Reading: Romans 8:15-30.
I want to speak to you in a general and simple way this morning on what seems to me to be so evident in this portion which we have read, as related to the time in which we live particularly. I think you will agree that the people of God in this time, as in many times past, times of severe pressure, trial and suffering, perhaps anxiety, need delivering thoughts, thoughts which lift up and lift out and reassure the heart and make steady the going. I do not know of anything in the Word of God more calculated to perform that function of lifting and reassuring the people of God in a time of trial than this familiar passage. It brings us right back on to the foundation of all things with some mighty affirmations and some tremendous statements. It brings us right into the eternal, abiding, establishing thoughts of God concerning His own people in all times, but it is in those thoughts of God, as we recognise them, that we find our strength in times of special stress.
The Fixed and Determined Purpose of God
The first thought here, and the basic thought, is this: God has a fixed, settled, established, determined purpose. God has His thoughts from eternity clearly and perfectly defined. The world is not in a jumble; things are not, from God's standpoint, in chaos. They may be from our standpoint, from man's point of view, but from God's they are not.
One clear, sure thought and purpose is actively at work in all these things which are going on as they affect and touch the life of the people of God, and we must remember that, at the heart of the universe, is the elect; the very core of everything is the people of God, the called according to His purpose. That is why they are never exempt from the things which go on in the world; God never puts them into positions of isolation from world happenings, never sets them aside or shuts them up in some place where they are untouched and unaffected. There is a sense in which the people of God register the happenings in the cosmos more than anyone else and suffer more than others. They are the main objective and are more involved than any others. With all other of the Lord's people, we are the heart of things, and God's fullest thought is centred in His people. And around that people, embodying that thought of God, the whole creation is gathered, according to this word, and the whole creation is said to be groaning in travail in direct relation to this thought of God which is to emerge ultimately in the manifestation of the sons of God.
Now, I do want to put this as simply as can be grasped by the youngest. God's thoughts are very high but they are not beyond His little ones, and I just want to say that all over again in fewer words in a simpler way. Right from the beginning before the world was created, God had a definite thought. It was not just an idea that He was going to try out, not just something that had come into His mind and He was going to experiment with it to see if He could bring it to pass. When God thinks a thought, it is as good as an act. "I know the thoughts that I think towards you... to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11), and who will for a moment allow room for God's thoughts like that to be ultimately defeated? Oh no, God's thoughts are God's acts. So that He had a thought which was as good as an accomplishment from the beginning, and right through the ages God has been at work with that thought in relation to His own people, and in such times as the time in which we are living, times of great trial for the people of God, those thoughts of God take on a new meaning. And the people of God ought to turn back to those thoughts of God in order that they may be saved.
What I mean is this. I was talking to someone yesterday who is very much in the affairs of this world, and he said, "Of course, this world, is all upside down, all topsy-turvy, everything is wrong, nothing is as it should be!" He was not talking religiously; he was talking as a man of the world without any knowledge whatever of God's thoughts. He went on to say, "Of course, so far as our lifetime is concerned, we shall never see a new world, we shall never see recovery, never see things normal again..." and he spoke with a note which indicated that for him life and the world was all gone. Everything for which you lived and hoped, your whole system of things, has gone, there is nothing left; you might just as well depart from this life now.
If we are going to live at all in relation to this world and this world order, we are going to be in a terrible mess. And I do want to say to you that the deliverance that we need is from looking for the end of the war - if I may put it quite bluntly - from looking for a cessation of these hostilities and the return of peace and of conditions in which we can settle down, perhaps enjoy ourselves again, and all the old liberties. If we are groaning for the end of the war and the return of peaceable conditions and all those facilities of which we have been deprived and just hoping from day to day that there will be good news, something which indicates peace is to be reached soon; if we are living in either the defeats or the victories, the ups or the downs, of these present world happenings; if in any way we are living in them and our hopes are centred in them, we are destined and doomed to despair and to live under a terrible strain. We have got to get out of this, somehow we have got to be above it.
