Grace and Power

2 Corinthians 12:1‑10  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 5
In the gospel of John we have something more than what is usually presented as the gospel. We have the setting aside of the old man: it is gone. At the end of chap. 2., there were some who had seen the miracles Jesus did, and were struck by them, but did not see the power of God in them. There was just one man who saw something more than the outward performance of the miracles. He saw the hand of God. Rabbi, I know this,' he says in effect, it is not merely supernatural, but it is God, Rabbi, it is the power of God.' But at the end of his interview with the blessed Lord the poor man says, " How can these things be?" It is infinitely more difficult to understand the words thou sayest than to see the power of God in the miracles thou doest. The blessed Lord had been rejected in chap. 1: " He came to His own and his own received Him not." The world was made by Him and the world knew Him not. So when we come to that wonderful scene, Nicodemus and the Lord, the Lord stands on the ground of the resources there are in God, and the resources in Himself to meet man in the condition in which Nicodemus was without knowing it.
It is no question now of the power of God outside you. What you want is the power of God in you. I do not understand what thou sayest. How can these things be? A man must be born again!' No one is saved who is not born of God. But what is it to be born of God? It is to receive from God Himself a wholly and entirely different nature, a " new " nature, capable of apprehending, understanding, entering into, in the blessed understanding of them, the thoughts that are in the heart of God Himself. We speak of growing and getting on, but this is the very foundation. If by the grace of God we have apprehended that foundation, we have made a beginning. This is how He begins here. Thus the Spirit here tells us how the truth came home to the soul. Now the first sign God gives us of the work of God in the apostle is, " Behold, he prayeth." It always comes fresh to one's heart. The persecutor on his way to Damascus was turned right round with the light from heaven, straight round from what he had set his heart on, all the energies of his nature. God takes His other servant, Ananias, aside, and says, " Go to the street which is called Straight," and he goes. The name of the street He gives him, and the name of the man, and one sign. He has begun to depend upon God; he prays—the persecutor prays. What a history that tells! Not only he is turned clean round from what he was before, 'alit he has begun to depend upon God. Then nature comes out, and Ananias begins to say, Oh, but he is such a bad man! I have heard of all kinds of mischief he has done.' The Lord tells Ananias, " Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." God retires, as it were, into His sovereignty, and it is God's sovereign power that has Also acted towards us.
I think it is well to remind ourselves that all the goodness, all the love, all the majesty of God passing before us, would not have affected us in the least degree if it had not been for the work of grace in our souls. He will work out of us everything of ourselves that He may fill us with nothing but Himself for the glory of Christ. Only think what it is for our souls, that Christ is to be glorified in us, in our life and our walk down here, and that we are to be taken up to be with Himself forever. He is no stranger, and how do we know Him? We know Him as One who has loved us with a love that is like no other. There is no other love like it. He could look upon us; He could see us in our distance and misery, nothing in us to attract, and that love in its sovereignty could expend itself upon us, could delight and satisfy itself in giving itself for us. It is wonderful for our souls to enter into it—the love of God, the love of the Father, and of the Son. I do not ask if your heart is satisfied. Do you know that the Father's heart is satisfied about you? Come and look at the epistle of John: " If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." If you love the world, it is the proof you have not tasted for your own soul's satisfaction what the love of the Father is. We have not learned that His love is satisfied in us. It is that that blots out the world, that takes the world away from us. The Holy Spirit, in the epistle to the Galatians, speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ as He, " Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father." No people so rich as you if you have tasted of that love You are masters of the world if you have tasted the Father's love. Only think of what the love of the Father is to us. We speak of going to be with Christ and like Him. What is the reason of it? Why, the Father's love to us, and the Father's love to the Son. He has first willed to have children before Himself that the fatherly affections of the heart of God Himself might be satisfied with such things as you and me. We cannot go on with the world if we have that in our hearts.
