Familiar as we are with the thought, it is after all a wonderful thing that the Son of God should come into this world of sinners, and still more wonderful that He should die for them. Into this world the Son of God came, fully bringing out what we are, by the way in which He was received; but at the same time His coming was full of joy and blessing for us. He was the immediate object of the express delight of the Father; then He died and rose again, and so brought us into the same place—into light and blessing with Himself.
It is a wonderful thing, in the first place, to have God come into the world, grace and truth in the world; and that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a question of our duties, or of future judgment; but it is into the midst of this world of defilement, violence, corruption, evil, and enmity against God—into the midst of it He came. What makes it so especially wonderful is, that He came as a babe (though miraculously born) as one of ourselves, a real true man in this world of woe. Still there was more: for it is a totally different thing for God to deal with men as children of Adam, as to what they are, and what they can bring to God, and what their righteousness is— there is a great difference between looking at a man as responsible to God—and God dealing with Him according to His own thoughts. This is the truth, when grace is rejected. It is not that God overlooks our responsibility; but it is a totally distinct thing for God to reveal and fulfil the thoughts of His own heart, and for Him to investigate those of ours. Dealing with man on the ground of what he is, and what he has done, goes on to judgment. In Christ he is revealing the thoughts of His heart.
Thus we get His own intentions before ever the world was; the purposes and counsels of God, which were not in the first Adam at all, but in the last. That runs through the whole of scripture from the very beginning. As soon as ever man had sinned, grace opens the door to reveal it: there was the seed of the woman that was to bruise the serpent’s head. Adam was not the seed of the woman. The promise did not refer to the first man at all, nor was it a promise to him; but it was a revelation that there was one coming, the seed of the woman, who should bruise the serpent’s head and destroy his power. Therefore there was ground for faith to lay hold upon. Promises and prophets were always referring to the same thing. “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”: “To him give all the prophets witness.” Prophets had to deal with men, and bring the law to their consciences; but here is one in whom all the thoughts and counsels of God rest, and in grace to poor sinners— “All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us.” “All things are for your sakes,” though all surely for God’s glory.
Another thing in connection with it is, that it is only when we come to Christ, that we can reconcile the purposes of God in the full blessing of life, and man’s responsibility. Heathens and Christians have disputed over it. In the garden of Eden there was the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: life on the one side, responsibility on the other. Man failed, ate of the tree of knowledge, and could not get to the tree of life. Now the law took up the same principle—here again you have responsibility and life—and said, “Do this and live.” The Lord Jesus Christ, the second Man comes, does His Father’s will in everything, and sovereign grace takes up our responsibilities; He takes the consequences of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and He is the life. He bears the consequences of responsibility in His own body on the tree. It perfectly meets all our need, and a great deal more—God is perfectly glorified; and we get eternal life in Him, and the joy and blessing of it all in the full result of all these counsels of God, to be conformed to the image of His Son: nothing short of this.
Though the responsibility is proved, yet to be like the Son of God in glory has nothing to do with my responsibility. No man could have dared to think of such a thing; but it was the mind and counsel of God in Christ. It did not come out till after the cross, for we could not have had any part in it but by the cross. Before ever the world was, it was the thought of God to have a saved and redeemed people brought into the same place as, and associated with, Christ. Of course the preeminence is His. “Thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Who could pretend to be the “fellow” of the Son of God, if it were not the fruit of the work of the Son of God? The mind of God rested on Him in connection with man.
The first Adam is totally set aside, having been tested, tried, and proved, up to the cross; then the Second Man is brought in. God never would set up the last Adam along with the first: the first Adam was a fallen man, the last was the man of God’s counsels, and He sets Him up instead, when we had failed in our responsibility. Titus lays down (Titus 1:1, 2, 3) the other principle. “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” Then it was the hope of eternal life. 2 Timothy 1:9 gives the same truth: “Who hath saved us… not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” These thoughts and purposes of God were given us in Christ Jesus before ever the world was. Now if you look for a moment at Proverbs 8, you find a remarkable passage connected with this. There I see that before the world was created, Christ was there as wisdom, daily the Father’s delight, and having His delights in the sons of men (“delight” is the same thought as “good pleasure”).
We have then man put on his responsibility, and the first thing he does is to fall; he distrusts God, and that before there was a lust. He listens to Satan, he questions the love of God, he eats the fruit, and he falls. Then comes the law; man sets up the golden calf, and broke it. Last of all God sends His Son— “It may be they will reverence my son”; but “now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father”; “they cast him out.” That closed the history of responsibility.
