Face To Face
How finely the voice from heaven varies its tone
in the story of Saul's conversion, as given to us in Acts 9! When
it challenges the persecutor, how peremptory it is! how loudly
it speaks! When it addresses itself to the disciple (Ananias),
how it approaches him as with the accents of a well-known voice,
and in the style of full personal intimacy! When it rebukes the
servant (this same Ananias), how decisive! and yet giving witness
that love was undisturbed, unchanged, because the rebuked servant
was still, and immediately put into further service as one trusted
Precious are these various ways of Him with whom
we have to do. How ought we to trust the One whose love can thus
array itself in these its different suits and styles! He will
challenge us when our condition demands it; rebuke us, or speak
intimately to us; and His love approves itself equally in each,
for our good and blessing is the end proposed and accomplished.
And man, under the drawing and teaching of the
Spirit, answers this voice in beauty and fitness also. The persecutor
fell under it at once. He could not but do so. It was as Adam
behind the trees of the garden. Saul could not help calling Jesus
"Lord" at that moment. It was the necessary utterance
of one in such a condition. But as this one is led of God, he
follows in beauty and fitness. I mean this: when called by the
voice from the glory that had laid the sentence of death in him,
to arise and stand on his feet, he did so, and appears from that
moment as one separated to that voice, or to what had now happened
to him. Like Peter, in a kindred moment of conviction, he thought
not of the sinking boat, so occupied was his soul with the impressions
of the glory or of God upon his spirit; and so Paul now. The three
days' want of food and the loss of sight, were, I believe, as
nothing to him. He had been separated to that moment in its full
power. He had looked on Him whom he had pierced, and was apart;
as in another kindred moment, the house of David and of Shimei
will be, husbands and wives (Zech. 12).
But there is another answer which the voice from
heaven gets in this striking scene. Ananias answers it as well
as Saul; and, according to the relations in which he stood to
it, answers it likewise in beauty and fitness. The voice, as we
have seen, addressed him in all blessed, gracious intimacy. Ananias'
style shows that (Abraham-like) his spirit was at home in the
presence of it -- in the presence of the glory from whence it
came. He takes his place instinctively before it. "Behold,
I am here, Lord," he says; and then, the voice giving its
orders and revealing its secrets, Ananias replies (Jeremiah-like,
or Peter-like in such cases), intimating that the Lord seemed
to be making some mistake, that these directions needed some correction,
or at least, interpretation. And surely, this was answering the
intimacies of grace with the confidence of faith. This was like
Moses speaking face to face, as a man would speak with his friend.
And this was indeed beautiful in its place. Such a spirit of faith,
being of divine operation, was acceptable to God, and is sweet
to us. It was as Jonah in chap. 4:1, though not so marked; and,
like Jonah, Ananias has then to be rebuked and corrected, and
is given to know that the error was all his own, and not the Lord's.
When Ananias had questioned the orders he had received
to go to Saul of Tarsus, "Go thy way," says the Lord
to him. This was a third voice from heaven, as we have already
seen; and this voice, like the earlier voices, is answered in
all beautiful fitness. Ananias at once goes, and the moment he
sees Saul, he addresses him on the sole authority of the voice
he had now heard, and in the spirit which that voice inspired.
The Lord had said, "he is a chosen vessel unto Me;"
and Ananias now addresses him "brother Saul."
How perfect, like all the rest, this is! The first
voice, convicting the sinner, is answered by the sinner separating
himself to it. The second voice, addressing the saint, is answered
by the saint in like confidential intimacy. The third voice, rebuking
and arresting the servant, is answered, not only by an act of
obedience, but by that act being conducted and carried out in
the very style and spirit which that voice was inspiring, in fullest
concord with the mind which had directed and awakened it.
This scene gives us, then, in the person of Ananias,
an instance of that intimacy with the Lord which faith has reached,
and deems itself entitled to. And let me say, faith has not, in
this, over- calculated its rights. Grace warranted this intimacy
at the very beginning, at the creation. God then, as we know,
delighted in the work of His hand as it grew up and came forth
day by day, and when all was completed at the close of the sixth
day, looking on all, He tasted rich delight, and consecrated the
seventh day in memory of this His rest and refreshment.
But in addition to this, man becomes the source
of special delight. Man had been signalized as the chief point
in the whole workmanship, and the head of the whole scene. Peculiar
care was used in setting him in the garden, enriched and blest,
crowned and espoused, and altogether satisfied. And then the Lord
seeks his company. "The Lord God walked in the garden in
the cool of the day, and called unto Adam and said unto him, Where
art thou?" He was seeking companionship with that chiefest
and most excellent work of His hands, as though companionship
with him was to complete His enjoyments. The Lord sought man.
"Adam, where art thou?" "His delights were
with the sons of men," as He says in another place; and
then, as at the very beginning, He gave warrant and title to man
to know this intimacy. I need not say how Adam disappointed this
divine desire towards him. But the desire survives, and it is
still said, "My delights are with the sons of men."
