Reading: Rev. 5:1-14; 7:9-17.
In these chapters in the book of the Revelation we have the final summing up of all things. The universe is represented as gathered and as concerned, and in this final great summing up of everything we find right at the centre that which speaks of the Cross, the Cross central and universal in its significance. It is not only found there at the end, for here we see things according to God's mind as from the beginning; and wherever we look in the Word of God we shall find that the Cross occupies that place.
The Cross Basic to Everything
If we look back to that wonderful symbolical system in the tabernacle, we shall find the Cross there at the centre and at the circumference. The Cross is everywhere. At the heart of things there is the mercy seat, blood sprinkled; all vessels, all curtains, everything, from the inner sanctuary to the outer gate, all coming under the power of the Cross, sprinkled with blood. The same is still true when we pass on to the temple, and then when we move from that to the antitype Himself. If what we were saying in a previous meditation is true, that the birth of the Lord Jesus took place about the time of the feast of the Passover, then we find that His very birth is the introduction of the Lamb, and He is the centre of all interest. The shepherds caring for Paschal lambs leave the flocks and come to the Lamb. Kings or wise men, whatever they were, from far off come to Him. Earth is interested, heaven is interested, the angels are looking on; and hell too is interested, as is very clearly seen by Herod's reaction. We pass to the day when John proclaimed Him to the Passover multitudes as "the Lamb of God who beareth away the sin of the world", and again the Lamb is central to the universe. Heaven is opened and takes account of Him, and it is not long again before hell lets it be known that it too is concerned; for immediately there was the encounter with Satan himself in the wilderness. Then we move on through His life on earth and we have to realize that He is the focal point of the universe until He reaches the Cross: and it is quite clear that He is the centre of things there. Jews and Gentiles are there, heaven and the angels; and hell and the Devil are there, for it is the hour of the power of darkness. And here at the end in the Revelation, all that is in heaven, in earth and under the earth is gathered; archangels and angels, men out of every tribe and tongue and nation, all gathered here, and, at the centre, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. So then, the Cross is the centre of everything and it is concerning that centrality and that universality that I have felt very exercised that the Lord wants a fresh consideration.
When we speak much about the Cross, it must never be thought that the Cross is some specific line of truth or teaching, so that we compare it with other lines of truth and say, There is this line and there is that line, there is this particular doctrine and that particular doctrine; some emphasize the Cross, some emphasize sanctification, some emphasize the Holy Spirit, and so on. If we did that, we should miss our way altogether. The Cross is not a "line of truth": it is the very hub of all revelation. All other things issue from the Cross and lead back to the Cross. It is the heart of things. Of course, when we speak of the Cross we could use other terms. We could speak of Christ crucified; and that indeed is what we mean. We could speak of the death of Christ: that is involved and implied. When we speak of the Cross, we mean every aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus in His redemptive activity. It all centres in and issues from the Cross.
The Two Sides of the Cross
A word about the two sides of the Cross, the objective and the subjective. These two sides must be maintained in perfect balance. We must not give a greater importance to either over the other. It is possible to give an undue weight to either. In the main, evangelical Christianity has today and through the centuries placed the emphasis upon the objective side of the Cross. The reaction to that, by reason of the recognition of the tremendous importance of the other side, may carry with it the danger of an over-emphasis there, and I do want, very earnestly and faithfully, to stress the importance of the balance of these two things. I believe that, so far as we are concerned, the Lord has given us the ministry of recovering the lost, or very largely lost, message of the subjective side of the Cross, but I recognize that can be mischievous if it is taken out of its right relation to the objective side and can do a great deal of harm.
