It is sweet to linger in thought around the PERSON of our Lord. Whatever variety of ministry may be called for this is always acceptable; it is indeed the finest of the wheat. A settled conviction possesses the heart and fills the affections in such a way that while occupied with that which must ever be beyond us there is at the same time the holy winsomeness of spiritual attraction which beckons us on, so that we may feast our souls on the precious things of heaven in a Man. "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, dunk abundantly, O beloved." There are searchless heights and fathomless depths; all that can be predicated of God the Eternal, but with it all the rich variety of features proper to man in incorruptible beauty: "The Man Christ Jesus."
But it may be said that man is to himself a mystery. And this is true, for with all his marvellous ability, desires and far-reaching activities, he is living in a house of clay, a vessel made of dust, which cannot rise above the earth of which it forms part. Morally and spiritually fitted to rise up and respond to the deepest thoughts of God, yet connected by his body with the creation beneath him; man is indeed a marvellous piece of divine workmanship. As the Poet has said, "O what a miracle to man is man."
Comparison must fall into contrast when we come to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even in Manhood He is unique, and stands alone a Man after a different order from Adam. He is an eternal Person every creature receives being from Him and is every moment sustained by Him. Manhood in our Lord was an act of His own, by that act an eternal Person took a new condition and by it came into a new position. We began to be, He chose to become, our birth is by the ordinary God appointed means, His was a manner all His own. Such an One could have no genealogy, He is without beginning or end of days. Yet having become Man He has genealogy and is traced first to the heads of the favoured people and then past all, right on to Adam. Compare the beginning of Matthew with that of Luke.
It is interesting and instructive to compare the beginning of John and even also Mark with this. The omissions in John are because He is God, in Mark because He is a Servant. John begins with Godhead glory, Mark with service. Both pass over the genealogy and miraculous birth: no Bethlehem, no Magi, no Childhood nor subjection to parents, no increase in wisdom and stature. With John there is much about Deity, divine glory, illuminating splendour, and sovereignty of power; but Mark hastens to present the Servant. Even here, however, there is a difference, for Mark, with the other two Synoptists, gives the transfiguration which John omits. The latter shows Him the Centre and Source of glory intrinsic, to Whom nothing can be added, but Mark shows the glorious answer given to Jehovah's Servant; the One to be exalted and extolled and made very high (Isa. 52:73). While Matthew and Luke give the earthly human circumstances, each from his own point of view with regard to the Birth of our Lord, and the providential agents brought into action in relation to filling out the prophetic word; John links up the Incarnation, even as Paul, (see Heb. 10), with eternal purpose, and shows the activity of the Godhead in the eternal world.
All this is in perfect moral order, and behind the human instruments there is the wise and skilful ordering of the Holy Spirit. In the mystic cherubim this fourfold distinction is made prominent, as indeed in the ingredients which composed the holy incense. The beautiful significance of this number is seen in the former of these along with the plenary wealth of symbolic teaching, and pious minds, all down the ages, have connected them in one way or another with the four-fold presentation of the Lord in the Gospels. That they each were intended to be a symbolic representation of Him, there can be no doubt.
In the throne of Jehovah, which is described with an unusual degree of minuteness in the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1), all is coloured by the characteristic features of a Man, as combined with what is intrinsically holy and divine. There is the lightning speed which accompanies both wheels and wings, with the unerring vision of divine omniscience, as seen in the eyes both within and without: all of which seems to denote the perfect intelligence, combined with rapidity of discriminating judgment, which proceeds from that throne. Then the full executary character of the throne is seen under the likeness of glowing creatures, whose appearance were like to burning coals, which were likened to lamps from which went forth lightning, but over all there were the predominating features of a Man.
This wonderful description of the throne of the divine Majesty in full executive function is founded on the basis of the four heads of creation; man, lion, ox and eagle, but clearly showing man in pre-eminence. Out of the midst of the fire came "the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the likeness of a Man." Each of them had four faces; a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle, with certain members peculiar to each of these creatures but all was characterized as under the likeness of a Man. Man's face speaks of intelligence and spiritual discernment here, with a wisdom and knowledge, capable of using to advantage the great strength of the lion, the plodding feet of the ox as upon the earth, and the rapidity of the height and flight of the eagle, as careering through the heavens. As confirmatory of all this, the throne, which seems to rest on this complicated structure, (see 1 Kings 7:23-25), is occupied by a MAN. Without presuming to detail this wonderful vision as God has been pleased to set it before us we may affirm that it is a representation of the glory of God in His attributes, as expressed in the Son Incarnate. Man, whose form is the governing prototype in the vision, has been created in relation to the working out of the great scheme of God's eternal counsels, all of which looked forward to the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son. This four-fold representation of creation in its heads, as coming under a man, leads, in the four Gospels, to the wondrous expression of all that God is in His essential attributes, in the Man Christ Jesus.
As to the various commodities which formed the holy incense, not one of them belonged to Palestine. Here again there were four, (Ex. 30:34-38), and not one of them grew in the land. All were exotic to Canaan and expressive of the typical glory of the Lord Jesus in the combination of holy excellencies in His Person. He who grew up as a tender plant out of a dry ground, brought from heaven all the precious moral features, and virtues which marked Him in that pathway of glory. Every trait fitted into every other in such an inimitable way, so as to meet the desires of infinite love to perfection. Such a life in its true proportion could neither be written, understood nor appreciated, apart from the Holy Spirit, the true Perfumer. This is what the four Gospels put before us; time has not dimmed it; foes have not tarnished it, and friends can never fathom it. It has produced perpetual volumes of praise in God the Father's ear, and its infinite worth of Glory is known to Him alone.
This surely is a heart study; incomprehensible, yet supremely engrossing, for "The Father only that blest Name of Son can comprehend." But who would not have it so? If we could comprehend Him we must lose Him, for He is "God over all." Of all the glories that are His as become Incarnate, glories indeed, in which we shall have our part in thus owning Him, there is none to which we delight to bow more than the fact that above and beyond all that we know or ever can know, that artistic work, and these sweet spices, speak of Him in a way that will ever remain beyond us. He is now, and ever will be well known to us in the holy intimacy of a new relationship that is ours as fruit of eternal counsels, in the adoration which will be our souls' eternal delight; yet, in that very intimacy of delight, there will still remain a distance, infinite and eternal, between all that we can know, and what He is, properly and essentially, as known to God alone.
It is the assemblage of graces and virtues, in such holy combination that holds the soul in reverent and adoring charm; we would dwell upon it with an enquiring heart, and holy submission, in the language of Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and enquire in His temple."
A King in regal splendour (Matt. 17:1-8), yet the most accessible of all men, a Commander (Isa. 55:4), yet a bondslave (Phil. 2:7). Come to rule, yet living the life of a Servant. A homeless Stranger, yet distributing abundantly to all. The elements of poverty and wealth meet and suspend from the same fulcrum as obedience and universal sway. He is dependent, yet supreme, subject but subduing, submissive, yet controlling all things. It is this that gives such holy and commanding charm to these precious Gospels. See how all these elements of character combine in proper moral sequence: each fitting into each in such a way that nothing predominates to overshadow the rest. If He commands it is fitting: — "Bring them to Me." "Make the men to sit down upon the grass." If He obeys it is the same: — "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me and to finish His work." If among the poor, His movements befit the circumstances. "I will not send them away fasting lest they faint by the way" (Matt. 15. 32). If among the rich it is the same (Mark 10:21). It was with the religious leaders that there came the greatest clash. This is seen in the great controversies at Jerusalem. "Which of you convinceth Me of sin." "Ye are from beneath, I am from above." "Ye are of your father the devil and the lusts of your father you will do."
Touching life in all its complex machinery of obligation whether in village, town, or city, yet in such a way that all was in perfect order. Nothing alarming, prodigious, or unbalanced; all is done with the measure of a Man and the common things of life gilded with the colour of heaven. After His great kingdom sermon He is met at the foot of the mountain by a leper, in the town with the message of the Centurion's servant, and in the house with the sickness of Peter's wife's mother. All are met in relation to their needs by the word of Immanuel, His power is unlimited, covering the physical, moral, and spiritual realms. He is at the service of all and none need be shut out. He knows the past and right down into the eternal future and brings everything to bear on the present, and with deep compassion could say, "Come unto Me." Linger a moment over these words of Matt. 11:28. No mere creature could say: "Come unto Me . . . and rest." Such expressions belong to a class of texts which, in an indirect way prove His Godhead. Leading men of outstanding character and ability like Abraham, Moses or David could give counsel and help in times of need: One only could say "Come unto Me." The creature shines at his best when calling attention to Him, but to be the Centre and Object of all is the prerogative and glory of God. Of himself the Baptist could say, "I am a voice" but in his message, "Behold the Lamb of God." And again "He must increase but I must decrease."
