The Meaning of the Term
Effect of the Resurrection of Christ, and Coming of the Holy Spirit
Forgiveness of Sins
Justification and Sanctification
The Holy Spirit
Death and Resurrection of Christ
Sonship, Life, and Eternal Life
Membership of Christ
The Meaning of the Term
The word Christian is only used three times in the Bible. In Acts 11:26, it is written, that "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." The other occasions where the term is used are Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.
By the word Christian, in this book, is meant, the people of God during the present time, since the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Holy Ghost; and before the second coming of the Lord. These people of God are, in Scripture, generally called brethren, disciples, or saints, though these terms are not confined to those saved during the present dispensation. The word Christian, however, may be used in a double sense; we may apply the word to those alone, who are true Christians, i.e. to those, who are born of God, and have forgiveness of sins, and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells; or, we may use the word in a general sense as applying to all baptized people; and in this latter sense nearly all the inhabitants of Europe and America, as well as some in other parts of the globe, are Christians. Now all these latter, except the few who are real Christians, are indeed Christians in responsibility, and have immense privileges; yet this will only make their doom the more awful, unless they repent and believe before it is too late. It is written: "That servant which knew his Lord's will" [i.e. the nominal Christian] "and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not" [i.e. the ignorant among the heathen] "and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." (Luke 12:47, 48.)
The object in view is to seek to unfold something of the blessings, privileges, and responsibilities of the true Christian; yet, if it should be, that you, my reader, are one of those, who merely have a name to live, while they are dead; then in this case, I beseech you, ere it is too late, to think what a terrible thing it is to have the name of Christian, and yet to be really without God, and without hope in the world. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, and he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Gal. 6:7, 8.) It is written: "How shall we escape if we neglect" [merely neglect] "so great salvation." And again: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 2:3; Heb. 10:31.) Turn to God while there is yet time, call upon Him while He is near, while the door of mercy is yet open. He is merciful and gracious. He will not cast you out, but receive you with infinite love, blot out all your sins, make you His child now, and afterwards receive you to glory; all in virtue of the merits and death of His Son Jesus Christ. But if you do not turn, then be sure that He who spared not His own Son on the cross, but forsook Him, will assuredly not spare you; but will cast you for ever out of His presence into the lake of fire, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Effect of the Resurrection of Christ, and Coming of the Holy Spirit
We will now look into, some of the blessings enjoyed by the real Christian. But in looking into this matter it must be clearly understood that it is only since the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Ghost that Christian blessing has been unfolded. Even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, while on earth, did not unfold these blessings. He said: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50.) And again: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." (John 16:12, 13.) The Apostle Paul too, quoting from Isaiah 64:4, says "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Thus far the prophet Isaiah. But the Apostle does not stop here; he adds "But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God." (1 Cor. 2:9-12.) That is, that those things which the prophet declares could not be known in Old Testament times, we are expressly told, are to be now known since the Holy Ghost has come. Exactly the same testimony is given by the Apostle Peter in his first Epistle, chapter 1, verses 10 to 12. From these Scriptures we see plainly, that the Christian position is only unfolded in those writings of Scripture, which were written since the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, i.e. in the Epistles.
We shall see more of these mighty changes, which were wrought in the position of the believer since the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, as we proceed; for all the Epistles are full of this subject. It is only natural that it should be so; for it was absolutely necessary that man should first be thoroughly tested, to see if he could produce works acceptable to God, before God should shew forth the riches of His grace. Why even now, after God has patiently tried man for the 4000 years from the creation of man, to the crucifixion of Christ; — tried him innocent; tried him as left to the light of his natural conscience; tried him for 1400 years under law, with a God-given religion and government, under the most favourable possible circumstances; tried him, too, by His own Son come down to us in infinite grace and love; — still the mass of mankind are so mad in their folly, as to think that naturally they can do works acceptable to God, and absolutely refuse to bow to the truth that the best works of man in his natural state, are abominable to God, — as is set forth by the verse: "They that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8). If then this is the case even now, in spite of God's patient dealings with men; in spite of the fact that we crucified the Lord of glory, who came to us in infinite love; in spite of the clear and unmistakable testimony of the truth of God on the subject; how much worse would it have been had the full grace of God been revealed before man had been fully proved, and the full enmity of his heart brought to light. The result would have been that grace would have been far more despised than even it is now. God, the infinitely wise and good, is sure to be right in all His ways; and we can adore Him because He has acted just in the way He has, and that it was just at the right time that He sent Jesus Christ (see Gal. 4:4). We can clearly recognise how impossible it was that the present fullness of blessing should have been set forth before the work of Christ was complete and Jesus Christ had come. Let us beware then of making the mistake of looking for the proper Christian blessing in God's revelation, before the death of Christ. It is because so many do this that they remain in bondage and darkness, and at a distance from God; though God would have them in the light, liberty, and nearness of a son's place. Let us then, with all humility, look into the question of the Christian's blessings, ready to accept all that God gives us, with the deepest thankfulness and reverence, recognising that it is no question of our own merits — for we have none, being simply, as looked at apart from Christ, hell-deserving sinners — but a question of the value of the work and person of our Lord.
Forgiveness of Sins
In our natural state we are all sinners, for we are all ungodly and enemies of God (see Rom. 5:6, 10); and we are utterly incapable of doing anything to please God, as has been already shewn. As a rule, when a person is asked the question: "Are you a sinner?" He replies glibly: "Oh! yes, we are all sinners," But what does he mean by this? Merely that we all sometimes do wrong. This, however, is not at all the meaning of the word sinner, as used in God's word. He whom God calls a sinner, is one who is alienated from God, and all whose works are hateful to God, and therefore, one upon whom the wrath of God abides. And unless you, my reader, are willing to bow to this truth that naturally you are a God-hater, and that your very best works are nothing but a mass of sin, it is useless for you to proceed further with this book. No one will ever understand the grace of God, who does not accept the hopeless and utter ruin of man as a child of Adam. And unless he sees that he needs just as much to repent of his religious deeds, his charities and his good works (so-called), as he does of his so-called sins (for all are alike sins, before God); he cannot be saved. For to be really blessed, we must just come to this — that all that we have done, and all that we are, is nothing but sin.
If you, my reader, have come to this, then blessed be God, you will gladly embrace the grace of God, and you will never, in all eternity, be able to measure the extent of the blessing which God gives you in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel preached to sinners, is the Gospel of forgiveness of sins (see Luke 24:46, 47; Acts 10:36-43); and the moment the sinner believes the message thus presented to him, he is forgiven; and learns that Christ, having borne the punishment due to his sins, God will therefore never bring up those sins in judgment against him. The Apostle John says: "I write unto you little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake." (1 John 2:12.) The Apostle Paul says: "Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light . . . in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:12, 14.) Any one who will take the trouble may find many more such passages. He, therefore, who has come to God through Jesus Christ, is no longer, what God calls, a sinner. He is a forgiven person. His sins are put away once and for ever. He used to be an enemy, afar off, but he has become a forgiven person, in close relationship with God. New responsibilities doubtless arise from this moment; but his old responsibility as a child of Adam has ceased for ever. But some one may say: "Yes, I know that my past sins are forgiven, but it is my present and future sins that trouble me." Ah, you have not learnt the truth of God on the subject. You have not, what Scripture calls, a perfect or purged conscience. (Compare Heb. 9:8, 9, with Heb. 10:1-14.) You do not know this simple truth, that when you had not committed one sin — for you were not then born — God had so completely settled with Christ the question of your sins, that it is utterly impossible for Him to bring up a single sin against you in judgment. (This truth is of course for believers only; as a propitiation Christ died for all, but the Scriptures which speak of Him as a Substitute and as bearing our sins apply to believers only, i.e. to those who accept the truth of His having made propitiation.) You cannot have settled peace till you learn this important truth. But when you have learnt this, you will know with joy what it is to be perfected for ever (as to the conscience) through the blood of Christ. Heb. 10:14, John 5:24 (revised version), and 1 John 4:17, are also most distinct in saying that the believer shall not even come into judgment (i.e. for acceptance), for as Christ is, so is he in this world. Think of this, my reader, that if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, it is as impossible for you to be judged for acceptance as it is for the Lord Jesus to be thus judged. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable grace.
Doubtless a difficulty will arise in the minds of many, viz. that if the Christian is once and for ever a forgiven person, then what about the sins committed after forgiveness is received? This difficulty will be considered in the chapter, which speaks of the individual responsibilities of the believer, i.e. chapter 10. Another class of objectors will doubtless say: "Then if a believer is sure of glory, it is only necessary to believe, and get forgiveness, and then, ever afterwards we can live as we like without fear of consequences." This objection is as old as the Gospel (see Rom. 6:1). And it is invariably met with wherever the true Gospel of God's grace is preached, from those, who neither know God nor the grace of God. It proceeds either from legalists, who understand nothing of the ruin of man, nor of God's remedy, and are entirely ignorant of the fact that with forgiveness of sins, God implants a new nature, with its new desires, etc., and that therefore it is impossible for the believer to desire to go on in his old way, or else it proceeds from lawless people, whose only desire it is to be free from the dread of hell in order that they may fearlessly live to their own lusts. In either case, the objectors betray themselves by their own words; for they shew that they have no idea of the hatefulness of sin, and assume that punishment is the only thing to be dreaded; so that directly the dread of punishment is removed, all restraint is gone. Nothing more need therefore be said here to answer such objectors; for they have no part or lot in Jesus Christ, and He will Himself deal with them in judgment when He comes again. Such an evil objection can by no possibility proceed from a humble and contrite heart (for such alone God receives and forgives), which hates sin far more than the punishment of sin; and would care nothing for a forgiveness and salvation, which still left one shut up to walk after the desires and thoughts of the natural heart. His object is salvation from sin, how then can he walk in sin?
