Message given on July 21, 1966
Lord, Thou who readeth all hearts, knowest how reticent we are to add words... Thou hast spoken, and Thou hast spoken more than we can carry out in a lifetime. Why more? And so our need is very real, great - a matter now of capacity, God-given, to receive, to be able to receive. Oh Lord, help us at this time, in this very real need, to speak, to hear, to further profit. Grant us this help oh Lord, grant us Thy help at this time, for Thy Name's sake. Amen.
We remind ourselves of the words which are governing our gathering together at this time, round the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1 [should be 3], verse 8; the phrase: "the unsearchable riches of Christ". The last clause of what we said yesterday morning was we are going to be occupied with some of these "unsearchable riches" of Christ.
Probably you know that in this letter, where these words are found, that word "riches" is related to quite a number of things. The riches of His grace, the riches of His glory, the riches of His wisdom, the riches of His inheritance in the saints, the riches of full assurance of understanding, and so on. This is a vast land, full of mines of wealth, wealth of all these kinds. We shall never exhaust that, even if we stayed here a very long time. But we just go on as the Lord enables and this morning we take up again what was before us with our brother last evening, only perhaps to present it in a little different way, not to improve upon by any means - take from or add to - but it seems the Lord wants to underline this, the first of these connections - "the riches of His grace". That is in the seventh verse, as you notice, of the first chapter of the letter.
Now, to help us in this occupation we are going to take our position at the summit of Old Testament fulness. That summit was reached, as you know, with Solomon. I would like that you should look at one or two fragments in the first book of the Chronicles. First book of the Chronicles, chapter 28: "And David assembled all the princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies that served the king by course, and the captains of thousands, and the captains of hundreds, and the rulers over all the substance and possessions of the king and of his sons, with the officers, and the mighty men, even all the mighty men of valour, unto Jerusalem. Then David the king stood up upon his feet, and said, 'Hear me, my brethren, and my people: as for me, it was in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God; and I had made ready for the building. But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build a house for My name, because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood. Howbeit the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me out of all the house of my father to be king over Israel for ever: for He hath chosen Judah to be prince; and in the house of Judah, the house of my father; and among the sons of my father He took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel; and of all my sons (for the Lord hath given me many sons), He hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. And He said unto me, Solomon thy son, he shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be My son, and I will be his father'".
Chapter 29 and verse 25: "And then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord".
In the second book of the Chronicles, and chapter 1, "And Solomon the son of David was strengthened in his kingdom, and the Lord his God was with him, and magnified him exceedingly".
We have said that the summit of Old Testament fulness of glory was reached in Solomon. And we shall find that Solomon will lead us to Christ and then Solomon will exit, and pass out of view when the 'Greater than Solomon' is here. Solomon's wealth, and wisdom, and glory, and heritage are, of course, proverbial and fabulous, renowned and far-famed. He does represent the zenith of kingship and glory in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself acknowledged the greatness of Solomon on two occasions - do you remember? He pointed to the flowers of the field and said, "Consider the lilies, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these" - Solomon in all his glory! It was proverbial, even in those days, and Jesus Himself acknowledged it.
On another occasion He said, "The queen of the south will rise up in judgement against this generation for she came from a far country to Solomon to consult him concerning his wisdom...", with her hard questions - acknowledging the great place that Solomon had in the world of wisdom. But then Jesus added, after that: "Solomon in all his glory... Solomon in all his wisdom... but a greater than Solomon is here." Solomon fades when Jesus arrives.
The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
We have then to consider how in these various respects Jesus is greater than Solomon. One thing that we have been saying and that is in our hearts about this time together is our great need of a new apprehension of the Lord Jesus to adjust everything for us. But there are two preliminary matters before we can proceed in this matter.
Why did God magnify Solomon? For it says the Lord magnified Solomon above all that had been before him. The Lord endowed upon Solomon this fabulous proverbial greatness of wealth, dominion, and wisdom. Why did He do it? You've had that explained to you already this morning: God from eternity has only one Person in view and that Person was not Solomon, or any other one, but His Son. And if the Lord so magnified Solomon, it was to bring His Son - the still greater - into view through the greatest thing that He could do here on this earth, to lead on to the much greater, of the heavenly One. God had His Son in view, the other One, the greater than Solomon. And that's why He did it.
