In order fully to understand the meaning of this scripture, and the circumstance for which this feast, to which Jesus went up, is a type, we must, in the first place, see the way in which He is presented to us in Scripture—at present as an absent Lord. Under an anticipated sense of this absence we find Him comforting His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me”; consequent upon that discourse with His disciples, wherein He says, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards.” And when Peter under a dread of that absence, exclaimed, “Lord, why, cannot I follow thee now?” Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” You shall not enjoy My bodily presence, it is true; but, though absent, believe in Me. Ye believe in God without seeing Him; now believe also in Me: though I go away from you, I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man takes from you. Here, then, is now the position of the believer. Jesus has gone, and the believer stands in the apprehension of His absence; his desires are tending toward an absent Lord. He feels his joy still incomplete, because his Beloved is not present; and he is looking for and hastening towards the time when He is to be revealed, and we shall “see him as he is.” But he knows at present he is not where Christ is; he is in a usurped world, where Satan is setting up his kingdom, whose subjects are described as saying, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Here is nothing of the consciousness of the Lord’s absence as felt by the church—no cry for deliverance—no cry for the Lord to come; no such thing as saying, “In this [body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.”
Here we have the character of those who are members of Christ’s body. They are such as have an habitual consciousness that their Lord is absent, that the adversary is present, and that they themselves are in a world which rejected their Lord and is under the usurped dominion of their adversary. Hence they are looking for “a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” And they are believers, who are not looking to receive their portion here from the persons and things of this world. Theirs is an “inheritance reserved” for them, the earnest of which they now receive, not by sight, but by faith— “receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” They experience troubles and trials here, “which are not joyous, but grievous”; but they have the blessed consciousness of the love of the Father brought to them by His well-beloved Son, and of which they partake, through the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.
There are two cities referred to in Scripture. Paul says, in the name of all believers, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” And believers are conscious that they are where the “city is low in a low place.” The other city is “the city of confusion,” or Babylon, which are synonymous terms; this is quite distinct from that city which we seek. The city of confusion, or Babel, cannot then bear any analogy to this city: they are not—they cannot be—united. They are the two opposite corporate systems, irrespective of each other, and opposed to each other.
There is this testimony of the Spirit in the hearts of believers, that, though surrounded with “Great Babylon,” it is not the city to the laws of which they owe or practise obedience; that their city is the “city of God” —the manifestation of which they are looking for.
The believer is conscious that, if he is living bodily in this “city of confusion,” he has really by the Spirit “come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God.” It is to this he belongs; of this city he is a citizen, and for the visible perception of this he is hastening onwards. The Spirit testifies that he has now the visible perception of the other system, dwelling there, but not as belonging to it; but as waiting for that time when “he that shall come will come and will not tarry,” who will then overthrow the dominion of Satan, and reign for ever!
But, besides the absence of the Lord, which this scripture infers, it also evidences the presence of the Holy Ghost with such as do groan under a sense of widowhood (that is, while they are in the wilderness, before coming to the land of Canaan), and particularly points to the latter times, just previous to the coming of Christ, when the outpouring of the Spirit should be peculiarly manifested.
To the understanding of this, it is necessary for us to review the statements of the circumstances in which our Lord was placed at this time. The Jews were coming up to the feast of tabernacles at Jerusalem. “Jesus was in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him”; and for this reason, because He had healed the impotent man, who for thirty-eight years had vainly looked for a cure from the pool of Bethesda—which, like the law, good and salutary in itself, was perfectly useless to him by reason of his inability to use it, his own infirmity entirely disabling him from any hope of cure from it. And so he must ever have remained, had not the Lord passed by and with a word of power commanded him to live. This called forth the envious malice of the Lord’s enemies; and, until He appeared at the feast, He had been still in Galilee.
The feast of tabernacles had not been, nor could it be, kept in the wilderness; and it is one of the remarkable types which manifestly have not yet been fulfilled. This was the third of the three great annual feasts which the Jews held in commemoration of some great event. The time when this was first kept was after their entering into the land of Canaan. The very circumstances of it shewed that it could not be kept in the wilderness. It was to continue for seven days, and also on the eighth day, which was to be a great sabbath. It was to be kept in memorial that they had dwelt in tents; that they had been in the wilderness but were now out of it. It was a day of solemn assembly—the ingathering, the acknowledgment that, though they had been “strangers and pilgrims,” or wanderers in a foreign country, yet now they were settled in the land whither they had been journeying all the time they had been in the wilderness; and therefore we see that this is still an unfulfilled type in the Christian dispensation; for real facts testify, that as the feast of tabernacles could not be kept until they had come out of the wilderness state, it is still to us an unfulfilled type, and that the third great type, which was to witness the gathering of the people to their own land, waits for its final accomplishment.