(a) The Objective Aspect
The objective side of the Cross is the very anchorage of faith. There we have the whole ground of our position, and there is no value whatever on the subjective side for us until the objective has been thoroughly established. In the first place, position is a matter solely and simply of faith in what has been done for us, and everything has been done for us in the Cross of the Lord Jesus. Altogether without our being able to contribute one iota to that work, it has been carried through in perfection for us. I am not going to stay with the objective side, but I do want to get that settled. As I have said, it settles the whole question of our position through faith. It would be a fatal thing for me to pass on to deal with the subjective side of the Cross until you are absolutely established on this matter of position. It is a most dangerous thing for anybody to be brought to the other side and faced with it until their faith is established and their anchorage of faith is fastened in the objective work of Christ in His Cross. We can never move from that - nor must we. That will be the ground upon which we shall be challenged right up to the end. Really our battleground is not that of the subjective work of the Cross, but of the objective. The whole purpose of the enemy's assault is to rob us of that initial and fundamental assurance as to our standing, as to our position, as to our acceptance, as to our relationship with the Lord. I think we know that, but I do with all my heart lay emphasis upon the necessity for every child of God being perfectly settled and certain concerning what the Lord has done for us as an all-sufficient work, carrying right through to the point where we are, despite our condition, through faith reckoned righteous, and to have such assurance about it that, with every fresh assault of the enemy, we are able to say that he cannot lay a charge at the door of God's elect. He cannot; not because we are perfect; but because of a perfect One who satisfies God for us.
(b) The Subjective Aspect
But then there is the other side. You might think that the objective side is enough. But it is not enough. It is enough for acceptance, it is sufficient for standing, for position, but it is afterward the ground upon which God proceeds to deal with us, and the subjective side of the Cross has to do, not with our position, but with our condition. The objective side is related to our being in Christ, encircled by Christ, Christ encompassed, our being seen only in Him through faith: the subjective side of the Cross has to do with Christ in us, and with the making good in us of what has already been made good in Him. The objective side has to to with what Christ is in Himself - and never let us cease to contemplate Him in what He is in Himself for us to God, from God to us - the subjective side has to do with what we are and what we are to be.
The Cross is a fact perfectly established. It is an established fact, an accomplished fact, an achieved fact, an end reached, a work perfected, something which is settled for ever in heaven. In that Cross, God has reached His end. The Lamb will never be more in the midst of the throne than He is now. "Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet" is something which has been said, and obtains at this moment. But the Cross is not only a fact perfectly established, the Cross is an experience, with a crisis and a process, a crisis out of which a process rises. The Cross is a basis of operations, and it is also the instrument by which those operations are carried on. The Cross represents something that God has done, but it also represents what God is going to do. He proceeds and takes up His progressive work in us on the basis of His perfected work in His Son. That is simple: but remember these things, bear them in mind. So then, the Cross, as we have seen in our previous meditations, is the zero mark of the creation, an end with a new beginning.
So, beloved, what we have in our hearts as we speak is not to give the technique, the doctrine, the teaching about the Cross merely. We have very practical things in mind. The whole question of our spiritual life, growth, development, measure, is bound up with this matter. We are constantly distressed by the slowness of our spiritual progress, the smallness of our spiritual capacity. We are troubled about ourselves in these matters, and those of us who have responsibility for others are very much troubled at times because of their spiritual poverty and smallness. On the one hand, there is a largeness which is not spiritual largeness, and it is always getting in the way. It may take the form of activity, of doing, or it may be that of assumption, knowing everything and being unteachable, a strength of position; but we know that it is not spiritual measure, not real spiritual measure and value, and it is something which holds the ground in the place of the Lord Jesus Himself. On the other hand, there is the foolishness, the numerous unwise things, the doing of silly things in the Lord's matters, and there is that side of things in what is so small and limited, and it causes a lot of trouble and a lot of heart exercise and heart burning. The whole matter is one of retarded spiritual growth, and the limited measure of real knowledge of the Lord.
