By J.B. Stoney
MY thought in coming to a meeting like this, is to hear something from the Lord that will help me on in relation to this present time; call it a conference if you like-we do come together to confer with each other-to hear each other speak. It is that I may know His mind, which is a distinct thing: "I call you not servants ... but ... friends"; the servant does not know what his Lord doeth.
Now no amount of valour will give you the mind of the Lord. The ten thousand who followed Gideon did not know his mind ; it was only the three hundred who did ; it was not until the nine thousand and seven hundred had gone back that he said, "As I do so shall ye do." The order of battle is only given to those who prove that they prefer the glory of the Lord to any favour or mercies that can be granted to them here on earth. Many a valiant man I have seen turned aside by a favour given to him here : in Luke it was those who had received favours who begged to be excused from the Supper.
What I have on my mind at this present moment to bring out is the support that we derive from One in heaven ; we do not get support from anything here, we only get it from the One there.
Now not only have you title to heaven, but you are in possession of heaven now whilst you are on earth. I make a distinction between possession in life and practical possession. You have possession in life, but you are only true to your life when you have practical possession of it. And let me tell you there are many in possession in life who know nothing of this. It is not a question whether my life really be there, but it is quite another thing whether I am living there, And, it is the person who has apprehended most of the portion given to him of God in Christ, who has the most trembling anxiety as to how much he is really practically in possession of that of which he is actually in possession in life. It is no light matter to me to have the transcending power of an eternal God to do with.
In connection with Stephen we have three distinct subjects brought out, the first being what I will now speak upon; that is, what is our true spring and fountain of support while we are upon this earth. It does not always begin with this, but Scripture has opened it out to us thus here-there are other ways of looking at it of course.
The first thing we start with, and that is the practical difficulty, is that we learn that we are united to Christ, and that He introduces us into a scene where there is no cloud at all-into a sphere where there is no disturbance; a new day is inaugurated. The new creation of God has commenced. In the old creation God began with making the heavens and the earth-the earth, the trees, the animals, and ended with the man. The new creation has begun in the reverse direction; it begins with a Man, the Son of the Father-He is the beginning of the creation of God-and it will wind up with the new heavens and the new earth. And what the church will give up is this beginning of the creation of God; it will be spued out of His mouth because it does not maintain it. Laodicea would be very glad to have the virtues of Christ, but it will not have the Author of them; in fact that is what infidelity even would have--the apples without the apple tree.
I speak now of all of us as being introduced into this new thing, and He coming in and saying to us: "Peace be unto you." This ought not to require to be repeated; if He does repeat it, it is but to say the very same words again-there are no others--it is: "Peace be unto you." True there is another peace connected with going through this scene, but here you have to do with this risen Man. It is like a body in an exhausted cylinder; it goes up, and up, and up; you get right. away up without a single check!--I say that is practically the difference between this peace and the peace on the way; it is not "a rugged hill that reaches up to God"; it is a rugged race down here. There are not any clouds--not if you know what it is to be connected with Christ there; union with Christ connects you with a new orde! of things, where there is not a cloud-where all IS perfectly bright!
He comes into their midst to proclaim that character of thing. Therefore it says, "The Lord ... hath triumphed gloriously"--not I; for He fought the batt!e, and His vi~tory is mine. How high do you see Christ P At the. right hand of God. I place that point before you again, because there is no going on until you have it. I might have to do with that blessed One risen out of everything. "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above." There is the importance of it. I say to any soul here who has a cloud: You have never yet seen Christ as the One who has cleared off everything, as the One who has risen out of it all. He is out of it so I am out of it. Like the island that rose out of the Mediterranean years ago, just so have I risen out of everything. However high up you see Christ, I am there, for His victory is my victory. You have to connect you!self with the One who loved you, and who gave HImself for you, and who says, "Peace be unto you."
Stephen already knew what it was to have possession of heaven in life; we find he is looking up into heaven. The fact of the place was not brought in yet, for in the first chapter of Acts, they were told not to gaze into heaven. But now we know that the One who was refused life here, died for us that we might have life there. Man refused Him life here, and God, in His grace, turned man's rejection into his blessing. We partake of His life; man refused Him a place here; and God has given Him a place in heaven; and we are raised up with Him, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. We have not only got life . in His Son but we have got a place.
This the Lord is putting before us in the fourteenth ofJohn. He deals with our conscience in the thirteenth, with our heart in the fourteenth. He says, Now do not let your hearts be troubled; you must follow Me by.faith. What is faith? Close your eye to everything visible, and open your ear to God. That is faith. I now by faith see that which is invisible; I have to do with that blessed One gone to the Father to prepare a place for me.
