THE BELIEVER NOT AN ORPHAN
"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." -John 14:18
YOU will notice that the margin reads, "I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you." In the absence of our Lord Jesus Christ, the disciples were like children deprived of their parents. During the three years in which He had been with them, He had solved all their difficulties, borne all their burdens, and supplied all their needs. Whenever a case was too hard or too heavy for them, they took it to Him. When their enemies well nigh overcame them, Jesus came to the rescue, and turned the tide of battle. They were all happy and safe enough whilst the Master was with them; He walked in their midst like a father amid a large family of children, making all the household glad. But now He was about to be taken from them by an ignominious death, and they might well feel that they would be like little children deprived of their natural and beloved protector. Our Saviour knew the fear that was in their hearts, and before they could express it, He removed it by saying, "You shall not be left alone in this wild and desert world; though I be absent in the flesh, yet I will be present with you in a more efficacious manner; I will come to you spiritually, and you shall derive from My spiritual presence even more good than you could have had from My bodily presence, had I still continued in your midst."
Observe, first, here is an evil averted: "I will not leave you orphans;" and, in the second place, here is a consolation provided: "I will come to you."
I. First, here is, an evil averted.
Without their Lord, believers would, apart from the Holy Spirit, be like other orphans, unhappy and desolate. Give them what you might, their loss could not have been recompensed. No number of lamps can make up for the sun's absence; blaze as they may, it is still night. No circle of friends can supply to a bereaved woman the loss of her husband; without him, she is still a widow. Even thus, without Jesus, it is inevitable that the saints should be as orphans; but Jesus has promised in the text that we shall not be so; the one only thing that can remove the trial He declares shall be ours, "I will come to you."
Now remember, that an orphan is one whose parent is dead. This in itself is a great sorrow, if there were no other. The dear father, so well beloved, was suddenly smitten down with sickness; they watched him with anxiety; they nursed him with sedulous care; but he expired. The loving eye is closed in darkness for them. That active hand will no longer toil for the family. That heart and brain will no longer feel and think for them. Beneath the green grass the father sleeps, and every time the child surveys that hollowed hillock his heart swells with grief. Beloved, we are not orphans in that sense, for our Lord Jesus is not dead. It is true He died, for one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and forthwith came thereout blood and water, a sure evidence that the pericardium had been pierced, and that the fountain of life had been broken up. He died, 'tis certain, but He is not dead now. Go not to the grave to seek Him. Angel voices say, "He is not here, for He is risen." He could not be holden by the bands of death. We do not worship a dead Christ, nor do we even think of Him now as a corpse. That picture on the wall, which the Romanists paint and worship, represents Christ as dead; but oh! it is so good to think of Christ as living, remaining in an existence real and true, none the less living because He died, but all the more truly full of life because He has passed through the portals of the grave, and is now reigning for ever. See then, dear friends, the bitter root of the orphan's sorrow is gone from us, for our Jesus is not dead now. No mausoleum enshrines His ashes, no pyramid entombs His body, no monument records the place of His permanent sepulchre.
We are not orphans, for "the Lord is risen indeed." The orphan has a sharp sorrow springing out of the death of his parent, namely, that he is left alone. He cannot now make appeals to the wisdom of the parent who could direct him. He cannot run, as once he did, when he was weary, to climb the paternal knee. He cannot lean his aching head upon the parental bosom. "Father," he may say, but no voice gives an answer. "Mother," he may cry, but that fond title, which would awaken the mother if she slept, cannot arouse her from the bed of death. The child is alone, alone as to those two hearts which were its best companions. The parent and lover are gone. The little ones know what it is to be deserted and forsaken. But we are not so; we are not orphans. It is true Jesus is not here in body, but His spiritual presence is quite as blessed as His bodily presence would have been. Nay, it is better, for supposing Jesus Christ to be here in person, you could not all come and touch the hem of His garment,--not all at once, at any rate. There might be thousands waiting all the world over to speak with Him; but how could they all reach Him, if He were merely here in body? You might all be wanting to tell Him something, but in the body He could only receive some one or two of you at a time."He lives, the great Redeemer lives,
What joy the blest assurance gives!"
"Come, make your wants, your burdens known."
You have but to make known your needs to have them all
supplied, Christ waits to be gracious in the midst of this
assembly. He is here with His golden hand, opening that hand to
supply the wants of every living soul. "Oh!" saith one, "I am poor
and needy." Go on with the quotation. "Yet the Lord thinketh upon
me." "Ah" saith another, "I have besought the Lord thrice to take
away a thorn in the flesh from me." Remember what he said to Paul,
"My grace is sufficient for thee." You are not left without the
strength you want. The Lord is your Shepherd still. He will
provide for you till He leads you through death's dark valley, and
brings you to the shining pastures upon the hill-tops of glory.
You are not destitute, you need not beg an asylum from an ungodly
world by bowing to its demands, or trusting its vain promises, for
Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you.
The orphan, too, is left without the instruction which is most suitable for a child. We may say what we will, but there is none so fit to form a child's character as the parent. It is a very sad loss for a child to have lost either father or mother in its early days; for the most skilful preceptor, though he may do much, by the blessing of God very much, is but a stop-gap, and but half makes up for the original ordinance of Providence, that the parent's love should fashion the child's mind. But, dear friends, we are not orphans; we who believe in Jesus are not left without an education. Jesus is not here Himself, it is true. I dare say some of you wish you could come on Lord's-days, and listen to Him! Would it not be sweet to look up to this pulpit, and see the Crucified One, and to hear Him preach? Ah! so you think, but the apostle says, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more."
It is most for your profit that you should receive the Spirit of truth, not through the golden vessel of Christ in His actual presence here, but through the poor earthen vessels of humble servants of God like ourselves. At any rate, whether we speak, or an angel from heaven, the speaker matters not; it is the Spirit of God alone that is the power of the Word, and makes that Word to become vital and quickening to you. Now, you have the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is so given, that there is not a truth which you may not understand. You may be led into the deepest mysteries by His teaching. You may be made to know and to comprehend those knotty points in the Word of God which have hitherto puzzled you. You have but humbly to look up to Jesus, and His Spirit will still teach you. I tell you, though you are poor and ignorant, and perhaps can scarcely read a word in the Bible; for all that, you may be better instructed in the things of God than doctors of divinity, if you go to the Holy Spirit, and are taught of Him. Those who go only to books and to the letter, and are taught of men, may be fools in the sight of God; but those who go to Jesus, and sit at His feet, and ask to be taught of His Spirit, shall be wise unto salvation. Blessed be God, there are not a few amongst us of this sort. We are not left orphans; we have an Instructor with us still.
There is one point in which the orphan is often sorrowfully reminded of his orphanhood, namely, in lacking a defender. It is so natural in little children, when some big boy molests them, to say, "I'll tell my father!" How often did we use to say so, and how often have we heard from the little ones since, "I'll tell mother!" Sometimes, the not being able to do this is a much severer loss than we can guess. Unkind and cruel men have snatched away from orphans the little which a father's love had left behind; and in the court of law there has been no defender to protect the orphan's goods. Had the father been there, the child would have had its rights, scarcely would any have dared to infringe them; but, in the absence of the father, the orphan is eaten up like bread, and the wicked of the earth devour his estate. In this sense, the saints are not orphans. The devil would rob us of our heritage if he could, but there is an Advocate with the Father who pleads for us. Satan would snatch from us every promise, and tear from us all the comforts of the covenant; but we are not orphans, and when he brings a suit-at-law against us, and thinks that we are the only defendants in the case, he is mistaken, for we have an Advocate on high. Christ comes in and pleads, as the sinners' Friend, for us; and when He pleads at the bar of justice, there is no fear but that His plea will be of effect, and our inheritance shall be safe. He has not left us orphans.
Now I want, without saying many words, to get you who love the Master to feel what a very precious thought this is, that you are not alone in this world; that, if you have no earthly friends, if you have none to whom you can take your cares, if you are quite lonely so far as outward friends are concerned, yet Jesus is with you, is really with you, practically with you, able to help you, and ready to do so, and that you have a good and kind Protector close at hand at this present moment, for Christ has said it: "I will not leave you orphans."
II. Secondly, there is, a consolation provided: The remedy by which the evil is averted is this, our Lord Jesus said, "I will come to you."
What does this mean? Does it not mean, from the connection, this--"I will come to you by My Spirit"? Beloved, we must not confuse the Persons of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is not the Son of God; Jesus, the Son of God, is not the Holy Spirit.
