Imperfection Points to Perfection
Looking, then, from heaven downwards rather than earth upwards, and realizing that God has always been nothing but the God of perfection, working all things after the counsel of His own will, we can see the whole problem of our chaotic world from a totally different point of view. The fact that God foreknew Satan’s and man’s disobedience and the resulting chaos, and had prepared the perfect remedy for it before it ever happened, gives us our key. Judgment and punishment there had to be, but He only ever predestined One to feel the full weight of His wrath, His only begotten Son. For all mankind He had only one purpose, to restore them in His Son to their original predestined perfection, and with them the whole fallen creation.
All, therefore, that happens to man in his present fallen condition has its own definite purpose–not of judgment, but of restoration. Suffering and sorrow is the will of God in this sense, that disobedience must have its due penalties and consequences, or there could be no ethical or rational basis to God’s government; but the purpose, in grace, is not penal, but redemptive. Imperfection in all forms is God’s finger pointing to perfection. It makes a tremendous difference to our outlook and actions when we realize this, for we learn to recognize that weakness, shortages, failures, disappointments, all that is short of the ideal, which are in God’s order for this age, are for one purpose only: as parables, as figures, as signposts, pointing to the hidden sufficiency: types pointing to prototypes. It is the dialectical relationship: if there are weaknesses, there is strength: if shortages, supply: if failures, success. Thus we read that Adam was "the figure of him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14)–the first Adam, the failure, pointed to the necessity in God’s purpose of perfection, of a last Adam, the fulfilment, and to the certainty that that Perfect One was already there in the invisible, ready to be revealed in due time.
In this same way all the earthly appearances of things are types and shadows; for in God, the Perfect One, the Creator, who could create nothing but perfection, it is obvious that all which falls short of perfection in our world is not in its original state, but has fallen from it, from sufficiency to lack, from health to disease, from order to disorder, and has to be restored. The ceremonial worship of the tabernacle is an example of this shadow-substance relationship; the pattern was already there in the invisible, given to Moses on the Mount, from which he made the earthly copy; the writer to the Hebrews called it the shadow of which the Christ-to-come was the substance. Jesus on earth saw all things in this light. Every earthly object was to Him the figure of its heavenly reality. Bread–the living bread: water…the living water: birth…the new birth: light…the light of the world: life…everlasting life. Human events and activities were all symbols to Him of eternal events and realities, and He used them as parables: the sower, the husbandman, the prodigal, the pearl, the mustard seed, sheep, coins, fish…
Summonses to Faith
What practical application has this for our daily lives? An important one. Every human situation of need with which we are faced is a voice from God saying to us: "That points to My fulness: that imperfection to My perfection: that need to My supply: that perplexity to My ‘ solution." The whole of life in its fallen state is a great finger-post pointing the way from the imperfect human to the perfect divine. But that would not be of much help if we were left with pointing signposts and an impassable gulf, only to be bridged in a future life. No. Jesus incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended has altered that. Grace has already bridged the gulf: from heaven to earth and back from earth to heaven. The result is that God permits needs in our lives that He may now supply them in Christ. That is the point. Needs, shortages, problems are summonses to faith. That is why they are God’s will. They are His necessary way of compelling us flesh-bound humans to recognize our earthly limitations, to be dissatisfied with them, to seek the way to transcend them, and to become agents of redemptive faith. There He stands just the other side of the barrier, beckoning to us and saying, "I am the answer, I am the supply. I have come to you in Christ. Receive Me in this situation." For need is a shadow. And what casts the shadow? The light. No light, no shadow. The light of God’s fulness shines on this world. The oppositions of Satan, to which we add the sin t’ of unbelief, have interposed themselves and cast the .shadows of the lacks of this life. Christ has come to destroy that intervening barrier. Then to those who believe Him, it is no longer a barrier but a bluff–a challenge to faith.
That may or may not mean that the actual material situation is changed. Very often it is. But it means that we look at all situations with God’s eyes. We see that in reality they are His situations, into which He has deliberately put us that He might be glorified in them. Therefore before we call, He is already answering, because He Himself has instigated this actual situation with His answer all prepared. Our calling is His stirring of us to feel the need and recognize that here is a situation in which God is going to do something. Our action then is to call on Him, in other words, to take the attitude of faith. Faith means that we turn our attention from the need to the Supplier who is already supplying that need, and who allowed the need because He intends to supply it to His glory. Therefore Our calling on Him is our seeing Him and praising Him and confessing Him before men, and awaiting the manifestation of the supply.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh is a perfect illustration of this. Though a "messenger of Satan", God sent it, for it was "given" him for a deliberate purpose–to keep him from the subtle inroads of self-esteem, leading to self-reliance. The trial was deep and prolonged (probably increasing blindness). At first he thought that the One who had done physical miracles in other bodies through him would do the same in him. But no. After three separate appeals, we may suppose with intervals between each, God’s word came clear to him. He was to prove the power of God in his weakness, not from it; not by deliverance from it, but by constant ability to transcend it. The Supplier had met his need–this time as abounding spiritual supply overflowing an ever-present physical need. A seeking faith became a praising faith, and reaching out over all the unending trials and sufferings of his pioneer life, he gathered them up in one embrace of praise and thanks for all of them (2 Cor. 12:10), and especially for the blessedness of that basic lesson for all time: "when I am weak, then am I strong".
