Although we may speak of change or variety in the revealed ways of God, there are certain fundamental principles of His acting which remain unchanged. These are things which flow from the nature of God, and must be. So a man “must be born again” to enter the kingdom of God, whether the man is Adam, or Paul, or any one else; he must get a nature which can enjoy God. So also as sinners we must be washed in the precious blood of Christ before we can have any part with God. But the character of His ways, His mode of acting, is not always the same. And this is simple j for our individual salvation and what concerns this is not the first thing in God’s revelation, but the glory of God. He is displaying His glory, and He has ways of glorifying Himself.
There are two great subjects set before us in scripture in connection with this (that is, always supposing salvation settled, as the groundwork of all for us; for it is not till we are born again, and have peace with God, that we are free to enter into His mind as revealed), viz.—
1st, The government of God in this world; and
2nd, The sovereign grace which gives sinners a place according to His own counsels.
There is a direct government of God, and there is the exercise of sovereign grace which gives special blessing in His own presence.
The Jews are the centre of the one, and the church of the other, after Christ, of course, who is the Centre of all.
By the government of God in the world I do not mean that universal government which He exercises over the universe—what is called providence—in the exercise of which even “a sparrow does not fall to the ground” without Him; but the direct government of God on the earth. There is no doubt He also deals in government with His children even now, but as to this world the Jews were the centre of His acting in that respect.
You will see what I mean in Deuteronomy 32:8, 9. “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the peoples (not people) according to the number of the children of Israel; for Jehovah’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.”
“Most High” is always the name of God used to denote Him as supreme over the earth. See, for instance, what Melchisedec said to Abraham, when he came out to meet him, after the defeat of the kings who had carried off Lot, “Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:19); and also in Daniel 4:24,25, where God is announced by this name to Nebuchadnezzar as the One who in His government of the earth was about to interfere in judgment upon him. “This is the decree of the Most High which is come upon my lord the king: that they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.” And this is also what Nebuchadnezzar was brought to own as the fruit of that dealing. See verses 33-36.
In connection with the earth and His people at different times, God has revealed Himself by different names, which are characteristic of different relationships. It is, of course, always the same God, although known in a different relation. In Psalm 91 we get all these names of God (except Father, which was not then revealed) grouped together in their proper connection. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress: My God [Elohim]; in him will I trust.” That is, he who has the secret of who the Most High is, shall have the blessings of Abraham’s God. Jehovah is the God of the Jews, and so Messiah, in the second verse, answers as it were, the riddle put in the first, saying, “I will say of Jehovah, He is my refuge and my fortress: my Elohim; in him will I trust.” In verses 3-8 the Spirit declares the consequences of this (verse 9 is the Jewish people speaking), and Jehovah puts His seal upon it in verses 14-16.
God revealed Himself to Abraham as “the Almighty” (El Shaddai). Abraham was called to be a pilgrim, with none but God to look to, so He is revealed to Him as the “All Powerful One.”
To the Jews He is “Jehovah,” the force of which is, “Is, and was, and is to come.” See Exodus 6:2, 3: “And God said unto Moses, I am Jehovah. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.” (See also Ex. 3:18; 5:3; 7:16; 9:1, etc.)
“Most High” is not yet fulfilled. (See Rev. 19, etc.) “Father” is the name by which He is known specially to Christians. (See John 17:26, and 20:17.) On these revelations of Himself God has also founded responsibilities as to the walk of His people, which are specially connected with and always dependent on the relation in which He is known.
Thus, to Abraham, in Genesis 17:1, God said, “I am the Almighty God: walk before me and be thou perfect.” Abraham is called to walk before Him in the power of His name as the Almighty One, not allowing anything inconsistent with this, for nothing but perfection in the relationship which God has established will suit His nature. To the Jews He says in Deuteronomy 18:13, “Thou shalt be perfect with Jehovah thy God”; for what characterised the Jews was that, as a redeemed people, they were brought outwardly near to God. We hear of His dwelling with men for the first time (Ex. 15 and 29:45); for God’s dwelling with men is consequent on redemption. To us He says, Matthew 10:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” We ought to manifest the Father. Brought as children to God, we are responsible to shew what our Father is; for we are the epistle of Christ, of Him who perfectly manifested the Father, overcoming evil with good, and displaying the grace of God amongst men. The relationship of Father is revealed only in Christ. The prophets are occupied with God’s claims on Israel from the past, or Israel’s future, according to God; or with God in the government of this world.
