"Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee." (Isaiah 43:4)
ALL those things that cause the heart of the child of God to sink from day to day--all those things that cause him to write bitter things against himself, if we rightly contemplate the truth as it is revealed in the precious Word of God, we shall find that they are the very things which should lead us to look at the glorious standing of the Church in all her blessedness in Christ Jesus. Since God has told us that all is accomplished, that our debts are paid, and that our work is done, and that we stand eternally "accepted in the beloved." Yet, because we cannot feel a little of the precious overflowing of joy and peace in believing, we are casting away our confidence, and living so miserably low, as though we had no part or lot in the matter.
But is this right, dear brother? Is it not clear that the reason we are living in this low condition is, that we are looking in the wrong direction; that we are looking into ourselves, instead of looking for all we need in the person and fullness of Christ? It is "looking unto Jesus." Looking from all that we are in the creature to Jesus only; dwelling on the glorious declarations which run up and down in the Word of God, and rejoicing in the mercy, that "he is of one mind, and none can turn him." (Job 23:13)
He has told us in our text, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee." What can the Lord say more to a poor sinner than this? Especially when we take into the account the date of it, that there was never a point in eternity when the Church was not precious to him.
Now we shall enquire this morning,
First-- Who those are who are precious to Jehovah?
Secondly-- Why they are precious?
Thirdly-- How honorable? and
Fourthly-- With reference to the everlasting love that has embraced the whole Church, and made her what she is, according to the covenant purpose of our covenant God.
Now, if we would rightly understand who those are that are thus precious in God's sight, we must look at the beginning of our chapter. "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not."
This, then, is the portrait the Lord has given us, that we may know whether we are among those who are precious to him. It is the fearing and the trembling. It is those to whom the Lord has given eternal life; and the light of life shining in their hearts discovers to them what they are in themselves; and it is this that makes them fear and tremble, lest after all they should miss the glorious mark, and not prove to be among the precious ones of the Lord.
But the Lord has said it is himself who has created you; for "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." (Eph. 2:10)
It is this new creation to which our chapter refers. "Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and that formed thee, O Israel." The Lord hath "formed" us to be exactly what we are, poor empty creatures in ourselves, daily sensible of our poverty, daily sensible of our deep need of what Christ is made of God unto us, our "wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30)
If you did not feel your daily need of Christ, dear brother, then indeed you might have cause to fear that your spot was not the spot of God's people; (Deut. 32:5) for it is impossible but that these feelings of need must be constantly rising in the heart of one whom the Lord has created anew in Christ Jesus. He has made you thus poor and needy in yourself, to make it necessary for him to be continually manifesting himself unto you otherwise than he does unto the world. It is I that have formed you. O Israel, saith the Lord; it is the life that I have given you that makes you feel as you do, therefore, "Fear not."
Who was it that took Israel into the wilderness? Was it not God himself who brought them into that condition, where there was no supply but what they received from him? And it is the same mighty God who has brought you out of death into spiritual life, and produced this feeling of need in your soul; so that you are compelled to live hanging upon him, feeling that "without him you can do nothing."
The Lord says, "Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine."
What a glorious declaration in this for the Lord's dear children! It is because thou art mine that I have done these things in thee. It is because I have loved thee with an unchanging love that I will never let thee slip. Thou shalt ever be this needy creature in thyself, that of my fullness you may receive, and "grace upon grace."
How did the Lord call us by our names, dear brother? Can you remember the moment when he called upon you,--Sinner, come to me! Sinner, you are lost in self! Sinner, I have provided for you an eternal righteousness, "I have called thee by thy name!" Did he not then make you feel what a poor sinner you were in yourself, and how much you needed his mercy in Christ Jesus, and that you could find no mercy elsewhere?
It is thus he calls us out of death unto life. As he said to Lazarus, "Lazarus, come forth!" so it is only for him to speak the word to a dead sinner, and life comes with the word; thus, he says, "I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine." "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee." Go back over your little journey this morning, dear child of God; doubtless, you have been through many waters, and you may have been hardly able to conceive sometimes what the Lord was about to do with you, the waters have risen so high. But you have passed through the waters--you did not stop in them; and you have learned many blessed lessons in the waters of affliction. Christ says in the 42nd Psalm, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me." Yes, all the waves of God's wrath, which was due to the Church, went over the head of our great Surety; and he himself is with thee in the midst of the waters of affliction, and he will never leave thee to be drowned in them.
