"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." (Luke 24:27)
The Lord's testimony concerning salvation is a very ancient one, beginning in Paradise: "The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." (Gen. 3:15) There was a looking forward to the fulfillment of it from that time. Many types and shadows were appointed for that purpose, to guide His people's faith and worship of God, that they might serve in hope, and enjoy something in prospect. At length Jesus Christ came, the promised Seed of the woman. And to prove the identity of Jesus Christ, that He was really the Antitype of these shadows, the testimony of the Holy Spirit accompanied His work and Person; for the whole of salvation depends upon His being the real Person that should come. Another would have been of no use. Could another have given his life, it would have been of no avail; it must be that One. To this day there is no way into heaven but by the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no way of deliverance from sin but through His blood. The life of His people depends on His resurrection.
But by nature man has no perception of God. Death, moral death, has laid its hand upon every individual that comes into this world. Men are born and grow up strangers to God, and do not feel the consequences. You may infuse an idea of God into a child, and train him up in some knowledge of Him; but while he is in nature's darkness, you can never infuse the correct idea into his mind; because he has no perception of his Creator. He has nothing upon which you can operate. You may say God is a merciful God. That is true; but He is as strictly righteous as merciful. Multitudes will tell us what a good God He is; and in taking this part of His character, set Him in battle array against Himself, and make one attribute destroy another. There is no harmony in the God the human mind conceives; and where there are erroneous ideas of Him, He must be erroneously worshipped and acknowledged.
I cannot give you a better illustration of this than the experience of the apostle Paul. He had an idea of God, and as such he worshipped Him, and became perfect in that worship, even to the persecution of the saints. But he had no idea of that God who condemns for sin. This part of His character never entered Paul's mind; therefore he grew righteous, as he thought. So may you, by examining one attribute of the Lord only. One says, "God is merciful. God is good." All that is true; but He is holy and just. "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth." (Exod. 21:24) When God is really revealed to a poor sinner, he sees that part that condemns--that God is a just God; and being just, no sinner can stand before Him. How can an unjust person stand before divine justice and integrity?
Hence when the Lord begins a work of grace in a sinner's heart, this is one of the first things he has to learn. The Holy Spirit discovers to him for the first time that God is a God of holiness, a God of strict integrity, just in all His ways; and His law comes in, showing that the man is an unjust sinner before Him. Now the query arises: "How am I to be saved?" "O, says one, "by believing." Believing will never save a man from his sins; because there is no remission from sin but by blood. The more the soul has to do with that God, the further he is removed from hope, and stands as a helpless creature before his Creator. He is removed from all expectation of ever obtaining mercy, and goes gradually further from it, until he comes to that place where he feels all his hopes are perished. He has fallen into a pit, and it is impossible for him to hope there. With God's holiness before him, he sees that side of the character of God, and is condemned as a sinner.
The Lord never destroys one of His attributes. They must all harmonize in His actions; and they can harmonize nowhere else in saving a sinner than in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. There He is just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. There the integrity of His law is maintained; and mercy and forgiveness flow down to the guilty soul. Jesus Christ went to the end of the law for righteousness, and laid down His life for His people. Even here He would not have availed them anything if He had not risen from the dead. It was essential that He should rise from the dead, and live beyond all law and condemnation.
It is that life He now lives which He implants in our hearts. He came to give us a new life, that is called eternal life. It is essential that we must be born again, if we are to live another life. We can never see the light of this world if we are not born; we can come into it no other way. So no person can see the light of God's heaven unless he is born again. We are told that His elect people are begotten again of the Father, and that His holy Word is the seed sown in their hearts. (1 Pet. 1:3,23) Being quickened by divine grace, we begin to feel something we never felt before. There is life in the perception; we have a spiritual perception we never had before. We perceive we are sinners before a holy God, and that there is no way to heaven but by the blood of Jesus Christ.