As Most High He will settle this world as He pleases; and Deuteronomy 32:8, 9, shews us that Israel is the centre in His actings in this character, “He set the bounds of the peoples,” etc.
In another place (Eph. 1) we get the Second Man charging Himself with our failure as responsible men (the first Adam being thus, so to speak, set aside for us) and glorifying God in this place; and we get the sovereign grace of God connecting men with the Second Man, who has cleared away our sins as responsible under the first Adam, and perfectly glorified God where the evil was and as made sin; and thus the perfect foundation was laid for the accompHshment and revelation of the counsel of God. It is God’s thought and purpose to have us with Christ and like Christ, His own blessed Son in glory, and to give us now, in this present time, the knowledge that we have this place. We have this place now, though we are not in the glory yet; we are associated with the Second Man in glory, and are to be like Him. “The glory thou hast given me I have given them,” etc. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth 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.”
There is no uncertainty about this; it is sure; although Christians have even been bold enough to say it is a humble thing not to be too confident about salvation: a sad proof of how Satan can use for the time being even a Christian to carry out his lie against God. Faith is always sure. It has set to its seal, by grace, that God is true, and “We have the earnest of the Spirit,” says Paul; “therefore we are always confident.” (2 Cor. 5). It is no humility to be uncertain or to doubt, but the opposite. True humility is to own the grace as entirely of God, and our place in Christ in the full sense that we are nothing in ourselves, and what is of self only evil and without God; but that now we are in Christ. If you doubt, it is thinking your own thoughts when God has spoken. When God puts the best robe on a worthless sinner, the greatest humility is to bow and wear it, knowing that all else is unfitness and rags, and that God has given us that. If you begin to wonder if you are fit, or to say I am not fit to wear it, it shews that you think it possible you could be fit. The Father “hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” True lowliness is to accept God’s gift in grace. It would be folly or worse for us to think of being like God’s Son; but when He says so, we must just own it, and give up our own thoughts as bad and take Him as good. We have no business to think when God has spoken; our business is to believe.
If God says we shall be like His Son, we know we shall, for He has said it. This is the only true humility—giving up the thought of what we are for God as perfectly bad, and taking the thought of what God is for us as perfectly good. The prodigal may have thought he was humble, and may seem to some now to have been very humble when he was saying that he would ask his father to “make him as one of the hired servants.” But this was before he met his Father, and was just the reasoning of his own heart, but a reasoning founded on weighing the sense of sin with some sense of God’s (his Father’s) goodness which did not yet know how to take all from love. It only shewed he did not know the Father’s heart. So, when really in the Father’s presence, there was no place for such a thought; nor did he then say so. It was not the prodigal’s fitness that was in question—hell was his desert— but grace found the Father on his neck with the kiss of reconciliation. Did the prodigal question the Father’s act? Did he say then, “make me a hired servant”? No, he could not then; he simply received the Father’s goodness and lost sight of himself in His wondrous love, and, as has been remarked, we then hear only of the Father, not of the prodigal.
And so it is: true humility will always receive from God. It is no question either of thinking or reasoning about the possibility of what God has said. What right have we to think or reason when His word is that we are to be like His Son? We are to-take as a gift from God what He has for us, what He has wrought for us, and what He has made us in Christ. Our fitness is for hell, neither more nor less; but God has chosen to put us in the place with Christ, not to our glory, but to Christ’s, though glorified we are. The counsels of God come first, for they were before the world; but they were not revealed till Christ had died in the world, because this was the ground on which all rested in their accomplishment. God goes on through scripture revealing His ways, and (as it is His history of the world, His ways in the world, with man in the world, too) thus the word of God is, in its testimony, from the fall of man right on to the book of Revelation, my history in some form or other—what man is, what I am, with whom God thus deals. Every individual believer goes through it in his own soul—some quickly, some slowly; but each, individually, experiences the character of that which God was bringing out from Adam to Christ.