I referred to the gospel of John and the epistle of John because we find the Spirit of God bringing out the same blessed truth—that the only way God can have to do with us, other than in judgment, is on the ground of grace. It is a changeless ground, because there is nothing of man in it; it is a changeless ground because it is all of God—it is the means to an end, and that end is the glory of Christ. That is the blessed end of everything.
Now, beloved brethren, if we can only, by the grace of God, understand this one thing -that God has not one single thought in His heart of which Christ Himself is not the object—it will make everything clear, it will make straight paths for our feet, clear up every difficulty, if we have simply, by the grace of God, His object before us. The apostle is an example of this in 2 Cor. 12 for, (after having spoken, in chap. 11., of the wonderful history of service and of sufferings that he had gone through for God and Christ) he says, " I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord." Let us turn from the marred and blotted page of my history, and let us come to the new, and the bright, and the blessed page—the new history that stands before God. I do not speak now of Paul, I speak of the man in Christ that stands before God. No longer the history of Paul, the poor marred and blotted page of my history, though I have more to boast in and glory in than any of you. I now come to the other—to that page that subsists before God, the brightness of that page. I stand now before God in Christ; I know myself there; I know myself in Him. It is no humbling thing to me to know myself there. It is the glory of my inmost soul, the joy of my inmost heart. I stand in all the perfection, in all the blessedness of Christ.' Beloved friend, does that humble you? God help you if it does. I will tell you why. It shows you have in you what you are clinging to with a "tenacity which proves you have not Him, and Him alone, before you. You are clinging to something you will not let go; some fancied and fanciful excellency which you think is not so bad after all.
Do you not know something of it, if you have been in the presence of God at all? I know myself,' he says, in that character; I know myself there standing before God in Christ ' " In Christ." I cannot explain to you what it is to be in Christ in a way that would satisfy your mind, because it is incomprehensible; but I could put it a little before you, as it is in this chapter. It will satisfy your heart, and it will search your conscience. Thank God, it is not something critical, it is not what your mind is capable of apprehending. Thought cannot measure it, but it can reach your conscience, and it can impress your heart; it is the blessed revelation that shall reach the conscience and impress the heart—the uncontrollable heart of man—and magnify the grace that has made us His. And so He loves to pour into our hearts, and it is just like God, just His way to pour in to our poor little hearts something of His great love, until our poor little hearts overflow to Him in worship.. And what is worship but just the outpouring of a heart so filled to overflowing with the worthiness of the object before it, that the heart cannot contain itself! It is a kind of thing that flows out spontaneously from occupation with a blessed object.
I know this man,' he says, caught up to the third heavens.' There is no boasting there for any of us. It is when he comes out of that place there is danger. 'Now I heard and could tell you things it is not possible for man to utter. But lest I should be filled with pride thereby, He helped me.' So we have the blessed principle of grace brought out here. The blessed Lord knew that. He knew that man for whom He died, that man that persecuted those who were members of Christ here on earth. He knew that man had need of His grace, that he needed to be helped to take the road. Like Nicodemus, we might say, " How can these things be?" And Paul is put in the way to take that road. Poor thing that you are! You cannot take the road; you have it not in you to have self set aside. You cannot keep the flesh in order yourself; but I will make that contemptible from which my grace has delivered you.'
Beloved brethren, we may speak about God being with us here in this world. I would only just suggest to you that this is not the question. God has tried, and He has tried in infinite goodness, to walk with man on man's ground, and it ended in the shame, and spitting, and the cross. Now He has saved us, and He has called us with a holy calling; and enables us to walk with Him on His ground. It changes the whole thing. It is not God walking with man in this world, but it is His calling us, and enabling us to walk with Himself. It is one thing to say God is with us here or there, blessing us in any service we may undertake, and undertaking for us; but that does not reach the soul, and give rest to the heart. The question is only, Am I with Him in what I am doing, in what He is doing? What grace it is! The sense of grace that comes fresh to the soul. I can only walk with Him by His grace. The apostle gives us the history of it. I think we can see there how thoroughly, by the grace of God, he had entered into that ground. Here is an out-and-out confession.
