VERY various is the discipline, the schooling, the training through which each one of God's people pass. I have sometimes said, and it is perfectly true, that God does not teach His people in classes, but that each one has to learn his lesson for himself. One by one are the people of God taught.
How wonderful was the training of God's servant Moses for the mighty work which the Lord had allotted to him! The wonder-working hand of God in Providence is seen at the very outset of his career, when from the reedy river Moses was drawn out, and brought to Pharaoh's daughter,--drawn out of the jaws of death, and presently drawn out of an ungodly world. His training was exactly suited to the work which God had for him to do, and so is yours, and so is mine. We kick against it; we often fight and rebel against it, but depend upon it, each one's pathway and training, whether we serve God in public or in private, is just managed by our great and wise and glorious Lord.
Now Moses we are told by Stephen, was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in words and in deeds,--that is, the whole compass of science, and of earthly knowledge so far as the Egyptians knew it, Moses was conversant with. The mighty advance of science among the Egyptians is proved by those marvelous structures which were standing in Moses' day, the Pyramids, which were more than simple tombs, for they demonstrated the astronomical knowledge of the people. In early manhood God implanted His holy fear in the heart of Moses, for when he was come to years, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be numbered with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. When God implants His holy fear in a human heart, it is always "an unctuous light to all that's right, a bar to all that's wrong."
First, Moses refused; secondly, under the power and fear of the Lord, Moses chose, and thirdly, he esteemed. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He choose to be numbered with the afflicted people of God, and he esteemed the reproach of Christ to be greater than all the treasures of Egypt. This is a religion of God's own giving by which a man in the midst of a court, a man who was on the high road to succeed to the crown, was neither dazzled nor ensnared by the things of the world. He cast in his lot with the poor and despised people of God. Now he is to be schooled in tribulation, and the school of tribulation commences when he refuses to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. Now he is to learn in seclusion, and no man or woman has a religion of any depth unless they know what it is to be trained somewhat in seclusion. Moses is brought into the land of Midian, and for forty years he sits there at the feet of God, being further trained for his great work.
In Horeb. Luther's Horeb was the Augustinian convent, where light broke in upon him. John Knox's Horeb was the seventeen months he passed laboring in the French galleys. Moses' Horeb was in the land of Midian. Now God comes to him and unfolds before him his life work. "Moses, you have to testify before Pharaoh, who has become your bitterest enemy, and you are to bring forth Israel out of Egypt." Like all the people of God who know their own weakness, and the plague of their own hearts, Moses trembled, and shrinkingly said, "Who am I, Lord, that I should be called to this great work?" Who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God. And there came the words which must have fallen upon Moses' heart with strengthening and divine power, "Certainly I will be with thee, I will not send thee a warfare at thine own charges; I will not give thee a message and then desert thee; I will not call thee to stand in the forefront, and then leave thee." No word is of any private interpretation, and God says to every one of His dear children here, "Certainly"--there is not the shadow of the shade of a doubt about it--"certainly I will be with thee."
God had given to Moses, prior to the speaking of this promise, that glorious object lesson. He had drawn near and seen the burning but unconsumed bush; not one fragile branch, not one green tendril, was being shriveled or scorched by that fierce fire. Why was this? Because God was in the midst of it. God was there, and so, dear believer, this morning the dark clouds of tribulation may hover over your horizon, the fierce fires of affliction and anxiety may be blowing around you, but if you are the Lord's, God is with you, and with you as He is with His Church, of whom it is written, "God is in the midst of her." Israel in Egypt was not consumed by those fierce fires. God was with His people. The Church down all the ages has been unconsumed by the fires which have played around her, nor has one child or servant of the living God ever perished.
Our text, then, is the promise of Him that dwelt in the bush, the promise which emanates from the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush. Who was He? Who is He? Our Guardian and our covenant God. He who has said--and we have proved the faithfulness of the word--"When thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." (Isa. 43:2)
"Who sends me?" asks Moses. "I AM THAT I AM," replies the Lord, that is, "I am the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Infinite power hand in hand with infinite love! Infinite power and infinite love combined with infinite wisdom. Our covenant God in the midst of His people. No age enfeebles His arm. No use exhausts His energies. No sin causes His love to dwindle, and no ingratitude chills it. It is ever, ever the same. Oh the blessedness of the Spirit-guided ones who this morning repose beneath the wings of Jesus Christ our Lord!
Let us briefly speak of three questions which arise out of this Divine declaration. The answers are full of consolation to the seeking sinner and to the tempest-tossed believer.
First of all, HOW is God with His people? secondly, WHEN is He with His people? thirdly, WHY is He with His people? How, when, why.