But before the world existed at all, as Ephesians tells us, God had His counsels about a people who were to be in particular association with Christ. I never get the counsels of God, properly speaking, that is, we never get them brought out (I do not speak of election), till Christ died. See Ephesians 1:1-4. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” etc. It is not the choosing being before the world which constitutes its sovereignty, because the grace of God would be just as sovereign if it chose us now, to-day, or any time. But this expression shews that before the world existed He had His thought and counsel about a certain set of people. He chose them independently of the world; and therefore this shews that they are not of it, although in it, of course. Christ confirmed this of those whom He chose, “they are not of the world even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16).
We find the same truth in 2 Timothy 1:9, 10: “God, who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ,” etc. This is no question of election here, even if it be involved, but that a place in Christ—the sovereign calling—was given us before the world began, but was not made manifest till Christ came.
See also Titus 1:2, 3: “Eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began, but hath in due times manifested,” etc. The counsel of God—that which was in God’s mind connecting us with Christ, and was before the world existed—came out in the gospel, and never came out till after Christ came and died and made atonement.
In creation we get another thing, and a different thing— not a counsel but a responsible being placed in this world. The first thing he does is to fail. This is so all through the history of man; the first thing he does is failure. The first thing we hear of Adam is that he fails; the first thing we hear of Noah when he had offered his sacrifice after the flood is that he gets drunk; the first thing we hear of after the law is given is that, before Moses came down from the mount, it is-^broken; the priesthood is set up, and the first day, they offer strange fire, and the high priest never puts on the garments of glory and beauty to go into the presence of Jehovah in the most holy place, nor it would seem at all, except when consecrated. So even in Christianity, as responsible to God, for Paul says, “All seek their own and not the things that are Jesus Christ’s,” and that after his decease evil would prevail from without and within. And John can tell us there were many Antichrists whereby it was known it was the last time.
Man in responsibility always fails. Man was never in his innocency the head of a people; and as for Noah, he was, so to speak, a drunken head over the world. In Adam there is only and total failure and judgment executed. Created in innocence and beauty, he distrusts God and listens to the devil, who said that God had jealously kept back the best thing: then lust comes in, next transgression, and all is over as to his state; he shrinks from God, and is turned out of Paradise. The world goes on and is so wicked that God brings in the flood. After that Noah fails directly. And as I have said, the priests never put on their garments of glory and beauty except when consecrated; and the Jews were a law-breaking people. In every place of responsibility the first thing we hear is man’s utter failure. Not that there were not exceptions through grace; but, as to man, the inevitable result of responsibility is failure. As to principle Cain completed the sin of man: the main feature of Adam’s sin was sin against God, that of Cain’s was sin against his neighbour; and these two make up the sum of all sins.
In Paradise we get side by side the two principles about which men have been fighting ever since, namely, man’s responsibility and simple communicated grace; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. We find these two trees in Eden: the tree of responsibility, or the knowledge of good and evil; and the tree of Life. In Christ alone are both principles fully brought to an issue, God glorified as to them, and blessing secured. He has met the failure in the fruit of the tree of responsibility, and secured eternal Life, and the accomplishment of God’s counsels in sovereign grace, and that in righteousness. God shut man out of Eden before he ate of the tree of Life, and thus reserved His principle of grace for fuller hopes. Indeed to perpetuate Life in sin would hardly have been in the ways of God.
God’s promise to Abraham raised no question of responsibility; it was a simple promise in grace. See Genesis 12, simply, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing, and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” God took care that before the law came (“the law was 430 years after,” Galatians 3:16, 17) the principle of grace should be maintained. But righteousness was all-important, and the law raises the question of righteousness, recognising man in responsibility; and so in it we get the two trees in principle, but the tree of responsibility before life: “Do this and thou shalt live.”
Israel failed, as all have but Christ, who was perfect in every way. God still tries man, however. He sends prophets to call the people back to law, and so “the law and the prophets were until John.” Obedience was the way of happiness for man under God’s government of the world, so the prophets called back to obedience as the way of man’s happiness. This, too, failed, as God says, in touching grace, “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes [or continually and carefully] and sending; because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling-place; but they mocked the messengers of God and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of God arose against his people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chron. 36:15, 16.)