I wish Solomon had known this; it would have saved him a great deal of historic tragedy. If he saw that, really saw that, all these tragedies of which we have been reminded, the mistakes and blunders that we make, as Solomon did later, they would be obviated if this One, this only One, were ever-filling our vision.
All the wonderful things that God said, seemingly about Solomon (and we have no time to look at them) could never possibly have been fulfilled in Solomon himself. It is quite beyond Solomon. God is reaching beyond this man in the things that He said seemingly about him and to him. And you have to pick up your New Testament in order to discover that that was true. Well, we may come on that as we go on, but the point is that we must not see Solomon as just the end in himself. We must look through him to Another and see that God in His Sovereignty magnified and glorified this Solomon, only with another One in view that in the long run we should stand aghast when we see the greater than Solomon, greater than the greatest that God has ever done on this earth.
Another thing we must remember in this preliminary consideration is that Solomon was not really himself. That sounds strange and mysterious, and you may ask: What do you mean? Well, I mean this. Solomon was his father David; Solomon was the fulness of his father David. And you can never see Solomon without seeing David. It was not so much the person, as the significance of the person that is present in contemplating Solomon.
When you turn to the New Testament, Solomon is only referred to at most a half a dozen times, almost in a casual way. But in the New Testament you will find David referred to in a very positive way over thirty times. The father eclipses the son; the son is but the fulness of the father. That is a statement that you must dwell upon, of course, to verify it.
You open your New Testament with the first book, the gospel by Matthew, and you find you haven't read a few words before you come across David. David comes there in that place of priority right at the beginning of your New Testament. You go through your New Testament and as I have said, more than thirty times you will find yourself with David. And right at the last book, the twenty-second chapter of the book of the Revelation, David crops up again. This man is something very wonderful, very full, and has a very large place. And there is one clause in Isaiah 55 and repeated in the New Testament which defines this as "the sure mercies of David". Oh, to be able to plumb the depths of that! But even this morning we shall see a little of that.
The sure mercies of David - all that pertains to Solomon was the sure mercies of David. That brings us to the first of the greatnesses, the first of the unsearchable riches of Christ, the first in Ephesians and everywhere and always:
The Riches of His Grace.
Do you see the riches of His grace as conveyed to us by Solomon? Having seen the great evidence of glory, of wealth and wisdom, to which God brought this man Solomon, we have to look to see where it all began. Where did all that begin? And there is a very dark background indeed to Solomon's birth and Solomon's life. A dark background.
We have said that Solomon was the fulness of his father David. Solomon was the son of David's old age. Solomon was not the oldest son. We read: "God has given me many sons." And we know some of them, we know some of them and one in particular, Absalom. Solomon was the son of David's old age. And it was an old age full of shadows, the shadows of tragedy, of sorrow, of great mistakes.
Solomon was related to the darkest clouds in David's life. We know the story, the story of David's great sin. The sin with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, of David relaxing wrongly when kings go out to battle. At the time when kings go out to battle he went out onto the housetop. There are relaxations which are very dangerous. And from the housetop he espied that beautiful woman, Bathsheba, and coveted her and his passions rose and he said, 'I must have her.' And passion is a very, very fertile thing, you know, in evil. And so he schemed to get her.
You know the rest of the story, how he planned and plotted to get her husband, Uriah, in the forefront of the battle and then told the other fighters to retire and leave him alone to the enemy, which they did. Poor Uriah was left and slain according to David's pre-calculated design. And they came back to David and told him, 'It succeeded, Uriah is dead.' And David sent for Bathsheba, and took her. And the child born of that iniquitous union was stricken by God, languished for days and then died. And Nathan the prophet went to David with a message from God and wrapped it up in a parable about something that had happened in the city. And he painted it in such lurid pictures that David arose in anger, in wrath, fiercely and he said, "That man who has done such a thing shall die!" Nathan turned and said, "Thou art the man." Nathan brought home the accusation, the judgement of God in smashing, crushing blows. "But David, thou shalt not die..." you will see the point of that in a moment. "But thou shalt not die." The depth and the greatness of David's sin is seen in those terrible confessions, heartbrokenness, and sorrow.