Justification and Sanctification
The believer is not only forgiven, but he is also justified — that is, accounted righteous. And blessed be God's name, God is righteous in doing this in virtue of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness in the passing over of the sins which were done aforetime" (literal translation) "through the forbearance of God; to declare I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:23-26.) This shews us that before the death and resurrection of Christ, it was only righteously possible for God to pass over the sins of the Old Testament believers, in virtue of what He was going to do; they could not be justified, for Christ had not died. But now, since the resurrection of Christ, blessed be His name, we who believe are not only pardoned but justified. One man may forgive another for a sin against him; but no man can justify another; you may forgive a thief, you cannot justify him. But God does justify the sinner who believeth in Jesus. It is as if we had gone to the bar of judgment, had been proved guilty and utterly without excuse; and yet, in some wondrous way, had been able to quit that bar, not only acquitted, but even without a stain on our characters.
A forgiven criminal could never feel comfortable in the presence of his judge, nor even of honest men. But, blessed be God's name, we are not only forgiven criminals and sinners; but justified i.e. we are positively accounted righteous; and therefore, we are at peace with God, and can feel comfortable in His presence; as it is written: "It was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him, who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 4:23-25; Rom. 5:1, 2.) This is even more strongly put in the verses "He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21.) "Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us . . . righteousness." (1 Cor. 1:30.) "Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." (Col. 1:12.) How clearly these verses shew us, that not only is the believer pardoned, but he is positively counted righteous, and therefore fit for the presence of God Himself. But remember, my dear reader, this is not in virtue of anything he has done, or will do; but simply and solely in virtue of the grace of God, and the work of Christ. This truth is again very clearly brought out in the Old Testament types of the sin offering, and the burnt offering. (Lev. 1 to 7.) In each of these offerings the offerer laid his hand on the head of the innocent animal that was to be offered; and the meaning of this laying on of hands was that the offerer was thus identified with the victim. There is, however, this great difference between the offerings. The carcase of the sin offering was treated as a cursed thing, and burned without the camp, shewing that our sin was transferred to Christ, and He was made a curse for us (see Gal. 3:13); while the burnt offering, which was wholly burnt as a sweet savour to God on the altar, shews that the acceptability of Christ is transferred to us who believe. To put it in simple language, Christ took our place, was treated as we deserved, that we might have His place before God and be treated as He deserved. No wonder then, that the believer can enter with boldness into the holiest, i.e. the very presence of God, through the blood of Jesus. (Heb. 10:19.) No wonder that the poor sinful prodigal is received so lovingly; is clad with the best robe, the ring, the shoes, is given the son's place, and seated rejoicing at the Father's table; seeing that in doing all this God is only shewing forth to all the inexpressible delight He feels in the work and person of Jesus Christ, His Son. When we can measure God's estimate of Christ, then we can measure the blessings, which belong to every one, who comes to God through Christ; for the one is the measure of the other.
Reader, have you ever learned, not only that God has forgiven you, but that He positively delights in you, in virtue of that which He sees (not in you, mind, but) in Jesus Christ? He, who has not learned God's delight in the reception of the sinner and in making him fit for His presence, has at best learned but a half Gospel. Alas, alas, that it should be thought a mark of humility to stand afar off, under the shadow of the darkness of Sinai and the law, and to cry out to God not to take vengeance on our sins, neither on the sins of our forefathers, but to spare us, and not be angry with us for ever and to refuse the light, warmth and gladness of the Father's house, and thus to wound the Father's heart, and to cast a slur upon the work of the blessed Lord Jesus. Alas that it should be thought humility to make God a liar. For mark all this, my reader, that everything that is here said, is the proper and normal possession of every Christian: i.e. it is mine, just as much as it is the Apostle Paul's, for it is solely in virtue of what Christ is, and what He did, and has nothing whatever to do with our walk and Christian attainments. And he who says: "Well I have not got this blessing," practically says (from unbelief), that he has not got the Christian's place at all.
But the Christian is not only justified, he is also sanctified; he is a saint (mind, Scripture does not say, as men do, that a few dead Christians are saints, but it says on the contrary that all living Christians are saints). This may startle some who are accustomed to the usual theological expression, that justification is an act done at once, and that sanctification is gradual and progressive. It is not of course denied that there is such a thing as gradual sanctification, i.e. increasing holiness of walk in him, who by abiding in the Son, grows from a little child into a young man and from a young man into a father in the family of God (see 1 John 2:13; Eph. 5:26). This growth is a matter of deep importance, and God forbid that we should make light of it. Nevertheless, it is boldly stated that the Christian is said to be in Scripture, according to the ordinary use of the term, a sanctified one, or saint: by which is meant, not one especially holy in walk, but one set apart for God, by the call of God. The Apostle Paul, after enumerating a terrible list of sins, goes on to say: "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:11.) In the second verse of the Epistle he writes to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. This last expression is not quite clear in English. In the Greek it is plain enough "saints by calling"; i.e. by the call of God. In Heb. 10:10 it is written: "By the which will" (viz. the will of God) "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The Apostle Jude also speaks of believers as "sanctified by God the Father" (verse 1). And it must be borne in mind, that Jesus Christ is our Sanctification, as well as our Righteousness. (1 Cor. 1:30.) This sanctification will be better understood by our Lord's words: "For their sakes I sanctify myself that they also may be sanctified through the truth." (John 17:19.) It is evident that the Lord could not be made holy, for He ever was holy; but He was set apart as the Holy One for a special purpose: and so believers are set apart as sanctified ones, or saints; not by holiness of walk, but by the call and will of God, though the result of this sanctification should be, indeed must be, holiness of walk. Any one, who will take a concordance, and look up the word "saints," will find that in the Acts and the Epistles, believers are called saints more than fifty times, and that the word is always applied to all believers, and never to certain special believers, whose walk was more holy than that of others. Moreover, God never calls believers sinners. On the contrary Scripture says: "When we were yet sinners" (Rom. 5:8); plainly implying that we are not so now. The passage in 2 Timothy 1:15, which is sometimes referred to, is spoken by the Apostle Paul of himself and in it he refers to what he did in his unconverted state. It is therefore very evident that God's people are sanctified ones or saints, and not sinners in His sight.
Objectors will assuredly say: "Then you make out that you saints never sin?" Not so. The common definition of a sinner is one who sometimes sins; and if so, then it is naturally assumed that a saint is one, who never sins. But, according to God, a sinner is not one who sometimes sins, but one who always sins, who never does anything but sin, for he is an enemy of God and an unbeliever, and as such, reprobate unto every good work. (Titus 1:16.) He is not reconciled to God, and therefore all that he does is sin (see Prov. 15:8; Prov. 20:4, 27). The saint on the contrary is reconciled, and can please God (see 1 Thess. 4:1), though, alas! he does not always do so; for in many things we offend all. (James 3:2.) Thus we have seen on the unmistakable testimony of Scripture that all real Christians are justified or accounted righteous, and made meet for glory; they are also sanctified, or made saints, by the will of God, through the offering of Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit
The real Christian has also the gift of the Holy Spirit, according to the words of the Apostle Peter, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." (Acts 2:38, 39.) It cannot be too distinctly understood that this gift of the Holy Spirit is not the new birth, but something more. It is a peculiar blessing belonging to the believers of the present time, i.e. since the day of Pentecost. It was not possessed by Abram or Moses or any of the Old Testament saints. The Holy Spirit acted in creation (see Gen. 1:2 and Isa. 40:13); and ever since the creation of Adam every good thing that any one has ever done, has been the work of the Spirit. Every Old Testament saint was born of the Spirit, as is clearly proved by John 3:3-6; for without this new birth it would be impossible for them to enter into, or even to see, the kingdom of God. Scripture is careful to distinguish between the work of God, and God's dwelling among His people. Thus we are told that God visited Adam in the garden of Eden; but He did not dwell there. But after the children of Israel had been redeemed by blood, and by the power of God out of Egypt (all their history is a type for us), then God said: "Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." (Ex. 25:8.) And after the tabernacle was made He dwelt among them (see Num. 5:3, etc.). Just in the same way, although the Holy Spirit was ever working among the people of God in all ages, yet He did not come down to dwell in them until the day of Pentecost. It was impossible indeed that He should thus come, until redemption was accomplished, and until Jesus Christ had been glorified after completing the work which He came to do. "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:37-39.) Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." (John 16:7.) "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever." (John 14:16.)