They are two distinct Persons of the one Godhead. But yet there is such a wonderful unity, and the blessed Spirit acts so marvellously as the Vicar of Christ, that it is quite correct to say that, when the Spirit comes, Jesus comes, too, and "I will come to you," means "I, by My Spirit, who shall take My place, and represent Me, I will come to be with you." See then, Christian, you have the Holy Spirit in you and with you to be the Representative of Christ. Christ is with you now, not in person, but by His Representative,--an efficient, almighty, divine, everlasting Representative, who stands for Christ, and is as Christ to you in His presence in your souls. Because you thus have Christ by His Spirit, you cannot be orphans, for the Spirit of God is always with you. It is a delightful truth that the Spirit of God always dwells in believers;--not sometimes, but always. He is not always active in believers, and He may be grieved until His sensible presence is altogether withdrawn, but His secret presence is always there. At no single moment is the Spirit of God wholly gone from a believer. The believer would die spiritually if this could happen, but that cannot be, for Jesus has said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Even when the believer sins, the Holy Spirit does not utterly depart from him, but is still in him to make him smart for the sin into which he has fallen. The believer's prayers prove that the Holy Spirit is still within him. "Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me," was the prayer of a saint who had fallen very foully, but in whom the Spirit of God still kept His residence, notwithstanding all the foulness of his guilt and sin.
But, beloved, in addition to this, Jesus Christ by His Spirit makes visits to His people of a peculiar kind. The Holy Ghost becomes wonderfully active and potent at certain times of refreshing. We are then especially and joyfully sensible of His divine power. His influence streams through every chamber of our nature, and floods our dark soul with His glorious rays, as the sun shining in its strength. Oh, how delightful this is! Sometimes we have felt this at the Lord's table. My soul pants to sit with you at that table, because I do remember many a happy time when the emblems of bread and wine have assisted my faith, and kindled the passions of my soul into a heavenly flame. I am equally sure that, at the prayer-meeting, under the preaching of the Word, in private meditation, and in searching the Scriptures, we can say that Jesus Christ has come to us. What! have you no hill Mizar to remember?--
"No Tabor-visits to recount,
When with Him in the Holy Mount"?
Oh, yes! some of these blessed seasons have left their impress upon our memories, so that, amongst our dying thoughts, will mingle the remembrance of those blessed seasons when Jesus Christ manifested Himself unto us as He doth not unto the world. Oh, to be wrapped in that crimson vest, closely pressed 'to His open side!' Oh, to put our finger into the print of nails, and thrust our hand into His side! We know what this means by past experience.
"Dear Shepherd of Thy chosen few,
Thy former mercies here renew."
Permit us once again to feel the truth of the promise, "I
will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." And now,
gathering up the few thoughts I have uttered, let me remind you,
dear friends, that every word of the text is instructive: "I will
not leave you orphans: I will come to you." Observe the "I" there
twice over. "I will not leave you orphans; father and mother may,
but I will not; friends once beloved may turn stony-hearted, but I
will not; Judas may play the traitor, and Ahithophel may betray
his David, but I will not leave you comfortless. You have had many
disappointments, great heart-breaking sorrows, but I have never
caused you any; I--the faithful and the true Witness, the
immutable, the unchangeable Jesus, the same yesterday, to-day, and
for ever, I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you."
Catch at that word, "I," and let your souls say, "Lord, I am not
worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; if Thou hadst said,
'I will send an angel to thee,' it would have been a great mercy,
but what sayest Thou, 'I will come unto thee'? If Thou hadst
bidden some of my brethren come and speak a word of comfort to me,
I had been thankful, but Thou hast put it thus in the first
person, 'I will come unto you.' O my Lord, what shall I say, what
shall I do, but feel a hungering and a thirsting after Thee, which
nothing shall satisfy till Thou shalt fulfil Thine own Word, 'I
will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you'"?
And then notice the persons to whom it is addressed, "I will not leave you comfortless, you, Peter, who will deny Me; you, Thomas, who will doubt Me; I will not leave you comfortless." O you who are so little in Israel that you sometimes think it is a pity that your name is in the church-book at all, because you feel yourselves to be so worthless, so unworthy, He will not leave you comfortless, not even you! "O Lord," thou sayest, "if Thou wouldst look after the rest of Thy sheep, I would bless Thee for Thy tenderness to them, but I--I deserve to be left; if I were forsaken of Thee, I could not blame Thee, for I have played the harlot against Thy love, but yet Thou sayest, 'I will not leave you.'" Heir of heaven, do not lose your part in this promise. I pray you say, "Lord, come unto me, and though Thou refresh all my brethren, yet, Lord, refresh me with some of the droppings of Thy love; O Lord, fill the cup for me; my thirsty spirit pants for it.
"'I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me.'
Now, Lord, fulfil Thy word to Thine unworthy handmaid, as I
stand like Hannah in Thy presence. Come unto me, Thy servant,
unworthy to lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, and only
daring to say, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' Fulfil Thy
promise even to me, 'I will not leave you comfortless; I will come
Take whichever of the words you will, and they each one sparkle and flash after this sort. Observe, too, the richness and sufficiency of the text: "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." He does not promise, "I will send you sanctifying grace, or sustaining mercy, or precious mercy," but He says, what is the only thing that will prevent your being orphans, "I will come to you." Ah! Lord, Thy grace is sweet, but Thou art better. The vine is good, but the clusters are better. It is well enough to have a gift from Thy hand, but oh! to touch the hand itself. It is well enough to hear the words of Thy lips, but oh! to kiss those lips as the spouse did in the Song, this is better still. You know, if there be an orphan child, you cannot prevent its continuing an orphan. You may feel great kindness towards it, supply its wants, and do all you possibly can towards it, but it is an orphan still. It must get its father and its mother back, or else it will still be an orphan. So, our blessed Lord, knowing this, does not say, "I will do this and that for you," but, "I will come to you."
Do you not see, dear friends, here is not only all you can want, but all you think you can want, wrapped up in a sentence, "I will come to you"? "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell;" so that, when Christ comes, in Him "all fulness" comes. "In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," so that, when Jesus comes, the very Godhead comes to the believer.
"All my capacious powers can wish
In Thee doth richly meet;"
and if Thou shalt come to me, it is better than all the gifts
of Thy covenant. If I get Thee, I get all, and more than all, at
once. Observe, then, the language and the sufficiency of the
But I want you to notice, further, the continued freshness and force of the promise. Somebody here owes another person fifty pounds, and he gives him a note of hand, "I promise to pay you fifty pounds." Very well! the man calls with that note of hand to- morrow, and gets fifty pounds. And what is the good of the note of hand now? Why, it is of no further value, it is discharged. How would you like to have a note of hand which would always stand good? That would be a right royal present. "I promise to pay evermore, and this bond, though paid a thousand times, shall still hold good." Who would not like to have a cheque of that sort? Yet this is the promise which Christ gives you, "I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you." The first time a sinner looks to Christ, Christ comes to him. And what then? Why, the next minute it is still, "I will come to you." But here is one who has known Christ for fifty years, and he has had this promise fulfilled a thousand times a year: is it not done with? Oh, no! there it stands, just as fresh as when Jesus first spoke it, "I will come to you." Then we will treat our Lord in His own fashion, and take Him at His word. We will go to Him as often as ever we can, for we shall never weary Him; and when He has kept His promise most, then is it that we will go to Him, and ask Him to keep it more still; and after ten thousand proofs of the truth of it, we will only have a greater hungering and thirsting to get it fulfilled again. This is fit provision for life, and for death, "I will come to you." In the last moment, when your pulse beats faintly, and you are just about to pass the curtain, and enter into the invisible world, you may have this upon your lips, and say to your Lord, "My Master, still fulfil the word on which Thou hast caused me to hope, 'I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.'"
Let me remind you that the text is at this moment valid, and for this I delight in it. "I will not leave you comfortless." That means now, "I will not leave you comfortless now." Are you comfortless at this hour? It is your own fault. Jesus Christ does not leave you so, nor make you so. There are rich and precious things in this word, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you, I will come to you now." It may be a very dull time with you, and you are pining to come nearer to Christ. Very well, then plead the promise before the Lord. Plead the promise as you sit where you are: "Lord, Thou hast said Thou wilt come unto me; come unto me to-night." There are many reasons, believer, why you should plead thus. You want Him; you need Him; you require Him; therefore plead the promise, and expect its fulfilment. And oh! when He cometh, what a joy it is; He is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber with his garments fragrant with aloes and cassia! How well the oil of joy will perfume your heart! How soon will your sackcloth be put away, and the garments of gladness adorn you! With what joy of heart will your heavy soul begin to sing when Jesus Christ shall whisper that you are His, and that He is yours! Come, my Beloved, make no tarrying; be Thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of separation, and prove to me Thy promise true, "I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you."
