In speaking upon the book of Acts, you remember we came to that point in the second portion of the book where we saw the conversion of that arch enemy and persecutor of the Church of Christ, Saul of Tarsus. You remember that we had, in the first seven chapters, God's ways of patience with Israel, still lingering with long-suffering, if perchance they might even yet turn and repent as a nation, and receive the blessed Lord whom they had crucified and rejected. We saw that in the stoning of Stephen that door was closed to the unrepentant nation, that they simply sealed their guilt by putting the martyr's crown on Stephen's head, and thus rejected the testimony of the Holy Ghost, as they had already the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was here.
The witnesses in Stephen's stoning laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Saul was the ringleader of the persecution, whose enmity instead of being quenched by this crime, seems to have been quickened into fresh activity. He was distinguished as persecuting all who bore the name of Christ, and, as he tells us, being exceeding mad against them, he persecuted them even to other cities. For that purpose, armed with authority from the chief priests, he was on his way to Damascus to arraign and bring back to Jerusalem any who bore the hated name of Jesus.
How unlikely that such a man should be the chosen instrument to unfold to the Church of Christ the priceless truths in which we rejoice tonight! How unlikely that he who was the chief of Jews, and the chief of sinners too, the bitter enemy of Christ and of every one who bore His name, should be the chosen vessel of God to introduce us into these precious things! And yet we know that his very conversion was characteristic of his whole after-ministry. He was not converted through the preaching of the law; he was not converted through the preaching of repentance by human lips; he did not hear the gospel from men, and he was therefore not an apostle of men, neither by men. There was a voice from the excellent glory, from Christ on high, revealing Himself in the awful light of His glorious majesty and holiness, which smote that man to the earth. Two great changes took place then; there was the end to the natural man, and the opening up of the Holiest of God. In the brightness of that light Saul sees and abhors himself; he counts the things in which he had gloried, as worthless. There is an introduction, typically at least, (for he is still in the darkness until he went to Damascus and received light at the hands of one of those despised disciples whom he had persecuted) into that sphere of heavenly truth which was ever after the theme of his ministry.
Now link those things together. There is Stephen preaching to the Jews the truth that would have emancipated them from Judaism, stoned to death. He sees Jesus at the right hand of God. When Saul is converted it is by the revelation of Jesus at the right hand of God; and the whole character of His ministry is taken from that. It was not to gather an earthly people, nor to reestablish Judaism, — not to do any thing that had connection with the old creation; it was a new thing entirely. It was the introduction of God's people into His sanctuary.
That being true, we find most appropriately that these epistles bring us into what answers to Leviticus, a third section. In the Acts you have the Exodus, the people led out from under the bondage of Judaism, but into what? The Spirit of God not only leads out, but he leads into; and in Paul's epistles you have the positive side of Christianity. Far be it from us to depreciate any portion of God's precious word; to think lightly, for instance, of the epistles of Peter or James or of the Old Testament, or anything of that kind. It always marks a low, carnal nature to despise or to think lightly of the smallest portion of the word of God from Genesis to Revelation. Every bit of it is absolutely perfect, perfect in its place as unfolding the will, counsel, purpose of God in that connection. But it is always in its proper connection; and in Paul's writings we have that which is the Christian position set before us in the fullest and most unmistakable way. It is into the holiest, into the presence of God, that we are introduced, with our souls emancipated by the precious truth that you have unfolded in those epistles. Is it only by chance that they are just fourteen in number? which speaks, as you know, of a twofold perfection, of a perfection perfectly borne witness to. These epistles are moreover divided into what would be suggested by this, into two portions, one of which has more particularly to do with the believer's standing, and the other more particularly with his relationships and responsibilities. Our purpose tonight is simply to take up the first division.
Romans is the beginning. It corresponds to the book of Genesis in being the foundation of all truth as to Christian standing. Next we have Galatians, thirdly Ephesians, fourthly Colossians, and fifthly Philippians. You have unfolded in them the perfection of Christian standing, in a fivefold aspect, corresponding, just as we have seen in the other books, to the five books of Moses.