How is God certainly with His Church, and with every individual member of it? First of all, in the great and glorious fact of living union,--Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit, ever with His people. "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in One." (John 17:23) Can you compass this word? I cannot. I stand in wonder, adoration and amazement.
"It is a deep that knows no sounding,
Without bottom or a shore."
but it is a living fact. Your spiritual existence and mine depends upon it. The existence of the Church down all the ages rests upon it. It is a union which nothing can sever, a union which nothing can dissolve: a union with God the Father through His Son; a union with God the Son through His Spirit! Father, Son and Spirit in living union with the worm Jacob! In living union with every seeking sinner! In living union with every tried saint! It is the covenant; it is the covenant union. How is it embodied and displayed? Come with me to Bethlehem, and there shall you see the purpose and goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush. The heavens open and the angels sing, "Peace on earth and goodwill toward men." (Luke 2:14) In the covenant, Jesus was ever looked upon as one with His Body, the Church. The coming of our blessed Lord in Bethlehem, and His coming to the sinner weeping and penitent because of his sins, these comings are in accord with the covenant. Come with me then to Bethlehem. "Thou shalt call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." "Certainly I am with thee," and now the covenant, this provision of the covenant, is openly avowed and accomplished, for the Babe in Bethlehem's manger is Bethel's God. The Babe in Bethlehem's manger is the covenant God of His dear people. The Babe in Bethlehem's manger is God the Son, who led His Church through the wilderness in a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. He in that manger is the glorious One who appeared to Joshua, to Abraham, and to our fathers in the wilderness--God's own Son. He has come, passing by the nature of angels to a lower place than that; passing by the nature of angels to take hold, or to lay hold of, the seed of Abraham; to be made, as to His human nature, of a woman, to be made under the law. God the Son taking human nature into union with Himself, coming down and passing by the nature of angels, coming into this world through the humble door of natural birth. Why was it? That He might be with His people. In all the dark scenes of the glorious history of the Man of sorrows, behold His loving heart and desire to be one with His people. In every new opening up of the mystery and the glory of His Person, this precious promise of our text strikes in its soft melody in New Testament chimes upon our needy hearts. That was a great word to Moses, "Certainly I will be with thee." In Bethlehem's manger the chimes are those of the new covenant, the New Testament, and the Babe in Bethlehem's manger says, "Certainly I will be with thee." With us as made of a woman, with us as made under the law, with us as an Infant of days; with us, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; with us as partaking of every sinless human experience; with us along tribulation's pathway, and with us in temptation's vale!
Trace again this oneness, "Certainly I will be with thee." One with His members to bear their griefs and to carry their sorrows. Poor sinner, I am one with thee! Where then now is wrath! If Christ is with every poor sensible seeking sinner, where is wrath? See Him in Gethsemane's garden. Count, if you can, those purple drops that fall from Him. Hear His bitter cries there. "Certainly I will be with thee," taking that cup which was full to its brim, and emptying that cup for thee.
"Christ and His members ever stood
A glorious mystic Man."
"Nor can God' wrath on me take place,
If sheltered by His righteousness,
And sprinkled with His blood."
Guilty sinner, tried and tempted believer, you who are dark, it may be, in your mind this morning, where is your hell? On Calvary's cross behold your Lord--"Certainly I will be with thee." The flowings of His precious blood on Calvary made atonement for thy sin, and in those three hours of awful and intolerable darkness thy Saviour endured thy hell; not as a place, Christ did not go into hell as a place, but as a state. The darkness, the turning away of His Father's face, O what could it mean? "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" But now--"'Certainly I will be with thee.' In Gethsemanes's garden I took, in its most manifest form, the cup. On Calvary's cross I endured thy hell, but now I am risen. Behold My hands and My feet. It is the same Lord that went through the penalty to the very end. I have risen and ascended. Behold My hands and My feet. I am Emmanuel still. I am with thee still. I am the Amen, the God of the 'Certainly' still. I have gone up on high. It is for thee. I cannot love thee more; I will not love thee less. In My sight thou art fair, cleansed by My blood. All is for thee, a bride adorned for her Lord." This is the gospel as God has taught me. This is the gospel as it shines translucent in the Holy Word, the gospel of the finished work of Christ, the gospel of the Incarnation of God the Son; the gospel of His intercession; the gospel of His sameness--no monotony, though ever the same; the gospel of Him who says, "Certainly I will be with thee."