And now, dear friends, in conclusion, let me remind you that there are many who have no share in the text. What can I say to such? From my soul I pity you who do not know what the love of Christ means. Oh! if you could but tell the joy of God's people, you would not rest an hour without it.
"His worth, if all the nations knew,
Sure the whole world would love Him too."
Remember, if you would find Christ, He is to be found in the
way of faith. Trust Him, and He is yours. Depend upon the merit of
His sacrifice; cast yourselves entirely upon that, and you are
saved, and Christ is yours.
God grant that we may all break bread in the kingdom above, and feast with Jesus, and share His glory! We are expecting His second coming. He is coming personally and gloriously. This is the brightest hope of His people. This will be the fulness of their redemption, the time of their resurrection. Anticipate it, beloved, and may God make your souls to sing for joy!
"'Mid the splendours of the glory
Which we hope ere long to share;
Christ our Head, and we His members,
Shall appear, divinely fair.
Oh, how glorious!
When we meet Him in the air!
"Bright the prospect soon that greets us
Of that long'd-for nuptial day,
When our heavenly Bridegroom meets us
On His kingly, conquering way;
In the glory,
Bride and Bridegroom reign for aye!"
AN ADDRESS AT A COMMUNION SERVICE AT MENTONE
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread." -1st Corinthians 10:16, 17
I WILL read you the text as it is given in the Revised Version:
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the
blood of Christ?" That is to say,--Is it not one form of
expressing the communion of the blood of Christ? "The bread," or
as it is in the margin, "the loaf which we break, is it not a
communion of the body of Christ? seeing that we, who are many, are
one loaf, one body: for we all partake of the one loaf." The word
"loaf" helps to bring out more clearly the idea of unity intended
to be set forth by the apostle.
It is a lamentable fact that some have fancied that this simple ordinance of the Lord's supper has a certain magical, or at least physical power about it, so that, by the mere act of eating and drinking this bread and wine, men can be made partakers of the body and blood of Christ. It is marvellous that so plain a symbol should have been so complicated by genuflexions, adornments, and technical phrases. Can anyone see the slightest resemblance between the Master's sitting down with the twelve, and the mass of the Roman community? The original rite is lost in the super- imposed ritual. Superstition has produced a sacrament where Jesus intended a fellowship. Too many, who would not go the length of Rome, yet speak of this simple feast as if it were a mystery dark and obscure. They employ all manner of hard words to turn the children's bread into a stone. It is not the Lord's supper, but the Eucharist; we see before us no plate, but a "paten"; the cup is a "chalice" and the table is an "altar." These are incrustations of superstition, whereby the blessed ordinance of Christ is likely to be again overgrown and perverted.
What does this supper mean? It means communion: communion with Christ, and communion with one another.
What is communion? The word breaks up easily into union, and its prefix com, which means with, union with. We must, therefore, first enjoy union with Christ, and with His Church, or else we cannot enjoy communion. Union lies at the basis of com- munion. We must be one with Christ in heart, and soul, and life; baptized into His death; quickened by His life, and so brought to be members of His body, one with the whole Church of which He is the Head. We cannot have communion with Christ till we are in union with Him; and we cannot have communion with the Church till we are in vital union with it.
I. The teaching of the Lord's supper is just this--that while we have many ways of communion with Christ, yet the receiving of Christ into our souls as our Saviour is the best way of communion with Him.
I said, dear friends, that we have many ways of communion with Christ; let me show you that it is so.
Communion is ours by personal intercourse with the Lord Jesus. We speak with Him in prayer, and He speaks with us through the Word. Some of us speak oftener with Christ than we do with wife or child, and our communion with Jesus is deeper and more thorough than our fellowship with our nearest friend. In meditation and its attendant thanksgiving we speak with our risen Lord, and by His Holy Spirit He answers us by creating fresh thought and emotion in our minds. I like sometimes in prayer, when I do not feel that I can say anything, just to sit still, and look up; then faith spiritually descries the Well-beloved, and hears His voice in the solemn silence of the mind. Thus we have intercourse with Jesus of a closer sort than any words could possibly express. Our soul melts beneath the warmth of Jesus' love, and darts upward her own love in return. Think not that I am dreaming, or am carried off by the memory of some unusual rhapsody: no, I assert that the devout soul can converse with the Lord Jesus all the day, and can have as true fellowship with Him as if He still dwelt bodily among men. This thing comes to me, not by the hearing of the ear, but by my own personal experience: I know of a surety that Jesus manifests Himself unto His people as He doth not unto the world.
Ah, what sweet communion often exists between the saint and the Well-beloved, when there is no bread and wine upon the table, for the Spirit Himself draws the heart of the renewed one, and it runs after Jesus, while the Lord Himself appears unto the longing spirit! Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. Do you enjoy this charming converse?
Next, we have communion with Christ in His thoughts, views, and purposes; for His thoughts are our thoughts according to our capacity and sanctity. Believers take the same view of matters as Jesus does; that which pleases Him pleases them, and that which grieves Him grieves them also. Consider, for instance, the greatest theme of our thought, and see whether our thoughts are not like those of Christ. He delights in the Father, He loves to glorify the Father: do not we? Is not the Father the centre of our soul's delight? Do we not rejoice at the very sound of His name? Does not our spirit cry, "Abba, Father"? Thus it is clear we feel as Jesus feels towards the Father, and so we have the truest communion with Him. This is but one instance; your contemplations will bring before you a wide variety of topics wherein we think with Jesus. Now, identity of judgment, opinion, and purpose forms the highway of communion; yea, it is communion.
We have also communion with Christ in our emotions. Have you never felt a holy horror when you have heard a word of blasphemy in the street? Thus Jesus felt when He saw sin, and bore it in His own person: only He felt it infinitely more than you do. Have you never felt as you looked upon sinners that you must weep over them? Those are holy tears, and contain the same ingredients as those which Jesus shed when He lamented over Jerusalem. Yes, in our zeal for God, our hatred of sin, our detestation of falsehood, our pity for men, we have true communion with Jesus.
Further, we have had fellowship with Christ in many of our actions. Have you ever tried to teach the ignorant? This Jesus did. Have you found it difficult? So Jesus found it. Have you striven to reclaim the backslider? Then you were in communion with the Good Shepherd who hastens into the wilderness to find the one lost sheep, finds it, lays it upon His shoulders, and brings it home rejoicing. Have you ever watched over a soul night and day with tears? Then you have had communion with Him who has borne all our names upon His broken heart, and carries the memorial of them upon His pierced hands. Yes, in acts of self-denial, liberality, benevolence, and piety, we enter into communion with Him who went about doing good. Whenever we try to disentangle the snarls of strife, and to make peace between men who are at enmity, then are we doing what the great Peace-maker did, and we have communion with the Lord and Giver of peace. Wherever, indeed, we co-operate with the Lord Jesus in His designs of love to men, we are in true and active communion with Him.
So it is with our sorrows. Certain of us have had large fellowship with the Lord Jesus in affliction. "Jesus wept": He lost a friend, and so have we. Jesus grieved over the hardness of men's hearts: we know that grief. Jesus was exceedingly sorry that the hopeful young man turned away, and went back to the world: we know that sorrow. Those who have sympathetic hearts, and live for others, readily enter into the experience of "the Man of sorrows." The wounds of calumny, the reproaches of the proud, the venom of the bigoted, the treachery of the false, and the weakness of the true, we have known in our measure; and therein have had communion with our Lord Jesus.
Nor this alone: we have been with our Divine Master in His joys. I suppose there never lived a happier man than the Lord Jesus. He was rightly called "the Man of sorrows"; but He might, with unimpeachable truth, have been called, "the Man of joys." He must have rejoiced as He called His disciples, and they came unto Him; as He bestowed healing and relief; as He gave pardon to penitents, and breathed peace on believers. His was the joy of finding the sheep, and taking the piece of money out of the dust. His work was His joy: such joy that, for its sake, He endured the cross, despising the shame. The exercise of benevolence is joy to loving hearts: the more pain it costs, the more joy it is. Kind actions make us happy, and in such joy we find communion with the great heart of Jesus.
