"Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD; and thou shalt be called, Sought our, A city not forsaken." (Isaiah 62:10-12)
Our text contains that which may be expressed in a very few words, "CHRIST IS ALL, AND IN ALL." Christ is the fullness and the substance of the whole. Christ, as we shall see, is the only true and "strait gate" by which the children of God can enter into sweet communion with himself. Christ is the glorious standard that the Spirit lifts up against the enemy, when he "cometh in like a flood." Christ is the glorious Jehovah who proclaims unto the ends of the earth, to the most far off sinner, to the neediest sinner, that he is "the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6) Christ is the grand subject of the proclamation put forth in our text. His person, his fullness, his grace, his worth, his righteousness, and his precious blood.
How glorious is he in all the offices in which he stands as the "Prophet, Priest, and King" of his people. He is the head of the daughter of Zion; without him she can do nothing. He is the "Alpha" and the "Omega," the beginning and the end of all that is blessed with reference to her.
How blessed is it, dear brother, to be brought in some little measure into sweet communion and fellowship with our precious Lord Jesus Christ; to know him as our all; to have no other object for our faith to rest upon, but Jesus only; to have all the affections of our new spiritual hearts fixed upon him alone; to realize that he contains all that we can need for our time journey, and for our eternal glorification, when we shall see him as he is, and be for ever like him; to feel and know by the Spirit's ministry that he is the beginning and the end; the fullness and perfection of the eternal covenant of grace; that he is given to be "a covenant to the people." It is blessed thus to see that all our text contains refers to him alone; not only the proclamation, but also the notes of admiration; for in the 11th verse, the word behold occurs three times: "Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him."
If our minds are taken up with our salvation, they must be taken up entirely with Christ. The reason we live so miserably low from day to day is, because our minds are attracted by a thousand vanities, and the new mind is shut up in prison, so that we cannot come forth. But we must ever distinguish between the old heart and the new. The old heart is ever tending downwards; it can never find satisfaction in spiritual things, but it is ever seeking those things which are "earthly, sensual, and devilish." "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils." (Luke 11: 21,22).
It is thus all things in which the flesh can take pleasure are marred to the child of God; and it is right that we should find all things connected with the flesh to be deceitful and empty, so that we cannot obtain from them those joys and those pleasures that we seek and desire. It is right that we should daily follow the Lord sorrowing. It is right that we should daily feel that "this is not our rest, that it is polluted." It is right that we should be "emptied from vessel to vessel." It is right that we should be driven to our "wits' end." It is right that we should have exactly the very cross, the very trouble, the very exercise, whatever it may be, that the Lord has laid upon us. It is right that
"All should meet, and last, and end,
As best shall please our heavenly friend."
You will never be contented with your lot, dear brother, until you awake up in the likeness of him who is the perfection of all obedience. "Then shall I be satisfied, when I awake up in thy likeness." (Psalm 17:15) Nevertheless, there is consolation to be found now, as the eye of faith is fixed upon the person of Christ, as we look upon him as our "all and in all." It is very blessed not to stop at the first words, Christ is all; but he is in all. He is with us in all our temptation. He is with us in all our sorrows. He is with us in all our backslidings of heart. He is with us wherever we go. For he has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Matt. 28:20) All the sufferings of a child of God are suffered in union with Christ. He suffers because he belongs to Christ, and that he may be brought to feel that "without him he can do nothing."
Dear brother, he will come again; but I tell you, if you are traveling in a smooth path, you will be sure to have to mourn over your leanness. It is when you are traveling in a rough path that you will find Christ precious to your soul. You will then find that he is the Good Physician who gives you medicine to heal your sickness. It is he that heals your broken heart and binds it up, so as to make you contented with your lot. All the way in which the Lord leads his dear children is to bring them to live in simple dependence upon himself. The child of God can suffer any privation, he can but find the Lord "a very present help in trouble," if he can but realize that he is standing at his right hand to deliver him.
