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The more closely we look at the Lord Jesus on earth, at His path here, and at what He met with in that path, the more we see the terrible alienation of men’s hearts from God; and the more too we see the blessing of the fact that the Son of God has been in this world, and has passed out of it by death.
This is a great fact, and there is none like it—not creation even. There is no fact so great as that of the Word being made flesh, and dwelling among us, and after all being utterly and wholly rejected, for Satan is the prince and god of this world, who exercised his terror on those who followed the Lord, and his full power on the world at large.
But everyone must see that such a thing could not have happened without God’s mind. Christ could not have gone down to death had God not permitted it; as He said Himself, He could pray to His Father, and He would send Him twelve legions of angels; or He could have wrought a miracle and delivered Himself; or walked away in Gethsemane when all fell to the ground. But He did not come into this world for that; neither did He come into the world simply to go out of it as rejected. When we see Him dying, we cannot but see that there was some thought and intention which could only be made good through that death. Why should He go down into death and judgment if those to be saved were not there? Thus, seeing Him there, we get the condition of those about whom He came. Thus too we see One going down into that place, and rising out of it, so that the whole power of the evil which He is come to set aside is annulled; and in this too we see His divine perfection—His perfect love. He had come to attract men’s hearts; but, as He says, for His love He got hatred. Man would not have Him, and He goes on to the cross; and God, in all He is against sin and in His divine wisdom, was glorified in the death of Jesus.
It is this we are a little to weigh in this Psalm, which the Lord Himself quoted on the cross. The Lord here not only takes up the central truth that He was forsaken of God, but that His path on earth led to this—all the circumstances through which He passed; and all testified to the truth of the condition the world was in. All along for His love He got hatred; but this did not hinder the love, it only led to its full expression. And, as nothing but the cross shews out so completely the state the heart of man was in, so there only can we bear to look evil in the face—only in that cross in which I see sin and evil fully manifested, and yet perfect divine grace meeting it.
First see the blessed character in which the Lord visits the world. Certain truths may be learned elsewhere, such as creation and providence, but not judgment in righteousness, at least not until the end, and then it will be learned in the destruction of the wicked. This was what Job found so hard to understand—how those who did evil prospered, whilst the righteous were persecuted. This is just because the time of judgment is not come; the time of mercy is now going on, and we cannot have mercy and judgment at once. So all is a riddle now. There is too much of badness for man to be able to think that things are of God; and too much of goodness, even amidst all the ruin and wretchedness, for him to see how it is not of God. Men try to get over it, and to be indifferent to it; but there is too much even for selfishness itself not to see it. However favourable exterior circumstances may, for a few, partially remedy things, we must see that, taken as a whole, there is but ruin and wretchedness in the world.
But when Christ comes, I find perfect goodness in the midst of this scene of confusion, where there is the power of evil and suffering and sorrow. It is quite another thing from all that went before, though prophets and the like testified of it; but what I see in Christ is God Himself manifesting goodness— of course manifesting men’s hearts too—in the midst of evil and sorrow, and profiting by them to do it, and that in order to win men’s hearts back to Himself. Government there is, and judgment there will be: that is the necessity of God’s nature, for God cannot allow evil to go on for ever; but Christ’s coming was to get back man’s confidence in God by the presentation of goodness.
Satan had made man distrust God, saying, If you do what I bid you, you will be like God. Christ came to make us really so, and presented Himself to every sorrow and to the worst of sinners, saying, Can you trust God? Do not say you are too bad; I have come because you are bad. Do not say you are too wretched; I have come because you are wretched. Do not say the evil is too great; there is nothing so great as God. And, where this voice is heard, we see the sinner comes to Him, weeping—and it is all right to weep about sins—but confiding in this love which can be trusted, when nowhere else can the heart turn and confide.
