The Absence of Christ
The Lord, knowing that nothing would so peculiarly affect His own on the earth as the fact of His going away, records for us fully in John 13 to 17 how He will provide for us during His absence from this scene and our journey through it. He knew every feeling and need which could be awakened by the blank; and reckoning on our faithfulness and affection, He provided accordingly. Consequently, as there is faithfulness and affection for Him, as One known, so is there an understanding of the gracious and marvellous provision for His absence in these chapters; but as there is indifference and denial of His absence, so are they unappropriated and inapplicable. I do not propose to comment on these chapters, but simply to draw attention to the fact of Christís absence, and some of the consequences of it. Nothing betrays more the meagre nature of our love to Christ than the little practical sense we have of His absence. The true evidence of how we have valued anyone is the extent of blank we are conscious of in the absence of such an one. If we can go on as usual, it is very clear that their presence was not necessary to us; but according to our value of the presence is the greatness of the blank caused by absence. Now nothing can fill or repair the blank but that which has caused it. In simple language, the blank which is caused by the absence of anyone can only be repaired by the presence of that same one, and hence, if I feel the Lordís absence and the blank here occasioned by it, nothing can repair that blank to me but His presence. And consequently, as His absence is felt, so is His presence sought. The latter proves the genuineness of the former. The disciples had known Him as present with Him, and they at once felt the blank and loss which His absence entailed. To them every word that He said which indicated how the blank would be repaired was of all importance. Saints now have never known Him down here personally, as the first disciples did; but according as they know Him, they have at every turn the painful sense that He is not here; and as this sense is deepened and sustained, so is there in them a retreating from things as they are here, because His absence is so felt. It is as we know the blessedness and the power of His presence now that we feel the blank and desolation caused by His absence. His absence is a fact, and He repairs the blank, assuring us that He will not leave us comfortless, but that He will come to us.
Now this coming to us does not mean the same thing as His coming for us. The coming for us is when He comes to receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also. His coming to us is by the Holy Spirit to repair the blank of His absence. If I feel the absence of Christ from this scene, and if my heart be truly set on Him, nothing can make up or repair for me this grievous blank, but His coming to me, His manifesting Himself to me; and this must be by the Holy Spirit. Hence, if I feel the absence of Christ, my only resource is the Holy Spirit, who is here on the earth, sent down to manifest to me the absent Christ. What a relief to a true and faithful heart! How simple it is that nothing can repair absence but presence; and if we do not feel the absence of Christ, it is only too evident that we have never yet known Him as present with us! Where is there a heart for Christ, in a day like this, which does not feel that it is vain to hope to find Him even in things avowedly dedicated to Him? The fact is, souls are satisfied with relief of conscience, and stop there, instead of going on to the satisfying of the heart. Nothing but His presence, as we see in the case of Mary Magdelene in John 20, will satisfy the heart; no amount of gifts or communications will do for the heart. No, all these only intensify the desire of the true heart to have His presence. If gifts or communications would make up for the presence, then they are greater than the presence. This cannot be; their value consists in being expressions of that presence, which is the more desired as it is kept fresh by those expressions before the heart and mind. The moment my heart delights in the presence of Christ, it is unsatisfied elsewhere; and then His coming to me by the Holy Spirit is my relief and comfort here. And here it is that I first begin to find my true place for Him on the earth. If I do not feel His absence, I do not value the reparation of it. If Christís absence is not felt, the Holy Spiritís presence is proportionally not regarded; and this is the real state of Christendom. My true place for Him here begins with loving Him; for it is as I find Him satisfying my heart that I am led and empowered to occupy the place here which pleases Him, one in fellowship of the Spirit.
Now as I am satisfied with Him, I am in heart dissociated from everything not of Him. Nothing ministers to my heart where He is not; and where this is so, I begin to realise that He is not only absent from the place in which I walk, but that He has been rejected from it, refused a place in it; so that I am not only isolated here because of the blank of His absence, but I am also repelled from association with things here because He has been refused His rightful place. His absence affects me in this place; but His rejection makes the place fearful, and separates me from every work and way of man, because of the guilt of His rejection and the consequent judgement of this world. If it were merely a question of His absence, things would remain unaltered to me, only with this feeling, that none of them could fill up the blank. Indeed, the more lovely and attractive they were naturally, the more they would evoke desolation of heart, because inviting my admiration where the one object of my heart no longer was. The order of nature and scenery indeed remains unaltered, but the fact that none of these things ever could revive His presenceórather, that as His presence is enjoyed by the Spirit, they are all in abeyanceócloses the eye to them. The creation remains in all its native beauty, but it can never repair the blank of Christís absence; and the spiritual one knows it to be so, and that it is with the eye closed to everything here, and the heart absorbed in Him, that one enters through the Spirit into the joy of His presence. The works of nature cannot repair the blank of His absence; the Holy Spirit alone can and does. My prospect is Christ coming for me; in the interval I know His coming to me by the Holy Spirit.
I need not add more, but nothing is clearer than that, if the absence of Christ is not fully apprehended, there is really no power to walk here for Christ, because there is no acknowledgement of the Spirit, who only can fill the blank and lead us here according to His mind. Consequently, there must be unhallowed mixture and diverse false efforts to make up for the absence of Him who is the sole fountain and supply of all our blessings.
Oh for a true heart for Him! Nothing but His presence by the Spirit could then satisfy our hearts here, and every other thing would only have its relative value.