Of course, we shall be touched with the suffering, sorrow and conditions. We shall feel the strain in the realm of our souls, but in the innermost part of our being, in our spirit, we have got to be free from this. We shall never be able to bear our testimony, fulfill our ministry, or be here for God that for which He has chosen us unless we are in that position of spiritual detachment and spiritual elevation above what is happening. We need deliverance; we must have it. When we take up our morning paper and read of disaster after disaster, set-back after set-back, defeat and reverse, we can become involved in it terribly and the shadow be over us for the rest of the day. That will not do, and if things do go from worse to worse, we have got to find a place where still we are outside of it.
Now then, what is it that will secure us there? What will deliver us? It will be the basic and all-governing thought of God. If only I can be assured that God is definitely giving Himself to something, and I can see what that something is and I can have, by the Holy Spirit, the witness in my own being that He is doing that in my case, I am delivered. It is so true that unless you can see that God is doing something and unless you can see something of what God is doing, you are in chaos and you will soon be in despair. That is where the world is. It is indeed without God and without hope in the world.
What is this thought? The words are so familiar, but I believe everything in history from the beginning to the end in relation to the people of God turns upon this one familiar fragment: "Whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).
"Conformed to the image of His Son" - that is the basic, all-governing thought of God where His people are concerned. That is what He has been at work upon from the beginning with His people. That is at the very heart and root of our present experiences, our trial, our suffering. God is at work upon you and upon me with this one thing in view: conformity to the image of His Son. That means many things, it means a great deal. What it means we are not going to stay to consider now, but we take fresh note of it as the underlying, under-girding fact. Going right back before time - foreknown, foreordained; on past time to the 'when time shall be no more' - in realisation conformed to the image of His Son. The verse before verse 28, is just that. God is working all things with us for good, even to those who are called according to His purpose.
What good? What is the good of our suffering, of our trial, of all that we go through? The good is this: that God is reproducing His Son in us, and His Son is His hope and His ultimate glory revealed manifestly in the saints in terms of sonship. It is the hope for the whole creation - "subjected to vanity... in hope". We are travailing in hope. The hope is in God's Son and the hope is the manifestation of that Son in the saints.
Now to bring that down again to very simple terms, go back to the place where, for the time being, the Lord has put you, where He has called you to live your life and do your work in all the trial of it, the difficulty of it, the suffering of it, and do not strain to get out of it. Do not lose the present value of it by always living mentally or hopefully in a time when you will be out of it, but go back there and recognise that if you are the Lord's, if you love God and are called according to purpose (as you are if you are in Christ), God is seeking to do something with you and in you by means of the difficulties and the trials and the sufferings of your present situation, and you only stand to defeat God's end if you try to get out and if you do not recognse what He is trying to do and do not accept it. I can think of few more regrettable and grievous things than that we should look back upon any part of our life and have to say, 'I might have realised some great purpose of God in that period of my life if only I had taken another attitude towards it than the one I did take. I was chafing, trying to get out, impatient. I was all the time looking for a way of escape. I was rebellious, I was living in another mental world of my own creating, a world in which I would do this and that and be this and that; it was another world - and I missed all that God intended at that time!' There can be few things more grievous than that. These things are irreparable.
So we must go back to the place and conditions in which the Lord has placed us with this attitude: God has a thought; that thought relates to me as one of His own and that thought is through the conditions, through the sufferings, to get in me and get developed in me, the features of His Son. On the one hand, the features of that old creation may become more and more terrible, awful, horrible, as I recognise them in myself, but over against that God is doing something which is other than myself, which is not me at all. He is bringing into being Another, altogether other, and that is His Son. This takes place all too slowly; nevertheless something is happening. It is not very much manifested, but it is going to be manifested that sonship, what God has been doing will come out into the light eventually: conformity to the image of His Son: "that He might be the firstborn among many brethren".