And, far more important, when his own lesson had been well-learned, his testimony has transmitted the secret, even more clearly than Job himself, to millions of succeeding generations. Our trials are God’s trials, given us for a purpose, exactly suited to us. Our lacks are God’s lacks, our perplexities are God’s perplexities. Before the trials, God has already prepared the deliverance and sends us the trials that He may manifest Himself through them. The trial is to stimulate faith, and faith is seeing Him who is invisible. As we do this, in praise and expectation, He gives the answer. It may or may not be the kind of deliverance we anticipate. But it will be what we can recognize and receive with joy as His answer, and to which we can testify. The need will have been wholly met by His supply in His way, and, as a pebble thrown into a pond, the widening circles of the testimony will do their redemptive work far beyond our knowledge.
Understanding the Negative
We give negatives positive names, as does the Bible, because they are real entities; but at the same time, as we have already said, by doing so we tend to obscure their real condition as negatives. Basically, evil is merely not-good: bitter is not-sweet: hate is not-love: man is not-God; and so on. And when we see all negatives in their true character, we see this vital fact –that they are merely the reverse side of their positives. They are not meant to be anything apart from their positives. They have no rightful existence except as minor to major, female to male, no to yes, each by union with its positive giving distinctive birth and form and character to some manifestation of its positive, as do the minor to the major keys in music. Therefore, insofar as they have been infected and inflamed by a contrary spirit and thus removed out of their proper place in the eternal economy of God, He who is the Positive, the All in all, must necessarily find means to restore them. This He has done in what the Bible calls "the reconciliation of all things" (Col. 1: 20; Rom. 8: 19-21). He will not finally permit any portion of His creation to remain "out of temperature": He "will gather together in one all things in Christ".
It is not, of course, material things which are to blame or which have gone wrong, except insofar as they share in "the corruption which is in the world through lust". Things are but the servant of spirit; it is the negative spirit, free, intelligent, deliberate, which has done the damage.
We have already seen how God has effected this reconciliation through His Son, but we need to note not only the fact, but also the way in which He did it, for it is the only principle by which this contrary spirit can be dealt with throughout human history. First, in the natural He accepted vicariously all that comes to human beings in this distorted world, all the trials, privations, weaknesses that flesh is heir to, and all the persecutions right up to the final stroke the negative spirit of evil could deal him–the death on the cross. He was "crucified through weakness". In the natural he did not resist evil. He went further than that: He positively accepted evil as the predetermined will of the Father. He swallowed it in its most virulent forms. But what broke His body and agonized His soul, could not touch His spirit. There neither Satan nor the threats and deeds of cruel men, nor evil in any form, could get any footing. "The prince of this world cometh, but hath nothing in Me." In that inner sanctuary dwelt only the living God fulfilling His own reconciling purposes through the yieldedness, faith and obedience of the One who would walk the saving way. He was "put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit". That vicarious process by which, as the representative human, He first embraced all that the negative spirit has loaded upon humanity even unto death, but then was raised again by the Positive Spirit as the One whom death could not hold, meant death to that negative spirit in all who join themselves to Him by receptive faith. Through death, He destroyed (or literally, annulled) him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
The Way of the Cross
Released from the negative spirit, all negative conditions fall back into their rightful place for those in whom Christ lives: the bitter brings out the flavour of the sweet, light shines out of darkness, mortality is swallowed up by life, evil is overcome by good. That is to say, what comes to us in the natural as trial, sorrow, suffering, privation, persecution, and we feel as such in our bodies and souls and know the sharpness of them, in our spirits we see to be, not objectionable invasions of something contrary and frustrating, but the way in which we "bear about in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus". He again is dying in us (His human body) in all kinds of situations, and He is rising victorious in us. His life is manifest to all in our mortal flesh (in our visible enjoyment of the unenjoyable): the integrating victory of the Spirit is seen in us as we "take pleasure" in things which are the opposite to natural pleasure–"infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses" (2 Cor. 12:10); evil is servant to good, hate the seedplot of love.