Thus have I given you a list of windows of agate and gates of carbuncle through which you may come at the Lord; but the ordinance of the Lord's supper sets forth a way which surpasses them all. It is the most accessible and the most effectual method of fellowship. Here it is that we have fellowship with the Lord Jesus by receiving Him as our Saviour. We, being guilty, accept of His atonement as our sacrificial cleansing, and in token thereof we eat this bread and drink this cup. "Oh!" says one, "I do not feel that I can get near to Christ. He is so high and holy, and I am only a poor sinner." Just so. For that very reason you can have fellowship with Christ in that which lies nearest to His heart: He is a Saviour, and to be a Saviour there must be a sinner to be saved. Be you that one, and Christ and you shall at once be in union and communion: He shall save, and you shall be saved; He shall sanctify, and you shall be sanctified; and twain shall thus be one. This table sets before you His great sacrifice. Jesus has offered it; will you accept it? He does not ask you to bring anything,--no drop of blood, no pang of flesh; all is here, and your part is to come and partake of it, even as of old the offerer partook of the peace-offering which he had brought, and so feasted with God and with the priest. If you work for Christ, that will certainly be some kind of fellowship with Him; but I tell you that the communion of receiving him into your inmost soul is the nearest and closest fellowship possible to mortal man. The fellowship of service is exceedingly honourable, when we and Christ work together for the same objects; the fellowship of suffering is exceedingly instructive, when our heart has graven upon it the same characters as were graven upon the heart of Christ: but the fellowship of the soul which receives Christ, and is received by Christ, is closer, more vital, more essential than any other.
Such fellowship is eternal. No power upon earth can henceforth take from me the piece of bread which I have just now eaten, it has gone where it will be made up into blood, and nerve, and muscle, and bone. It is within me, and of me. That drop of wine has coursed through my veins, and is part and parcel of my being. So he that takes Jesus by faith to be his Saviour has chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from him. He has received the Christ into his inward parts, and all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell, cannot extract Christ from him. Jesus saith, "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me." By our sincere reception of Jesus into our hearts, an indissoluble union is established between us and the Lord, and this manifests itself in mutual communion. To as many as received Him, to them has He given this communion, even to them that believe on His name.
II. I have now to look at another side of communion,--namely, the fellowship of true believers with each other. We have many ways of communing the one with the other, but there is no way of mutual communing like the common reception of the same Christ in the same way. I have said that there are many ways in which Christians commune with one another, and these doors of fellowship I would mention at some length.
Let me go over much the same ground as before. We commune by holy converse. I wish we had more of this. Time was when they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; I am afraid that now they more often speak one against another. It is a grievous thing that full often love lies bleeding by a brother's hand. Where we are not quite so bad as that, yet we are often backward and silent, and so miss profitable converse. Our insular reserve has often made one Christian sit by another in utter isolation, when each would have been charmed with the other's company. Children of one family need not wait to be introduced to each other: having eaten of this one bread, we have given and received the token of brotherhood; let us therefore act consistently with our relationship, and fall into holy conversation next time we meet. I am afraid that Christian brotherhood in many cases begins and ends inside the place of worship. Let it not be so among us. Let it be our delight to find our society in the circle of which Jesus is the centre, and let us make those our friends who are the friends of Jesus. By frequent united prayer and praise, and by ministering the one to the other the things which we have learned by the Spirit, we shall have fellowship with each other in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sure that all Christians have fellowship together in their thoughts. In the essentials of the gospel we think alike: in our thoughts of God, of Christ, of sin, of holiness, we keep step; in our intense desire to promote the kingdom of our Lord, we are as one. All spiritual life is one. The thoughts raised by the Spirit of God in the souls of men are never contrary to each other. I say not that the thoughts of all professors agree, but I do assert that the minds of the truly regenerate in all sects, and in all ages, are in harmony with each other,--a harmony which often excites delighted surprise in those who perceive it. The marks that divide one set of nominal Christians from another set are very deep and wide to those who have nothing of religion but the name; yet living believers scarcely notice them. Boundaries which separate the cattle of the field are no division to the birds of the air. Our minds, thoughts, desires, and hopes are one in Christ Jesus, and herein we have communion.
Beloved friends, our emotions are another royal road of fellowship. You sit down and tell your experience, and I smile to think that you are telling mine. Sometimes a young believer enlarges upon the sad story of his trials and temptations, imagining that nobody ever had to endure so great a fight, when all the while he is only describing the common adventures of those who go on pilgrimage, and we are all communing with him. When we talk together about our Lord, are we not agreed? When we speak of our Father, and all His dealings with us, are we not one? And when we weep, and when we sigh, and when we sing, and when we rejoice, are we not all akin? Heavenly fingers touching like strings within our hearts bring forth the self-same notes, for we are the products of the same Maker, and tuned to the same praise. Real harmony exists among all the true people of God: Christians are one in Christ.
We have communion with one another, too, in our actions. We unite in trying to save men: I hope we do. We join in instructing, warning, inviting, and persuading sinners to come to Jesus. Our life-ministry is the same: we are workers together with God. We live out the one desire,--"Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."
Certainly we have much communion one with the other in our sufferings. There is not a poor sick or despondent saint upon the earth with whom we do not sympathize at this moment, for we are fellow-members, and partakers of the sufferings of Christ. I hope we can say,
"Is there a lamb in all Thy flock,
I would disdain to feed?
Is there a foe, before whose face,
I fear Thy cause to plead?"
No, we suffer with each other, and bear each other's burden,
and so fulfil the law of Christ. If we do not, we have reason for
questioning our own faith; but if we do so, we have communion with
I hope we have fellowship in our joys. Is one happy? We would not envy him, but rejoice with him. Perhaps this is not so universal as it should be among professors. Are we at once glad because another prospers? If another star outshines ours, do we delight in its radiance? When we meet a brother with ten talents, do we congratulate ourselves on having such a man given to help us, or do we depreciate him as much as we can? Such is the depravity of our nature, that we do not readily rejoice in the progress of others if they leave us behind; but we must school ourselves to this. A man will speedily sit down and sympathize with a friend's griefs; but if he sees him honoured and esteemed, he is apt to regard him as a rival, and does not so readily rejoice with him. This ought not to be; without effort we ought to be happy in our brother's happiness. If we are ill, be this our comfort, that many are in robust health; if we are faint, let us be glad that others are strong in the Lord. Thus shall we enjoy a happy fellowship like that of the perfected above.
When I have put all these modes of Christian communion
together, no one of them is so sure, so strong, so deep, as
communion in receiving the same Christ as our Saviour, and
trusting in the same blood for cleansing unto eternal life. Here
on the table you have the tokens of the broadest and fullest
communion. This is a kind of communion which you and I cannot
choose or reject: if we are in Christ, it is and must be ours.
Certain brethren restrict their communion in the outward
ordinance, and they think they have good reasons for doing so; but
I am unable to see the force of their reasoning, because I
joyfully observe that these brethren commune with other believers
in prayer, and praise, and hearing of the Word, and other ways:
the fact being that the matter of real communion is very largely
beyond human control, and is to the spiritual body what the
circulation of the blood is to the natural body, a necessary
process not dependent upon volition. In perusing a deeply
spiritual book of devotion, you have been charmed and benefitted,
and yet upon looking at the title-page it may be you have found
that the author belonged to the Church of Rome. What then? Why,
then it has happened that the inner life has broken all barriers,
and your spirits have communed. For my own part, in reading
certain precious works, I have loathed their Romanism, and yet I
have had close fellowship with their writers in weeping over sin,
in adoring at the foot of the cross, and in rejoicing in the
glorious enthronement of our Lord. Blood is thicker than water,
and no fellowship is more inevitable and sincere than fellowship
in the precious blood, and in the risen life of our Lord Jesus
Christ. Here, in the common reception of the one loaf, we bear
witness that we are one; and in the actual participation of all
the chosen in the one redemption, that unity is in very deed
displayed and matured in the most substantial manner. Washed in
the one blood, fed on the same loaf, cheered by the same cup, all
differences pass away, and "we, being many, are one body in
Christ, and every one members one of another."
Now, then, dear friends, if this kind of fellowship be the best, let us take care to enjoy it. Let us at this hour avail ourselves of it.
