To a believer, death (his own death) is now, in point of fact, "dying to death" - "the ceasing to have to do with dying." I am quite aware that this statement may be startling, at first sight, to some -- perhaps to many. But is it not truth?
Though I am a believer, yet have I now, and so shall I have, all through my pilgrim-life, the law of sin and death in my members; I have, therefore, to die daily; again, death, moral death, is reigning in the world all around me, and the only way in which I can give a testimony of life, eternal life, here, will also be found to be inseparable from dying daily: but that which men call death -- the last act of my mortal life -- is really the act in which I cease for ever from all that is mortal; in which I taste for the first time without contact with death -- eternal life.
When a Stephen, when a Paul, died, he (in and by his death) ceased, and for ever ceased -- 1st, from all connection with the law of sin and death in his members: and, 2ndly,* from the needs -- be of dying daily, -- because he ceased from that which, in his body and in the circumstances of the earth, rendered it impossible for eternal life to shine out of him without his dying daily.
*Note it well: there was nothing in the body of the blessed Lord Jesus (who was the Life) as to which He could die daily - for He was divinely perfect: but from the character of the place in which He gave testimony, that testimony could not flow out, could not be made good by Him, save by an incessant carrying by Him of the cross (indeed the being in the place was a cross to Him from the very nature of its evil opposition to His own purity), which, morally, He did from the very commencement of His testimony; and He had also to walk as one who had no life upon earth, either to treasure up for Himself with care, or, to protect from danger with caution.
As a believer, I am reckoned of God, and reckon myself to have been -- and to be -- crucified together with the Christ: that is, He in grace bore, in my stead, upon the cross, the whole judgment which was justly due to me as the penalty of my sin and of my sins. "Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Now this new life is essentially (that is, in its very self and nature it is) a new thing. It has a world and circumstances proper to it; but the source and centre of them, each and all, is the Christ of God; and He is not now in this world. While I am here below, this new life may have communion with Christ who is in God, and it may count upon the presence and guardian care of God the Holy Ghost: and it certainly is cared for by the Christ, and preserved by the Holy Ghost: yet is it in near contact with all that is in the earthen vessel in which it now is, and that earthen vessel is also in a world of iniquity. But the moment at which the tie that binds me (who am a new creature in Christ -- one that is born of an incorruptible seed) to the earthen vessel is dissolved, all this connection with weakness, and sin, and sorrow, ceases at once, ceases for ever; and, at once, absent from the body, I am present with the Lord; and to depart and be with the Christ is far better. This divine act, so full of grace, of dissolving the tie which binds one that is a new creature in Christ Jesus, which links him to that which is not alive in him, is it "the wages of sin?" By no means: so far from being the wages of sin and the expression of part of the actions of him that has the power of death, that is the devil, it is an act of Christ; and His power to do it is most emphatically one of the first early fruits of the complete victory of Him who, as the seed of the woman, found death (not as did Adam in the path of disobedience, but) in the path of an unparalleled obedience, and toward the very terminus of that part of the path where humiliation was to cease. To man, it is appointed once to die, and [long] after that the judgment: but, in contrast to this, Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation. After being crucified, He was, indeed, dead and buried: but on the third day He arose again, -- showed Himself on earth, and then ascended up to heaven, and, when once seated there in heaven, then could He show forth to and in His people the fruits of His victory over Satan, and death, and the grave.
Christ ascended, and in glory with God and the Father, was Himself the proof of God's mercy and compassion; of the complete and finished salvation which was in Him: in Him life was found, and from Him the Holy Ghost came down to form and sustain eternal life, and a testimony in and by those that believed in Him; to whom He had given a conscience made perfect from all guilt, through the knowledge of Him alive and on the throne. But more than this, life and immortality having been brought to light by the Gospel, the opening of the heavens upon man down here could take place, and the character of the glory which is hereafter to be shown in the heavens could be presented -- and more than this too. For if the humiliation part of the Christ's course was ended, and if He had in heaven, to fill up, in patient trust in God, a period of waiting until the time should be come for His taking His Power and reigning, not only is the believer taught to fill up that which remains behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body's sake, -- still looking onward, that if so be we suffer with Him we may also be glorified together -- but also much and most blessed truth has been revealed to him, about the blessedness of being absent from the body and present with the Lord.