It was when man was a sinner and had broken the law, that the Son of man came into this world in grace. “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” He calls it the “end of the world” because man’s moral history is ended—grace is not ended. Man is not less intellectual than before; he can invent railroads, telegraphs, and I know not what; but what have these things to do with the moral character of God or man, or with heaven? Death has come in, and this is all over. There are no telegraphs in heaven! Men are blinding themselves; there is not one single link with God, of thought or feeling of heart, but plenty with this other world. Remarkable persons there are; but all belongs to the fashion of this world that passeth away, and when man’s breath goes forth his thoughts perish. You may put up a monument to him, but it speaks of death! God has put this world into man’s power and he has invented much; but, are children more obedient, wives more faithful, servants more honest? And since we have had all these developments of intellectual capacity, taking it even on the lowest level, are people happier—more to be trusted? A world in which people cannot trust each other, is a miserable world! What is called progress, does not give more confidence from man to man, to say nothing of God. There is not a single thing in it connected with the soul.
Man’s history was thus closed at the cross. First, lawlessness, then law-breaking, and then enmity to God; then comes that blessed perfect work of the last Adam, who met the need in His own Person, and brought in the full accomplishment of the purposes of God. He has brought man into an entirely new sphere by death and resurrection, and eventually glory, and has settled the whole question of responsibility.
But God speaks to our hearts, and says—and I desire that you should take this to your hearts— ‘Now you must understand what I am doing: I want to get your hearts into perfect confidence with Mine, by the testimony of what is in My heart, and as to your sins I have settled that.’ This is the blessed truth, that when God could not bear my sins, instead of putting me away, He has put my sins away, and I stand before Him according to the value of that which was done in putting them away. What I have on my heart to shew you is, how God brings us into the consciousness that when this work is done, the bad tree is done with. Not only had I sinned, but I was a sinner, and the question of what I am is perfectly settled. It is not character, for there are no two alike; each one of us has a different character. I may say, that is a humble trait in me: so I may say of a crab-tree, the flowers are more beautiful than those on an apple-tree; but what do I care for the pretty flowers when the fruit is bad? I cut the whole thing down! That is what God has done. When I have a spiritual judgment of the thing in my mind, I do not think of the pretty flowers on the wild tree, but of the fruit. So with man: God has sentenced the whole thing entirely; it is all cut down, and grafted with Christ, and then I expect fruit.
When I turn to look at the thoughts and counsels of God, I see His “delights were with the sons of men.” His “good pleasure” was not in angels; they are witnesses of His keeping a creature unfallen, but we are witnesses of His redeeming a creature who has fallen. There is no purpose about angels; He did not take them up, but He became a man. Now we get the moral character of the world tested by Christ. He came in goodness, not requiring anything from men, but bringing goodness to them. If you look at His life, He came in a power which removed all the present effects of sin. Death disappeared before Him; devils, disease, sickness, all fled away. He comes in a power sufficient to remove all the effects of Satan’s power, and He does it in grace. That is the character of Christ’s work: there was no miracle that was not the expression of meeting a need in man, or of setting aside Satan’s power. The cursing of the fig-tree is the only exception; there, responsibility was in question: He cursed the fig-tree, and it is the judgment of man. Israel was under the culture of God. He looked for fruit, finds none, and says, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” The flesh is judged, set aside; and my heart is brought to own it—brought to the acknowledgment of its sentence at the cross.
Let us look at the Lord, the second Man, coming into the world. I see the place that He gets in this world; but when the angels begin to celebrate His praises they go much further. What is the sign of the Son of man coming into this world? First, of course (but on that I do not now dwell), the promises to Israel must be fulfilled; but this is the sign (Luke 2:12), “Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” An inn is the place where a man is measured: it touches the pride of man. The first floor for the rich, the garret for the poor: there was no room for Him! No room in the great inn of this world! He could go into the manger when He was born, to the cross at the end, and meanwhile have not where to lay His head. Is that the way you estimate the blessed Lord Jesus Christ? We are accustomed from education to exalt Him; but that is the world’s estimate still, there is no room for Him! The world is never changed till the heart is changed; it is just what it was then, with the addition since of the rejection of Christ. Is this then your moral estimate of the world, that the Son of God got no place in it? That here He began with the manger, and ended with the cross, and meanwhile had no place to lay His head?
The Son of God comes in grace, and that is what sounds from heaven when the angels praise. It is beautiful to see them delighting in man’s blessing, though they themselves were passed by. They are celebrating His praise— “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” Do our hearts understand and estimate this, that God’s heart was delighting in the sons of men, not by a general mercy, but by His being a man? There I have the object, the Person, before God’s eye. He has come down into such scenes as these, and God says, Sinner though you are, I want your heart to trust Me; and that you may do so, there is My Son come down, and as a babe. God’s love was beyond a human thought. Why do they say, “Glory to God in the highest”? It is because His Son has become a man. It was not in the fact of angels’ glory, but when I get this lowly babe, that has not a place in the world, then the angels come out with this song.
