Face To Face
from "Girdle of Truth" (available from Present Truth Publishers)

Acts 9

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 and valued.

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.