And inner integration in unpleasant situations has far wider repercussions than the personal. It is the continuation of Christ’s vicarious sufferings and saving resurrection (Col. 1: 24). Christ still dies and rises again for the world through His spiritual Body, as He did in His earthly one. That does not mean that Christ’s unique redemptive work for the world was not completed or could in any least degree be effected through any body except His own, conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary, the Jesus of history who was crucified at an exact location, buried in a known tomb, and viewed in His resurrection body by many witnesses. But it does mean that the application of His triumph worldwide through the succeeding centuries, in the gathering out of a people to His Name, in the building of them up in their most holy faith, is always and only by this one death and resurrection process, the way of the Cross, though not that one unique work of the Cross. It is constantly the Christ who lives in the believe walking in us the way of vicarious death and resurrection in every one of millions of situations and spheres of service, right along the line from the mother with her family, to the worker in his job, to the missionary on his field. The point so hard to learn and relearn in our Christian immaturity is Gods way of the cross: confronted with the necessity of a world that must die to sin and rise to righteousness, the One who need not so die and rise went that way first Himself; and by that vicarious act released death and resurrection power through Himself for a world. "Death worketh in us, but life in you."
This is the way of the intercessor. Jesus "poured out His soul unto death," and so, it says, "made intercession for the transgressors" (Is. 53:12). Because of that act of death-intercession, God poured His resurrection life both into the Saviours dead body and through Him into all who receive Him. The fruit of His intercession was the life-giving Spirit sent into the world, saving to the uttermost them that come unto God b Him. And every life of fruitful service has this at its roots: the corn of wheat must die, if the world is to feed on its fruit. We say, "That person must change; that situation must alter." God says, "You change first, the other will follow." As one has said, "I dont like you" what’s the matter with me?" The first death in a human situation in which I am involved is in me, in my natural reactions of resentment, condemnation, unbelief. Only when I am consciously "through" to resurrection ground, experienced in my heart by peace and praise and love, can divine life through me touch the situation. As this is true in every daily detail of life, in every domestic, business or church trial, so is it true in the mainstream of our lifes ministry. All the great intercessors of the Bible were living sacrifices for the people for whom they interceded; they lived and died vicariously. Not that there is merit or power in the outpoured life of a human intercessor, but it is the Interceding Spirit in him which takes him this death way; He does that to involve him so completely and importunately in the pursuit of his intercession that the Spirit can speak and that will be followed, as surely as harvest follows seedtime, by the intercession gained–the wonderful works of God. The patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, the disciples, Paul, and countless others through history, were all intercessor who gained their intercessions, serving their own generation in the will of God.
Need is the Evidence of Supply
God makes the evil handmaid to the good, and conditions us for His grace. But he does it, not only by confronting us with the plain facts of the needs and corruption, the miseries and confusion of our fallen estate: He does it also by the chastisements and judgments which "must begin with the house of God".
Examples of these are obvious throughout the Scriptures. Against apostate Israel He sends an agent of the devil, yet calls him "Nebuchadnezzar, My servant". Israel is beguiled into the negative kingdom, "the power of darkness", and worships idols (not-gods) and does evil (not-good) works; she must receive the just recompense of her false (not-true) way of life in misery (not-happiness), slavery (not-freedom), and corruption (not-purity), and learn her hard lesson. At other times the prophets speak of God sending on them His hornets, His army of destroyers (the locusts, caterpillars, etc.), His drought, the Assyrians, rod of His anger. But the prophets always also make clear that God sends them for redemptive, not punitive reasons. By these means Israel will learn, or some of them anyhow, to discern between the false and the true, and the devil’s agents will be God’s agents in directing the wanderer home with the prodigal’s cry: "How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I detail of life, in every domestic, business or church trial, so is it true in the mainstream of our life’s ministry. All the great intercessors of the Bible were living sacrifices for the people for whom they interceded; they lived and died vicariously. Not that there is merit or power in the outpoured life of a human intercessor, but it is the Interceding Spirit in him which takes him this death way; He does that to involve him so completely and importunately in the pursuit of his intercession that the Spirit can speak by him the authoritative word of faith–God’s "I will"; and that will be followed, as surely as harvest follows seedtime, by the intercession gained–the wonderful works of God. The patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, David, the disciples, Paul, and countless others through history, were all intercessors who gained their intercessions, serving their own generation in the will of God. perish with hunger." Often we try to escape the issue by regarding chastisement and judgment as a "permissive will" of God, as if God was passively allowing the devil to have some of his way, or as if the consequences of disobedience were the outworking of an impersonal law. But the Bible never speaks of it like that. It speaks directly of God saying and doing things which the natural mind roundly condemns as impossible harshness and cruelty in a God who is love, and even the spiritual mind, which has not understanding on this point, will seek to excuse or sidestep. No. It is God, the God of mercy, who hardens the heart of the persistent sinner, who dulls the ear and blinds the eye of the disobedient. The same God who says yes to righteousness must say no to sin. It is God’s inevitable dealings with nature in reverse. It is God’s grace at work in reverse.