So we look upon the people of God in the earth among whom we are included, and we have to adjust our ideas as to why we are here on the earth. There may be things to do, but God is far more concerned with the being than with the doing, and we have got to learn all over again what service is. I am not going to pursue that at the moment, but I would say this: service to God is essentially spiritual. In other words, it is the measure in which Christ Himself is brought into God's universe for His satisfaction, and we know that we can never bring Christ into anyone's life by preaching. Have you not learned that yet? I have, some of you have. Really how much of Christ has resulted from all the conferences you have attended? I am under no delusion or illusion that what I am saying to you can reproduce Christ in you. We may talk to the end of our days, but all our preaching, teaching, talking, is not going to produce Him. We can only help one another in this matter to understand what God is after, what God is seeking to do.
The Holy Spirit as the Indispensable Agent of the Purpose of God
And so we come back to this second thing in relation to purpose in this chapter. There is the thought, there is the purpose, the thing which God has in view, upon which He is at work, but the Holy Spirit is brought in here so definitely and fully as the indispensable agent. "The Spirit... makes intercession... according to God". The words 'the will of God' are in italics; they are not in the original. The Spirit who knows God, God's thoughts, God's mind, is working according to God and working in us. We have received the Spirit of sonship, adoption, by which we cry: Father! We are children of God to be manifested as the sons of God, but all this is because the Holy Spirit is operating, making intercession, groanings which cannot be uttered. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmity"; He comes alongside. He alone can reproduce Christ, conform us to the image of Christ, and yet we have thought that service was preaching, teaching, doing this or that or a hundred and one things. Oh, that is only the vehicle of the Spirit. Let us be undeceived about this matter. You are not going to be one whit better spiritually for attending these meetings unless the Holy Spirit does something. All this may be very true, but your knowing all this will not reach the end of God. We are wrecked upon the Holy Spirit in this matter. That is the place for real exercise over everything that we hear.
The fact is this, that we may advance a long, long way in spiritual knowledge, I mean in information, the knowledge of the truth, beyond our own measure, and then we have the shock, under terrible conditions, of discovering that all that we have accumulated through the years is no good to us. We are right up against things and we have to say, "I have not got the things I thought I had, that I thought I knew; they are not helping me; I am being brought right back to foundations, to beginnings, in my real personal living knowledge of the Lord Himself!" The peril then, of course, is to jettison all the teaching we have had and say that it is a valueless thing. It is not valueless, but we must recognise this, that there is all the difference between knowing the thoughts of God in our minds, having all information and knowledge of that kind, and the Holy Spirit using that in us to accomplish God's ends. Thus we have got to come back with every bit and have very real dealings with the Lord. Our attitude every time must be, 'Oh, Lord, do save me from ever coming to the time when what I have heard proves only to have been a thing heard; make that a basis of Holy Spirit activity to reach the Divine end!'
Now, if you can grasp this, it is going to be great deliverance. Why are the people of God suffering? What is the meaning of our suffering? To be conformed to the image of His Son. Of course, we do not need a world war to do that, but God is going to use all these conditions to that end, and unfortunately, tragically enough, there are multitudes of the Lord's people who do need a world war. They are so bound up with the externalities of Christianity, with its whole structure and system that nothing but that which will overthrow, disintegrate, destroy and raise tremendous questions about that whole business will bring them to the place where the Spirit of God can begin to really do the work which He has come to do in them. So the present world situation has a great bearing upon the purpose of God in the people of God.
I do not want to speak too much about work and service at this time, but we are all conscious that the growing limitations bearing down upon us as those who would serve the Lord, are really very testing. They raise many questions and problems in our minds so far as the fulfilment of what we have thought to be our ministry is concerned. The situation is a very trying one. We have got to look deeper, still more inward, as to God's thought. This is a fact borne out in the case of every servant of God in history who has really come under the hand of God, that the real values of their lives for all time have been the values which correspond to the wine of the grape, the thing trodden out in the winepress, the agony of the heart. And you know that it is true in your case that if ever you have had anything at all that was worthwhile giving, which you knew to be worthwhile and which has really helped someone else, that thing has been born out of some travail in your own experience. You have gone into the winepress, you have gone through an agony to produce that, and it is like that, and that is the nature of real service to God.