One thing which marks that whole realm, whatever aspect may be presented, is a failure in real inward knowledge of, and walk with, the Lord. Well, this is a very practical question. It is a good subject for a workers' conference, and we want to know what is the cause of this state. Why are so few people really spiritually trustworthy so that you can count on them, to whom you can go and be sure that you will get some spiritual judgment, and understanding? Why? Well, countless questions like that could be asked. We are dealing with the whole range of spiritual defectiveness. We are not speaking about that quite legitimate spiritual infancy where you have no right to expect very much that is mature. But we must rule out the time factor, even in that. Do not let us think of spiritual maturity in terms of time, of years. It is marvellous how one almost a babe in his or her relationship with the Lord, in the matter of time, can begin to teach others so early in a really spiritual way. They have leapt into things while others who, so far as time is concerned, have been long, long on the road, are still unable to give a real quota of spiritual value. We want to know why this is. We are all concerned with the matter of spiritual growth, coming to fullness and being of real value to the Lord.
Now that lies behind our present meditation, and I believe, beloved, that spiritual growth hinges upon the question of the subjective side of the Cross. Of course, if the problem be one of continuous breakdown in regard to position, there is something wrong with the acceptance of the objective side of the Cross. If you can never be sure as to whether people are going to be found in faith, then it is time that the matter of position was dealt with and settled once for all; but when it comes to a matter of growth and really positive value to the Lord, then it is a question of the subjective side of the Cross.
The Cross the Zero Mark of the Old Creation
There are some things that have to be settled, and the very first thing that has to be settled for everyone of us, as rooted in the Cross of the Lord Jesus, is man's complete incapacitation. The sooner we come to recognize that in our hearts, the better it will be for us. It is written in that Cross with letters for all to see, that man by nature, so far as the things of God are concerned, is utterly incapacitated; that is, he has lost his capacity for the things of God, he has not that in him which makes it possible for him to enter livingly into the realm of the things of God. That may seem to you to be a simple or elementary thing to say, but I tell you that is a very, very serious and great matter. There has taken place a universal injury in man's being; throughout his whole being from centre to circumference he is injured, and by that injury is completely ruled out of any place in the things of God.
In the matter of knowing, man not only does not, but cannot know the things of the Spirit of God. Beloved, in you and in me, until the Cross has become an experience, there is no faculty, no capacity, no ability for knowing anything about the things of God. Of course, that at once raises the question of the nature of spiritual knowledge. Oh, of course, we can know the Bible and all that the Bible contains. We can become familiar with the whole range of Biblical truth and doctrine and interpretation and know it all in that kind of way. But when we have exhausted it throughout a long life of application like that, we may still be without the very first glimmer of spiritual knowledge. That is a tremendous thing to say, but it is a fact, or the Word of God is not true. "Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God... he cannot know them" (1 Cor. 2:14). That is the word. Man is utterly incapacitated by nature so far as spiritual knowledge is concerned; and what is true in the matter of knowledge, is true in every other connection. If he cannot know, he certainly cannot do the things of God. He cannot work the works of God. No, in every way and connection man is incapacitated. So that, for the smallest fragment of really living spiritual knowledge in any direction whatever, there has to be a miracle.
What is a miracle? A miracle is that which transcends the ordinary operation of nature. A miracle is something supernatural, and there has to be a miracle for the first glimmer of real spiritual knowledge. It was that which drew out that spontaneous exclamation of the Lord when Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." That, as you know, stood over against His interrogation, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" And men were guessing, men were giving their opinions, their judgment, their reasoned conclusions, the result of their observations. The Lord says, 'Blessed art thou, Simon: flesh and blood is not the medium of that revelation, but My Father which is in heaven'.
Now, beloved, it is a very important thing for us to get down to this matter of the nature of our knowledge. I am going to ask you, How do you know what you think you know about the things of the Lord? How do you know? Were you brought up to believe that, were you taught that in childhood? Have you come by that by going to meetings, by reading your Bible, by the general system of Christian instruction, information, impartation, education? How do you know? If you were challenged on any one point, how would you account for your belief or knowledge? It is not an unimportant thing to sit down with this inquiry, because there are multitudes of people whose heads are full of things, and who are not counting one little bit with their knowledge. Their knowledge does not mean anything. You see, when you have got it all, that whole universe of information, the fact still remains that by nature you are incapacitated, you "cannot." Yes, the very first glimmer of spiritual knowledge comes by revelation and only that which comes by revelation is living, is potent, is fruitful and effectual. That is true. Oh, I would appeal to you to be careful what you take on in the way of teaching. I would not ask you to adopt an attitude of questioning everything, and much less of suspecting everything, projecting your head into everything, but I would appeal to you to take everything before the Lord and say: Lord, that may be true; as far as I can see, it is true. I am ready to believe that it is true, but that has to come into my heart with the quickening power of the Holy Spirit and become a living thing in me as revealed, and not merely as something said or taught, proclaimed or believed by others; that has to become my own personal revelation. Oh, if everybody had all they have got on that basis, what a difference there would be!