In this condition, which is generally termed a law work, many of the Lord's people pass through trials and temptations, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter. This is necessary; because Jesus Christ must be needed. Paul needed no Christ while he was a Pharisee. If you and I have not been made sensible sinners, we can do without Jesus Christ. We must be convinced of sin to make us know He is essential to our salvation, that we may crown Him Lord of all. Without this work in the soul, there would be no earnest prayers, none of those earnest groans that go up to God, nothing of the experience of the man who smote upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13) Without life these things would not take place; without the feeling sense of sin, the burden of that ringing cry would never come from the heart; without the craving need of God, the woman would never have pressed to touch the hem of Jesus' garment.
Therefore, poor sinner, if you have something in your soul that presses onward, something wanting you cannot do for yourself, that must have the Lord Jesus Christ, you have eternal life. Those who can do what they want themselves are not in the right track. When we are taught our helplessness by the Spirit of God, there is something we need no mortal can supply; and angel, too, is far below the mark. We want saving; we want sins pardoning; we want a clean conscience in God's sight; we want to be able to say, "My Father!" "My Lord and my God! No man could say this but the Lord, except in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Eternal life from Christ must be in your heart to bring out these cries, to cause the feeling of these wants to produce the smart of sin, to bring you to lift up your eyes to God. It could not be done without.
The words I have read this morning occur in the narrative of the two disciples going to Emmaus after the Lord's death. They wondered what had become of Him. If He had not risen from the dead, all their hopes would have been vain. They had hoped there was something in this Person to trust in; but He had not appeared, and their souls fainted in them. So in this present day, the absence of God from His people creates doubt and fear. The manifestation of His presence is necessary to confirm their faith and hope in Him; and He makes His presence known to them by its effects in their hearts. We will notice,
1. What is the presence of God?
2. That His presence is required to impart to us a right understanding of the Scriptures.
3. How the Lord expounds the Scriptures to us concerning Himself>
1. What is the presence of God? It is something that can be known and felt. We are not to believe that the Essential Being, who fills all things, can be spiritually in a soul, and can never be known to be there. He can hide Himself; but He has a way of making Himself known. For instance, "God is love." How do I know that? By the love in my affections that moves them towards God, draws my heart to Christ, and gives me a feeling of love to His truth and to His ways. Take away the presence of God's love, there is not a spark of love in my heart towards God. It is not possible to put it there. You have no occasion to wonder at persons not loving the truth. Yet however violent the enmity they possess by nature, the moment the presence of the love of God is in a heart, love to Him goes out of it, love to His children, and love to His ways. Many of the Lord's people can bear witness to the effects of His love. However low they may be, you will find they will say, "I love the children of God, and I love the truth of God; though I dare not say I love God." But the Lord decides this question Himself: "This commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." (1 John 4:21; 3:14)
There must be God's presence in our souls to produce all that emanates from us towards Him. He puts the truth in our hearts before we can know the truth. By nature we are liars; everything about us is a lie. This is God's testimony: "They go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." (Ps. 58:3) But there is a time when God changes the heart, and now the truth is sought; it is not shunned. If that truth cuts off the soul, if it apparently consigns it to eternal ruin, though every word is against the man, he will embrace it, and condemn himself. He loves the truth. Just the opposite takes place in a man of the world. He rejects the truth and those that love it, and often persecutes those that preach it. Therefore if the love of the truth is in your heart, there is a mark of the presence of the Lord dwelling within you.
Again. Where there is eternal, spiritual life, there is the presence of God. They who live cleave to living things--a living faith, a living hope, a living worship, a living prayer. They find it essential to their pleasure. They do not like dead works; they want something warm. Living prayers, if only groans, or living sighs, are better than a long dead form of prayer. They find there is a pleasure in praying, but not in saying prayers. There is a pleasure in reading God's Word with life and power, but not in reading the bare relation. There is a pleasure in worshipping God if life flows into the worship; but none if there is no feeling. Merely the talk of the lips gives no satisfaction to the children of God. That life in itself is the presence of God. "I am the resurrection and the life." (John 11:25) The essential nature of the love of God in the soul is the resurrection life that Jesus Christ communicates to His people; and it enlightens them with the light of life.