You have got to look at the Psalms that are touched here and there with this. Take Psalm 32, where we have a bit of it, in verse 5: "I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid; I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord." Now leave it there for the minute.
Psalm 38, verse 18: "For I will declare mine iniquities; I will be sorry for my sin." And then a whole psalm, Psalm 51, one of the most terrible bits of literature in existence, chapter 1: "Have mercy...". Note what is the heading of this psalm: "A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgression and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Thy sight." And so the whole psalm goes on, which we will not read, but one fragment: "Deliver me, O God, from blood-guiltiness." Here we are: broken-hearted, penitent, standing at God's tribunal, pleading for mercy; full of self-condemnation, a conscience stained, stained with iniquity. And God says, "Turn away from your sin." A desolation of heart.
He cried, "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation." "Have mercy upon me." And he had sinned the sin which put him beyond the pale of the virtue of all the Levitical sacrifices. You read the sacrifices and their conditions; they do not cover this thing. They make no provision for this. Even the cities of refuge, provided for the manslayer, would not take in David, because the manslayer who found refuge there was the man who had caused someone to die inadvertently, without premeditation, by accident. Alright, there's provision for him. The man who had premeditated that, schemed, and brought about it all, the city of refuge has no place for him. No sacrifices are provided for him.
Therefore, in this Psalm 51, David says, "Sacrifice and offerings, and burnt offerings Thou desirest not". "It's no good, I haven't any. I'm out of the pale of all the sacrifices and their virtues". Blood-guiltiness by premeditation. Oh, how far this man has gone! How great was his culpability! No wonder his conscience makes him cry out like this. Uriah's death, murder it is, lies at David's door. A little innocent babe's death, lies at his door. What are you going to do with that? What are you going to do with a man like that? What are you going to do when he's like that? It is outside the pale of all God's prescribing. What answer have we got to this? How can this man escape? How can glory be the end of that? There's only one answer and there is an answer: grace. Grace: it goes beyond all limits.
David is the greatest Old Testament example of pardon through grace. Remember that. That's why he is brought into view so much and that is the meaning of the sure mercies of David... of David! The unsearchable riches of His grace. And Solomon gathered into himself all that meaning of Divine grace - what grace can do in relation to a situation like that and how glory, glory can follow grace.
The glory of His grace is a phrase in Ephesians. It is glory; it is deep. My, how deep, how deep! You ask, "Can there be anything greater, a greater demonstration of grace than that towards David?" - represented in a temporal way in Solomon, and underline that word temporal. Can there be anything greater than that? Is there greater grace than that represented by Solomon? Oh yes, a greater than Solomon is here. As Son of Man, God came, God's Son came into the inky darkness and blackness of the sin of the whole race. Now that one Man bore the judgement of that sin upon the whole race and brought God's infinite grace to the world. To the world!
Look again at that cross on Calvary's hill. Take another look and listen, listen to that bitter, heartbroken cry, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?", the words embracing all time and eternity: forsaken, forsaken. David may have tasted something of that, of one man.
Dear friends, when you look at that Cross and hear that cry, you touch the deepest, deepest depth of human tragedy. That is, that the race, but for the grace of God, is God-forsaken eternally. If you have ever tasted a deep, deep sorrow within the compass of human capacity, you know that in that hour of darkness it's like an eternity. It is only a moment literally. It is like an eternity. It seems that everything for ever has been touched. In the moment when Jesus cried, He touched the eternity of man's destiny in or outside of God: forsaken. Forsaken. That cry with that word 'forsaken' is the measure of human depravity.