Well now, our present point is this, that the zero mark of this creation seen in the Cross of the Lord Jesus declares that we have no capacity whatever by nature. The sooner we recognize that, the better. Really, beloved, in the realm of God's things, we are fools all of us, utter fools. If we go on long enough with the Lord, we shall know it, and we shall abominate our own foolish talk about the things of God. We are fools. Now, we can get down and use these natural abilities of ours, whether they be very small or seemingly of some consequence, and we can give out the results of our study, investigation and research on Divine things, on the Word of God, and accumulate a great deal; but I want to say to you that our brains are worthless in this matter. The brain will only be a vehicle, a channel, never a means of discovery. Remember that! The very best human brain is never an instrument or means of discovery of anything Divine. It cannot. Its use will simply be as a channel through which revelation will pass for our intelligence as human beings and as intelligent presentation to others. The brain is not the seat of revelation at all: the brain is not the seat of spiritual knowledge. So we can use the little brains that we have until they have exploded and we have got nowhere!
The Test of the Cross
The Cross is, in every matter, a new beginning. As it is the end and says that the old creation at its very best cannot get through, cannot get on in the things of the Spirit of God, it also says, A new beginning is here! You see, the Cross becomes the test. It is the test of all authority. It is the test of all experience; the test of all authority and experience is as to whether the Cross has been a crisic inward thing. When something is given authoritatively, that is, given out as from one who claims to have authority, I want to know the basis of that authority. By what authority do you speak? When anyone speaks to me about an experience they have had, that is not enough for me. Oh, do not be caught by people's experiences. The most dangerous thing is for you to take on other people's experiences and say you would like to have their experience. Multitudes of people have been swept away by experiences of others. I know people who have been all their lives praying, praying, praying for someone else's experience. Now, when an experience is spoken of and set forth, that is not enough. We want to know what is the basis of that experience. We want to test that experience as we want to test that authority, and the test of all authority or experience is here, namely, whether the Cross has in this or that case been a definite crisic experience and become a living power.
You can have experiences, tremendous experiences, an almost perfect counterfeit of Divine things rising out of your own soul life: and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I lay special stress upon that fearfulness. The more we know about ourselves, the more terrible we realize we are. It is not too strong to say that. We are terrible beings, in the sense that the capacities of these human souls, of this psychic nature, carry us out into realms of experience, of phenomena, of practice, of influence and even achievement - oh, it is a terrible thing. And we can have experiences that we might call - it is not meant as a judgment or a criticism - "Pentecostal experiences," and I want to know whether that has sprung out of the work of the Cross planted deeply in that strong psychic life, and if not, I repudiate the experience.
The only safe ground of experience is that you are crucified to your own soul, that the Cross has been planted in the centre of all your psychic capabilities. Romans 6 is essential to Romans 8. Experience and authority must be tested by the same instrument, by the same means. You speak with authority, you make a declaration, you affirm this: now I want to know whether that is the strength of your conviction or whether it springs out of experience which is the fruit of your being a crucified man. The strength of affirmation, the claim to know something, must be tested, and I want to look behind the authority and behind the experience, and say, Am I dealing with a really crucified man or woman? Does that man, that woman, know the Cross really and truly over against the natural life, the soul life: strength of mind, strength of will, strength of emotion. The test of everything is the Cross. That is the negative side, I know, but it is important that we should recognize once for all that in the Cross we have been cut off from that realm.