Take another of these wonderful Scriptures. "Ye believe in God believe also in Me." Would not this be blasphemy on the lips of any creature? Or again, "Search the Scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and these are the witness-bearers of Me." All this comes out in the most simple way apart from excitement or distraction. Then see how it works out in presenting His claims upon men. He does this in the most marvellous way, so as to come before father and mother, and without the slightest word that might indicate presumption. He asserts His Godhead rights. What could surpass for beauty the mutual reciprocation of affection, and the divinely established order of authority, and subordination, in a well ordered home? Obedience to parents is said to be the first commandment with promise. The claims of God must come first and God who laid down these commandments is here (Cp. Luke 14:26 with Gen. 12:1). The Scriptures testily of Him in many ways, as, for example, in pre-Incarnate glory He is Creator, Upholder and moral Governor of all, and in His glorified Humanity He is Lord, Head and Priest. Whoever could say in relation to the Holy Scriptures "Ye have heard that it hath been said. Eye for eye and tooth for tooth, But I say unto you, not to resist evil, but whosoever shall strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other," etc. But He is Scripture's Author. See in this connection a tremendous weighty statement in Mark 13:31. Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words shall in no wise pass away.
How is it possible in the light of all this to stand quietly by when the glory of our adorable Lord is attacked? Can we allow men to fritter away the truth be they who they may? Negatives surely ought to awaken surprise and at least put us on our guard, and this marks them all. "See that there be no one who shall lead you away as a prey through philosophy and vain deceit." And again, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" Are not the thieves and robbers of John 10 all around us today? A thief takes what is not his own; a robber leaves others without what is their own. The devil is never more devilish than when robbing the saints with pious pretension. The holy Scriptures belong to the Church as composed of every believer. No mere professor has any right, whatever be his status, to touch that blessed Book. A man with high pretension offers us a translation of the Bible which diligently labours to rob us of the richest part of divine revelation. It may indeed attempt to take from us the Person and work of our Lord. What can the one who feels he owes his all to that blessed Saviour do? May we not, in holy indignation, turn and say, "Traitor, begone"? But alas, even among those that are being robbed, this is not counted polite!
Take again Unitarianism and its kindred cults. Where in all the earth is there anything to be found so stupid and absurd? Truly the credulity of the incredulous is a study. To speak of our Lord as a good Man. and attempt to rob us of His Deity, as these people do, is to show not merely an amazing lack of judgment, but to be blinded of the devil. I he apostate Jews were more consistent. There was nothing for them between His being God, and a mere blasphemer. The believing remnant owned Him as God but the unbelieving mass put Him to death as a blasphemer. By eulogising Him as a good Man, apostate Christendom seeks to come in between and by so doing, cuts the ground from beneath its own feet.
As we approach the deeper side of His service we see a marked difference between the spoken testimony of our Lord and His works. These latter were the benevolent application of His power with regard to man's life upon earth, and had in view the furtherance of His spoken testimony. His mighty works were public and appealed to man's reason, but His teaching was that which faith alone could appropriate. He set men free from the weaknesses and blemishes that clung to them as a result of sin, but He dealt with them in their soul in a new life with heaven and heavenly things in immediate connection. Having the cross before Him and the purpose of God, He was forming a company for association with Himself in heaven in all the blessed range of heavenly things in new creation. His mighty works in the sphere of nature were in this connection an attestation to His wisdom, power and glory. He opened blind eyes and deaf ears, cleansed the leper and raised up the paralytic, going on to raise up the dead; all of which could be taken account of by human reason, but in His teaching the faith sphere was distinctly in view. This meant not merely forgiveness and reinstatement upon earth, but the formation of a new company for heaven and heavenly glory.
The rejection of Christ by Israel put Him on the wider ground of dealing with man in the race. This changed the character of His ministry from the mere fulfilment of promise in Israel, to the fulfilment of eternal counsels and the call of the Church. Names written in heaven and the hope of soon going there, "In My Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. If I go I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there you may be also," was very different from "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
It will be seen that our Lord was not merely a wonder worker. He did not do things merely to excite people or secure popularity. Not one thing He did can be called capricious or the mere arbitrary work of a person seeking to display his ability. If wine is created or food multiplied, both are to meet existing needs. Divine power is at work in love and goodness, and all so beautifully ordered as to conform to the principle of demand and supply. This is the perfection of wisdom, the lack of which has spoiled the actions of men of many parts and shining gifts.
It is remarkable how one thing leads to another in this wonderful life. We pass at the point we have reached from the Galilean ministry where the kingdom is much in evidence, to the Perean ministry in Luke, where the Lord as rejected by Israel is busy preparing a company for heaven. His perfection shines everywhere; what may have marred the page in every other record serves to bring out the heavenly refinement of this glorious Man. In Him every moral feature combined with every other, in such a way as to present a complete balance in every detail, both Godward and manward. Character springs from constitution, and both may be seen coming out in conduct. In every man there is some predominating feature which comes to the front which defines his character. With the Lord Jesus there was none of this. Men with the highest moral conceptions may be marked by personal blemishes, and leading ethical teachers often descend to personal inconsistencies: some flaw, indeed, is found in all, but in our Lord there was perfection. Every feature of moral life came into true and just proportion, each rising to its highest expression, without in any way entrenching on the others, so as to constitute a perfectly moral answer in Man to the glory of God, and a complete expression of the love of God to fallen man. His dignity was accompanied with comeliness, and perfect accessibility, and while the grandeur of His thinking never took Him beyond the range of the simple His unimpeachable justice combined perfectly with grace and made Him the most accessible of all. Nor could His unsullied purity deter Him from mixing with publicans and sinners, although for that He was called a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. His power was side by side- with gentleness, and along with the most exalted dignity there was the most approachable lowliness. Well may we say Hallelujah! what a Saviour. See how admirably the two Testaments are linked together in His Person, "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" (Isa. 11:2).
But we are reminded while dwelling upon the deeper side of that wondrous life that there is a distinction in the presentation of God, in that life, not yet noted. Hitherto we have been engaged with the beauty of a Man, and the way the combined features of God and Man meet and flow out in His Person and service. We would look now, not at the varied features, divine and human, which were seen there, but at the difference between the manifestation of God in His moral nature as love and what He is in the grand features of Deity, or in other words, the difference between the love of His heart and the attributes inherent in His Being. This latter may be distinguished from the assemblage of virtues which combined together and found expression in that wondrous Man as leading to the full manifestation in Him of the eternal God. Needless to say, this calls for reverence, and dependence upon Himself.
It may be affirmed that whatever way God has been pleased to set Himself before us in the Holy Scriptures, whether in nature or character, or even in the great and glorious attributes of His Being, all can be found in one way or another in the glorious Immanuel of the holy Gospels. There is love and light, then holiness and righteousness; the last two being the moral attributes of the divine nature. Then there are the other great attributes such as Eternity, Immensity, Omnipotence and Omnipresence, etc., all of which remind us of Him who is a great God and terrible (Deut. 7:21; Deut. 10:17).
We can well understand the condescending grace of our Lord Jesus and follow with holy delight the movements of His peerless Person in relieving, healing and feeding, etc., but there are times when we cannot understand, and there are moments when we see but cannot follow. There are times and scenes in that life of lowly grace when Omnipotent power breaks forth in such a way as to forbid creature scrutiny. Times indeed when those men who knew His love dared not ask Him a question. True, it is, that His condescending grace drew them around Himself and made them feel at home there in holy intimacy, but (and may we not say that the same is our experience to day), it was necessary that the deeper side of His eternal Majesty and Glory should be known, "Our God is a consuming fire." There were indeed actions of His which gave such a glimpse of His eternal Godhead as to make every creature tremble. We note first some of these manifestations of power and glory and afterwards shall endeavour to show the same thing at work but combined with the expression of eternal love.
He trod upon the waves of the sea. That which had fled before the action of His mighty hand in days of old (Psalm 114), became a pavement for His feet, and to the anxious fears of His disciples said "Fear not, I am." When Peter would intrude with nature's best intention He said "Get thee behind Me, Satan." To them all, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?" and to Peter's question about John He answered, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"
A moment came when His disciples durst not say, "Who art Thou," and when no man dared ask Him a question. Why? Was it not that they were held in holy awe at the sacred Majesty of His Person and bearing? What a mystery! at one moment a poor woman is at His feet, washing them with her tears, and drying them with her hair; at another a disciple pillows his head on His blessed bosom, but a time comes when no one dare ask a question. Then think of Him, when those amongst whom He grew up "thrust Him out of the city . . that they might cast Him down headlong." "He passing through the midst of them went His way." And what must it have been when those sent to take Him were helpless, and went back saying; "Never man spake like this MAN."
