Copyright © 1975, 2002
What shall I do my God to love,
My loving God to praise?
The length, and breadth, and height to prove,
And depth of sovereign grace?
Thy sovereign grace to all extends,
Immense and unconfined;
From age to age it never ends;
It reaches all mankind.
Throughout the world its breadth is known,
Wide as infinity;
So wide, it never passed by one,
Or it had passed by me.
My trespass was grown up to heaven;
But far above the skies,
In Christ abundantly forgiven,
I see Thy mercies rise.
The depth of all redeeming love,
What angel tongue can tell?
O may I to the utmost prove
The gift unspeakable!
[From the hymn
Infinite, Unexhausted Love]
The fulfillment of the Gospel is Christ in the heart. This is salvation; this is why He came, was born, suffered, died, and rose again. This is the purpose for which the Holy Spirit is given, to make the Lord Jesus Christ real in the heart.
- That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man;
- that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
- may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height;
- and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
- Ephesians 3:16-19
For when the Holy Spirit has come, He gives the faith whereby the presence of Christ is an abiding experience, and because Christ is God and God is love, there is a rooting and grounding in love, so that from this root may grow by revelation an ever-increasing tree of knowledge of the exceeding love of God.
The Grace of Faith and the Gift of Faith
We must differentiate between:
- preternatural1 faith, a quality of the divine nature which comes to us in the new birth, a fruit produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and
- the essentially supernatural gift of faith.
The latter is given, in the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit, to those needing it for the fulfillment of a special task that He has chosen for them to do. This distinction is made clear in Scripture, which speaks of the fruit of faith in the epistle to the Galatians (5:22), and of the gift of faith in 1 Corinthians 12:9. They are usually designated “the grace of faith” and “the gift of faith.”
God gave this special gift of faith to George Müller.2 It enabled him to believe that every need would be provided for the many orphans put under his care. Dr. A. T. Pierson, in his George Muller of Bristol, mentions that this truth was revealed to Müller through an experience of suffering which he went through in 1832. He had the misfortune to break a blood-vessel the day before the Sunday when he had to preach at three chapel services. Dr. Pierson says:
The Dimensions of Our Inheritance
The commencement of the entering into our inheritance through faith is while we are yet living upon earth. Before ever we mount to the skies, we begin to enter into the riches of our inheritance. Here then is a revelation, unknown and therefore unappreciated by those who are not the children of God, but to us who are the called according to His purpose, of exquisite preciousness. See how Paul unfolds this revelation of His love in the third chapter of Ephesians.
- The breadth—Not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel (verse 6). “Unto me… is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (verse 8). Even this is hardly broad enough for Paul. He completes it by saying, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (verse 9).
- That very verse introduces us also to the length which, to be measured accurately, must begin “from the beginning of the world” (verse 9). We shall need an infinite measuring tape, because it unrolls to God’s glory “in the Church…throughout all ages, world without end” (verse 21).
- How can we plumb the depth of the love of God? There is only one satisfying and complete revelation of the depth of the Father’s love: it was when He gave His Son, who most willingly came down an immeasurable depth, down through the cherubim, past the seraphim, past the principalities and powers, lower yet—past the archangels and angels, still lower—through the azure floor of heaven, down to earth. Lower yet He came, passing by kings and presidents, dukes and earls, lords, rich men and captains, to take the form of a servant, and to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. All we can do is state the extent of the depth; we can never comprehend it.
- To view the height of the love of God, one must stand upon earth, look toward heaven, and see that God has chosen to give the principalities and powers in those heavenly places a new lesson in the profundity of His wisdom, by the revelation of the Church (verse 18), which is the body of Christ and the fullness of Him, the Head, that fills all in all.
This is an inheritance indeed, and one that we begin to enter into on earth, as Christ, by the Spirit, abides in our hearts through faith. But always, the best is yet to be. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). It would be foolish to doubt our faith, for Jesus is its author. It would be foolish to fear that in the end we shall be overcome by doubt and lose it, for Jesus is its finisher. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last; and He will perform and finish what He has begun. There is a time coming when we shall be the manifested sons of God. At present the Church is an invisible church. Now the sons of God are not visible as His sons; they appear in the same physical form as the sons of Adam. Nor can they be revealed until He, the Son, is revealed; for how can there be visible sons when the Son is invisible? It is the will of God that the true Church as an entity should not yet be known to mankind as “the Church”; no one can say, “Lo here!” or “Lo, there!” (Luke 17:21) about either the Head—Jesus—or the body—the Church.