What does Paul say with reference to this? "This light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17)
This light affliction will lead you to look well to the foundation on which your hope is built; therefore, when you have passed through the waters, you will be able to say with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted....For before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." (Ps. 119:67) "Ah!" says some poor troubled one, this morning, "when shall I look back upon my affliction and say, 'It is good for me that I have been afflicted?'" "Fear not," dear brother, though the waters may rise high, yet the Lord is with you; and he will do as he did in the case of the Israelites of old--he will make a pathway through the waters, and will not suffer you to be overwhelmed by them. "When thou passeth through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee." When thou passeth through the river of death, he will be with thee; and thou shalt pass through it like one sleeping upon the bosom of a dear friend. "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned." Do you know what fiery temptations mean, dear brother?
"Yes," say you, "and they have been very terrific sometimes."
Well, it is to such as know these things that our text comes today. It comes to those who are passing through deep waters of affliction; to those who know what it is to go into many a fiery furnace of temptation.
Was not the Lord with the three children in the fiery furnace? Well, he is the same God now, dear brother. It matters not what your affliction may arise from, whether it be from temporal or spiritual causes; this is the blessedness of our text,--it refers to all the various fires of temptation and waters of affliction which come upon the Lord's dear children. It is all to "bring down their hearts with labour, that they may fall down with none to help." (Ps. 107:12)
"Fear not:" "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee;" for the Lord declares,--"Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee."
We come now to look at the second part of our subject: Why is the Church thus precious to God the Father?
We know that she was precious in the covenant of grace. We go back, therefore, to the very fountain of all preciousness; and in going back thus, we lose ourselves in the overflowing fountain of the "everlasting love" of our covenant God and Father in Christ Jesus.
We read in Jeremiah a little concerning the date of this love. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me; Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." (Jer. 31:3) I like to read this verse without the italics. It is the Church that is speaking here;--"The Lord hath appeared of old unto me." The Lord appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me;" but now I am like one "twice dead, and plucked up by the roots." (Jude 12)
But, says the Lord, in answer to the complaint of the Church, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." How drawn? Drawn by the blessed power of the Spirit out of death into spiritual life--into eternal, manifest union to Christ. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love,--with a love that never knew a beginning, and that can never know an end,--and since thou art precious to me, I preserve thee in Christ Jesus. "Sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Jesus Christ, and called." (Jude 1)
We must, then, date the preciousness of the Church with the same date as that of the love of our covenant God and Father.
Now, what I desire especially,--the Lord helping the infirmities of his dear children this morning,--is to divert their attention from themselves, and to carry up their noble minds to the contemplation of the glorious fullness of the blessedness, that since there was never a time when the Church was not infinitely dear to Jehovah, so, whatever changes may take place in us, nothing can ever alter the blessedness.
We shall see as we go on what it is that makes the Church so precious. We read in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly glories in Christ." "All spiritual blessings!" Who shall measure the magnitude of that word all? It takes in the eternal glory of the Church; that infinite glory which he has put upon her according to his covenant purpose; as it is written again in the eighth of Romans, "For whom he did foreknow,"--with this infinite foreknowledge of love,--"he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
What a glorious donation was bestowed upon the Church in the covenant of grace, when she was blessed thus with all spiritual blessings in heavenly glories in Christ! I put the word glories here instead of places. He has given us Christ, and has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in him.
All the fullness and perfection of our most glorious Christ belong to the Church; for "in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him." (Col. 2:9,10) And being thus pronounced eternally complete in Christ, who possesses all the glory that can be bestowed upon the Church, what can we desire more? We cannot possess more; for it is written again, "And truly our fellowship--or partnership--is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3) The Father has given all that he contains to Christ; and he has given Christ to the Church, and with him "all spiritual blessings." "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." (Eph. 1:4)
Now it is here, dear brother, that I lose myself and all that I am in the creature, knowing that my emptiness can never alter the blessed fullness I possess in Christ.