2. His presence is required to impart to us a right understanding of the Scriptures.
How essential is spiritual light in the understanding, that we may understand God's Word and enter into its meaning! The literal meaning we may know, but not the spiritual meaning, that is, God's mind in His Word, but by a spiritual understanding. Men give their opinions upon God's Word, and make many mistakes. It is an essential part of real religion to be taught of the Spirit. God's people want to be sure they have God's mind concerning themselves and their religion; therefore they seek to be taught of Him. Others may have an opinion of what is truth; but the desire to know the truth in their consciences makes the children of God not run so easily in their religion as professors do. They cannot yield themselves to an opinion; they want God's eternal testimony in their hearts; they want His Word applied to their own souls: "Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation." If He bears witness to your heart that He is your salvation, you have His mind upon your condition, that you are saved. This brings joy before Him, content and peace into your soul.
God's mind is different from that we should form ourselves. Though we can sometimes conceive something of His Word, and have an opinion upon it, yet if the Holy Spirit has never applied it, and if by and by He should, how marvelous that portion becomes, viewed in the light of His Spirit! As regards our sinnership, how different an opinion we should have formed of ourselves! We have God's mind upon our sins and what we are as sinners, by the conviction of His Spirit. And we have His mind on salvation; that there is no power in man to save himself; that God alone can bring salvation, for there is no arm beside His to help; that He is the only Saviour.
These men were journeying along the road, and were sad. They were simply talking, and bringing out their fears to each other. We may have many doubts and fears, as they had, because the Lord long delays; and in these long delays He tries our faith, but He never does it any harm. Then the Lord came near, and entered into conversation with them. He asked them what they were talking about; and they told Him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth." He drew out of them all their sorrows and griefs. Some people say they should have believed perfectly; all their sorrow was groundless. But they did not know it was groundless. You cannot manufacture your own faith, whether natural or spiritual; it must have a cause. Without the cause it would not exist; and with the cause you cannot send it away. If you have bad news of your friend, that he is ill, it may not be true; but you judge according to the report you receive. That is faith. Faith comes by hearing. Just as a testimony is borne to your mind, so is your faith, so are your fears. There is a testimony borne to the minds of these disciples that Christ has not appeared; so their griefs spring up, and they are full of doubts and fears.
Likewise, when the Lord convinces a sinner of his sins, he judges according to that testimony; and his faith runs according to the impressions he receives. He has a spiritual understanding of God's Word, and feels himself so opposite to it that he fears the consequences. He knows that "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) He knows what spiritual worship is, and what carnal worship is, and knows that oftentimes he worships God according to the letter. It is only the Lord who can remove this fear, by discovering to the soul that he is a child of God, giving him to know the reality of his religion, and enabling him to say, "Abba, Father." When the Lord gives him a testimony of His love, applying His Word to the conscience: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," it produces assurance in the soul.
3. Then, as the Lord came to His disciples, He went on and talked with them, opening their understandings, that they might understand the Scriptures. He said to them, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." This brings us to the third point: How the Lord expounds the Scriptures to us concerning Himself.
As regards the Scriptures themselves, they are the mind of God, His revealed will, and contain all that is necessary to make known our salvation and comfort, and to direct our walk and conversation before God and the world. They require nothing added to them. But what do they mean? How hastily people plunge into them! The Lord Jesus Christ in this conversation has shown us how little His disciples understood them. Any part of the Scriptures you may take, and the words are plain English words, but what is the meaning? To understand their spiritual signification, there must be a spiritual understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
I find many can give a description of heaven after the manner of the Paradise of Eden. Beyond that they cannot rise; they have no conception of heaven. In the heaven they describe there are their friends and relatives; and one is telling another how much he did on earth for Jesus Christ. There needs no Jesus for their heaven. They only drag Him in for a makeshift. It is nothing, if you look at it closely, but an earthly Paradise that the human mind can grasp. But the native glory, the presence of God, is the true heaven, and is revealed by faith to the children of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. In that Person is all that will satisfy a spiritual mind. The child of God feels that his soul is drawn after that God, and swallowed up in love and praise to Him; and his gratitude rushes out like streams, and he blesses and praises His great Name. His admiration of the Lord in His sparing and pardoning mercy is touched and brought out by the presence of God. He loses sight of all earthly things and all earthly affections for the time being. His soul would bound away to be with God, that God and he might be together. If you have but a taste of that heavenly bliss, you want nothing else to add to your comfort. That peace and happiness in the presence of God in your soul is a foretaste of heaven; and without it, you can have no true idea of heaven. Every child of God pants for that only, and would exalt the Lord Jesus Christ alone. He knows he is below the mark he desires, and is not satisfied.
