The root of all declension can be traced to a defect in love. Amidst much that was fair, the Lord had to say to Ephesus “I have against thee, that thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2: 4). What to man would appear to be a minor blemish, was judged by the Lord a fundamental flaw. Furthermore, if we accept that the seven assemblies in Revelation are really a picture of what was to unfold in the history of the Assembly as a whole, then it can be easily seen that what began as a waning of affection in the first assembly had reached its culmination in the terrible state of the last.
What is needed more than ever today is true–hearted devotion to Christ––genuine and deep affection. Not a revival in evangelical terms merely, or in ecclesiastical order only, but in real devotion to Christ. The day is a shallow one, where knowledge can be acquired cheaply and easily. Never in the Assembly’s history has so much been available in terms of books, study–aids, pamphlets and magazines. What our predecessors acquired only after a lifetime of rising early to study and pray for hours, you and I can access by merely plucking a volume from the shelf––or even, increasingly, by simply clicking a button. But are you and I any better for for all this light? I fear not. Where are the ‘men of God’ our forbears were so familiar with? Even in medieval times there were individuals who were burning and shining lights for Christ in a way that puts us to shame. People nowadays are prone to refer to these ‘dark ages’ in an almost disparaging way, as a time of ignorance and blindness as to divine truth. Of course men, by and large, could not read, superstition was rife, and the Bible largely unknown, but there was a quality in the devotion amongst those who were the Lord’s that is more or less extinct in our day. I am not speaking about gift, or knowledge, but devotion––and a devotion that was often willing to pay the ultimate price. It is vain for you and I to speak of light apart from devotion. True light––that is, light received into the soul, not merely the head––produces love in the heart. This is a rule without exceptions.
In this connection, it is instructive to look at the history of Mary Magdalene––one of whom, like the woman who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears, it could be said that “she loved much” (Luke 7: 47).
The earliest mention of Mary is in Luke 8: “And it came to pass afterwards that he went through [the country] city by city, and village by village, preaching and announcing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God; and the twelve [were] with him, and certain women who had been healed of wicked spirits and infirmities, Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who ministered to him of their substance” (vs 1–3). We thus learn that Mary’s unconverted state had been shocking in the extreme: she had been completely under demonical control. In what form this power had manifested itself we are not told, but it can hardly be imagined that Satan would assert his power over an individual except through abandonment to a wicked and sinful life.
The eye of God, however, was on that wretched soul, and in sovereign grace, He saw fit for her to meet with the Lord and be gloriously saved. The seven demons were cast out by divine power, and she who had been the bond–slave of Satan, and made to do his abhorrent will, was now brought into the blessed service of the Christ of God. What a wonderful change! Formerly, the seven demons had held her in their grasp, but now the Lord Jesus possessed her heart, and enshrining Himself there, drew her from then on in the path of devotion and affection.
Thus if the first effect of the Lord’s word had been deliverance, the next was attraction. It says that Mary, along with the twelve and others was “with him” (Luke 8: 1). How much is encompassed within those two words! Grace flowed out so mightily from the Saviour that those who had become recipients of it were detached from all that might have hindered, and as typified by Levi, “having left all” (Luke 5: 28) followed Him in the path of devoted discipleship. Henceforward they could not do without Him, for He had become the absorbing object of their hearts. It was so with Mary. Her one characteristic from the day of her deliverance was intense affection––she loved Him who had first loved her, and nothing satisfies love but the company of its object. Thus it came to pass that Mary was found with Jesus. She undoubtedly had much to learn (as we see later on), but she was now in the company of God’s beloved Son, the only channel through which any blessing could be received. There was no place on earth equal to that which Mary and her companions then occupied.
So how much do you and I desire to be with Christ? I do not mean by this the longing of the heart for that day when we shall be caught up to be forever with Him where He is, though that is indeed a blessed hope. I am speaking about being with Him in spirit now. Enoch “walked with God” (Gen. 5: 24)––he was conscious of journeying with God. So it should be with the Christian and Christ. The Lord does not want His people to be merely ‘men of the Book’, or just ‘full–time servants’––He wants us to be in the living enjoyment of His practical company. How you and I need that on–going communion with Him––that resting in His bosom (comp. John 13: 23)!
There is another thing to notice about Mary Magdalene. After the listing of the names of Mary, Joanna , and Susanna, it says “and many others, who ministered to him of their substance” (Luke 8: 3). This last clause covers all the women who are mentioned, (comp. Matt. 27: 55, 56) and so Mary was one of those found ministering to Him of what she had. She recognised that she belonged wholly to the Lord, and that whatever she possessed was at His disposal and for His service. How slow we are to learn the same lesson! How much we hold for ourselves! How poorly do we realise what a denial of His Lordship this is! Mary had no great public service to perform, but everything she had was for the Lord, and that is what He truly values. People speak of going into ‘full–time service’, but every Christian ought to be living the whole of his or her life in Christ’s service. The Roman slave who laboured for an earthly master yet who sought to honour the Lord in His life, will be rightly honoured in the day of reward (see Col. 3: 22–24). The Lord does not want our ‘spare time’––He wants all of our time, and affection for Him would gladly give it.
I pass on now to the solemn scene at Calvary: “And by the cross of Jesus stood his mother, and the sister of his mother, Mary the [wife] of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala” (John 19: 25). Why then was Mary Magdalene at the cross? It was because of her love to the One that had freed her from Satan’s bondage. Christ possessed her heart, and it was that which drew her to wherever He was––even Golgotha. As she had been identified with Him in life, so she would also be identified with Him in His death. The Lord had felt it deeply in Gethsemane when the chosen three could not watch with Him for one hour, but He was surely comforted by the sight of these four women––drawn by their intense affection for the One who had become everything to their souls. Their position recalls the language of Ittai centuries before: “[As] Jehovah liveth, and [as] my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be” (2 Sam. 15: 21). Surely this was the language of Mary’s heart as she watched her Lord on the cross. She was dead to the world, while He who hung upon the cross before her eyes was all her life. It was really the believer’s normal state exemplified, and we may challenge ourselves as to how far we answer to it. What attracts our hearts––the “present age” (2 Tim. 4: 10) which captivated Demas, or Christ?