"Behold, his reward is with him." He never comes without his reward. What is his reward? It is the proclamation of mercy to a poor sinner; yea, it is Christ himself who is the reward. And I know there are many among you who will agree with me, that there is more in one single glimpse of his royal beauty, that there is more in one precious word dropped from his own lips concerning his love to us and our oneness with him, than there is in all the world beside. It brings down the very beginnings of heaven into the soul of a poor, needy, suffering child of God. It so braces up his loins, and girds him with the girdle of eternal truth, that he can go on his way singing in the midst of his sorrow,
Therefore, dear brother, if you are longing for sweet communion and fellowship with your precious Lord, look out for temptations, crosses, and a thousand things which will bring your heart down into the very dust, and make you feel as though the Lord were your enemy instead of your friend. It is thus the Lord prepares the heart of his dear child for his own sweet anointings. He is led to weigh in the balances of the sanctuary all earthly things, and he finds that they are less than nothing, and vanity, when compared to that blessed hope which is as an anchor to his soul; that they are nothing when compared with that inheritance which is reserved in heaven for all those who are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:5) They are "kept by the power of God;" so that whenever he comes it is impossible that he can find one of his dear children otherwise than ready. Ready to embrace him in the arms of faith; ready to "mount up with wings as eagles; to run, and not be weary; to walk, and not faint;" (Isa. 40:31) ready to go to his bosom, to be for ever with the Lord, where there will be no more sorrow or sighing, and where all tears shall be wiped from all faces. We are hastening to it, dear brother.
"A few more rolling suns at most
Will land us safe on Canaan's coast."
There were many whose faces I could look upon a few years ago in my congregation, but where are they now? They have joined that goodly company of "spirits of just men made perfect." Who among us will be the next? There must be a next. Who among us is ready, - ready to meet the Lord - ready to die? "I protest," says the apostle, "by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily." (1 Cor. 15:31). It is a blessed thing to be brought thus to die daily to all time things, accounting that only to be living as we are living in Christ, saying, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21)
"Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them" - those who are now buffeted by Satan; those who are passing through floods of temptation and affliction, who are ready, like poor Peter, to sink, crying out, "Lord, save, or I perish;" those who are now despised by the world, and are accounted "the offscouring of all things" - "they shall call them the holy people." Not holy in themselves, but holy in the Lord.
Dear brother, redemption is already accomplished. Our debt is eternally paid; and
"Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at our bleeding Surety's hand,
And then again at ours."
Thus, the debt being for ever paid, and a glorious robe of righteousness wrought out and given to the Church, and put on by faith, as the Spirit enables us to exercise that precious gift, we know that we stand eternally "accepted in the Beloved." "And thou shalt be called, Sought out." Has he sought you out, dear brother? "Yes," say you;
"Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wand'ring from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood."
Then he will seek you out again and again. Wherever you may wander, whatever bye-paths you may get into, he will seek you out, and bring you back again. "Thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken." "This be my rest for ever," says Jehovah: "here will I dwell; for I have desired it." (Ps. 132:14)
"Go through, go through the gates." "Go through" is repeated twice, as is frequently the case in the Hebrew, when the Holy Ghost desires to express anything very emphatically; as we read, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace (or, in peace peace), whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." (Isa. 26:3)
The old Jews say, that the repetition of the words "go through" signified that it was to go through the gates of Babylon, the land of their captivity, into the gates of Zion. It may refer also to the Israelites going out of Egypt, and traveling through the wilderness, until they came to the Canaan of rest. But it is very blessed to consider these words as referring to the child of God going out of the gate of death into the gate of spiritual life, which is going into Christ.
