There are two points seen distinctly in our salvation and in the ways of God. The first is God bringing His thoughts to pass about us in grace, the second is the dealings of God with us, so as to bring our souls into the full enjoyment of both the source and effects of all His thoughts. And I am sure we ought to take heed to the difference of those two things, if we are to walk wisely as Christians. We need to hold both distinctly—God accomplishing His thoughts about us in grace, and His dealings with us to bring us into the enjoyment of them. The first is as sure, settled, and stedfast, as God Himself is, because “Hath he spoken, and will he not do it?” But the other is His work also, and it is a process that must be carried on in our souls. For God never can depart from what He is. None of His counsels can deny His nature. His nature is holy, and He must have us holy; His nature is love, and He must have us in love. He cannot have us enjoy Himself, which is His purpose in grace, in a way different from what His nature is.
What man got in the fall is the knowledge of good and evil. This must be worked out in our hearts, if I may so say, to the measure and thoughts of God. It is there that all kinds of exercises come in—discipline, if needed, sifting processes, etc., which go on in people’s hearts.
If it is a question of the accomplishment of God’s thoughts, He brings them about. He has called us, and, when the time comes, He will glorify us, as it is said, “Whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” So we find here, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it … that he might present it unto himself a glorious church, not having spot nor wrinkle, etc.” But then there is this other thing which our hearts have to notice (and it is all grace), that we are brought—our minds and souls are brought—to enjoy God. Now, we must all be conscious how often, either positively or negatively, our souls are short of enjoying Him. Sometimes we enjoy something else, or our hearts are dull and cold with God. But we must not confound in our hearts the full certainty of salvation through God’s work, and the actual enjoyment we have of it; nor, on the other hand, by shortness of enjoyment, dim or cloud the certainty of His work. Our foolish hearts are apt to do both. But if we look at the truth, the word of God, I see as to the first that it is all quite settled. The apostle can even speak of it as a thing past. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified.” I am perfect in Christ. Beyond doubt the knowledge of good and evil is there, in our hearts alas! sadly dimmed; but still this is what we have got. I am brought into this condition, so that, if my heart is not according to the light I am brought into, I get the consciousness of it at once. There might be a person going on outwardly well for years, and yet all that time he is not brought into the light of God.
As to the first of these points, it is important to look at it as all settled. While our souls are exercised, and have got perhaps under law, we cannot understand this. We are looking at our own responsibilities, and are not thoroughly brought down and emptied of self. We have not yet real faith that the first Adam never has reached God, and never will. These are exercises of the heart short of the full knowledge of redemption. But when I have understood that our whole condition as children of the first Adam is a rejected one, that all are sinners, and that sin cannot get into the presence of God—when that is wrought, I look to another thing. I see in a sense that that responsibility is over—that I am entirely lost. Through grace Christ takes my place, and I get into another position altogether; I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. This is not speaking of my practical condition, but of the place that I have got into in Christ. Not one single bit of the old nature can come in there. And this is as true of the life I received from God as it is of redemption— “that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” Of course, when the glory comes, there will be no difficulty in saying, It is entirely of God. All is perfect and settled, whether I look at the individual saint or the church of God as a whole. He has loved it, and given Himself for it.
So, again, when I look at all that has to be done, “that he might sanctify and cleanse it,” etc., He takes God’s work and cleanses it, and then presents it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, nor wrinkle, nor any such thing. Just as God in the garden of Eden presented Eve to Adam, so Christ will present the church to Himself, a glorious church and faultless. All that is blessedly certain; and if received as a divine truth, and mixed with faith in our hearts, we become thoroughly clear before God as to the new ground we have got; and no question remains whatever, because it is a question of the efficacy of God’s work. It is a settled thing for my soul that, looked at in Adam as a sinner, I am utterly rejected, and that it is a question now of whether Christ has done His work well. I have done my work, which virtually sent me to hell; and now it hangs upon God’s work, which of course, is perfect.