There is nothing like this wonderful fact, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” I get the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, present with me, a poor sinful man, that I may know how God reached me first where I was. He has come down to me as a man, and to prove God’s good pleasure in men. The result, “peace on earth,” is not seen yet, but you have “glory to God in the highest.” I have now this blessed truth, I have learnt where and how God has met me. If a man was a leper, He touched him, when another would have been defiled: He used His holiness in grace to reach the most defiled.
At the end of Matthew 3 He takes up this wondrous place for us: Jesus comes to be baptised of John, and says, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” He takes this place, the moment the Word of God has met the heart of these poor sinners, and He says, I must go with them, because the Spirit of God has wrought in their hearts. It is that which defines the place of the Person. He takes His place amongst us; and mark, He was always the same Person from the manger, at twelve years old, and all along His path. But now He cannot let His people take one step, in what God had wrought in their hearts, without saying, I go before, I go with you. The Christ that could tell the woman all that ever she did was not there for judgment. If a person was convicted of sin, the Lord had been there. What for? To judge me? No, to bring me to Himself in grace. Now mark the wondrous bringing out of this place: “And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is rry beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The heaven opened! There was never a person there before on whom heaven could be opened, and to whom a voice, the Father’s voice, could say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” There was not a thing in Him, but what heaven could delight in. This is to me a wondrously blessed truth. In this world is the Lord Jesus Christ, the man in whom is the Father’s necessary, perfect, delight, and He owns Him as His beloved Son; and then the Holy Ghost comes down to seal and anoint Him. I have the place man must have according to the counsels of God, and heaven is opened on the world.
Another thing comes out, if possible still more wonderful— man gets into this place, which is in the thoughts and counsels of God for him. It is then that Satan is fully manifested. And here I get the first revelation of the Trinity: but it is when man gets into this relationship, with the thoughts and actings of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all in connection with man, and heaven opened: and it is that all the counsels of God might not only be in counsel, but in fulfilment and manifestation. To think that Christ, the Son of God, should thus come, not for a judgment on sinners, but to open heaven for sons! It is the pattern place of the saints. When He had thus publicly taken His place in grace with us, then God says, I will own you as My Son, and the Holy Ghost comes down and seals and anoints Him. And “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.”
But whatever the grace, you will always find that the Person Df Christ is maintained secure. Heaven is opened to Stephen, and he looks up and sees Christ there: he is full of the Holy Ghost, and he looks up to heaven. But heaven looks down on Christ. Here Stephen had an object, but Christ was the object of heaven. His Person is always maintained and secured. Thus we are brought into the same wondrous place as this wonderful One. We always find the Person of Christ pre-eminent, but we find the saints brought into a place where He can take us, and call us the “fellows” of the Son of God, with whom we are brought into fellowship. Take another example of this, the mount of transfiguration. Moses and Elias are shewn in exactly the same glory as Christ, but the Person and place of the Son of God are most fully maintained. Peter thought it a great thing for his master to be like Moses and Elias, but when he says, “Let us make three tabernacles,” the voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.” Again, in the case of the tribute-money, Jesus says to Peter, “Of whom do the kings of the earth take tribute: of their own children or strangers?” “Of strangers.” He was the great king of the temple, and yet, lest He should offend them, He disposed of creation to find money to give, and says, “for me and thee” thus bringing man into association with Himself. His Person is maintained, but this blessed Son of God cares to win the confidence of our hearts.
But though thus in association with man, He was there alone. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone,” John 12:24. There are three glories that are His, brought out there. He is Son of God, chapter 11; He is owned as Son of David, riding upon an ass; then the Greeks come up and the Son of man must be glorified—that is the revelation of Psalm 8. But if He was to be the Son of man, He was to be over all the works of God as man— “He left nothing that is not put under him, but now we see not yet all things put under him.” As yet He is seated on his Father’s throne, not on His own. He is Son and heir. What He is doing now is gathering out the joint-heirs. He is only waiting for that, and when they are all gathered He will come. And the thing that we are all waiting for is that He should come. Then we shall be like Him, and with Him in glory. But He was alone until, as the corn of wheat, He fell into the ground, and died. But the moment redemption is accomplished He can say, “Go to my brethren.” And, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father.”
Mary Magdalene was watching at the sepulchre. She was so near to the heart of Christ that all the world to her was but an empty tomb, when Christ was not there. Her heart was right, though her intelligence and her place were wrong. She was seeking the living among the dead! The disciples went to their own home—sad work! So Mary gets the message, “Go to my brethren.” He called His own sheep by name— “Mary.” Then she thought she had Him back again, but He says to her, “Touch me not”: You cannot have me back for the kingdom yet. He lets Thomas touch Him, but He was telling far more to her. Now the moment that redemption is accomplished, that the work is done, He can say, according to Psalm 22, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren.” Having been heard from “the horns of the unicorns” (a figure of speech of course of impalement, of intense suffering), His first thought is, I must have my brethren in the same place. He was alone till He died, now He was risen into the new place, and He can say, My Father and your Father, My God and your God. “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” It is the song of perfect redemption, and He leads the praises. He puts them into the relationship, and when thus brought and gathered together, He sings in their midst. All this is fulfilled in John 20. Now if Christ is leading our praises, is redemption uncertain? I should be out of tune if I were not joining. Is He to sing one song of praise and I another? That would be discord, not harmony. He has brought us into the same place as Himself, and triumphantly He leads our hearts to join in the song He sings.
