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Approach to God

By J.B. Stoney

      "HAVING therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water". - Hebrews 10:19-22.

      THE subject here is approach to God. Amongst all Christians there is the knowledge of escape from judgment. Escape from judgment is, as it were, the only thing pressed. I do not know that, as a rule, the doctrine of approach is much known. You get an example of what I mean in Luke 17.

      You will remember the ten lepers:they were all healed; they all escaped; but only one approached. You see, according to the type (Lev. I4), there was first the relieving of the leper -- an offering for his cleansing -- but afterwards he had to go through a very particular process before he could approach God.

      Now, beloved friends, I would wish to interest your hearts very much in this truth, that there is not only escape, but also approach to God. It is truly a wonderful thing for us sinners to escape from judgment -- that is our side of the grace of God. But just think that the blessed God would like you to approach Him. Hence, when the one leper returned, the Lord says, "Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger."

      Well, you naturally ask, what was the hindrance or difficulty? That I will speak of presently. But before I speak of the hindrance or the obstruction (and that includes the process), I would dwell upon our having the right to approach to God, for that is the first great thing to be assured of in the soul, and that is what we find in figure here. The Lord had so blessed the leper, that he was bound to return to Him. When he did return, he doubtless exemplified what we have to go through as we approach. He falls down on his face; that is the process; you cannot approach without that. You can get the knowledge that you are saved from judgment, without parting company with yourself, but you cannot approach without doing so. No flesh can glory in His presence.

      The first thing I will dwell upon now, after this preface, having, as I trust, interested you in the subject, is that the tabernacle discloses to us the delight that God has in having us in His own presence. If there had been no tabernacle, and Israel had only the land in prospect, their benefit and happiness would have been fully secured; but actually, on the road to Canaan, there was the tabernacle. And what you get in Hebrews is, that with us, it is not a tabernacle like the one Israel had, but the true tabernacle. It is not that I am brought up to it, but the sense of it is brought down to me, that I may know the delight that God has in having me in His presence.

      First, then, we have in Hebrews 10:19 the right to go in. We have "boldness," a very strong word, a word that is used for an emancipated slave; we have boldness to enter into the holiest. It is not escape merely; you might escape and yet never get there, like the nine lepers.

      Let me interest you in one thing more -- I have no doubt of the blessing of it -- it is not only that I have the right to approach into this light, but it is the nature of the reception I get from the Person who owns the place. When I use the word 'place,' I mean the condition belonging to a place. "The holiest of all "does not in Hebrews mean merely a place, therefore I say, you are here now in the presence of God.

      If you follow out the type, the tabernacle was in the wilderness, down among them. Now the antitype is that we can enter into this blessing, its living reality, not in figure, but by the Spirit of God. Though I have not come to heaven yet, I have found approach to God in the holiest of all, beforehand. Oh! some may say, but when I read the Ephesians, I am seated in the heavenlies in Christ. True, but that only shows you still greater things, and that is for another purpose altogether, which, if the Lord permit, we will consider another time. That is to qualify you to be a beautiful transcript of the heavenly Man on earth. This is delight of heart in conscious nearness to the blessed God. And therefore the first thing is, the right to come in. There is "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." This is the first thing, beloved friends. You have to say distinctly, I have the right to come in. As has been often remarked, you do not get beyond right here. This does not treat of what you do there; it does not come up to John 4, worshipping the Father. This is only establishing your right. It does not speak even of the consecrated company, though no doubt this is the only company there. We have the right of entrance. We have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus."

      Now look at the ground for the right of entrance. Turn to Matthew 27:50, "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost; and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent."

      I do not stay now to bring much scripture before you, but I will give you a note of it. You all remember Leviticus 16, the day of atonement. I will only allude to what occurred then. The blood was taken right in by the high priest, the blood of the bullock, and the blood of the goat. There were two bloods, the blood of two animals; and that was to show the twofold blessing of the two companies. There was the earthly company, and the heavenly company. What we have to do with is the heavenly company, that is, the company that is identified with the high priest. That is ourselves. Therefore it is in that aspect we are looked at in the Hebrews.