We have yet to feel the tremendous impact of the Cross in this sense if Jesus had not done it there for us; we are eternally forsaken of God; the face of God is turned away. The blackness and darkness of eternal doom rests upon the race but for the Cross of Jesus Christ and what He has done there. Forsaken, forsaken! Have you ever tasted the slightest, the slightest drop of that? Oh yes, it's possible, even in our Christian life, our spiritual life.
I confess that there have been times when I have wondered if the Lord had gone out of my universe, if He really was alive, yes, and if He hadn't forgotten me. And I have cried, "Has the Lord forgotten to be gracious?", as though the Lord had gone. Gone; I can't find Him. I prayed, but I can't touch Him. And a little experience like that isn't God-forsakenness. Thank God, it never is, for He said, "I never will forsake you", but a little consciousness of the remoteness of the Lord from us, is the last experience of tragedy in our lives. Oh, it's the most awful thing to have to go for a little while without the realisation of the Lord, to be groping for the Lord and not finding him, like Job, the righteous man, "If I go on the right hand He is not there, or on the left, He is not there. I go forward, He's not there. Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!" Have you had any experience at all like that? Well, I don't want you to have it, if you haven't, don't covet it. But some of you may just know a day, or a few days or more when, 'Oh, where is the Lord, where is the Lord?' It may be the Lord lets us know something like that to bring us into the fellowship of His sufferings, to make us understand how great a thing He has done for us. For the Lord does not believe in theories and doctrines. The Lord is very practical; experience is His tool. He will teach us, He will teach us with that heavy, heavy tool.
Yes, a greater than Solomon or David is here. That's it. He is. He came, He touched the deepest depths of human depravity which are found in that word 'forsaken'. Forsaken! Anybody who doesn't believe in the depravity of human nature, and a total depravity, has not yet seen the Cross of the Lord Jesus, seen us there, forsaken of God, on the one side.
Yes, grace reaches the deepest point of human tragedies. That is, man's forsakenness but for Christ. That is it. Grace! What a word this is! Solomon, in all his glory, is born out of that inherent iniquity, judgement, outside of the pale of Levitical position, all his glory coming out of that. Now: grace. What are you going to say about it? What word is there to explain it? Only this word: grace. We could go round that word for all time and all eternity.
J. H. Jowett, who was one of the greatest speakers of the last century, said this: "There is a word I have wrestled with so much, no word with which I have wrestled more than this word: 'grace'. It is like expressing a great American forest in a word. No phrase can express the meaning of grace. Grace is more than mercy. It is more than tender mercy. It is more than a multitude of tender mercies. Grace is more than love. It is more than innocent love. Grace is holy love. But it is holy love in spontaneous going out in eager quest for the unholy and the unlovely. It is the ministry of a great sacrifice to redeem the unholy and the unlovely into the beauty of God. The grace of God is holy love on the move, to thee and to me and the like of me and thee. It is God, unmerited, undeserved, going out toward the children of men that He might win them into the glory and brightness of His own likeness."
Well, that's an attempt, an attempt to define this word, 'grace'. Was Paul not right in speaking of the unsearchable riches of grace? And Paul knew what he was talking about, as we were reminded last night, there was a background to this man's life. "I am not worthy," said he, "to be called an apostle. I persecuted the church". And on bended knee before the Lord, the Lord was showing him His grace and His mercy. He said, "Lord, when Your servant, Stephen, was martyred, I was there giving my consent. What ground have I for apostleship? What ground have I to be anything at all? My hands are stained with bloodguiltiness, all premeditated, designed, and enacted with terrific force. How dare I look up into Your face? I'll either be a disciple, a child of God, to say nothing of being an apostle! But unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ." If you can't comprehend it, may the Lord register the impression of it.
How easily, with fragile words do we repeat "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" - we speak it. Oh Lord, challenge us with that word, lift us with that word, save us with that word. Can we dare, can we dare to say, glorify that word? Oh, if all the words are forgotten, and our human efforts to convey it fail entirely, leave the impression that the grace, the grace of God is indeed the greatest thing in this universe for humans such as we are. We commit it to Thee. Oh, give us to glory in Thy grace. For Thy Name's sake. Amen.