There came a time when He had to tell the leaders at Jerusalem their moral origin; a generation which sprang from the devil. Was it not then that the three shepherds were cut off in one month (Zech. 11:8., cp. Matt. 22). In close connection with all this came the woes on the cities of Galilee and furthermore, the solemn denunciations of Matt. 23. Who does not recall here the word of Hosea 6. 5, when He said, "I have hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth"? Listen to Him of Whom it is said, "Whose voice once shook the earth." "Blind guides," "whited sepulchres," "Ye serpents, generation of vipers, how can ye escape the condemnation of hell"? Are these not the occasions when He took account of their guilt in refusing their blessing and cut asunder those two staves called Beauty and Bands, which were emblematical of the richest blessing, not only for Israel, but also for the whole earth (see Zech. 11, Matt. 11 and chap. 23)?
Is it not difficult to imagine that we are listening to the same voice here as said, "Come unto Me all ye that labour, and I will give you rest"? It is the voice of God. "The voice of Jehovah is powerful, the voice of Jehovah is full of majesty. The voice of Jehovah breaketh cedars, yea, Jehovah breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of Jehovah cleaveth out flames of fire" etc., etc. (Psalm 29 and see Heb. 4:12).
But greater still: see the fire of Seraphic holiness breaking forth at the temple when with a whip of small cords in His hand they fled from the courts before Him. This is "Jesus Christ the righteous." And yet more awful for those that came to apprehend Him, when they all went backward and fell to the ground. Surely the Shekinah cloud was here, which was in sight like devouring fire (Ex. 24:17). What a wondrous scene, and with such close proximity to Calvary where He Himself would suffer under the fire of Jehovah's wrath. What is the explanation of it all? Immanuel, God with us, come down to suffer and die, yet God in eternal might and majesty supreme.
We turn now to look at the working of these same attributes in our Lord Jesus Christ, but in such combination with the tenderness of the heart of God, that the fearful and awe-inspiring features of Deity are, so to speak, hid behind the grace and mercy of God come down to bless. By multiplying food to feed many thousands from five barley loaves and two fishes, His Omnipotence is seen in full activity, but as controlled by the love that would not let them go lest they would faint by the way. But as ever, the historic wraps up in itself both the dispensational and the moral: His power did not stop at the mere need of the moment, and so in the twelve baskets that were left, He supplies a figurative presentation of the abundance that remains for the blessing of the whole tribes of Israel. The same may be said of the turning water into wine: it was for His people's need, but along with the activity of His mighty power there is a picture of the time when He shall rejoice over His Israel with joy, He will rest in His love and joy over them with singing (Zech. 3:17). And so we might go on, for whether it be a poor woman who had spent her all upon doctors, or a helpless paralytic, or a poor distressed and shunned leper, that power incomprehensible and divine is ever ready to work.
Two cases among Gentiles serve to show His power and glory in a remarkable way, namely, the Centurion's servant that was ready to die, and the Canaanitish woman's daughter that was vexed of the devil. In each His mighty power was at work, but in none of them was His bodily presence given. Both have a dispensational significance, both shew the love of God for His poor degraded creature, and besides all there is the display of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God. These things remind us of His seeing Nathaniel under the fig-tree alone: an Israelite in whom was no guile; of His sending two disciples for the colt upon which He would ride into His royal city, of the man they would meet and what would be said, and of a like occurrence later in connection with the room for the passover feast. He knows all things. Being the Son He is intimately acquainted with the movements of God's testimony upon the earth. As the source and origin of that testimony He is in all the holy intimacies of heaven and heaven's eternal purposes, and being Lord of all He is cognisant of all that is going on in hell (Matt. 13, John 17, Luke 16).
Thus we are called to dwell with adoring hearts on the way God, in nature, and character, has been set forth in a world where sin has ruined the creature, and dishonoured that same blessed God. Our sin has not hindered Him from coming near to us to express His love and to do it in such a way as to regain our hearts for His eternal pleasure, "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?" like Moses in the glory cloud, "who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" "He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, and shaketh his hand from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ear from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munition of rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure. Thine eyes shall see the king in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off" (Isa. 33:14-17). Surely it would be the deep delight of us all to behold the King in His beauty. May we remember that for this we must be among those that walk uprightly.
It will be clear that our meditation would be incomplete without a few words on the parables and miracles of our Lord. It is fitting that His teaching should combine in itself the three great divisions of time, namely; past, present and future. While treating the then present and its exigencies He linked up with it both the past and the future in one grand whole, so as to constitute in Himself a Bridge stretching from eternity to eternity. Thus there is the perfect solution of all moral questions, which ensure the glory of God in the creation by the removal of sin and the blessing of the creature, in a condition of never ending satisfaction where everything shall reflect our God in all that He has revealed Himself to be.
The parables of our Lord differ in some respects from His miracles. The latter appeal more to the senses, producing wonder and amazement, and are said to be the powers of the coming age. Parables are pictures in words showing the wisdom of God in the moral realm; miracles display His power in the sphere of nature. The former are for all time, linking up with eternity both at the beginning and end; the latter are more a divine intervention at certain stages in God's testimony in the earth in time.
In the parable the Lord is seen standing as it were on the confines of two worlds, of which one is invisible and unknown to man, but both well known to Him. He brings out treasures from the eternal world, clothing all in figures drawn from this world of time and nature, such as a Shepherd and his sheep or treasures hid in a field. By using the material to serve the moral, He brings out that which is heavenly and eternal from the invisible world, which in that way becomes in the hands of the Spirit available for creatures such as we. In His resource we are brought to learn that which otherwise we could not know and are instructed in the thoughts, ways, and purposes of God for the pleasure of God. What a glorious fund of spiritual instruction is contained in these parables. They are drawn from nature, history, politics and commerce, from field and forest; the business and the home: nature lays her treasures at His feet; who could teach like Him?
Generally speaking, the parables of our Lord fall into two great parts. Those of the kingdom which show Israel in a place distinct from all other nations, and those of a deeper character which describe the work of God in the grace of His heart in relation to all mankind. The former are dispensational and belong chiefly to the first two Gospels as set forth in the Galilean ministry of the Lord, the latter go down to the moral root of man's departure from God and the way He has come in to recover and reinstate the creature. In the Perean ministry in the Gospel of Luke, where the Son of God is presented to men as the Son of Man the whole race is in view.
Though speaking often figuratively it was not till His refusal by Israel that parables became prominent in the teaching of our Lord. At that time He fulfilled the words of Psalm 78:2, "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret since the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:35). The group of parables which the Lord brings out there describe the guilt of Israel in His rejection and go on to show the setting up of the kingdom of heaven in mystery by His ascension to the right hand of God. These go on to tell in prophetic precision of the breakdown of that new thing among the Gentiles and the progress of corruption till it becomes the worst thing of all. But from its beginning there was in it that which was dear to Him, His own peculiar treasure, the Assembly.
The parables in Luke go still deeper, anticipating doctrine as given both in Romans and Ephesians. The group recorded in Rom. 7:41; Rom. 10:30-35; Rom. 14:16-24; Rom. 15:11-24, set forth in the richest of diction the journey of the soul from grace to glory. The work of the Spirit in the human heart is shown from the moment grace reaches it as a five hundred pence debtor with nothing to pay, till it finds itself delivered from the Adamic condition and clothed in Christ in a new creation before the Father, for His eternal delight. Compare the two little parables of new cloth for new garments and new wine for new bottles.
There are certain leading parables which stand by themselves, as, "A sower went forth to sow." There are duplicate parables, as for example, the marriage of the king's son, in Matt. 22, and the feast by a certain man, in Luke 14. Again, there are parables in triplicate form, as in Luke 15. The Shepherd seeking the lost sheep, the woman and the lost piece of money, and the Father running out to meet the one which had been lost. In these last we pass from the kingdom to the House, from the dispensational to the moral, right in to the richest and best of divine revelation to the deepest depth of the heart of God.
Beloved reader, what can we say to all this? Surely we have the best of the best, the richest of the rich, and the grandest of the grand, from the Master Himself. Has He not said, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see; for I tell you that many prophets have desired to see those things which ye see and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear and have not heard them." "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" And again listen to the Lord Himself; "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes." May the Lord enable us to have a deeper appreciation of such grace so that we may respond to it more, and in praise and worship for His own and the Father's delight.
In attempting a few words on the miracles of our Lord, one wonders if we are sufficiently near Himself and under the control of His Spirit to do such a thing. It is no question of what men of science may say or think, or of research into nature and her laws; a proper apprehension of the ONE we are speaking of makes all this perfectly clear. The devout heart sees God in His own domain, using the physical in view of the moral; sorting, assorting and adjusting in the midst of man's failure and need, both for his present relief and his eternal blessing.