At last God sends His Son. He said, “I have yet one Son, it may be they will reverence my Son,” and He would try man by His coming. “They cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him.” In Matthew 21 we find God seeking fruit from that which ought to have yielded it; and so Christ, when He came, first looked for fruit. He desired to find (v. 18, 19). “He hungered. And when he saw a fig-tree in the way he came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever; and presently the fig-tree withered away.” He cursed it—this was nature judged, that flesh should never produce fruit, for there was nothing in man in the flesh to suit God. Plenty of profession, outward show, and assumption to be something, “but leaves only.” “There is none good; no, not one.” And so He said, “Now is the judgment of this world.” The world was judged then, although that judgment is not executed yet; in grace God tarries the execution; but still there was the complete ending of all human responsibility as regards the record of it. Each individual may have to come to conviction of it, of course.
But according to the gospel, Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, not in probation whether he would be so. All is proved worthless; for the husbandmen not only killed God’s Son, who came looking for fruit, but also rejected all His invitations and Himself come in grace. If God spent His Son in the effort to get man’s heart back to Himself, it only shewed that his heart was enmity against God, and would not own Him. He came with perfect grace, and shewed He had power sufficient to bring every blessing to man; all His miracles were blessing to man except the cursing of the fig-tree, which was not, because, after all, there must be the judgment of the flesh. The cross then comes in, and proves not only that man is a sinner (we get that in his being turned out of Paradise), but that man is in himself irreclaimable. This closes the first Adam’s history—the history of man responsible in the flesh, and it was the end of the world; that is, morally, the world was ended and judged. So the apostle speaks in Hebrews 9:26. “Now once in the end of the world” (literally “in the end [or consummation] of the ages,” those ages in which God was testing man in responsibility as a reclaimable sinner)— “hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
Christ came to seek fruit and they had none for Him. He came to make a feast, as the expression of God’s grace to them, and they would not sit at it. In the two parables (Matt. 21 and 22) there is not only the end of the history of man in responsibility, but also the rejection of Christ come in grace. The mind of the flesh is proved to be enmity against God; and we must learn that there is no good in us. But God does not give up His grace, it superabounds over all man’s condition as a sinner, and an irreclaimable one.
This is just the difference between the synoptical Gospels and John. The first three—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are the presentation of Christ to man to be received, and with proofs of power sufficient to remove all the effects of sin; but behind all you find the difficulty that man is in the flesh, and the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. John’s testimony starts with this, that He was not received, and therefore coming in that grace which was above all the rejection. In chapter 1, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own and his own received him not”; so God comes out in grace. The flesh is looked at in John as having disowned Christ, and therefore his Gospel all through is election and grace. There is no such language in the other three Gospels as He uses here in speaking of man. He goes to the roots and principles of things in John, and so He says, “Ye are of your father the devil,” speaking to sinners, and “no man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” But He says, I’ll have my own sheep notwithstanding what man is. Thus, on the rejection of His word in chapter 8 and His work in chapter 9, He gathers them, whether of the Jews or of the Gentiles, to the one Shepherd, and gives them eternal life. So in John 1 we find Him received by those who were born of God, not of the will of man. “To as many as received him to them gave he power [that is, title, authority, or right] to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” John 1:12, 13. There I get the people of God. Man’s responsibility is closed: he is a lost sinner; he has been in a state of probation, and it is over.
Now, although the ground of man’s responsibility is over in the sense of having wholly failed under it, when proved in every possible way, yet as to moral dealing with each individual, the responsibility is there to the full; and as an individual under moral dealing, a man has to go through the history of the process of responsibility and its failure; but he goes through it to bring out this, that he is lost already. He has to prove the truth of God’s verdict that in man there is no good thing; and so the result of the principle of responsibility is for him to find out that he is lost, that the responsibility is over; not as if it was not true, but because he is lost and ruined, as the man who has lost all his money by foolish ways. It is important to keep up responsibility, but the individual is brought to the consciousness that on that ground it is all up with him. Man is lost. We have spent every farthing, and have only debts; these we have if that is any good. It is all over with the first man, and no mending of him will do: he is lost and ruined; but Christ came to save the lost.
Now the Second Man is set up. It is not a mending of the first man, but the substitution of the Second. There is no improvement or correction of the first man (although we are practically changed if we come to Christ), but the sins of the first Adam are all cleared away j and, secondly, the tree itself is cut down by the roots for faith. In the cross we see the responsibility met completely; Christ has met all the failure, the fruit of the tree of responsibility, and has glorified God in so doing. Man has brought in confusion; but Christ came, met the case, and cleared the scene, and triumphed over all. When He came, God’s character as to facts was compromised, and there was no escape. If He had saved none, but at once cast off sinners, it were righteousness, but there would have been no love. If He had let all pass, when man was a sinner, and in such sort saved all (which man would call love, but which would not have been divine love, for God is holy), where were the righteousness? But Christ came. Well, surely in the cross there is righteousness against sin, as nowhere else, yet there is the infinite love of God to sinners.