These passages shew us, without the least doubt, that the Holy Spirit did not, and could not, come to dwell here until the Lord Jesus had entered into glory. Indeed, the two wonderful facts of Christianity are these: first, that a Man is seated upon the throne of God, this Man is of course the God-man Christ Jesus; and second, that God the Holy Spirit, as a consequence of the first fact, has come down to dwell in God's redeemed people on the earth. In Acts 1:5, it is written: "John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence." The second chapter of the Acts describes how the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost; and we cannot have it too deeply impressed upon us that the great fact that took place on that day, was not the speaking with tongues, nor the conversion of 3000 persons, but the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us for ever. If the presence of the Holy Spirit had been dependent on our faithfulness, we should have driven Him away long ago. But, blessed be God, His presence does not depend on this, but on the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of God, and therefore it is said, "He shall abide with you for ever." What an unspeakable blessing it is that the Holy Spirit dwells in all of us who are true believers, and will never leave us, but will conduct us safely to share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Men often say, "Do not grieve the Spirit or else He may leave you." God says "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), that is, do not grieve the Spirit because He will never leave you. Oh! how different are God's ways and God's thoughts to man's ways and man's thoughts.
If it be asked, When is a soul sealed by the Spirit? the answer is that Acts 10:34-48 shews clearly, that when a soul receives God's testimony as to forgiveness of sins through a once crucified but now risen Saviour, at that instant that soul is sealed by the Spirit. Reader, have you received this testimony? Are you as certain that your sins are forgiven as you are of the existence of the sun in the heavens? for anything short of absolute certainty is not believing God. Then the Holy Spirit will assuredly have sealed you, by coming to dwell in you for ever, and the result of this sealing will be that the Spirit will bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God, and will teach you to cry: "Abba, Father." (Rom. 8:15, 16.) Alas! the fact that the majority of prayers are addressed to Almighty God, shows unmistakably the sense of distance left in the minds of believers; for he who is sealed by the Spirit cannot but pray to the Father. How sad then it is that the title, "Our God and Father," which is the one invariably used in the Epistles, should be so seldom heard. Reader, how do you address and think of God?
It is impossible in this short treatise to enter into all the marvellous blessings, which accrue to the Christian through the indwelling and presence of the Holy Spirit. There is only room to say a little more on the subject.
The sealing of the Spirit, and the Spirit within us as the power of sonship, have been already pointed out. The Spirit is also "the anointing" (2 Cor. 1:21), in virtue of which we belong to a holy and to a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and by means of which we are preserved, if we listen to His teaching, from all false doctrine and the seductions of the many anti-Christs that there are around us. (1 John 2:18, 27.) The Holy Spirit is also the earnest of our inheritance (see Eph. 1:14 and 2 Cor. 5:5), i.e. the sample and sure pledge of the glory of Christ of which we shall be sharers. The Holy Spirit unfolds Christ to us in a twofold way; He brings to our remembrance all that Christ was when on earth (John 16:26), and makes known to us His present and His future glory (John 16:13, 15). Through the coming of the Holy Spirit, the bodies of those in whom He dwells become temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). The Holy Spirit is the power in us, by which Christ can dwell in our hearts by faith; that we 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 that passeth knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-21). The Holy Spirit is given to us that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God (1 Cor. 2:12).
In fact, though we get every blessing (including the gift of the Holy Spirit), in virtue of the work of Christ, yet it is only by the Holy Spirit that we are able to enjoy these blessings, and it is only through Him that we are enabled to walk in the power of these blessings through a world that has cast out our Lord. Let us then ever thank God with fervent hearts for giving us His Spirit, but let us not be guilty of the mistake of asking God to send His Holy Spirit, seeing He is already here. David in another dispensation could rightly pray: "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me"; but we cannot pray this prayer without unbelief. Before the coming of the Holy Spirit the Lord may tell His people to pray to receive Him (Luke 11:13); but now that He has come, He is given, as we have already seen, to those who accept His testimony as to forgiveness of sins through a risen Christ. The great fact for us now is that He is here; let us then yield ourselves wholly and unreservedly to His guidance and teaching, ever recognising the fact that He is here, and dwelling in us, who believe.
Death and Resurrection of Christ
It is written, that "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Rom. 4:7, 8); and he whom God calls blessed must be blessed indeed. And yet there is a still greater blessing than that Christ died for my sins, viz. that He died for me; so that not only are my sins put away once and for ever — so completely put away that God will never remember them again; — but also I myself, as a natural man, — a child of Adam, have ceased to exist, as to my old state before God. It is written "I am" (or more correctly "I have been") "crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.) Thus there was an end of the natural man Saul, and it was Christ, who represented the new Paul before God. What was true of the Apostle Paul, is true of every true Christian before God, however mean and feeble he may be; for it is not the reward of faithful service, but the free gift of God to all, who come to Him through Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul may have entered far more deeply into the meaning of the truth than you or I; but, if we are real Christians, it is as true of us as it was of him, for it is written: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (or rather "creation"): "old things are passed away; behold all things are become new; and all things are of God." (2 Cor. 5:17-18.)
And here it is well to sound a note of warning. There is nothing more common than to hear many saying when a truth is presented to them: "Oh! I don't feel that," and then, by reason of their experience, to reject the truth. To do this however is very wicked, for it is practically setting ourselves up above God, and is the very essence of pride. True humility accepts as truth all that God says, and rejoices in the blessings: while pride and unbelief cavil, and cannot enjoy the blessings because God is not believed. This is very specially the case as to the last quoted passage, for experience will say: "Oh! I don't feel that the old things have passed away, that all things are new and of God." Faith on the contrary, says "I know it to be true, because I believe God." And the knowledge of the blessings thus received by faith cannot but give great joy. Those, who are ignorant of God and His ways, are always ready with the cry of pride whenever they see any one accepting with simplicity the blessings, which God thus freely gives, and rejoicing in them; but in truth those, who accept are the humble ones, and those who refuse to do so, the proud ones. The secret of refusal is undoubtedly pride; for the utter depravity of the natural man is not accepted, and some good is still looked for within; and until this truth is accepted it can never be known what it is to be "in Christ," and not "in Adam," at all. When, however, by the grace of God, a soul is brought to accept the truth, not only of his having sinned, but that he is so corrupt, in his Adam nature, to the very core, that he could not be improved (see Rom. 8:7, 8), and that the only thing to be done to him was judicially to set him aside altogether by the cross of Christ, and to put him out of God's sight; — then, and not till then, will he be able to rejoice in the blessed truth of being no longer in Adam but in Christ. Thus he learns that not only is he forgiven and not condemned, but also that the very one who committed the sins has judicially ceased to exist before God. In Rom. 1 to 5:11, the question of sins is gone into, and complete forgiveness and justification brought to light; from Rom. 5:12 to 8:39, a new subject is entered on, not that of sins but sin, i.e. it is no longer the sins I have committed, which are in question, but the corrupt nature, which committed these sins. For my sins there is forgiveness; for the corrupt nature there can be no forgiveness, it is therefore judged and set aside altogether. The old man (i.e. the corrupt Adam nature) is crucified and buried with Christ (baptism is the symbol of this burial), Rom. 6:3-6; and we, who believe, who were dead in trespasses and sins, are now alive unto God: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned" [i.e. set aside] "sin in the flesh." (Rom. 8:2, 3.) So that now, we who have believed on Christ, are entitled to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:11.) We shall indeed have to carry the corrupt nature about with us, but we are entitled to reckon it a corpse; we know that God has set it aside; and we are no longer subject to it, for we have been made free by the Spirit of God that we may walk in newness of life.
It may be that the subject of this chapter may seem difficult to the reader, and it is true that many, who know forgiveness of sins, are quite ignorant of this further truth, and think that the latter part of the seventh chapter of Romans is an expression of proper Christian experience, instead of being the experience of one in bondage and not yet delivered; while in the eighth chapter we get the experience proper to the Christian. I beseech you, my reader, not to rest satisfied till you have learnt for yourself from God the meaning of being "in Christ" and not "in Adam"; of being delivered and not in bondage; of being in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Rom. 8:9); of having died with Christ and being alive in newness of life. All this is a matter of unspeakable importance, and until we enter into its meaning we shall make but little progress in spiritual life.
The difficulty lies in this that in order to enter into this truth there must be the practical acceptance of death with Christ in the power of the Spirit of God, and this is the last thing that we are naturally willing to do. We cling to the belief that we can improve, school or regulate the flesh, and it is only after repeated struggles, the character of which is described in Rom. 7, that a soul is ever made willing to accept deliverance through death, i.e. to die in the sense of his own soul in order that he may be alive unto God.
The so-called holiness by faith is really holiness without dying, and therefore not the real thing; but it is accepted by many because we all would like holiness without having to accept death. We dearly long to cherish the best things of the flesh and to avoid the application of death to them in the power of the Spirit of God.
I beseech the reader earnestly to ponder these things, for it is by the non-acceptance of this truth that growth is often stopped for years, and also many never learn it at all.
In the Epistle to the Colossians, another step in advance is shewn us, for we are not there merely alive unto God, but "risen with Christ." (Col. 3:1.) The Epistle to the Ephesians goes further still and says: "He hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:6, 7.) Not yet "with" Christ Jesus, but "in" Christ Jesus. That is, God has united us to Him by the Spirit, He sees us in Him, and where He is, is our place; for we are "in" Him. There is a beautiful illustration of this in Joshua 3 and 4. Twelve stones are set in the midst of Jordan where the priests' feet had stood, the waters of the Jordan roll over them, and they are lost to sight for ever. These twelve stones, one for each tribe, show how in God's sight the old man is crucified, dead and buried with Christ. Then twelve other stones are taken out of the same spot, and set up in Canaan to be a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever, thus symbolizing resurrection with Christ, and being seated in heavenly places (our true Canaan) in Christ, so that in the ages to come God might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-7.) What wondrous truths these are; our old state judicially passed away for ever before God, and we ourselves separated by death and resurrection from the very place of doom — that world to which we belonged — and brought into a new sphere where all things are new, and all things are of God! In the body of course we are yet in the old creation, and as such we groan in sympathy with a groaning creation around (Rom. 8:23); but how blessed to know that while in the body we are not of the world, but are sent into it as Christ was sent into it, to be in it as He was in it; for spiritually in very deed and in truth, we are as far separated from it as death and resurrection with Christ can make us.
