(I KINGS XVII. 17-24.)
In this last scene in the verses I have read to you we find the third thing in the discipline of the man of God,- and a thing that is above all needed to be known in order that he should really fulfill this character. As I have said, it is what we all are by, position, it is therefore what we all must be practically, or else our very profession of Christianity condemns us. Being a man of God is not being something very exalted, and which God would leave, so to speak, to our choice, whether we would be so or not. As we have seen already, all Scripture is given to furnish the man of God thoroughly unto all good works. Mark well, it does not speak of furnishing any body else, and we are necessarily God's by the fact that we are purchased by the blood of Christ. Beloved friends, to be according to his mind, therefore, is what we are called to, and throughout history,- especially, I may say, that of the Church of God,- the very failure of His professing people has only forced those true to Him the more to take that character. You have here, in the very last verse, something which especially makes known the man of God. The woman says to Elijah, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." What is it that makes the man of God specially known to her, and gives specially to his testimony the character of truth? It is this: not merely that he knows the living God, but that he knows and has had to do with the God of resurrection. Death visits the house of the widow of Zarephath. God has taken away her son. Not the widow alone, but Elijah himself is brought face to face with this fact of death; a death which the woman's conscience realises, as ours do if in activity at all, to be the fruit of sin.
Death is the stamp upon a fallen creation - the solemn witness upon God's part of the ruin which has come in. Everywhere, in every language, whatever the darkness of man's mind, whatever the religious corruption of those not wishing to retain God in their knowledge, it has testified plainly to men's souls of wrath against the creature He has made. Why else undo what he has done? Why take again the life that He has given? He is not a child, to break and cast away His plaything of an hour.
Death is what we all have to do with,- the liability to which God has not delivered any one of us from here. If the Lord Jesus comes, of course we shall not die; but in the meanwhile, each of us is personally liable and exposed to it. And what we need is, surely, to know the God of resurrection. We need a God of that character in two ways: for ourselves, of course, as a matter of simple power for our own life. We need to know this also as a power for testimony, as Paul the apostle,-"We also believe, and therefore speak: knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus;" or, as you see it here in the widow of Sarepta, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth."
Resurrection, God's power over death,- power available and displayed in our behalf, is thus God's testimony to Himself among men. But I may say, in these times it is particularly the testimony He is giving. You know, if you take the Lord Jesus through His life even down here, as you have Him in the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, "He was marked out the Son of God." How? He was, on the one hand, Son of David after the flesh; but He was "marked out the Son of God, according to the spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead." By the fact that He could meet death, and manifest divine power over it,- by that fact He showed Himself as evidently the Son of God; for He met it, not as Elijah meets it here,- by prayer and supplication, looking up to another for help about it, but in His own power and name alone. By His simple word He met it and dispelled it; a condition hopeless for man to deal with. Man says, "While there is life there is hope." When death comes there is no hope: he can only bury his dead out of his sight. That gives God the opportunity to come in. It is just there He testifies to Himself as One who has available for man the power of resurrection. The Lord thus manifested His power on earth before His own death and in His own name. He showed that He was the Son of God there with practical help for man,- a power that could deal with sin itself, or it could not deal so with its fruit and penalty.
When the Lord met death, He met it fully;-Jordan filled all its banks for Him. He knew it in its full character as penalty, bearing in His own body what had brought it in. Three days and three nights He lay under it, and when He arose from the dead, there took place what had had its type long before, when for Israel the ark stood in the bed of Jordan; when those who bore it stood on the brink of the waters, and they rolled away right and left till there was a road no woman's heart need fear to travel from shore to shore. Then His own words received their full interpretation which He had spoken to the sorrowing heart of Martha before that - "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever live.lh and believeth in Me shall never die."(vv. 25, 26.) In the past, there had been death; in the past, people had to go through it. No doubt He was with them: and so the Psalmist says, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me." (Ps. xxiii.) Still it had to be gone through, - though resurrection eventually for them also should banish it, whereas now the Lord having been in it, and come through, there is no real death impending for us, but a clear path made right through it. "I am the resurrection and the life; and he that liveth and believeth in Me "- has no death to go through at all,-"shall never die." Now are we not called as Christians to realize the truth of that? It is truth, of course, for faith ; it is not truth evident to sense and sight. Yet by and by, when the Lord Jesus comes, it will be manifested as to those that are in the body at that time ;- it will be manifested as to us then, if we should be, as we easily may be, here, that death has no title over us at all. He will take His own to Himself without dying. Until that time, it is a fact that faith has to realise. For faith it is simple, that Christ having passed through death and come up out of it, His resurrection no less than His death is ours. Divine power has shown its exceeding greatness toward us, "according to its working when God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph. i. 19, 20.) In Him, quickened and raised up with Him, we too "are seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Therefore in God's mind we have no death to pass through, for we have passed through it in Him who is as much our representative in the heavens as He was upon the cross. We are rightly expected, therefore, to know resurrection in a way in which even Elijah could not know it - in a way in which no saints of the Old Testament could possibly know it. We are called to know it as those who in themselves, in their own persons, are living examples of it.
