Brian W Burton

John 6: 57

Colossians 3: 1-4

Ephesians 2: 4-6

         I have always loved this hymn, No 14.  I have known it well, as I suppose most of us have done, from childhood.  It is a beautiful hymn.  If you look at the volume of Spiritual Songs by Mr Darby, you will find it was written in 1835, when he was a relatively young man of 35; and the impression that he had in this hymn, and of course in many others, was of heaven’s proceedings.  I find this impression bows my heart in worship, and I would like to think that everyone here is vitally interested in what is going on in heaven at the present moment.  We shall soon be there.  You may say, ‘Well, as an old man, he is bound to say that’.  Surely the older ones of us are looking forward to it, but I just wonder about the younger ones.  Things might not go on much longer here.  We are mindful of the instability that characterises man’s world, clouds that are gathering - especially in the Middle East – and, although I am not suggesting for a moment that we can deduce when the Lord is coming from earthly events, nevertheless the time of Jacob’s trouble will begin in that part of the earth.  But what I have in mind would be to direct your thoughts to Christ in glory.  He is soon coming, dear brethren; whether you are young or whether you are old, let us be amongst those like the Thessalonians who are waiting for His Son from the heavens, 1 Thess 1: 10.

         If we think about this hymn, there are beautiful touches in it -

         Praise the Lamb! - the chorus waking,

             All in heav’n together throng.

You see the great unifying power of the name of Christ, as every one that is there will be conscious of the blessing that has come to them through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will be precious to each one.  I suppose He is precious to each one here tonight, but may He increase in that preciousness; until we reach the glory realm that this hymn speaks about.  There is so much richness in it -

         Grateful incense this, ascending ...

         All the Father’s counsels claiming ...

         By the Spirit all pervading,

             Hosts unnumbered round the Lamb

And it is a remarkable thing when you think about it, that the author was a man only 35 years old who had this light as to the proceedings of heaven.  It is very impressive; and I would like to think that everyone here is exceedingly interested in the proceedings of heaven.  We do find that it is so easy to be occupied with what is happening on earth, and we may be cast down by it sometimes.  But, as was said to someone, ‘There is another world’.  There is another Man who fills it - “that world, and the resurrection”, Luke 20: 35.  Mr Darby must have been very much in the light of that, and the reality of heaven.  I would like in this address that each one of us might get a fresh impression, a fuller impression, of the reality of heaven; and the fact that it is resounding.  It is resounding with the glories of Christ; it is resounding with song.  Mr James Taylor made the comment once that he thought the service of God was largely in song, vol 43 p 434.  In the Old Testament, that is obvious; but I think it is so even now in the assembly.  It is often our experience that we are lifted in the service of song; we are lifted out of circumstances here; we are lifted into that eternal sphere where Christ is everything and in all.  That is beautiful, and I would like to enlist the interest especially of the young, but of all, that you might have your eye on heaven; that you may spend time meditating on the Lord Jesus, and speaking to Him about all that is happening at the present moment, speaking to Him about His ways with you and me, and His great thoughts too in relation to the assembly.  You find that the interest of Christ is engaged in these things, and I think this is what guided Mr Darby to write this beautiful hymn -

         Joyful now the wide creation ...

And then ends up –

         Hark! still louder swells the singing,

                  As the notes are heard again;

         Through creation’s vault is ringing

                  Joy’s response, Amen! Amen!

I trust that singing that hymn, and speaking over it a little, will touch our hearts with what is possible, with the saints singing it together, and exulting in the glories of Christ.

         Well, I read these three scriptures because I wanted to bring home the greatness of what it is to have part with Christ in that realm.  This verse in John 6 is a wonderful one.  The subject of John 4 is ‘life’ - the water of life, the springing up of the well, springing up into eternal life, the gift of the Spirit.  The subject of this chapter is ‘food’.  It begins with the feeding of the multitude.  The Lord goes on to speak of Himself as “the bread of life” (v 35), “come down from heaven”, v 38.  And then He touches on a subject that we do not often refer to - because I suspect we do not too much understand it - as to feeding on the flesh and the blood of the Son of man; that is, those two things separated, feeding on Him in death, and realising that He sprang out of death in relation to a new realm and a new people altogether.  It is a wonderful thing.  It is the fulness of the glad tidings as we have had before us, and the Lord is looking for that, for these things to be formed in us, in contemplation of Himself, as having been into death, and come forth triumphant.  The one verse I read here goes beyond that.  The Lord says, “As the living Father has sent me and I live on account of the Father, he also who eats me shall live also on account of me”.  It is a very brief touch but, dear brethren, it is a very powerful one, the idea of feeding on Christ.  This is not now as in death, it is as He is - “eats me”, a glorious Person where He is at God’s right hand in glory.  He is available to be fed upon, and I think as we meditate upon all the things that have flowed out of His death, and the reality of what it is to have a link with Christ now in glory, you find it is food for the soul.  You find that you are built up.  The Lord links it here with “As the living Father has sent me”: you think of the closeness of that link, the preciousness of it, the faithfulness with which the Lord Jesus represented the Father in everything, and what He brought into manhood in that way.  “As the living Father has sent me and I live on account of the Father, he also who eats me shall live also on account of me”.  Do we know something of that, dear brethren, dear young ones?   It is possible to feed on Christ now.  It is possible, of course, to feed upon Him in His sufferings and in His death, and there is the element of feeding upon Him in the Supper - not that this refers to the Supper here in John 6.  This is an additional touch: “he also who eats me”; and I think that is available, dear brethren, at the present moment - to feed on Christ as He is in glory, where He is, having had to say to everything and settled it to divine satisfaction.  There He is, a glorious Man in heaven; and He presents Himself as a subject of food: “he also who eats me”.  I do not know that I can say too much about it, because I expect we would all have to admit that we have not done as much of it as we ought.  But there it is, it is possible; and the Lord Jesus presents Himself as an Object before us, that we might eat Him, as and where He is.  Think of that: the Man that fills the glory, the Man celebrated in this hymn, No 14. 

         Heaven resounds with His glory: are you in the gain and blessing of that, dear brother and sister?  Each one of us here, do you know what it is to eat Him as and where He is, to feed on that glorious, heavenly Man?  What a pattern in manhood, dear brethren.  When God said at the beginning, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1: 26), of course he had Christ in mind.  Now He does not only have Christ in mind, but He has Christ actually in His presence and we are going to be “conformed to the image of his Son”, Rom 8: 29.  I hope that attracts you, attracts the younger ones.  There is so much that might deflect us, so much that might attract us in relation to man’s world, but God has a world and He is peopling it with people like Christ.  That is what heaven will be, a sphere of delight, and everyone there will be conformed to His image.  When we see Him, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”, 1 John 3: 2.  Think of that, dear brethren: what it will be to see Christ as He is.  There will be no modification, no alteration, no change in that: He “is the same yesterday, and to-day, and to the ages to come”, Heb 13: 8.  What a wonderful thing it is that Christ is available; He is available as food in this setting.  These latter verses of John 6 have been linked with the victuals that they had to prepare for crossing the Jordan, and it is the way into what is heavenly.  I trust that attracts you, and that it attracts the young ones, that you should feed on what really motivates heaven.  There are heavenly hosts, and they are glorying in Christ.  I trust that everyone here is too; it is not the way perhaps that Paul presents it in Colossians which may be a little more intelligible but it is a wonderful thing to appropriate Christ as and where He is.  As you feed on Him there, you become like Him; you begin to build up a constitution which is heavenly and will sustain a heavenly life, and will sustain a sphere of response to God Himself.  What more could we wish for, beloved brethren, while still here in flesh and blood conditions?

         Well now, the verses in Colossians perhaps explain it a little more simply.  “If therefore ye have been raised with the Christ, seek the things which are above” - that is the first thing that we have to do: it is our responsibility to “seek the things which are above”; and you will remember that Jesus, when He was here, said, “he that seeks finds”, Matt 7: 8.  I am quite sure, dear brethren, that if you “seek the things which are above”, you will find them.  They centre in Christ, and the Spirit will help us in relation to them.  I was helped many years ago as to this by a comment of Mr Coates, ‘We need to ponder the gospel of John to get an idea of the things above’, vol 9 p312.  That gospel opens up this great sphere of things.  Christ, of course, was here on earth when He uttered the words, but He also said, “the Son of man who is in heaven” (John 3: 13), and what He spoke of was so much the sphere of which He is the Sun and Centre; and that is where He is now.  If you want to “seek the things which are above” you must find Christ, and you must make room for the blessed Holy Spirit of God.  These verses go on: “where the Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God”.  I wonder if you have seen Him there, dear brother, dear sister, dear young one?  The enemy will bring in so much that will engage our sight, our attention; and it is all bounded by earth and the things that belong here.  Christ is not in them; He has died out of them.  I remember a comment of Mr Stoney’s (vol 6 p328) that what really strikes the believer, the lover of Jesus, every time he goes out into this world is that He is not here: Christ is not here.  I wonder if that has occurred to you: it is a good thing to lay hold of, to see that all that is around us is an order of things for man’s delight, man’s pleasure, man’s glorification.  And Christ is not in it: you will find Christ in heaven.  You will find Christ in the saints too, but as to the glory of the Person, He is in heaven.  And there is no barrier to that: the Spirit is well able to open our eyes to the glory of Christ, and the reality of those things that centre in Him.  These verses are exceedingly beautiful.  It goes on, “have your mind on the things that are above”, and then it adds, “not on the things that are on the earth”.  Now the mind is a very powerful element of the believer, and what we want is the renewed mind that has been taught to think in God’s way, to think by the Spirit; and to think in accord with the thoughts of the Lord Jesus towards us.  But, as we have our “mind on the things that are above”, we shall come to this, as it says: “not on the things that are on the earth; for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God”.  Is that not lovely?  I trust that everyone here has come to that.  Where is your life?  You dear young ones, it is quite a challenge, is it not?  I look back to my young years, and it was a challenge to us too.  Where is your life?  It is so easy to fit in to this world and its system, and to listen to what men listen to, and to look at what men look at; but you will not find Christ in any of it because He has died out of it.  It is a sobering thing, and we need to realise that, and come to a judgment of all that, and look to Christ.  It says, “for ye have died, and your life is hid with the Christ in God”.  Hiding has a great place in this Colossian epistle, and I believe that God hides what pleases Him, what He finds precious; and I think He would delight to find that in each one - to find that you are seeking these things that are above, so that your mind and heart are filled with Christ.  God will find His rest in you; is that not beautiful?  Is that not attractive?  There are many other ideas in the world around us.  Then Paul goes on to say, “your life is hid with the Christ in God.   When the Christ is manifested” - and just note these little words - “who is our life”.  I would like to raise that challenge with myself and with all of us: is He our life?  Is He your life?  It will bind you with the saints beautifully, will it not?  If your life is hid with the Christ in God, you will be one with all His own.  Everyone comes in there; there is no class, no division, but each one, if their life is really “hid with the Christ”, is bound up in that wonderful sphere, a wonderful company of those who are living at the present moment.  So, “your life is hid with the Christ in God”.  Then it goes on to say, “When the Christ is manifested who is our life”.  I would like to pause there and raise a question: would it be right to say, dear older one or younger one, that Christ is your life; or do you give a certain amount to Christ but a lot to someone else, or something else that fills this world?  It is a sobering question, is it not?  I know, of course, that we have to fulfil our responsibilities.  If you are married, you have to fulfil household responsibilities; you have to fulfil responsibilities in work, and so on.  But then there is what is greater than that, our part in relation to assembly matters.  We need to fulfil those too, and our life should be bound up, hidden with the Christ in God.  Is that not very beautiful?  Think of God looking down on a company like this, and seeing that each one is committed to His beloved Son.  Each one of them loves Him, and each one has given up something for Him - or given up many things perhaps for Him - that Christ might be their life, Christ might be their Object; and that they might have that outlook in relation to things - not now how much they can work out of gain from life here.  Paul said he had counted all those things loss that he might gain Christ (Phil 3: 8), and that is a wonderful exercise; I present it to each one of us - that we might “gain Christ”.

         Then the final phrase here is, “then shall ye also be manifested with him in glory”.  Is that not lovely?  It is something to be looked forward to, when the Lord comes and takes His own to be with Himself, including the myriads that sleep at the moment.  You think of that voice, that almighty voice, raising the dead and changing the living.  We shall all be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, 1 Thess 4: 17.  Then there will be a day of manifestation.  God is going to show to a wondering universe what He has wrought in Christ, and the myriads He has secured in Christ.  Now every one that loves Him and delights to serve Him finds a place in the body of Christ here, and finds a place in His affections too.  And they know what it is to minister to Christ.  It is a wonderful thing that they have been taken from a position in the world and set apart and called now in relation to the interests of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

         Well, I just commend these verses to you that you might think of them in your own soul history: “When the Christ is manifested who is our life”.   I would like each one here to ponder that phrase: “who is our life” - to what extent can you and I say, “who is our life”?  We know that there is enough in Christ to satisfy everything.  There is enough to feed the soul of everyone that belongs to Him.  Think of the ages to come when we shall actually be with Him in glory, what it will be to derive everything from that blessed One who once suffered and died for us on Calvary’s cross but now lives for us above.  He is waiting for that moment when the Father’s command is given to come for His own.  You think of that mighty voice that will be heard, when the living are changed (1 Cor 15: 51) and caught up to meet Him in the air; and the dead are raised incorruptible – “and thus we shall be always with the Lord”, 1 Thess 4: 17.  I like to think of that, brethren: think of being always with the Lord - why not be with Him now?  That is the challenge of the present moment, not to put it off but to think of the reality of what it is to belong to Jesus now in the day of His public rejection, but in the secret that He has been glorified and has His place at God’s right hand.  He is just waiting for you and me to come into the gain of that, that we might be held in the fulness of His life, in the fulness of His love.  Think of that!  He proved His love in dying for us, but He would prove His love at the present moment, I believe.  It is an everlasting love, and He would draw near to each one of us at this time, draw us away from this world and all that is going on.  How much we all need this - the younger ones especially - because the enemy makes his bid; he makes things attractive.  They are belong to time, and what is more Christ has died to them, and He has risen triumphant; and He is just waiting for you to join Him in the sphere of life and glory.

         I refer briefly to that verse in Ephesians.  What a triumph this is: “God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love wherewith he loved us, (we too being dead in offences,) has quickened us with the Christ, (ye are saved by grace)”.  How beautiful that is, dear brethren.  God has had to do with each one of us, I suppose, or we would hardly be here; and how wonderful that is, God’s operations with each one.  He has quickened us with the Christ, made us to live.  This of course is made to live with the Man who fills the glory, the Man who is the theme of that hymn we began with, No 14.  Think of those heavenly hosts, and the eternal song reverberating around those heavenly vaults.  Mr Darby seemed to have a real, vital sense of it.  I trust each one of us might get a real, vital sense of it today, if never before.  There is something vital, something precious, proceeding in heaven; and God wants you and me to be fully in it; and as we are I think we will find the triumph and the glory of the love of Christ, which has been proved in the way that He gave Himself for each one of us; but proved now in the reality of that love for His own, for His assembly.  He wants you, dear brother, dear sister, to fill a part in relation to it - dear young ones too.  Do not put it off: have it very much before you now, that you might be in the living joy of this.

         It goes on to say here, “and has raised us up together, and has made us sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus”.  This is viewed as an accomplished fact in Ephesians.  It is wonderful; we do not have to wait for this.  It is something that God has done now.  He “has raised us up together”.  It is in spirit of course, it is not in actuality at the moment, but in the Spirit we know what it is to be raised up, to be raised up together with the Christ.  He has quickened us, made us to live, and to “sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus”.

         Well, I trust, dear brethren, as we think over these things, that the heavenly sphere might become more of a reality to every one of us.  May it be so for His Name’s sake.


23rd August 2013