By H. Forbes Witherby.
11. Quickened Together with Christ.
The condition in which the new life is communicated to us — the state of the human race gradually proved to man to be that of death towards God — the death of Christ demonstrates man's end in the flesh — Christ risen, and life with Him risen.
In the two previous chapters we have been occupied with the principle rather than the practice of our fallen nature, with sin rather than sins; and if we have referred to the things we do or do not, in relation to holiness, it has been with the object of indicating the nature of the tree by the evidence of its fruit. The life which we have through Adam is of a sinful stock; it cannot produce good fruit for God. The eternal life we have in Christ is holy and divine; each is distinct from the other.
We must reiterate, every child of God has the life of God, and is a partaker of the divine nature. This life is in Christ, apart from whom every human being remains in the state of spiritual death. The notion that here or hereafter eternal life can issue out of man's fallen nature, either through his good works or his suffering for sin, is utterly foreign to the truth of God. The presence of every kind of life proclaims divine power, the presence of the eternal life proves the gracious work of the Son of God for those who possess it. Christ's dying for and giving life to His people are truths which cannot be disassociated.
The condition in which the new life is communicated to us shall now be our consideration. The Lord when on earth spoke of His people having life more abundantly; we have it now in the condition of abundance and from Himself where He is. The answer to, What is the condition of the new life as now communicated to us? is, According to the position of Him who is the Life; Christ is risen from the dead, and the child of God is made alive together with Him.
The eternal life, therefore, comes to us from Christ subsequent to His work of redemption, from Him after His sacrifice of Himself and His putting away of our sins. We receive the life from Him where He is, and in His victory over death.
The death of Christ is the end for faith, as it is the judicial end in the sight of God of the life which we received through Adam. We have died with Christ, we have new life with Him risen from among the dead. In His death ends all that we are in ourselves, as of the first man in God's sight; from Him alive from among the dead the new life is now communicated to the children of God in resurrection power.
When we were dead in our sins God quickened us together with His Christ. The power of God toward us in our dead state is according to His mighty power which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. (Eph. 1: 20.) In sovereign grace God made us alive with His Christ; as issuing from His grave our life, as it were, begins. Our state being death, God brought us into life with Christ.
Man's state was that of spiritual death from the fall. Now, while man's state of spiritual death is a broad truth, extending over all ages and dispensations, reaching up to the time of Adam and down to the last days of this world's history, we have another truth, which relates to God's dealings with His people, namely, that He has been pleased to unfold to them by degrees the reality of man's condition. The condition existed from the day of man's departure from God, from the fall, when his nature became corrupt and he became dead in sins; but this condition of spiritual death was not made fully manifest until the cross of Christ.
We will briefly review some of the great lessons concerning man's state and God's ways with man in that state, which are recorded in scripture. The judgment of God against sin, in the cross and death of His Son, shed back a light upon the ages that have gone by and enable us to read clearly the meaning of God's ways with men.
From the fall to the flood man pursued his course without being under a divinely given law (Rom. 5:13), for in those early days God had not given man His commandments. The witness of man's separation from God then existed in the presence of the cherubim, and the flaming sword guarding on every hand all access to the tree of life.
Surely the solemn significance of the flaming sword is almost forgotten! The loss of innocency and of the presence of God, and more, the way to the tree of life being shut against man, is too generally lost sight of. Instead of upon these things, thoughts usually centre upon the sorrowful consequences of the fall — an earth peopled with inhabitants doomed to die, and exposed to every variety of physical suffering.
These are what may be termed the outward consequences of sin, which are attached to our present condition of humanity, and which exist in relation to the earth whereon man was when he disobeyed God. But deeper down is the secret cause of these consequences — man having a sinful nature and being alienated from God. The deeper of those sorrows is that which is spiritual. If the painful facts of human woe are looked at in such a way as to exclude the cause of all the harvest of sorrow, then the reality of man's state is passed over, the root of human wretchedness is left unjudged, and man is not face to face with God.