The feast of the passover, which commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage by the slaying of the lamb and the sprinkling of blood, and prefigured the redemption of the church by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, has been accomplished, as far as the absolute fact of His death and satisfaction for sin, in raising us from more than Egyptian bondage. The results have not indeed, nor will they be, fully accomplished, till the last redeemed sinner is in glory. But the positive fact demonstrably proves that it has had a definite fulfilment.
The feast of weeks, or Pentecost, an offering of thanksgiving to the Lord for the increase of the firstfruits of the harvest, has had, so far as the absolute fact, a plain fulfilment, when the first-fruits of the Christian church were seen—the manifestation of the increase of the Spirit in His descent on the disciples on the day of Pentecost—the first-fruits of the finished work of Christ. Here it has been in part fulfilled. The results have not all been accomplished; the effects are still going and will continue to go on, though it has had in some measure its positive and ostensible accomplishment. But in no sense has the type of the feast of tabernacles been fulfilled; it remains yet to be accomplished, when the true Israelites, having left the wilderness, are brought into their own land, and commemorate with loud praises their blessed entrance.
The circumstances which occurred at these feasts prove also the fact of their fulfilment. In the time of the passover, and the feast accompanying it, there was to be offered a lamb, without blemish or spot, and on the morrow after the sabbath an unbroken offering, a sheaf of the first-fruits, exactly answering to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, as a lamb without any blemish, and presenting at His resurrection an unbroken offering— “the first-fruits of them that slept.”
Now, at the feast of Pentecost, an offering was made of two wave loaves, mixed with leaven: and in the fulfilment of this type we see the wonderful contrast between it and that offered on the day of atonement. The Spirit descended on the disciples in the realisation of this figure; but, the excellency being put into earthen vessels, it was leavened; that is, it was mixed with the corruption of nature—therefore, a leavened cake. Whereas, in the former type, it was not a leavened but an unleavened offering, a sheaf of the first-fruits; wonderfully prefiguring the offering of Him, who had no stain or spot of sin, who saw no corruption, and in whom there was no leaven mixed.
Now there would have been no atonement had the paschal lamb been in any way blemished; but being faultless and then sacrificed, it was accepted, in that it was without blemish.
The feast of tabernacles, which is yet to be commemorated, was to be held in the land of Canaan, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when the fruit of the land was gathered in. It was after the harvest and vintage were over; which shews that, as yet, it could not have its fulfilment, but waits for it in the closing scene, when the saints “shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” having “put on their house which is from heaven,” that is, their resurrection bodies. And then shall come the time of gladness, of rest, and of fulness, to the church now free from all her enemies.
But now, concerning the Lord’s going up to this feast of tabernacles which was at hand, and which was confessedly an unfulfilled type, His brethren said to Him, “Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world.”
This was pressed upon Him by His brethren, who did not believe on Him: “Shew thyself to the world” —exhibit Thyself. They wanted a manifestation of Himself at that time, adequate to the claims He made; an indiscriminate revelation of Himself to all the world, proposing to Him to shew Himself then. But Jesus said, “My time is not yet come.” That was not His time to exhibit Himself openly; but the time is fast approaching, which will be to the joy of His saints, and the terror of the ungodly. Then will He exhibit Himself, when “every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” “Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” This will be the time when He shall declare Himself openly. But as yet He has not come to confound the world by the manifestation of Himself openly; and this, to a world lying in wickedness, is mercy—real longsuffering—the very height of forbearance; for when He does come, it is to thrust out of His dominion all that offend, all that do iniquity—all that practise or love sin: and why? Because He is holiness itself, and He cannot look at sin; and where He is, sin cannot find a place. And therefore His very coming must sweep, with the besom of destruction, all the refuges of lies, and everything that is opposed to holiness. This forbearance therefore is comparative happiness. And well it is for the saints now, that the Lord did not act on the suggestion of His brethren, and shew Himself then. Well it is for them that it was not His time. The Lord’s long-suffering was their salvation: otherwise they never would have been gathered out, and translated into another kingdom; nor would they who are yet to be gathered out still see Him waiting to be gracious, entreating them to come unto Him to be saved; they would never have heard that the Lord went up, as He did at this feast, and proclaimed, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”
Blessed, very blessed is it, then, for the world, for the saints, and for those who are yet to be gathered in, that the Lord did not shew Himself openly at the feast, “because his time was not yet come.” He went up however, but secretly. His very discourse— “I go not up yet to this feast”—shewed that it was to have a positive fulfilment, when there would be a consciousness of having been in the wilderness, but now rejoicing in being out of it. “Shew thyself to the world” was the request of His brethren. This He refused; but He went up secretly, and taught at the feast, inviting all to come and partake of His mercy, before He should disclose Himself openly.
In consequence of the effect the Lord’s miracles had made upon the people, the Pharisees were enraged, and sent officers to take Him; and the Lord says, “Yet a little while am I with you.” There is a peculiar display of affection in this, as if He would call upon them, while they have the light, to believe in it, to walk in it, and so be saved. And He adds, “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me.” There is a time coming when you will be glad to find me; you now seek me in ill-will, in enmity, in malice, but the time will come when you will endeavour to find me from a very different motive. And He says precisely the same to His disciples, “Ye shall seek me, and, as I said unto the Jews, whither I go, ye cannot come.” Such, therefore, is the present position of the people of God: they are where Christ manifestly is not; and where He is, there they cannot come as yet. It is painfully true, it is sorrowfully true, that this is their experience low. They are not with Jesus, though the Lord in mercy makes it up to them; by the earnest of it which He puts within them, they have the certainty that they shall be with Him. This is the desire of their souls; this constitutes their hope of glory, to be in the presence of Christ; to see “him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood”; to “see him as he is,” and “to be like him.”
This is what we are looking for, if we are believers. We have, it is true, while here, another Comforter, a blessed Comforter; but His very teaching and instruction leads us to desire more of Him, and more of the Father, and of Jesus; and He sends forth our affections towards Jesus, and leads us to desire His presence; just as here, with sensible objects, where we really love, we are longing to be in the presence of the object; so, the indwelling of the Spirit, who is love, draws out our affections towards Jesus, making us practically and painfully conscious of the present truth of Christ’s words, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.”
Now, brethren, I ask you, Have you come to the sorrowful acknowledgment and perception of Christ’s words? Are you conscious that you are in a distinct position from the present system of things in this “city of confusion,” and that you are opposed to it in affections, desires, and pursuits? That your affections are carried away to Him who has departed: Him whom the world rejected—Him whom the world turned out, and left itself in the darkness which it loved? Are you conscious that the night is far spent? that the day, the glorious day of His appearing, is at hand?
We, brethren, are not of the night, nor of darkness. But are we walking as children of the light, and of the day? We know it is the night now, because the “Sun of righteousness” is absent. His glory is hid, and His beams are seen obscurely even by the keenest spiritual vision. But are our desires intensely turned towards the returning light? Are we waiting for it “more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning”?
The question with our souls, brethren, is, whether there is this apprehension—this spiritual apprehension, of what the Lord Jesus is to the soul, so as to be sensible of our state at present, as living on an absent Lord? “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” said Christ. Christ, our light, is not visible with us, but He is coming; the day-star may be hid till the day-dawn appears, but then shall “the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”
This is what the believer is hastening towards; he is longing for the day—the night is not his joy—it is not his happiness. “They that sleen, sleep in the night”; but he is not of the night, and therefore can get no enjoyment from the things of the night. But he waits for the day-star—Him who, though He has hitherto refrained from openly manifesting Himself to the world, yet has revealed Himself in the hearts of His people, causing them to delight, to glory in, and to love, an absent Lord, more than all sensible and present objects, delights, and enjoyments. And in this position is the believer set at present, waiting for the glory, of which he has the earnest in his soul: “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.”
This great feast to which the Lord was going up was very memorable to the Jews from the several times of its celebration. At the time of the completion of Solomon’s temple, when nothing more was wanting to finish it—at that same time was the feast of the seventh month— “a solemn assembly,” in which the people were “joyful and glad of heart.” Also, on the return of the captives from Babylon into their own land, they discovered by the book of the law that it was the exact period when this feast should be observed; and we find in Nehemiah 8, that it was celebrated with “very great gladness.”
For the type to be fulfilled literally and spiritually we must look forward to that time when the spiritual temple will be completed; when every precious stone shall be placed therein, and when “he shall bring forth the head-stone with shoutings, Grace, grace unto it”; and also for that time, when there shall be nothing to keep us from our own home, and when our souls shall be filled with joy and gladness and thanksgiving on getting up out of the wilderness. But we are not yet there; and therefore the Lord has prepared, and wonderfully given, that which is to be the very comfort and stay of our souls while in this wilderness: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Before this is set up in a believer, he has no refreshing perception of union with the living fountain. What refreshed the children of Israel during their long and toilsome marches through the wilderness? The command of God went forth to Moses, and upon striking the rock the waters flowed, “the rivers ran in dry places “; they found living waters even in the wilderness. This was to satisfy them until they came to the desired land. And so the Lord Jesus was smitten; and from that Rock flow all the living streams which are given for the refreshment and strengthening of His people while here.
Now however sad it is that our Lord is absent from you, still, while you are here resting on the smitten rock for support and comfort, your wants can always be supplied. Christ can cause you to overflow with the spiritual apprehension of His refreshing grace. He will make you so one with Himself, that the fountain, the inexhaustible fountain which He contains, shall be so indwelling in you, as to be ever flowing, ever streaming, even in the wilderness; not keeping in, but flowing out in joyful acknowledgments of spiritual refreshment. It was this that Christ promised He would give after His departure: “This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” It is thus that Jesus makes His people partakers of His fulness even here. It is true, they have not all the joy; but when the wilderness shall be left behind, then will they enter into all the joy of the Lord. In the meanwhile the Holy Spirit, who makes them conscious that they are still not in the land of rest, fills them with all that can compensate for its wants while here below, in causing, by His indwelling, “rivers of living water” to flow forth: this is the joy of the Holy Ghost.
In order that the presence of God the Holy Ghost should be thus experienced, Christ absented Himself for a time from His own. “It is expedient for you,” said He, “that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you”; you knew Him when absent, but you shall shortly have Him dwelling in you, so as to cause you to flow forth in living water. This was the promise He gave on the last day of the feast—the promise of the Holy Ghost, which “they that believe on him should receive”; given now, as a witness to the ascension of Christ, after having accomplished redemption work (for it is said, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified”) after He had entered into His rest of eternal glory; which, though it has been confounded with that given at the new birth, is nevertheless perfectly distinct from it. For Paul clearly states this to the Galatians, when he says, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts”; not to make, but because ye are sons already. Therefore, you should enjoy present fellowship with the Father and the Son in glory, by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, whose powerful presence would lead the soul to the enjoyment of the unseen realities of glory which He testifies within; leading, also, to the contemplation of the Person, work, and offices of the Lord Jesus, as undertaken for our redemption—as the bearer and confessor of, and atonement for, sin; as “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person,” which was given them after they had believed; “in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” which was given, not to believe, but as an “earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.”
This was consequent upon Jesus being glorified— “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise”: and it was not an influence externally, but was within them, dwelling in them: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you?” And His personality is also declared: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed.”
There is a distinct mention of this, as of something more than had hitherto been experienced, which in the words of the text is expressly said to have been “not yet given”; and the reason assigned— “because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” It was to be given to those that believed. This gift then is the seal of the Spirit, attesting Christ’s finished work—His resurrection, ascension, and glorification—causing us to enter into the apprehension of those heavenly things which He reveals to us. The blessed Comforter was given for our refreshment in the wilderness.
“Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” to make known these great things by the indwelling of the Spirit in the hearts of us believers, enabling us to know Christ glorified; and, from His glory, sending down the Spirit of the Father in our hearts in attestation of it—who reveals all the glory from which He came. He comes as the gift of Christ from the Father, and gives us to know the fellowship and consolation of the Father’s love, testifying our claim to this fellowship, in that we have been made sons. And though we know not here the extent of the blessedness that awaits us, yet we know that, when Christ “shall appear, we shall be like him”; when we shall obtain the glory that is reserved for us.
These are the things which the Spirit makes known, even in the wilderness; all consequent upon the Father’s love. “Ye are no more servants, but sons”; and therefore hath He (the Father) “sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” And, indeed, it is only in the position as sons that we can recognise anything of the love of the Father, or the union subsisting between us and Himself, as described in John 17, in the words of Jesus: “That the world may believe that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” And again, “I have declared unto them thy name … that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
There is one great truth made known to us by the Spirit, that Christ was sent from the Father for the purpose, not only of saving sinners, of saving “the ungodly,” but of bringing them into His Father’s house, and unto the eternal favour of God—into the very blessedness with Himself in the Father’s love—” joint-heirs “with Himself in the glory, and like Him. “We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” The consummation of this will be seen in that day, when we are brought into the blessedness of manifested union with Christ; partakers with Him in the conscious enjoyment of the Father’s love, in the glory of Jesus—partakers of the same glory. “Father, I will,” said Jesus, “that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am”; “and the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Everything that Christ has, except and only His essential Godhead, is His people’s—all that glory and blessedness is theirs. And very blessedly does the Holy Ghost enable those whom He teaches to have in present apprehension that that glory is there for them.