What is brought out in Stephen is that he is practically one who realises this. Though he was not like Paul seated in heaven, yet he knew the support that we derive on earth from One in heaven; he had no support here. The Bridegroom being taken away, there is nothing to engage the heart, so you may fast. I am bold to say everyone who knows Christ really as the One up there, however much. he may love the communion of saints, would far sooner have a time alone with the Lord.
Now it is not only that all the bad is against you, but that the good is against you. Pull up your blind in the morning and say: Well, I know that there is not a single thing in this world for me; it is all against me-even all that claims to be commendable to the human eye. I often think what an insignificant person I should appear on the platform of Exeter Hall, if I came in after all the wonderful accounts of what such a missionary society is doing in one place, and such another in some other, if I stood up and said: He sups with me, and I with Him. What Stephen finds all round him is the wickedness of the religious world. He takes the place for God on earth; he stands before those religious functionaries coming out in all their enmity against God's servant. And what does he say?--Why, I get nothing here.
This world is just going on to its consummation, and heaven is opened to me. It never was opened till now, but now it is opened by the Holy Spirit. You are united to Christ even before you know your property, so to say. One side is that I am sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise; and the other is that He is the earnest of the inheritance.
Here Stephen, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven. The Lord when going away from His disciples had told them in John 14, "I go to prepare a place for you." Now I am not here gone into heaven, but I am looking at the One in heaven. Some have a physical fear of death, If you have, be sure you are occupied with death, and not with the Person of Christ; you are looking at the water instead of at the ark of the covenant. In Jordan there is not a single thing to pass through; there is not a drop of water to be seen at all--not a single thing to bar my entrance into the land. True, I have practically to pass through a tunnel here; I do not want to hide it from you; you have to throw all this scene into darkness that you may have the light on the other side. I am as confident about it as of anything, through His grace, that you never can find Christ but through death. He was refused life here; the sun must go down then. He was known to them in the breaking of bread-the figure of death. Christ will not appear but at night. I must find it all a scene in which the light has gone out; and then what brings in its beautiful light to me? The morning star!
Well, it is night. The sun has gone down. So many people think they can have Christ in the enjoyment of circumstances here, but I do not believe it. Many think He will give them happy circumstances here. I used to; and then I used to be thoroughly disappointed at the way in which God refused to do things for me that I expected He would do. But I never am disappointed now; indeed I am not perfectly surprised that He ever should do anything for me instead of being disappointed that He does not do 'more. True, there is nothing in this world which He would not do for me. He would give me a fine day: "He that spared not his own Son, ... shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" But then look at the other side: "For thy sake we are killed all the day long"; that is your side; the fellowship of His sufferings. There IS no end to his love, but where do I find it? In the scene where He is Himself.
"For thy sake we are killed all the day long." That is where Stephen is, and that is my proper place. . But I cannot take it, I cannot bear it, unless I know what it is to have a bright scene outside it all. I have to do with a Person who is not here, and thus I am in the wilderness. And I would just say that the wilderness is not a place; it is a bridge, and not a "bridge of sighs," but a bridge of hope, over which I pass from Egypt into Canaan. I go on to possess the land; but possession in practice implies immense suffering.
There are two things that mark the wilderness: the one, to acquire the Man who is not here; the other, to resist the man who is here. There IS the dally picking up of the manna, the stooping for it; you must make yourself small If you want to pick up Christ. The food of the wilderness comes down from heaven, but you must be little enough to pick it up. It had to be gathered every morning before the sun was up. Now let no one reduce that to more prayer, and the reading of a chapter the first thing in the morning. Manna is the wonderful sense of the sufficiency of Christ for every exigency of the day that I may be called to go through. I have to do with Him where He is, as I go on here day by day.
Stephen looks up steadfastly into heaven and sees the glory of God and Jesus; and, now that all is settled there, he comes back to his place here, but he changes the words. He says, " I see ... the Son of man standing on the right hand of God"; He does not say Jesus. Jesus is that peculiar familiar name--that name of endearment-which ought never to be spoken but from heart to heart, and not breathed to the common ear.
And now they cry out with a loud voice, and stop their ears, and run upon him, and he derives power from Christ to act like Him. I believe you derive power from Christ suited to the circumstances you are in, when you are occupied with Him. People are occupied with the thing before them, instead of WIth the One who can deliver them out of it. I often bring forward as an illustration of this the story of a woman in a ship in a storm; she was asked what she was thinking of in the storm, and she answered that she was thinking of how Jesus acted when He was in the storm. Now, if she had been thinking of Him where He is, it would have made her act like Him when he was in the storm.
The man who is making an effort to go over a fence certainly' is not over it. No man ever lost his temper yet but from impotence; a man who loses his temper proves that his ardour is greater than his ability. If he can say, Oh! I am quite up to that, he will never lose his temper over it. If your ability is up to your ardour you will be quiet.