When death was announced as the wages of sin, there was no eternal incorruptible seed in man: moral death is disobedience; death of the body in the separation of the soul to go into an unseen world, and the body to return to dust; and the second death of the lake of fire and brimstone prepared for the devil and his angels -- were all before man. Not understood by man, as they may be now understood; not set forth clearly by God, as they now are set forth; though ever, from the beginning, presented more or less clearly by Him, as a God of righteous judgment and a just Judge. But not until the Son of man was glorified, seated as Son of man in the glory which he had had with the Father ere ever the world was, were life and immortality brought to light. That which makes the essential difference to us in handling our subject was, until then, wrapped up in a thicker cover than covered any part of the most holy of the tabernacle furniture -- the curtain that hindered the light shining out, or man's eye looking in or seeing it, was thicker than the veil of the temple which was rent at the death of Christ. Who can be thankful enough for the actual fact of the Son of man being in heaven? He is there personally; and He makes all sure for us. From Him descends to us the light of knowledge that He is there; all the instruction, too, which we have as to the manner and kind of blessing which is ours in Him, has come down from Him; from Him, too, we have learnt about suffering now -- the dying daily to self and sin and the world, even as, hereafter, we are to be in the glory which is reserved for Him: from Him, too, has descended to us the knowledge of what we are as new creatures in Christ Jesus, and how it is reserved for Him to change these bodies of humiliation, and to fashion them like unto His own body of glory, by the mighty power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself; and, before that hour come, how it is His, according to the power that pertains to Him alone, to loose and gather up to Himself that new man that He has formed in us, and thus to give us to taste, as then fully freed for ever from all that is mortal, to taste in spirit, in His presence, before the mortal body shall have put on immortality, and before this corruptible body shall have put on incorruptibility -- to taste, I say, the sweetness of being "with the Lord."
I know nothing that shows out more simply the divine and eternal reality of what Christ does for a poor sinner that believes in Him, than that which thus comes out to light when the tabernacle is thus left. It seems almost as if it were needful for the glory of Christ, that what He has given to us should be thus thrown out in relief. There is something in man, as a believer, which was not in Adam when first created; there is a direct contrast between its nature and the state of all that is in me and around: Satan has not power over it; the corrupter cannot corrupt the incorruptible seed. Liar and destroyer that he is, and having the power of death as the devil may have, yet could he not touch Job's bodily life, nor a hair of his head, without permission. This tabernacle of my body will not drop, nor shall I get away from it one moment before my Lord appoints: but whether it be burnt in the flames in martyrdom or nailed to a cross, and there and so the cord that binds me to the body be roughly broken, or whether the bond that ties the bird to the open cage be dissolved in some more gentle way, the dissolution of the tie is not the dissolution of anything immortal, but of that which is mortal. And if it ever take place (and it will never take place if Christ come in my mortal days), then it takes place under the hand and by the act of Christ Himself, who then and there will free me, completely and for ever, from all that is now mortal in me and in my circumstances, and He will use me as one of those blessed proofs of the entirely new order of blessing which He, as Redeemer, has introduced. He can sow the body in corruption until the hour of His appearing in glory, and realize to myself in soul and spirit what the power and what the blessedness of being absent from the body and present with the Lord: positive and real and unalloyed blessing with Himself; though not perfected as to measure until the body be raised.
Saul was once dead in trespasses and sins, and had an experience accordingly. When Christ revealed Himself to him, and gave him the new name of Paul, he became alive in Christ Jesus, and had the joy (earthen vessel as he was still in himself) of Christ in him the hope of glory: but then his experience, though gladsome in spirit on the heavenly side, was one of death and resurrection, so far as himself and his services lay in the wilderness. Now he is out of the precincts of death altogether; the death of his body let him go free from death, completely and for ever; Christ took him away, gathered him up, to be present with the Lord. And there above with Christ he now waits, until Christ shall rise up, and shall call up out of the graves the bodies of those that believed in Him; and then shall Paul, not as now, absent from the body and present with the Lord (a most anomalous state, which nothing can explain but the abnormal state of the Son of man upon the Father's throne -- in patient trust, waiting for the time of His manifestation in glory), but clothed upon with a glorified human body, have the full joy and glory to which redeeming love has called him.
Let the reader mark these four states, and four experiences of Paul; and he will certainly see, that in entering upon the third of them, Paul left mortality and all that was mortal (whether death-bearing, or capable of death, be the sense of mortal) far behind him. And is it not clear, that the power to quit the mortal and to enter into the pure regions of divine immortality was not in Paul? and certainly it was not in Satan's hand or heart to give: -- and the more so, because the whole being of Paul -- body, soul, and spirit -- went not into the place destined for it, in the new heavens; but part was left to be sown in corruption, watched over and guarded by Christ; and part taken abnormally into the presence of the Lord Jesus, in His abnormal anomalous position, which, in grace, He holds in the protracted period between the time of His suffering and the time of His reigning.
'Tis a field of pure light: cloud is there none in it. and no dark spot either is there in this region of light; but 'tis a field which is open to faith alone; nought, but faith can visit it; no experience of what was, or is, merely human (as in Eden's garden or in man's nature) can serve or help in the study of this field: faith, and the Word of God alone, can teach us what lies in it.
I need not say, that until the death and resurrection of the blessed Lord, with all the wondrous results thereof, are known, the conscience can never be free as to the fear of death; nor can the power be possessed of entering upon any truth whatever; for our alone power is that of the Spirit of God (imagination of man, and human imaginings have no place in God's school, save to be crucified), by which truth can be viewed and profited from.
