4. Forgive Seventy Times Seven
Mat 18:21–22 Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus said to him, I say not to you, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
5. The Lord’s Love
Mat 22:37–39 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Of these two passages, one speaks of forgiveness and the other speaks of love. These two topics really highlight the work the Lord Jesus wanted to carry out in the Age of Grace.
When God became flesh, He brought along with Him a stage of His work, which was the specific work tasks and the disposition He wanted to express in this age. In that period, everything that the Son of man did revolved around the work that God wanted to carry out in this age. He would do no more and no less. Every single thing He said and every type of work that He carried out was all related to this age. Regardless of whether He expressed it in a human way with human language or through divine language, and no matter in which way or from which perspective He did so, His goal was to help people understand what He wanted to do, what His will was, and what His requirements of people were. He might use various means and different perspectives to help people understand and know His will, and to understand His work of saving mankind. So in the Age of Grace we see the Lord Jesus using human language most of the time to express what He wanted to communicate with mankind. Even more, we see Him from the perspective of an ordinary guide speaking with people, providing for their needs, and helping them with what they had requested. This way of working was not seen in the Age of Law that came before the Age of Grace. He became more intimate and more compassionate with mankind, as well as more able to achieve practical results in both form and manner. The metaphor about forgiving people seventy times seven really clarifies this point. The purpose achieved by the number in this metaphor is to allow people to understand the Lord Jesus’ intention at the time that He said this. His intention was that people should forgive others—not once or twice, and not even seven times, but seventy times seven. What kind of idea is contained within the idea of “seventy times seven”? It is to cause people to make forgiveness their own responsibility, something they must learn, and a “way” by which they must abide. Even though this was just a metaphor, it served to highlight the crucial point. It helped people to deeply appreciate what He meant and to find the proper ways of practice and the principles and standards of practice. This metaphor helped people to understand clearly and gave them a correct concept—that they should learn forgiveness and forgive any number of times without conditions, but with an attitude of tolerance and understanding for others. When the Lord Jesus said this, what was in His heart? Was He really thinking of the number “seventy times seven?” No, He was not. Is there a number of times God will forgive man? There are many people who are very interested in the “number of times” mentioned here, who really want to understand the origin and the meaning of this number. They want to understand why this number came out of the Lord Jesus’ mouth; they believe that there is a deeper implication to this number. But actually, this was just a figure of human speech which God used. Any implication or meaning must be taken along with the Lord Jesus’ requirements for mankind. When God had not yet become flesh, people did not understand much of what He said, because His words came out of complete divinity. The perspective and context of what He said was invisible and unreachable to mankind; it was expressed from a spiritual realm that people could not see. For people who lived in the flesh, they could not pass through the spiritual realm. But after God became flesh, He spoke to mankind from the perspective of humanity, and He came out of and surpassed the scope of the spiritual realm. He could express His divine disposition, will, and attitude through things humans could imagine, things they saw and encountered in their lives, and using methods that humans could accept, in a language they could understand, and with knowledge they could grasp, to allow mankind to understand and to know God, to comprehend His intention and His required standards within the scope of their capacity and to the degree that they were able. This was the method and principle of God’s work in humanity. Even though God’s ways and His principles of working in the flesh were mostly achieved by means of or through humanity, it truly did achieve results that could not be achieved by working directly in divinity. God’s work in humanity was more concrete, authentic, and targeted, the methods were much more flexible, and in form it surpassed the work carried out during the Age of Law.
Next, let us talk about loving the Lord and loving your neighbor as yourself. Is this something that is directly expressed in divinity? No, clearly not! These were all things that the Son of man spoke about in humanity; only human beings would say something like “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love others as you cherish your own life.” This manner of speaking is exclusively human. God has never spoken in this way. At the very least, God does not have this type of language in His divinity because He has no need of this kind of tenet, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” in order to regulate His love for mankind, because God’s love for mankind is a natural revelation of what He has and is. When have you ever heard God say anything like: “I love mankind as I love Myself”? You have not, because love is in God’s essence and in what He has and is. God’s love for mankind, and His attitude, and the way He treats people are a natural expression and revelation of His disposition. He does not need to deliberately do this in a certain way, or to deliberately follow a certain method or a moral code to achieve loving His neighbor as Himself—He already possesses this type of essence. What do you see in this? When God worked in humanity, many of His methods, words, and truths were expressed in a human way. But at the same time, God’s disposition, what He has and is, and His will were expressed for people to know and understand. What they came to know and understand was exactly His essence and what He has and is, which represent the inherent identity and status of God Himself. That is to say, the Son of man in the flesh expressed the inherent disposition and essence of God Himself to the greatest extent possible and as accurately as possible. Not only was the Son of man’s humanity not a hindrance or a barrier to man’s communication and interaction with God in heaven, but it was actually the only channel and the only bridge for mankind to connect to the Lord of creation. Now, at this point, do you not feel that there are many similarities between the nature and methods of the work done by the Lord Jesus in the Age of Grace and the current stage of work? This current stage of work also uses a lot of human language to express God’s disposition, and a lot of language and methods from mankind’s daily life and human knowledge to express the will of God Himself. Once God becomes flesh, no matter if He is speaking from a human perspective or a divine perspective, lots of His language and methods of expression come through the medium of human language and methods. That is, when God becomes flesh, this is the best opportunity for you to see God’s omnipotence and His wisdom, and to know every real aspect of God. When God became flesh, while He was growing up, He came to understand, learn, and grasp some of mankind’s knowledge, common sense, language, and methods of expression in humanity. God incarnate possessed these things that came from the humans which He had created. They became tools of God in the flesh for expressing His disposition and His divinity, and allowed Him to make His work more pertinent, more authentic, and more accurate when He was working amidst mankind, from a human perspective and using human language. This made His work more accessible and more easily understood for people, thus achieving the results that God wanted. Is it not more practical for God to work in the flesh in this way? Is this not God’s wisdom? When God became flesh, when God’s flesh was able to take on the work that He wanted to carry out, that is when He would practically express His disposition and His work, and that was also the time when He could officially begin His ministry as the Son of man. This meant that there was no longer a “generation gap” between God and man, that God would soon cease His work of communicating through messengers, and that God Himself could personally express all the words and work in the flesh that He wanted to. It also meant that the people God saves were closer to Him, that His management work had entered new territory, and that all of mankind was about to be faced with a new era.