The miracles of our Lord appeal to man's senses and produce both wonder and amazement, and in that way become a public witness to the greatness of the Worker. if the works of God in creation be said to leave man without excuse, what of these mighty and mysterious workings of His power? "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it to them. For the invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead (or Divinity) so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:19, 20). If God's eternal power and Divinity may be clearly seen in creation, and His Providential goodness in the world of men, as witnessed to by the whole course of human history, what shall we say of the manifestation of that same God in the mighty works of the Son here? (see Acts 14:17; Acts 17:25-28). Since God is clearly seen in creation and has left not Himself without witness in the sphere of providence, surely the voice of Immanuel silencing the storm, removing disease, commanding demons and raising the dead — works which also appealed to reason — was a bringing of the blessed God near to men. If the witness of creation left men without excuse the witness of the mighty works of the Lord Jesus Christ by those that refused Him, prove positive enmity and hatred to God. If it be seen that the Incarnation of the Son was at the end of a long course of patient dealings on the part of God, when man as a responsible moral agent was under trial, we can readily understand the divine thought in the miracles of our Lord. It was the will of God that nothing might be wanting on His part calculated to appeal to the creature that his affections might be gained, but all was of no avail. The mass connected His works with the power of Satan, and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified as a blasphemer, and like the swine in the miracle of Luke 8:26-33, careered their downward way till they were lost in the sea of Gentile nations, while the remnant owned Him as their Lord and God, and came in for richest blessing.
The refusal of Christ was, in effect, the rejection of the Father and the Son. The Lord Himself interprets their action with regard both to His word and works. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father" (John 15:22-24).
But it may be asked if all the gracious activity of power seen in the miracles of our Lord is to go for nothing. To this it may be said that Christianity assumed a place in the earth by the accompaniment of miraculous power. In this sense we follow the working of His mighty power after He had gone on high. The Gospels may show all that He began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1), but the book of Acts and the Epistles, what He continued to do through His servants.
There is, however, an answer of a deeper character, for although all was without avail on the line of human responsibility, so that the Lord had Himself to say by the prophetic Spirit, "I have spent my strength for naught and in vain" (Isa. 49:4), yet God gives an answer which is worthy of Himself on the line of His purpose, and in grace. That answer will come out through the Assembly, which is the Body and Bride of Christ, in the day of display now near at hand, and will be perfect in its entirety as a reflex of every feature of Godhead fulness which has been revealed. All will come out through that city which descends out of heaven from God, in all that He is as revealed in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Turning to the miracles themselves, we see some marvellous moral pictures of man's need and heaven's grace. The place they fill in the great scheme of truth must be seen, if we are to apprehend their import, with regard to the state of man and the full glory of God. For reasons that are plain, they were wrought mostly in that period of the life of our Lord that comes in between His Baptism and Transfiguration. It was then that the great leading transactions of His presentation to Israel and their rejection of His testimony took place. The transition to the Gentiles followed, with the full proof of the state of man universally, and God's sovereignty, as a resource, in the call of the Assembly, the vessel of purpose and of glory. All this gave full scope for the exercise of power in the miracles which He wrought as fitting in exactly with these great lines of truth.
The moral condition, as going right back to Adam, is seen in the leper and the paralytic (Matt. 2 - 4 and 5 - 13). In these the state of degradation and moral corruption is seen combined with the incapacity to avail itself of the power that had drawn nigh. For the doctrine see Rom. 5:6, 8. Others portray that moral blindness which was ignorant of Him, come forth to bless, and the power of Satan to keep man from God (Matt. 9:27-31; Mark 8:22-26), as was seen in the leaders, who said, "We see" (John 9:41). These cover a large part of the Lord's spoken testimony, which plainly show man's incapability on the one hand, and wilfulness on the other (cp. John 6:44 with 5:39)
Then note how the miracles of the Lord lend themselves to the confirmation of the dispensational ways of God, and link up with His parables. The parable of the Vineyard and husbandmen fits in with the miracle of delivering the demoniac at Gadara. Israel had been set up in favour but refused all overtures on the part of Jehovah, and when the Son came they said, "This is the Heir; come, let us kill Him and let us seize on the inheritance." This brought them under judgment which the incident with the swine at the deliverance of the demoniac foreshadows. The demons cast out of the remnant, such as Mary of Magdala and this man at Gadara, took possession of the infatuated people, and they ran down the hill to their destruction. This may be historically seen in the Scribes and Pharisees, and individuals like Caiaphas, etc. But the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, tells of the time when having suffered for their sins, Israel will be raised up as from the dead, in view of the complete fulfilment of the promises to the fathers, and the full millennial blessing. This is further confirmed by the vision of the valley of dry bones which were made to live (Ezek. 37).
Thus far we have seen the Israel that received Christ in the past, and those to whom He is about to come in richest blessing. But what comes in between? What He is doing now is clearly portrayed in the woman which had an issue of blood. Like the Gentiles, she had had many doctors and was nothing bettered, and like Christians today, she is brought into fullest blessing in the time between the deliverance of the Jews when He was here and the full result in blessing when He comes again. All this the feeding of the five thousand guarantees, for while the multitudes are fed! figurative of His resources in evidence today, there is, in the twelve baskets taken up, a pledge of that which shall meet every need of the twelve tribes in the day to come.
One part is still wanting to fill up the great dispensational picture of Millennial glory. The Gentile nations come in as it were on the skirts of the Jew to share in the blessing of that glorious day. The post-Resurrection miracle on the sea of Tiberius comes in here to fill up the picture. The great haul of fishes may portray the host that will come from all nations to swell the ranks and join in the praises of that glorious time (Matt. 25:31-46, Rev. 7:9-17).
One word more on the bearing of certain miracles of the Lord on the testimony after He had gone on high. The remnant blest by the Lord when here are seen in testimony in the book of Acts. Judaism, which was an earthly system, had to be given up for the new heavenly economy set up in a glorified Man and the Holy Spirit on earth. The miracle of walking on the water and Peter leaving the boat to go to Jesus, serves to foreshadow a great and important part of truth which was in the forefront all through the book of Acts. The boat prefigures Judaism, but Christ was outside upon the water; Peter's leaving the ship serves to show the transition which had to be made by Jewish christians from the system they had been brought up in, to the new heavenly order as united to Christ at God's right hand in heaven. The Lord's joining the disciples in the ship, refers to His coming again to put an end to that fearful storm of judgment, in the great tribulation; but what we need to see here, first, is the place He takes upon the water, as proper to the present dealings of God in Christianity. There the principle of attraction is His person and the power that is in Him to hold His own above every adverse element.
Historically, it took the forty years between the Cross and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans for those early Jewish christians to turn from Judaism to Christianity, by going forth unto Him without the camp. Some never did, but those who did, as seen in the Apostles and others, are portrayed in Peter's act of leaving the ship to go to Jesus. Those who accepted the Gospel and preferred to continue in the ship of Judaism, are before us in the miracle of the cleansing of the ten lepers. These again may be seen historically in that numerous class of which the Apostle James seems to be the type. It probably was him who said to Paul, "Thou seest brother, how many myriads there are of the Jews who have believed, and all are zealous of the law" (Acts 21:20).
In the cleansing of the ten lepers, only one returned to give glory to God. Jesus said, "where are the nine?" they seem to foreshadow those who were believers but were zealous, like many, alas, today, who are also zealous of the law. And so we might go on, for the healing of the Centurion's servant shows in principle the many that were called by the Gospel from the hidden darkness of heathendom to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.
But what of those who sought a place in the ship, so to speak, that had no right there? The Galatians and others who went back to the law after having believed the Gospel present a sad picture of confusion. Such had never been under the law, and by going back to that which their fellow believers from the Jews had left. presented the sorry spectacle of adorning themselves with the cast off clothing of others. How deplorable, and yet how much is this in evidence to-day among believers in our Lord Jesus Christ!
This then, beloved, is Jesus; whether parables or miracles, He is the same, "Our Lord Jesus." What heart can conceive or tongue can tell the wonders of this great and glorious Saviour? He ever is and ever will be beyond every creature; the distance of infinity must ever abide between Him and each of us. God, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit; His glory stands undimmed, not only through all the changing years, but, to all eternity. Nevertheless, He will have us with and near Him: it was for this He became a Man, a blessed, tender, gracious, glorious Man. In Him the fulness of Godhead dwells bodily, and in Him the power of Godhead is seen at work on man's behalf. He wrought on man physically, mentally and morally: in the spirit realm, the natural realm, with the moral, social and domestic as well. Disease, death, demons, the sea and its inhabitants, and also the winds. Death and life, heaven, earth arid hell. All are in His hands, at His disposal, and under His control. Miracles prophetic, moral, dispensational and transitional: He is over all God, Creation, Providence, Government and Redemption, all witness to the divine resource that has brought God into Manhood, to die on Calvary's Cross. Who would not adore Him? "All people that on earth do dwell, Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice." "Fire and hail; snow and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling His word." "The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created. Hallelujah! praise ye the LORD."
