By Andrew Bonar
HOW LOOKING TO THE PERSON TENDS TO ADVANCE HOLINESS IN THE SOUL.
"SANCTIFY them by the truth" was our Lord's prayer; but it is truth in connection with Himself. For, separate from Him, doctrines "have no living power, but are as waters separated from the fountain; they dry up, or become a noisome puddle, or as a beam interrupted from its continuity with the sun is immediately deprived of light." (Owen on Person of Christ.)
There is an expressive type in the old economy that bears on this subject. The cherubim (emblems of the redeemed) stood upon the mercy-seat or lid of the Ark - that lid, or mercy-seat, on which the blood was seventimes sprinkled every atonement day. In this manner is set forth the soul's resting on the work of Christ; for here is His shed blood, and the feet of the cherubim touch that blood. But, at the same time, notice that they stood not on the blood alone, but on the mercy-seat - a part of that Ark which altogether was typical of Christ Himself, the depositary or treasure-chest of all our blessings. Thus they exhibited rest on the Person as well as on the work of Christ. Again; the cherubim looked down upon the blood that lay on the mercy-seat; but their look was not less fully directed towards the mercy-seat itself, and the Ark too. Once more; these symbolic figures of the redeemed spread out their wings over the blood, but not over that alone, but at least as fully over the mercy-seat and Ark - a significant action, expressive of their regarding it as worthy of care - nay, as being to them what to the mother-bird her brood is in the nest. The wings were spread forth on either side, as if purposely to show that the whole of the Ark was their care, the object of their solicitude and their delight.
Perhaps there was still more signified in their connection with that Ark. They not only stood upon it, and leant their whole weight on it, but they were also joined to it. For they formed one piece with the mercy-seat, which was the upper part of the Ark, and which was all of gold. Not content with representing them as ever gazing on this object, the Lord set forth their union to Himself who is the mercy-seat - union to Him in His glorified state (for they and it were of gold), sharing in all the fruits of His finished work and begun glory.
Union to Christ's Person is a fact in the case of every believer, and ought therefore to be a constant subject of meditation to every believer. Now, this union realised leads to a realising of the Person. Hence, in the Lord's Supper, it is always important for the communicant to ask, with Paul, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Cor. x. 16). That ordinance, so rich in blessing and in blessed suggestions, is fitted always to bring us back to a fresh and present realising of the Person of Jesus, by bringing us to a remembrance of our union to that Person. Can we think of union to Him, and not go on to ask, Who is this to whom I am united? Who is this that is my husband? Who is this that is far more mine than the husband is the wife's? What is His heart? What is His hand of might? Where are His possessions? Where are the proofs of His love? Are His glories bursting on my view?
The great truth, which the Ark in the Old Testament, and the Lord's Supper in the New, is so well fitted to keep before us, has been the object of endeavour and pursuit (if not always of attainment) to all believers who have been found growing in holiness. In the latter days of the life of Howell Harris, of Wales, the intent gaze of his soul on the Person of Jesus is as remarkable, as was his intent look to the terrors of Sinai in earlier days. He writes to a friend (Let. 43), "One view of Him, in His eternal Godhead, and so of the infinity of His Person, love, obedience, and suffering, is worth millions of worlds." In another (Let. 52), "How is it with all you? Doth the veil wear off, and doth the glory of a crucified Saviour appear brighter and brighter? Oh, my brother, that Man is indeed the eternal God. What views doth He give vile me of Himself! He shines brightly like the sun at noon! Oh, what heart of stone would not melt to see the eternal God lying in a manger, sweating and tired, wearing His thorny crown, not opening His mouth, because He bare our sin and shame? Go on, my dear brother, and be bold in the great mystery of God become man."
Undoubtedly it mellows and matures the character of saints to be much occupied with their Lord's Person; but as undoubtedly it quickens their sense of obligation, and keeps alive love and gratitude, to be thus ever in contact with a personal Saviour. Ideas, however noble, may leave our souls comparatively dry, and they will always leave us infinitely less affected in our conscience, than when we meet our God in His personality.*
* Trench, in one of his Hulsean Lectures, puts the case thus: "Oh, how great the difference between submitting ourselves to a complex of rules, and casting ourselves upon a beating heart" (P. 122).
Now, while all believers do in some measure deal with a personal Christ, yet all do not seek to extend their experience of it; although the more this is done, the more fervent, and mild, and calm will all holiness be in their souls; for then they take it fresh from the spring, and that spring is the calm, deep soul of Jesus. There will be a difference in the tone of, their life, and the fulness of their conformity to the image of their Lord, in proportion as their eye rests more or less frequently on His Person. Indeed, so much is this the case, that we are inclined to think that Peter referred very specially to this style of experience, when he was inspired to write, "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour ~ Jesus Christ" (2 Peter iii. 18).
Many saints seem to be little aware how much of grace there is in the knowledge of the Person of Jesus. It would singularly benefit some of these, who have lived much on what they know about Jesus, to try for a week the more blessed and fruitful way of dealing directly with Himself. There are treasures in the Person of Him whose doctrines they believe, if only they could use them. A great philosopher says, on another subject, what we may accommodate to this : - " A man may believe in the work and Person of Christ for twenty years, and only in the twenty-first - in some great moment - is he astonished at the rich substance of His belief - the rich warmth of this naphthaspring." He adds to his ideas a person, and exchanges knowledge about a truth for knowledge of Him that is true - yes, exchanges opinions for a deep joy in the Living One, a joy which nothing earthly gave nor can destroy.
By this looking to the Person, the believer's holiness, or growth in grace, is advanced in a threefold way. For this looking to the Person leads - 1. To communion; 2. To a realising of His life for us; 3. To imitation ; - all which conform the soul to His likeness.
1. Communion with Him is one result, and a sanctifying result. When we dwell on the Saviour's Person, we are in His company. Faith places us by His side, and shows us His glory, until what we see makes our heart burn within us. We are virtually put in the position of disciples walking by His side, witnessing His excellences, basking in the radiance of grace and truth from His countenance, hearing His words. Now, this contemplation of Him is transforming in its effects; "Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are changed: into the same image" (2 Cor iii. 18) This is the plan which the Holy Spirit takes in conforming us to Christ's image. In this way He daguerreotypes on our prepared hearts the likeness of Him whom we look to.
This communion was carried on very constantly by Samuel Rutherford while in exile, hour after hour. The day seemed short while so engaged; and thus it was he exhorted a friend: "I urge upon you a nearer communion with Christ, and a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn by in Christ that we never saw, and new foldings of love in Him. I despair that ever I shall win to the far end of that love; there are so many plies in it. Therefore, dig deep - and set by as much time in the day for Him as you can - He will be won by labour."
But is it not intimated to us, by there being such a book as "the Song of Songs," that the Lord desires far more of our communion with Him than we generally relish? Was not that Song of Songs written to teach us this dealing with Himself? It was given to the Church in Old Testament days, when His Person as yet was dimly seen; for so great was His desire for this personal converse with us, He would teach it even then. How much more now should it be our occupation, when we see the Bridegroom, and know Him as revealed by Himself. Is there much of that tender love in the present day? Are there many of His own who are saying to Him, "Let me kiss Him with the kisses of His love" (Song i. 1) - using that figure for want of any other adequate terms? Are many telling Him , "I am sick of love. If ye find my beloved, tell Him that I am sick of love ?" (Song v. 8). Have we at all adequately realised our privilege of holding "fellowship" with Him, as a man speaketh to His friend? "Truly," said John, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John i. 3). There was here personal intercourse, the soul of disciples with the soul of the master. There was no doubt, in spirit, all the reality of the converse exhibited in the Song of Songs, and realised by each disciple in the Upper Room.
2. Thus living on the Son of God personally leads us to realise His life for us. By His life for us is meant His manner of spending for us the three-and-thirty years He lived on earth, as well as His continually using for us "the power of his endless life," now in heaven. All that is associated with that Person, we cannot but seek to call to mind. Every notice of His former walk on earth we eagerly read, that we may thereby know His heart, He being "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."
All the records of His sympathy with us in our misery, every trait of His tender pity, whatever indicates His thoughts, we peruse with untiring fondness - returning to the meditation again and again with as engrossing an interest as at first. On this account the four gospels possess indescribable attractions; for there it is we glean the finest wheat - glimpses of His glory and grace, human and divine. What He did, what He said, what He suffered, what He felt, what He thought; how He was silent, how He spoke; His journeyings, His places of rest; the words He used in healing, the look, the prayer, the touch, the command, the call - all have an engrossing interest, because God-man is there. And then, not less, the outgushings of grace and truth, in the outpouring of His soul unto death, and in the resurrection-victory, and in the discoveries of the same heart toward us when His exaltation was begun, and His robe of righteousness had been waved with acceptance before the Father.
But still more. We follow Him as "He feeds among the lilies." We try to feel His heart beating for us in heaven; and just as one walking with Aaron, the High Priest, could not but see the breast-plate with its names, so we cannot fail to see that this Jesus bears the names of His own on His heart. We find it written, "We shall be saved by His life" (Rom. v. 10). We go up to Him, and find His love as intense, and His merit as fresh, as when He rose from the tomb. We realise Him as "every moment watering His vine " - interceding and obtaining daily grace for us. His life above is a life of love, no less than was His life below. Behold, how He thinks upon us night and day! Not content with putting into our hand the cup of blessing on the day of our conversion He takes care to keep it in our possession and to keep us from spilling its new wine. He remembers still how he hid us in the cleft on that day when we flew as trembling doves to the rock; and he keeps us as safely hid as ever. Not only did He once blot out our sins, but he is employed in seeing that the writing never reappear. He once put on us a robe of righteousness: he every hour continues to keep it on us, in spite of blasts from earth and hell. He once plunged all our sins in the depth of the sea. He still appears for us in the presence of God, keeping the deep tide that buries these sins from ever ebbing. He once acquitted us and gained us honour far greater than was gained by Mordecai before Ahasuerus: He is every day still engaged in preventing us ever falling into disgrace.
In this manner we feel our acceptance and the communication of blessing to us fresh each day, through Him who is our life; and so nothing in our religion grows old, and none of our reasons for close dependence on Him are past and out of date; nay, our every-day life is in a manner a daily repetition of the day of our first conversion. By this view a daily impulse is given to our walk with God. Is not this what we need for continual progress? And is not this the Spirit's manner of watering the roots of the plants of grace?
And at the same time, as a man much in Aaron's company would see on His person and garments the anointing oil, so in our interceding Lord we see the Holy Spirit dwelling without measure. We see Him with the "seven Spirits of God," and this all for us. Our eye, resting on the Person of Jesus, discovers therein a reservoir of all holiness for our souls, inasmuch as he has the Spirit without measure. And so we learn to take from Him "that other Comforter," who delights to glorify the Saviour, and who is Himself infinite love and loveliness. What a sight for a soul like ours! "The Spirit of wisdom and revelation," dwelling in Him whom we long to know more and more. We read, in a manner, on His vesture and on His thigh, "Thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also!" (Psalm lxviii. 18).
3. But further, there is Imitation - imitation of Him we look upon. Long ago Origen (Neander's Ch.Hist., vol ii.p.283) wrote : - " Faith brings with it a spiritual communion with Him in whom one believes; and hence a kindred disposition of mind which will manifest itself in works - the object of faith being taken up into the inner life." We do not look only on His wounds, but also on His holy steps; and we not only look, but by the sure leading of that Spirit who shows us what we see, we at the same moment seek to imitate. For the inmost soul is moved.*
* The soul whose sight all-quickening grace renews
Takes the resemblance of the good she views;
As diamonds stript of their opaque disguise
Reflect the noonday glory of the skies (C0WPER).
Looking much to Jesus in His person, we instinctively (so to speak) copy what we see. Indeed, real holiness is simply the "Imitation of Christ," after He has washed us, and in the depth of His atoning grace left us without guilt. It is grateful imitation, not the imitation of those who are working for life. Much in the presence of our Benefactor who so loved us, we would fain resemble him in our character and state of mind, and so we seek to copy what is imitable in His ways, and in all He manifested of Himself while redeeming us. We are led to desire (as Paul recommends in Phil. ii. 5) to be filled with the "mind that was in Christ," that mind which shone out so attractively as He bore the cross and drank the cup to the dregs - for the Apostle Peter (ii. 22-24) exhorts us to observe even His example while hanging on the cross as containing some matter for imitation, some footsteps for us to walk in.
In this same way true and steady looking to Christ's Person would, by the Spirit's teaching, lead us into the experience of that "charity" which is described in 1 Cor. xiii. 4, 5, 6, 7. It is said to have these fourteen qualities, each one of which is best learned by beholding it in Christ, the original.
1. "Charity suffereth long." Where was this love illustrated if not in our Lord when He refused to bring down fire on the rejecters of His grace - stretched out His hands all day to rebels - bore mockery, blasphemy, wrong, the scourge, the crown of thorns, the reed, the blindfolding napkin, and the cross itself?
2. Charity is "kind" And who so truly kind as Jesus, crying with loud voice, "It is finished," and bringing us life in the moment of His own death - proclaiming the sweetest news with the vinegar at His lips! When was Joseph so kind to his brethren? Who ever so heaped coals of fire upon an enemy's head?
3. If ever we are to learn the love that "envieth not," we must see it in Him who desired nought for Himself, but disinterestedly and unceasingly sought to make our condition better, happier, greater. If our Priest, who wore the robe without a seam, had worn the priestly mitre on His brow, on it would have been written, "More blessed to give than to receive." He interfered with none of our comforts, not even in thought: it was only with our miseries. Let us drink in His unenvious, unselfish love, leaving our fellow-men all the true good they have, anxious only to make them have as much as ourselves.
4. Looking to His Person again, we see "charity vaunteth not itself." In Him is no ostentation, no parade of His doings. We read all the gospels through, and never find His love put itself forward for show. He does not clothe the naked and tell that He has done it; or relieve a Lazarus, and then remind the man that He has done him a favour; or heal, and proclaim His rare skill. Even His redeeming love is rather set within our view in His actions and agonies, as in so many wells whence we may draw, than pressed on us in words. Nor did He upbraid, or taunt, or shout haughty triumph over a soul subdued and forgiven - so little of parade had He. His is a Father's love to a prodigal son, too glad to gain the opportunity of pouring out itself on its object. Where shall we learn unostentatious love, if not here?
5. Or are we to learn the love that "is not puffed up " - that has no inward self-gratulation, no self-complacent thought of its own magnanimity in the deed so kindly done? It is to be learned surely by looking to Him who was satisfied in gaining His gracious object, in finding scope for love. No look or tone of His ever made His benefactions disagreeable to those who received them; for His was a charity that despised none, being the great love of God (Job xxxvi. 5). If we will learn holy love to others, let us learn it at Christ's holy love to us; as painters take for models the masterpieces of the best artists and copy them line by line.
6. Behold His love, and see how charity "doth not behave itself unseemly." You see a delicate propriety and a fine attention to the feelings in Christ's dealings of love. No rudeness, no harshness, no indiscretion; nothing mean, nothing unpolite; time, place, and persons were all consistently and tenderly considered. Even in this, the Righteous Servant "dealt prudently." With what tender delicacy, and yet determined love, did He deal with the woman of Samaria, till at last He had withdrawn the veil and confronted her conscience with her five husbands and the one that bore that name still! Even to Judas, in the hour of dark treachery, love could say, "Friend, wherefore art thou come ?" Never was there extravagant demonstration; never the shadow of affectation. There is seemly love to be learned in its perfection here, but only here, only in Jesus Himself.
7. And need we dwell on the charity "that seeketh not her own"? In the life and death of Him, who "was servant of all," we see this love to the full - the seeking love of God - the love that sought us and ours.
8. The same love is seen "not easily provoked." See it personified in Him who stands there and groans over the city, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together!" (Matt. xxiv. 37). No bitter wrongs ever drew forth a hasty word, or angry look, or revengeful blow. They spat in His face, they plucked off His hair, they smote Him with the palms of their hand, they put on the purple robe - but it drew forth only love.
9. His love was charity that "thinketh no evil" - that never had a passing thought of injuring its worst foes, nor imagined them worse than they showed themselves to be. His were thoughts of peace, and not of evil, towards the men that crucified Him. "If thou hadst known, even thou!" (Luke xix. 42).
10. It is at His side we see and learn "love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." The good of those whom He loved He sought not to advance by any unholy gratification. His love was such as felt grieved at seeing its objects seeking happiness in ways not good and true. It had no joy in seeing iniquity anywhere, far less seeing it have place in the hearts of friends, however pleasing and fascinating that iniquity might be. The truth was what His love rejoiced in. Hence His love led him to protest and war against sinful pleasures and pursuits: for His love was no Eli-like fondness. It was love that would not give to those whom it embraced a cup in which one drop of gall was mingled, however much they thirsted. Where else shall we learn charity like this?
11. And then in Him we see love which "beareth all things " - endures trouble for others, and takes on itself the task of covering from view what is wrong.
12. This love, too, is love that" believeth all things." Yes, His love was a love ever ready to confide in its objects, ready to trust Matthew as soon as he was called, making him an Apostle, and then an Evangelist - ready to trust Peter, after his fall, bidding him "feed His sheep " - not suspicious and distrustful. Oh, to learn from Him such generous love ! Surely it is well for us to keep much company with Him in whom it dwells.
13. His love "hoped all things." It was like the love of a friend, who, sitting by the death-bed of one whom he loves, hopes on still, even when all physicians have given up hope - hopes because he loves so much and wishes what he hopes for. Such was the love of Jesus; not easily giving up its object - not soon cutting down its barren fig-trees (Luke xiii. 8). More of His love would make our life more perseveringly devoted to the good of others, however slight were the symptoms of success. And it is this we need in our day! And once more:
14. His, indeed, was the charity that "endured all things," which did not faint in its pursuit, nor was baffled by difficulties. "Many waters could not quench His love, nor could the floods drown it." Oh, to drink in this love - this holy charity! finding it all in the Saviour's Person.
Such was the portrait an Apostle drew,
The bright original was one he knew;
Heaven held his hand - the likeness must be true (COWPER).
But the tendency to imitate the person whom we love, and with whom we oft personally converse, extends to the feelings as well as actions. We drink deep into his sorrows and his joys.
The Spirit of truth shows us "The Man of Sorrows;" and lifting up a little of the veil from such an hour as that which heard the cry, "Eli ! Eli!" discovers to us the unknown anguish which was borne as the wrath due to us. This woe, of course, we are not asked to bear, though into it we are ever to desire to look; but in His other sorrows there is much by sympathising with which we may be made to drink in His holiness. One of the sorrows that made Him cry, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove" (Ps. lv. 4-6), was the sight of a man's corruption. Into this feeling the soul that walks by the side of Jesus tries to enter. If, again, another source of sorrow to Christ was man's misery, so that He groaned in spirit at the sight (John xi. 33), into this the companion of Jesus tries to enter. If another was the prospect of the doom overhanging sinners, with this, too, the believer sympathises, seeking to climb the Mount of Olives, and to stand with Jesus weeping over the guilty city (Luke xix. 42). If Jesus is seen grieved over the fewness of the coming ones, "Where are the nine?" (Luke xvii. 17), or is heard expressing sorrowful surprise at the slow progress of His own (Luke I xxiv. 25), or if He watches like a sparrow alone (Psalm cii. 6, 7), or, "as an owl in the desert, as the pelican in the wilderness," content with His Father's sympathy - in all this the soul that loves the cormpany of "the Man of Sorrows" seeks to share. And by this means the Holy Ghost pours the melted soul into the mould of Christ's heart. Or, if it be the joys of the Man of Sorrows that he is tracing out, in these, too, he seeks to be like Him. One of Christ's joys - one brook by the way, of which He drank - was the certainty that the Father's will was done (Luke x. 21) ; a second was the consciousness that He Himself was doing the Father's will (John iv. 34); a third was the presence of the Father felt around Him (Acts ii. 25, 26) ; a fourth, the conversion of sinners (Luke xv.); a fifth, the growth of faith in His own (Matt. viii. 10); and a sixth, the hope of the reward (Heb. xii. 2, 3). In all these the growing believer, making Christ Himself his friend and divine companion, seeks to sympathise. He would fain be like Him whom he so loves.
There is something pleasant in noticing how Peter learnt to imitate his Lord by being so much in His company. When he goes to heal Dorcas (Acts ix. 40, 41) he put all out that wept and wailed, just as his Master did (Mark v. 37), and then the words, " Tabitha, arise," are brief, yet authoritative as his Master's "Talitha, cumi" (Mark v. 41). So also he lifts up the lame man at the Beautiful Gate by the right hand (Acts iii. 7), just as he had seen his Lord do (Mark i. 31) at Capernaum to his relative in her fever. Even so in greater things, the disciple falls into his Master's way and manner. Read his Epistles, and you see that, walking with the wise, he becomes wise; walking with the Gracious One, he becomes gracious; walking with Him who is holy, he becomes holy; walking with incarnate love and mercy, he becomes loving and merciful.
Among the friends of Alexander the Great, there was one named Hephaestion. It was said in regard to this man that he was "A lover of Alexander; " - none could doubt that man's personal affection for him. There was at the same time another friend, Oraterus, who seemed equally warm in heart and devotedness. It was, however, more because of the benefits conferred on him by one so exalted and great than from personal attachment - and hence he was said to be "A lover of the King." Which of these two most resembled their master in character? All history tells us it was Hephaestion, he who so loved the Person. And even so shall it be with the saint who dwells more on the Person of Immanuel than upon his gifts. The latter will be what was said of Peter (somewhat deprecatingly) by some of the ancients, "A lover of Christ," while the former will be what was said most truly of John, "A lover of Jesus " - and, like John, will bear close resemblance to his Lord in every peculiar trait.