Now here we get a man entirely superior to himself; and this is the character of the Holy Spirit's acting. Stephen has come back to this scene, and I get this wonderful fact in connection with him: that when everything had come to its climax, when they set themselves to refuse the One whom he offered to them, Stephen was not only superior to it all, but able to act for others in the midst of it; and this is the place of God's people upon the earth. What do you find in him? He is calm. Is it that he is able to resist it all as the rock resists the dashing of the waves? Not at all! He is not only calm, he is active. And, not as one has said, to " Wake and find him gone"--not as in the Canticles the bride awakes to realise the stupendous sense of what it is to be without the companion of her heart. But what says the psalmist?
"I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord sustained me." So Stephen was able to come out in divine activity to the very men who caused his death; he comes out as intercessor for them; and, for my own part, I believe that Saul of Tarsus was the answer to his prayers. He came out and showed what a man could be from heaven, nc. only what a man was going to heaven.
I read it, and I am abashed when I do. Why should my spirit be put out by such a little trifle? In the power of the Holy Spirit I can be superior to every character of violence-to every order of suffering. I look to it the day is coming when we shall be tested. I do not look for outside persecution, but I look for internal persecution. Why, if I were only walking faithfully, I should be tabooed by my brethren. There never was such a marvellous thing! While such a trifle as a hot room will sometimes quite upset me, and put me. all astray, here is a man who is superior to everything. He says, I give my spirit to that Man there, for the man here is taking my life away.
There is nothing for me to enjoy but heaven. Well then, I say, I ought to enjoy it. I have to run a race, but my Gideon is before me in it, and He says, "As I do, so shall ye do." I have the most unbounded scene that ever could be known to the heart; I am to God in an ecstasy; I am in unqualified possession of it as to life, and would to God I knew more of it practically. I am going to run a race but there can be no novelty in it; that is, to my mind, the first chapter of the first epistle of John: "The life has been manifested "; He is in the race before me. Stephen looks up steadfastly at the One who has gone before; and how does this man now come out?--Why, very like the Lord! He says, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and "lay not this sin to their charge." This man here takes my life from me; I give my spirit to that Man there.
There are only two things you have to learn, and how many do not accept them! One is, you are not to have the man here and the place, where he is; the other is, you are to have another Man, and the place WHere He is. What, am I not to have a little bit of earth?-No, not a bit! That is just what you get in the fourteenth of Luke. Those who had the blessings of the earth all with one consent began to make excuse; it is: "I pray thee, have me excused."
Stephen says to them: The Lord Jesus 'Christ in glory has come down and offers Himself to take a throne here; do you refuse that Man who has come down from above?--But they stopped their ears and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city and stoned him. And he knelt down and prayed for them; I do not believe he prayed for himself; it was: "lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
Thus you see what a thing it is to bring Christ into real daily life. The general thought of every believer is to get the Lord to help him on in the things here where he is; he wants the human side of it. But you must begin upon an entirely new basis. I am the same tree that I was before my conversion, but there is a new kind of sap in the tree, and that sap refuses to work in wrong connections; all the wrong connections must be withered. I take you upon the ground of being dead; timber is of no use until it is dead. Are you a father?--Well, says the Lord, I sanction that branch; the sap may Bow into that. Are you a husband?--I sanction that branch; the sap may flow in there. Are you in a club? Oh, I cannot sanction that! there is no sap for that ! You are the same kind of tree that you were, but now "the leaf shall not wither." Many a one gets on pretty well in the summer time, but in the winter their leaf withers; but, of this tree, "the leaf shall not wither!' It is the same tree that it was before, but I find a new order of sap comes into it, and that divine sap supports every branch and leaf that it sanctions. It says, I will spare whatever was appointed of God as fit for man upon earth, but I will spare nothing else.
The Lord grant to us, beloved friends, to understand what has been before us. May he lead our hearts to understand how practical and how blessed a thing it is to know, that, though" this world is a wilderness wide," I have got a Man in heaven above it all, whose resources Bow down to me here. The action of the Holy Spirit leads me to Him; that is His upward action; it is: "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God." I find a great many saints will go in a measure as far as Stephen, but they will not go any farther; they will look up to heaven, but they will not go in. The grand difficulty for the heart is to change the place. This is only a place to have a tomb in. As Abraham says, I have no place here but a tomb. As a baptised person I take the ground of being a buried man; and, as in some countries they raise cairns over the graves, so with me; every man who goes by and throws a stone upon me is only raising the cairn! I am a gone man.
But I am not a gone man for activity for Christ here. I have come back from the One who is up there to express Him here, and I find His own power to sustain me in it: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
The Lord lead us to have our eye simply turned to Him as the One who is in heaven, and then I shall be bold to walk down here for Him, while seeking to maintain what is due to Christ in this scene where He is not.