Although the Church has been plagued throughout all of its existence, even to the present day, by sectarians claiming that their exclusive group is the whole church, still the word of the Founder and Head holds true: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Wisdom should teach us that one cannot have an invisible head and a visible body. While Christ—our Head—is invisible, the Church—His body—will be invisible; and “when Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). John makes this very clear: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” One would think that this would be conclusive evidence that the manifestation of the sons of God is yet to come, as indeed, John goes on to say: “But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
Elisha: A Type of Persistent Faith
The greatest reward of faith is in the future; but there is also an inheritance that persistent faith may enter into here and now. There are those who long to be the heirs of the prophets, to have the “double portion,” that is, the birthright blessing; and these shall obtain it. The great example of this truth, given for our instruction in the Biblical record, is that of Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 2). Elisha had one all-embracing, God-inspired desire, and that was to inherit Elijah’s office. He wanted to be his heir. In those days the father divided his property between his sons into a number of equal parts, but with one more part than he had sons. The eldest son, who had the birthright blessing, had in addition to his own portion this extra one. This is the “double portion” asked for by Elisha. What he is requesting is to be Elijah’s heir. The strange reply of that prophet was that only if he were present when Elijah was taken away would he receive that inheritance (verse 10).
There were two things alone that could testify that Elisha had received this promise: Elijah’s mantle, which was the outward and visible insignia of the office; and Elijah’s spirit, which was the internal and invisible motive force of all his mighty deeds. Only Elisha’s persistent and unswerving walk of faith could make these blessings his. Why should it be that Elisha would only receive his request if he were present when Elijah was taken up? Because if Elisha were an actual witness of Elijah’s translation, he could forever testify that Elijah was not dead, but living.
This was the great testimony of the apostles, that the Lord Jesus was not dead, but alive. It was a most necessary qualification of the Twelve who were especially called the “Twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). There were other apostles, such as Paul, Barnabas, and Silas; but these were not of the Twelve. Peter said,
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us…must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection…and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
These Twelve are to have a special office in the Millennium. Jesus said to them…“When the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). They were essentially witnesses of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; later apostles and disciples would witness to His resurrection.
Elisha followed his master from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel to Jericho, and from Jericho to Jordan and the wilderness. He survived all the testings that Elijah put upon him; he refused to abide in any of the spiritual experiences that he came into; his ever-increasing faith saw that these were but steps to the goal, not the goal itself. Very few Christians are like Elisha, for they arrive at a spiritual plateau up the mountain and, being content with that, do not press on to the summit. They are saved from hell and are satisfied, or they go a little further and speak in tongues and are content, or they enter into a measure of victory, and rest therein; but the goal of being in the character and power of their Beloved, and of having the exceeding joy and privilege of following the Lamb “whithersoever He goeth,” is not their overwhelming and only desire. These will never inherit the “double portion” as Elisha did, for “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven, and Elisha saw it” (2 Kings 2:11,12). Therefore he inherited Elijah’s mantle; “he took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him” (verse 13). He also received Elijah’s spirit: “When the sons of the prophets…saw him, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha’” (verse 15).
Christ’s Mantle—His Perfect Nature
This is the great secret of the apostolic testimony, and of ours, too, if by patient endurance in steadfast faith we will walk with God. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33). So they inherited by right two things—Christ’s mantle, and His Spirit. His mantle is represented by His seamless dress, which is His nature, His righteousness, His perfect, spotless holiness that is completely without seam or flaw. Just as the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout” (John 19:23), so His perfection of holiness came down with Him from above. He did not have to acquire it or attain to it.
This the apostles had, by the gift of God, not in the same infinite degree as the Christ, but of the same quality. They made no excuse for sin; they even called upon Christians to observe their apostolic behavior and to copy them. Paul says, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Also, “Those things which ye have both learned and received and heard and seen in me do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:9). They recognized that the Lord had done a mighty work in them, as well as for them; they had a real salvation.
It would be well to observe here that the apostles were not supermen; their modern representatives are not princes of the church who have costly ecclesiastical dress and pomp and political power, but with little spiritual power. In apostolic days there were no princes of the church. We have already pointed out that the apostles had no distinctive dress, style, or appearance, and it was exceptional if one of them, such as Paul, had education. The educated men of the time “perceived that they [the Apostles] were unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13). They had received the double gift that their Lord had obtained for them: 1) before God by faith, Christ their righteousness; 2) within them by faith, Christ their holiness. They were not novel exceptions; they were just samples of the Church for which the Lord Jesus had given Himself “that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26,27). The Christian standard of conduct in those days, untrammelled by subsequent human theories excusing sin, could be briefly summarized as: Having faults? Yes! Guilty of sin? No!
Christ’s Spirit—Power and Holiness
The apostles also had—being witnesses of Christ’s resurrection—His Spirit, freely conferred upon them, enabling them to continue their Lord’s ministry of deliverance that He had commenced when He announced “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me…to preach deliverance” (Luke 4:18). This was a ministry in power, with miracles and signs. Peter confirms that these—power and holiness—are the two insignia that should mark not only the pioneers, the apostles, but every follower of the Lamb. He said, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?” (Acts 3:12) Power and holiness are never separated in a true experience wrought by the sovereign Holy Spirit; they are the celestial stamp, the Divine hallmark, which accompanies every true revival of religion. Nor can one distinguish a line of demarcation between the two, for both proceed from One—the sanctifying Spirit of almighty power.