Spiritual life is the first great blessing that is bestowed upon the child of God. It was all arranged in the covenant of grace before the foundation of the world. It is free from all conditions. The command is given, as it was in the case of Lazarus. When Jesus said, Lazarus, come forth! he could no more have remained in the tomb, than darkness could continue in the light. When Jehovah said, in the day of creation, Light be! light was. "Where the word of a king is, there is power." (Eccl. 8:4) So, when he says to a dead sinner, Go through the gate of death, death can no longer hold him; and when he says, Go through the gate of life and liberty in Christ, he is immediately translated out of the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son.
Here is the beginning of the revelation, the opening of the mystery of all that is glorious to the Church: "Go through, go through the gates." And it is a blessed thought for the child of God to bear in mind at all times, that, if the command "go through" has brought him out of the one gate, he must of necessity have entered into the other; for there never was such a thing yet, as for a man to go out of the gate of death, and not to go into the gate of life; and the glory of it is, that it is eternal life. "I give unto my sheep eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:28)
It matters not what the experience of the child of God may be, the very first moment the word "Go through" is pronounced by the Spirit of God with regard to him, when he comes down with his almighty power, and creates him anew in Christ Jesus, he is instantly brought out of death into life eternal. It follows, then, that we are not to set up any standards; we are not to set up a certain line of experience, and say that such an one must go through a deep law work; that he must go through as much misery as another; that he must be shaken over the very gate of hell. Dear brother, this has nothing to do with the "Go through, go through the gates." The Lord's children cannot always mark the time when the "Go through" was pronounced. One may be able to tell of the years of trouble and misery he went through before he was brought out into the liberty of the Gospel. Another may say, "The Lord made a very short work with me. I was made to feel that I was a poor lost sinner in myself; and then my understanding was opened to perceive, through the teaching of the Spirit of God, the way of salvation in Christ; that I was to go out of all that I am in the creature; that I must cease from my own works, as God did from his, and sit down in everlasting peace in Jesus only; and by degrees my heart was established in the faith. I have never known what it is to have lived in the dread of hell as some have, but the Lord has led me on very gently."
The Lord help you then, dear Little-faith, to take encouragement from these things. You may know that you are alive by the hungry desires you have after communion and fellowship with your covenant God and Father in Christ. You may know that you are alive by having tasted now and then a crumb from the master's table, and by your longing desires for more. "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2) You may know that you are alive by the fact that you have a "willing mind." "My people shall be willing in the day of my power." (Ps. 110:3) When the Lord says, "Go through, go through," to a poor dead sinner, he gives him the "willing mind." Then every promise and every invitation in the Word of God belongs to that poor sinner. "Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17)
But until the "Go through" has been pronounced, until the poor sinner knows what eternal life-union is, which makes him one with his glorious head, he has no willingness to partake of the water of life. No; he will turn to any muddy pool, rather than to the fountain of everlasting life. Like the woman of Samaria. What cared she about the water of life! She went forth a poor, sullen, miserable sinner, until the Lord met her, and pronounced the word, "Go through, go through;" then she had the "willing mind;" and the water of life was that which alone could satisfy her.
Have you the "willing mind," dear brother? Then it is to you the sweet invitation is presented. Your having the "willing mind" is a proof that you have received that gift of life, which is eternal life; and if a partaker of eternal life, you may be quite sure that the Spirit of God will lead you exactly in the way which was ordered for you in the eternal covenant of grace before the foundation of the world. As one says, "If my sorrows are to be ten, I shall never have eleven. And if they are to be ten, I shall never stop at nine."
We shall have just the number of temptations, trials, dark days and nights of adversity that the Lord himself had appointed for us. As he has numbered the hairs of our heads, so every little circumstance is ordered according to his divine purpose.
Therefore, what I have in view this morning is, to lead the child of God to see, that the simple question which should arise in his heart with reference to his experience is, Have I been brought out of death into life? If so, I have gone through the gates; and all the rest remains to be filled up according to the leading of my covenant God and Father; and I know that not a hair of my head shall perish.
The Lord help you to realize the simplicity of the blessedness of the way which he has thus marked out for his children: "Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people." John was the forerunner of Christ: and the Spirit of God is the forerunner of all those who thus "go through the gates.