What a wondrous and blessed truth this is, and yet how little known; and even when presented by the teachers whom God has raised up, how few will accept it. Alas, that the reason for this should be such a sad one; it has been well said that forgiveness of sins never separated a man from the world, but if once the truth of death and resurrection with Christ be really accepted, not as mere doctrine, but as a deep practical reality, then it cannot but sever him, who has this blessing, from the ways of that world, which crucified the Lord of glory. Alas! separation from the world's ways, especially from the religious ways of the world (and these are more hateful to God than anything else of the world), is just what so few are willing to accept. The Abrahams are few, the Lots are many, and therefore it is that so few know and enjoy the blessings and privileges, which really belong to every Christian. Resurrection with Christ can only be practically enjoyed when we are severed from the world; remaining in it, not to enjoy it, but to testify against it that its deeds are evil (John 7:7); for it is written "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:29.)
Reader, remember that the twentieth century Christian world, as it is called, is but the world after all, governed by the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life: and if you are not willing to be hated by it, rest assured that you will never while on earth enjoy the power of resurrection life with Christ. May God grant that you may see such beauty in Christ that you will gladly embrace the offence of the cross for His sake, and be able to say with the Apostle "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14.) You may have to suffer down here, but you will receive a hundredfold even in this present time, and the joy of Christ will cause you to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory even in this world of sorrow.
Sonship, Life, and Eternal Life
When the prodigal was trudging homeward the thought in his heart was, "Oh! if I can only get a servant's place"; and indeed the creature could naturally, even if unfallen, never look for anything higher than to be servants of the good God and Creator. What a privilege to be allowed to serve God as our Master, doing our work under His watchful eye and tender care. How wonderful then that the heart of God cannot be content without giving His redeemed ones the place of sons. No wonder the Apostle exclaims, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not." (1 John 3:1.) How little we know the heart of God, how little we enter into His delight in the Gospel, how little we understand that the Gospel not only meets man's need, but the need that God had. He needed a way to make known the riches of His love and grace, and seeing these could never be displayed by creation, therefore He permitted (we cannot say He caused) sin to come in, that His heart might be fully manifested in the Man Christ Jesus, and to those, whom He has predestinated that they should be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom. 8:29.) And, oh! blessed thought, these brethren are entitled to know now, what all the world will know hereafter, that the Father loves them with the love wherewith He loved His Son. (John 17:23.) Reader, do you know what it is to be a son, not merely an adopted son, but a son in the fullest sense of the word? Many who know a little of the subject, do not get further than this, that God has adopted us. But the Greek word "huiothesia," which is translated "adoption" (see Rom. 8:15, Rom. 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5; these are the only places where the word is used except Rom. 8:23, where it has another meaning and applies to the redemption of the body) means the full place and privilege of sonship rather than that of our word adoption. When we speak of adoption we mean one, who is not really a son, he has not the inward nature of his adopted father. But we who believe are not only born of God, as it is written, "As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them who believe in His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12, 13); but they also have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them to give them the inward sense of relationship (Rom. 8:15, 16; Gal. 4:6, 7), and to make them inwardly one with the Father and the Son. (John 14:20.)
Where the word "teknon," a "child," is used, the affection which the child receives as the object of the Father's heart, is rather in view; whereas where the word is "huios," a "son," the thought is the full privilege and honour of sonship and of being an heir. The Apostle Paul uses both terms, while the Apostle John uses the first only though unfortunately in our English translation the words "child" and "son" are often transposed. One of the great objects for which the Lord Jesus came to this earth was to reveal the Father. This truth is especially brought out in the Gospel of John; and apparently before He left the cross, the desire to reveal the Father's name, in the manner which could only be done after His resurrection, was especially on His heart, for it is written (apparently of the thought of Christ upon the cross), "I will declare Thy name" (i.e. the name of Father) "unto My brethren." (Ps. 22:22.) Therefore His first message to His disciples when He rises from the dead is, "Go to My brethren and say unto them I ascend to My Father and your Father; and to My God and your God" (John 20:17); thus showing them that they now possessed the same relationship as Himself. Mark, you never get the expression, "Heavenly Father," or "Our Father which art in heaven," either in the Gospel of John or in the Epistles, but only in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This expression refers to an earthly people looking up to God their Father in heaven, and it was used by Christ to see if the knowledge of God as their Heavenly Father, would produce fruit from the heart of man, who had been so unfaithful under law. But like every other remedy it would not answer. Christ must die, nothing else would help sinful man. Therefore Christ has died and risen and gone up on high, but from henceforth the people of God are a heavenly people, because Christ is in heaven, and God is not called Heavenly Father, but our God and Father, for we are in Spirit connected with Him in heaven in the place where the Son is.
Gal. 4:1-11 is clear in shewing us the son's place could only be known and enjoyed since the work of Christ was finished, and the Holy Ghost had come. It is not only the new birth that is needed, but also the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to give the enjoyment of sonship, and therefore the place, privilege and liberty of the son's place could not be enjoyed before the day of Pentecost, and we look in vain for it in the Old Testament. How then can we take the Psalms as the expression of proper Christian worship seeing that they express the feelings of those, who were under law and bondage, although they are of course perfect utterances under those circumstances. The Christian, however, is not under law; he has the liberty of sonship, and when he voluntarily puts himself under law, as alas! is done by the mass of Christians of every sect and denomination, he grieves the Spirit, and wounds the loving Father's heart. The law is holy and just and good, and it is perfect as a rule for man in the flesh, but Christ has redeemed them, who were under the law, and if we now, that Christ has risen, return to the law, with its rules, religion and ordinances suited to man in the flesh, but found utterly powerless to help him because he is a sinner and incapable of being helped, we return to that which the death of Christ has set aside, and thus practically say that Christ died in vain. (See Gal. 2:20.) The whole of the Epistle to the Galatians is connected with this matter, and how sternly the Apostle deals with this great sin. How sad then is the present state of Christendom, where law, bondage and distance are taught as proper Christian position and experience, and where the liberty of the son's place is almost unknown. Reader, will you accept God's liberty, or will you, in order to please men, put yourself under the yoke of the commandments and traditions of men (see Matt. 15:9), and thus remain in bondage? Will you not come out from all that is of man to rest fully on the infinite wisdom, love, and power of the Father?
Just One more thought before the subject is closed, and that is, to beg the reader to beware of the evil thought that is now so prevalent, viz. that of the so-called universal fatherhood of God. The Apostle John says that the world does not even know the children of God (1 John 3:1); he also speaks of the children of God and the children of the devil (John 3:8-10), showing clearly that he knows nothing of this universal fatherhood. The Lord Jesus says the same thing (see John 8:44). In fact the universal fatherhood of God entirely upsets the whole truth of Christ's mission and work, for we are most distinctly taught that He came to redeem us out of the world. (John 17:6; Gal. 1:4.) Reader, beware that you are not led away by such an evil doctrine which so terribly dishonours the truth of God, having just enough truth in it (see Acts 17:29) to make its poison very deadly. With the question of being a child of God and knowing God as Father, the truth of eternal life is intimately connected, for present eternal life is the knowledge of the Father in the Son, as it is written, "These words spake Jesus and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that Thy Son also may glorify Thee: as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh that He should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given Him. And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:2-3.) The Old Testament saints were born of God, but life and incorruptibility were only brought to light by the Gospel. (2 Tim. 1:10.) It was only by the appearing of the Son that the power and the character of life from God were made known. The Lord said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10.) This more abundant life is evidently eternal life. It is only the Apostle John, who brings out the truth of present eternal life, elsewhere in the Scriptures it is looked forward to in the future (Rom. 6:22); though we find much in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul about life as a present thing.
Life in Scripture never means mere existence, but always implies health, strength, and joy, just as the word is sometimes used by those in depressing circumstances, when they say, "We do not live, we exist (see John 4:50-53; 1 Thess. 3:8); and mere spiritual existence, such as is seen in the man in Rom. 7, is not therefore called spiritual life. Life is found in the eighth chapter, where it is written, "The Spirit is life, because, of righteousness." No one can be said to have life in this sense unless he has the Spirit, although a work of God may possibly have commenced in his soul, and if so, he will never be lost.
Moreover, although the Spirit is life, yet in thinking of life, we must not look within, but at Christ, as it is written, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection" [or rather mind], "on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:1-4.)
The thought here as to our life is not its security, though of course it is secure, but where and in whom it is, viz. in Christ in heaven. The sphere of our life is not earth, but heaven, and all its springs, its strength and enjoyment come from there, though as to our bodies we are on earth as pilgrims and strangers.
So in Gal. 2:20 the Apostle Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Here Christ lives in him, and yet evidently the whole Epistle shews he is not occupied with Christ within, but with Christ in glory.
No one can really take the Apostle's words to himself till he has also accepted death with Christ in his own soul as his portion here, and is content to derive his spring of life from the glory instead of from the earth as he used to do.