That is what the Lord was. If any pretended to be good, He unmasked them. If any pretended to be above the evil, He shewed what they were, as He said, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” They were “whited sepulchres,” He says. But there is always perfect grace for the sinner, as we see in the case of the woman they brought to Him. No doubt her guilt was great, and her sin horrid, and stoning justly deserved; but who is going to stone her? He detects all hearts. Though “love,” He is “light,” and it is impossible that any sinful heart can stand before Him. If they try it is only to have the veil drawn off as only God can draw it, and they must confess their guilt; one word of His reaches the conscience, as the woman of Samaria says, “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did.”
We must be before God according to what we really are: the effect of the light is to do this; and, when what we are is brought out, it is met by perfect love in the goodness of God. There is no hardness there. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” Christ was the manifestation of that goodness which never could be wearied—never could be irritated—never could fail in meeting sorrow—that goodness which had come to meet the badness.
We know that the world could not stand it. The Pharisee was too proud to receive it. The world cast out His name as evil; and at length, restraint having been taken away, and His hour being come, He gives Himself up. And now it is said to the world, “Him ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,” He, of course, being delivered to this by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”
But oh, beloved friends, what a fact! To think of the idleness of the human heart! That God should have been in this world, and that man should have turned Him out, and that then man can go away and amuse himself! It is hatred to Christ at the bottom, or despising Him; but it is covered up with pleasures, amusements, vanity, anything. Man can go on amusing himself in a world which has rejected God! Still God has not given up His purpose; He is still calling out a people to His name.
See how, in this Psalm, everything brings out the state of the world. Look at all the circumstances which surround the Lord; every man is in his place. “Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round” —that is, violence. As to His friends, they run away. Of His disciples, one denies, and the other betrays. Pilate washes his hands when about to shed the blood of an innocent man. The Jews say, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” as we know it is to this day. The high priest, who is there to intercede for those who are ignorant and out of the way, gives his voice against the innocent. All testifies to the moral darkness of the world. Some we know were beating their breasts with human feeling at what was going on, and the centurion gave a perfect testimony that this was the Son of God; but the world would none of Him. Still He was condemned in both cases on His own testimony to the truth; and then went on in perfect meekness to the cross.
If we look too at Gethsemane, when He was in an agony His disciples were sleeping. And, when the men come to take Him, He has not a thought for Himself; it is, “If ye seek me, let these go their way.” He puts Himself forward—stands in the gap—and then the disciples all run away. All the circumstances testified to what was in the world, and He perfect through it all. And in this Psalm He, as it were, rehearses it all, and His own sorrow and suffering in the midst of it.
But these were, however deep and real, external, and from man. From these He turns to God. And here the proper subject of the Psalm and His unfathomable suffering is found; He looks to God in the trials, and there was no comfort in the cup He had to drink. “Be not far from me, for trouble is near.” Then, sorrows pressing Him still more closely, He says again, “Be not thou far from me, O Lord.” Still as yet they were but the outward pressure from the hand of man. He was not stopped by them. He was going on through them to the cup which His Father was going to put into His hand; and there He met that which made Him cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” “Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. But I am a worm, and no man.” So deep and terrible was the cup of judgment against sin!
It is this we are brought to through the circumstances which surrounded Him. Christ was in the world, and His being there shewed out what man was. For His love He had hatred; and this is just as true of Him now. It is then that His love sets about its proper work: not to express what we are, but to put it away. Bringing out and manifesting what we are by itself, had it been possible, would have driven us to despair, but never could have done us any good without the work that brings us back to Himself, and makes us happy to be there.
Beloved friends, we must not deceive ourselves. They who seek pleasures and the like do not care to hear about Christ. Christ is not here now for you to put out your hand to crucify Him again; but the world that did it is not one bit changed. The world does not like to have Christ pressed upon it, and the carnal mind knows that it is so. What is the effect on man naturally when Christ is pressed upon him? He does not like it. What could he say of all his thoughts, and feelings, and inclinations, if God were in the room and all were manifested? Bring Christ into any drawing-room in this country—not to speak of wicked places—and what is the effect? All is spoiled if God be there; and the reason is that, where man finds his pleasures, he cannot have God. Suppose you could take a natural man to heaven; what would he do there? There is nothing there which it would be possible for him to enjoy, and he would only wish to get out of it as fast as possible. This is all that it would come to: if God is brought where our pleasure is, it spoils all; and if it were possible for us to be taken where He is, we could not stay. And yet man is amusing himself, and that in the place where Christ was crucified! It is all well till judgment or death come; and then he finds that he has been walking in a vain show, and has disquieted himself in vain.