There are as many different opinions upon God's Word as countenances, but only one true one; that is, God's. It tells us: "You hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1) You must not put your own construction upon it. What a fatal thing to be contrary to God's Word, to be of an opposite opinion to the Most High! He will never alter His. He says we were "dead in trespasses and sins." Sin brought death into the world; and death in a sinner breeds corruption. The corrupt thought of a man shows that death is there; the corrupt ways and ends he aims at show that death is there. God says the whole of man is corrupt, from head to foot, and that no good thing can come out of him. (Isa. 1:6; Rom. 3:10) There is a variety of opinion; but God says man by nature can do nothing good; there is none in him; he is dead and corrupt; and not only so, but he cannot get to heaven without being reborn. I would not for a thousand worlds have an adverse opinion to the mind and will of God. It is better to submit to His Word with all humility, and say, "That which I see not teach Thou me." (Job 34:32) I would not dictate to His Word; because it is an infallible Word, that can never be altered. Man by nature is dead in sin; therefore he cannot see nor enter into the kingdom of heaven. A great and grand change must take place; and that can only be performed by God Himself. He is the Author of life, and He has said, "Ye must be born again." (John 3:7) Here is the very start of real religion. For this purpose the Holy Spirit is given us in covenant, to quicken us and convince us of the truth. And if He is to lead us into all truth, it is better to go plodding on, waiting for His testimony, than to be deceived by ourselves.
The terrible things through which God, at times, makes His people pass bring them some of the most lasting lessons. The greatest trials in their lives have been the means of founding in their souls the most deeply-laid truths; for it is by these things God instructs His people. If you are well grounded in any truth, if it is burnt into your soul, it has been by some trial or temptation, wherein He has opened His Word to you. If He has given you His mind concerning the Fall, you have never seen a person so bad as yourself. You have never heard any one give a description of sin as you feel it, and have never read it in books. How is that? Because the Holy Spirit shows you your own heart and not another's. You do not see others as you see yourself, and therefore give them the benefit,--that they must be a little better. Sometimes in your thoughts you dispute with Paul: "I am the greatest of sinners." Why? Because each one severally is convinced of his sins, less or more, and knows them better than other people's. Then if he hears the full character of a sinner drawn, he is not offended, and never turns away his ear from it. Depend upon it, you will find if the description of a sinner offends your ear, you will never be gladdened by salvation; never will you hear that glad news. I would not be in your place for all the world.
Those whom the Lord brought to His feet were not unwilling to own their sinnership. He shows us a picture of the two characters. There comes a man who is not a sinner in his own sight, and another who is a terrible sinner. One pleads his good deeds; the other confesses his sins. All natural persons plead their good deeds. They dare no more come before God without some good deeds than they dare face Satan. It is only the convinced sinner who is enabled to go to the Lord, with, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13) Feeling that His Word is truth, that there is no good thing in him, and no good thing can come from him. As long as he lives in this world, he will find this Scripture opens to his understanding: "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" The carnal mind becomes developed more fully, and sin more hateful. The child of God feels more of sin and its hatefulness, of the necessity of being saved by grace, and of God's eternal arm to reach him; for there is no help but in God. This is expounding the Word to him. In this way he is brought to know Jesus Christ, and to identify Him with the Saviour that should come into the world, to save His people from their sins.