Let us take care to see Christ in the mirror of this ordinance. Have any of you eaten the bread, and yet have you not seen Christ? Then you have gained no benefit. Have you drunk the wine, but have you not remembered the Lord? Alas! I fear you have eaten and drunk condemnation to yourselves, not discerning the Lord's body. But if you did see through the emblems, as aged persons see through their spectacles, then you have been thankful for such aids to vision. But what is the use of glasses if there is nothing to look at? and what is the use of the communion if Christ be not in our thoughts and hearts?
If you did discern the Lord, then be sure, again, to accept Him. Say to yourself, "All that Christ is to any, He shall be to me. Does He save sinners? He shall save me. Does He change men's hearts? He shall change mine. Is He all in all to those that trust Him? He shall be all in all to me." I have heard persons say that they do not know how to take Christ. What says the apostle? "The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart." If you have something in your mouth that you desire to eat, what is the best thing to do? Will you not swallow it? That is exactly what faith does. Christ's word of grace is very near you, it is on your tongue; let it go down into your inmost soul. Say to your Saviour, "I know I am not fit to receive Thee, O Jesus, but since Thou dost graciously come to me as bread comes to the hungry, I thankfully receive Thee, rejoicing to feed upon Thee! Since Thou dost come to me as the fruit of the vine to a thirsty man, Lord, I take Thee, willingly, and I thank Thee that this reception is all that Thou dost require of me. Has not Thy Spirit so put it--'As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name'?"
Beloved friends, when you have thus received Jesus, fail not to rejoice in Him as having received Him. How many there are who have received Christ, who talk and act as if they never had received Him! It is a poor dinner of which a man says, after he has eaten it, that he feels as if he had not dined; and it is a poor Christ of whom anyone can say, "I have received Him, but I am none the happier, none the more at peace." If you have received Jesus into your heart, you are saved, you are justified. Do you whisper, "I hope so"? Is that all? Do you not know? The hopings and hoppings of so many are a poor way of going; put both feet down, and say, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." You are either saved or lost; there is no state between the two. You are either pardoned or condemned; and you have good reason for the highest happiness, or else you have grave causes for the direst anxiety. If you have received the atonement, be as glad as you can be; and if you are still an unbeliever, rest not till Christ is yours.
Oh, the joy of continually entering into fellowship with Christ, in such a way that you never lose His company! Be this yours, beloved, every day, and all the day! May His shadow fall upon you as you rest in the sun, or stray in the gardens! May His voice cheer you as you lie down upon the sea-shore, and listen to the murmuring of the waves; may His presence glorify the mountain solitude as you climb the hills! May Jesus be to you an all- surrounding presence, lighting up the night, perfuming the day, gladdening all places, and sanctifying all pursuits! Our Beloved is not a Friend for Lord's-days only, but for week-days, too; He is the inseparable Companion of His loving disciples. Those who have had fellowship with His body and His blood at this table may have the Lord as an habitual Guest at their own tables; those who have met their Master in this upper room may expect Him to make their own chamber bright with His royal presence. Let fellowship with Jesus and with the elect brotherhood be henceforth the atmosphere of our life, the joy of our existence. This will give us a heaven below, and prepare us for a heaven above.
A COMMUNION MEDITATION AT MENTONE
"Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." -1st Peter 2:24, 25.
THIS wonderful passage is a part of Peter's address to servants;
and in his day nearly all servants were slaves. Peter begins at
the eighteenth verse: "Servants, be subject to your masters with
all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the
froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward
God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if,
when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?
but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently,
this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called:
because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that
ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile
found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again;
when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him
that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His
own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live
unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." If we are in
a lowly condition of life, we shall find our best comfort in
thinking of the lowly Saviour bearing our sins in all patience and
submission. If we are called to suffer, as servants often were in
the Roman times, we shall be solaced by a vision of our Lord
buffeted, scourged, and crucified, yet silent in the majesty of
His endurance. If these sufferings are entirely undeserved, and we
are grossly slandered, we shall be comforted by remembering Him
who did no sin, and in whose lips was found no guile. Our Lord
Jesus is Head of the Guild of Sufferers: He did well, and suffered
for it, but took it patiently. Our support under the cross, which
we are appointed to bear, is only to be found in Him "who His own
self bare our sins in His own body on the tree."
We ourselves now know by experience that there is no place for comfort like the cross. It is a tree stripped of all foliage, and apparently dead; yet we sit under its shadow with great delight, and its fruit is sweet unto our taste. Truly, in this case, "like cures like." By the suffering of our Lord Jesus, our suffering is made light. The servant is comforted since Jesus took upon Himself the form of a servant; the sufferer is cheered "because Christ also suffered for us;" and the slandered one is strengthened because Jesus also was reviled.
"Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth
Should touch the heart with softer power
For comfort than an angel's mirth?
That to the cross the mourner's eye should turn
Sooner than where the stars of Christmas burn?"
Let us, as we hope to pass through the tribulations of this
world, stand fast by the cross; for if that be gone, the lone-
star is quenched whose light cheers the down-trodden, shines on
the injured, and brings light to the oppressed. If we lose the
cross,--if we miss the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus
Christ, we have lost all.
The verse on which we would now devoutly meditate speaks of three things: the bearing of our sins, the changing of our condition, and the healing of our spiritual diseases. Each of these deserves our most careful notice.
I. The first is, the bearing of our sins by our Lord; "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." These words in plainest terms assert that our Lord Jesus did really bear the sins of His people. How literal is the language! Words mean nothing if substitution is not stated here. I do not know the meaning of the fifty-third of Isaiah if this is not its meaning. Hear the prophet's words: "The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all;" "for the transgression of my people was He stricken;" "He shall bear their iniquities:" "He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many."
I cannot imagine that the Holy Spirit would have used language so expressive if He had not intended to teach us that our Saviour did really bear our sins, and suffer in our stead. What else can be intended by texts like these--"Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:28); "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21); "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13); "Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Eph. 5:2); "Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26)? I say modestly, but firmly, that these Scriptures either teach the bearing of our sins by our Lord Jesus, or they teach nothing. In these days, among many errors and denials of truth, there has sprung up a teaching of "modern thought" which explains away the doctrine of substitution and vicarious sacrifice. One wise man has gone so far as to say that the transference of sin or righteousness is impossible, and another creature of the same school has stigmatized the idea as immoral.
It does not much matter what these modern haters of the cross may dare to say; but, assuredly, that which they deny, denounce, and deride, is the cardinal doctrine of our most holy faith, and is as clearly in Scripture as the sun is in the heavens. Beloved, as we suffer through the sin of Adam, so are we saved through the righteousness of Christ. Our fall was by another, and so is our rising again: we are under a system of representation and imputation, gainsay it who may. To us, the transference of our sin to Christ is a blessed fact clearly revealed in the Word of God, and graciously confirmed in the realizations of our faith. In that same chapter of Isaiah we read, "Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows," and we perceive that this was a matter of fact, for He was really, truly, and emphatically sorrowful; and, therefore, when we read that "He bare our sins in His own body on the tree," we dare not flitter it away, but assuredly believe that in very deed He was our Sin-Bearer. Possible or impossible, we sing with full assurance--
"He bore on the tree the sentence for me."
Had the sorrow been figurative, the sin-bearing might have
been mythical; but the one fact is paralleled by the other. There
is no figure in our text; it is a bare, literal fact: "Who His own
self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." Oh, that men
would give up cavilling! To question and debate at the cross, is
an act near akin to the crime of the soldiers when they parted His
garments among them, and cast lots for His vesture.
Note how personal are the terms here employed! How expressly the Holy Ghost speaketh! "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body." It was not by delegation, but "His own self"; and it was not in imagination, but "in His own body." Observe, also, the personality from our side of the question, He "bare our sins," that is to say, my sins and your sins. There is a sort of cadence of music here,--"His own self," "our sins." As surely as it was Christ's own self that suffered on the cross, so truly was it our own sins that Jesus bore in His own body on the tree. Our Lord has appeared in court for us, accepting our place at the bar: "He was numbered with the transgressors." Nay, more, He has appeared at the place of execution for us, and has borne the death-penalty upon the gibbet of doom in our stead. In propria persona, our Redeemer has been arraigned, though innocent; has come under the curse, though for ever blessed; and has suffered to the death, though He had done nothing worthy of blame. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed."
