The Gospel of the Glory of Christ: Part 1

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It is more particularly to these few words I would call your attention to-night. The words of God are deep as they are also simple and most truly reliable. I do not, therefore, at this time purpose to bring many words in an expositional way before you, but to look at the concentration of the truth given in a verse usually passed over without much painstaking. What does the apostle mean by “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”? It is clear that a bright knowledge is intimated, and of the highest value, not only for the present time but for all eternity. The God who spoke that light should shine out of darkness shone in our hearts (says he) for the shining forth of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. How pre-eminent the expression!
Our Lord Himself had spoken of the great importance of light and life in a depth and form peculiarly His own. But whatever the form, the same substantial truth appears where, in speaking of His own, He asked the Father that they might know Him, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He had sent. And what did He call it distinctively in itself and for its effect on the soul? Life eternal. There are some in great danger of making light of divine knowledge, as others are of reducing it to human ideas. Beyond doubt any knowledge of the creature is small compared with knowing the Father and the Son and the infinite work in virtue of which as well as of His personal glory He has entered into the glory whence He came. But that knowledge may be greatly adulterated, as it is often ignored. For souls cannot but suffer who approach the word of God in an intellectual way.
Not so is the believer led of the Spirit who deals with him, at first, through his conscience. Till then, what is effectual? We may see this clearly in Peter's case. For, though he may have been a converted man when he first confessed the Lord (John 1), he needed a deep lesson as to his own nothingness; as every converted soul is all the better for it, and must have it if he is to be really blest and a blessing. Is it any honor to the Lord for souls that confess His name to accommodate themselves to the ways of the world around them in the little while given us to glorify God in our body? Did you ever notice that “in our spirit” is left out of the Revised Version? Every one moderately at home with the Scriptures was aware of this, which is of importance in its measure, because not a few think they can cleave to what is good in their spirit while walking with the world in their body. Is this “doing” the truth? Is it not in every way unworthy?
Where self is not adequately judged, we cannot enjoy the Lord's infinite love to us. The heart cannot but be divided in its affections, instead of being filled with the love that passeth knowledge. But this can never be, till we are brought down to be nothing in our own sight. Hence the Lord, when Peter had been toiling with his companions all night and catching nothing, told him where to cast the net. Now those used to fishing are not generally inclined to think much of what an outsider suggests. They are as jealous of interference as satisfied with their own skill. And no doubt it would have been rather presumptuous for an ordinary man to have given that word to Peter. But it was the Second man, the last Adam. He is the Man that brought God into the world. This was the first part of His work, as the next was to put sin out of the world. It may be far from being done yet as a fact; but the ground was laid in His cross, and He will do it. The reconciling work has been wrought, on which it will all be accomplished in power by-and-by. And remember, my friends, this is the work of redemption, on which I now call you, if you have never done it before, to rest your souls—Christ's work according to God's will, as Heb. 10 describes it through the offering of His body once for all.
Well then, we are told that Peter acted in spite of all his experience, on the word of the Lord” At Thy word I will let down the net.” The consequence was that the boats were filled to sinking. It is usually the history of things in this world when blessing comes. Earthen vessels are too weak to keep the blessing. All sorts of disorders ensue. It is not that the treasure is not good, but because even God's servants are indeed feeble. Nevertheless Peter learned a weighty lesson there; as he had to learn a good deal more before he was nothing in his own eyes.
But let us turn from the servant to his Lord, Master, and Savior, as ready to be your Savior to-night if you never heard His voice till now. What gave occasion to this striking expression” the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”? It was the most remarkable conversion that ever took place in this world. Of course one cannot pretend to know much about other people's conversions, and one feels that everyone's conversion is of the utmost importance to himself, as it ought to be of great interest to every other believer. Still we may say that there are marked differences, and that one transcended all others, not only in its importance for him that was saved, but for the shining forth of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Savior. It was not that of Peter, nor of Andrew, nor yet of John, but of Paul. How was Paul converted? By the voice of the Lord Jesus from heaven speaking from, and seen in, the excellent glory. For the holy mount was only a little illustration. The Lord Jesus was now in the very center of the glory whence He appeared to Saul of Tarsus. It did not hinder that the smitten many lay prostrate on the ground. The Lord made Himself seen, and as easily in one posture of him who saw as in another. For it was a divine work, incomparably superior to all vision of the eye. It was a supernatural sight and hearing in his case—expressly meant to be so. In every respect it was a great conversion, and, what is rarely the case, a striking miracle accompanied this conversion. Christ's earthly miracles were rather signs like most to unbelievers; but with Saul of Tarsus the Lord went out of all ordinary ways, in bringing him to God, to work a stupendous wonder. For such it was that a man on earth should by the power of God see the Lord in heaven and hear His voice. The scene was in broad daylight, in the midst of a crowd of persecuting enemies, and not one of them so deadly as the man singled out by His grace.