Some may say, "That is expounding the Scriptures concerning ourselves, which is what we object to hear. We want the Scriptures to be expounded concerning Jesus Christ." And how can that be done? If you are going to set forth the wonderful credit of a physician, and will not tell what he has done, how am I to know he is so great? If you say what wonderful skill he has, and nothing about his feats, where is the proof? Supposing he has never drawn a lancet or felt a pulse, you would not persuade me he has done anything. The Lord Jesus Christ is very great,--that is true. But if I am to know the might of that Saviour, I must know what He has done. We must remember He came into the world to save sinners. Now when the Scriptures are expounded concerning ourselves as sinners, it is always done in conjunction with expounding the things of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour. The virtue of His blood must be expounded accordingly, and the merit of His righteousness revealed to such a one, that he may feel there is perfect safety in that blood and righteousness for so great a sinner as himself.
Those who have had a more tried path than others often tell you the most plainly what Jesus Christ is; and they tell you practically what He is according to the gospel. The description another may give of Jesus Christ may make us smile; but let him have a little revelation of himself, and he will give a more humble description of himself and a more exalted one of Jesus.
You can never learn in this life what Jesus Christ is in His greatness and preciousness, unless you know what He has done for you,--not what He has done for Paul. You know He pardoned Paul's sins; but you cannot tell what Paul's sins were. You must know your own. When you hear that a man has broken his arm, and yours is not broken, you do not feel his pain. And if his arm is bound up and made comfortable, you do not know the change in his feelings. There may be pain still, but it is relieved pain, and is attended with the hope that it will cease by and by. You cannot tell the comfort there is in that little bit of relief. So with the child of God. He cannot conceive the power of the truth of God unless it is applied to himself; and if he has it in himself, he knows the blessedness there is in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is knowing the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit expounds them.
People may talk about little sinners; but the Holy Spirit never shows a man a little sinner. As the Holy Spirit expounds the subject, there is not a sinner that can have hope but absolutely through the blood of Jesus Christ. When He shows you that precious blood, you will hang your whole salvation upon His Person, His might, and finished work. The sight of your sinnership will cause you exercise of soul; and you will only be satisfied with the Lord Jesus Christ. When you come to die, you will want something in your soul's feeling to bear you up through the valley of death. It is only the fool who puts off the evil day. When the Lord's children see death near, and are brought to examine themselves to know how they stand for eternity, unless they can feel His comfortable presence, they quail at death. Some say they should not do so; but the Word exhorts them to bring near the day of death. If it is a subject you cannot face now, what will you do when it comes? Death is very familiar to some of God's people, and the fears of it are not strange to them. They meditate upon it; and when they come face to face with it, it is an old acquaintance, and they know what they require to support them. But naturally men revolt at the thought of death, and cannot meet it. Now when, at times, it is transformed in appearance into a mere sleep, then the horror is gone; the idea of its being a total cessation of our hopes is taken away. The Lord said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." It can never be changed into a sleep but by the immediate presence and power of the Lord. Then how easily it can be gazed upon, and freely passed through!
In all these things that we have to go through, the Lord opens His Word to us. I trust it is the desire of our hearts to have the mind of God in His Word, for Him to give us the real understanding of the Scriptures. If the Holy Spirit convinces us of sin, it is that we may know Jesus Christ. If He convinces us of our unrighteousness, it is that we may be brought into an acquaintance with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The one is consequent upon the other. We cannot rightly understand any part of the truth but as the Holy Spirit shows it; and when He expounds the Word, how sweet that portion is! By and by He withdraws from it, and we are dark. We go again to that Scripture in vain. Where is the light? We wonder what we saw there, and attempt to bring it to our understanding. Then we write bitter things against ourselves. But remember, it is only in the light of the Lord we can see the truth. He never sealed a portion of Scripture upon His people's consciences, that they might do what they would with it. His presence and His sweet savor must go hand in hand with His Word in the heart; and if He withdraws, the light of the Word is gone. This is the way He instructs us that His Word cannot be grasped by a natural understanding, or by a spiritual understanding without His abiding presence and light.