In Him, in Christ, I get both the trees of Paradise united, fulfilled in grace, bearing our sins and putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and becoming life according to righteousness. I am brought to the discovery of what I am, and then I see Christ has died on the cross and has taken the whole thing on Himself. When I see Him—the Son of God— dying on the cross, I say if this is not righteousness—judgment against sin—I do not know what is. But whom is He dying for?—the guilty sinner. Well, if this is not love, I do not know what is. On the cross we get every attribute of God perfectly maintained—His majesty and truth, as well as His righteousness and love—every claim met, and God perfectly glorified in the Person of Christ, the Lamb of God. He was there making atonement for sin that the gospel might go out to all the world; and as to believers, bearing their every sin. The whole thing is met there, and the believer’s responsibility cleared away, as to sins, that he may enter into responsibility on a new ground, that of a child of God. He has met fully, and completely, and absolutely, all the fruit of man’s eating the tree and all the sins of the believer (his responsibility). This, of course, does not touch the believer’s responsibility to Christ or to God as a believer in Christ; for this is of a new order, and comes in upon a different ground.
But in the cross God’s character is not only maintained but fully glorified; for the death of Christ is the perfect putting away of sin28 and of all that belonged to the first man. We, therefore, as believers, are crucified with Christ; we are not in the flesh but in Christ. We are dead to the condition in which we were as children of Adam, and we are in a new position altogether 5 in Christ we are children of God. All that we were has been met and settled on the cross, and a new life has been given to us, so that now we are not in the first Adam but in the Second Man. The fruit of the first is all taken away, and the tree itself cut up by the roots for our faith; we have died with Christ, been crucified with Him. The responsibility is met by the atonement, and He Himself is the eternal life; so the two trees of Paradise are fully reconciled.
Now the counsels of God come out, because He could not bring them out till redemption was accomplished, and righteousness fully established, and in respect of all that, too, which called it in question. The ground we stand on is not now God’s forbearance, because what we have is not promise, but the accomplishment of promise. It was forbearance He exercised towards the Old Testament saints, passing over their sins, but it is in the atonement we see His righteousness in doing this. Now God is righteous in saving a poor sinner— just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; and because righteousness is now established, my standing is not founded on responsibility as a child of Adam, but on redemption as a son of God. It is a new footing and foundation. Not only are my sins put away, but that which has put them away has so vindicated the righteousness of God, and glorified Him, that man has a place at the right hand of God in glory.
With regard to this Christ could appeal to the Father righteously to give Him that place. “I have glorified thee,” He said, “glorify thou me,” and Jehovah answered, “Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thy foes thy footstool.” This puts the Son of man in the glory of God; and God has given us a place and standing in Him, clear of all the responsibility of the first Adam. But there is responsibility now for us, and it flows from and is measured by this very standing.
We have thus the two trees in grace—the tree of life, and the tree of responsibility. Under the law we saw it was responsibility first, and then life. In grace it is first life, then responsibility.
Not only are my sins gone, but I and everything belonging to me buried in the death of Christ; the “I” merged into Him as to life, as it is written, “Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” and the life I now live is in the Risen One. He rose, and is now seated in glory in virtue of what He did as man, and has sent down the Holy Ghost to unite to Himself as Head (having taken this place as man in heaven) believers as members of His body, and to reveal all the counsels that were about us before the world was; and this is the church. The Christian is united with Christ, where He now is, we are seated there, and blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Him. The Head is there, and we, the members, are, by the Holy Ghost, united to Him.
Now comes in the responsibility of the Christian. True responsibility flows from the place we are in—not as having to get into the place, but as being in it. Seeing our place we can learn what our responsibilities are; else we never can assume responsibility. You are not responsible to me as children or servants, because you are not my children or my servants. If you were my servant, your duties and responsibilities would flow from your being so. You have totally failed as a child of Adam; and now, if a believer, God says you are a child of God. Well, now, let us see if you are walking as a child of God in all your ways. This is our responsibility. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, and are left in this world to shew out the character of such. We are the epistle of Christ, and have to see that we are a good one, known and manifestly so before all men. Christ should be so seen in us that he who runs may read.