What fills the soul of a Christian with bitterness is the practical experience that he is not yet come up out of the wilderness—that he is not yet in the glory. But, to refresh and comfort him, the Lord gives him within himself while here those “living waters,” as in the wilderness of old; by virtue of their identity and oneness with Christ, who is the Rock, the waters necessarily flow from thence. “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” —rivers of blessedness flowing from his soul, as being united to the living fountain.
Could your hearts contain the thousandth part of that love which the Spirit could impart, your gratitude would overflow exceedingly, in the apprehension that, even in the desert, you have constantly within you a witness of the overflowing fulness of Christ’s love, the fulness of His fellowship, and the fulness of His joy.
But, brethren, when do we see any overflowing witness to the inward testimony of the fulness of Christ’s joy? Where are those who should be a separated people, unto the Lord, rejoicing in the Lord always? Where is the evidence that “we are not of the night, nor of darkness”? O let us testify that we are in a position of wondrous blessedness, even here, till that day comes when we shall know even as also we are known; and when not only Christ, as the first-fruits, shall enter into His glory, but, the harvest being past, the ingathering of all the saints shall be accomplished, and Christ’s glory and joy will then be full; for He shall appear in the midst, and see of the “travail of his soul, and be satisfied”; for they shall all be there, and each will have entered “into the joy of his Lord.” Until the reality shall come, in what way should they act who are the “temple of the Holy Ghost”—of Him who is shewing them what will then take place? What practical use should they make of the knowledge of Him, who was smitten for them, that “rivers of living water” should flow from them?
Brethren, I would ask you, Are you grieving the Spirit? Are the things that you are occupied with such as would find a place amidst these living waters? Are your associations and desires capable of being assimilated with these pure streams, and together to flow unruffled and untainted? Or are its operations restrained by your assimilation to what opposes it?
Brethren, I would ask, Is there this joy occasioned by the indwelling of the Spirit within you, even under the consciousness of the Lord’s absence? And is the fountain within you flowing over at the contemplation of the near approach of your Lord? Or, sad to inquire, brethren, are you grieving the Spirit by indulging the flesh? Have you deprived yourselves of the comfortable perception of His overflowing fulness within you, by gratifying “the old man “—engaging in those things which the Spirit abhors—tempting Him to leave you low and barren? for where there is a cleaving to, and seeking of, the things of sense, it necessarily keeps us lifeless and languid, even sometimes as though there were no Spirit in us at all. Is there not, in some of you, a practical grieving of the Spirit? Are you conscious there is in you this fulness—this overflowing fulness—from the glorification of Christ? Why are you not conscious of it? Only because you are practically disowning Him. Hence the darkness, the deadness, nay, the very doubtings, whether you are in the faith or no; and all this, by following the things of this world, which lead to darkness and cannot bear the light.
The Spirit is overflowing like “rivers of living water” from the soul of him in whom He has entered, flowing on all around: it may be on the good soil, or on the barren sand; but still His nature and power is ever to flow forth. Oh! brethren, we are losing much of the joy and consolation of this divine Spirit, by our own inconsistencies, and love of what grieves Him.
It is a solemn truth, dear friends, that “if you have not the Spirit of Christ, you are none of his.” And is it possible that, possessing Him, you can remain strangers to His mind, and not manifest your possession of this great gift? It is a sad and solemn but nevertheless a certain truth, that if you have not the Spirit, you are not manifestly Christ’s, and are yet in your sins.
Be not deceived. Christ says that, except a man be born again, he can neither see nor enter into the kingdom of God. See to it then, that ye seek to be made partakers of this gift, which is the promise of the Father. It is madness for you to think of getting to happiness in any other way. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth”; and when He has given you power to believe, He will be in you, as “a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” and rivers of living water ever flowing. Be persuaded, ere the day of the Lord’s vengeance comes, and you be consigned, with the tares and the workers of wickedness, into everlasting destruction.