But one may ask, "Do you mean to say that you are indifferent about sin?" Oh, no! I know what Paul means in his seventh chapter to the Romans. I feel the "law of sin warring against the law of my mind," by the holy light of life which is put within me, "bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members;" and no man every yet loved captivity, dear brother. It is thus I am often compelled to cry out, "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name." (Ps. 142:7) Or with Paul, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24)
But the moment my eye is taken off from the corrupt condition I am in by nature, and fixed upon all the blessedness Jehovah has given me in my precious Lord Jesus Christ, then I can "mount upwards with wings as eagles, I can run and not be weary, walk and not faint," knowing that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1) As it is blessedly confirmed to us in that declaration I have just quoted, "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son."
We must not lose sight of the glory of it, dear brother. It is as we are conformed to his image, as we stand in all the perfection of Christ, that we are precious.
The apostle John says, "Then shall we have boldness in the day of judgment; for as he is, so are we in this world." (1 John 4:17) Again, "The trumpet shall sound...and we shall be changed...in the twinkling of an eye." (1 Cor. 15:52) Yes, in a moment the child of God will be changed into the glorious image of Christ; for "when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) And as the child of God sees himself thus in the mirror of God's eternal purpose, can he wonder that he should say, "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee?"
The Lord help us to realize by faith a little of these glorious things, and then we shall be enabled to say with Paul, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." (Phil. 4:11) Knowing that HE has said, "I will never leave thee, I will never forsake thee."
I know the more you dwell upon these things, dear brother, the more you will be changed into his glorious image, and others shall take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus--that you have been contemplating his beauty and perfection, and that you have been dwelling upon his love; for at the next step we shall see that we are not only loved by our covenant God and Father, but that we are loved also by our dear elder Brother. He says in the words preceding our text, "I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour."
He loves us with a true human heart, for he has taken our nature into union with his divine person: therefore he can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." He knows what a broken heart is, for he himself died of a broken heart. His heart burst, as it were, and he gave up the ghost: as we read in the Psalms, "Thy rebukes have broken my heart."
Then you cannot go to him in too miserable a condition, dear brother. He loves to see your face. He knows that he contains in himself a full supply for all your needs. In one moment he can heal your broken heart, and bind up all your wounds. He can give you "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." (Isa. 61:3)
The Lord help you to remember, that there is no circumstance of trial through which you are called to pass, but his glorious human heart is touched with sympathy towards you; for
"That human heart he still retains,
Though throned in highest bliss,
And feels afresh each member's pains,
For our affliction's his."
And he is not only touched with all that you pass through from day to day, but he is also almighty to deliver. "He is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by him." (Heb. 7:25)
What a blessed Redeemer have we, then, when we contemplate that he is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father; that while he loves us with a human heart, he loves us also with the same infinite, unchanging love wherewith Jehovah the Father loves us: so that, whatever may transpire within you, dear brother, nothing can possibly alter his love; for he is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for ever." (Heb. 13:8) And when the last elect vessel is born of God--when Time's pendulum shall cease to beat--we shall see him come in the clouds of glory, and we shall then meet him, and be like him, and with him for ever.
We read in Malachi 3:16, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels." The word as it reads in the margin is, "in that day when I make up my precious treasure."
And what is his precious treasure but the Church--all glorious as she stands in the person of her glorious and exalted head? She shall be his crown of rejoicing in that day when he shall "present her unto himself a glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." (Eph. 5:27) She is the flock of the Great Shepherd--his precious flock for whom he laid down his life; "and they shall never perish," says Christ, "neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:29)
There are many glorious features that we might go over, if time would permit, concerning the preciousness of the Church, and why she is so precious; but we must look a little now, thirdly, at the question,
How honorable? We have it given in Rev. 1:5, "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." Whatever your sins may be, dear brother, though they be a mountain, it is all gone. The Father sees no sin in his people, as he looks upon them in his dear Son. The sin of the Church has been laid on the head of the great Surety, and we can rejoice that he has put away "by the sacrifice of himself," so that there is no longer any sin remaining. "Oh," says some poor troubled sinner, "I feel so vile, so full of guilt: can I rejoice that my sin is put away?" Yes, dear brother, it is "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood." "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable." How is the Church honourable? As she is looked upon in all the glory of the person of Christ. "And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father."