If you are in Christ, Christ is in you; and our place is a settled one. Christ is before God for us, and we are before the world for Christ. What is laid on us is not responsibility before God as a child of Adam, but as a child of God. I am not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and the life of Jesus is to be manifested in our mortal bodies. There is our responsibility, and it is an individual thing. You will see the individual put always first in scripture, because the individual must be put right before there can be any church. The epistle to the Romans deals with the individual, so also does the first chapter to the Ephesians, till we come to the last verses. We always have truth brought out for the individual before corporate blessing is unfolded or responsibility is enforced. We are saved by Christ individually and owned as brethren.
This leads on to relationship with Christ and with one another. Our relationship with the Father is that of children; our relationship with Christ, first, that He is not ashamed to call us brethren, and then as members of His body, and so baptised into one body by the Holy Ghost. This is the effect of God’s work, and we are created unto good works, which God has fore-ordained for us. The ground we stand on is not our works: Christ stood on that ground once for us, and if we did we should be lost. We stand on Christ’s work and are saved, and the Holy Ghost has come down and united us to Christ as His members; and he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
This brings out what the church of God is. The Holy Ghost never came down to earth before that, although He was the immediate agent of all God’s works. All immediate action from creation onwards is the Holy Ghost; He is the direct agent, but never came till the day of Pentecost.
We must never confound the action of a divine person with the coming of a divine person. All things were created by the Son and for Him, but He never came till the incarnation. So the Holy Ghost wrought all through, in creation, prophecy, etc., but never came till Pentecost; and speaking of this Christ said, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you,” John 16:7. Not only has He come, but what is of special importance is that when on earth He dwells in the believer and in the assembly. This gives another character to the church. God never can dwell among men except on the footing of redemption. We never hear of such a thing in the Old Testament until redemption has been accomplished in figure. He visited Adam, but never dwelt with him; He talked with Abraham often, but never dwelt with him. But as soon as He redeems Israel, though only figuratively and outwardly, for the first time in scripture, we hear of His coming to dwell. (See Exodus 15, and 29:46.) He came in the cloud, and His presence and glory dwelt in the camp of Israel.
When the church is brought out, it is said God dwells in it spiritually: “Builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” Eph. 2:22. This dwelling of God with us is the fruit of redemption. It is distinct from being born again; it is founded on redemption; and the Holy Ghost dwells with us because we are washed pure and spotless by the blood of Christ. Immediately after redemption holiness is mentioned as a necessary consequence of God’s presence. “Glorious in holiness “is His name this side the Red Sea. “Ye shall be unto me a holy nation,” Ex. 19:6. “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” He must have a clean house to dwell in. In the Old Testament figure a man was washed with water, sprinkled with blood, and anointed with oil. So we are quickened, and feel our need, are brought under the blood of sprinkling and cleansed by it, and then sealed by the Holy Ghost. It is God’s stamp on us that we have been cleansed through faith in the blood of Christ. God cannot seal an unbeliever; this would be sealing wicked men, and sins, and corrupt flesh. It is God’s seal on one that has life. “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father,” Gal. 4:6.
By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost we are sealed and linked with Christ in heaven. Our place is on high, though we walk on earth. The church is associated with Christ in heaven; but it was in consequence of His ascension that the Holy Ghost came. He could not have come before. The church could not exist as an actual thing on earth till the atonement, till Christ had died and risen; and the idea of the church could not be revealed till after His death. The Jewish system was maintained by the middle wall of partition being kept up; there was to be no connection with the Gentiles. The church is founded on the breaking down of the middle wall of partition. You cannot take scripture and not see that even the idea of the church could not be revealed until Christ had died, gone up on high, and the middle wall of partition had been broken down. In the church there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, but this would have been sin till God removed the wall of division, by the death of Christ; Eph. 2.