Having dwelt chiefly, thus far, on the presentation of our Lord as seen in the first three Gospels, it remains that we linger a moment and endeavour to contemplate Him with a worshipful heart as set before us in the Gospel of John. As we enter this part of truth's domain we have a feeling of being in an entirely different atmosphere. In the other Gospels we are mainly on the ground of dispensational and prophetic truth, where our Lord is the Centre of the time ways of God, in mediatorial fulness, as the Man of His purpose. The Son of David, the King in Matthew; the great Servant Prophet in Mark, and the Son of Man, the Man of God's pleasure as in Luke. While in each of these the Godhead of our Lord is either expressed in word or act, yet the presentation as a whole is that of a Man. One who is Prophet, Priest and King, but all this as born into this world as a Man. That Man is Immanuel, God with us, (Matthew); God's Son, a Servant, (Mark) Begotten of the Holy Spirit and born of a Virgin (Luke). Only God could foretell the course of all time to come, right down into eternity, or speak of Himself as coming in the clouds of heaven, (Matt. 13:37-50; Matt. 26:63). Only God could say, heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away (Mark 13:32). And only God could speak of coming in His own glory and His Father's glory and that of the holy angels, as in Luke 9:26. In each of these it is the presentation of a Man; the great anointed Man whose glory is great in God's salvation, and whose dominion is only limited by creation itself. All is different in John.
In the fourth Gospel, God the Son is in view all through, albeit He is Man, the One who created the universe (John 1:3), and who was at work all through the Old Testament ages (John 5:17), but had now come down from heaven (John 6:38), that God — Father, Son and Spirit — might be fully revealed. This coming down was by becoming Man, but what is kept in view is His eternity (John 8:58), Omnipotence (John 1:3), Omnipresence (John 1:48), Co-Equality with the Father (10:30), and the essential oneness of nature, plan, purpose and counsel of Godhead (John 5:23; John 14:11). In Matthew we are reminded of the word, Behold thy King (Zech. 9:9), in Mark, Behold My Servant (Isa. 42:1), and in Luke, Behold the Man; but with John it is, Behold your God (Isa. 40:9).
To move freely in the scenes and circumstances of the fourth Gospel, it is necessary to know the place it fills in the circle of divine revelation. It was written long after the other three, and when there was a much fuller apprehension of the meaning of the Incarnation of the Son. The gap of time in between, was filled up by the service of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. In the ministry of Paul, the circle of divine revelation was filled up. To him it was given, as he tells us in Colossians, to complete the word of God. Decay immediately set in, and Paul lived to see the breakdown of all that which he had been used to rear up, in the way of Church order, ministry and government. As time went on the grievous wolves of which he had spoken, (Acts 20:29), came in, not sparing the flock, and furious attacks upon the truth of the Lord's Person were current. By inserting the ministry of Paul between the Gospel of Luke and that of John we can better understand this great difference in the inspired communications given in each. John was used of the Spirit at the close of the Apostolic age to meet the current errors, with an unfolding of the richest truth to be found in the whole inspired volume. The truth of divine relationships, affections, intimacies and interests, never before conceived. He goes back beyond the record of the Synoptists and dwells upon the inner life of the Godhead in such a way from the lips of the blessed Lord Himself as shows us the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Spirit, from eternity right on into time and through its eventful history to where it links with eternity again. He shows the thoughts, feelings and delights proper to the Holy Trinity; each in relation to the others intrinsically, and also the interests proper to Each and common to All, incidental to the fulfilment of eternal counsel in the creation.
Surely we have here the marvels of divine wisdom and resource. The very attacks of the enemy are taken as the occasion of bringing out yet fuller and richer revelations of the deep things of God, for the instruction and blessing of His own, and the enrichment of their souls in the apprehension of divine favour.
Let us look now a little at how the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is presented in this Gospel as Object of the Father's love. This has a threefold bearing and connects with a remark above about eternity past and also future, with time in between. The love of the Father to the Son before time (John 17:24); in time (15:9); and in eternity to come; having, as it were, received a new impetus in virtue of the Cross. The first was in a glory proper to Deity: that which although external to Godhead, like the insignia of splendour surrounding a Monarch, has its source in the Being of God (John 17:3); a glory essentially divine. The second in the circumstances of human life here in this world where He had come, in connection both with man's need and the counsels of eternity. The third based upon the cross, and carried forward beyond the bounds of time, to where all that was true of that love, both in eternity past, and in time here, shall combine together with the impetus given to it in His death to give an answer worthy of God. When along with the glad anthems of a redeemed creation, God's heart will find its full outflow to His beloved Son, in the full accomplishment of all He set Himself to do in the counsels of that eternal past.
Until the Incarnation of the Son the truth of the Trinity lay concealed in the depth of essential Deity. Simultaneously with the revelation of plurality in Godhead came the truth of eternal relations, the one hanging upon the other, with the state of love and glory proper to Godhead (17:5, 24). Closely connected with these, and, indeed, that which has brought them out, was the scheme of eternal counsel. This scheme could not be arbitrary as on the line of agreement, but the spontaneous outcome of the moral nature and being of God. In these counsels the Holy Trinity are made known in the relationships of the Father, Son and Spirit in the love that constitutes the divine nature, and which was mutually reciprocated between Them long ere time began. It is through the activity of the Godhead in giving effect to these counsels that we have learnt something of the life, love and glory of divine Persons in relation to each other, as well as Their relation to creation by Redemption.
Ponder then for a moment these words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Thou lovest Me before the foundation of the world." Who can enter into the depth of meaning in such a statement? Note that something else is made to hang upon it. Yes, both His given glory and His given companions which were the Father's love-gift to Him in that eternal past. "Father, those whom Thou hast given to Me, I will that where I am they also may be with Me, that they may behold My glory that Thou didst give to Me, because Thou didst love Me before the foundation of the world" (Young). The men given to Him, and the glory given to Him, are both made to hang upon the mutuality of love in eternity; and then, as to the new place He takes in the given glory, He desires that the given ones should be there with Him, to behold that given glory. It is not here that they may be seen in the glory, although they will be seen in glory with Him; Oh, matchless grace and favour divine! (see verses 22-23). It is that He may be beheld in a glory which is all His own when the universe is at His feet (all of it taken from the hand of His Father) by those favoured ones which also had been given to Him by the Father. Have we beheld His shame, His suffering, sorrow, and grief, in that hour of all hours? As we sit at His Supper meditating on the love that led Him right down to the dust of death, can we not with deepest adoration anticipate the time when we shall behold Him in His glory? Yes, precious Lord, we shall be with Thee, and like Thee, and see Thee, but oh! how sweet to hear Thee say, "Father, I will that those that Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world." The transfiguration may help us here where Moses and Elias were with Him in the cloud, and the three disciples were eye-witnesses of His Majesty.
But they will as we have said, be seen in the glory with Him. Here again is the call for refined sensibilities to grasp His thought and sense the sweetness of His holy desires for His own. They are to be seen as loved by the Father, what self-hidingness on His part, whose love led Him to the cross, that He might have us there with Him. He would have us with Him in all the dignity of the Father's love, to see Him in that glory which is His as from the Father, both love and glory being eternal.
The chief passages for this holy intimacy of love and glory before time, are John 17 and Proverbs 8. In these the Father and Son and by implication, the Spirit are seen in the holy reciprocation of love and glory, in the perfect self-existent and self-satisfying delight of Deity; and as the source of those purposes of love which supposes a created universe of intelligent agencies for the outflow of that same love, in such a way, as to create therein a suitable response to itself for evermore. In this way, God will surround Himself with a universe of redeemed and satisfied intelligences, in whose praise He shall delight to all eternity. This shows the counsels of love for the glory of the Son, He having been constituted Heir of all things before these things existed (Hebrews 1:2). And recalling the anticipatory pledge in the men given to Him in that scene of love and glory in John 17, we can see how all springs from the love which is properly the nature of God, and which was so blessedly reciprocated within the ever blessed Godhead, from each to each, in that scene which is so far beyond us as almost to forbid creature thought. But we turn for a moment to the Son, a Man on earth, an Object enough to engage the heart of God, and see the activity of that same love in time as resting upon Him, a Man upon the earth.