True, we did not know what death was in passing through it: there was no water in Jordan for us. The waves and billows, so terrible as God's waves and billows, spent their force on Him alone. We have come through the dry bed only. But we have come through. This is the simple fact in God's account; and God's is ever the truest - the only true one. Being dead with Christ, we are also quickened with Him out of death, and raised up and seated together in Christ in the heavenly places. - It is one thing to have this, of course, in Scripture,- nay, to recognize this truth in Scripture; but another thing for ourselves to have known what it is practically - to have got hold of it experimentally, to have apprehended in this respect that for which we are apprehended of Christ Jesus. It is this latter alone that makes us men of God, and gives us to be real witnesscs for God, accredited witnesses of heavenly things. This makes us lights indeed in the world: for earth's ordained lights are heavenly; sun and moon and stars light her up, otherwise dark. So, if the Church is the responsible witness for God on earth - the candlestick,- the true light, the "angel" is the heavenly "star." (Rev. i. 20.) Nature is one with God's Word in affirming thus the character of all true witnessing ; because it comes from God, it must be of necessity heavenly, for He is. Resurrection puts us there. Resurrection carries us outside of. the world through death, its boundary-line. Left in it for a while, no doubt, in another sense, but even so pilgrims and strangers, merely passing through it. We belong to it no more than Christ belonged to it.
And is there not such a thing as getting hold of this in reality? It is a different thing to say, "I know it is there in Scripture," from saying, "I know it for a truth in my very soul." Such recognition will make us of necessity something of - in one sense much more than what Elijah was. It will carry us into a new sphere of relationship, of thought, of interests; and where all is deathless and eternal. We shall appreciate the Lord's words to the lingering disciple, to "let the dead bury their dead." That will be no unintelligible mysticism, as to many a believer we fear still it is. The simple recognition of the fact requires faith. All spiritual realisation is by faith,- a faith to which the sureest evidence and the highest reason are that God has spoken. And although the Spirit of truth must make it good to us, and to grieve the Spirit is necessarily to deaden spiritual sense and dim perception, yet it is as the Spirit of truth He acts - by truth, and our faith in it. Thus alone can we pass through death and beyond, to where Christ is before God, and there for us.
If you look at the eleventh chapter of John's gospel, you will find there the great chapter which speaks of. resurrection as God's witness. All the way through, you find how even Christ's disciples are under the power of death. The sisters of Bethany send to Him to say that His friend Lazarus is sick. The thought is (one so natural), if Christ were there, he could not die. They want His presence in order to put off death, which yet could be merely a reprieve, staving it off for a little while. That is all they think of. He has other thoughts. He stays away, in his love to them (for it comes in here so beautifully, "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus), and lets him die.
When the Lord proposes to go to Judea again the disciples say, "Master, the Jews of late sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again ?" Thomas says, "Let us go also, that we may die with Him." Death is upon all their souls,- nothing but death. When He comes, He finds them overwhelmed at the thought that death had come and touched one of the Lord's own. Instead of Lazarus being this making it better, it made it worse in one sense. Was He indifferent? or was death master even over His? What does He do? He has said from the beginning "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." Facts might seem to be against Him, for Lazarus does die. But even so is it seen, as else it could not, that He, not death, is Master. Lazarus is raised. And what is the consequence? Such a testimony to Himself they never had before: crowds come out from Jerusalem to learn about this wonderful thing; and the very presence of Lazarus there, the man who had actually come through death, is the thing that draws them. They come, "not merely that they may see Jesus, but to see Lazarus also, whom He has raised from the dead." Think of a man who had actually come through death and come out of it! If we apprehended that we are just such a people,- if we did apprehend, in any proper sense, that we really belonged to another sphere, what a testimony for Christ it would be! It would indeed bring persecution. It brought it in that case. It was then that the Pharisees consulted about putting Christ, and Lazarus also, to death, because by reason of him all men, as they thought, would believe on Him. They would like to put out the lamp which God had lighted; but it just shows what the power of such a testimony is. And let me say again, there is no real and sufficient .testimony - there is no proper Christian testimony now - but that.
