We just continue in the consideration of the pathway of the glory. We have traced the glory through the book of the Acts up to a certain point, more especially in the life of the apostle Paul. When we come to the end of that book, we find ourselves in the presence of a consummate and inclusive revelation, expression, manifestation of the glory at the end of the earthly course of the Lord's servant Paul. It is impressive to note on the one side what an accumulation of opposing forces is represented in the last chapter of that book.
Way back there in Palestine, the imprisonment in Caesarea for two years, the tremendous uprising of the whole Jewish regime and hierarchy, and Gentile corroboration as in the case of the Lord Jesus, bitter animosity and hatred and scheming to destroy him, leading at last to his being sent to Rome for the final judgment - that putting into effect of all that uniting of earth and hell to have this man and what he represented done away, finished. In the midst of it, when everything seemed so flattening, particularly threatening to the one ambition of his life to preach the Word in the great imperial centre of the world, Rome, every circumstance seemed to say, "That will not be. That cannot be. You never will realise that life desire". The Lord just stood by him and said, "Fear not, Paul. As thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness in Rome and through it all, the storms naturally and the storms spiritually". Then the word is, "And so, we came to Rome..."but in Rome: a prisoner. All the adverse forces, spiritual, satanic and human determined to bring that ministry to an end by bringing that man to an end. Over a wide area things moved toward that. In churches in Asia, which owed their existence instrumentally to this man and owed all that they had spiritually to him under the Lord. They turned against him, "All they which be in Asia be turned from me". False brethren betrayed him. What an accumulation of evil things gathered and focused upon that prison in Rome, all saying with their own meaning: limitation, curtailment, shortening of tenure, of influence, and life. That's the natural, satanic situation very imperfectly described and set out.
On the human side, looked at just
purely as a natural situation, everything in that prison and
those chains seems to say what the enemy meant, and what men
meant: this is an end and this is a curtailment in every way.
And yet, looked at from heaven's standpoint, and from history's
standpoint, it is the most glorious chapter of the whole book.
They said: limitation - heaven said: enlargement. They said:
narrowing down, curtailment - heaven said: expansion. They said:
death, agony - heaven said: a new beginning, not only of the man
in heaven, but of his ministry. For it was out of that prison,
imprisonment and all that which was set for the ending of that
ministry, out of that has come the greatest ministry that he
These letters from that prison embrace a fulness of Divine revelation that can be found no where else - an enrichment for the Church beyond, beyond our telling - an expansion of ministry far, far beyond the whole range of his missionary journeys personally. Today, in every country of this world Paul is known; perhaps not in every spot in every country, but in every country. From far East to far West, far North to far South, that man is known, and his ministry has gone.
And today, through all the battle
and the controversy over what is called "Paulinism", the
theological world through all the battle of the years, Paul is
on top, you know. They just cannot cope with this man; they
cannot silence him, they cannot account for him. You probably
will not know a great deal of that battle. Those of us who have
read and studied through many years of this conflict of
ideologies and philosophies and theologies focusing upon this
man Paul, know how at one point the whole thing became just this
issue: "Away from Paul, back to Christ," back to Christ, or
"back to Jesus" as they put it, away from Paul. "Paul has
betrayed Christianity..." this sort of thing, a terrific battle
on that ground. But today, the very schools that were
represented by that position are saying Paul is the interpreter
of Christ, the supreme interpreter of Christ. So it is. That
just by the way as pulled into the whole situation.
You see, this man's life started in a blaze of glory. Glory descended and struck him. As we said earlier, that glory went right through his life, he never got away from that. Never got away from that, he had seen the glory of the Lord and although the end of his earthly course seemed naturally to be so inglorious, so much speaking for apparent triumph of the forces which were against, two thousand years have not quenched that glory and he shines with it today. And we, a little minute fragment of a very great worldwide whole, are here at this time glorying in the glory which has come through that man. So, I say that the last chapter of the book of the Acts is just the consummate and inclusive setting forth of the whole book, showing the pathway of the glory. And just on that I want to close this time.
What is the Pathway of the Glory?
It has two sides. The one side is: the reduction of the natural, human element. It demands that; it will always work that way: the reduction, the nullifying, the weakening, the emptying, the undoing of the natural human element of man. Running alongside of that: the positive increase of Christ.