That thorn,' he says, was given to me in the flesh. I resisted it.' There is a real man before God—the man Paul. Here he is himself. He says, I prayed three times that it might go.' God had given him a thorn in the flesh, a help from God to keep the flesh in order. I must have His grace to hold me, to sustain me. " Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not " (Psa. 17:55Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. (Psalm 17:5)). I must have a divine power over myself, to hold me, and to keep the flesh in order, for it never, never changes.
For a moment go back to John 3, for there are two things that never change. ‘ That which is born of the flesh is flesh." It never changes; it is the same to the very end. God never changes "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Those are the two that never change-the flesh, and the mighty God Himself. "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed (Mal. 3:66For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)). "1 besought the Lord thrice "—twice without an answer, and the third time He said, " My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Many will tell you it means that the grace of God would enable him to bear the thorn in the flesh. You, poor soul, could not do without that thorn in the flesh, and you thought you could; but I know better. I know your flesh, your feebleness, and I am for you. My grace will not remove it, for my grace gave it.' So he learned what he had never learned before—to accept everything that comes. Do you think we have that consciousness now in all things that we go through in this world? Do we think what it is, not to be in the hand of One we cannot escape from, but to be in the hand of One who has chosen us in His sovereign love? He is handling us according to His knowledge of what is in us, and we are in the hand of Him who is handling us, in order that He may express from us His grace.
Now he says—by the grace of God I know this—" My grace is sufficient for thee." "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice... Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Whenever I hear it said, " We are such poor, feeble things—so poor, so feeble," I say, " Well, if we look at ourselves, that is true. But what about the power of Christ resting upon us " I find this very same man (Acts 16) in circumstances of distress and trial—beaten, oppressed, and his feet fast in the stocks, and he sings praises to God. Why? Because his eye and his heart are above. " Ah! He counts me worthy to suffer for Himself," and his heart goes out in praises to Him. And the prison walls were round him, and all the suffering he had gone through before him; but he remembered Him who came into this world for him, and who counted him worthy to suffer for His sake; and there is the Object, and the power of the Object, that makes the heart glad, even in the most trying circumstances, and there is no prayer about it all. He does not pray, as you and I often do, to get delivered. He has the sense of having to do with Christ, and the heart goes back to Him in praises and thanksgiving.
Go back for a moment to the end of the gospel of John. There is Mary at the sepulcher; she weeps and weeps, even to break her heart. There she stands, and looks into the empty tomb. Her heart breaks with tears. It is gone, it is over. Alas! here is an empty grave, " and I know not where they have laid Him." Paul, on the other hand, knew where He had gone, and that He, the blessed Son of God, counted him worthy to suffer for Him. And what is the result? He sings praises. God answers in power, and the jailor comes in trembling, and says, " What must I do to be saved?" God manifests His hand. The jailor himself is convicted. " What must I do to be saved?" He does not say, " What must I do to be pardoned? " but he finds himself a lost soul, yet in the day of grace, and he cries for mercy, and his very prisoner brings it to him. How wonderful, how simple it is! There are Paul and Silas, their feet fast in the stocks, at midnight, praying and singing praises to God. It is a blessed thing when, by the grace of God, we can have our hearts touched with what the power of God really is. " I take pleasure in all these sorrows by the way," he says, as it were; " for they are just opportunities that the power of Christ may rest upon me, that I may learn afresh what it is to be in his Hand, and how He, in His infinite love and favor, can express Himself out of me." You cannot express Christ in this world; you cannot do it. It must be real dependence on Him, and He will express Himself out of you. Wait upon Him. Thus we learn two things: the infinite capacity of the new nature, and the infinite power of the Holy Ghost.