I find then the perfectness of the love of the Saviour. His rejection only served as a means of expressing His love still further. Mark the reality of this expression as meeting all our case. Were we lying in death? He puts Himself into it. Did we deserve the cup of wrath? He takes and drinks it. Was all the power of Satan against us? He goes into it and breaks it. Christ does not say, You come to Me properly, and then I will help you. No; He comes down into it all; He does not seek to escape; He does not turn away from the insults and violence of men, but, through them all, He offers Himself without spot to God.
When I see God’s love and purpose in dealing with sin in death and judgment—when I see this blessed One there—then I get this truth, that God has been occupied about sin in grace. When I see this blessed One putting Himself in such a place as this, I see that the whole question is brought before God and dealt with by Him in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then it is not as when God deals with us here, full of mercy and tender compassion for our infirmities; there was no mercy for Christ—no screen to hide and spare Him. He was the one divine Person capable of bearing all the weight of that burden, and willing to do so; and He did it.
And oh, what a spectacle it was! If God were to sweep away all in judgment, righteousness might be seen, but there would be no love; if He were to receive all passing over sin, there would be no righteousness. But, when Christ takes our place on the cross, we get divine righteousness against sin as nowhere else, yet infinite divine love to the sinner. Here all that God is was perfectly glorified, where sin was perfectly manifested, but where the Lord accomplished the work which put away sin.
Then we find in this Psalm that the Lord is heard in His cry. He says, “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns”; when the cup was drunk, and He had been, so to speak, transpierced by them, His resurrection was the public testimony that He was heard. But, even before He died, we find Him peacefully saying “Father—” “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He did not die from weakness; He gave up His spirit. We have thus the whole question of sin finished and settled; and, if not settled then, never to be. It may be in eternal judgment, if this great salvation be despised, but no more settling the question of sin with God. If settled then, it is perfectly settled—settled according to the perfectness of the divine nature, according to the holiness of God, and settled for eternity. Christ, having cried out to God in the place where He drank the cup of wrath, was heard; and His resurrection is the testimony that He was.
But remark another thing, and that is, the constancy of His love. Opposition does not stop it; through everything He goes on with His love. You cannot find a want that does not find grace in Him; you cannot find a sinner such that he does not meet grace for his deepest need. No power of Satan, no heartbreaking through the heartlessness of man, nor quailing before his wickedness could stop it. It only shewed out His love the more, the more opposition it met with. And He had no motive to go on but that love that was in Himself, and perfect obedience.
Then He says: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” What name? The name of His Father and God; the name of the One with whom He had found unclouded favour, sin having been put away. He is in the presence of one of infinite holiness; He had known and felt His power against sin; and now He gets back as man into the enjoyment of His own blessedness, not simply as the eternal Son of God before the world was, but as Son of man. He enters as having wrought the work, and now He says, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren,” So, when He rose, He said, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God and your God.” He had never called them that before. Now He puts them in the place He had acquired for them. He had wrought the needed work, and now He takes His disciples into the relationship He Himself was in with God, in virtue of what He had done; for, what He had done, He had done for them, and that is where He sets them.