We get before that (in Deut. 32:43) such a word as “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people”; but there is His people: the nationality is kept up, and the Gentiles are kept distinct from His people. The Jews were the people who had the promises; but the One in whom all the promises centred came, and they refused and crucified Him; so they must now come in on the ground of mercy like any poor Gentile. There is no difference, for they have all alike sinned. God fulfilled His promise, but the Jew who had it rejected the fulfilment. So then the middle wall of partition could be broken down, for both came alike under mercy. All nationality now is merged in Christ. He now sits in glory as man, and the Holy Ghost whom He has sent down links us with Him. The distinction of Jew and Gentile is abolished, and the church is the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost. If you had had a mention of the church in the Old Testament, Judaism must have gone. The church is a heavenly body, the Head being in heaven.
Now, if you appropriate Old Testament promises and apply them to the church, you drag it down from heaven to earth, and put Israel quite out of that place which God in His sovereignty gave to His chosen people. Individually we get much comfort for our hearts and instruction, too, from God’s dealings with Israel; for (besides great truths as to God’s nature), what happened to them happened to them for ensamples, and is written for our admonition on whom the ends of the world are come. See, for instance, Deuteronomy 8:2-4, which is the history of God’s dealings with them in the wilderness. So we too, in a spiritual sense, are put through the wilderness, and learn God’s care of us and our continual dependence on Him for every need and each step of the way. God took care even of the wearing out of their coats all the time, while He sought to teach them what they were. We are in the wilderness, and need to learn to know the God of the wilderness. We are left here to find out both what we are and what He is, and we have the same principles to guide us as led Israel in their wanderings.
Being children of God, however, our home is the Father’s house, and Christ has gone there to prepare a place for us. This leads us at once to the coming of Christ, not as a matter of prophecy, but for us, as He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also,” John 14. This is not prophecy, which is concerned with the government of this world, and is connected with the Jews who are the centre of prophecy. We are identified with Christ, and were in the counsels of God before even the world was, and so are not of the world at all. He has promised to come first and put us in our right place beside Himself; and when prophecy comes true we shall be with the Lord. We are in heavenly places in Christ, and our conflict is there now; “we wrestle … against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.”
So completely is this in Paul’s thoughts that he does not once speak of going to heaven—it is to depart and be with Christ, not go to heaven, though no doubt it is heaven. But we must wait till He comes to be fully in the same likeness with Christ. As an individual, the promise I have got is that I shall be conformed to the image of His Son, but I must wait till He comes and I see Him as He is for that; and so I try to be as conformed to Him as I can in this poor mortal body. (See 1 John 3.) If I should be absent from the body while I wait, I shall be present with the Lord—in heaven doubtless, though this is not the thought. But I am not conformed to the image of Christ till He comes and I am raised or changed.
The appearing of the saints in glory (Col. 3:4) will prove to the world the oneness of the place which God has given us with Christ. He is the first fruits of them that slept; not of the wicked, but of His saints; and they will be raised because He delights in them, as Christ was, because God delighted in Him, though He indeed could not be holden of death. They will be raised in glory, fashioned like unto His own glorious body, and this is the fullest seal put upon the righteousness of God. We shall all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, but we shall appear in glory. It is not then our eternal state has to be settled and judgment pronounced whether we are saved or lost: we shall be glorified when we get there. Paul has been with Christ these 1800 years, and are you going to bring him out to have his case settled? We shall give an account of everything to God from the time we were born, but we shall be in glory when we give it. We have an account to render as Christians, for we are responsible as to how far we have glorified Christ with gifts and all He has given us; and as to how far also we have grieved the Holy Spirit who has dwelt in us; but it is the saved who give this account (the others at the day of judgment, of course, before the great white throne).
When I die I shall be happy; but this is not, however, blessed as it is, fully what the Lord promises me; I am told I shall be “like Christ.” “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly,” 1 Cor. 15. This is our hope. I am to be like Christ when He raises me, and glorifies me; I am to be conformed to His image when He comes; and as regards the church, the marriage of the Lamb does not come till then.
The only proper hope of the Christian is to wait for God’s Son from heaven. When He will come, no one knows. The church was in the counsels of God in eternity in Him before time began, and the Holy Ghost said, “Of the times and seasons ye have no need that I write unto you.” When the last member of the church is gathered in He will come; but whether at midnight, or in the first watch, or in the second watch, or at cock-crow, neither you nor I know. It may be to-night, but this is known only to the Lord. He is Sovereign, yet He “is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
28 This, in its fullest effect, reaches, I doubt not, to the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. But the believer knows its efficacy for himself now. I do not here speak of those who believe not. They are doubly guilty.