This sin-bearing on our Lord's part was continual. The passage before us has been forced beyond its teaching, by being made to assert that our Lord Jesus bore our sins nowhere but on the cross: this the words do not say. "The tree" was the place where beyond all other places we see our Lord bearing the chastisement due to our sins; but before this, He had felt the weight of the enormous load. It is wrong to base a great doctrine upon the incidental form of one passage of Scripture, especially when that passage of Scripture bears another meaning.
The marginal reading, which is perfectly correct, is "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body to the tree." Our Lord carried the burden of our sins up to the tree, and there and then He made an end of it. He had carried that load long before, for John the Baptist said of Him, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away" (the verb is in the present tense, "which taketh away") "the sin of the world" (John 1:29). Our Lord was then bearing the sin of the world as the Lamb of God. From the day when He began His divine ministry, I might say even before that, He bore our sins. He was the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world;" so, when He went up to Calvary, bearing His cross, He was bearing our sins up to the tree. Yet, specially and peculiarly in His death-agony He stood in our stead, and upon His soul and body burst the tempest of justice which had gathered through our transgressions.
This sin-bearing is final. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, but He bears them now no more. The sinner and the sinner's Surety are both free, for the law is vindicated, the honour of government is cleared, the substitutionary sacrifice is complete. He dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over Him; for He has ended His work, and has cried, "It is finished." As for the sins which He bore in His own body on the tree, they cannot be found, for they have ceased to be, according to that ancient promise, "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found" (Jeremiah 1:20). The work of the Messiah was "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Daniel 9:24). Now, if sin is made an end of, there is an end of it; and if transgression is "finished", there is no more to be said about it.
Let us look back with holy faith, and see Jesus bearing the stupendous load of our sins up to the tree, and on the tree; and see how effectual was His sacrifice for discharging the whole mass of our moral liability both in reference to guiltiness in the sight of God, and the punishment which follows thereon. It is a law of nature that nothing can be in two places at the same time; and if sin was borne away by our Lord, it cannot rest upon us. If by faith we have accepted the Substitute whom God Himself has ac- cepted, then it cannot be that the penalty should be twice demanded, first of the Surety, and then of those for whom He stood. The Lord Jesus bore the sins of His people away, even as the scape-goat, in the type, carried the sin of Israel to a land uninhabited. Our sins are gone for ever. "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." He hath cast all our iniquities into the depths of the sea; he hath hurled them behind his back, where they shall no more be seen.
Beloved friends, we very calmly and coolly talk about this thing, but it is the greatest marvel in the universe; it is the miracle of earth, the mystery of heaven, the terror of hell. Could we fully realize the guilt of sin, the punishment due to it, and the literal substitution of Christ, it would work in us an intense enthusiasm of gratitude, love, and praise. I do not wonder that our Methodist friends shout, "Hallelujah!" This is enough to make us all shout and sing, as long as we live, "Glory, glory to the Son of God!" What a wonder that the Prince of glory, in whom is no sin, who was indeed incapable of evil, should condescend to come into such contact with our sin as is implied in His being "made sin for us"! Our Lord Jesus did not handle sin with the golden tongs, but He bore it on His own shoulders. He did not lift it with golden staves, as the priests carried the ark; but He Himself bore the hideous load of our sin in His own body on the tree. This is the mystery of grace which angels desire to look into. I would for ever preach it in the plainest and most unmistakable language.
II. In the second place, briefly notice the change in our condition, which the text describes as coming out of the Lord's bearing of our sins: "That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness." The change is a dying and a reviving, a burial and a resurrection: we are brought from life to death, and from death to life.
We are henceforth legally dead to the punishment of sin. If I were condemned to die for an offence, and some other died in my stead, then I died in him who died for me. The law could not a second time lay its charge against me, and bring me again before the judge, and condemn me, and lead me out to die. Where would be the justice of such a procedure? I am dead already: how can I die again? I have borne the wrath of God in the person of my glorious and ever-blessed Substitute; how then can I bear it again? Where was the use of a Substitute if I am to bear it also? Should Satan come before God to lay an accusation against me, the answer is, "This man is dead. He has borne the penalty, and is 'dead to sins,' for the sentence against him has been executed upon Another." What a wonderful deliverance for us! Bless the Lord, O my soul!
But Peter also means to remind us that, by and through the influence of Christ's death upon our hearts, the Holy Ghost has made us now to be actually "dead to sins": that is to say, we no longer love them, and they have ceased to hold dominion over us. Sin is no longer at home in our hearts; if it enters there, it is as an intruder. We are no more its willing servants. Sin calls to us by temptation, but we give it no answer, for we are dead to its voice. Sin promises us a high reward, but we do not consent, for we are dead to its allurements. We sin, but our will is not to sin. It would be heaven to us to be perfectly holy. Our heart and life go after perfection, but sin is abhorred of our soul. "Now, if I do that which I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." Our truest and most real self loathes sin; and though we fall into it, it is a fall,--we are out of our element, and escape from the evil with all speed. The new-born life within us has no dealings with sin; it is dead to sin.
The Greek word here used cannot be fully rendered into English; it signifies "being unborn to sins." We were born in sin, but by the death of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit upon us, that birth is undone, "we are unborn to sins." That which was wrought in us by sin, even at our birth, is through the death of Jesus counteracted by the new life which His Spirit imparts. "We are unborn to sins." I like the phrase, unusual as it sounds. Does it seem possible that birth should be reversed: the born unborn? Yet so it is. The true ego, the reallest "I," is now unborn to sins, for we are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." We are unborn to sins, and born unto God.
But our Lord's sin-bearing has also brought us into life. Dead to evil according to law, we also live in newness of life in the kingdom of grace. Our Lord's object is "that we should live unto righteousness." Not only are our lives to be righteous, which I trust they are, but we are quickened and made sensitive and vigorous unto righteousness: through our Lord's death we are made quick of eye, and quick of thought, and quick of lip, and quick of heart unto righteousness. Certainly, if the doctrine of His atoning sacrifice does not vivify us, nothing will. When we sin, it is the sorrowful result of our former death; but when we work righteousness, we throw our whole soul into it, "We live unto righteousness." Because our Divine Lord has died, we feel that we must lay ourselves out for His praise. The tree which brought death to our Saviour is a tree of life to us. Sit under this true arbor vitae, and you will shake off the weakness and disease which came in by that tree of knowledge of good and evil. Livingstone in Africa used certain medicines which are known as Livingstone's Rousers; but what rousers are those glorious truths which are extracted from the bitter wood of the cross! O my brethren, let us show in our lives what wonders our Lord Jesus has done for us by His agony and bloody sweat, by His cross and passion!
III. The apostle then speaks of the healing of our diseases by Christ's death: "By whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
We were healed, and we remain so. It is not a thing to be done in the future; it has been wrought. Peter describes our disease in the words which compose verse twenty-five. What was it, then?
First, it was brutishness. "Ye were as sheep." Sin has made us so that we are only fit to be compared to beasts, and to those of the least intelligence. Sometimes the Scripture compares the unregenerate man to an ass. Man is said to be "born like a wild ass's colt." Amos likens Israel to the "kine of Bashan", and he saith to them, "Ye shall go out at the breaches, every cow at that which is before her." David compared himself to behemoth: "So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before Thee." We are nothing better than beasts until Christ comes to us. But we are not beasts after that: a living, heavenly, spiritual nature is created within us when we come into contact with our Redeemer. We still carry about with us the old brutish nature, but by the grace of God it is put in subjection, and kept there; and our fellowship now is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. We "were as sheep," but we are now men redeemed unto God.
We are cured also of the proneness to wander which is so remarkable in sheep. "Ye were as sheep going astray," always going astray, loving to go astray, delighting in it, never so happy as when they are wandering away from the fold. We wander still, but not as sheep wander: we now seek the right way, and desire to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. If we wander, it is through ignorance or temptation. We can truly say, "My soul followeth hard after Thee." Our Lord's cross has nailed us fast as to hands and feet: we cannot now run greedily after iniquity; rather do we say, "Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee!"
"My wanderings, Lord, are at an end,
I'm now return'd to Thee:
Be Thou my Father and my Friend,
Be all in all to me."
