Two things are the effect of being in the presence of God—alarm of conscience, and encouragement. The presence of God keeps the conscience thoroughly alive, but it strengthens it to look above the evil while seeing the character of it.
He brings us into His presence to judge all that is contrary to Him and to strengthen us against it, and that is encouraging. He delights in us, and He delights in conforming us to Himself; thus grace comes in so blessedly, making us partake of His nature. It is of what He is He would have us partakers, not merely partakers of holiness, but of His holiness. He does not say, You must be holy, i.e., it does not come out in that form: but He communicates the holiness—His own nature. See the contrast of grace and law. Does not God require holiness in His presence? That is true, but it is law. Grace is, that He delights to give it.
Separation from evil and power of good is the character stamped on all God’s dealings down here—chastenings, etc. We have the secret of His ways and dealings, if we are near enough to Him to see. The Hebrews were declining in spirituality; therefore they had not the key to understand His ways. The hairs of our head are all numbered. When once the heart has hold of that, it must apprehend that it is of God’s grace that He is so occupied with us. It is a wonderful check on will to know that He is so occupied. As in Job it is said “He openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.”
We have seen the Apostle had named all the worthies in chapter 11; but then he says “looking unto Jesus.” Christ had run the whole course through, the others only a little bit of it. He despised the shame and has sat down; He has reached the end, having gone through the whole course of trouble and difficulty.
Ver. 3, 4,—Addressing them, he says, You are set here in God’s behalf in the place where sin is, to get the better of it. We are all set here a witness of divine good in the midst of evil in this world, and that with a power greater than the power of this world. Greater is he that is for us than he that is against us. We are called to be the epistle of Christ—to glorify God in all circumstances;—not to be apostles.
We fail here and we fail there; but we are set according to His will here or there in this world to manifest Christ in it, and not merely to do the work.
In saying this, one immense truth is supposed, viz., that we have this life. Another is, that all questions between us and God are settled; then, whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. To use His name I must be authorized by Him.
All questions connected with us as sons of Adam are entirely done with. “Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though alive?” etc. (Col. 2) You are not alive in the world at all; “reckon yourselves dead.” That is the reason we are freed from the law. We are dead; and the law cannot have authority over our dead man. This position in which we are set as bearing witness, and all God’s dealings with us, go on this ground—we are born of God. This is more than receiving life in nature. We do not read of being born of God as creatures, but as a Christian I am born of God. The effect of the communication of this life as having done with all the old life; we have a life “hid with Christ in God.” All is settled; not only we have the nature, but perfect peace. “My peace I leave with you.” Christ’s peace. No cloud of any sorrow was on Him. He has cleansed us to be without spot, and His righteousness is ours.
Having this nature, born of God, which has to be manifested, (and alas! we find in nature many hindrances—temper, etc.) God sets about to do it for us, when we fail to resist “striving against sin,” by chastenings, etc. We are set in the place of children and we must look to what God’s thoughts are about us. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” etc. I get the discipline, chastenings, etc., that God sends to those He loves. There is my will to be broken perhaps, and tendencies to be found out in myself that I did not know of before, to humble me. I get exercised about the good and evil. He hates the evil and loves the good, and is breaking us down, subduing the evil, wearing it out, etc. He is bringing us nearer to Himself. God is educating us as children. Sometimes when we do not see what He is doing, we get the blessing. Will works in us; He comes in to smash the will; and we see afterwards that we have got the blessing through it.
A babe does foolish things which perhaps we maybe amused at, but it has not been taught better. A Christian is like a babe, to be trained and instructed. God’s patience in taking such pains with us should cheer us. It is strange to talk of affliction cheering-us; but if our wills are broken, that is a good thing.
There are various ways in which as saints we get tried, (though we live in great quietness, there might be more persecution if there was more faithfulness) but through all circumstances God is threading our way, occupying Himself with us, our particular characters, etc, to break us down and instruct us. What we want is to realize that God loves us so much—we are of such value to God (more surely than many sparrows) as that He should take such pains to make us “partakers of His holiness.” We are apt not to believe the activity of His love. Some trouble comes on us; God has been watching us individually for years, weeks, etc, watching us to bring this trouble which He sees needed.