How do we know - not have the information but know - how do we know? We only know in that deepest sense by going into a situation where we are stripped of everything in order to prove that one thing, that it shall become our deliverance, our salvation, to know. That is the way in which we learn, and there is no gap whatever between that kind of knowledge and our very being. That knowledge is not objective to ourselves, that knowledge is ourselves, and when we give that, we give ourselves and we cannot stand back from that and say, 'Well, I believed that once, but I do not believe it any longer; I had those ideas, but I have not got them now!' Oh, God could never be satisfied with anything like that. We stand or fall by our knowledge, because true knowledge is life, is being, and it is what God Himself is in us.
Now I think we had better close. I said at the beginning that it would be talking in a general way. I wonder if you grasp the point. What is God doing with His people? Well, He is using all these things which are happening in the case of His own people, primarily to bring about in them that conformity to the image of His Son which is to mean Christ, Christ in manifestation in an elect people. Foreordained because foreknown, for this very thing.
This thought of God is a delivering thought. Now are you tempted to pray at this time for the Lord's people? Well, of course, we are all tempted to pray for their deliverance, we are all tempted to cry to the Lord that they might escape. It may be right at times to pray deliverance for the Lord's people, but suppose the Lord does not deliver. He does not always deliver at once. He allows the situation to continue, to become long-drawn-out. The enemy will encamp upon that fact and give it his own twist and interpretation: "God is not doing anything, God has left His people, God is standing back, God is not concerned!" No answering voice, no sign of God reacting, no slightest indication that He is taking any account at all. It is like that very often, and that is a real playground for the enemy, that fact of God's apparent and seeming inactivity and unconcern, His silence. He makes no response apparently.
How shall we be delivered from going to pieces, from being overwhelmed and destroyed in such a time and under such conditions? Only by the grasping of this thought of God, and we have to begin to pray along other lines. If God does not will to deliver His people, there is a deeper and higher thought and purpose of God than their deliverance and He is at work upon that, and deeply in them He is going to reproduce the patience of Jesus Christ, the endurance of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ - "Father, forgive them".
If you go right over the whole ground of God's Son perfected through sufferings and can read your gospels anew and understand Him as He differs so utterly from the standards of men; if you can understand Him, you can see what God is doing with you, with me, with His people. Meekness and gentleness - these are foreign things to our natures; under stress, under adversity, under the cruel hand of tyrannical men, to say, 'Father, forgive'. The image of His Son and the very acceptance of those conditions is a terrible challenge to our natures and dispositions. Our whole nature revolts against meekness and lowliness. Our natures want to rise up and be even with the other one, or be the master of the situation, to come out best. Our nature does not accept opposition, antagonism, frustration, persecution and such things; it does not delight in them, but He was meek and lowly in heart.
But think - and oh, this is the marvel of the crucifixion, the marvel of Christ in Pilate's hall and before the High Priest - think again: spat upon, mocked, struck, in every way degraded, and that is almighty and infinite God incarnate who, with the parting of His lips, the silent lifting of His hand, could have smitten that crowd out of existence. The centurion was right; when the centurion saw what had happened, he was filled with fear and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
We have heard of people suddenly discovering awful mistakes and dying of heart failure on the spot - the awful shock of the mistake they had made. You see Him there and you think of the shock that has got to come yet to those who did it - to see Him. You can understand something of the power of revolution in Saul of Tarsus, he who knew all about what had happened in Jerusalem, seeing Him! "I am Jesus!" Seeing Him in a brightness above that of the noonday sun.
But my point is this, the Son of God accepted all that, endured all that, put up with it, going through to the bitter end, letting them hammer nails through His body, fixing Him to the cross, with all the deriding, "He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He said He was the Son of God, then let God deliver Him!" And He did not stir a finger or utter a word when twelve legions of angels were standing there ready. If one angel could smite the host of Sennacherib, what would twelve legions do? That is meekness and lowliness of heart, and that is what God is trying to do with us. That is the thought of God, that is going to be glory in God's universe, that is going to make a world worth living in; that is going to be the nature of a universe that will be bearable. God does that in us, and so the portion we read finds early in it these words:
"I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."