Look for a moment at the way in which He speaks of grace. I want just to refer to that as manifested in connection with the judgment-seat of Christ. There it is that we see the very essence of grace. The judgment of sin was borne by this blessed One on the cross. He has given us to trust in Himself. He has made us His, and now He has set us in this world for Himself; and when this scene is over, He brings us before His judgment-seat, and He goes over what we have done in this world-goes over what His own Holy Spirit has done through us in this world-and He counts it to us, and then, in the greatness of His grace, He says, I will reward you for it '-for what His own Spirit has done through us. Was there ever grace like that? He begins with us on the ground of grace, and He never changes His ground; and we find that throughout the eternal ages His grace is glorified in us. He thus gave Himself for us—the blessed answer of His own heart to lay His own resources open to man in his guilt, his misery. His grace never ceases until we are there before His own throne, and even there it will be " to the praise of the glory of His grace." Oh, it becomes us to walk softly indeed! People may say, We do not enjoy these things." Why is it? Because His Holy Spirit is grieved or hindered. We check the Holy Spirit, that alone can make these things real to us. Who could understand, save by the Spirit, what it is to be blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Him? And His Holy Spirit delights to make these things good to us, and to fill our hearts to overflowing. But if His Holy Spirit is checked or hindered by anything in us, the present realization ceases. The things themselves do not cease, but our enjoyment often does, to our sorrow and loss. The infinite capacity of the new nature ever remains; but, alas! we have in our own souls so little realization of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
One verse struck me as it was being read —" It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send Him to you " (John 16:77Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7)). " Another Comforter." Did you ever think of who and what the first Comforter was, who came into this world to take upon Himself our sins and our sorrows, to walk alongside of us? Do you know the One who came into this world to walk along with us, no matter what might come upon Him-the shame and the spitting, the cursing and the swearing? They did not know Him. Nothing rebuffed that love. Then, risen from the dead, and taken up to the right hand of the majesty in the heaven, He leads the heart to listen to what the Spirit of God reveals, and alone can reveal; all that Christ really has come down to tell us. And we are in Him " in Him." We are standing in all the blessed acceptance in Him; we are " accepted in the beloved " (Eph. 1:66To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)). It does not say we are accepted in Christ; it says we are accepted in all the blessed overflowing of the love of the Father's heart to that Son. God gives us that place; it is the measure of my place before Himself. He tells it to us in order that our hearts may go up to Him in praise and thanksgiving—a heart that is too full of what the blessed God is not to praise Him.
Beloved brethren, when God touches our hearts, when in simplicity and reality we are before God and He really touches our hearts with what His love to us now is, there is no holding in, it is bound to go back to Him. The heart beats true to Him because the heart is His, He has won it, and He is interested in all that passes there. He puts us through these things to make good to us what His love and care really are. There is His love. It has been said that if He put us through the difficulties and trials, it was better than leaving us alone. Why, He has bought us with a price. Can He leave us alone? He will never cast us off He will never be the first to break the link; or if the link is broken by us, so far as We can do so, He will hold us and put us through thing after thing, trial after trial, difficulty after difficulty, till we learn afresh His grace, and care, and love, and what it is to have to do with Him. You will find there is not a difficulty but the blessing, and the sense of His love and of His heart gets fuller and more real in every single sorrow and trial He puts us through, because the object of His heart is to draw us nearer to Himself. Not to cry for Him to come because we find the way weary, because we are tired and cast down. Let us remember this, that until He comes He has something for His people to do here. He has some manifestation of Himself of what He can do here, some grace that shall flow from Himself, that shall go back in answering glory and praise to Himself up to the last moment. We may say the way is dreary, and we want to be gone, and we want to be at rest. What does it show us? It shows restlessness. It is not a promise, it is a bright and blessed hope; but until He comes, let us go on, content to be here until He comes, in view of the blessed prospect. May God in His mercy give us to understand it really by His grace, and to seek to be ever in spirit with Himself until that moment when He comes to fetch to be there forever.