There will occur variations in doctrinal conceptions accompanying revivals, but the product is always the same—transformed men and women with supernatural spiritual power and holiness. Where either one of these becomes the emphasis (as after some time one or the other usually does), there is degeneracy, on the one hand, into an unhealthy interest in supernatural manifestations, and, on the other hand, into superior, legal self-righteousness, misnamed holiness. The Holy Spirit is not the monopoly of any denomination, and where such a people attempt to corner Him as their sole possession, to the despising of others who it is believed have not the same light or experience, the anointing has already left them. The almighty Spirit will not dwell in a temple made with hands. Your doctrinal beliefs, although founded upon Scripture, can never make a cage to confine that Holy Dove. Those earliest, faithful disciples of Jesus, ready to seal their testimony with their blood, had the authority (Greek: exousia) that ever goes with the nature of divine sonship, and the power (Greek: dunamis) that ever accompanies the presence of the Holy Ghost.
All will be fully restored to the Church before the Divine clock has chimed the hour of midnight, or ever the new dawn comes when “the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2). Now is the time to realize what God’s salvation is. It is not just an escape from hell! Devout Cornelius had no idea what the extent of salvation was when the angel said “that Peter would tell him words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14), but he discovered to his amazement that it included belief in Jesus and His resurrection, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, a new tongue, and a pure heart. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Are you a witness that Jesus is alive? that He is ascended? that He is ever present by His Spirit to do all that ever He once did on earth? Then you may have by inheritance two things: His seamless mantle, and His Spirit. But “I will yet for this be enquired of…to do it for them,” saith the Lord God (Ezekiel 36:37). See your privilege. Once when He was on earth, they pressed to touch the hem of His garment; but you may wear it! Are you willing to come the Elisha way of persevering faith, that you may share this heirship of Christ? God will not separate the two; it is not “either/or,” for Elijah’s mantle is of no use without Elijah’s spirit. He will not let you manifest the true Gifts of the Spirit without your cultivation by grace of the Fruits of the Spirit; Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), not by “their gifts.” And the Divine Husbandman will not produce His fruit in you without also giving, by His Spirit, His supernatural gifts. You despise either at your peril. Elisha did not work in two separate compartments of his nature; he was a harmonious whole.
Elisha’s two first miracles are proof of this truth of supernatural power and holiness. He took up the mantle and said, “Where is the God of Elijah”—the God of fire, of miracles, of judgment (2 Kings 2:14)? He then smote the Jordan and it divided, as it had done at the command of Elijah. His next miracle was an invisible deed of cleansing, a type of the cleansing of the human heart (2 Kings 2:19-22). The city of Jericho had been under a curse ever since the days of Joshua, who had said, “Cursed be the man before the Lord that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho” (Joshua 6:26). The men of the city came to Elisha and said, “The situation of this city is pleasant…but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.” The curse was present in the water; so the land was barren and the cattle kept casting their young.
This is a type of humanity. God says He knows that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). The Lord Jesus confirmed this when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within” (Mark 7:21-23). It is the presence of these things in the heart that causes barrenness in the spiritual life.
Elisha took a new cruse and “went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there and said, ‘Thus saith the Lord, “I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land”’” (2 Kings 2:21). This is what the Lord does with the heart; the purifying work of the Holy Spirit is shown in the cleansing, preserving nature of the salt. Wise Elisha went to the spring of the waters; he cleansed the water at its source. And that is what the Lord does, cleansing the heart from whence, as He says, the evil has been flowing. It was a new cruse that Elisha took, for we have this blessing under the New Covenant.
The Bible also speaks of the same experience under another figure: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Stephen, inspired by the Holy Spirit, reproached the Jews: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51). This word cut them to the heart, but they proved the truth of it. The murder in their hearts leaped out at Stephen and they stoned him to death. Stephen would not have accused them of having an uncircumcised heart if he had had one himself. Like with Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles, like with Peter and the disciples of the Upper Room, God-given faith and the tongue of flame that came down with the Holy Spirit had purified his heart. He had, under the New Covenant, a new heart.
The God of Elijah is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He will do far more exceeding abundantly above all that you ask or even think (Ephesians 3:20). Go to the Lord, if you would inherit these blessings, and not to a man! A man might well deny a truth beyond his own experience. Those who seek from the Lord, with an honest heart, in persistent faith, will possess these great inheritances of faith.
- Preternatural: existing outside of nature; inexplicable by ordinary means ↩
- Depending on the author, the name is spelled variously as Muller, Mueller, and Müller. Except for the title of Pierson’s book, we have settled on Müller, since it is the spelling which appears on his tombstone in Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol, England. (Note also that there is another title version of Pierson’s work called George Mueller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God.) ↩