The more one looks into it, the more there really is a deep sense of perfectness. I see the perfect love that is the source of it all—infinite unspeakable love, a love which God’s very nature, and being, and purpose about us too, express. When I look at the way it is accomplished, I see the perfectness of Christ’s work, the absoluteness of His obedience in giving Himself up entirely. He gave Himself for us altogether, not merely His life, but Himself. He “hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God,” etc. The more I study it, the more I see the intrinsic blessedness of it, and the delight that God takes in it. It is a “sweet smelling savour to God.” We cannot see it too completely in God*s hands. Christ “loved the church and gave himself for it”; that is the first thing. And then He sets about, after He has got it and made it His own, to sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. It is according to His own mind that He does it, and then He presents it to Himself a glorious church.
Now the effect is to put us into the light, as God is in the light—into that light which makes all things manifest. It is the fullest and completest work, in effect redeeming us from all iniquity. I need my conscience to be brought into the presence of God according to His own delight in what is blessed. There is no evil there, and we are made light. This is just as completely true as the redemption is perfect. “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord.” Not merely you were in the dark, but you were darkness; but now you are light, and not merely in the light. My nature, as born of God, exactly answers to what God is.
But now I come to another thing. I have a nature capable of enjoying God and being in the light. Yes. But what is the knowledge of good and evil? What place am I brought into by that knowledge? I am brought into the light, and I am light. And when these two things come together, when this divine nature in me and the perfectness of the divine nature in itself come together, practically and consciously, what comes of our judgment of all other things? It is then that the knowledge of good and evil takes its true and full character.
When we as light come into the light as God is in the light, having a nature capable of resting in it, in the power of this, all in my heart becomes judged according to what God’s presence is. The light makes all things manifest, and I see everything perfectly and according to God. How can I enjoy this light? How enjoy God in fact? It is not a question here of salvation and peace, because it supposes you are in the light of God, that is, brought to God. My new nature takes cognizance of all that is not of God, and I say, What is this? I get my conscience occupied with all these things, and in the presence of God. Here exercises come in for the Christian on the very foundation of salvation. The very thing that gives the judgment of evil in his heart is that he has got to God, and that there, in His presence, he gets the right estimate of everything. It is not absolutely perfect, of course; but he gets the just estimate, according to the degree in which he knows God, of what he is himself. All these exercises may go on either gently or painfully; but there must be a bringing up in our souls—a dealing with—good and evil, according to God’s estimate of it.
This is founded on grace. I never should be able to think about good and evil in my path, and to walk according to such an estimate, except as knowing that Christ suffered, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. And here is the practical importance of the fullest clearness as to salvation. You will never see a person safe against the corruptions of Christianity where that full assurance is not known in his soul. If I am not brought to God, I must get something in the shape of a mediator between me and God. But Christ has brought us to God. And this assurance of salvation really is a part of Christianity; because what Christ has done in suffering, the Just for the unjust, is to bring us to God. But if I am looking for anybody or any ordinance as the means that is to carry on anything between me and God, I am not brought to God. As regards my walk here, I do want these supplies of grace; but if I want anything in order to keep up my condition with God, I am not brought to God. This was the principle of the Jewish system. There was the holy place, and again the holiest also into which the way was not then opened.
The principle of all priesthood supposes that the man has not got to God himself: he cannot go himself, and he will be glad to get some one to go for him; whereas, as a believer now, I do not want even Christ to go for me, because He is there already. Thus assurance of salvation is connected with Christ, and, in one sense, it is the very essence of it; because we are brought into the presence of God, and the effect of this in our new nature, the divine nature that is in us being in God’s presence, is to make us judge about good and evil. His presence makes us judge it, just because we are there and have a title to enjoy everything that is there. If a man is walking with God, he has the light of God upon his path: no part is dark. And this is what Luke himself tells us. “The light of the body is the eye; therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light,” etc. “Awake, thou that sleepest and arise from among the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Paul speaks there of a real Christian who has got asleep, who needs this perfection of Christ as the light of his path. Are you then thus gone to sleep? You are not dead really as to your condition before God, but you are walking like a dead man. You must awake and rise from among these dead people, and you will have the perfect light of Christ.