Let us see the full and blessed perfectness of that work. We were under the power of sin and Satan, and God’s wrath had come in. What do I see this blessed One doing? Displaying God. He puts Himself alone in our place, to finish and complete that work where God must be glorified on account of sin, and man brought to be saved. If God had passed over the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden, I should have been able to say, sin is no matter, but when I look at the cross I cannot. There I see God perfectly glorified in every respect by a Man, and so much the more because sin was there. If God had cut off Adam and Eve, it would have been righteous, but no declaration of His love. So it was not possible for the cup to pass from Him; and at the cross I get God’s full dealing with sin in righteousness, but with infinite love. It is beyond our need. God’s majesty was maintained where all had been trampled in the dust, and now the Son of man is gone into the glory of God, and is sitting on the Father’s throne, the witness that love has had its way, that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
I have the pattern then, when the Lord was upon earth, of my place with Him. I see the work done on the cross, that was needed to put me into it, and then I learn what the work is worth. It is worth the glory of God in heaven. And now I have the place before God, which is the consequence of that. I can rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and I have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby I cry, “Abba, Father.” He has brought us into the place that the counsels of God required. We are in relationship to God as a Father, and Christ is the first-born among many brethren. He brings us into this in John 17: “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them … that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Then speaking of the present state, He says, “I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.” The Holy Ghost thus conducts down the fulness of the Father’s love to the Son into our hearts. It is perfect.
It is all unutterable grace, and therefore humbles us to the dust. But, has not God a right to have thoughts for Himself? Surely He has. He is going to shew “the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us by Christ Jesus,” and if so, nothing is too good for me. Can you think that it is so? What else can I think? Shall I think my own thoughts when He has sent His Son to die for me? The poor prodigal thought, “Make me as one of thy hired servants,” but never says it when he comes to his father. He confesses his sins, of course, but when he has had the kiss and has been clothed, there are no more thoughts of the son. All is the effect of the thoughts of the Father, so that even the servants are rejoicing that the son is brought back. What the Father thinks has come out. I can now say, with a purged conscience, I am nothing; but I am loved as Jesus is loved; not only saved by Him, but blest by Him: “Thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” Is this where our thoughts are? He passes on everything that was His to us, though it may be we are toiling along down here. If I walk in the Spirit, if my mind is full of Christ, I have no occasion to think of myself at all. If I have not to judge myself, I can think of Him; but if I fail, then I have to humble and judge myself. And the normal state of a Christian is to do all “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” It may be the commonest affairs of daily life, buying and selling, furnishing my house, or dressing my body; but it is a very simple rule and cuts away a great deal.
We are sanctified to the obedience of Christ. Let me say one word on this obedience. I say of my child, who wants to go another way, but who yields to me, It is very pleasant to see such obedience: but it was not so with Christ. He never had a will to wish to go the other way. When the tempter came to Him, he said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” What was His answer? It was as though He said, Nay, I am a servant, I cannot command, I obey; “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” That is the obedience of Christ. The Father’s will was His motive for everything. There are thousands of things we do from habit, and we say we must do them: there is no “must” for me, but Christ’s will. I have to learn what His will is; for we are made epistles of Christ, and the path we are to walk in is to manifest the life of Jesus in our bodies. Everything I do should be the expression of the allegiance of my heart to Christ; and the manifestation of Him to others. The standard of walk is, what is “worthy of the Lord,” not of man. Sometimes it is very difficult to be peaceful, patient, gentle, when a man wrongs and insults one; but were you not the enemy of God, and did not God forgive you when you were His enemy? Well, you forgive your enemy. I quite understand the difficulties, but we have the blessed privilege of walking as He walked. If you want to do this, go and study Christ, learn what His path was down here, after you have learned your place in Him on high. It is a great comfort that, in looking at Christ, I not only see the thing I ought to be, but I get the thing I ought to be, “grace for grace.” “We all with open face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” There is real growth there, not in fitness and acceptance, but in likeness to Christ, and it ought to be growth every instant. We are in this place of Christ then before God; and what I would press upon you is to study Christ, so that we may be like Him here. There is nothing that so fills the soul with blessing and encouragement or that so sanctifies: nothing which so gives the living sense of divine love, that gives us courage. The Lord give us this courage, and enable us to study Him. “He that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”