There may be reference here to the Levitical directions with regard to the various roads that led to the city of refuge. They were to be prepared roads; they were to be made smooth and hard, that the manslayer might run over them. The Levites were to go and take up every stone out of the way of the people. And this is what the Spirit of God does. It is his work to call the child of God out of death into life. It is his work to prepare the way of the people.
How sweet is it, if we have traveled long in the footsteps of the flock, to look back on all the way that he has led us, and to see how blessedly he has prepared the way for us.
Here, again, we must remember that we are not to set up any particular line of experience. And I would entreat the Lord the Spirit to impress this upon the hearts of all the Lord's dear children - that they are not to be comparing themselves with others; that they are not to be saying, If I had the same experience as such an one, I should make better progress. It is, "Prepare ye the way of the people;" and the Spirit of God is infinitely powerful and infinitely wise. He is fulfilling his glorious work; and it is by degrees that he "prepares the way." He takes up stone after stone, stumbling block after stumbling block, out of the way of the people, that they may "run, and not be weary; walk, and not faint;" that they may thus enter into the glorious "city of refuge," and find the "revenger of blood" shut out, and themselves for ever shut in.
WE went over a few features in connection with this most glorious text this morning, and observed that the double repetition of the words "Go through, go through," when applied spiritually, is intended to represent the child of God going out of the gate of death, into the gate of life in Christ. We do not stop with the supposition that the prophet intended to represent the going through of the Jews out of the gates of Babylon into the gates of Jerusalem; but we take it spiritually with reference to all that appertains to the child of God. When he is born again from above, and made a new creature in Christ Jesus, he goes through the gate of death, which had hitherto held him fast, and enters the gate of eternal life. And we observed this morning, that there never was such a thing yet, as for a poor sinner to be brought out of the first gate, and not to pass through the second.
The whole text, especially the 10th verse, refers to the work of the Spirit of God, in bringing a poor sinner out of the condition in which he was by nature, and bringing him into all that is blessed in Christ: and the first great work of the Spirit is to bring him thus out of death into life, and then all the rest necessarily follows. And we must never lose sight of the fact, that this life is eternal life, and therefore can never be lost. If it were possible that I could be separated from this life, it could not be eternal life. But since HE has gathered me up into this eternal life-union with himself, and since he has said, "Because I live, ye shall live also," (John 14:19) I know that I stand in this life immutably like himself, and that nothing can separate me from it. The Lord help you, dear brother, to rejoice in the mercy, that since you are alive from the dead, you are justified freely from all things, and can never come into condemnation.
We come now to look at the next words, "Prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway." This is the direction of our covenant God and Father, given to the Holy Ghost, as he sends him forth, that he may testify of Christ to the people; and so prepare his way. "Cast up, cast up the highway." Some refer this to God's ministers; but it is the Holy Ghost that casts up the highway. It may be done through the mouth of the minister; it may be done through the letter of the word; and it may be done without either. It may be done by the direct teaching and ministry of the Spirit in the heart; for, "When he, the Spirit of truth, shall come, he shall convince [margin] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment....He will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak." (John 16:8-13) He shall cast up the highway. He shall take of the things of Christ, and reveal them to the child of God.
He first of all casts up the highway of holiness, and shows the poor sinner that it is impossible for him to walk in it. He shows him, as he showed Adam, that it is a perfect holiness that God demands; and the poor sinner is cast down, because he finds that the more he strives to walk in this highway of holiness,
And as this high and holy way is cast up, he sees, by the light of life shining in his heart, that the standard is so high that he cannot reach it. He finds that he is deeply in debt, and having nothing to pay, he is cast into prison.
But the Holy Ghost does not stop here; there is a double casting up. It is, "Cast up, cast up the highway;" and by degrees he prepares the way, he gathers out the stones. The first great stumblingblocks are the two tables of stone with the law written upon them; these he gathers up out of the path of the child of God, and shows him that they are put into the ark of the covenant.