It is of the greatest importance that there should be the consciousness of God’s constant dealing with us in love. We are of that family, belonging to Him, God’s family, and not of the world; therefore He deals with us as sons. “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards,” etc. This is all to encourage. Encouragement is given, founded on the bond of grace between us and God. Then He gives us this blessed privilege of being the witness for God in this world. Everything that makes the condition of the heart better is good, and all is grounded on grace. Therefore it is said “looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God,”—lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, etc. (ver. 15,16.) Why does He press this? No profane or impure person! Oh, because we are come to God. Grace puts us in His presence, makes us partakers of His holiness; then He says, “looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace,” etc, i.e., do not lose this entire confidence in God’s love. This is the present practical enjoyment of what God is for you. If you lose that, you fail. There is nothing that links up the heart with God but grace. “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law, but under grace.”
Walk in the sanctuary of His presence. You are not come to the terrible mountain Sinai; but having come to the perfect grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ, take care how you walk. Grace must be the character of our walk. (ver. 22.) This is true blessedness. There is no hindrance of evil by terror. The effect of the fire from Sinai was that they “entreated the word should not be spoken to them any more.” Was that getting on with God? We are not to terrify people by our lives. We may warn them if needful and use the law to hammer at people’s hard consciences—all is well in its place; but we cannot be a witness in our walk of this. We are come to a different thing. We may speak of the law, but that is not where we are. Now we must be living witnesses of what we are, and where we are. We are come unto Mount Zion, which represents grace. This is the result, speaking of the place we are brought to. It is to God. He speaks of what will be on this earth, and that is as it were looking down. Zion came at the end of the whole course of responsibility. As to the law, the result was, “Ichabod,” for the ark was in the enemies’ hand. The only link with God was broken. Then God came in and chose David, of the tribe of Judah—not Joseph (which was significant of a full tide of blessing in nature). The Jebusites conquered and gone, David founded the temple on Mount Zion. This was a new link with God in grace when responsibility was ended. The whole of the heavenly, and of the earthly part is spoken of here. Now we have something more—that which was in the purposes of God, which man never had before in any way. God is glorifying Himself in a way angels never thought of. We are come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem—to heaven. Then, when there, we find ourselves in the whole company of angels—the universal company of heaven; then “the church of the first-born”—a special assembly registered in heaven. We are that—not merely creatures as the angels are, but those registered in heaven, as having this special privilege—an assembly whom God has identified with Christ, the First-born. It is remarkable how they are singled out here. In the general muster, He cannot let them pass without distinguishing the “church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.” We are come to that; it is all the grand result. These are all sitting around Him. Then there is another characteristic of the scene, “to God the Judge of all.” There is Zion on earth, the heavenly Jerusalem above, the general company of angels, and the church of the first-born. Then God Himself, and in the way of government, “the judge of all;” then the “spirits of just men made perfect,” saints of the Old Testament in the character grace had given them, “or just men.” They had run their course and they are there. Then begins what is connected with the earthly part—looking at the effect. We are come “to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” We are not come to the new covenant, but to Jesus the Mediator of it. I am associated with Him who is the Mediator; that is a higher thing than if merely come to the covenant. He will make this new covenant with Israel on earth.
“And to the blood of sprinkling.” The earth will be benefitted by the shedding of the blood of Christ: it cries peace instead of vengeance, as Abel’s did.
Having come to the Mediator, I am come to the prospect of all the blessedness for earth. It is sweet to know earth will have it, but ours is the better part. We are to be a witness of whence we are. We come from heaven. In spirit it is true now. What is true in spirit is more real and palpable than what we see. What is passing in our hearts and minds is more what we are really, than what our bodies are occupied in. Christ was a carpenter (as really as any other carpenter,) but that was not what He was. So with us, we are brought into all these things with God. Then the thing is to be always a witness of the place to which He has called us in grace. We are come; then we have God dealing with us in respect of this place to which He has brought us.
Do you say, This trial or that is enough to discourage me? But no; it is God who is bringing you into it, and God is with you in the place, dealing with you in grace, according to the place He has brought you into.
In the midst of the company of heaven, one company is singled out—that is, ourselves. Surely this is enough to make us humble!