      The blood was taken right in, into the presence of the majesty of God, and it was sprinkled there upon the mercy -- seat seven times. That was to establish a basis for God to receive us there. The high priest personated himself and his house. According to God's estimate of the blood, He receives us there. Hence, the very moment Christ died, the veil was rent; God can come out and embrace the sinner. No one will ever be able to reach up to God's estimate of the blood of Christ. It is on His own estimate that He deals with me, not according to my estimate. Oh that your heart might enter into that! you can hardly believe the rest it gives! It is on His own estimate of the blood He deals with me. We do estimate it, but we cannot come up to His estimate of it. I press that point, beloved friends -- on His own estimate of the blood He deals with me. As soon as Christ died, that moment of all moments in the history of this earth -- the darkest, if you look at it as man would look at it -- was the opening up of the brightest era that ever was disclosed upon this earth. All bore witness to Him. "The rocks rent," "the graves opened," and so on. But who was the first, beloved friends? God! Oh, may it touch every heart! "The veil was rent from the top to the bottom." It was not only that we can go in; no, but God can come out, a much greater thing. He who dwelt in thick darkness, He can come out. What do you mean? On His own estimate of that blood, He can come out and embrace a poor prodigal, though he be "a great way off." Love travels faster than necessity. Do you understand that saying? Necessity was bringing the prodigal to the Father, but love brought the Father to the prodigal, and the love went faster than the necessity.

      On the basis of what has been accomplished, love can do all its pleasure. God, the Father, can take that poor sinner into His arms, and kiss him; He can let His heart go out to him. Thank God for that.

      The veil was rent from the top to the bottom; now He has cleared everything away; there is no more offering for sin, He suffered without the gate. I say that Christ bore the judgment resting on the responsible man, and the responsible man disappears in judgment. Now we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Christ, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." The blessed holy One dies, His flesh rent to open a way for us; what place, then, for your flesh?

      It is not necessary to speak of carnal ordinances now. Beloved friends, open your eyes and see what the holiness of God is, in His presence, and you will understand this. If Christ's flesh was rent for me, to procure a way for me to enter, how could there be any place for man in flesh? Never! Flesh disappears, and I am glad that it disappears. "I am crucified with Christ " -- thank God I am -- and I do not want it to appear. "God forbid that I should whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

      Now you can, I trust, see the ground of the right. And I say again, and I desire that your heart may cleave to it -- it is on the estimate that God Himself has of the blood of Christ that I have the right. That is full of blessing.

      Well, I trust it is clear to you, that now there has been a basis for God, according to His nature, to receive us in His presence; the nature of the reception I hope to turn to at another time.

      The sin-offering does not go beyond establishing the right -- it does not set forth how you are received, but only that you are entitled to be received. The parable of the prodigal son goes further -- but I am not going to that to-night. What I have sought to make clear to you is that the right is established to go into the holiest of all, because if the holy, the blessed God Himself is ready and happy to receive me, how assured must be my right to come!

      Now we come to the second step, and that is, what is the reluctance; why does not every one go in? If it is so simple, and we all have the right, why do we not all go in? What is the hindrance? That is a very important question. I have already pointed out, in Luke 17, the case of the ten lepers, where there was only one out of the ten who overcame the reluctance; and in order to come, he had to fall down:" he fell down on his face at his feet." You may say, Well, I have escaped, I am clear of my sins, I will try by religious exercises to approach God. That is ritualism. That is what the other nine had recourse to; and, alas! it is where the mass of Christians are to this day.

      The Samaritan very likely was not what we call religiously brought up, but he learned grace. He could say, I am clear, and I certainly owe it to the One_ who cleared me, to own it to Himself that I am clear:but you will find, as he found, that he could not bring the flesh into Christ's presence. "No flesh shall glory in his presence." There is nothing I am more convinced of every day, even in one's prayers, that when there is a baulk, a stone before the wheel, it is the flesh -- oneself, in some form.