We know that Israel of old had these two tables of stone dashed to pieces at the foot of the mountain, and they could never be repaired again. But they received the law a second time by the hands of a mediator, which was not to be dashed to pieces, but was to be put into the ark of the covenant. And the mercy-seat was put upon the ark; and Jehovah himself came and sat upon the mercy-seat. And there were the two cherubim, one on the right hand, and other on the left, with their wings spread over the mercy-seat, and their faces looking into it, where they saw the law fulfilled in the person of Christ.
This is the way the Spirit of God brings the child of God up out of his bondage and misery, clearing his way by taking up these two great stumblingblocks, and showing him, as we sing sometimes, that
"In the wounds of Jesus slain
'Tis sweet to read the law:"
for then the law becomes, not so many commandments, but so many covenant promises to him; for, with the eye of faith fixed upon our glorious Mediator, we know that when God says, "Thou shalt do this," or "Thou shalt not do that," it has all been fulfilled by our most glorious Christ on behalf of this Church; and thus the stones are gathered up out of the way of the people, so that they are no longer stumblingblocks to them.
But this is not all. In preparing the way of the people, and in casting up the highway, the Holy Spirit shows the child of God something more. He shows him that his sins are for ever blotted out by the blood of Christ. He shows him that it is not anything that he suffers in his experience that can do it; that he is not to look upon his exercises or distresses, whatever they may be, as though they were fulfilling any part of his salvation; but that it is all complete in Jesus Christ. And not only so, but by degrees, as he goes on casting up the highway, he makes such a glorious revelation of Christ to the soul of the child of God, that he becomes so in love with him that nothing short of intimate communion and fellowship will satisfy his heart. "The King in all his beauty" has taken possession of the heart of the poor sinner, so that now it is not enough that he escapes hell, but he must also become the bride of his great Redeemer.
As I have often said to you,--and I think it sweetly sets forth the preciousness of this subject,--when poor Rahab the harlot knew that her city was doomed to destruction, her heart was set upon deliverance. All her anxiety was to escape the destruction in which all those who remained in the city would be involved. She knew very little about the blessedness of Israel, yet she knew that God was on the side of Israel. But by and by, when she was brought out of Jericho, there was a certain great prince, who is mentioned in the genealogy of Christ, who became enamored of this poor Rahab; and he won her affections. Now, suppose after this he had turned his back upon her, and forsaken her, would she not have wished that she had been buried in the ruins of Jericho, rather than her heart should have been crushed under disappointed love?
And has not our precious Lord Jesus Christ entangled your affections, dear brother? Has he not become to you "the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely?" For my own part, I believe that if he were to banish me from his presence, it would be to banish me to hell. A few moments of his dear presence now, when he grants me a precious love-visit, makes my heart leap for joy; so that I can "go forth in the dances of them that make [spiritually] merry." And I can "rejoice in Christ Jesus, whilst I have no confidence in the flesh."
It is thus when the Spirit of God casts up the highway, and gathers out the stones, he is bringing our hearts to center upon "Jesus only;" so that he becomes the one grand object of our spiritual affections, and we feel that "without him we can do nothing."
"Lift up a standard for the people." And what is the standard but the person of Christ; the fullness of Christ; the love of Christ! "When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." (Isa. 59:19) What is it but Christ in all his suitability to his people; in the glory of his power; in the unchangeableness of his character; and in the glorious work that he has accomplished. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so is the Son of man lifted up as a standard for the people, that poor worms who have been bitten by the serpent may look unto him and be healed.
We have it sweetly set forth in the Song of Solomon 6:10, "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
How many precious mottoes do we see written upon the glorious banner, or standard! There is one sweet motto that has often cheered my heart, when in the midst of the battle I have looked up and read it,--"Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me." (Micah 7:8)
The Lord help you to rejoice with me for a moment or two in the blessedness of the subject, realizing that
"He cannot love us more,
He will not love us less;
In his sight fair, cleansed by his word,
A bride adorned for her Lord."