Everyone who has read the Bible knows that many events happened when the Lord Jesus was born. The greatest among those events was Him being hunted by the king of devils, which was an event so extreme that all of the city’s children who were aged two years old and under were slaughtered. It is evident that God assumed great risk by becoming flesh among humans; the great price that He paid for completing His management of saving mankind is also evident. The great hopes that God held for His work among mankind in the flesh are also evident. When God’s flesh was able to take on work among mankind, how did He feel? People should be able to understand that to some degree, should they not? At the very least, God was happy because He could start carrying out His new work among mankind. When the Lord Jesus was baptized and officially began His work to fulfill His ministry, God’s heart was overwhelmed with joy because after so many years of waiting and preparation, He could finally wear the flesh of a normal man and begin His new work in the form of a man of flesh and blood, whom people could see and touch. He could finally speak face-to-face and heart-to-heart with people through the identity of a man. God could finally come face to face with mankind through the medium of human ways and human language; He could provide for mankind, enlighten them, and help them using human language; He could eat at the same table and live in the same space with them. He could also see human beings, see things, and see everything the way humans saw them and even through their own eyes. For God, this was already His first victory of His work in the flesh. It could also be said that it was an accomplishment of a great work—this of course was what God was happiest about. Starting from then, God felt, for the first time, a sort of comfort in His work among mankind. All of the events that came to pass were so practical and so natural, and the comfort that God felt was so true. For mankind, each time a new stage of God’s work is accomplished, and each time God feels gratified, that is when mankind can come closer to God and to salvation. To God, this is also the launch of His new work, forging onward in His management plan, and, moreover, these are the times when His intentions approach complete fulfillment. For mankind, the arrival of such an opportunity is fortunate, and very good; for all those who await God’s salvation, it is momentous and joyous news. When God carries out a new stage of work, then He has a new beginning, and when this new work and new beginning are launched and introduced among mankind, it is when the outcome of this stage of work has already been determined and accomplished and the final effect and fruit already seen by God. This is also when these effects make God feel satisfied, and, of course, it is when His heart is happy. God feels reassured because, in His eyes, He has already seen and determined the people He is looking for, and has already gained this group of people, a group that is able to make His work successful and bring Him satisfaction. Thus, He puts aside His worries, and He feels happy. In other words, when the flesh of God is able to embark upon new work among man, and He begins to, without obstruction, do the work that He must do, and when He feels that all has been accomplished, then for Him, the end is already in sight. Because of this He is satisfied, and His heart is happy. How is God’s happiness expressed? Can you imagine what the answer might be? May God cry? Can God cry? Can God clap His hands? Can God dance? Can God sing? If so, what would He sing? Of course, God could sing a beautiful, moving song, a song that could express the joy and happiness in His heart. He could sing it for mankind, for Himself, and for all things. God’s happiness can be expressed in any way—all of this is normal because God has joys and sorrows, and His various feelings can be expressed in various ways. This is His right, and nothing could be more normal and proper. People should not think anything else of it. You should not try to use the “band-tightening spell”[a] on God, telling Him He should not do this or that, He should not act this way or that, and in this way limit His happiness or any feeling He might have. In people’s hearts God cannot be happy, cannot shed tears, cannot weep—He cannot express any emotion. Through what we have communicated during these two fellowships, I believe you will no longer see God in this way, but will allow God to have some freedom and release. This is a very good thing. In the future if you are able to truly feel God’s sadness when you hear about Him being sad, and you are able to truly feel His happiness when you hear about Him being happy, then at least you will be able to clearly know and understand what makes God happy and what makes Him sad. When you are able to feel sad because God is sad, and feel happy because God is happy, He will have fully gained your heart and there will no longer be any barrier between yourself and Him. You will no longer try to constrain God with human imaginings, notions, and knowledge. At that time, God will be alive and vivid in your heart. He will be the God of your life and the Master of everything about you. Do you have this kind of aspiration? Are you confident that you can achieve this?
Excerpted from “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself III” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
a. The “band-tightening spell” is a spell used by the monk Tang Sanzang in the Chinese novel Journey to the West. He uses this spell to control Sun Wukong by tightening a metal band around the latter’s head, giving him acute headaches, and thus bringing him under control. It has become a metaphor to describe something that binds a person.