What should we say of a father whose craving for drink had beggared his family, looking upon the results of his sin — his pale and wasted children, and his woe-stricken, anxious wife — and stopping in his thoughts at these consequences of his sin, instead of digging deep into his miserable heart for the root of the evil? Should not we cry shame upon the man, bid him loathe himself and repent, instead of merely lamenting the existing state of his home! When people are plaintive about the condition of man, and avoid the root of human misery, even man's sin in departing from God, they are merely trifling with the disease. The floods of sorrow which roll over this world are caused by the letting out of the waters of sin disobedience opened the floodgates, and by nature we are the children of disobedience.
The cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life, declared that the activity of divine justice refused from any point of access whatever that man should break through and reach life by his own hand. The flame of judgment and the sword of death announced that access to life was barred by judgment and death. And truly through the righteous condemnation of sin, through judgment and death is life ours, we have life in Him who was judged and who died in our stead.
The flood sweeping away the ungodly wrought judgment and death upon the world, and the ark, borne up above the waters and resting at length upon the purged earth, taught the lesson of life for the people of God after judgment and death had been passed through. The new earth emerged from the waters of death, and as being saved through those waters, as risen from the dead, Noah and his family set their feet upon the dry land.
We can trace the solemn truths of judgment and death upon the face of the ages that have rolled by, and further, we have here before us the truth of God bringing in life after His judgment had been executed against sin, and the sentence of death had been passed upon sinners — life subsequent to judgment and death is thus set before us, which condition of life in Christ risen is now the child of God's, who is quickened together with Christ.
We have life in a risen Christ, who has passed through judgment and death for us, and who is the head of the new creation. He is our Noah, our "Rest," as the patriarch's name signifies.
Thus far in the world's history, before the law was given, we cannot fail to perceive an unfolding to man of God's character by means of divine judgment executed against sin, and, with the light of the cross and resurrection of Christ, to see also the great fact of a life subsequent to judgment and death being the purpose of God.
The flood closes one era of the world's history, and closes it in death. After the flood, and its voice, at least as distinct as that of the flaming sword — for even to this day the tradition of the flood lives in many peoples of the earth — man, deaf to the warning, insensible to judgment and to death, hid himself from God in the darkness of idolatry. A time elapsed, and then God called out Abraham from the darkness, and he walked by faith and lived the life of pilgrimage and waiting for the fulfilment of the promises of the God of resurrection.
The apostle Paul speaks of the period from Adam to Moses as one great era, during which death reigned over man, and during which no positive commands were given to man.
We come to the law with Moses, to the thunders of Sinai and its thick darkness, and to God speaking out of the darkness to man. What a contrast from the cool of that day when He walked in Eden and spake to Adam. God had retired, as it were, a long way from man, the gracious intimacy that marked His ways with His people in patriarchal days was gone. The growing iniquity of man seems to have met its response in the thick darkness in which God dwelt. He came not out to man — man could not go in to Him.
At Sinai God was afar off, dwelling in impenetrable darkness, and demanding of man in his sins obedience to the holy law. The fire and the quaking earth made the giving of the words which demanded obedience of man most terrible. God dealt with man in his responsibility, and what can man receive under such circumstances save judgment and death? We are not surprised to know that, as God had retired and hidden Himself from man, even His own people were in those days before Him in the spirit of fear. To the mediator, Moses, Jehovah spoke freely, face to face, but to priests and people He was a long way off. He bade them not come near Sinai, and they could not approach the Holy of Holies. He demanded righteousness from man, yet in His wisdom and purpose had not shown how man could be in liberty and in righteousness before Him.
A believer under the law was of necessity all his lifetime subject to bondage — fear, not peace, characterised his experience. The holier his life, the more acute his sense of his unholiness, accompanied by felt weakness, and with no way of power given. To a believer now, the more holy he practically is, the more acutely he feels what his unholy nature is; but this is accompanied by the faith that Christ is his life and strength, which leads into liberty.
The very name of the mount whereon the blessings which the law offered were uttered, as we read in Joshua, seems to explain what the law is, for Gerizim signifies barrenness. There is not one single hope for good to be had from man's obedience to the law, because of man's inability to obey. The soil of the human heart is utterly sterile, hopeless, and barren to produce good by law.