As the banner is lifted up, the child of God sees many things recorded on it that cheer his heart in the midst of all his exercises and temptations. Sometimes when he looks up and sees the banner, he reads in blood-red letters--letters that cause his heart to leap for joy, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7) Again, when he is passing through the experience that Paul speaks of in Romans 7, when he feels the law of sin in his members warring against the law of his mind, bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members, making him cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" he looks up as the Spirit lifts up the standard for the people, and reads this blessed motto, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh; but after the Spirit." (Rom. 8:1) So that he is enabled to close up his complaint by saying, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." And there is another sweet word in Romans 8, which we sometimes read as a motto on the banner, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" And again, "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us."
The Lord enable you, dear child of God, whatever your trials and exercises may be, whether they arise from providential things or from spiritual things, to realize the blessedness of these mottoes; and as one sweetly sings--
"Almighty faith the promise sees,
And trusts to Christ alone,
Laughs at impossibilities,
And says it shall be done."
This was the sweet effect of the Spirit lifting up the banner, or the standard, for the people. But we must hasten. "Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh.
Now, first of all in the 10th verse we have the great command given by the Father to the Holy Ghost; and now, in the 11th verse, we have the gracious proclamation, which is put into the mouth of the Spirit, with the word behold three times mentioned--three notes of wonder; and these three notes contain in them the admiration of one who is in a state of certainty with reference to the fulfillment of the declaration, "Behold, the LORD Jehovah hath proclaimed unto the end of the world." It comes to the poor sinner who is at the ends of the earth in his own feelings. It comes to the poorest prodigal that ever lived upon the face of the earth, who feels his need of such a declaration at this. "Proclaim unto the end of the world, say ye to the daughter of Zion." Every child of God is a daughter of Zion--a member of the mystical body of Christ--"a citizen of no mean city;" not so by purchase, but by spiritual birth; as when one said to Paul, "With a great sum obtained I my freedom." "But I," says Paul, "was free born." (Acts 22:28) So every daughter of Zion is "free born." "If the Son make you free, then ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36) "Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold." See again the blessed certainty of it, that it must be accomplished, because it is the proclamation of the determinate counsel of our covenant God and Father. "Behold, thy salvation cometh." And who is this salvation but CHRIST in all his fullness and suitability to his people? for he is made of God unto us "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification--or holiness--and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) Christ is the great salvation. "Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him."
He comes to his poor suffering people,--those who suffer with him, that they may be also glorified together. He comes to give them all needed grace and strength; as he said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) He comes to bring them to himself; and he will present them at last "a glorious Church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing." (Eph. 5:27) And he cannot come without his reward that he gives his people. It is ETERNAL LIFE in him; it is his unchanging purposes of love; his fullness of all grace and glory; his beauty and perfection put upon them. He is the glorious eternal reward; "and his work is before him."
You will observe, that his reward is one thing, and his work, or recompense, another. His reward is that which belongs to the Church; his recompense is that which belongs to himself. And what is his recompense but the Church? As it is written in the closing up of the 1st chapter of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians: "He gave him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all."
As I have often said to you with reference to this subject, you may make a number of noughts that would reach round the world; and you may add nothing to nothing, and nothing remains. But if you put the figure 1 at the head of the noughts, each nought multiplies the whole by ten. So, if it were possible for Christ to lose one of the feeblest of the members of his mystical body, he would lose nine-tenths of his glory, and it would not be a perfect body. But we know that, as there is no condemnation for the Church, neither can there be any separation.
