The object of redemption is to bring us nigh to God, as it is written, “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” But what is our state before God when thus brought nigh? The right understanding of this is most important. It is impossible that we could be happy even in the presence of God, if there still existed a thought of His being against us. I need the perfect settled assurance that there is no sin upon me before Him. The sense of responsibility ever makes a person unhappy when there is any question as to sin standing against him: see the case of a servant and his master, or that of a child and its parent—the conscience is miserable if there be upon it the sense of that which will be judged. So God’s presence must be indeed terrible, unless the conscience be perfectly good. If there be happiness for me there, it can only be in the sense of His favour, and of the completeness with which we have been brought back—the perfect assurance of “the worshipper once purged” having “no more conscience of sins.”
God speaks to us according to His estimate of our standing: it may not be our heart’s experience. There is a distinctness between the operation of the Spirit of God in bringing me unto Jesus, bearing witness to me of God’s love, and of the efficacy of what Christ has done, and His operation in my soul in producing in me the love of God. That which is the subject of experience is what is produced in my own soul, whereas that which gives me peace is His testimony to the work of Jesus. A Christian who doubts the Father’s love to him, and who looks for peace to that which passes in his own heart, is doubting God’s truth. The gospel is the revelation God has given of Himself; it displays the love of God towards us, and what is in His heart. I can trust the declaration of what is in God’s heart, and not what I think of myself.
The apostle speaks of a due time: “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” It is almost always true that there is in us a terrible process of breaking the heart, in order that we may be brought to the ascertainment that we are lost and ruined sinners; but the gospel begins at the close of God’s experience of man’s heart, and calls us from that in order that we should have joy and peace from the experience of what is in His heart. Man left alone before the flood, put under the law, in Canaan, indeed under all and every trial of his nature and tendency up to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, was just God’s putting him to the test.
One would have thought, after Adam had been turned out of paradise for transgression, that would have been a sufficient warning; but his first-born became a murderer. We should have supposed that the flood which swept off the workers of iniquity would have repressed, for a time at least, by the terror of judgment, the outbreak of sin; but we find immediately afterwards Noah getting drunk, and Ham dishonouring his father. The devouring fire of Sinai, which made even Moses fear and quake, seemed sufficient to subdue the rebel heart and make it bow beneath God’s hand; but the golden calf was the awful evidence that the heart of man was “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Again in Canaan a part of the world was tried to the utmost to be cultivated, but it would not do. A bad tree producing bad fruit was the only type by which God could set Israel forth. See Isaiah 5. He might dig about it and dung it, but after all these efforts it could only bring forth more bad fruit. At last He said, “I have yet one son, perhaps they will reverence my son,” but man preferred having the world for himself, and so crucified Jesus. Looking to His cross, Christ said, “Now is the judgment of this world,” John 12.
At the crucifixion of Jesus, the veil was rent, and the holiest opened; what God was within the veil then shone out in all its fulness. When grace reveals this to me, I get confidence. I see God holy and expecting holiness—true; but the peace of God is in knowing what He is to us, and not what we are to Him. He knows all the evil of our hearts. Nothing can be worse than the rejection of Jesus—man’s hatred is shewn out there, and God’s love to the full. The wretched soldier (who, in the cowardly impotence of the consciousness that he could with impunity insult the meek and lowly Jesus, pierced His side with a spear), let out, in that disgraceful act, the blood and the water, which was able to cleanse even such as he. Here God’s heart was revealed, what He is to the sinner; and this is our salvation.
Death and judgment teach me redemption. God judged sin indeed in sacrificing His well-beloved Son to put it away. It must be punished: Jesus bore the blow—this rent the veil, and shewed out what God really is. The very blow that let out the holiness of God put away the sin which His holiness judged. The perfect certainty of God’s love and the perfect cleansing of the conscience is that which the defiled and trembling sinner needs. “By the grace of God” Jesus Christ has “tasted death.” Death, the wages of sin, is seen in the cross of Jesus as the consequence of “the grace of God.” “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness.” Were anyone to demand of me a proof of God’s love, I could not give more than God has done in that “He spared not his own Son”: none other could be so great. But then, it might be asked, may not my sin affect it? No, God knew all your sin, and He has provided for it all: “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
In real communion the conscience must be purged; there can be no communion if the soul be not at peace. We read here, “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” There is very frequently the confounding of what faith produces with what faith rests upon. Faith always rests upon God’s estimate of the blood of Jesus as He has revealed it in His word: faith rests on no experience. Jesus said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!”— “by the which will we are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” “We are sanctified,” it is not that which is proposed for our attainment; it was the good will of God to do it, and the work is done, to bring our souls back unto Himself. Jesus has said “it is finished.” But then there must be the knowledge of this also, in order for us to begin to act. You might have a person willing to pay your debts; nay, you might even have them paid; but if you did not know it, you would be just as miserable as before. We are not called upon to believe in a promise that Jesus should come to die and rise again. The work is done. He “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” “when he had by himself purged our sins.” But then this is not sufficient for me: I must know that the work is done; and therefore He sent down the Holy Ghost to be the witness that God is satisfied.
Knowing perfectly their guilt and amount, God has declared, “your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.” Faith rests on this, “God is true”: “he that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.” The Lord said to Israel in Egypt concerning the blood of the paschal lamb, “When I see the blood, I will pass over.” Could there be hesitation if we were in a house marked with the blood on the door-post? Should we not know that He would pass over? Faith is always divine certainty. God has said, “I will remember no more.” This is the ground on which we enter into the holiest. “The worshipper once purged” has “no more conscience of sins.”
God has found His rest in Jesus: our peace and joy depend upon knowing this. Were anything more necessary, it could not be His rest: God is not seeking for something else when at rest. None else could have afforded this. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.” “They are all gone out of the way”: “there was none righteous; no, not one.” But God bore witness unto Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” God is well pleased in Christ; God rests in His Son, not merely in His life, though that was holy and acceptable unto Him, but in His work on the cross. Jesus said, “except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” and that meets our need. When He shews His glory to the angels, He points to what has been done by man. In man was God glorified; as in man, the first Adam, He had been dishonoured. Christ reversed all this: “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him”; which God recognises in straightway glorifying Him. Righteousness cannot be looked for from the creature, but the fruit of righteousness will—the thing itself is only in Christ.
God is not a grudging giver. Did Satan, tempting Eve, question this in the forbidden fruit? He has given His Son; He rests in Him; the sinner likewise rests there. What can man do for me? Nothing. If I were to come to him to deliver me from death, could he help me? No. He might fill my hand with those perishing things which could only swell the triumph of death and decorate the tomb, but there his power ends.
In Jesus God has found His rest—this is mine also; I know it from the testimony of God’s truth. Have you found rest in God’s rest? If you say, I have not, will you say that God has not found His rest there? Will you look to your own heart? In that you can never find it—it is only in Jesus: who had said, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” Would that all knew the perfect rest to be found there!