“AND the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts; but my face shall not, be seen.” – Exodus xxxiii. 21-23.
What a gracious intercessor was Moses; what affection he had for Israel; how jealous he was for the honor and glory of God; how fervently and effectually he prayed for his sinful brethren. In all this he was a precious typo of Jesus, our divine Mediator, our beloved Intercessor before the Majesty in the heavens. When the Lord returned an agreeable answer to his cries, and again said unto him, “Thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name,” then his heart wells up with enlarged longings to know more and more of God, and he said, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live.” One thing has laid most sacredly upon my spirit as I have perused again .and again the scenes portrayed in these chapters of the Bible, that is, the evident reality of the communion of a frail, sinful creature, man, on the earth, with the almighty, holy, invisible God, whom the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot, contain. To-day this self-same mystery of godliness continues. It is wonderful, wonderful. If we were pure and holy as the holy angels in heaven, if we were gifted with omnisciency, it would be understandable, it would come within the range of our natural intellect. We hold communion with our fellows, and in a few instances, as in the case of David and Jonathan, of the queen of Sheba and Solomon, and the all-confiding husband and wife, the communion is very intimate. But it does not attain to that intimacy of communion of the quickened sinner and the holy One that inhabiteth eternity. That the communion of the Holy Ghost (2 Cor. xiii. 14,) with the called of God surpasses in intimacy all mere creature communion, is again that which is beyond the reason and belief of one that is not born of God; but to the Soul that has tasted this nearness and communion with the Lord there is nothing so real, so consolingly precious, even though it be only “The upward glancing of an eye, when only God is near.” I will not now enlarge upon this subject, but will come to the words at the beginning of this letter, for in them, as a type, is presented very blessedly the things of the gospel of Christ.
“And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me.” This place is holy ground, the place provided in the eternal counsel of the Lord; it is that place where God’s loved elect are a people near unto him. (Psalms cxlviii. 14.) Here all the chosen stand holy and without blame before him in love. It all centers in Emmanuel, the incarnate Son of God, for it is in Christ that the Creator and the creature meet. The yearning heart of Moses cried, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” Responding to his desire the Lord answers, “There is a place by me.” Here Jehovah displays the fullness of his glory, it is all in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. iv. G.) In the holiest of all was the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant, and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercy-seat, and there will I meet with thee, saith the Lord. (Exodus xxv. 22.) Our Jesus is the Place. “There is a place by me.” The sinner whom the Lord quickens into divine life is taught by the holy Spirit how wretched and dreadful is his condition as a vile transgressor of the law. Then as a fountain of life the fear of the Lord springs up within him, moving him to depart from iniquity and the snares of death. Though feeling to be justly condemned by God’s law, nevertheless a gracious power moves him to reverence the Lord, and he longs for that place where he can dwell in friendship with the Almighty. But all is dark and hopeless. “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in,” and when tidings of the gospel enter the thoughts of the contrite sinner, at first, perhaps, it appears to be as a report of a delightsome land that is very far off to one sick, and languishing, and dying, and his sighing heart says, O could I be there; O could I be healed and dwell in the beautiful land.
“There is a place by me.” Yes, O when shall I come to that place? Will it ever be the lot of one so ignorant, a poor, sin-harrassed one, to find access into such a place, so near the high and holy One? Alas, I wander as one forbidden to come; the righteous curse of the law is upon me; I am driven away in my wickedness; I would come, but could there be a place for me? I am justly condemned, cut off for my parts, a desolate, sin-cursed outcast from the Lord.