Then we have the epistles of relationship. First of all, Thessalonians, secondly Corinthians, thirdly Hebrews, fourthly Timothy, and fifthly Titus. These, you can see at a glance, have to do not so much with our position, but with our relationships and the responsibilities which grow out of those relationships. I believe you will agree that the division is clear and marked and that we are in somewhat different atmosphere in the second division of the epistles than we are in the first.
Returning to the first division, Romans is the Genesis. It gives us the foundation in divine righteousness of all the rest. Next comes Galatians, and no one who has ever been under the law but realizes that the epistle to the Galatians is a true Exodus, which tells us of deliverance from the law, and warns us against being brought into bondage to it again. Passing on to Ephesians we enter into the heavenly places. Our blessing in Christ in the heavenly places is set before us in such glorious fulness that we realize we are in the presence of God. We have thus the Leviticus of this portion, the sanctuary. Then as to our walk, corresponding to the book of Numbers, — our walk here upon earth, testing and trial in the place of weakness, — we have Colossians. That is putting Christ Himself as the standard of the believer's walk here. As Ephesians deals with heavenly places so Colossians deals with earthly places. You find the believer on earth, but seeking things which are above. He is a pilgrim, just as Israel was a pilgrim in the book of Numbers, walking through the desert, but seeking a resting place beyond. And then for a Deuteronomy — that which gives us God with man, the moral principles and wisdom for our pathway here, such as you find in the book of Deuteronomy, — Philippians gives us that most appropriately, as we can see when we come to look at it. I have omitted to mention that the epistle to Colossians has a short postscript, which we are already familiar with in the book of Judges which has Ruth as a postscript, and in the prophet Jeremiah which has Lamentations. So here, the epistle to Colossians has Philemon for a postscript, and a most beautiful one it is.
Taking up the contents of these Epistles, I feel like saying, for myself and for all of us, that if we are dealing with familiar truth, let us be on guard that it is not familiar to be despised. I know of nothing more deadening to the conscience, nothing more injurious to the spiritual life, than to handle holy truths without their having power in our hearts, or realizing what a wondrous privilege we have. I have no hesitation in saying that these truths are absolutely the highest revelation which God has given to us. If the Lord Jesus could turn to His disciples and say, "Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see, and the ears that hear the things that ye hear; for I say unto you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that ye see and have not seen them, and to hear the things that ye hear and have not heard them," — if the Lord Jesus could say that to His disciples when He was here on earth, how much more for us who have received the Holy Ghost, the wondrous unfolding of the secrets of the very heart of God, things hid from the foundation of the world, the opening out of the mystery hid in God! Are these things to be handled in a trifling way? as those that we know, that we are quite familiar with, a sort of creed? — the one body, heavenly places, and all that sort of thing — without any living power in it?
When these characteristic truths of Paul's epistles lose their power we lose our testimony; we lose that for which we are left down here, and the precious truth which God in His mercy has recovered for us in these last days is gone, as far as our testimony is concerned. Oh, let us prize, let us hold fast, that which has been given to us! Let us remember that it is a priceless treasure committed into our hands; just as the children of Israel, the remnant that were returned from Babylon, had entrusted to them the precious vessels that belonged to the temple. They were given to them in distant Babylon, and they were to carry them safely through all the intervening space until they came to Jerusalem. There they were to weigh them out, and give full account for every vessel of the sanctuary that had been put into their hands. So here we have the sanctuary and the vessels of the sanctuary; and if in the midst of Babylonian confusion, in which the Church of Christ has been taken captive, we, in the infinite mercy of God, have had put into our hands and into our hearts these precious truths, let us hold fast to them as we go through the wilderness, and be ready, when we reach yonder holy place, to give full account, full weight, for every truth entrusted to us. May the Lord awaken His people to this; to see to it that these very truths which we possess and which we know so well have a living power in our souls, that they make worshipers of us. If it is truth about the sanctuary, it should lead us into the sanctuary; if it is truth about the presence of God, it should bring us into His presence. Shall it not be so? And as we take up now these familiar epistles, shall we not ask that our hearts may burn afresh at the precious unfoldings contained in them? Thousands of martyrs have gone to the stake with songs of joy, that did not know one tenth part of the truth Christians possess now. Beloved, what power is what we possess having in our lives? That is the point. May the truth sanctify us, and conform us more and more to the image of our blessed Lord! Is not that your desire?