Another disease of ours was inability to return: "Ye were
as sheep going astray; but are now returned." Dogs and even swine
are more likely to return home than wandering sheep. But now,
beloved, though we wandered, we have returned, and do still return
to our Shepherd. Like Noah's dove, we have found no rest for the
sole of our foot anywhere out of the ark, and therefore we return
unto Him, and He graciously pulls us in unto Him. If we wander at
any time, we bless God that there is a sacred something within us
which will not let us rest, and there is a far more powerful
something above us which draws us back. We are like the needle in
the compass: touch that needle with your finger, and compel it to
point to the east, or to the south, and it may do so for the
moment; but take away the pressure, and in an instant it returns
to the pole. So we must go back to Jesus; we must return to the
Bishop of our souls. Our soul cries, "Whom have I in heaven but
Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee."
Thus, by the virtue of our Lord's death, an immortal love is
created in us, which leads us to seek His face, and renew our
fellowship with Him.
Our Lord's death has also cured us of our readiness to follow other leaders. If one sheep goes through a gap in the hedge, the whole flock will follow. We have been accustomed to follow ringleaders in sin or in error: we have been too ready to follow custom, and to do that which is judged proper, respectable, and usual: but now we are resolved to follow none but Jesus, according to His word, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. A stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers." For my own part, I am resolved to follow no human leader. Faith in Jesus creates a sacred independence of mind. We have learned so entire a dependence upon our crucified Lord that we have none to spare for men.
Finally, beloved friends, when we were wandering we were like sheep exposed to wolves, but we are delivered from this by being near the Shepherd. We were in danger of death, in danger from the devil, in danger from a thousand temptations, which, like ravenous beasts, prowled around us. Having ended our wandering, we are now in a place of safety. When the lion roars, we are driven the closer to the Shepherd, and rejoice that His crook protects us. He says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand."
What a wonderful work of grace has been wrought in us! We owe all this, not to the teaching of Christ, though that has helped us greatly; not to the example of Christ, though that is charming us into a diligent copying of it; but we owe it all to His stripes: "By whose stripes ye were healed." Brethren, we preach Christ crucified, because we have been saved by Christ crucified. His death is the death of our sins. We can never give up the doctrine of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice, for it is the power by which we hope to be made holy. Not only are we washed from guilt in His blood, but by that blood we overcome sin. Never, so long as breath or pulse remains, can we conceal the blessed truth that He "His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness." The Lord give us to know much more of this than I can speak, for Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.
AN ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE CLOSE OF ONE OF THE PASTORS'
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold. I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." -Revelation 1:17, 18
WE have nothing now to think of but our Lord. We come to Him that
He may cause us to forget all others. We are not here as
ministers, cumbered with much serving, but we now sit at His feet
with Mary, or lean on His bosom with John. The Lord Himself gives
us our watchword as we muster our band for the last assembly.
"Remember Me," is His loving command. We beseech Him to fill the
full circle of our memory as the sun fills the heavens and the
earth with light. We are to think only of Jesus, and of Him only
will I speak. Oh, for a touch of the live coal from Him who is our
Altar as well as our Sacrifice!
My text is found in the words of John, in the first chapter of the Revelation, at the seventeenth and eighteenth verses:--
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
John was of all men the most familiar with Jesus, and his Lord had never needed to say to him, "Lovest thou Me?" Methinks, if any man could have stood erect in the presence of the glorified Saviour, it would have been that disciple whom Jesus loved. Love permits us to take great liberties: the child will climb the knee of his royal father, and no man accuses him of presuming. John had such love, and yet even he could not look into the face of the Lord of glory without being overcome with awe. While yet in the body, even John must swoon if he be indulged with a premature vision of the Well-beloved in His majesty. If permitted to see the Lord before our bodies have undergone that wondrous change by which we are made like Jesus that we may see Him as He is, we shall find the sight to be more than we can bear. A clear view of our Lord's heavenly splendour while we are here on earth would not be fitting, for it would not be profitable for us always to be lying in a swoon at our Redeemer's feet, while there is so much work for us to do.
Permit me, dear brethren, to take my text from its connection, and to apply it to ourselves, by bringing it down from the throne up yonder to the table here. It may be, I trust it will be, that as we see Jesus even here, we shall with John fall at His feet as dead. We shall not swoon, but we shall be dead in another sense, most sweetly dead, while our life is revealed in Him. After we have thought upon that, we shall come to what my text implies: then, may we revive with John, for if he had not revived he could never have told us of his fainting fit. Thus we shall have death with Christ, and resurrection in Him. Oh, for a deep experience of both, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
I. If we are permitted to see Christ in the simple and instructive memorials which are now upon the table, we shall, in a blessed sense, fall at His feet as dead.
For, first, here we see provision for the removal of our sin, and we are thus reminded of it. Here is the bread broken because we have broken God's law, and must have been broken for ever had there not been a bruised Saviour. In this wine we see the token of the blood with which we must be cleansed, or else be foul things to be cast away into the burnings of Tophet, because abominable in the sight of God. Inasmuch as we have before us the memorial of the atonement for sin, it reminds us of our death in sin in which we should still have remained but for that: grace which spoke us into life and salvation. Are you growing great? Be little again as you see that you are nothing but slaves that have been ransomed. "God's freed-men" is still your true rank. Are you beginning to think that, because you are sanctified; you have the less need of daily cleansing? Hear that word, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another," yet even then "the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." We sin even when in the highest and divinest fellowship, and need still the cleansing blood. How this humbles us before the Lord! We are to be winners of sinners, and yet we ourselves are sinners still, needing as truly the Bread of life as those to whom we serve it out.
Ah! and some of us have been very special sinners; and therefore, if we love much, it is because we have had much forgiven. We have erred since we knew the Saviour, and that is a kind of sinnership which is exceedingly grievous; we have sinned since we have entered into the highest state of spiritual joy, and have been with Him on the holy mount, and have beheld His glory! This breeds a holy shamefacedness. We may well fall at Jesus' feet, though He only reveals Himself in bread and wine, for these convey a sense of our sinnership while they remind us of how our Lord met our sin, and put it away.
Herein we fall as low as the dead. Where is the "I"? Where is the self-glorying? Have you any left in the presence of the crucified Saviour? As you in spirit eat His flesh and drink His blood, can you glory in your own flesh, or feel the pride of blood and birth? Fie upon us if there mingles a tinge of pride with our ministry, or a taint of self-laudation with our success! When we see Jesus, our Saviour, the Saviour of sinners, surely self will sink, and humility will fall at His feet. When we think of Gethsemane and Calvary, and all our great Redeemer's pain and agony, surely, by the Holy Ghost, self-glorying, self-seeking, and self-will must fall as though slain with a deadly wound. "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead."
Here, also, we learn a second lesson. Jesus has placed upon this table food. The bread sets forth all that is necessary, and the cup all that is luxurious: provision for all our wants and for all our right desires, all that we need for sustenance and joy. Then, what a poverty-stricken soul am I that I cannot find myself in bread! As to comforts, I may not think of them; they must be given me or I shall never taste them. Brothers, we are Gentlemen Commoners upon the bounty of our great Kinsman: we come to His table for our maintenance, we have no establishments of our own. He who feeds the sparrows feeds our souls; in spiritual things, we no more gather into barns than do the blessed birds; our heavenly Father feeds us from that "all fulness" which it hath pleased Him to lay up for us in Jesus. We could not live an hour spiritually without Him who is not only bread, but life; not only the wine which cheereth, but consolation itself. Our life hangs upon Jesus; He is our Head as well as our food. We shall never outgrow our need of natural bread, and spiritually we shall never rise out of our need of a present Christ, but the rather we shall feel a stronger craving and a more urgent passion for Him. Look at yonder vain person. He feels that he is a great man, and you own that he is your superior in gifts; but what a cheat he is, what a foolish creature to dream of being somebody! Now will he be found wanting; for, like ourselves, he is not sufficient even to think anything of himself. A beggar who has to live on alms, to eat the bread of dependence, to take the cup of charity,--what has he to boast of? He is the great One who feeds us, who gives us all that we enjoy, who is our all in all; and as for us, we are suppliants,--I had almost said mendicants,--a community of Begging Frres, to all personal spiritual wealth as dead as the slain on Marathon. The negro slave at least could claim his own breath, but we cannot claim even that. The Spirit of God must give us spiritual breath, or our life will expire. When we think of this, surely the sight of Christ in this bread and Wine, though it be a dim vision compared with that which ravished the heart of John, will make us fall at the Redeemer's feet as dead.