“Behold, there is a place by me.” “Behold!” Till thus apprehended by the glad tidings of the gospel, poor, guilty sinners see no place of salvation, blessedness and friendship with God. When the Lord in his truth says, “Behold,” we are drawn to his voice, we are attentive to his speech; then eyes are given us to see, we look unto him, and as he speaks so it is, “There is a place by me,” a sanctuary for a sinner. O the voice of the Lord in his teaching is full of graciousness, captivating our hearts; we see the place, we see the rock, it is Jesus, and we long to be in him, to stand upon him as our rock. “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Ah, poor Soul, thine unbelief, the powers of darkness, thine own conscious vileness, have all been forbidding thee to think that there is a place of acceptance with God, but thus saith the Lord, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” “There is a place by me, and thou shall stand upon a rock.” Christ is the rock of the church of God; her only standing before the Lord is in her Head and Husband, the incarnate Word of God. Once we stood in Adam, innocent, upright, sinless, but we fell. What a fall from that estate in our creation when “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” O so fallen is man, in an abyss of iniquity he lies. How deep is the import of the inspired language describing his condition: “dead in trespasses and sins.” – Eph. ii. 1. Then David declares the dark scene, saying, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Do you complain that the picture is too dark, too humiliating? Were your eyes opened to see the depravity of your own nature you would stand aghast at the sight, your mouth would be stopped and humbled, crushed in spirit and with a blushing face before God you would say, “Behold, I am vile: what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.” – Job xl. 4. Since sin entered the world all the attempts of sinful man to stand upright and pleasing in the sight of the Lord have utterly failed. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” We have no place to stand, and Adam can give us no legs to stand; all is quicksand, and the deep, miry clay of our sins where there is no standing. It is with humiliating grief that quickened sinners find all their attempts to stand in the first Adam to be failures; we stumble and fall to be plunged in the ditch of our sins. But thus saith the Lord, “Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.” David says, The Lord “set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” – Psalms xl. 2. A rock is significant of stability, and where shall we find this immutable standing-place for guilty creatures? It is all in the gospel of the grace of God. Here are given us exceeding great and precious promises. The first and greatest promise is the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” – Titus i. 2. This is a glorious revelation, that God before the creation of the world gave us eternal life in his Son. (1 John v. 11.) This was not given us in our creation in Adam, therefore when Adam transgressed it was not forfeited; it was safe, immutably secure and sure to all the election of grace whom God ordained unto eternal life. (Acts xiii. 48.) Ordained unto eternal life! What an inheritance, what a destiny for a poor sinner! As I sit here with my pen in my hand musing upon it, I find no words to express the eternal weight of glory it contains. The sinful, mortal life that we have now in the earth has innumerable ills attending it, yet it is our nature to cling to it, and seldom even with favored believers in Christ do they look with fond anticipation to dying. The apostle Paul was inspired to say, “To die is gain,” and he was found having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better. (Phil. i. 21-23.) Aged Simeon having the infant Christ in his arms said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” – Luke ii. 29, 30. Yes, we naturally shrink from the dissolution of our trembling house of clay. But O the precious promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus. This rock is a glorious hope, and as fellow-inhabitants of the rock we would declare our happiness to be that we stand in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. It is in the gospel that we stand. (1 Cor. xv. 1.)
“I stand upon Christ’s merits,
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth,
In my Emmanuel’s land.”
Christ Jesus is the covenant head of the church, and in him we find all these new covenant mercies, called “the sure mercies of David.” – Isaiah lv. 3. In him as our rock we stand, lifted up above our enemies round about us; he is our place of defense, the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given us, our waters shall be sure.
“Thou shalt stand upon a rock.” This a sinner is in himself unable to do, for in Adam he has no legs, no ability to get upon and stand upon the rock. How then do contrite Souls stand upon the rock! By faith and love in Christ Jesus. These are the only legs by which we can stand, and the Lord gives us this precious faith and love. We believe in Jesus according to the working of God’s mighty power, and our faith, which is the gift of God, is described as “faith which worketh by love.” O yes, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the holy Spirit which is given unto us. He, in due season, very graciously opens up to the heirs of promise the truth of the gospel, and empowers their hearts to affectionately believe in Jesus; he is all our trust and the rock of our salvation.
“And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft in the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by.” “A cleft in the rock.” This will signify unto us that there is a gracious opening into the very heart of the rock, a sanctuary for the children of God in the truth; this is their divine retreat from the stormy wind and tempest, the righteous runneth into it and is safe. Forgiveness of sins, this is a blessed refuge for humble sinners. O so heavy-hearted is the quickened sinner when his conscience is burdened with unpardoned sins. I can remember when I was a child, and had done wrong, and my bad conduct had been discovered by my mother, and she had manifested her displeasure at my behavior, how a gloom settled upon my spirit; when I came into her presence I came with shyness, I felt it became me to be quiet, to sit by myself; I would hang down my head, and scarcely look up into her face; her troubled countenance increased my trouble, I felt it was not a time to play or to laugh before her, I feared a look of censure would be mine, but when my parent smiled upon me again, when instead of words chiding me for my faults she spoke to me in cheerful tones, then I knew she had passed by my transgressions and once more I was forgiven; O, then I could go forth to play with my fellows, and laugh and shout with the merriest. “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” – Psalms cxxvi. 1, 2. Well may the psalmist say, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Forgiveness!
“This is a treasure rich indeed,
Which none but Christ can give;
Of this the best of men have need,
This I the worst receive.”
Then what an inner sanctuary in the “covenant ordered in all things, and sure,” is the experimental knowledge of the doctrine of justification. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justified). Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Here everything pertaining to our justification is immutably sure, and this blessed sanctuary is in the cleft of the rock, Christ Jesus. By his obedience many were made righteous, and having purged away the guilt of his people by the shedding of his blood he rose again for their justification; he was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him, all of which flows from the tender mercy of the Most High to unworthy worms of the earth, such as these who are taught of God feel themselves to be. We therefore sweetly acquiesce in the doctrine and hold it fast with ardent affection that we are justified from all our offenses freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and this is most efficaciously experienced when the Lord, by faith, puts us in the cleft of the rock. We are washed, we are sanctified, we are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. vi. 11.)
(Concluded next number.)
FRED W. KEENE
Signs Of The Times
Volume 73., No. 6.
MARCH 15, 1905.