Now when we take up Romans, there is not the slightest difficulty as to what it means, as to what its theme is. No one can question for a moment that the theme of Romans is given to us in the first chapter, sixteenth and seventeenth verses, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God through faith revealed to faith; as it written, the just shall live by faith." It is the gospel, that wondrous unfolding of the heart of God, the glad tidings of His grace for men. The apostle is not ashamed of it, for it is the power of God unto salvation; in it is revealed God's righteousness, that unfolding of His character which fully manifests what He is, His justice and self-consistency; and is the foundation of all our peace.
Now this epistle is most clearly marked in the subjects it speaks of. We have first of all in the first five chapters, or, to speak accurately, from chapter 1 to chapter 5 and eleventh verse, the first division, which presents to us God's righteousness in the justification of the sinner. What an unfolding we have in that part! We have, roughly speaking, in the first chapter the Gentile set before us in all the hideousness of the sin into which he had fallen, because he did not like to retain the knowledge of God in his heart. Therefore God gave him over to a reprobate mind; and all the wretched evil he practiced is displayed in its horror, in order to show him what man is without God. In the first part of the second chapter the subject is continued to show the judge and the philosopher, who could point out the sins of others, that he was equally guilty. This entire portion shows that man, with only the light of nature, while responsible, never turns to God. Concluding this, the apostle passes, in the middle of the chapter, to the Jew. He shows them one who had the law and boasted in it, gloried in the fact that he had something that the Gentile did not possess yet condemned by that very law. He had the law, but he had only broken it. We find thus Jew and Gentile both alike under sin.
How familiar that is; how many times the gospel has been preached from that as the starting point — all alike under sin! "There is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" and the apostle closes that part of the subject by quoting from Scripture, first from the book of Psalms and then from the prophet Isaiah, to show that there is no righteousness in any, in heart or in life. The effect of all that is to close men's mouths, for as long as man's mouth is open he will vindicate himself. As long as his mouth is open, he will have something to say like the Pharisee, "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are." But when he is arraigned before the bar of God's righteousness, and there shown up in his true character, he has nothing to say. Every mouth is stopped, and all the world is guilty before God. A silent, guilty world, — a world that stands convicted of sin, not a word to say, — what then? God speaks. He says, I will proclaim My righteousness. If there is no righteousness in you, if you are convinced of that fact, now hearken to My righteousness; and in the gospel of Christ we have that righteousness brought out.
But the sinner says, I am afraid of the righteousness of God; it is the very thing I shrink from; I dare not face it; that righteousness would condemn me, would justly put me where I belong, in everlasting misery, under the righteous judgment of a holy God. Ah! what do we find that the righteousness of God does? "The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, 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." And so the sinner finds that the very righteousness of God which he feared, that very justice which he imagines against him, is for him; instead of being against him to condemn him, it is the very thing that witnesses for him. God's righteousness is manifested in justifying the believer in Jesus: manifested in justifying the ungodly. I as a poor sinner, with all my sin upon me; a poor wretched, guilty soul, standing before a righteous God, find that His very righteousness is my friend, that which justifies me. How amazing that is! and what is the secret of it? The blood of Christ. God has set Him forth a propitiatory through faith by His blood, to declare His righteousness, and that, beloved brethren, is where peace comes in; that is why the apostle says in the fifth chapter, "Being justified by faith we have peace with God."