But it is God’s grace. That is the important point. God, being positive love, positive life, positive goodness, can work in no other way than according to His own nature, in determined and unceasing works of grace. He must restore rebel negatives to their predestined estate of submission to their positives: He must overcome evil by good, clothe the corruptible with incorruption, and swallow up mortality in life. This He did, in His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge", by the One who died to that negative spirit in His death for all who receive Him; replaced it by His own positive Spirit in His resurrection; and in His ascension awaits the day when the last negative (death: t-life) will be put under His feet.
This means, then, that all the consequences of our wrong ways, which are His deliberate judgments on us, are determined acts of pure grace. They are to open our eyes, teach us our lesson of the goodness of God leading us to repentance, and then to give us the glorious revelation of a life which has already swallowed up death, a goodness which has overcome evil, a sweetness which has dissolved bitterness–in our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, judgments are pointers to grace, signposts: and not to a grace which has to be sought somewhere or manufactured; but which was there long before the judgments, and the judgments are only the necessary way of getting the grace through to us, conditioning us to accept it.
Long before there was a condition of need God had completed His work of perfect creation. The fall and its consequences have been an apparently tragic interlude, but that was foreseen and provided for in "the Lamb without blemish and without spot; who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world". Therefore; as we have already said, God has always had His fulness in readiness to replace our emptiness, His perfection our imperfections, His light our darkness, His life our death. He has always intended, planned and provided total supply for every human need, and the supply has always been there. It is not that our need initiates the demand for its supply and must somehow call the attention of the Father to it and persuade Him to supply. No indeed. HE initiated the need so that we might find all our supply already there in His and our Christ! The need is the proof that the supply is there, and is merely God’s means of conditioning us to be agents of faith. It is God who confronts us with every kind of problem, inability, difficulty, that, in our weakness, He may flash the spark of faith into our hearts, His faith, that His supply for exactly that situation was there long before. "Eat, o friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, o beloved."
That is the meaning of parable, and all life is a parable, if we understand it; for a parable is an earthly representation of a heavenly fact. But what fact? It is the story of some human need picturing a spiritual need–the man who fell among thieves, the lost sheep, the prodigal son. But is that all? No, the story always points on to the supply of that need, the provision of grace, of the kingdom of heaven Parables underline human need as pointers to the One who from eternity has been Supplier of all need. Parables, therefore, are signposts, not to the need which is obvious, but to the One who has brought the need to our attention because He intends to supply it. In this sense, the whole of our human existence is one continuous parable. It is one vast imperfection pointing to the invisible perfection already ours in Christ; one vast confusion pointing to the eternal order in Him. It stirs in all who have eyes to see the longing for that final perfection at His coming, but at the same time it is God’s summons to us to receive by faith in the here and now the supplies of so many needs.
To repeat once more. Can we catch a glimpse of this truth and its effects on our whole outlook? All evil, sin, and their consequences are negatives which have got out of place and made their unlawful appearance in God’s universe. The Bible gives them positive names because they are positive facts–the kingdom or power of darkness. But their basic reality is not positive; they are the negatives of their true positives which they have blatantly tried to dethrone and called themselves the positives: thus the creature is in reality the not-Creator, rebellion not-obedience, unbelief not-faith, pain not-pleasure, and so on. God, the eternal positive, the eternal yes, is in process of restoring all to their proper place, the negatives in rightful submission to and union with their positives, their interaction being the basis of the manifestation of the glory of God.
To bring about His eternal purpose, God gives us to taste and know the bitter fruits of our false negatives by His judgments on all that is the not-good, not-sweet, not-loving, not-selfgiving, not-humble, in our lives, and in the life of the church and the world; but He gives this not for judgment, but to shut us up to His grace, to the salvation and consequent restoration planned in Christ before the false kingdom of negation was in existence. It was fulfilled by Him when He gathered the great negation of humanity, its not-rightness, into Himself on the cross and took it into His death, and when He arose to be the first-born of the new creation, where the positive and negative are joined in eternal fruitfulness by the union of Christ and the redeemed sinner. This fulfillment is in process of realization by the Spirit working in the world of men, and joining the negatives to their one Positive. Wherever, therefore, the Spirit confronts us with the tragedy and destitution of the not-righteous (the sinners), having first confronted us with our own need, He does it with the express purpose of saying to us with as loud a voice as possible: "I am come to redeem these falsely opposing negatives and rejoin them to their Positive: the not-righteous (the sinner) to be clothed with righteousness: the not-full (the empty) to be filled. I point out the false negatives to you, just so that you should immediately combine with your outlook which sees the negative, the not-full, not-happy, not-righteous, not-true side of things, the positive outlook of faith which sees ME present to fulfil all need; and the fact that I have shown you the need is my assurance to you that I have come with the supply already in My hands. See Me, believe Me, co-operate with Me, and I will work this work of salvation through the faith I put into you, and your labours of love that go with it."
–The Deep Things of God