But, again, the death and resurrection of Christ may be known, and peace in the conscience be known, and the liberty of the sons of God, individually; and yet the soul may not have its proper joy in the thought of the individual happiness which is near to it all through its pilgrimage, in this vision of the glory and of the communicable blessing which is now already Christ's, as He waits in the Majesty of the Highest for the kingdom, and thence serves His people down here.
The soul has individually to get settled itself, as to the peace and acceptance with God, through Christ crucified and risen from the dead. When Christ rises up from God's right hand, all that are on the earth of His shall rise up together en masse to meet Him: in that meeting there will be individual experience of His presence, of course; but the thought of being one in a collective crowd, brings in thoughts which modify that of one's own self meeting Him; and to a mind little exercised in truth, the communion in glory may have as wrong* a place as the communion of saints upon earth has with some. But the intermediate stage is one in which the individuality of each stands out most conspicuously; this is happy, and profitable, and blessed.
*For instance, many young Christians content themselves with this, that they know they are passed from death unto life because they love the brethren: a most true and sound, because a divine, argument in its place. But, then, no love to me of the brethren, no true love in me toward them as such, would suffice for peace to my soul when it is in the light of God's soul-searching presence. There, nothing but faith in the mercy of God and in Christ, the way by which that mercy has expressed itself to me, chief of sinners though I be, could give peace and rest as down here on earth; that God's company of people is my company, is most blessed and assuring.
Christ alive, and as He now is, and occupied with His people as individuals as well as collectively, and able and ready now to give to me, individually, this blessed taste of being absent from the body and present with Himself, is no more inconsistent with hope in me as to the kingdom and glory, than was His own perfect anticipation of His present position in heaven inconsistent with His own perfect onward bent in mind and action, to the crushing of the head of the serpent, and to the time and act of putting down the last of all enemies under feet. In us, truly, that hope, that purpose, had to be formed. To Him 'twas, from the first, a fixed purpose. In us, too, the beginning of the ending had to be revealed and formed; viz., His forming in the heavens His millennial court, at the beginning and not ending of His reigning. But, while these things give us the all-important placings of the great and grand parts of redemption-glory, they in no way militate or interfere with the flowings of His individual love, as He now is, to us as individuals: nor to a well-taught mind will the blaze of light and glory, that marks the display of the Christ in the heavens and over the earth, veil that love which -- till the time of His taking His own in the heaven comes - has made Him mindful of the individual people of His love, who, in succeeding generations, from the time of Stephen onwards, have been housed, one after the other, when their work was done, and made to know the blessedness of that anomalous "absent from the body and present with the Lord, which is FAR better."
Some may say, "I wait for the Lord to come and not for death:" so, truly, say I. But that is NOT the question; nor is the statement thus made the real. expression of what is in the mind of the maker, at least, in many cases. That for which Christ waits, the Spirit and the Bride of Christ also wait; and as the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come:" so does He, most surely, say, "Behold, I come quickly." But that is not the least in question. I wait for Christ until He comes. But the question is (that which some overlook), Am I to wait for His coming here in the wilderness; or am I, absent from the body and present with the Lord, there to wait for His coining?
Again, the statement is often the expression of will, human will; and, often, is the cover of the thought of having a right of our own, and of not being, solely and altogether, the right and property of another. Now, blessed be God, we are bought with a price; we are not our own. To the Spirit that leads us, our likings (according to nature and flesh) are not what regulates in any way, but the work of God and the glory of Christ. When the work of God and the glory of Christ, in our course here below are answered -- the love, divine and human, of Christ wills to have us with Himself. And He is worthy to have His pleasure, in God's appointed pathway for us, made good. We are not our own, but bought with a price -- even the costly price of His most precious blood. Blessed be God, that He confers not with our flesh, but takes His own course and way of blessing; yet making us willing in the day of His power! And surely the blessed fulness and freshness of His love to us, individually; who delights in us as His own, as given to Him by His Father -- may well quicken our affections and desires to hear His voice calling us, when so He wills, home to Himself.
To conclude; it is in Christ, personally, who has loved me and called me, as an individual, that I should form a needed part in that glory which God, in His love, has provided for Him. But let that glory be what it may -- an inheritance incorruptible, or the presentation of the church as a glorious church -- I am bold to say, "I love my Lord better than the inheritance, better than the glitter of all the glory." Yea, when I think even of the many sons presented in the Father's house, or of the presentation of the Bride -- the glory has (if one may so say) no glory to my heart in comparison with the joy of Christ's heart, through the joy of His Father in Himself, at the bringing of the sons to glory; and is not the church's blessing this, that He presents her to Himself a glorious church, etc. I do not want (so to speak) the house without the Father and the Son in it. What would it, or the glory of the city, be to me without them? I love the Father and the Son, in personal presence, everywhere, better than their circumstances. Rather would I have Egypt's cruel bondage with Christ for my comfort under it, than all the brightest scenes in Canaan without Himself. 'Tis Himself which is my joy far above the Glory. Will not every renewed heart say, Amen, and Amen!?