We will cite one or two beautiful texts here which lead to the precious theme of the Man Christ Jesus as the resting place of the love of God as seen here upon the earth. "The Father loveth the Son; and hath given all things into His hand" (John 3:35). "The Father loveth (philei) the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth" (John 5:20). "As My Father hath loved Me so also have I loved you" (John 15:9). "That Thou hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me" (John 17:23). The intimacy of communion that these passages suppose is beautifully exemplified in this Gospel. In the Synoptics the Father speaks of Him and once to Him, in the scenes of His Baptism and Transfiguration: here He converses with Him (John 12:28), witnesses to Him (John 5:23), draws to Him (John 6:47), honours Him (John 5:23), speaks in Him (John 5:24, New Trans.), dwells in Him and works in Him (John 14:10). But the Old Testament helps us here. It is remarkable that the New Testament shows us our Lord in eternity looking back, and the Old Testament shows Him to us on the earth looking forward. The Father speaks of Him in Psalm 2 as His Anointed, whom He in purpose has set on Zion. And again in Psalm 91 "Because He has set His love upon Me, therefore will I deliver Him." But in Isa. 49 in the same prophetic Spirit, the Father speaks to Him. "It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation to the end of the earth."
It is in the Gospel of John, however, that we see the Son of the Father in His exquisite perfections in relation to the Father. Here He is declaring the Father by doing His work and spreading His word (John 5:22-23). Here He is the bread of God, while His meat was to do the will of Him that sent Him and finish His work (John 4:34; John 6:33). Such was His love to the Father that He lived by the Father (John 6:57; John 14:31).
What a fund of spiritual wealth lies in all this, and how poorly we can enter into it. A visitor stays for a time in a well ordered home and is struck with the marks of tender feeling manifested in the dealings one with the other. There is mutual forbearance and tender consideration to a degree, and each one seems to live for the well-being of the others; he looks on, although in the home, he is not in the circle. He may admire, but cannot participate. There are relations, affections and feelings that he is outside. Nor can it be altered, however well they may treat him. They are a family of which he is not a member, and though a welcome visitor, there is that into which he cannot intrude. Beloved Christian reader, you and I are within. Grace has brought us in and as begotten of God, all the rights of the family are ours. In the very instincts of our renewed nature and being we know Him, love Him, and are in Him in the intimacy of the divine nature as the children of God. Yet alas, how often we are like the man who was a visitor, and outside.
Here then, we adoringly follow the movements of the Father and Son in the hands of the Spirit, who has so graciously stooped to put it before us. We are called into the fellowship of God's Son and as brought into His life can participate in holy communion with the Father and the Son. It is in this way that the Father desires to pour into our hearts His own thoughts of that blessed One. In chap. 3 of this Gospel, He calls us to listen to Him as come down from heaven. "He that cometh from heaven is above all: and what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth," who would make such an One a divider of earthly inheritances at such a moment? (Luke 12:13, 14). Like Moses of old He is here to consecrate worshippers for the Father in chapter four, and in five, six and seven He brings out the full revelation of the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In chapter five the Son, in six the Father, and in seven the Spirit. In the first of these the Son is the theme, the words "the Son," occur eight times within the compass of eight verses. It is not Son of God nor Son of Man, although each is found in the same context. The Son is first seen in the testimony of grace in relation to the Father (v. 19-22), then in His place in relation to man (23-29), and all connected with the great questions of life, death, resurrection and judgment. The Son is unknowable. "No man knoweth the Son save the Father." Yet all is known unto Him. He knows all the past, all that was going on in the then present, and all that will take place in the future. He is God, knows God, heaven, earth and hell. "All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb. 4). But it may be said; what of Mark 13:32? Well, read the passage. "But of that day or of that hour no one knows, neither the angels who are in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father" (New Trans.). The mystery, magnitude and grandeur of this passage produces a holy fear and, while wishing to know exactly its meaning, we confess a reluctance to deal with it. There is not, nor indeed can there be, any contradiction, nor need there be any difficulty if we are in the hands of the Spirit. It would mean a long digression here; we shall therefore go on with what is before us in this meditation, and ask the reader to read carefully, and in the fear of God the note at the end.
We have said that in John's Gospel, John 5-7, the Son reveals the Trinity. In the first it is the Son; now in John 6 the Father is prominent as the source. He sealed, and sent the Son (27:57). He gives to the Son, by drawing to Him those He had in His purpose for Him in the eternal past, and it is His will that all He gave to Him, the Son shall raise up at the last day. We are so accustomed to intrude ourselves into these things that we miss much of the beauty and blessing of Scripture. Here it is the Father's action towards the Son in relation to their own eternal thoughts of love. In John 5 we had the Son in connection with counsel in relation to the Father, and then in relation to men, but both giving the mutual workings of Father and Son in the world. Here it is the same from the standpoint of the work of the Father.
John 7 is exceedingly rich as giving the place of the Spirit; He comes down from the Father and Son and in a certain peculiar way. Here we pass outside kingdoms and covenants to God's eternal day. "In the last, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, if any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He that believes on Me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, But this He said concerning the Spirit which they that believed on Him were about to receive, for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (John 7:37-39). This feast of Tabernacles had an eighth day, which speaks of a new order as that which carries us outside the system of dispensed glory on the earth. In that way we are brought to a scene of divine satisfaction where the heart overflows with the wealth of divine blessing. Blessed be God, we have all that creature capacity can enjoy to overflowing, so that out of the belly flows rivers of living water. In the gift of the Spirit we have come to what is beyond dispensations and the scene of kingdom blessing, to the joys of eternity in the home of the Father's love.
Such is the testimony to which we are called. It is the testimony of One who saw what He witnessed. He made known here the Father and the whole range of eternal thoughts of the triune God. He could say, "We speak that which we know, and we bear witness of that which we have seen" (John 3:11); He had seen the Father (John 6:46); heard Him speaking to Himself (John 12:28); spoke the Father's words and did the Father's works. What a service! how can we refrain from breaking out in holy strains of adoration? Blessed, precious Lord, Thou art worthy! all this comes out from Thee as the loved Son of the Father! What a dark picture was the state in Israel when this ministry came out! A wicked and adulterous generation (John 8:1-12). Lying under the fulness of satanic power (John 20:1; Luke 8:2), and completely insensible to their moral blindness (John 9:1, 39-41). This is the world condition morally in which was carried out the service of the Son of the Father's love. Effete Judaism, what a picture! This is where He told out divine Persons' interests and counsels, and above all, the heart of God. Who else could do this but the Son loved by the Father, and who could say, "That the world may know that I love the Father"?
But there is, as we have said, a further thought in connection with the love of the Father to the Son. He was loved in the eternal past and then in His path of service here, but at the cross there is a yet deeper touch of feeling in connection with the outflow of that love. So far it was the gracious flow of that which is divine in the uncaused and causeless depth of what is essentially divine. While the same is true, there is a touch imparted to it by the cross, which is of such a sacred character that it passes beyond our most refined and holy thoughts of God. Jesus said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, BECAUSE I lay down My life that I might take it again" (John 10:17).
Much has been said on this "because." One whose ministry has been blest to millions said that in this passage the Son ministered a new motive to the Father's heart to love Him. This has been questioned, and perhaps because the passage is such as calls for the most refined sensibilities, the richest thoughts of God. The thought is precious and surely suggested by the Spirit of God. The difficulty to many is how we are to conceive of any modification in the flow of that love which is infinite and eternal. "My Father loves Me because — " Why because? The Father ever loved Him in the depth of nature, essence and moral Being, in an ageless eternity of bliss: loved Him, too, shall we say, with an added pathos of unutterable depth in that holy path which resulted from His immeasurable stoop from Godhead to a bondsman's form. But now we see the Father loving Him "because." O matchless tale, sublime beyond our words or thoughts. The Father loves His Son with a love which is conditioned with a "Therefore" and a "Because." It was a love that rested upon Him in the Home of Love and that kept His heart in unruffled peace and joy while in that service, which kindled a fire upon the earth; but a love which received such an impetus at the cross as produced new feelings in the deeper depth of Godhead. We are confessedly at our extremity here. We can think, praise, worship, and adore, and with holy delight participate in that love which is divine, and which gave itself for us, but there is that in that death which is so peculiarly divine that it is sacred to God and to Godhead for evermore. "Therefore (or, On this account) doth My Father love Me because I lay down My life (soul) that I might take it again."
But see how the movements of Godhead and Manhood come together in close proximity. He goes on to say; "No one takes it from Me but I lay it down of Myself." In these few words we are led beyond all the rebellious forces of evil to Godhead power and glory. He, the source of life to all creation had both the right and power to lay down His life, but immediately that is said, the holy obedience of the perfect Man comes out, "This commandment have I received of My Father." Why the Father's commandment? Why should the eternal Son of the Father be here in a condition of life which He could lay down? Does it not show that the same love that flowed between the Persons of the holy Godhead, was at work in behalf of the creature, who, according to the same counsels, was to be brought from sin and death, to be before God for His pleasure, in the company of the Son, in a glory based upon divine righteousness, where love, (that love which came into conflict at the cross) would find its complete rest in love's eternal home, to the glory and praise of God.
We are reminded here of the scene in Genesis 22. There the father and son went up the mountain together. The Son's obedience is therefore shown right up to death itself, but in the actual scene at Calvary there could be no ram caught in a thicket. No, for Him that cross was a needs be. He said to Peter; "Put up thy sword into his place . . . Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?" It is the same in John 3, the Son of Man must be lifted up.
Our passage in John 10 is clearly the cross in relation to the nature of God, but we may note its connection with His character. It is said that through the eternal Spirit Christ offered Himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14). In this way all the majesty, holiness and righteousness of God was made good in a glory which is immeasurable and unassailable to all eternity. We may, and indeed, it is through grace, our inalienable portion, to dwell with deep adoration on that death as the anti-typical fulness of every type, but there is that there which goes beyond every type, shadow and figure, to the heart of God Himself. It is that inner communion of holy sympathetic feeling which we call unction, in its deepest reciprocal action between divine Persons, in that hour, which must indeed be the centre of all hours, in the history of eternity. It was as if that love (may we say it with reverence) which flowed without beginning or end, and without let or hindrance, in its own calm and unbroken current, received such an impetus in the moment when the Son laid down His life, as to establish a new claim on the Father's most tender affections for evermore. We can understand with comparative ease how the death of our Lord has established His claim of love on the whole wide creation, in all its departments, far beyond the original created status. Our own lost condition as sinners, and His wondrous stoop to save us, has produced a sense of indebtedness which can never be repaid, but the fact that the Son has so wrought as to produce a cause for the Father's love, and in that way, so to speak, have a fresh claim upon the Father and the Spirit, passes beyond our creature minds in their highest renewed capacity.
Surely, beloved reader, we have to admit a sad lack of refined sensibilities which qualify our souls for dwelling upon this, the inner side of divine revelation, where love's treasures are to be known and enjoyed. Far indeed must we be from the thoughts and feelings of the Father and Son, if we not only miss the beauty of this passage, but are prepared to affirm that the Father abandoned His Son in the hour of Calvary. That our Lord Jesus Christ was forsaken of God, in that time when He had freely offered Himself to meet the whole character of God, in the creation, with regard to sin, is a necessary foundation of the whole redemption scheme, but we are dull indeed if we refuse to distinguish between that (connecting, as it does with the character of God), and the inner feelings, affections and relationships of love, which are bound up with the nature of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But look again at this passage, (John 10:17). The Father loves Him not only for laying down His life, but for laying it down that He might take it again. In this last clause we have resurrection. Death was His own act and so also resurrection. There can be no contradiction nor clash with the part both the Father and the Spirit had, in His glorious resurrection (Rom. 6:4; 1 Peter 3:18). He who said "Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days," says here, "I lay down My life that I might take it again."
Following the trend of our meditation, we can see the life of the Son here on earth in a glory which can never grow dim, but it was to come to an end. He took the flesh and blood condition in view of bringing it to an end. It had to come to an end in Him, the sinless perfect One, in view of a new creation. It had to come to an end in us, because of its sinful and incorrigible condition, and for the glory of God. There was no moral necessity that it should be ended in Him, for it was perfect and complete, for the glory of God in every way. But He must pass through death, and by resurrection take up a condition of Manhood that abides for eternity, and thus establish in Himself the new resurrection world of which He is Head, and in which He fills every official position, in every department of that world, through all time, right down into eternity. Then every mark of the first order shall be gone forever, and He, God over all yet Man, will have a universe perfectly suitable for God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — for evermore.
The cross then, links with two scenes, and is the doorway out of the one into the other. One transient and of a day, but oh! what a day! The other fixed and eternal in glory. Both linked up with that eternal past in the heart of that God whose counsels of grace was the necessity of all. One the history of time, sin, sorrow, anguish and woe, where God had been dishonoured by the creature, and where, spite of perversity of will in the fallen creature, all the deep feelings of His heart in mercy and compassion were drawn out. But, beyond all that finite creatures could imagine, where God Himself came a Man to bleed and die: came, yes, precious Saviour, to share our woes, and carry our sorrows, in a capacity of human nature refined beyond all our ken; came to weep and to sympathize, to hunger, fast, and endure fatigue, and at the end, oh thought beyond all thought! in spite of all our perversity, sinfulness and hatefulness to divine holiness, to bear our sins in Thine own body on the tree.
Such thoughts are suggested from these holy Gospels, and particularly from the three-fold bearing of the Father's love to the Son, from eternity, and eternal counsel, to Incarnation and the Cross. We are constrained to put them out because of the need, the crying need everywhere in evidence, of food for the flock of Christ. The constant output of prophetic literature from the press is a remarkable proof that the secret rapture of the saints to heaven is close at hand. This and other kinds of sacred literature abound on every hand in cheap and readable form, in a way which to most people are easily acquired. The scriptures are expounded in books, tracts and charts, by subjects historic and prophetic, scripture typology and symbolism, right on to the opening up of dispensations, ages and covenants. Surely for all this we give fervent thanks to God. It has been said, however, that the great need of the moment is a ministry of the Person of Christ. It is Himself personally as brought to the affections now, that we would desire. Oh for more of that which feeds the affections and nourishes the soul, and which begets, and empowers, the cry, Come Lord Jesus! The foregoing pages are a feeble attempt on this line, and while trusting that there is nothing that is unsuitable for the mind, our great desire is to feed the heart. We would appeal to that class of men: faithful men who have given proof of divinely given ability for this service, to help by prayer and a ministry of Christ to feed the flock of God. There is no lack of that which instructs and furnishes the mind by the acquisition of knowledge, and we are thankful for it all, but there is undeniably a call for that which meets that class who feel His absence, and eagerly await His coming, but are seeking acquaintance with Himself where He is, by the Spirit, in communion now.
May we therefore exhort the reader to cultivate acquaintance with the Lord Himself? We had no intention of proceeding so far, but the theme is infinite. We are reminded that the world itself could not contain the books that might be written of Him. We know that in the Assembly which is His Body and Bride, God is preparing a divine Library in which He will be read by a wondering creation.
We conclude with a reference to three different occasions in this Gospel of John, when the Lord asserted His glory, and in each case an attempt was made to kill Him, but in this Gospel, as we have seen, no man could tab. away that life. "My Father worketh hitherto and I work." "For this therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He had not only violated the Sabbath, but also said that God was His own Father, making Himself equal with God" (John 5:17, 18). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I Am. They took up therefore stones that they might cast them at Him" (John 8:58, 59). "I and the Father are one. The Jews therefore again took stones that they might stone Him" (John 10:30, 31).
The three-fold answer to this, seen in the two following chapters is a beautiful expression of God's vindication of His Son. The incident with Lazarus was for the glory of God, that the Son of God should be glorified by it (John 11:4). Then He is hailed King of Israel in the light of Zech. 9:9. And in the same chapter when the Greeks desire to see Him He says: "The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." Thus we get the Glory of the Son of God, Son of Man, and Son of David, which seems to be the Spirit's answer to the previous attempts at violence. Three times He speaks in His Godhead, and ignorance attempts to take His life as the life of a MAN. The Spirit's three-fold answer shows Him, both God and MAN, in the fulness of an official splendour that shall not only fill the universe with blessing, but shall cover the Name and Majesty of God with a glory, which is the only fitting answer to the counsels of eternity, and which meet every desire of the Nature and Being of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit for evermore.
O Jesus Lord, Eternal God;
Surpassing creature thought;
Come down a Man to bleed and die,
An act with wonder fraught.
Amazing grace, yet human needs,
Didst mark Thy holy path;
A path bestrewed by glorious deeds
Yet come to bear God's wrath.
It passes words, it passes thought,
It passes creature ken
Yet, by Thyself divinely taught,
We own its worth sublime.
Amazing yet inspiring trust,
Mysterious yet so sweet
We worship, as indeed we must
As prostrate at Thy feet.
O Holy, Holy Peerless One,
My inmost soul's delight;
Why should I ever cease to praise
With all my creature might?
O Worthy, Worthy Precious Lord,
My Life, my Shield, my Sun;
I'd feast my soul upon Thyself
Till travelling days are done.
And then, O then in boundless Face,
In rest and joy divine;
I'll live to love, and serve, and praise
My everlasting home.
Mark 13:32. So much has been written on this passage by men richly taught of God, that we have to own that any attempt on our part seems a little presumptuous. Nowhere could mental confidence or human assurance be more out of place. But if the sense of grace and divine favour produce in us a spirit of adoring worship, we need not fear to follow on to know the Lord.
As there are no critical questions about the translation, we may take the common version. "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." This occurs in the Volume which asserts and proves our Lord to be God (John 1:1, 2; Col. 1:16-20; Heb. 1:1-3). It came, too, from the lips of Him who claimed to be God (John 8:58; John 10:30). If this truth be a living reality in our souls nothing can disturb or unsettle, not even what is said in Scripture itself. We ought to be as firm on this as the great Apostle was about the Gospel, when he said, "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). The moment we allow the thought of limitations in our Lord it is clear we have lost the truth of His Person. Suppose then we come across a passage such as this, what are we to do? Wait on the Lord for His help to understand it. If we keep close to Himself by the Spirit, with a sense of His grace, we will not be surprised at what seems to be contradictions. But suppose that light does not come and we are baffled, and cannot get to know the meaning, what then? Wait still on the Lord. If it be a settled thing in my soul that our Lord Jesus is God, How can I expect ever to understand all about Him? There are mysteries on every page of the gospels that we shall never be able to clear.
But, says some one: we know that God is infinite and beyond our finite understanding, but this passage speaks of our Lord as Incarnate, that is, as the Word become flesh. Yes, and surely this adds to the depth and profundity of the whole matter. If God in His Being be so far from us that He has come down into Manhood to make Himself known, surely there must be a solemn mystery surrounding His Person which will be felt by every spiritual mind, and which in the very nature of things must retard every attempt of curious scrutiny. If, for example, the mystery of our own creature constitution as spirit, soul and body, is so far beyond our ability to fathom, why should we foolishly try to know all about the Incarnation of God the Son? Omnipotence, Omniscience, or Omnipresence can allow of no limitations. Omnipotence is in evidence in creating a drop of water as well as in creating a planet. Omnipresence is in evidence in the omnipotent act of healing the Centurion's servant (Matt. 8:13), as it is described in the language of Psalm 139. 6-10, where it says, "If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there." Omniscience is the same in John 2, where it is said, He knew what is in man, as in 1 Chr. 28:9, where it says, The Lord searcheth all hearts. The same is true as to His knowledge. It could not in the very nature of things be otherwise. In Matt. 13, He foretells the history of the centuries in a way that completely identifies Him with the Jehovah of Isa. 42:9, Who says; "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them."
Turning to the passage the question arises; if He is God, why does He say "neither the Son"? why does He speak of not knowing? what can the words mean? Is it not clear that both are true, that is, He is God and knows all things, and being Man, is in the state proper to Man, and that this state which is proper to Man is what the words "Neither the Son" apply to. If we were more deeply affected by this profound mystery, may we not say difficulties would vanish away? It is said, "Why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead?" May we not apply the same to our passage? Why should we His people have a difficulty because He speaks in Manhood and says "Neither the Son"? On the side of Godhead there can be no limitation, while on the side of His Manhood there is that which was proper to the Manhood He had taken upon Him.
There is no demur with the devout heart when it is said, He is Supreme yet a bondslave: Sovereign Ruler yet subject: a Commander yet obedient. If it be asked how can such opposite features meet in the same Person, the answer is; it is not ours to deal with the "How," it is ours with adoring hearts to accept what the Holy Spirit has put before us concerning the holy mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord. The truth lies before us on the page of holy writ, that the Man Christ Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and that He thirsted, hungered, and was fatigued, in the same path and service as He cast out demons, quietened the storm, and raised the dead. If then the glorious features of Omnipotence and Omnipresence were in Him along with obedience, subjection, and dependence, can we fail to see that Omniscience and not knowing can combine in Him as well. We repeat with deepened emphasis, that if we are firmly established in the Godhead of our Lord no real difficulty can come.
Here the wisest of men may err. The question constantly raises itself, how can such opposite and apparently contradictory things co-exist in the same Person. It is as if we could bring HIM down to our level and apply the rules of Logic as within the circle of creature knowledge. Far better to abide by the statements of scripture on such a weighty and profound theme. Men set to work on what they call the limitations in that blessed Person and many eventually land themselves in rank heterodoxy. The least divergence from the truth marked out in Scripture, like departing from the bearing in a coal mine, takes us in every movement further from the truth till we land in some of the speculative delusions of the day.
Scripture presents our Lord in His unique Person, both God and Man. All His sayings and doings sprang from Him as such. It is thus we are privileged to behold Him in full mediatorial capacity acting for God and His glory, being equal with God, and acting for man, having become man. It is thus the great range of the teaching and service of the Saviour is put before us, and we are in our proper place when we accept without question what the Spirit says. Come unto Me, all ye that labour, etc. (Matt. 11:28). Jesus stood and cried, saying, if any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink (John 7:37); I am the light of the world (John 8:12), and I am the good Shepherd (John 10:11). These and many more passages set our Lord before us a real Man, yet not less than God. There are other occasions, however, when He speaks in an abstract way in His Godhead, and others again when He speaks in His Manhood. No man knoweth the Son but the Father (Matt. 11:27), I and the Father are one (John 10:30). These and certain other passages present Him on the side of Deity. Give Me to drink (John 4:7) Show Me a penny (Luke 20:24). These again present Him speaking in Manhood. The passage before us in Mark 13 is belonging to this last class.
There is one expression in the verse which calls for a few more words which may serve to make the truth a little clearer to some. It is the word "Son." The term is descriptive of our Lord in His eternal relations with the Father, and Spirit, in the Trinity (Matt. 11:27). It is used sometimes also as designating Him in Incarnation, as for example: "The Father loveth the Son and hath committed all things into His hands" (John 3:35; "The Father loveth (philei) the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth" (John 5:20). It is also used in connection with His Manhood, and to this the passage we are dealing with applies. It is clear that what is predicated of the Person belong to His Manhood, but why is the term which is descriptive of Him in eternal Person used in connection with that which is proper to Manhood? Such a difficulty is only imaginary, for the Spirit who gives us scripture is Sovereign and is free to speak of Him as is proper for the bringing out of His glory.
All this appears to be connected with a divine mode of acting, to which we do well to take heed. When the Lord speaks of Himself as the Son of Man which is in heaven, it is clear He is using a human designation of Himself, in a position which is His by right of divine and eternal Personality. The same may be said of His words in John 6:62, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" The term Son of Man is a title belonging to time; where He was before is expressive of Him before becoming Man and therefore Divine. No instructed Christian has any difficulty with these passages, it is Scripture's own way of putting our Lord before us, and who dares to find fault?
What then is the proper application of this principle to Mark 13:32? Is it not that our Lord is speaking of Himself in Manhood and using a designation in His own eternal right as the Son? "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." The very context of the page proves this, for who but God could say what our Lord says here in the same breath; "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away"?
That there is nothing but the plain intention of Scripture in all this may be seen from 1 Cor. 15:28. The passage is in the parenthesis (v. 20-28), where the Spirit stretches as it were a line from the resurrection of Christ to God's eternal day, and may be given from the ordinary version. "But when all things shall be subdued unto Him then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all." No instructed christian infers from the mention of the Son's subjection in this passage that because He continues Man throughout eternity, to which subjection applies, He has given up His Godhead. The very thought is an outrage. How could the unchangeable God be ever less than God? Why then should men talk of limitations in His Person, seeking to analyse and dissect in a sphere which in the very nature of things must be beyond the creature for ever?
Surely what applies to the passage in Corinthians has the same meaning in Mark. Moreover, the same line of interpretation has been at work all down the age in connection chiefly with the 1st Epistle of John, where it is well known that the Spirit passes beyond all the rules of grammar in the use of Divine Names. But who can question the right of God to speak as He may? What is reason, grammar or logic to Him who is the Author of Life? We do well then, to take heed to what the Spirit says. He may speak of the Lord or indeed show us the Lord speaking of Himself in one nature while the thing spoken of applies to the other nature without any cause on our part for venturing upon ground where we have no right to be, nor making foolish statements about our Lord, which only show the working of the mind and lay us open to the deceptive attacks of that enemy who has all down the centuries set himself to attack our Lord Jesus Christ.
We prefer then, to take scripture as it reads, and to stop where it stops. To those who go on to talk of limitation in that glorious Being who is God over all, Almighty in every sense of the word, yet a real Man who stooped to bleed and die, we say no. We cannot, we dare not follow you there. His claims are first, His honour paramount, He is the Alpha and Omega, Lord God Almighty, Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come. In the Gospel of John He is seen as such at the beginning by Nathaniel and owned the same at the end by Thomas, while in between He asked for a drink from a poor woman (John 4) and spoke the very words given Him to say as carrying out the commands of Another (John 12:49, 50).
Perfect in the Manhood He took we adore Him, "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son," and we say with another company "This is our God," and with the Queen that came to Solomon "The half has not been told" (Isa. 25:9: 1 Kings 10:7).
The mystery of the Incarnation we cannot, we dare not penetrate, but we can adore. While God is not limited, man is not deified and all is so perfectly balanced as to meet every desire of God's heart concerning every department of creation in relation to Counsel, Redemption, Government and Glory in that One Person. On the divine side all that God is in moral fulness is brought out while on the side of creation a perfect response is guaranteed in virtue of His Manhood. Satisfaction, peace, joy and gladness will pervade the whole to the delight of God; Father, Son and Spirit for evermore.