Now the subjective side means that God is going to work back to His zero point, so far as all we are by nature is concerned. The objective side is that we have accepted that once for all. Objectively we have said, Christ is my only hope! Christ is my only righteousness! Christ and Christ only is my salvation! There is none in myself! Well, objectively, we are accepted on that ground of what He is for us unto God by His Cross. But then the Holy Spirit begins on that ground to deal with us and to work backward to God's zero point in the Cross, and the experience of every believer who is truly governed of the Holy Spirit is this, that the longer they go on and the further they go with the Lord, the further they go back. Their advance in one sense is balanced by retreat in another. That is to say, all the time they realize that they are being brought more and more to zero, that their own powers consciously count for less and less. To put that positively, they are more and more dependent upon the Lord for everything. But that is simply bringing us back to our starting point. The Holy Spirit has not come to undercut our position, our acceptance, but to make it good in our experience, that what is true in Christ shall be true in us, that the Lamb's wife, as we have put it, shall be conformed to the Lamb, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
We have been on the negative side almost entirely, but we shall not get anywhere until that is settled. It is an almost appalling thing to contemplate the situation today. In the light of that, if that is true, we might despair if we look out. Nevertheless, beloved, the test will come to every life sooner or later. It will come to the whole of Christendom sooner or later, and the test will come on this very ground. Questions will arise all around. After all, what has been the proportion of our spiritual effectiveness and fruitfulness? After all, what is going to stand through all the test? Questions will arise in all directions as to the genuineness and reality of the work of God, the knowledge which believers have. There must come, whether the Church goes into the great tribulation or not - we will not discuss that - but there must come in the very ordering of God a situation where the foundations of God's people are tested, the foundation of their knowledge of Him. Thus it becomes a critical matter as to the nature of their knowledge of the Lord, whether really it is personal, experimental knowledge or whether it is information. The work in which they have been engaged, what has it been? Has it really been a case of God doing the work, or a thousand and one self-propagated things entered upon in the Name of the Lord? It is going to be tested. It must be tested. Every man's work shall be tried. That is the declaration of God's Word - "the fire... shall prove each man's work of what sort it is."
The Need for a Positive Attitude to our High Calling
Well now, if that is true, I think we can contemplate rather an appalling result over a very large area. And I would say this to you, that we must rule out all that sinister, evil, half-formed suggestion of the optional about these things. We must take positive ground. The Lord Jesus always sought to bring His disciples on to positive ground. "If any man love me, he will keep my commandments." - "If any man love me..." In saying that, He was only saying in other words, 'If a man really does not love, he will be looking round for second lines, for ways out. If a man really does not love Me, he will be saying, Is it really necessary? If a man love Me, he will not say, Is it necessary? He will say, Has the Lord said it? Is that the Lord's mind? Has the Lord given any indication that that is what He would desire?' The one who loves will always be found taking the positive line; not, Must I? Is it necessary? Cannot I get through without that?
Now, that is the test. And the point for us is this. Not to be like those who say, "Well, there are so many multitudes of good Christian people who do not accept it: they know the Lord; they are blessed, they are used"; and all the rest of it. Do not come on to that ground. That is not good enough, beloved. There were two-and-a-half tribes of Israel who refused to go over Jordan, who said, "Bring us not over this Jordan", although the Lord's mind had been made perfectly clear that all Israel should go over Jordan. Well, they got blessing; they had pastures at the other side of Jordan. Yes, they had a fair position. Do not be mistaken. Do not think that if you are not going right on with the revealed thought of God, He is going to be spiteful. That is not God. No, He will give you a good time. But the two-and-a-half tribes lost in the end. They were the first to go into captivity. They were out of the full will of God; and that means something. We have to come on to positive ground. "If any man love me..." Is this God's full thought, then love for the Lord Himself means that I can accept nothing less. I will go all the way. My attitude for one dearly loved is, How much can I do? How far has that one expressed a thought to which I can conform? That is the response of love, that is the positive ground. And I say to you that you can have something less than this if you like, and you can have blessing; but it is what ultimately ranks that matters, is it not?