But supposing I have been asleep, and I wake up and find myself to have been walking among the dead, what is the effect of this light? It is to bring in the light of God upon the conscience, perhaps to the extent of clouding all joy, or even for the moment causing me to doubt of salvation. But the exercises of the soul that is holding fast the certainty of salvation, founded upon the word of God (which is the real starting-point of the Christian, and in virtue of which it is that he gets any exercises of soul), flow from this—that he looks at the inward state of his soul, and sees that it ought to be up to that full character of the presence of God in which we are placed. It is there that our daily exercises go on. God has brought us to Himself—brought us all to Himself, because this is the very position of the Christian. We may be passing through the world with different degrees of knowledge and acquaintance with Christ and power of communion, but, as far as His work goes, we are brought to God. The conscience has nothing inconsistent with that light. Brought to God, as certainly as if we were in heaven, the effect is, as we are not really in heaven, to bring all our thoughts and ways into the light.
How far are we, from day to day and from hour to hour, walking where we are set? We walk in the light as God is in the light; that is, we are brought to God, who is light, and then it is a question of degree of realisation. Are you walking according to the light, as God is in the light? This is another question, and it is where practical exercise of soul comes in, founded on salvation, whether from day to day and hour to hour. I am not looking on the things which are seen, and temporal, rather than on the things which are not seen, and are eternal. His word is that which is the revelation of all that is not seen, but alone real and enduring. All the rest will perish—every thought of our hearts. Nothing but the word of the Lord abides for ever.
You will find, when speaking of Christ’s work which He carries on, Paul speaks of sanctifying and cleansing the church. He is bringing it up towards this light, that He may present it to Himself a glorious church, etc. That is, in virtue of God’s having brought us to Himself, we start from Him to pass through the world, with a divine nature and the knowledge of God according to that divine nature that is in us, and to judge everything that is in the world by that light. As it is said in 1 Corinthians 2, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things.” How does he judge all things? It is not his own judgment; it is by that light which maketh all manifest.
Whatever the will of God allows as a path in the world, He gives light for it in His word. He shews us a path, and He gives the light for it, if I am walking in the light. The question is, whether the path in which I am walking, and my ways, hinder or are the effect of my communion with God?— whether they are in the light? Does my path in every-day life come from the light, and is it guided by it? Does it flow from, and is it the effect of, my new nature being in communion with the divine nature—with God? That is the question. If not, it has not glorified God. I may not have sinned outwardly, or done anything positively wrong; but so far I am asleep. I am not thinking about it; and it dulls the spiritual sense. But when I awake, I find out that I am away from God, and all is disturbance with my spirit. I cannot see God clearly. The practical enjoyment of God by the new nature is interrupted by the workings of the old, so that the things of God and God Himself have got out of sight, and I am not quite sure where I can get hold of them. All will be bright where it is with God. There will be trials, and trials with God are perhaps the brightest spots in any man’s life. If not, the soul’s condition of enjoying God has been injured. When it cannot enjoy God, what a disturbed state it gets into I God is perfect love, I say, but I cannot enjoy it, if there is uncertainty as to His love.
I am sure of the sun while it is raining, but still I say, What terrible weather we have!—there is not a bit of sunshine. God will never make us doubt about His love, but He will make us feel the loss of it. He will bring us into the conscious sense of the loss of His love. He may make us find out some positive wrong thing that has done it, or a slothful state of soul in not acting in the light. But He loves us too well to let us go on, without finding it out sooner or later. God is perfect in His grace, and He deals with us so that if a person is walking with God, we shall find weakness, but we are with Him about it directly. But where there is a failure in walking up to the light, where it is anything habitually wrong, there the soul gets away, not from the knowledge that God loves it, but it goes on asleep, and, when it wakes up, as it does, through mercy, it finds, perhaps, darkness as to everything—certainly as to the enjoyment of God. It is there where the exercises of soul come in, and the need of constant watching unto prayer. If it be not so, there will be the loss of the enjoyment of divine love; and when we get back into the presence of Him that loves us, that is the very time we get distressed and miserable.