The Lord having died, there remained but His burial. Thus after Pilate had granted the body to Joseph of Arimathaea we read “And having bought fine linen, [and] having taken him down, he swathed him in the fine linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was cut out of rock, and rolled a stone to the door of the sepulchre. And Mary of Magdala and Mary the [mother] of Joses saw where he was put” (Mark 15: 46, 47). In Matthew we get an added touch which seems to bring out their sad contemplation of these events: “But Mary of Magdala was there, and the other Mary, sitting opposite the sepulchre” (27: 61). How faithful was Mary in her devotedness to Christ––during His life, during His sorrows at the end, and after His death. He really was her life, and when that great stone was rolled to the door of the grave, the Sun of her soul had set. He was the one sole treasure of her heart, and even if she had never seen Him again, the world would have become to her a barren wilderness. To her, He was everything, and when the tomb received His body she had, as far as this world was concerned, lost everything. Darkness may have lain upon her spirit, and all her hopes extinguished, but her heart’s affections could not be dimmed. This is what matters to the heart of God. Mary loved much because she had been forgiven much (see Luke 7: 47). The deeper the sense of the state from which we have been delivered, the more intense our affection for the deliverer. How this ought to search our hearts! We need to be devoted not merely on the Lord’s day, or when meeting Christians, but in every facet of our lives.
Following the Sabbath, “Mary of Magdala comes in early morn to the tomb, while it was still dark” (John 20: 1). Love could not be away from her beloved Master more than a moment that was necessary. Having reached the place of burial, she “sees the stone taken away from the tomb”, and alarmed, “She runs therefore and comes to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, to whom Jesus was attached, and says to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him” (vs 1, 2). She was still without light as to the resurrection, but her heart had only one object, and having lost that object, she was filled with grief. Peter and John then ran to the tomb, but having seen that it was empty “went away again to their own home” (v10). The attitude of these two disciples is introduced here in order to bring out into fuller relief the greater devotedness of Mary. They loved the Lord most certainly, but not like Mary. The contrast is designed, as is clear by the words “But Mary stood at the tomb weeping without” (v11). She could not just go away to her own home like the two disciples. Her heart constrained her to remain at the spot where she had last seen the precious body of her Lord. For her, without her Lord, the whole world was nothing but an empty sepulchre. “As therefore she wept, she stooped down into the tomb, and beholds two angels sitting in white [garments], one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say to her, Woman, why dost thou weep? She says to them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (vs 11–13). Observe how her heart is absorbed with her Lord. One thought alone engrossed her soul, and that was that she had lost her Lord. She was blind and deaf to everything else, for without Him she had absolutely nothing. She says “my Lord”––He was her one possession, and how tenaciously she would cling to Him! How sweet to the heart of the Lord must have been these signs of Mary’s undying affection!
When Mary had answered the angel’s question, “she turned backward and beholds Jesus standing [there], and knew not that it was Jesus” (v14). All her desire was before her eyes and yet she did not recognise Him! She had no thought at that moment of the Lord except as a dead person. She had love but not light. Yet where there is love, the Lord always delights to bring in light––and so it proved here. First, however, the Lord asks Mary “Woman, why dost thou weep? Whom seekest thou?” (v15). The angels had only said “Why dost thou weep” (v13); the Lord asks “Whom seekest thou?”––as if to draw out from her heart the personal link with Himself that He so delighted in. “She, supposing that it was the gardener, says to him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (v15). Mary was so engrossed with her object that she did not think of the possibility of any one not knowing whom she sought. There was no one else in all the world for her heart, and there was consequently no need to say who He was. Observe, moreover, that there are no impossibilities to love. She was a weak woman, and yet she says “and I will take him away”! Physically she could not do it, but her heart was ready for anything. Would that we all knew more of this kind of devotion!
What greater proof could the Lord have of Mary’s devotedness? He knew her heart, but he delighted nonetheless to hear that heart express itself. How could He respond but to reveal Himself? Previously He had called her woman, now He says “Mary” (v16). It was the shepherd calling His sheep by name. That one word, spoken as only He could have spoken it, went right home to her heart of hearts, dismissed all the dark clouds of sorrow, and flooded her soul with boundless joy. Christ was her possession, but she was also His, and she now understood that nothing, not even death, could separate her from His love. Nor does He stop there, for he then introduces her to another sphere of affection: “I ascend to my Father and your Father, and [to] my God and your God” (v17). There is not the space to look at this wonderful declaration in detail, but one can imagine the exultation that filled the heart of Mary as she came “bringing word to the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and [that] he had said these things to her” (v18). A poor ignorant woman is privileged to carry the tidings of one of the most wonderful truths of Christianity! How the Lord delights to honour true–hearted affection!
If this short meditation serves to stir up one soul to greater devotedness to Christ then it will have served its purpose. While it is not an exposition of doctrine as such, it nonetheless deals with that which is surely fundamental: affection for Christ Himself. Not faith only, not mere knowledge, not works by themselves, but affection. Everything really depends on this. It is the prerequisite for growing in His likeness. Only as I am in His company will I become like Him––and I will only seek His company through affection. Furthermore, it is the spur to all activity in the Lord’s service––to saved and unsaved alike. Again, it is the only thing that will effectively bind the Lord’s people together. May you and I be more marked by this affection for Christ!