      Turn to Luke 5. Look at Peter, he was giving his time and his means for the Lord's work until arrested by the presence of God. Then he was confounded; "he fell down at Jesus' knees; saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. "Though doing everything right at the time, he could not approach in the flesh. See also the prodigal son (Luke 15);" the Father kissed him; reconciliation was effected, yet he was not at liberty. You may know your sins are forgiven; but you may not enjoy the presence of God. Like the prodigal, you may know reconciliation, but you may not know that you are fit for the presence; of God. "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." That is reconciliation; that is the answer to the efficacy of the atonement. "And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." He is not happy in his presence, he has really to learn what Leviticus 14 is. You see the leper there had to go through two washings -- I am not going into it, but I merely point to the scripture. He had to go through one washing in order to come into the camp -- the place of God's government; and after being there seven days he had to go through another washing before he entered into the full bloom, if I may so say, of the work of Christ for approach. That is the type. In Luke 15 I get the practical thing in the man who is actually kissed. It is true of us all. Are you happy in the presence of God now? Well, you might say, I do not know; I feel I am a pardoned sinner.

      I have already remarked that if your faith only rests on what you are saved from, that you are only occupied with relief; but when you are occupied with what you are saved to, the Spirit of God carries you out into the wonderful expanse of divine blessing, which is yours.

      I come now to a subject of deep importance; it was not reconciliation that enabled the prodigal to go in. That which enabled him to go in is figuratively expressed here; it is renewing. (And when I say 'renewing,' I do not mean what the English word conveys, but I use the word as Scripture uses it. The scripture uses the word 'renew' as something entirely new, something you never had before -- "the renewing of the Holy Spirit," "the renewing of your mind," the inner man is renewed.") That is an entirely new thing, something he never had before, not a bit of it. You know it has been said by some commentators that the prodigal describes a backslider. But, I say, if he was a backslider and had thrown away grace, he did not get one bit back that he had thrown away. If he had thrown away grace, he would get back grace, but he did not get back what he had squandered; what he gets is entirely new.

      Many souls who are clear about reconciliation, are not clear about renewing. You have something entirely new; it is not merely that you have been cleared of the old. I have shown you on a former occasion that you must be free of the old; I am not dwelling on that side now, but on receiving the new; for, beloved friends, you cannot approach without it. That I have already alluded to. In entering the holiest through the veil, you must come in new, you cannot enter in the old.

      Here it is stated in figure how the father removes the reluctance in the prodigal. He says to the servants, "Bring forth," that is, bring out of the house; "Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet." These will make him sensibly suitable for Me. "A ring on his hand" -- a mark of distinction -- "and shoes on his feet," which shows that he was at home. You may say, It is a parable. True, but it is a parable that conveys wonderful doctrine. Do you ask, where is the doctrine? Well, the doctrine is in Colossians 1:12, "Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us MEET to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." The word 'meet' expresses the new state, that was the new thing. You cannot by any ritualism make the flesh fit to enter into the holiest. There never was a greater mistake than to suppose this possible.

      The veil, Christ's flesh, has been rent to open a new and living way for us into the holiest; but there is reluctance to enter until in Christ's life you are free from the law of sin. That is just what the Samaritan who came back expressed in figure, for when he got near Him, he fell down on his face; but I am not dwelling now upon reckoning the old dead, but upon enjoying the new. Some may say, What is it? It is Christ in me, a nature that suits God, ever glad to be near Him, and thus I grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. I do not know how to explain it. It is ever growing -- all of God; "that you may grow thereby." The outward man perishes, but the inner man is renewed. The prodigal son never had anything like this dress before it came out of the father's house; perfectly new, it is the "first "robe:nothing better L nor higher.

      Now turn to verse 10. I call your attention to that verse, because you find there, that the prodigal is in. You may say, How did he get in? Mark now the beauty of Scripture! It says first in the previous verse, "Bring forth," which shows that he was not in. Now a very important thing is presented, and that is, that it is not, when you go in that you are made fit to be there, but you are "made meet to be a partaker"; you are made fit to go in. Mark also that there is no interval allowed between being made fit, and being in. It says in the previous verse, "Bring forth," and now, in the next verse -- without allowing any interval for the distance (which historically was a great one, because he was "a great way off" when the father saw him) the servants are told to clothe him; there is no interval; he is in. There is no interval allowed. Ponder that. The moment you are fit you are in. That is exactly what we get in Hebrews; it is the condition that suits the place; I am fit, and I am in. I dare say I do not convey it to you; but still, I believe that everyone who has gone in would say, I understand it perfectly. The moment I knew that I had the Spirit of Christ, I was in; I had nothing to do; I had not to expostulate, desire to be, or strive to be in; I was in. The prodigal son got in, and he was fit to go in.