But who am I? I am so vile, so dark. "'Certainly I will be with thee.' My righteousness is thine, and in it thou art beheld at all times." As we draw near in supplication to the throne of grace, oh how bound we are sometimes; how shut up in prayer, hindered, drawn back, and then we stammer and ask for such things as we ought not. "Certainly I will be with thee,"--thy Intercessor, thy Advocate, to take thy petitions, to add My merits, to take away that which is unworthy. "I will be with thee" as thy living Advocate on high. "But in me, that is in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing." "'Certainly I will be with thee,' and all My fullness is for thee." Then, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
Secondly, and very briefly, WHEN is He with His people? Always. Yes, but we need faith to cleave to this, to realize it. Now let me state again, what perhaps some of you may be tired of hearing from my lips, and that is, faith is not an act of the creature; an act by which the creature is first of all united to Christ. If faith were a pure act of the creature, and my salvation depended upon it, my salvation would depend upon a work. There is no denying this. In that case faith becomes a work; salvation depends upon that work, and earnest souls are brought into bondage. Faith is grace, and grace flows down; grace is of the bestowment and free gift of God. Faith is a fruit of the Spirit, but whilst faith is a fruit of the Spirit (the Spirit being compared to the sap that flows up), there can be no sap, and there can be no fruit, without a root. So we affirm that God's Word declares, that before faith there must be union; union is the great and glorious spring and fountain of faith.
Have I been brought to depend day by day upon Christ Jesus the Lord? Have I been brought day by day, under a sense of weakness and dependence to cleave wholly to Jesus because there is no other refuge for my soul? Will He accept me? You are joined to Him, for faith is the result of union with Christ the Root. The Spirit of the living God proceeding from the Father through the Son comes into the soul, and faith, hope and love, the gifts and graces of the Spirit, are manifested thereby. Is it your daily experience? There are so many who can speak of their conversion so many years ago, and apparently things have gone on smoothly with them ever since. Why, we have to prove that in ourselves we are worse than nothing and vanity. God keep us from being unfruitful, dead branches, filled with self-conceit, filled with false piety. "I was converted years ago; that is all past and gone." Then you do not want this promise, "Certainly I will be with thee." But to the broken-hearted penitent--and I want to be that every day, dear friends--to the broken-hearted penitent, to a faith that has a strong, drowning grip upon the Lamb of God, the promise comes. It is to the tremblers, the seeking, the dependent; to those who feel that the feet of Jesus is the best place to them. "Certainly I will be with thee."
With us there is a succession of things, but there is no succession with God. I do not know how to explain it, but it is an everlasting now with our God. Now compare the two. Here is a poor finite one with a succession of things; here is "I AM THAT I AM" in Christ Jesus the Lord, an abounding fullness present with Him. Look at the 8th chapter of Proverbs. What does the Lord say there? "I was rejoicing always before Him." In what? "Rejoicing in the habitable part of His earth, and My delights were with the sons of men." (v31) A little higher up in that chapter (v12) we read, "I Wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions." How does that apply to Christ? Hebrew scholars tell us that the words rendered "find out" really mean, "make present." "Rejoicing always before Him, delighting in the sons of men, making present before Him witty inventions"--What does that all mean? Why this, that in covenant, in the past eternity, He who said "Certainly I will be with thee" had His delights with the sons of men, with everyone of us, if we are going to heaven. Explain it. I cannot, and I bless God for a religion that I cannot explain. Witty inventions of people against you, and your own witty inventions; they were present with Me; to find out or to make present witty inventions.
Now the God who did all this in eternity, the God who became incarnate, the God who in Person of His Son suffered, bled and died on Calvary's cross, and who has now risen to die no more, has said, "Certainly I will be with thee." May the comforter revive us in this precious knowledge. Never has He failed us. He has suffered us to hunger, but in another place we read, "The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish."
Lastly, WHY is this promise given? Because of our need, and so we are permitted to be brought into circumstances where Christ in the living experience of the heart is felt to be incalculably precious. Remember that word of John. It does not apply to John the Baptist merely, but to you and to me, "He must increase, but I must decrease." To know the power and the preciousness, the touch, the grace, and the fullness of the Lord our God, there must be decrease on our part. We must go down, and He go up in our experience and estimation, so that the most needy shall know most of the stability of Christ. You mourn your deadness--"Certainly I will be with thee." He is the Fountain of life, and it is life that makes you mourn your deadness. You mourn your darkness--"Certainly I will be with thee." He is your light, and you have light to mourn over your darkness. You mourn over you lack of love. Satan may sometimes say, "You have no more love than I have," but God knows we have. What a Saviour He is! "The full soul loatheth an honeycomb (Christ Jesus the Lord), but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet," (Prov. 27:7) and God knows we do not loathe the honeycomb, and as hungry souls we shall yet know the sweetness of the bitter things.
"O, Christ He is the Fountain,
The deep sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I've tasted,
More deep I'll drink above.
There to an ocean fulness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel's land!"
God give unto us then that in the strength of this promise, we may go forward. With us in life, in death, in trouble, and in joy, and with us down all the ages of eternity!