Some may call it high truth; and some, again, to whom it is outwardly familiar, may think it truth that needs very little insisting upon. I wish it did. What is the fact, when practice comes to test the actuality and power of the belief we have? What, for men who really knew the power of resurrection, would be the serious business of their lives? Would it be their aim to make money, beloved brethren? Trying to get things comfortable around them? To keep up their station in the world, and live as well as their neighbours? Of course we have got to get through it, and have to do with it in the way of business. He who was "the carpenter" has sanctified honest labour, and there is nothing at all derogatory or unspiritual in it. But I need scarcely remind you what He was down here, all the way constantly and absolutely a heavenly man. Let me ask you, beloved friends, do you think that Christ could have set his heart on making money? Do you think He could have come into the world in order to seek a comfortable place in it, or anything of that sort? You know it was the very opposite of that. And what are we? We are distinctly His representatives in the world, as He was Himself His Father's representative. "As My Father hath sent Me into the world," He says to us, "so have I sent you into the world." What is the consequence? Why, we must not talk about this being "high truth," and we must not think that after all the humble part is not to pretend to so much. We are Christ's representatives down here in the world. True or false, no doubt: that is what it comes to; true or false witnesses for Christ down here. The responsibility of the place is ours, and if we are Christians, we must frankly accept it.
It will not do to value ourselves upon our morality, honesty, benevolence, and that sort of thing. The world knows perfectly well there is no testimony merely in that, because it will find you honest men, benevolent men, and moral men, without the least pretense to religion. The world is keen-eyed, and knows that that is no sufficient testimony. "If that is all you have to show," they will tell you, "we can do without your Christianity. We have just such people who have none." But if we appear as people of another sphere, people who have their backs upon the world, as having beyond it a sufficient and satisfying portion, such as in it they have not,- that is another matter. "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us, Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased." Elijah of course could not know, as we now may, the power of resurrection. We have in this case the exhibition of it in a very different way, because we have Old.. Testament truth, and not New Testament. Still it was resurrection that made Elijah known as a man of God, anti the word of God in his mouth as the truth. So nothing else will make the word of God in our mouth known as truth in any sufficient sense, or approve us as men of God.
You will find, if you turn to the fourth chapter of the second of Corinthians, the apostle speaking very plainly about this. What opened his lips to speak? He was continually exposed to death, given up to it, not merely of his own accord, but by God's will too, God everywhere exposing him to that which he had given himself up to. " We are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." (v. ii.) He was "always hearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus," (v. i2.) and God gave him up to death, to meet it practically,- "in deaths oft." That was the very thing which made life work in those around about. This death which was working in him (v. 12) was the power of his testimony to them. Death, so to speak, had a fair opportunity to show its power over him ; but it only showed that it had none at all; all it could do was to make life shine out brighter. "Death worketh in us, but life in you."
'I'he power of resurrection opened his mouth : "I believed, and therefore have I spoken," (v. 13), "knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen." (v. 17, 18.)
'That is where his eyes were; that is what his heart was occupied with; and you find at the opening of the next chapter how fully for him Christ had met death and judgment. To die was to "depart and be with Christ." The thought of the judgment-seat moved him for others: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men."
Listen to him again: "We have this treasure (the treasure of divine grace,) in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (v. 7.) What is the practical value of the "earthen vessel"? The bird of heaven, the leper's offering in Lev. xiv., needed an earthen vessel too - to die in It was one thing impossible for God - to die. He who had that in His heart of love for us, if He remained that simply, could not die. He took an earthen vessel - a human body - to die in. We. have this treasure in earthen vessels, and death works in us. God has taken us up as earthen vessels, in which He can accomplish something for Himself. He takes up what is just proper material to be broken into potsherds,- poor, weak creatures, who can stand nothing, we may say ; and then, like Gideon's men, having hid his lamps there, He breaks the vessel to make the light shine out. Death may have power over Paul's body, but the very fact manifests that there was o that in Paul over which it had not power. His true life is beyond it, uitouched by it. The life of Jesus - the risen heavenly life of Jesus-shines manifestly out in him. "Death worketh in us, but life in you."
The life of Jesus belongs not to the world. It is eternal life, with the Father before the world was, and manifested to us in Him in whom the world found nothing kindred to itself, therefore no beauty. His home was elsewhere. His delights with the sons of men did not alter that. In us, too, it will manifest itself as that which has its source and attachment elsewhere, and there where alone no want, no unrest, no instability, is found. We manifest it when Christ is our realized sufficiency and strength, and our circumstances alter nothing, as with regard to this they can alter nothing. When we pass through the world debtors to it for nothing it can give. This is not misanthropy, not asceticism, not giving up this world in order to get another,- that is only living to ourselves in another form, and from that we are delivered. It is the very opposite,- giving up the world because we have what is beyond. God is our portion, and to the fullness which is ours in Christ the world can add abso-lutely nothing; nor, blessed be His name I can it take any thing away. This is real testimony to Christ. It is when we can say, "He is enough for us; and know how to be abased, and how to abound, for He strengthens us. Why, often-times God has to put us on a sick-bed, in order to show us practically what He can do. Blessed it is, surely, to see o how He works thus,-to see how He proves His sufficiency to those whom He lays low. But the blessing of a sick-bed is often just that God takes away all other things to show us that - in reality we have lost nothing, whereas before we did not quite believe this. And what Christ shows us there, He is ready to show us without the need of a sick-bed at all. I do not say that all there need it in this way. I am not reflecting upon these at all: God has His own mysterious working, and there are many and diverse purposes worthy of Himself He can accomplish thus. Still this is often what we learn and have to learn there, to be weaned from nature's breasts, and find what is our sufficiency elsewhere.
The power of resurrection is divine power, and He who is in us, come down from His own abode to link our souls with the place to which they belong, is not limited in His power to do this for us. No doubt we, by our unbelief, may practically limit Him, and as with Elijah on the mount, the storm and earthquake and fire maybe needed to prepare the way for what after all must do His work with us - the "still, small voice."
Let us remember, too, one thing as to resurrection which connects itself with our first gospel-lessons. I have already spoken of it, but not as fully as it needs." Until Christ died,- until the work was done by which righteously He could do it,- God could not show Himself upon our side, or His heart out as He would. There was a time when the blessed Sufferer had to say, "I cry in the daytime, and Thou hearest not." He had to be delivered out of death, not from it, out of it as the One gone into it for others.
As soon as His work was accomplished, then God stepped forth and showed Himself at once on the same side as the One who took that place for us,- by raising up His Son from the dead. It was the acceptance of Christ's work. He showed Himself there upon our side. Therefore the apostle says, at the end of the fourth of Romans, "If we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification," (vv. 24, 25.)
That is, believe on the God who is for us righteously by the death of Christ. Who is for us, and showed Himself for us the very moment He could ; and He could be for us now, with all His attributes displayed and glorified. He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; righteousness required it, while love shone out in it.
That is what resurrection makes us know. It is the full and bright display of divine glory now shining in the face of a man in the nearest place that can be to God in heaven ; yea, and that man is God,- His image. To attempt to know Christ after the flesh, as the apostle says for himself he did not, is to lose all the blessedness of this. Nor is there any Christ to be known but up there in heaven. If our souls are occupied with Him up there, in the light over which never more comes a cloud,- there where all the glory of God is displayed, shining with perpetual sunshine down into our souls,- what will the world be to us?
With our eyes and hearts up there, where Christ in the glory is the revelation of a divine object for a heart brought back to God, they will necçssarily be off the whole scene from which temptation comes to us. He is for us there in the glory. We are before God in Him, those upon whom God's eye rests with fullness of satisfaction, His own beloved. And so, practically, outside all that now tempts and defiles and weighs down here ; that is what God has provided for us, and our first duty as Christians - taking the epistle to the Philippians - is to "rejoice in the Lord." To be happy where happiness is full and uninterrupted. The only possible power we can find for going through the world aright is the power of the enjoyment of Christ. If Christ is known in this way,- if Christ satisfies, in that is strength to do all things - to be abased and to abound - as the apostle; to go down into the scene of death, and, while it works upon us, to give forth the testimony which God seeks from us. The Lord give us grace to realize what I have so feebly shown you here. Thus only can we be practically men of God.
The Lord enable us to realise what we are, as those who have learned the power of resurrection - the power which has raised up Christ from the dead, and which works toward His people in the same energy, raising Us up with Him and putting us in Him in the heavenly places before God.