Is there not bright hope for your soul after that? Is there a man or a woman in this company tonight so determined an enemy of the Lord Jesus as he to whom He spoke outside Damascus at that time? What a change from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle! It is the most striking conversion all Scripture shows. What was there on Saul's part to bring him to God up to that moment? Was there any—I will not say merit, but the least repentance?—even previous compunction? Was he not in the mid-career of his crusade against the name of Jesus? Was he not “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” at the time? Who was so full of religious pride? Had he not the highest authority of that day on earth? Little did he conceive that this is no safeguard, but may be the greatest illusion, as it was in his own case. He had letters from the High Priest to Damascus, authorizing him to drag to prison men and women that confessed the name of the Lord Jesus. He had been only a little while before accessory to the martyrdom of Stephen, and according to every account—his own repeatedly—absolutely impenitent, ignorantly glorying in his sin. Indeed, there is nothing that so shuts out the heart from compassion as ecclesiastical pride; nothing that makes mild people more remorselessly cruel; nothing that more surely closes up every avenue to mercy. If ever a man seemed to be going straight to Satan, not only away from, but against, the only Savior, it was Saul of Tarsus. Not a word of caution had he heeded from any quarter; not a doubt or fear as to what he was pursuing haunted his mind. He verily thought with himself, as he says, that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus. All that we do learn from God's account is that Saul was wholly untouched till, all being fallen to the earth, only he heard the Lord's voice. They all knew of something occurring most extraordinary in its nature. The light from heaven exceeding that of the sun at mid-day proved itself divine. And there was a sound—I do not say more than a wound—that reached the ears of the others; but the life-giving voice of Christ did not fail to reach the one to whom it was directed. It was quickening for his soul as well as a miracle.
Now, an appeal like this brings every soul of man to a point. One either believes or rejects it. Some in rejecting it may resemble that which is so fashionable in Germany; there they strive to reduce the outside circumstances to a hailstorm, a flash of lightning, and all that sort of delusion to which those learned men give themselves up so willingly. And why? Because, being unbelievers, they hate the truth and the love of God in Christ. As for our countrymen, are they not generally more scrupulous as the rule in the things of God? Yes, but they like increasingly to be, what they call, abreast of modern thought; and the reality or affectation of “learned Germans “is so very attractive to some, that if the Germans are boldly skeptical, Englishmen are not ashamed to follow them admiringly. Yes, they follow them in this, and where? Away from God and His Christ, turning their back upon that grace that not merely was toward Saul of Tarsus, but is written and preached just as much to you to-night. It was life to him then; it is no less to you also, but only if you believe on Him. Beware lest it be a great deal worse before God, if you persist in rejecting the Christ, who made it all so blessed and so efficacious to Saul of Tarsus.
Why should not that light come to you? Why not this very night? The Savior is come, His work for sin is done. One well understands the Jew who does not believe in waiting for the Messiah; but what are professing Christians waiting for? What are they if only baptized and they have no faith, no life, in them? They are worse than nothing. Christian baptism means that Christ died to give remission of sins and sin condemned. But what does it mean for those that have it as a rite and believe not on Him that died and rose again? Undoubtedly it is a great truth that is represented in baptism. For Christ is therein shown, not merely as the Messiah, but as the Savior who has accomplished redemption, the propitiation for our sins, and the sacrifice and offering to God and for us. But He is now raised and in heavenly glory, out of which glory He revealed Himself when He spoke to Saul of Tarsus.
Clearly, then, salvation is an individual matter. Saul was the only one in that crowd that received the blessing at the time, whatever God may have done through it; for nothing was more impressive. Could there have been found on the earth a person more nicely and rigidly moral than Saul? He was not conscious in his unconverted days that he had broken the law at all. But when the light made his real state manifest, the commandment came, sin revived, and he died. He was not awakened before to know the exceeding breadth and depth of the law, and he was well satisfied with himself; he had never offended in any gross manner. He had lived in his unconverted days a more correct and just life than anyone in this hall. He was frank, straightforward, conscientious, and truthful, religious after the flesh in no common degree. Further, he was a man of great capacity. He was not at all open to the passing fashions, but profoundly attached to the faith and institutions God had given to His people.