Eternal life is commonly thought to be eternal security, i.e. it is made equivalent to the expression "never perish," whereas it means infinitely more. It doubtless includes eternal security, but to whittle down its meaning to this is miserably to lower God's thought on the subject.
Eternal life carries our thoughts back to the time when the Son was alone with the Father before all creation, and it is manifested in the Son of God made flesh. (1 John 1:1-4.)
Nothing connected with the eternal life is temporary; very much was done by our blessed Lord in infinite grace for our redemption, and all He did was of course always perfect, but eternal life is connected with the life, which He had with the Father before the world was, which He manifested here according to the writings of the Apostle John. He died, rose and went to the Father and sent down the Holy Spirit that we might have and know eternal life as a present possession. (John 17:1-3; 1 John 5:13.) While in all other writings eternal life is looked on as future, in the writings of John it is shewn as a present possession to be known and enjoyed now. Eternal life is in the Son (not in Christ, though the Son and Christ are the same Person, yet Scripture carefully distinguishes the eternal relationship of Son from the official title Christ), and if we may use very homely language without irreverence, it may be said that eternal life is for us the home life of the Father and the Son, which is now ours since we are children of the Father, and this home life can now be known and enjoyed as a present blessing by the power of the Spirit of God. This life is necessarily outside the things of time and sense, the communion of the Father and Son are all in all there. It must be experienced to be known, no explanation will convey any meaning to the soul, who has not experienced a glimpse of it for himself.
It is not possible in this short compass to give further explanation of the subject. I can only entreat my reader to earnestly study and pray over the writings of John, especially chapters 14 to 17 of the Gospel and the first Epistle. It will afford unspeakable joy to get a glimpse of what it is to be with the Son in the place where He is, and to have the Father and the Son making their abode within. See John 12:26, John 13:8, John 14:3 (do not relegate all this to the future for, whatever more it may have, it has certainly a present application), and John 14:23.
But do not make the mistake of thinking that because you know you are eternally secure that therefore you know you have eternal life. Many know their eternal security, who have not the faintest idea of the wonderful blessing called eternal life, but because they think that eternal life means no more than eternal security they are no more exercised on the subject, and perhaps go through their whole life without having the least apprehension of the wondrous joy there is in the present knowledge of eternal life.
May God exercise your heart about it, my reader, and may you find the fulness of joy there is to be found therein.
Membership of Christ
Hitherto we have only been considering the individual blessings of the Christian. We have now briefly to look into his corporate blessings in virtue of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. One object of the death of the Lord Jesus was to bring all the children of God into one unity. He has done this by the descent of the Holy Ghost, whereby the scattered children of God have become the one body of Christ, "for as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body; so also is the Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:12, 13.) This is the wondrous mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God; by which He willed to make known His manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, viz. that the Gentiles, who were before without hope and without God in the world, should be joint heirs, and of a joint body and joint partakers of God's promise in Christ by the Gospel. Christ has abolished in His flesh the enmity between Jew and Gentile, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace (see Eph. 2 and 3.)
This is the wondrous truth now revealed, that a Man has so glorified God on the earth, that God has glorified Him and set Him on His own throne at His right hand, and the Holy Ghost has come down to unite believers to that glorified Man. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, His body, and we who are indwelt by the Spirit of God are the members. Oh! what a wondrous privilege to be members of Christ. Reader, are you a member of Christ? Do you recognise that while men speak of being members of this or that church or society, Scripture only speaks of membership of Christ? What can be a closer bond to Christ than this? What can be a closer bond with other believers? Do you think you can improve upon this? How near we are to Christ, members of His very body, part of Himself, so that He can say to Saul, who was persecuting His people, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" (see Acts 9:4). This is a blessing which belongs peculiarly to the present time since the descent of the Holy Ghost. It is as the risen Man, that Jesus Christ became the Head of the body, and it was the baptism of the Holy Ghost that formed the body of Christ on earth. The Old Testament saints, blessed though they are, do not share this privilege, nor do they form a part of the church. They are the friends of the Bridegroom and rejoice to hear His voice (John 3:29); but they cannot form part of the body of Christ; for the church, as this body, was only first formed at the day of Pentecost, and will be complete on the day that the Lord calls the sleeping and living saints to meet Him in the air. (1 Thess. 4:15-17.) What can be nearer than the body? Then let us accept these truths with deepest reverence and thankfulness, and praise the Lord for His infinite grace.
Besides belonging to the body of Christ, the Christian also forms a part of God's house, God's habitation, God's temple. "Ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house." (1 Peter 2:5.) "Whose house are we." (Heb. 3:6.) Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Eph. 2:19-22.) "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (2 Cor. 6:16.) Reader, have you recognised what it is to be a living stone of God's house, that spiritual house in which God dwells? Do you know what it is to form a part of God's habitation, God's temple? Or do you think that a building built of stone is the church of God, the house of God? If you do, you will never understand the truth of God's spiritual house, and you will lose much.
Besides the blessings that have been here mentioned, the Christian is also a sharer in the kingdom, though this is not a blessing peculiar to the present time, but is shared with believers of other ages. It should be clearly understood that "the kingdom of heaven" does not mean heaven, neither does it mean the church. It means a kingdom on earth, though ruled over from heaven. The prophets all spoke of this kingdom, foretelling its glories during the reign of Christ. "Many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more, but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it." (Micah 4:2-4.) This kingdom in manifested glory, power and righteousness, has yet to be set up. If the people of Israel had accepted Christ as the Messiah, the kingdom would then and there have been established in power, but owing to their having rejected Him, therefore the kingdom in power is postponed until such time as Israel repents. And we have instead the kingdom in tribulation and patience (see Rev. 1:9). The secrets of this kingdom are unfolded to us in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, for Jesus said to His disciples, "It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (verse 11). The parable of the sower is the introductory parable, showing how the seed would be sown throughout the world. After this come six more parables, each beginning with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is like." These six parables are divided into two sets of three each. The first set of three, viz. the tares, the mustard seed and the leaven, were spoken to the multitude outside the house, and give us the outward aspect of things, telling how sin would be introduced and spread. The second set of three, viz. the treasure hid in the field, the pearl of great price, and the drag net, were spoken to the disciples in the house, and they tell us the inward aspect of the kingdom in God's sight, and cheer us by shewing us Christ's extreme delight in that which He sees within the kingdom in spite of all our failure. Blessed be God, although we have so grossly failed in all that which was committed to our responsibility, yet the purpose of God and the work of Christ can never fail, and this is therefore our comfort and our joy.
Hitherto what has been written about are all present possessions; the Christian (who knows the Christian's place) does not hope for forgiveness of sins, or for justification, for he is forgiven and he is justified. He does not hope to possess the Holy Spirit or to be made a child of God, for he knows that he has received the gift of the Holy Ghost and that God is his Father. He knows that he has eternal life, he knows that he has died and has risen with Christ. He knows that he is a member of Christ, and forms part of His body. All these marvellous blessings are his already; he does not pray for them, he thanks God for them, and he cannot ask for that, which God has already freely given him. He has received all these blessings by simple faith, for God's word does not tell us to ask for them, but says that they are given to every one that believeth; and in the prayers recorded in the Acts and in the Epistles never are any of these things asked for, for the simple reason that every real Christian has them, while every unsaved soul will have them directly his pride is broken, and he comes as a beggar to God through Christ, to receive all these things as the free gift of God.
How sad a thing it is that among the millions, who call themselves Christians, so few should be in the conscious possession of those blessings, which are the common possession of every true believer in the present age, and that it should be thought humility to go on asking for that, which God has already given to every soul, who has come to Him through Jesus Christ alone. In addition, however, to all these present possessions, the Christian has a most blessed and glorious hope.
It must, however, be most clearly understood that "hope" in the word of God, never means an uncertainty, but on the contrary always the certainty that the thing hoped for will be possessed, although not possessed at the present time. "Hope that is seen" [or 'possessed'] "is not hope: for what a man seeth" [or possesseth] "why doth he yet hope for." (Rom. 8:24.) Although therefore Christians are already blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3), yet they enjoy them at present in mortal bodies, and in a sphere of sin, sorrow and death, and in consequence they, having the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body. They cannot but do this, because the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Rom. 8:22, 23), and above all, because they are living in a judged world in which their Lord and Master has been rejected, and of which Satan is the prince (John 16:11), and god (2 Cor. 4:4); and how can they but feel deeply the way in which Christ is rejected and hated?
Doubtless there are many that deny this, and think that the world is growing better, and look for the conversion of the world by the preaching of the Gospel. But those, who think thus, have not learnt that God is now not dealing with the world as such, but He is gathering out of all nations, a people for His name (Acts 15:14) to be the body of Christ. God can save out of the world in virtue of the atonement of Christ, but when God the righteous Governor of the universe, begins to deal with the world, then it must be with the most terrible judgments. The death of Christ has a double aspect; He suffered at the hand of God, "Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death," and the result of this is, unmixed blessing to all who are willing to have blessing (see Ps. 22, which is all blessing as the result of Christ's death); but He suffered also at the hand of man, and the result of this must be the most awful judgment upon the world, which murdered Christ, and upon those who belong to the world, because they have not severed themselves from it by judging themselves and it, and laying hold by faith of that blessed One, who is now at the right hand of God. To-day is the day of grace, i.e. the acceptable year of the Lord. But this must be succeeded by the day of vengeance of our God (see Isa. 61:2, Isa. 63:3-6, Isa. 66:15; 2 Thess. 1:8, 9, etc.). Then will come to pass that which is written, "Because I have called and ye have refused; I have stretched out My hand and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would none of My reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early but they shall not find Me. For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of My counsel: they despised all My reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them." (Prov. 1:24-32.)
Reader, bear in mind that just as the cross of Christ assures us of perfect forgiveness, if we accept its shelter now, so the same cross declares in the plainest manner, that God will not, cannot, let off the sinner, who refuses this great salvation. It is one and the same cross (combined with the resurrection of Christ), which reveals both the righteousness of God, and also God's wrath from heaven against all ungodliness. (Rom. 1:17, 18.) Blessed be God that before this awful time comes to pass upon the earth, the Christian will have left this scene, according to the promise, "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell on the earth." (Rev. 3:10.) The Lord Jesus Christ is Himself our hope (1 Tim. 1:1). He Himself is coming for us, that we may be with Him for ever. (1 Thess. 4:13-18.) Death is in no sense the Christian's hope. Death, as the penalty for sin, is altogether passed for him, and he will never see death (John 8:51); death (or rather sleep, as the Scripture always terms it), as the decay of the natural faculties, may indeed come to him, if Jesus tarry; but it is distinctly written, "We shall not all sleep" (1 Cor. 15:51), and therefore there is no need of our dying, and we shall not die if the Lord come during our lifetime. If death should come, we know that "to depart and to be with Christ is far better" than to abide in the flesh (see Phil. 1:23, 24).
It is the personal coming of Christ, which is always held out as the Christian's hope. Death, if it occurs, is an individual thing, but the coming of Christ is the beginning of the fulfilment of the full purpose of God, when Christ shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and all the saints will be satisfied also, because they will awake with His likeness (see Isa. 53:11; Ps. 17:15; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). The manner of this coming is thus told us, "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17); and again, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor. 15:51-54). Bear in mind, it is only the believing dead, who are raised, the rest of the dead sleep on in their dishonoured graves one thousand years more (Rev. 20:5), and with them (the believing dead) only the living believers are caught up; the world goes on as before except that the acceptable year of the Lord will be over, and the day of God's vengeance with all its terrible judgments will then begin. The Christian's just hope is then the personal coming of Christ, when Christ shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied, and the Christian will be like Christ, and be with Him for ever.
With Christ, he and all saints will ascend to the Father's house. It is there that the Church will enter into the full sweetness and blessedness of what Christ is, and of what His work has done. He will present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but holy and without blemish, (Eph. 5:27.) She will satisfy and delight His heart far beyond all the glory, which He will acquire as Head of all things, just as the headship of Adam over all earthly creation was as nothing compared to her, who was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. The Christian, as a part of the Church, will come with Christ when he comes to execute the vengeance of God's wrath upon the earth (Rev. 19:11-21); for Christ is coming with His saints to judge the ungodly (Jude 14, 15); and when Christ, who is our life shall appear then shall we also appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:4.) The Lord Jesus has been the despised and rejected of men upon this earth. God will take care that He is fully glorified in the very scene of His rejection. His saints have been rejected with Him, they must be manifested in glory with Him too, for He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believe (2 Thess. 1:10). The world will then know that God sent His Son, and has loved us as He loved His Son (John 17:23), when it sees the Church sitting with Christ upon His throne (Rev. 3:21 ), and sharing His glory (John 17:22). Oh! what joy to see Christ so glorified in the world where He is now so neglected and slighted. Reader, is this your desire and your hope? Not only will the Church share in Christ's reign over the earth, but in Christ's headship over the whole universe of God's creation (Eph. 1:10); for the Church is His body, the fulness of Him, who filleth all in all, and most intimately connected with Him in all this glory. (Eph. 1:22-23.) In all this manifested glory it is rather the reign of Christ for one thousand years than the eternal state that is spoken of. At the end of this reign, the wicked dead will be raised to receive their final sentence, the earth will be burnt up, and heaven and earth will pass away, and there will be new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 20:1-5.) But the eternal state will not diminish, but only increase the Christian's blessedness, and as part of the body of Christ, he will never lose the nearness and close association with Christ, which is his portion for ever, and by reason of which he is the most blessed of all the creatures, which inhabit the whole universe of God. Reader, does not your heart burn at the thought of all this blessedness? Will you not say with the Apostle, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out?" Praise, O, praise Him continually for His wonderful goodness!
Hitherto the Christian's blessings have alone been spoken of, yet it must be clearly understood that all his blessings have their consequent responsibilities. As a child of Adam, his responsibility was to keep the law of God; on this ground he was wholly lost. But blessed be God, Christ came to seek and save that which was lost, and when found and saved, he who was lost, is brought as a Christian into an altogether new position, and he has become possessed of all the blessings we have spoken of. His old responsibility as a child of Adam ceased, but new responsibilities based on his new position, blessings, privileges and relationship, sprang into existence. All positions and relationships in the natural life have their attendant responsibilities; thus the wife is responsible to act as a wife, because she is a wife; the master as a master, because he is so; and the servant as a servant, because he is a servant. Even so it is in the things of God. The law came to the sinner, and told him to act as if he were not a sinner; but grace does not act like this, grace takes up the sinner, and giving him a new life and position, brings him into new relationships, before it ever demands (or will accept) anything from him; but afterwards it tells him to act according to what he has now become. The law tells a man to act according to what he is not; but grace first gives a new life and new place before it speaks of acting in accordance with them. Thus the law expects something unnatural, i.e. holiness from the sinner; but grace only expects the Christian to act according to what he is, and this is but natural.
The Christian is forgiven, justified and saved from self, sin, Satan and the world; he is responsible, then, to act as a forgiven, justified and saved man. He is responsible to confess Christ openly before men, for it is as true now as ever, that whosoever shall be ashamed of Jesus and of His words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also will the Son of man be ashamed "when He comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels." (Mark 8:38.) He who does not openly confess that Jesus, having saved him, is now his Lord, has no right to expect to be owned as a Christian. Also, being a saved man, saved from self, sin, Satan and the world, he is responsible to walk no longer according to the will of the flesh, but according to the will of God; for what is the use of a man saying "I am saved," if he is still acting according to the thoughts and desires of his own heart. He is merely a self-deceived man, for "to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness." (Rom. 6:16.) The Christian is dead unto sin (see Rom. 6:2-11, but alas! how few even know the meaning of this expression) and alive unto God. A new and holy nature has been implanted in him, and God's Spirit is in him, he is therefore responsible to walk in holiness and obedience. This was impossible while he was under law; but it is now possible, for grace has made him alive with a new life.
Does the Christian then never sin? Alas! he does, for he still carries about with him the old corrupt nature; but now he need not sin, and while he walks in dependence, reckoning himself dead to sin, and abiding in Christ he will not sin, but directly he ceases to be dependent (and alas! how soon does pride come in), he sins. The creature has no right to do his own will in anything, and when the Son of God became man, and dwelt among us, it was not that He might do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. Thus He was the perfect pattern of all that the creature should be. To act in self-will is sin, but alas! how common it is for Christians to say, "Is there any harm in this or that?" How the very question betrays the heart, for it shews that the questioner desires to act according to his own will, only he is rather afraid of doing so. The Christian is told that whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does, to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31); and before he does anything, he should see, not if there is harm in it, or not, but that it is to the glory of God.
Does this seem, my reader, to be bondage? If so, be sure it is because you have not learnt that true liberty is to be made free from everything and everybody, to do the will of God alone; and anything else is bondage. The only true liberty is to find enjoyment in doing the will of God. But a man may say, "How am I to know the will of God?" Well, if any man will do (i.e. is willing to do) His will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God," (John 7:17.) There is no way whereby an unwilling heart can learn the will of God, but if a soul be but willing, the Holy Spirit acting through the word of God, will always show him the way wherein he should walk. The word of God, as applied by the Spirit, is the perfect rule for all circumstances; and be sure that when we do not know what to do, it is not because God does not shew us, but because our hearts are not willing, and the only thing to be done is to confess this as sin to God. The Christian is dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, how then can he be subject to the "touch not, taste not, handle not" of men's commandments? (Col. 2:20-23.) Men, wise after the wisdom of this world, seek to school the flesh by such means; as witness the temperance societies, purity societies, etc., on all sides; but they have not understood that they are only trying what God has Himself tried for 1500 years by means of the law, and the result was that those to whom the law was given, were worse than the heathen around. God did not do this in order that He might learn the character of the flesh, but that it might be manifested to us.
The Christian is risen with Christ; then instead of grovelling in the world, and seeking the good things of the world like those who are of the world, let him seek the things that are above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God; let his mind be set on things above, not on things on the earth. (Col. 3:1-4.) Let him bear in mind that if he minds earthly things, he is an enemy of the cross of Christ. (Phil. 3:18, 19.) The Christian is seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6); he is joined to the Lord by one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17); he is therefore responsible to walk through this world as a heavenly stranger. He is not put there, as so many think, to enjoy himself; he is put here to be in the world as Christ was. As the Father sent Christ, so does He send us into the world (John 17:18); so that we being in it, are not of it; and moreover we are put here to testify against it that its deeds are evil. (John 7:7.) Testifying at the same time to God's grace, which yearns over sinners that they may be saved and enjoy the precious fruits of Christ's work.