Thus we see what this salvation is, if our souls get into the truth of what that love was which made Him go down into the dust of death when all the power and malice of evil burst out against Him. God met Him with righteous judgment against sin when made sin for us. And then see how He glorified God about it, and understand that He, the forsaken One, got back into the full unclouded light. Then I say, There lam; for He has said, I go to my Father and your Father. I have taken your place, and wrought the work that was needed to bring you to God. You are made the righteousness of God in me, for I have been made sin for you. His first thought is, when heard, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren.” I must make them as happy as I am myself; I must declare thy name to them. And His love passes on, unenfeebled and undiminished, to make good the effects of His work. He says, Now you are going to be with me; and marks how we are never separate from Him. When the cup was drunk, He drank it alone, but now we are never separated from Him. He does not say, Now they may sing; but, In the midst of the assembly I will sing. He leads the praises; He declares the name in which He rejoices. How wonderful that we should be thus associated with Himself! It is a figure of course—His singing; but it tells us how He associates us with Himself in everything.
And how perfect this salvation is! Am I to believe this? Am I really to stand in the same relationship to the Father as He? This is what He tells me, and it is impossible that He should mislead or deceive me. If He say, “Peace I leave with you,” He adds, “My peace I give unto you.” He says, “That my joy might remain in you.” What does perfect love do? It seeks to associate the person loved with itself in the place where it stands; and this is the way Christ blesses. It is not only that He gives “gifts”; that He does too, for our need; but He introduces us into His own happiness. He says, “That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them.” “That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me.” That is His love—perfect—though we are such feeble vessels. He introduces us into the place on purpose that we may be with Him.
We find too, in this Psalm, that He goes on to the millennium. It is not now “Fear him” only, as we get in Revelation: but, if you fear Him you must praise Him. “Ye that fear the Lord, praise him.”
Now perhaps you would like God to bear with a little sin. No; He can bear with none; He puts it all away, and then puts the best robe on us, and brings us into His house, so that our hearts can go out to Him in liberty. There is truth in the inward parts; sin looked at in the light of God and put away. What peace this gives the heart! Can you look at the cross and say, I do not know whether my sin is forgiven? You know that at the cross all was out; He was made sin there; there God dealt with it in His Person. “Once in the end of the world he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” I know the work is done, for that which He came to do He accomplished perfectly. I do not ask myself what I think of it; I know what God thinks. God has raised Him from the dead; not only accepted Him, but glorified Him as a man, in consequence of His having perfectly glorified Him about sin. Once seen, this clears away a thousand cobwebs of man’s mind and invention. I shall never get another Christ to do the work, and the One who has died never can die again. Blessed be God, He has done the work, and its value never can cease so long as He is before God.
I may be chastened, rebuked, encouraged, and warned; the revelation of His glory may draw me on, but nothing can ever touch the righteousness of God which I am made in Christ. “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father,” and “He is the propitiation for our sins.” But the righteousness is never touched; in virtue of it, instead of imputing, He is our advocate if we fail, and the soul is restored.
How perfect is this! It is hard for us to beheve it, because it is hard for us to beheve in such love. Do you believe that Christ has really brought you into association with Himself? He sets the tune of praise, and you are to follow Him. If you say you do not know whether He has finished the work—if you do not know that you are in perfect light and favour—you cannot sing in tune with Him: He knows well that the work is done; He knows well that He is in perfect light and favour.
I know you will find difficulties, but that is another thing. You will find a grace that reigns through righteousness. He has wrought that perfect work that we may righteously trust Him. How is it with you? Are you reconciled? Can you say that through this work you have peace with God? Naturally, we know, we like pleasure, gain, society, amusements, anything, provided it is not God. Are you reconciled to God? If so, in the midst of all our feebleness, we can fly to God. When temptations arise, where do I go? I go to the strength which is “made perfect in weakness.”
It is sweet to see how the apostle, in Romans 8, applies this love of God to everything. He who has given His own Son, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? He is for us in giving all things. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? He is for us in justifying us. He is for us, whether it be the giving on His side, or the guilt on ours. He is for us as to the trials, or the difficulties. No matter what, if God be for us, who can be against us? When trial comes, we remember that there is a rest. And, if there be a rest, it is for God’s people; and, if it be for God’s people, it is God’s rest, and He will come and take us to it. I may send and fetch a person to me, if I do not care particularly for him; but if I think much about him, I shall go and meet him myself. So He says, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.”