God particularly notified his conversion, wonderful as it was in its circumstances “for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.” For the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant in it. And His grace has recorded it in the Scriptures that you might be brought to the self-same salvation, seeing that Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul declared himself chief. The Lord gave Paul a place that made many jealous of him; even some blessed people did not altogether relish it—those who were before him at first for instance. But Barabbas was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and so he looked for good, and loved to seek and find it. Barnabas sought Saul when others were shy, and brought him to the apostles, and he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
Turn we once more to Him who made this revolution in the persecuting missionary of the Jewish Sanhedrim. Can you have a more magnificent proof of the grace of God in dealing with a great sinner on the spot? Would that you might hear His voice in the written word to-night! Do not dream of preparation of any moral kind; do not yield to the temptation of a religious apprenticeship—if you are subject to God's word. Nothing whatever of this kind fitted Saul for the vision of the Lord Jesus in heavenly glory. Do not question that the Lord is still speaking from the same heavenly glory. For this is the doctrine in Heb. 12:25. It is real, though not a miracle also as in Paul's case. As truly as He once spoke upon earth at Sinai, the same One is now speaking from heaven. In whose person did God speak on earth? It was in the Son. Now He speaks in His Son emphatically, as Heb. 1 declares. He had sent His messengers of old; but if ever there was a time when God speaks in His Son, it is now. When the gospel goes forth to your ears, it is God speaking to you from heaven in His Son. So in 2 Cor. 5 and 13 you find the apostle expressing himself similarly. What he preached was “Christ speaking in me.” Nor is the gospel Paul preached confined to the apostle. He that preaches aright is one who just gives out the good news unadulterated and fresh from God. If it be the true tidings of divine grace, is it not Christ speaking in that man to your soul?
When God was speaking on earth, as on mount Sinai, what was it about? Of the sins men, Israel, were prone to. In the Ten Commandments He forbade the various evils man was inclined to then, as he always is. Take the last of them, “Thou shalt not covet.” Did you ever know a man, woman, or child that did not covet—did not desire to have—what they had not got? Did you ever know a man who would not prefer to have a sovereign in his pocket rather than a shilling? Is not this coveting, though it does not mean that one is dishonest? The chief dishonesty, alas and of every soul, is toward God. How we have wronged Him! How we have dishonored His goodness and His will! If He wants me to have only a shilling in my pocket, why should I trouble myself? Perhaps a little industry may add a shilling or more to what I have; but let me not forget that “man's life (how much more a Christian's!) consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” All such things perish with the using. A heathen savage might put a coin in a dead man's mouth to take him over the River; but you know that all thoughts of the kind are vanity. We came naked into the world and we can bring nothing out.
All are sinners, though not in the way of Saul. But of him I have spoken particularly, because the subject calls for it, and gives such an admirable proof that even the chief of sinners may be saved; and as in this case expressly, when no plea called for mercy except God's grace, unless you add the greatness of his sins. This would be a strange sound in the ears of men, but it is not unknown to the Bible. Even in the Psalms of David, though God was then dealing by the law before grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, you may find its echo. Take for instance Psa. 25, where first in the book we hear of the forgiveness of sins— “O Jehovah, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.” Think of a man in the dock claiming such a favor from the judge! Would he not think the man clean mad? So too, the gospel is thought madness by unbelievers. It is quite foreign to the ways of man, who dreams not of showing good, save in return for good. But you, a sinner, have no good before God; you neither have merit, nor can you acquire merit in His eyes; you have sins, and only sins: what can become of you?
See, too, the immense danger of thinking so much of a little education, or of abstaining on the other hand from drink. Men, if temperate and educated, seem to think themselves somewhat better, and, if not nearer to God, more in the way to the gospel. Alas! how many build on sobriety or avoiding the dramshop, and the racecourse, and the like, making of these things their righteousness. And what does the Spirit of God do with men seeking after a little righteousness of their own? When God's word is mixed with faith, all such “righteousness” crumbles into dust. It is a barrier between his soul and salvation. He must come out of his little righteous castle, and surrender as nothing but a sinner, that he may be saved by grace through faith. It is not man that commends his love, or his anything else, to God; but “God commendeth His love towards us.” And in what condition? When “without strength and ungodly;” for “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Can you ask a more conclusive proof than in Saul of Tarsus, himself the man who wrote those words for us from God? Are they not true now as then? Do you think the nineteenth century can add to or take from Scripture? The spirit of the age puffs up men, who think too much of themselves nowadays. Undoubtedly we have many conveniences—railways, steamers, electric telegraph, school boards, and what not?—all sorts of inventions which indicate progress; but is it progress in the things of God? Is it deliverance from sin? Not in the least. On the contrary, if you lean on material progress, or even intellectual, you will find it a broken reed which fails and pierces, when leaned on.
And where then is there safety for the poor sinful soul? In none but Him who is at the right hand of God; in the same One that met and converted Saul of Tarsus that day. Was it not on the spot? I do not say he was brought into peace the first moment. People are often in too great a hurry to get peace. It is of more importance that one should feel his sins thoroughly, and judge self in the light of God and His word and grace, perhaps long slighted. Through the faith of Christ's work on the cross peace surely comes in good time; and the delay is turned by God's goodness into profit for the soul.
(To be continued)