      Now I turn back to Hebrews 10, I trust two things are clear to you -- the right to go in, and the removal of the reluctance to go in, so that with the knowledge of the right, there is also the knowledge of fitness to enter.

      I will now dwell a little upon how you are within -- what the sense is of being there, because I have no doubt that this will disclose whether we are in or not. It says, "Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." It is evident these two things are clearly and distinctly known as you draw near:your heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, your body washed with pure water. I have no doubt at all that it takes in the two aspects of the cross. He "came by water, "and blood . . . not by water only, but by water and blood." It is the actual sense of a heart sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and the body washed with pure water.

      I think that we are often very practically defective in understanding that purification is by Christ's death, as well as expiation. Anyone who has studied the subject will at once see how appropriate this is, and will understand it. Therefore John insists upon it; He came "not by water only, but by water and blood." There is not only the remission of sins -- Christ died for our sins -- but there is the moral action of the word, setting me free from that which already was removed in the death of Christ. So I say you draw nigh in the sense that there is not a shade of sin upon you. I hope I shall not offend some of you when I say that when one gives out a hymn about his sins in a worship meeting, he has left the holiest, and he is not leading the congregation as in it. I say there is not a sin upon you, not a spot.

      The first thing is to enter. I cannot speak of losing a thing until I possess it. And be assured, once you have entered, that you have appropriated your right. It is not that you had not the right before; you had the right, but you have appropriated your right. You will never know the reality of worship until you know that your heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, and your body washed with pure water. It is not a question at all of sin now, but of holiness. And that is a wonderful contrast. It is wonderful when I compare what is our portion now through Christ's work, and what it was before. All things are contrasted now. In the old dispensation, death was before the soul. Thank God, life out of death is before it now. It was sin then, it is holiness now. We are now to be "partakers of his holiness." May your hearts be exercised about this. You could not come into the holiest if any sin were on you; if you did, it would no longer be the holiest.

      Nothing can be plainer to a thoughtful person than that he could not come in with sin on him; the delight of being there would be lost, gone, if sin was before one there. Thank God, that I know the inconceivable delight of being in the presence of God. No spot there, all sense of sin gone; I have passed through the veil by the new and living way. Worship is not spoken of here; the things which occupy you there are not mentioned. The consecration is not described. Of course, only the consecrated company could enter in; but we are not told here how they are occupied.

      Now I turn to a question which often tries souls, and it is this, what about the sins which I may commit? I do not deny that we may sin, but I say, a worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins; of course, when we sin or become defiled, we lose our enjoyment in the holiest; and this may happen very soon after being there, yet it is a very interesting fact, that the better you know the reality of being there, and the more fully you enjoy it, as long as the sense is fresh, the more careful you will be to keep yourself unspotted from the world.

      I am so sensible of the contrariety of everything here, I must be guided on every side. When we sin or are defiled, we are outside, we are not in the holiest. But remember, you cannot lose your right to be there; you never do lose the right. The consecration is only once and for ever. If you sin you must judge yourself; if you do not judge yourself, that which has done the offence will suffer for it; that accounts, no doubt, for many of our maladies here; I do not say for all.

      A man works his brain too much to make a fortune; very likely he will suffer in his brain if he does not judge himself. And if he judges himself he stops it; a man cannot judge a thing and go on with it. In Hebrews 12 it is different. There you are suffering for righteousness, and God uses the suffering to make you more separate, in order that you should be "partakers of his holiness." There we have to lay' ) aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us. "You have not yet resisted unto blood" -- "you have not yet died, that is resisting unto blood" striving against sin."

      As in the stoning of Stephen; he was becoming practically more separate every minute. "We who live are always delivered unto death"; when anything is a hindrance to you, the Lord rolls in death upon it. If you feel it a hindrance, you are glad death has come in upon it. No matter what it is. Suppose a man has a voice for singing which is a snare to him; he loses his voice, and he can thank God for the loss; he knows the meaning of it.

      The Lord grant that each of us may know better what it is to be in the holiest, the delight of it. You get the idea in the case of the father and the prodigal. I know that the Spirit of God only can really lead your heart to understand it. But how wonderful to be in the presence of God without a spot or a shade, and to know that He delights to have us there!

      The Lord grant that each of us may know what approach is.

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