Reader, are you seeking to walk as a heavenly man through the world, and does your walk testify to the world that its deeds are evil? Does it point sinners to the glorified One at the right hand of God? The Christian has received the Spirit of God, he is responsible to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), listening to His teaching and guidance, letting the Spirit have full sway over his mind and heart, not grieving Him by independence and self-will, but through the Spirit mortifying the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13); so that the Spirit may be free to take of the things of Christ and present them to him. The object of the Spirit is to unfold to us the beauties and glory of Christ, but directly we walk in self-will, He has to stop this work in order that we may judge ourselves for our self-will; for He cannot unfold the glories of Christ to a self-willed child. The Christian is a child of God, and he is responsible to show forth the character of his Father in the world. He is called upon to be as Christ was in the world, to do well and suffer for it, to bear reproach and scorn, and to love and bless those, who act wrongly towards him; indeed to be the exponent of the Father's love and grace in a Christ-hating and Christ-rejecting world. (Matt. 5:43-48; 1 Peter 2:19-25.) The Christian has eternal life, he is made a partaker of that life, which from eternity was with the Father and was manifested in the Son in the world. He is responsible to shew out that life, by abiding in the Son and walking as He walked (1 John 2:6), in dependence and obedience, in grace and in truth.
But it may be asked, Who is sufficient for these things? How can any one possibly walk like this? Well, be sure that God will give us no lower standard or model. Our standard is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and in Him we get a pattern, which delights the heart of God. How then did He walk? Why, every deed, every word, every thought of His was perfect; in nothing did He fall short of the glory of God, not a single word had ever to be recalled; all, all was as perfect as God is perfect. What folly then on the part of those poor self-deceived creatures, who talk of attaining to sinless perfection. Do they walk as Jesus walked? And if not, why talk of sinlessness? "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8.) And the Apostle James says in the most positive way, "In many things we offend all." (James 3:2.) If this book falls into the hands of any, who think that they have thus attained, or who are pleased to hear people speak of this attainment, let them reflect on that absolute statement of the Apostle, and may God open their eyes to their true state. At the same time, beware of the abominable error of saying that the Christian must sin. God has made the fullest provision for him, so that he need not sin, and when he does sin, it is because he chooses to sin, and not because he need have done so (see 1 Cor. 10:13, and James 1:13-15). The Christian is never shut up to sin; he must therefore confess his sins, and own that they were committed of his own free will.
Many think that Romans 7 gives us proper Christian experience, and that every Christian finds it true of himself, and has to say, "the good that I would I do not, but the evil that I would not that I do." But this is not proper Christian experience at all, it is the experience of an undelivered, self-occupied man, under law; in contrast with Christian experience proper, as shown forth in the eighth chapter of that Epistle. Note how in the seventh chapter it is all "I, I, I"; while in the eighth chapter it is all "the Spirit, the Spirit." In the the seventh chapter the undelivered soul is seeking with all his might to keep the law, and all is failure; in the eighth chapter the delivered soul has learnt that what the law could not do God has done, viz. that the sentence of condemnation has been passed on the old man, i.e. on sin in the flesh, and that he stands before God, in Christ, no longer in Adam; and that the Spirit of God who ever directs him to Christ is the power of a new life, so that he need no longer be defeated, but be a conqueror.
Reader, if your experience is that depicted in Romans 7 bear in mind that it is the experience of a soul in bondage and undelivered; and do not try and comfort yourself with the thought that it is only what must be expected. Alas that so many should rest satisfied with such a state and be full of self, instead of being full of Christ. The proper attitude of the Christian is to be occupied with Christ in glory, and to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, by gazing at Him. (2 Cor. 3:18.) If, however, the Christian does sin, does he lose his sonship or his eternal life? Has he ceased to be what the word of God calls a forgiven soul? Not so; for as we have seen before, all these blessings are given to him unconditionally and eternally. What, then, has he lost? Well, he has lost his joy, and his communion, or his fellowship with the Father and the Son is broken. The Father will not give the joy of His company to a naughty child, and therefore directly sin takes place, the joy is gone until the sin is judged and confessed, but the relationship abides eternally. The only place where forgiveness is spoken of in the Epistles, as necessary for the Christian, is in 1 John 1:9, where it is not a question of salvation at all, but of fellowship, and we are told that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That is, the joy of fellowship cannot be restored without self-judgment and confession. And bear in mind, confession of sin is a much deeper thing than praying for forgiveness, which latter is generally done without exercise of soul at all; and when God tells us to confess our sins He means it, and does not mean that we should merely ask forgiveness. The Christian's relationship as a son of God is eternal; his eternal life is eternal; his forgiveness as to the eternal judgment of God is also eternal. But he does, as we have seen, need daily forgiveness for the maintenance of fellowship with the Father, and the way to get this is by confession of the sin or sins committed. All sin must be confessed to God. If committed individually, then confession must be individual. If committed corporately, then confession should be, if possible, corporate as well as individual. If man, as well as God, be wronged, then confession (and restitution when necessary) to man, as well as to God, should be made. (Matt. 5:24.) But beware of asking in a general way for forgiveness of sins, and of general confessions of sin than which there is no more certain way of deadening the conscience and hardening the heart. The devil dearly loves to hear people calling themselves miserable sinners, and making general confessions, knowing how well it serves his purpose. The publican said, "God be merciful to me a sinner," and went down to his house justified; but thousands weekly call themselves miserable sinners over and over again, but do not go to their houses justified; and thus Satan soothes souls, and carries them down the cleaner side of the broad road to hell, telling them all the time that they are not like the proud Pharisee, but humble like the publican.
If however the Christian, when he sins, does not confess to God, but goes on in his sin, then what happens? Well the Father cannot cast him off, because he is His child, and the Father has given him to Christ, and is pledged therefore to bring him home in safety; for "whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified." (Rom. 8:30.) He cannot therefore cast him off, but being a holy God, neither can He let him go on in sin. Therefore He must chasten him down here; "for if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged. But when we are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31, 32.) If we are bastards and not sons, then we may go on without chastisement, because there is the judgment to come; but if we are really sons, then He must deal with us now, because, as we have before seen, we shall not come into judgment for salvation at all (see Heb. 12:5-11; also John 5:24).
Let no one think that sin in a child of God is a light thing, or that the chastening of the Lord is light; far from it. Sin in a child of God is far more terrible than sin in the sinner, and there is no anguish so painful on earth as the anguish of a real but rebellious child, when the chastening hand of God is breaking down his stubborn and rebellious will. Christian reader, hasten to judge yourself in order that the loving Father may not have to take His rod and chastise you. No chastening seemeth for the present to be joyous but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Heb. 12:11.) If however, my reader, you are living carelessly, and yet without chastisement, then tremble, for you must be a bastard and not a son, and your judgment will take place hereafter, and you will perish eternally, unless you quickly turn. But if, reader, you are a real Christian, yet one who trembles at the responsibilities of your new position, then hear the voice of God saying unto you, "Fear not"; that which is impossible with men is possible with God. All power is stored up for you in Christ, "He giveth more grace, wherefore He saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." (James 4:6.) Christ's strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9.)
The more you feel your weakness, the more you distrust yourself, the more you feel obliged to look to Christ in everything, and for all things, the more will His strength be manifested, and His name glorified in you. Rejoice evermore; greater is He that is for you, than all that are against you; greater are the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, than Satan, the world and self; you shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved you. How blessed to know that God is your Father, who loves you with infinite love, and is leading you with infinite skill through all the difficulties and temptations of this present evil world, to His house above. Cast then all your care upon Him, for He careth for you. In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known unto Him, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your heart and mind by Christ Jesus (see Phil. 4:6, 7).
Yet as there are individual responsibilities, so there are also corporate ones; for the Christian is not only saved, and a child of God, but he is part of an assembly, society, or body, which is called the Church of God. Seeing that the Lord Jesus died that He might gather together in one the children of God which were scattered abroad (John 11:52), we cannot act independently, without sin. Many tell us that the Church of God is invisible, but you will find nothing about an invisible Church in Scripture. On the contrary the Church is always a visible thing in Scripture; for before Christ died, the children of God were scattered, i.e. invisible; but Christ died to end that state of things, and to make the Church the one visible witness for Himself on the earth; the Church was to be the light of the world; and like a city set on a hill that cannot be hid. An invisible witness, an invisible light, an invisible city, is a contradiction of terms, and if the Church be invisible it only shows how completely it has failed in its purpose, and how truly it is (as far as committed to man) in an utter state of ruin. We read, "the Apostles went to their own company," "of the rest durst no man join himself to them," "certain men crept in unawares," "false brethren unawares brought in." Now men cannot join an invisible thing, nor can deceivers creep into an invisible thing. The disciples were told, "receive ye one another as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (Rom. 15:7); and again "put away from among yourselves that wicked person." (1 Cor. 5:13.) Now no man, or set of men, can receive or put out from an invisible thing. The Apostle wrote letters to the Church at Corinth, etc. Now letters cannot be written to that which is invisible.