The pathway of the glory is, on the one side, an increasing, ever-increasing setting aside of the natural man, even as a Christian and in the work of the Lord, leading more and more to the consciousness that it must be the Lord, or there will be nothing at all. The human factor is increasingly of no account. That's the pathway to glory. Not a very happy thing, perhaps, to contemplate, if you look at it on that side alone. But it is true. Here is this man Paul, naturally and humanly in weakness, naturally and humanly in limitation, as a man in bonds. But there's the other side: the enlargement of what is of the Lord - the mighty, marvelous enlargement of Christ, so that these letters from the prison are a matchless setting forth of the greatness of the Lord Jesus. You only have to read the first chapter of the letter to the Colossians to see it - the place the Lord Jesus is given.
Now, you can see this, and it's as
well that we do take at least a glance at it, by the opposite:
go right through your Bible and you will see that whenever man
put forth his hand upon Divine things, the glory went out. That
is a word written over Eden isn't it? The Lord's precaution:
"Lest he put forth his hand..." - lest he put forth his hand!
The Lord knew quite well that if he put forth his hand
on Divine things, that was an end of the glory, and that's
exactly what happened. Right through your Old Testament, you can
see this: case after case, when man pressed in, pressed in and
put his hand upon Divine things; the glory went out.
You know how Isaiah says, "The day that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, seated upon a Throne and His train filled the Temple" but, the tragedy of Uzziah! You remember that was the man, and one of the greatest, an idol of the prophet Isaiah himself, who reached great dimensions of power and influence and earthly glory, and then presumed upon it and forced his way into the Temple, to the Sanctuary, to the Altar. Fear came upon men and they said, "It does not pertain unto you, king Uzziah, to offer incense," but he spurned the warning and was smitten a leper and died in shame with all his own earthly glory gone. He forced himself in to lay his hand upon Divine things and so far as he was concerned, and for that time, the glory departed. It was a great reversing of the situation when Isaiah saw the Lord on the Throne, no longer Uzziah - the Lord on the Throne. Then the glory comes back. When man usurps the place of God, the glory goes out. That's one instance.
You remember David, with the best
of motives... remember the Ark (and the Ark is always the Ark of
the Glory; remember that, always the Ark of the Glory) the glory
of Israel is focused upon and centered in that Ark. David, with
the purest and best of motives, thought of bringing the Ark to
Jerusalem and mistakenly formed a new cart after the Philistine
manner; a new cart, and put the Ark on it, contrary to the
Divine Word to bring it up to Jerusalem. And they were
apparently having a very good time on the road until they
reached the threshing floor and the oxen stumbled, and Uzza put
forth his hand upon the Ark... his hand... on the Ark. And the
Lord smote Uzza; it's there that he died. The Ark was turned
aside and for long, long weary months, it says, "The time was
long..." it was in the house of Obed-edom and Israel were weary.
The glory had gone because man had put his hand on Divine things.
And so we could go on, like that. But there it is.
When the glory of life, glory of joy, glory of spiritual fulness, glory of Divine power departs and comes under a shadow or is eclipsed, or limited, it is usually because man's hand has touched the testimony. Man's nature has insinuated itself; that is, his judgment, his ideas, his thoughts, his will, his emotions - David's mind got to work, David's emotions got to work, and it was a very emotional scene that. A very emotional scene. And David's will got to work, so that his soul, mind, heart and will came out to touch Divine things. It was man. And whenever it's like that, if our judgments, and our emotions, and our decisions lay hold of the things of God, we will be left without the glory. The glory will depart, or the glory will be under eclipse, or the glory will be limited. It's a long story: "Lest he put forth his hand."
Well, that's the dark side, it's just as well, I say, that we take a glance at that, because that is so largely the trouble today. There's an absence of the glory, or a limiting of the glory, and our hearts cry for the glory to return. We are always asking and praying that the glory of the Lord may be manifested, known and felt. We've got to get out of the way before that can be - give the Lord all the place to be all the Lord.
So, on the one side, there is the limiting of human abilities and powers of mind and will, ability. The other side, by that limiting or excluding: the coming in of the Lord, the increase of Christ, that Christ is our wisdom, Christ is our strength, Christ is our will, Christ is all. Dear friends, that is the pathway of His glory it's painful to the flesh, very painful, because this flesh is very strong, stronger than we would believe; it's there.
