Seeking and Receiving: Part 1

THERE are two things given us in this chapter: first, the origin and source of our salvation, God seeking us; and, secondly, the reception of the person when he comes back to God, and, at the same time, what passed in the heart of the prodigal when coming back to his Father. When come back, we hear no more of him, but of what passed in the heart of the Father.
It is a wonderful thing (if we did not know what we are naturally) to think that God should have to excuse Himself for loving us (vers. 31, 32 compared with 1, 2). It shows the selfishness and hardness of the human heart, that, if it cannot accredit itself before God, it will not have God's righteousness. That is what the elder brother was in his selfish self-righteousness (the Pharisee saying, “I never transgressed thy commandments;” and “Thou never gavest me a kid, to make merry with my friends”). Thus there was not one movement of the heart that fell in with the Father or even the servants. The whole household was moved by the Father's joy; but in him there was no response at all. The self-righteousness of man sets up to be something and accredits itself; but it is only of himself he is thinking. His Father's grace and goodness leads selfishness but to complain against God. This characterized the Jews in principle. These Pharisees were complaining against Christ for having eaten with publicans and sinners; then comes the blessed truth that God will not give up His character of love, but goes on in spite of all the false pretentious righteousness of man.
There are two things in these parables: the seeking; and the receiving. The first two refer to the seeking, the last to the reception of the sinner through redemption. The first two are God seeking (I do not doubt you get Father, Son, and Holy Ghost): the Shepherd seeks the sheep; the woman lights the candle to search for the piece of silver, as the Spirit by the gospel. Then you find the reception by the Father. In the first is the simple blessed principle that man kicks against—that it all comes from God to you in love. How self-righteousness gets mixed up in many hearts with the full free grace of God! The great thing seen of Christ is, God the originator of all the mercy. God has gone through the question of man's responsibility, and “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:1010As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (Romans 3:10)). This is the summing up of the state of man before God, as being thoroughly tried. God in His mercy has given it, because the tendency of the human heart is to go on the ground of its righteousness, conscience telling him he should have it for God (as the law is its perfect measure: He has taken that ground with man). But our hearts do not submit to God's righteousness till we have gone through the testing: we have to learn it in a real way.
Further, God never left man without testimony: I do not say without promise, because this was to the Second Man. First (though not without testimony, as Enoch, Noah, and so on) man was left to himself. And what was the end of it? All was so bad that God had to bring in the flood. This was judgment on man in a certain sense left to himself. Then we have the second great principle: the promise came first—promise to Abraham, who was called out of a world which had gone into idolatry (Josh. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)). Then things went on till the law was given, when man took up the promises, but upon the footing of his own obedience; for they said, “All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do.” But they went on with wickedness afterward; they made the golden calf. There had been then sinners and law-breakers. But this was not all: God sent the prophets, dealing with their consciences, “rising up early, and sending them.” After all, God says, “I have still one Son, they will reverence Him;” but they cast Him out.
That is, you have man (in a certain sense) left to himself, but not without testimony; then man under law, and breaking it; then the Son of God came, God manifesting Himself. God was revealing Himself to win back the heart of man to confidence in Himself, in perfect and patient goodness, passing through this world as man, perfect and spotless; that good in power might meet every sorrow—power which removed all the present effects of sin. But they would not have God on any terms. Grace has wrought from Adam, but the heart of man is still the same. They break the law now, as far as they have their share in it. They cannot put Christ to death now; but talk of Christ to the world, and see how they will like it I We have had the law, and the prophets; after that Christ came. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” And when the Holy Ghost came into this world, it was but a world that had rejected the Son of God. God says to the world, What have you done with My Son? Men forget that the Son has been here: He is not here now. Everything that God could do He did, if anything could win the heart of man; but it was all of no use. Is it not a very solemn thing?
But to come to the point where God and man really meet, it is only at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was man's enmity rejecting the Son of God come in grace, and there was God giving His Son in love. We find a most blessed picture of it when the soldiers were sent to break the legs of those who were crucified with Him. “A bone of Him shall not be broken;” but they must make sure they have got rid of Him: “They pierced His side,” and there came out blood and water. What a sign of salvation as Gods answer to man's insultingly making sure that he had got rid of God come in mercy! There is where a soul can meet God, and there only. It is God's truth as to its state, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:77Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Romans 8:7)). But His love has met it where it is. In truth we must come as mere sinners to the cross. The only part that we had in that which saved us was our sins; and there we must come. All must come before the Lord Jesus and bow to Him, either as Savior, or as Judge if we neglect salvation. Such is man's history.
Thus comes in the fullness of grace. God had proved man's state. He had now to act from Himself. They had had the law “by the disposition of angels;” they had had the prophets; they had had the Son, the Just One, and the testimony of the Holy Ghost. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51-5351Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51‑53)). He had come with the testimony of Christ glorified. Stephen's speech was a kind of summing up as to man. They had broken the law, slain those which showed before the coming of the Just One,” were His betrayers and murderers, and resisted the Holy Ghost. Now, consequently, what we find on the other side is, that the spring and source of the whole blessing is God's own heart. What made the Shepherd look after the sheep? It was what was in the heart of the Shepherd toward it. Who put it into God's heart to send His Son? We did not; we would not have Him when He came. “If one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Cor. 4:1515For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)). Thus we see what was the first spring and movement of all: it was infinite grace! All were lost. But “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)). There is the wonderful truth, that the spring of it all is in God's own heart. Jesus “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” In this way we know “God is love:” “He laid down His life for us.”
We find in the first two parables the expression of His pure sovereign goodness interested in us. It was what Christ did. The Shepherd goes after the sheep, and “laid it on His shoulders rejoicing.” Here it set no foot to ground: not a word of what the sheep did, nor even of its happiness. It is just the same with the piece of silver. The woman cared for it, and could not give it up till she found it, and then was happy about it. The thing that runs through these parables is, that it is God's happiness to bring us back.
The truth that we have in the third parable is, that God's own happiness is to have us. There is nothing said about the prodigal's happiness, but about the father's: “God is love.” In the third are details in connection with his failure and his reception. The reception when he comes back is from the same love, the same grace, that sought the lost in the two first. He took his own way, and left his father's house, and tried to please himself. That is what men are trying to do—what he did, giving up God and His authority. Men do not believe that God is looking to their happiness, and they look to it themselves. So it was with Eve in Eden, when confidence in God was lost; she must try to make herself happy. The beginning of our ruin was losing confidence in God. Christ displays God in a way to win confidence in Him, manifesting such love and goodness that the heart should say, I can trust Him. This is not peace, it does not purge the conscience but awakens it. It is such a revelation of God to the heart as produces confidence. “I will arise and go to my Father:” such is the effect of God's light and God's love. You cannot be blessed with God (and you cannot be at all blessed without Him) but according to what He is.
If you come to God, you must come in the light that manifests everything. When God reveals Himself, He is light. It makes us see all we are. But He is love; and this is what brought the light, and where that is revealed to the heart, one is willing to receive the light. God cannot reveal Himself without being both. I trust the love that has brought the light into my conscience.
(To be continued D.V.).