The Church, then, is his recompense, which was ever "before him," and for whose sake he was willing to go through so much misery and agony. It was for the sake of this recompense that was ever "before him" that he was willing to drink of the bitter cup, of which he said, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;" and yet he could add, "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42) And again, "How am I straitened till it be accomplished." (Luke 12:50)
"For by his one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." (Heb. 10:14) Them that are "sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Jesus Christ," and ultimately "called" (Jude 1) in time by the power of the Spirit of God; and who will be presented at last "without fault before his presence with exceeding joy," (Jude 24) as his glorious recompense.
But finally, we come to look at the glorious titles that are given to the Church. "And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken."
They are a holy people. Sanctified, or set apart by God the Father for a holy use; as we have it in the 1st chapter of Ephesians, "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." "They shall call them, The holy people." Now, dear brother, we are quite sure there is no holiness in the flesh. No; that will never get one whit holier than it is, neither do I desire that it should. As I was saying to a dear friend who was complaining to me of all that he felt himself to be in the creature, I could but break out and say, "My dear friend, I would not be otherwise than I am in myself; for I know that if I were not daily experiencing my own emptiness and misery, I should get indifferent about the blessed fullness there is in Christ. The more you abhor yourself--the lower you are brought in your own estimation, the more will you be led to prize the perfection Christ has given you in himself."
Now, if I had a brother who was immensely rich, and I had plenty every day, and did not need to go to him for help, what would his riches be to me? He might regard me with the greatest affection, and I might know that, if I were brought into a state of poverty, I might go to him and he would supply all my wants; but what do I care about his riches if I am not needy?
Do you not see, dear brother, that the very reason that the Lord keeps you in such a state of need from day to day is to show you the sweet suitability of a precious Lord Jesus Christ. When you look into yourself, you find you have no more holiness than Satan himself can claim. But when you look into Christ, there you see that you stand as holy as God is holy; for we are "made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21)
The Lord seal this upon the hearts of all his dear children, that they may be led to see that it is not according to what they feel themselves to be in the creature, but it is by faith to realize the blessedness of their standing in the person and perfection of our most glorious Christ.
But not only so, they shall be called, "The redeemed of the LORD." What a glorious redemption is it! "Redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold.....but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:18,19)
They shall be presented "holy and unblamable and unreprovable in his sight." (Col. 1:22) They shall stand before the bar of God unarraignable, as the Greek word unreprovable signifies. As John says, "Then shall we have boldness in the day of judgment; for as he is, so are we in this world." While all who are out of Christ will stand in dismay and terror, he will gather his Church around his throne, and he will look upon her, as she stands in HIS holiness and perfection, and say, "Thou art all fair, my love; there is not spot in thee." (Songs. 4:7)
I confess, when I think of it, I long for the moment when I shall have done with sin for ever, and be as holy as God would have me to be in my most glorious Christ.
The Father himself will receive us at the hands of Christ, as he presents us before him, saying, "Here am I, Father, and the children whom thou hast given me." (Heb. 2:13) "Father, I will," says Christ, "that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." (John 17:24)
"And thou shalt be called, Sought out." We should never have sought him, if he had not sought us. Has he not sought you out of the holes and corners in which you have hid yourself? Has he not marred those things in which you would have taken pleasure, and thus sought you out, and brought you nearer to himself? He suffers Satan sometimes to come and seek out his children, and to bring them down into trouble and misery. He sends temptation after temptation, until at last, like the man who fell among the thieves, the good Samaritan comes and binds up their wounds, pours in the wine and oil of his consolation, confirms his blessed work upon their hearts, and establishes their faith in him; and when he leaves them he promises to return: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice." (John 16:22)
How many of you know what it is to be thus "sought out?" "They shall be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken." It is utterly impossible that he can forsake his own Church--his own dear city. She shall be a "royal diadem in his hand." (Isa. 62:3) And he is looking forward to the moment when she shall be gathered round his glorious throne; when she will "crown him Lord of all."
"There shall I see his face,
And never, never sin;
But from the rivers of his grace
Drink endless pleasures in."
Then I shall find myself a member of that city, of which it is said, "IT SHALL NOT BE FORSAKEN."