In his days there was a known company called the Church at Corinth forming a part of, and having in every respect, the same rules as the whole Church of God. In 1 Cor. 5:12, it speaks of a "within" and "without"; because those within were a definite known company gathered out of the heathen, and these were all addressed as saints, forgiven people and children of God; there might be, and doubtless were hypocrites and false professors here and there among them; but that did not affect the general character of the assembly, as an assembly of God. How different is it all now. We now have the huge but corrupt churches of Rome and Greece, in which the church is the world, and the world the church; we have national systems, which fly in the face of God (for He has made one Church out of the believers of all nations), they bind together the believers and unbelievers of a nation in one common national system; and we also have voluntary systems of the various denominations, in which believers, and sometimes many unbelievers, are joined together by voluntary agreement. Besides this we have societies, whose name and purpose is legion, for every conceivable thing under the sun. Alas! where in all this is there the least recognition of the Church or Assembly of God? Where is there an assembly where there is room for every believer, who is seeking to walk in holiness, and yet no room for any one but God's children (though it is possible of course that hypocrites may accidentally creep in)? Where is there an assembly where the word of God is the only rule, instead of having a set of rules culled more or less out of the Bible? Where is the presence of the Spirit of God so owned that He is not systematically quenched, but has liberty to act in worship and prayer through whom He will? Where are those alone recognised as ministers, who are seen to be ministers by their works, instead of ministers being those ordained of men?
Alas, we have walked in our own ways, and followed the devices of our own hearts, in all these things. We have rebelled against God our Father, and Christ our Lord, and we have so deliberately rejected the Holy Ghost, as the Jews of old rejected the Messiah. When Christ was in their midst they were still praying for the Messiah to come, and even so are Christians now praying for the Holy Ghost, apparently ignorant that He came at Pentecost to abide with us for ever, and that consequently He is still here, although He is so terribly grieved by our sins, and although He is quenched on every side, by the rules and the systems of men which make one man a mouthpiece of the Holy Ghost, and forbid all others to open their mouths, at least without man's permission. Thus man usurps the Lord's place, and it may be said of the Church of God, that from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. And where are those that sigh and cry for all these abominations? Alas many think that as long as souls are saved, nothing else need be troubled about, and that which is needful to salvation is generally called essential, while that which is for the glory of God is called non-essential! Surely the Lord has a controversy with us for this, and it must be a source of great weakness in the Church, on account of which we should be deeply exercised.
The Christian, as we have seen, is a part of the house, habitation and temple of God, and he is also a member of Christ: and as the habitation of God is holy, and Christ is Son over His own house, therefore we are called upon to stand apart from all iniquity, for it is written: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? [i.e. unbeliever] and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 6:14-18, 2 Cor. 7:1.) Until the Christian therefore, as a part of God's temple, separates himself from unbelievers, he will not be in the enjoyment of sonship.
Alas! the union of saved and unsaved, in one common religion, is the crying sin of Christendom. The children of God should be united, but union at the expense of truth is worse than useless, and God does not tell us to seek unity, but to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3); Christ did not merely pray that we might be one, but that we might be one in the Father and the Son. (John 17:21.) Every other unity and oneness is but hurtful, for it shuts out from the eye the only unity and oneness which God can recognise.
The Christian is a member of Christ; this is the only membership owned in Scripture, Alas! that this bond should be practically set aside by the societies and sects of man's framing. It is as if a man were to say, the joints of my body are not well joined together, I will make a better joint by tying them together with string. We should think that man a lunatic; but what about those, who think with their churches and societies to bind more closely together those whom God has made one with Christ and with each other by the Holy Ghost? The Christian is therefore responsible to stand apart from every union, society, church, etc., made by men, that he may own nothing but the one body of Christ. This is just as much his responsibility, as it is that of the husband to know no woman but his wife. He cannot however walk alone, because he is part of the body of Christ, and therefore he must own that union, though he holds aloof from the unions of men. Being a member of Christ, how can he become a member of the associations of men? At the same time he should abhor the independency and looseness of those, who profess to be unsectarian, and yet go anywhere and everywhere as suits their fancy; or where, as they think, good is being done, He cannot therefore belong to a world church, or to a national church, or to a sect, but he seeks to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart, and endeavours with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering and forbearance, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
As this will involve going outside the camp of men's religious systems, it will entail also the bearing of Christ's reproach. (Heb. 13:13.) He will be esteemed narrow-minded, bigoted, sectarian, and will be despised and disliked, but he will enjoy the company of the Lord Jesus in a way which he can never do within the camp. Reader, is that company so sweet to you that you are willing to suffer reproach for it? As part of that which is the body of Christ, the Christian is responsible to keep himself unspotted from the world. No sin can be greater, than for one professing to form part of Christ's body, to glorify himself and live deliciously; see the terrible judgment on Babylon, who saith in her heart "I sit a queen and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow," (Rev. 18:7.) It is a sad thing when the Christian seeks glory in the place where his Lord met with nothing but dishonour and shame (see 1 Cor. 4:7-14). There is not space now to enter further into the corporate responsibilities of the Christian as belonging to the kingdom, than to, say that as such, he needs to stand aloof from the prevailing lawlessness, and to bow to the authority of Christ alone. The Christian enjoys all the privileges of the kingdom, and how great these are we can see by comparing Christendom with heathendom. It is this which makes his responsibility so great, and which will make the judgment of the lawless so terrible.
There now only remains to say a few words in conclusion. This is but a slight and imperfect sketch. But if it has but the effect of causing some heart to turn to Christ as it thinks of the marvellous blessings which are freely given to us of God in Christ Jesus; if it should but awaken some soul to a deeper sense of the responsibilities which flow from the new position, blessings and privileges of the Christian, then it will not have been written in vain. Doubtless, some of the things that are said, will appear strange to some of the readers; but let me beg of you not to reject what is written because it is strange. We are commanded to prove all things (1 Thess. 5:21); and how can we prove them? The word of God is the alone test. It is written of the Bereans "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11.) The Apostle Paul, in leaving the disciples at Ephesus, had no one to commend them to but "to God and the word of His grace." (Acts 20:32.) The Apostle Peter, in like manner, appoints no successor, but writes his Epistles, that we may be mindful of the words, which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of the Apostles of the Lord and Saviour. (2 Peter 3:1, 2.) The Apostle John says, "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of error." (1 John 4:6.) In a similar way, all these Apostles tell us of the errors that were abroad, or were coming in. The Apostle Paul says, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Tim. 4:3, 4.) The Apostle Peter warns of false teachers, and tells of scoffers that will come. (2 Peter 1, 3) The Apostle John says, "It is the last time, and as ye have heard that anti-Christ shall come, even now there are many anti-Christs; whereby we know it is the last time" (1 John 2:18); and again, "Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye shall continue in the Son and in the Father." (1 John 2:24.) And yet again, "This is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, that as ye have heard from the beginning; ye should walk in it." (2 John 6.)
Let me then entreat you, my reader, earnestly to examine the truth of God for yourself, that you may see if these things are so. It is better to trust in the living God, than to put any confidence in man. The meek He will guide in judgment, the meek He will teach His way. Fear not to trust Him wholly and unreservedly; the path of faith is a strange path, a path impossible for flesh and blood, for sight and sense, and only possible in the power of the Spirit of God; nevertheless the footprints of the Lord Jesus are there, and you shall have His company, and the sweetness of His presence in a way that they shall never know who tread the beaten paths marked out by men's theology and men's systems. Do not believe those who tell you the Bible is a difficult book. It is the book sent by the Father for His children; it is very simple, for He knows our frame and He reveals Himself unto babes. It is true, of course, that there are innumerable differences of doctrine abroad, but the reason is, not that the word of God is not simple, but it is because of the pride and insubjection of the heart, which makes the many come to the word of God with preconceived opinions, in order to find what they want, instead of coming with the deepest submission to hear what God has got to say.
Let me beg of you to weigh everything in the presence of God, and in the light of His truth, and not to reject it because it is not called orthodox, nor what is held by those amongst whom you live. Whatever is of God is worth everything; and the greater the difficulty in being true to it, the greater the blessing to those who hold to it, and are valiant for truth. It is quite true that the truth of God may cause separations in households. It was so in the Lord's time; it has been so ever since, notably so in the Reformation, and it will be so now; for Christ has plainly told us that He does not bring peace, but a sword; and that a man's foes shall be they of his own household. (Matt. 10:34-36.) It is quite true, that for the truth's sake, men may hate you, and separate you from their company, and reproach you and cast out your name as evil for Christ's sake, but great shall be your reward in heaven, (Luke 6:22, 23.) We cannot serve God and mammon. If we are of the world then the world will love his own; but if we are not of the world, the world will hate us. If we want the world's friendship it can only be at the cost of being guilty of spiritual adultery. (James 4:4.) The word of God will test everything in that day when the Lord will bring to light the counsels of the heart. Oh! let it test everything for you now. Do not say "I may do anything that is not forbidden by it." Not so, this would imply that you know everything in it, and such a way of acting will lead you into many errors. The only safe way is to insist on a "thus saith the Lord" for all you do. This may seem slow and narrow-minded in this go-a-head twentieth century; but Christ will be ever with you, and the joy of the Lord shall be your strength. Every trial and sorrow shall be stepping-stones to lead you into a deeper knowledge of Christ and of His love. God will set before you an open door and none, shall shut it, and though your path will be lonely here, yet by and by you shall go out no more, and the approval of the Master shall sound unspeakably sweet to your ears and repay you a thousandfold for all that you may have to suffer here. May the Lord in His grace grant that it may indeed be thus with you.