The law is holy, just and good, but man is unholy, unjust, and bad, and cannot fulfil its requirements. "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (Gal. 3:21); but the law is the ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), it 'judges man for not obeying its behests, and demands his death as the penalty of disobedience.
Once more we find the great truths of judgment and of death written upon the dealings of God with man, and in addition, by means of the commandment, lessons taught man of the reality of his condition. And this great addition to man's knowledge is deeply important. A specific command has the effect of bringing out what is in the heart. When God says, "Thou shalt not," human nature immediately begins to do that which is forbidden, and rebels at the restriction. Thus the law becomes a kind of looking-glass, in which we may see what we are like — it discovers to us what we are. In the ways of God with men this lesson had to be taught and learned.
The Lord came, His perfect grace attracted His own to Him. When in His presence we do not hear His disciples ask how they may fulfil the law — for by the Lord came grace and truth. The word of salvation was His gracious testimony. (Heb. 2:3.) "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10), said the Lord, and some believed on Him, and receiving Him received the life.
So long as Jesus was with His people in the days of His flesh, He comforted and sustained them, was their guide, daily deliverer, and teacher. Those who followed Him had the light of life.
Jesus died, and the day of His sojourn upon earth was over, when the life which He had given His own expressed itself in longings after Him, and in the deepest distress because of His absence. Then the giver of the life was to the eyes of His people lying under the power of death in the grave.
To have known the Son of God as did His disciples, to have heard His voice, and then to lose sight of Him, to "weep and lament" (John 16:20), not to know Him in His resurrection might, must have been a soul-darkness, far more heavy and sorrowful than we can well conceive.
True, He had often spoken to them of His resurrection; He had said, "Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again." (John 10:17.) And on the eve of His death He had said, "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:22); but they knew not the scriptures, that He must rise from the dead. Accordingly to them, in the judgment of the cross, and in the death of the Son of God, their hopes were blotted out; "We trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." (Luke 24:21.) His grave was the apparent end of all the hopes of His disciples, the stone of His sepulchre, sealed and made sure, closed over their prospects.
They knew it not, yet it was only through that judgment and that death that they were to live in liberty, and that their hopes in Him as Messiah could be realized.
God, in order to lead His people to His beginning, brings them experimentally to their end. The cherubim guarding the tree of life was judgment and death, and the end for ever of dwelling on this earth in innocency and paradise; the flood was judgment and death, and the end for ever of man left to himself without law; the law was also a witness to judgment and death, and by it is the end of all hopes for ever of men working out a righteousness, and regaining by obedience life already lost by disobedience; the cross of Jesus was judgment and death, and the end for ever of all hopes of men in blessing from even the Incarnate Son of God, apart from His death and His resurrection. Yes, the end of all hope even from Him, the perfect man, effecting the most marvellous miracles, preaching and teaching the very words of the heart of God the Father, save as having endured our judgment, and having died for us.
He was severed from man in the flesh, and in His grave were buried the hopes of His disciples in a Messiah living before He had died for sinners. Hence it is that the apostle says, even though he had known Christ after the flesh, yet now knew he Him no more as alive before the cross (2 Cor. 5); he knew Jesus only as risen from the dead.
Wherefore these teachings? Man in innocency has come to an end — man left to himself has been tried and found wanting — man under the law being commanded to do good has produced no fruit, and only received the laws' cursing — at length, after many centuries, Jesus the Son of God has come, and at the close of His ministry declares that if the corn of wheat falls not into the ground and die, He must abide alone.
By His death, at His grave, we have by faith at length reached our end as men in the flesh. Christ has died, and though the world prosper and nations flourish, the end of all flesh is come; "If one died for all, then were all dead." (2 Cor. 5.) And the believer, accepting what the judgment and the death of the cross signify, has come by faith to his end, and thus has learned God's beginning, and he praises the God of resurrection.
As a river which suddenly disappears, hiding itself in the earth and never re-issuing, and is lost to sight for ever, so the probation of man in the flesh ceases at the cross of Christ. Judgment is man's due and death his end on earth; and the cross and the death of Christ, who died in the sinner's stead, is the end for faith of all thoughts of human innocency, law-keeping, and of goodness as of or in Adam.