But then we have the second part of Christ’s work on the other hand, which is in constant exercise towards us—not His finished work of redemption. In the very verses before us, the first part looks at His finished work, and the second at His carrying on the work till He presents us in glory. “He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it,” etc. That cleansing is still His work to bring us up to the level of what God is; and then what is connected with it? “That he might present it to himself a glorious church,” etc. It is that work which He carries on perfectly to the end. But there is another thing, and this He adds in verse 29: “No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.” Here I get the daily care of grace: the priesthood of Christ comes in. And it is of all importance that there should not be insensibility to it. The walk not being in the light makes us to have less intimacy with His daily care over us. This is going on constantly. A man takes care to do all for his wife as he would for himself; so does Christ to the church. He nourishes and cherishes it. And our faith, if we are walking with God, can look for that for the church, in spite of everything. He nourishes and cherishes it through all and spite of all, as a man does his own wife.
We may speak of the ruin of the church, but Christ is faithful. You never can touch that—never can touch the fact for faith that Christ always nourishes and cherishes the church as a man does his own wife. He never ceases to do it. And it is our privilege to go along with Christ, to be associated with Christ in caring for the church. But in caring for it I may cast doubt on that very consciousness that He nourishes and cherishes it, so there is the continual exercise of faith in communion with God. We can count upon Christ actively. If I love the church and the saints rightly, I shall have the consciousness of Christ’s love to them, and sympathy with Him in it. I shall have it, and my heart, in its love toward the saints, will be reckoning always upon Christ’s love towards them, and so making it active. But we have this comfort, even where we fail, that He restores us, and intercedes for us. He is either maintaining, or bringing the soul, which has got away, back into the full enjoyment of the sunshine of God’s perfect light. Only remember this, that it will always be wrought in the conscience and in the affections. I grant His love will attract us. He will tell me of His love, and make me find out, by recalling it, that I neglected it. It gets into the conscience and then comes exercise of heart, in order that the divine life should be perfectly unclouded upon my soul.
And then I can give thanks for everything; I can glory even in infirmities. The apostle Paul himself besought the Lord that the thorn in the flesh should be taken away. But the moment he got the clue of divine love working in it, he said, I would not have it gone for the world. He glories in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him. Christ’s every-day care over us, and the exercise of His love reveal that love, and bring the heart back to it. But all this is carried on in the conscience, which therefore gets exercised; and then the heart returns into the unclouded brightness of God’s face, where we see everything is ours—life, death, things present and to come. This is founded upon the blessed truth, that we are brought to God, that the very meaning of salvation is that we are brought to Him, and have a nature which comes from God and enjoys Him. The Holy Ghost has the power to keep up the communion, and we are walking in the light.
How far has my soul been walking thus in the presence of God? Enoch walked with God, and God took him. Only let us remember that the life of Christ has been given to us, and that we are in the light, as God is in the light. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us. How far are our lives going on in this grace? God always has the state of the heart in His mind. He has various ways of dealing with the individual soul as He has with His church. But it is wondrous to see that God is every moment thinking of us—how to bring us up to the full enjoyment of His love.
The Lord give us to know the perfectness of that love. And then, while in the world where everything is passing, and where evil has come in and produced all kinds of confusion, there is a sense of divine grace that, if the sin has come in, grace has come in. The Lord give us to walk in the consciousness that we are brought into this, and then may we seek to enjoy it in communion! It must be by faith and not by sight. We cannot see these things; but there is a divine work always going on. It may be either recognised or forgotten by us; but it is always going on. There is not an instant that we have not to say to God: there is many a one that we forget; and then I have to start up again, and say, Ah! where have I got to?
The Lord give us, in the full sense of His grace, to have our souls exercised before Him.