Among those of the people of God who have specially
illustrated this personal intimacy with the Lord, we might first
notice Abraham. The Lord, in deep and full grace, warranted this,
and drew Abraham into it; but Abraham, in faith, read his title
to it, and used it. I need not notice the occasions; they show
themselves clearly in the progress of the story. Moses afterwards
is seen in the same place. He converses with the Lord as a man
with his friend. He debated matters with the Lord, as one that
would know divine secrets and reasons, and give his own mind,
and express his own difficulties and sorrows.
As we advance, we find Jeremiah of this same class.
He would speak to the Lord about His doings and judgments, and
enquire of Him respecting the grounds and meaning of His commands.
Jonah, also, another among the prophets, gives us another instance
of the same. He is very bold, telling the Lord how it was, and
how he had known it would be, between God and himself.
And this intimacy is not reduced when we enter
the New Testament. I speak not, however, of the intercourse disciples
had with the Lord in the days of His ministry among them; but
of that intercourse and intimacy which faith still held with Him
after He was glorified, when He took, in a divine sense, the relationship
to them which He had had of old with patriarchs and prophets.
We see samples of this in Ananias, to which I have
already referred, in Acts 9; in Peter in Acts 10; in Paul in Acts
22. Now, these three reasoned certain points with the Lord, the
glorified Jesus, as Abraham or Jeremiah and others had reasoned
points with the Lord God in their earlier days. Ananias, Peter,
and Paul may all be in error, more or less, and have to be rebuked,
and get their judgments corrected; but still they enjoy an intimacy
which it is blessed to think of. They are dealing with one well
known by them, and on a title fully approved and justified. Surely
again I may say, it is blessed to think of it. And I ask -- is
this still to be so? Is the soul to know it, in this day of the
Holy Spirit and of an absent glorified Jesus?
The posture of Lazarus at the table with his Lord,
and at the side of his Lord, expresses this character of communion.
It is found in company with the worshipping Mary and the serving
Martha -- all beautiful in their place and season (John 12).
And so the soul knows its present title to the
same, though it as well knows how poorly it enjoys it, and how
nature and the enemy will hinder it in that -- its right and joy.
But so it is. We are straitened in our bowels, not in our calling;
in our experience, not in our condition. Through the Scriptures,
and taking occasion by reason of our daily circumstances, we may
use this place which has been open to the elect from the beginning.
It is surely ours in this day of the Spirit, if it was theirs
who walked with God in the infant-day of patriarchs, or in the
advancing times of prophets, who had not, however, reached the
dispensation of the Spirit, given on the ascension to glory of
the Son of man, as we have done.
And I still ask -- Is this still to be so? Is this
eternal in its character? Is this to be the same in the coming
days of the glory, as it has already been in days of patriarchs,
of prophets, and of apostles, and as it is now? The holy hill,
where we see the glorified One, answers this. Speaking of our
Lord Jesus there transfigured, the evangelist says, "And
behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias,
who appeared in glory, and spoke of His decease, which He should
accomplish at Jerusalem."
Here was intimacy of just the same character as
at the tent in the plain of Mamre, or within the cloudy tabernacle
in the wilderness, or in the court of the prison at Jerusalem,
or outside the gate of the city of Nineveh, or on the roof of
the house of Simon the tanner, or in the temple with Paul. All
is unchanged. Scenes change as much as they well can, in all this
vast variety -- tent-doors, wildernesses, prisons, housetops,
temples, and the like; but the realms of glory, where the translated
saints have joined their ascended Lord, claims to be another of
the same places, and to witness and exhibit that intimacy which
began at the beginning, and has been continued throughout.
All ages, then, give us samples of this intimacy,
this divine intercourse. Patriarchal, Mosaic, prophetic, evangelic
ages, all illustrate it, and the days of the glory will do the
same. This intercourse is something of its own kind. It is not
grace giving a gift and faith accepting it. It is not the soul
exercised in prayer, or intercession, or thanksgiving, or praise.
These things are so, I need not say; but it is none of these.
It is of its own generation, and bespeaks the title which the
believer consciously enjoys of coming near to God, not as a suppliant,
or as a worshipper, but as one that has been let into His confidence.
And I believe till we take this place, till "we
thus walk and talk with Jesus," we have not fully obeyed
that form of doctrine which God, in the riches of the grace of
His gospel, has delivered to us. Wonderful! save that God is God.
He laid Himself out for this enjoyment of His creature, when His
creature was untainted and in innocency. The entrance of sin did
not hinder this, but this intercourse continued among the fruits
of that grace which put sin away, and if the entrance of sin has
not hindered it, neither shall the display of glory. The garden,
the ruined world, the kingdom in its glories, are alike the scenes
of it; each and all maintains and witnesses the divine intercourse,
this companionship of God with man.