The "I" cannot live, for our Lord has provided no food for the vain Ego, and its lordliness. He has provided all for necessity, but nothing for boasting. Oh, blessed sense of self- annihilation! We have experienced it several times this week when certain of those papers were read to us by our brethren; and, moreover, we shrivelled right up in the blaze of the joy with which our Master favoured us. I hope this happy assembly and its heavenly exercises have melted the Ego within us, and made it, for the while, flow away in tears. Dying to self is a blessed feeling. May we all realize it! When we are weak to the utmost in conscious death of self, then are we strong to the fulness of might. Swooning away unto self-death, and losing all consciousness of personal power, we are introduced into the infinite, and live in God.
II. Now let us consider how we get alive again, and so know the Lord as the resurrection and the life. John did revive, and he tells us how it came about. He says of the Ever-blessed One,--"He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death."
All the life-floods of our being will flow with renewed force if, first of all, we are brought into contact with Jesus: "He laid His right hand upon me." Marvellous patience that He does not set His foot upon us, and tread us down as the mire of the streets! I have lain at His feet as dead, and had He spurned me as tainted with corruption, I could not have impugned His justice. But there is nothing here about His foot! That foot has been pierced for us, and it cannot be that the foot which has been nailed to the cross for His people should ever trample them in His wrath. Hear these words, "He laid His right hand upon me." The right hand of His strength and of His glory He laid upon His fainting servant. It was the hand of a man. It is the right hand of Him who, in all our afflictions, was afflicted, who is a Brother born for adversity. Hence, everything about His hand has a reviving influence. The speech of sympathy, my brothers, is often too unpractical, and hence it is too feeble to revive the fainting; the touch of sympathy is far more effectual. You remember that happy story of the wild negro child who could never be won till the little lady sat down by her, and laid her hand upon her. Eva won poor Topsy by that tender touch. The tongue failed, but the hand achieved the victory. So was it with our adorable Lord. He showed us that He was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh; He brought Himself into contact with us, and made us perceive the reality of His love to us, and then He became more than a conqueror over us.
Thus, we felt that He was no fiction, but a real Christ, for there was His hand, and we felt the gentle pressure. The laying on of the right hand of the Lord had brought healing to the sick, sight to the blind, and even life to the dead, and it is no strange thing that it should restore a fainting disciple. May you all feel it at this very moment in its full reviving power! May there stream down from the Lord's right hand, not merely His sympathy, because He is a man like ourselves, but as much of the power of His deity as can be gotten into man, so that we may be filled with the fulness of God! That is possible at this instant. The Lord's supper represents the giving of the whole body of Christ to us, to enter into us for food; surely, if we enter into its true meaning, we may expect to be revived and vitalized; for we have here more than a mere touch of the hand, it is the whole Christ that enters into us spiritually, and so comes into contact with our innermost being. I believe in "the real presence": do not you? The carnal presence is another thing: that we do not even desire. Lord Jesus, come into a many-handed contact with us now by dwelling in us, and we in Thee!
Still, there was something else wanted, for our Lord Jesus, after the touch, gave the word: "Fear not; I am the first and the last." What does He say? Does He say, "Thou art"? Open your Testaments, and see. Does He exclaim, "Fear not; thou art the beloved disciple, John the apostle and divine"? I find nothing of the kind. He did not direct His servant to look at himself, but to remember the great I Am, his Saviour, and Lord. The living comfort of every swooning child of God, of everyone who is conscious of a death-wound to the natural "I," lies in that majestic "I," who alone can say "I am." You live because there is an "I am" who has life in Himself, and has that life for you.
"I am the first." "I have gone before you, and prepared your way; I loved you before you loved Me; I ordained your whole course in life before you were in existence. In every work of grace for you and within you, I am the first. Like the dew which comes from the Lord, I waited not for man, neither tarried for the sons of men. And I also am the last, perfecting that which concerneth you, and keeping you unto the end. I am the Alpha and the Omega to you, and all the letters in between; I began with you, and I shall end with you, if an end can be thought of. I march in the van, and I bring up the rear. Your final preservation is as much from Me as your hopeful commencement." Brother, does a fear arise concerning that dark hour which threatens soon to arrive? What hour is that? Jesus knows, and He will be with you through the night, and till the day breaketh. If Jesus is the beginning and the end to us, what is there else? What have we to fear unless it be those unhallowed inventions of our mistrust, those superfluities of naughtiness which fashion themselves into unbeliefs, and doubts, and unkind imaginings? Christ shuts out everything that could hurt us, for He covers all the time, and all the space; He is above the heights, and beneath the depths; and everywhere He is Love.
Read on,--"I am He that liveth." "Because I live, ye shall live also; no real death shall befal you, for death hath no more dominion over Me,--your Head, your Life." While there is a living Christ in heaven, no believer shall ever see death: he shall sleep in Jesus, and that is all, for even then he shall be "for ever with the Lord."
Read on,--"and was dead." "Therefore, though die, you shall go no lower than I went; and you shall be brought up again even as I have returned from the tomb." Think of Jesus as having traversed the realm of death-shade, and you will not fear to follow in His track. Where should the dying members rest but on the same couch with their once dying Head?
"And behold, I am alive for evermore." Yes, behold it, and never cease to behold it: we serve an ever-living Lord. Brothers, go home from this conference in the power of this grand utterance! The dear child may sicken, or the precious wife may be taken home; but Christ says, "I am alive for evermore." The believing heart can never be a widow, for its Husband is the living God. Our Lord Jesus will not leave us orphans, He will come unto us. Here is our joy, then: not in ourselves, but in the fact that He ever lives to carry out the Father's good pleasure in us and for us. Onward, soldiers of the cross, for our immortal Captain leads the way.
Read once more,--"and have the keys of hell and of death." As I thought over these words, I marvelled for the poverty and meanness of the cause of evil; for the prince of it, the devil, has not the keys of his own house; he cannot be trusted with them; they are swinging at the girdle of Christ. Surely I shall never go to hell, for my Lord Jesus turned the key against my entrance long ago. The doors of hell were locked for me When He died on my behalf. I saw Him lock the door, and, what is more, I saw Him hang the key at His girdle, and there it is to this day. Christ has the keys of hell; then, whenever He chooses, He can cage the devouring lion, and restrain his power for evil. Oh, that the day were come! It is coming, for the dragon hath great wrath, knowing that his time is short. Let us not go forth alone to battle with this dread adversary; let us tell his Conqueror of him, and entreat Him to shorten his chain. I admire the forcible words of a dying woman to one who asked her what she did when she was tempted by the devil on account of her sin. She replied, "The devil does not tempt me now; he came to me a little while ago, and he does not like me well enough to come again!" "Why not?" "Well, he went away because I said to him, Chosen, chosen!" "What did you mean by that?" "Do you not remember how it is said in the Scripture, 'The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee'?" The aged woman's text was well taken, and well does the enemy know the rebuke which it contains. When Joshua, the high priest, clothed in filthy garments, stood before the angel, Satan stood at his right hand to resist him, but he was silenced by being told of the election of God: "The Lord which hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee." Ah, brethren, when Christ's right hand is upon us, the evil one departs! He knows too well the weight of that right hand.
Conclude the verse,--"and of death." Our Lord has the keys of death, and this will be a joyful fact to us when our last hours arrive. If we say to Him, "Master, whither am I going?" He answers, "I have the key of death and the spirit world. Will we not reply, "We feel quite confident to go wherever Thou wilt lead us, O Lord"? We shall then pursue His track in His company. Our bodies shall descend into what men call a charnel-house, though it is really the unrobing-room of saints, the vestibule of heaven, the wardrobe of our dress where it shall be cleansed and perfected. We have a fit spiritual array for the interval, but we expect that our bodies shall rise again in the likeness of "the Lord from heaven." What gainers we shall be when we shall take up the robes we laid aside, and find them so gloriously changed, and made fit for us to wear even in the presence of our Lord! So, if the worst fear that crosses you should be realized, and you should literally die at your Lord's feet, there is no cause for dread, for no enemy can do you harm, since the divine right hand is pledged to deliver you to the end. Let us give the Well-beloved the most devout and fervent praise as we now partake of this regal festival. The King sitteth at His table, let our spikenard give forth its sweetest smell.
(No. 939 in "Our Own Hymn Book.")
AMIDST us our Belovd stands,
And bids us view His piercd hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified.
What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!
The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns the guests to meet!
If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not Him,
Oh, may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face!
Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount,
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr'd but lovely face to view.
Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts:
Oh, lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy beauties see!
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