there, though there be no leaves.
So in Psalm 118, “Jehovah hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death.” In the same way, the Lord does not say, Your house is left unto you desolate, and therefore you shall not see me again. No, but He says, “Ye shall not see me, until ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jehovah.” He can give as Jehovah, in grace, the answer, and when He gives repentance to Israel, then He will send Jesus—whom, until then, the heavens have received— and then our connection with Him comes in. The prophets spoke only of earthly things, though divine; but to the church it is “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling!” You hath He made to sit together with Him in the heavenly places, and that gives security. How did I get in there? By virtue of Christ; He is my title and is He not a good title? My desires are to be acquainted with this, that I am one with Christ in heaven. And these are my desires in fact, and that is what the Holy Ghost seals upon my soul, and we get it as our everlasting portion. When Israel is brought to repentance, then “the stone which the builders rejected will be the head of the corner,” and owned of them. They will say, “O! give thanks unto Jehovah, for his mercy endureth for ever.” Alas, they will receive another first! But when their hearts are turned and grace works, then they will use the language of Psalm 119, and find the expression of the law within their hearts, and when faith is thus exercised, and their hearts are broken and open to receive Him, then He Himself will come to them. If there is not a prophet to say, “How long?” then Jehovah Himself will give the answer.
And though applied to Israel here, yet we may learn what the Lord is, for He never changes, and though He executes judgment in righteousness, grace is found in His heart for faith to lay hold of. “When he cometh shall he find faith on the earth? “Well, if there be not faith to be found, or a prophet to be found, there is One who will lay up in His treasures something for faith to lay hold of in the sovereignty of His grace. We see Jehovah in that humble one, that Nazarene, and see how He is able to rise above all iniquity; and thus to see Jehovah shining out through it all, how precious He becomes to us! That we are one with Him should endear Him to our hearts, and in learning Him may He give us to follow Him.
7 This was a contribution to the “Girdle of Truth.”—Ed.]