Should we be able clearly to perceive these facts in the ways of God with man, and have them as marks distinctly evident to us in the stream of time, yet before we proceed let us enquire how far we can each individually say that we accept and believe in our own souls that our state by nature is death in the sight of God.
God in His grace makes good in the souls of His people what He has done for them. Faith takes up and appropriates God's word, thinks His thoughts, makes His ways its own, even as we eat our daily bread and live thereby. Can our faith truly say, in the cross of Christ is our end in the sight of God, for we know our state by nature is what the cross and death of Christ prove it to be. Can we say, that the river of our efforts and hopes in self has disappeared for us in the cross of Christ, and therefore has practically ceased to be? We trust that such is the case, for it is only those who rightly apprehend their real state as witnessed by the judgment, and the death of the Lord for them, who have a true understanding of resurrection, of their beginning in a risen Christ.
The grave of the Lord Jesus Christ is the end of all human prospects of good from man in his natural state. The sent One from God, the Messiah, has been crucified! Man's guilt has reached its climax; God was not only disobeyed in Eden, and at Sinai, but His own Son has been cast out of the world. It is impossible for man to go down lower in iniquity. God forbid that any should regard the cross in the light of an ornament for humanity, or as an aid to holiness; it is the symbol of man's abhorrence of God, and is the divine demonstration of the utterly condemned state of man in the flesh.
In the cross of Jesus the end of all flesh has come indeed in the sight of God; there "God condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3 ); there He made His sinless Son what man is by nature — sin (2 Cor. 5:21); there He forsook His Son, who was made sin for us (Matt. 27:46.) After judgment came death, for the enduring of the judgment being completed, Jesus said, "It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost." (John 19:30.) But God is the God of resurrection, and where He manifests to man what is the end for man in the flesh, He shows in grace what is His beginning for the children of faith.
Quickened together with Christ! "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses." (Col. 2:13.) Sins are all gone and out of sight in His death, and we are made alive with a Saviour who bore our sins, to whom the question of sin cannot again be addressed. The believer is quickened together with Christ, has life with Christ — His life in the condition subsequent to His enduring judgment and death.
We have eternal life given to us by Christ and God, but we are also quickened together with Christ after He took our place on the cross and died for us. The eternal life, as we have already shown, emanates from Himself, who is the Life, and every believer of all ages has the life; but the life in its present condition of liberty is characteristic of christianity. And we may say he, who is so established in the work of God that he is in Christian liberty, who enters into the fact of the Lord's coming from glory, becoming a man, and going down into death, and being raised out of death and living a man in glory, after having in His own person, and by His work, brought judgment and death for His people to an end. But he who has no right thoughts of a risen Saviour, who is in spirit as were the disciples, who believed on the Son up to the cross, but did not know Him alive beyond death, is still in bondage.
"Quickened together with Christ," leads on our hearts to God's power, and to Christ's work in redemption; to God's power in raising His Son as a man from among the dead, after He had endured divine judgment on account of human sin; and to our Lord's so perfect work, that we are brought by God in its perfection into association with Him as the risen Man. He has died to sin (Rom. 6:10); He lives to die no more (Rom. 6:9). We are brought into association with Him where He is; we have life given by God together with Christ raised from among the dead. As this holy One is before us by faith, we shall better lay hold of our end as having died with Him to sin (Rom. 6:2), and having become dead by His body to the law (Rom. 7:4), and also to the rudiments of the world (Col. 2:20).
Not only is the Son of God our life, and we have eternal life in Him, but we have life given us with Him, the risen Son of Man. Because He lives on the far side of death we live also as He lives, and in God's time shall be glorified with Him. Our life is hid in God with Christ, we shall be manifested with Christ in glory.
Once more let us enquire, has our faith laid hold of God's fact of man's state by nature, and of the new standing of His people in Christ? Do we really believe that the cross of Christ is our end in the flesh before God, and can we rejoice that God has quickened us together with His Son?