But we must finish, and finish on
perhaps a happier note, a much happier note. While we must
understand what the glory demands and see the way of the glory,
we do want to have at the end a final look at the ultimate
glory. To do that we remember Peter's word, "When the Chief
Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory" - a crown
of Glory... that's the end. It's a symbolic word, of course, a
crown of Glory, I'm not very ambitious to have a literal crown
put on my head, and for the life of me I don't see how I'm going
to ever have three crowns on my head, literally; and there are
three crowns mentioned in the Word. It means being crowned,
having your life and your work crowned, capped if you
like, with glory. That's the last picture: the crown of glory.
What is it? Well, I've mentioned that there are three crowns, and you know them well probably. There is "the crown of righteousness" that we are to receive on certain grounds. "A crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give" Paul says. "There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me, and not to me only...". What was he meaning? Know that the last part of his life, one of his prison letters, was that beautiful letter to his beloved and longed for children in Philippi, and he said, "Leaving the things which are behind... I press toward the mark for the prize of the on-high calling of God". But then, "I count not myself to have attained, neither am I already perfect: but this one thing I do, if by any means I may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of mine own, but the righteousness which is of God through faith".
The last, longing cry of the apostle was that the righteousness of God through Christ should adorn him; he should attain unto it; that is, that he should stand before the Throne of the eternal burnings without any qualms, any fears, any flinchings; stand justified, stand in a righteousness not his own: perfect, perfect in righteousness. And that is what he meant by "the crown of righteousness," - to stand at last before the eternal Throne of Infinite Holiness, clothed with Divine Righteousness, with all his own unrighteousness and imperfection gone forever. "Robed in righteousness," that, he called the crowning thing for his life; the fullest realisation of his ambition, "That I may stand perfect, lacking nothing... I'm not already perfect, I have not already attained, but if only I can attain to being found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, but His righteousness." A glorious end!
That's a crown to covet, that's a crown to suffer for, to live for, to be abandoned for. A crown indeed of glory that! For, dear friends, you and I are in agreement on this, that if there's one thing we long for it is the full and final escape from our own sinfulness, this accursed fallen nature and all that it carries with it. The crown of righteousness... and then the crown of Life. "Be thou faithful unto death," said the Lord, "and I will give thee a crown of life". A crown of life - what is that? "Faithful unto death" - to be answered with a crown of Life! All right, that's perfectly clear, isn't it? The crown of Life means that death has no power, is robbed of its power, death as a power is destroyed, and Life, Divine Life, resurrection Life, is mightier than all the power of death - stand in "the power of His resurrection".
In that same letter, in the same part of that letter, as we have quoted in the Philippian letter, Paul utters those words so familiar to us, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection". The cry at the end of his life: "the Power of His Resurrection". That is the ultimate and final nullifying of death in all its forms and in its whole power; standing in the good of a Life which can never, never be touched by death again. Move over to John and the Revelation: "There shall be no more death," - "a crown of life."
And then the third crown is the
one we are speaking about, "the crown of glory". You know what
we've said about glory. Glory is the expression of the full
satisfaction of God's nature. Can that ever be for me, for you,
that crown; the full satisfaction of God's own nature? That is
what He has called us to, redeemed us for, is working in us
unto, and will work to the end for this crown of glory. And
although perhaps at the end of our longest life, we shall not
have reached the place where we do at that point utterly,
fully, and finally satisfy the nature of God, well, in our last
moments, in our last breath, there will still be a lot of
imperfection about us; but, remember, when He takes the
responsibility of ending the process, He makes up all
that would have been if He hadn't done so.
There is in a moment, the twinkling of an eye, "we shall be changed". All that we lack then will be added. All that would have been if we had lived on and on and on under His grace, under His power and working, will be put to our account. "I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness." I go to sleep not altogether in Thy likeness, but "I awake in Thy likeness". It's just that, the mighty thing that God is going to add to those who are faithful, faithful to the end; not perfect, but in the way of being changed into the same glory, from one degree to another, from one image to another. The crown of glory is God's final approval. God's final approval, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord".
And, believe me, the Lord will never be joyful, really, over what is not according to His own nature. But when He says, "The joy of thy Lord," He will have got what His heart had been set upon, and the crown of glory, God's full and complete approval, satisfaction. Oh, what a wonderful, almost unbelievable, prospect there is along the pathway of glory.
Well, I must leave all the rest with you; all the other connections of riches, and this very, very imperfect and limited setting forth of the riches of His grace and the riches of His glory. May the Lord just Himself follow on and teach all that we cannot teach, that we're yet to know about this, and use even this for our help, for our encouragement, to go on in the way of the glory, unto the everlasting glory.