What a glorious dignity is conferred upon the Church. I do believe that this is the signification of that blessed name which is given to Christ, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." "And he shall reign for ever and ever." Yes, he reigns in the hearts of his people, and he shall reign there for ever; for "his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom." (Ps. 145:13; Dan. 4:3) And where are we to look for his kingdom, but in the children of God? his own dear children, in whom and for whom he reigns; the "King eternal, immortal, invisible." (1 Tim. 1:17)
Now, dear brother, the Lord help you to rise with me above the perishing things of time; for what is time, with all its vanities, compared with the glorious dignity to which we are raised, as we are made KINGS AND PRIESTS unto God?
We are such now; for we read in the first epistle of John, third chapter, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Rom. 8:17)
Moreover, as we have already seen, Christ has carried our nature up far above all "principality, and power, and might, and dominion;" so that we are "raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly glories in Christ Jesus. That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:6,7)
It is infinite, eternal lovingkindness, dear brother. What a prospect have we before us!
"A few more rolling suns at most
Will land us safe on Canaan's coast."
Yes, a few more moments of sorrow in the wilderness, and we shall be taken once and for ever to his bosom! We shall enter into his glorious presence, to go no more out for ever!
Who shall measure the honor and dignity which is conferred upon the Church! Every member of the mystical body of Christ is a temple of the Holy Ghost. Jehovah says, "This be my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." (Ps. 132:14) How glorious is it! "Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable."
Again, how blessedly does the psalmist bring out the fullness of the glory of the Church in the forty-fifth Psalm, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him."
The Lord help us to "shake ourselves from the dust, and to put on our beautiful garments," and so to go in and stand before the king, believing the truth of those sweet words of dear Dr. Hawker:
"He cannot love her more,
He will not love her less;
In his sight fair, cleans'd by his word,
A bride adorned for her Lord."
All this blessedness is secured to us by the fact, that it had its rise in eternity; that he hath loved us with an everlasting love, which never knew a beginning, and which will never know an end.
Now, I would pause for a moment to ask you, Are you living in the sweet apprehension of these blessed things? I do not ask you if you are living in the enjoyment of it; the enjoyment of it is one thing, the apprehension of it by faith is another. Are you desiring to see "the King in his beauty?" Are you looking out for his precious love visits? saying, "When wilt thou come unto me, Lord?" Fear not, then, dear brother: "Though he tarry, wait for him; for he will surely come; he will not tarry."
The Lord help you to be continually "coming up out of the wilderness, leaning upon the Beloved;" (Songs 8:5) rejoicing that it is your privilege to draw near to the King without fear, believing that he will do as the king Ahasuerus did to queen Esther--that he will hold out the golden scepter, and that he will say to you, as the king said to her, "What is thy petition, and what is thy request? it shall be given thee, to the half of my kingdom." (Esther 5:3)
Our glorious King will not reign alone, dear brother; his glorious Bride shall reign a royal Bride by his side; for he has said, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." (John 17:24)
But finally. let us look for a few moments at the last clause of our text: "I have loved thee."
How does he love us? Not as poor fallen worms, but as cleansed and redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, and made perfect in his perfection. It is not as we are in ourselves, infected with sin and unbelief,--no; but as we stand in the purity and holiness of Christ, our glorious Head. It is not as we are from day to day, in our changeability, but as the apostle tells us in the 6th chapter of his epistle to the Romans, 11th verse, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God," not through, but "in Jesus Christ our Lord."
What follows, then? Is it not the privilege of the child of God to rejoice in the FATHER'S EVERLASTING LOVE, in the SON'S ETERNAL PERFECTION, and in the GLORIOUS POWER of the SPIRIT OF GOD, delighting to draw water out of these "wells of salvation," knowing that they are always the same,--ever full and overflowing. You cannot go with your empty pitcher, and find that there is nothing to draw. However empty you may be, there is fullness of all grace in Christ. It is "to whom coming." It was thus Paul delighted to come, realizing the blessedness that he was loved as a "new creature" in Christ, and that his grace was sufficient for him; therefore he sums all up by saying, Most gladly therefore will I go, empty as I am--for the more empty I am, the more water shall I draw out of the wells of salvation--glorying in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The Lord help you, dear brother, thus to realize the blessedness of our text today,--"Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee."