"Who maketh thee to differ from another?" And surely the answer is that believers, and believers only, have a permanent standing before God. This they have on the ground of the atonement. When we consider ourselves as saints, it must be either as the apostles Paul and John said; that is, with Paul, "I know nothing against myself," or with John, "If our heart condemn us not then have we confidence toward God." In both cases the heart is free and happy before Him; or we must, like Isaiah and Job, consider ourselves as conscious of our failure and of the defect that there is in us, as His saints. (Isaiah 6:5; Job 42:6.) We must look upon ourselves either as in the one condition or in the other of these two.
The value of the atonement, to the one who stands before God on the ground of it, is seen both in the "burnt-offering" (Leviticus 1:4) and also in the "sin-offering." (Leviticus 4:31.) The offerer is before God in all the value of it, as known to Him, who alone could estimate its value. God is now revealed, and Christ is both the true burnt-offering and the sin-offering, there is no other given, but this is.
Now whether we can regard ourselves through grace as on the one ground of Paul and John, to which I have referred, or must rather regard ourselves as poor failing saints, feeble as to the full and right understanding or manner of life based upon our immense privileges and blessings, God never considers us as either the one or the other apart from the atonement. Then the only right way in which we should regard ourselves, is surely the way in which God regards us! Are we failing? To remember this will cheer and correct us. Are we, through grace, going on with hearts that do not condemn us? It will humble us yet the more to see nothing in us to glory in. If God regards us in all the value of the atonement, and in all the value of Him who accomplished it - and God estimates - and He only could estimate the perfection of it - it is in this that we stand. What a relief for us ever so to regard ourselves.
In the matter of taking the sum, or of "making a survey" of God's people, this comes clearly out (now that Christ is come) in Exodus 30 in the following instruction given to Moses. Each individual comes up alone, but each is on the same ground, whether rich or poor.
"When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel" (the Septuagint reads, "When thou takest an account in the surveying of the children of Israel") "after their number, then they shall give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary:" (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) "an half shekel shall be the offering of the Lord. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls."
When we consider ourselves, and how we stand individually before God, it is well to be reminded that we are (as also were God's people Israel) already, and for a long time, in all the value of the blood of the Lamb and of the redemption out of Egypt. The Red Sea was the close of their history there - from it they were brought to God, as Exodus 15 says, and the wilderness journey commenced. This offering of atonement money was only a memorial of the great fact, the ground on which they each one stood with God - "that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the Lord." This chapter does not give us the reason for the age of those who were numbered being fixed at "twenty years old and above," but Numbers 1 does. It adds, "All that are able to go forth to war in Israel." These, therefore, were the only ones to be thus numbered or taken account of. If a man is not able to stand before the enemy, he is at present of no account. He is not yet on the ground of God's full age, in the experience of his soul, and is therefore not one of the "perfect" named in 1 Cor. 2. The Corinthians had fallen under the power of the enemy - the seductions of the world - and the apostle could not address them as "perfect," or full grown. Some of the saints of that day were of full age. Hence he says, "Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect."
To be of full age, I must be in my own soul in the conscious value of the atonement before God. Blessed position, known in this world! Such a man lifts up his head boldly, strong (though not in natural strength) to meet both the open opposition, as well as all the wily seductions of the foe, for these are the two forms in which he approaches us now. The enemy in the wilderness is either "Amalek" open opposition (as brought out in Exodus 17), or he is before us as "Moab" (the fraternizing seductions of Numbers 25). His object in both cases is the same - to hinder us from going on, and from manifesting to all that we are pilgrims and strangers here.
Now of what account is a Christian who is not going on, and so showing this out? Clearly in the type, an Israelite who could not stand before the enemy, because he was not of full age, was not counted. If we regard ourselves apart from the atonement, it only ministers to fleshly pride, we STOP, and fall into the hands of the enemy, and then the "plague," from which the memorial atonement money would have shielded us, has already begun. God cannot own anything of man, or of this "present evil age," and at Corinth, because they did own it, Paul says, "Many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep." They were saints, but they did not overcome the world and its prince. "Ye have reigned as kings without us." They were plagued that they might not settle down here, and might not be condemned with the world.
The atonement makes everything of God and nothing of us. This surely, every believer will admit, is as it should be. Apart from Christ and His work on my behalf, I am nothing, but regarded on the ground of it my blessing is illimitable. Why should I ever regard myself then in any other connection? My privilege is to think of myself as God thinks of me; to this, in my life, the Spirit seeks to transform me, and every other way of looking at myself savours of the "plague," which God must mete out, sooner or later, to all that is not of Christ.
In 1 Chron. 21, we read a sad story of the numbering of God's people, and of the plague that fell upon them on account of it. As far as we know, the suggestion of the numbering of the people, apart from the atonement offering, was (and always is) the work of Satan. We have seen that they may be numbered, or taken account of, as on the ground of the atonement (and it is only thus that Balaam is made to take account of them, in the beautiful passage, Numbers 23, 24, the burnt offering being before him). But so far as we know, this was forgotten by David. . And what is the tendency, then, of taking the names? Pride, and nothing else. To be similarly enrolled on the earth now - to get a name, either as an individual, or as a company, where Christ "got only reproach - is a sad comment on what man is, after all the teaching that we, as CHRISTIANS, have received - viz., as unfolded in one word: "In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." But observe, what was it that stopped the plague? It was placing Israel before God on the ground of "atonement." The angel of judgment, with his sword yet drawn, stood by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then the king lifted up his eyes (condemned himself), and received a message from God to set up an altar unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite, and there he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and then, "The Lord commanded the angel, and he put up his sword again into the sheath."
It is the same lesson. The sacrifice that went up from that spot stayed the sword of judgment. But it also declared afresh that the only ground, and through grace we may say the all-sufficient ground, on which, as saints, we can estimate ourselves, is this, what God has made us, through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must maintain it, or we shall never walk accordingly.
May the Lord grant that we may never look upon, or consider, ourselves apart from the atonement, for it is only as thus consciously "full grown" that we are able to meet the enemy. It is then true of such that "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." As soldiers we shall have to meet open opposition, and if not that, seduction; but it remains true (be it which it may) that our privilege is to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might," and this, apart from the knowledge of the one perfect atonement, we could not be. As acting in the value of the atonement I am in the panoply, and in antagonism to the enemy, who is seeking to make me settle down here. I make no truce with him, but am manifestly going on, running with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (Heb. 12), Himself being the only perfect model, set before me day by day. H. C. Anstey.
We are in Christ, and in Him we are perfectly accepted. He is our righteousness - a righteousness which is fit for the glory; for He is in the glory according to this righteousness. But He is also in us as our life, and according to the power of the Spirit. This life in itself is perfect, and cannot sin; but we must also have a sanctifying object before us. Therefore the Holy Spirit takes what is in Christ, and reveals it to us; yea, He reveals to us all that is up there where Christ is, and where the Father is also. By this we grow objectively in that which is heavenly; we are weaned from the world, live in spirit in the heavenly places, enjoy the Father's love, and become thus holy in practical ways.
J. N. Darby.
It is the knowledge of a glorified Christ by the Holy Ghost which is the formative power of holiness.