Then in the fourth chapter, you have the place that works occupy in this. The apostle takes the two great examples, Abraham and David. You remember we were seeing how Abraham and David are presented as the heads of the genealogy of our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew. And they were chief men in all the nation of Israel — Abraham the patriarch, the progenitor of the whole race, and David the king, the head of the royal family. Now Paul shows that both Abraham and David were justified by faith without works. In other words he sets works in their true place, and shows how simple faith in the work of Another without works on our part, is that which justifies the ungodly. Then in the fifth chapter, as I have already quoted, he heads it up, and reaches as high a point as you have in all the epistle, where he says, "Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Peace with God. Do I say the highest point? no not quite: but go on a little further. You find him summing up; he says, "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. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also." "Not only so" again, "but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation." Notice, peace with God first. Then we can glory in tribulation, then God Himself is our joy, the object that fills our hearts. We are brought to God. How blessed that is, and that is the close of the first division of Romans. That righteousness which was revealed from heaven, which shows our lost condition, first justifies us, gives us peace, then gives us power for the path down here, then presents God Himself as the object of our joy. Adam hiding from God amongst the trees of the garden, — can you think of such an one as rejoicing in God now? Yes, brought out into the light, sin judged in the person of Christ, cleansed by His precious blood, God Himself the righteous God becomes our joy and our delight.
The second part of Romans begins just there. From the twelfth verse of the fifth chapter on through the eighth chapter, you find that there is an entirely different subject. The Christian finds out that though he is saved, saved perfectly and forever, he has a nature in him that is capable of sinning still; and the question that is raised in this second part is that of sin in him. In the first part it was sin on us, but in the second it is in us. In all this second portion, it is not a question of salvation, but of deliverance from the power of sin. I am persuaded that most of God's dear people never get much beyond the first part of this epistle. They never know much of that Exodus which takes them out of the land of bondage, and from their taskmaster and their enemies who would hold them fast in this world — takes them out of that and sets them free to go forth to live for God. Now that is just what you find in this second portion. First you have the two heads, Adam and Christ. We were in Adam, we are now in Christ; that is the secret of all deliverance. My link is with Christ risen and glorified.
That raises the question in the sixth chapter as to whether we are to continue in sin. We are told not to continue in sin, because we are not under the law but under grace. In that sixth chapter is brought out the precious truth that we are dead to sin by the body of Christ, and we are therefore to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto it, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus. If I am dead to it, can I commit sin? am I under its power? If I realized that I am dead to it, I am a free man, free to walk now as one who is alive to God. But it is for faith only. So in the seventh chapter, you find that great question of the law brought out, which is enlarged upon in the epistle to the Galatians, and we are told that we are dead also to the law by the body of Christ, that we might be joined to another that we might bring forth fruit unto God. The law has to do with the natural man. It had to do with man according to the flesh, and it can only condemn him. For us we are risen with Christ, we are dead to the law, out from under it, and now can walk in newness of life. Ah! we talk about being in the seventh of Romans, and out of the seventh of Romans, and all that. I am afraid, as I have said before, that most of us are out of it in the sense that we have never been in it in any true way. We have never realized that awful conflict — not for salvation, mark — not that; he is saved, a soul that knows he has peace with God, yet cries, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is the power of sin, in one longing for holiness. And how does he get out of it? by realizing that it is through Christ, and that cross which sealed my peace, that same cross has settled the question of my relationship to the law, and my relationship to the world. I am dead to them both, and now the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. So that the eighth chapter gives us one emerged into the place of liberty, and the walk in the power of the Spirit of God, in that newness of life which is the practical walk for us here. That closes the second part of the epistle.
From chapters 9 to 11 you have another very distinct subject, the question of God's relation with His word, — with His purposes in times past. In this portion we are occupied with the question of Israel. If God has a people who are justified not by the works of the law but by faith in Christ, what shall we say about Israel, that beloved earthly people? These truths are unfolded for us in the most beautiful way to harmonize with the truths of grace. God's truths never contradict one another. One may set another aside for the time being, just as Israel at the present time is set aside as a nation, but God's truths never conflict. And so in that third section of the epistle we see that there is a remnant according to the election of grace, and that God's purposes as to Israel, as His purposes for all, will be accomplished in their day, according to His own counsel. Fittingly, in that which emphasizes this, are we reminded of the resurrection of Israel, and the holiness of God — in a third section.
That leaves us with the last part of the epistle, from the twelfth chapter to the close. And here again there is a most marked contrast, the questions in the fourth portion corresponding very beautifully with the book of Numbers. It is a question of walk. We have seen in the first part, God's righteousness manifested in our justification; in the second, God's righteousness setting us free from the power of sin; in the third, God's holiness is manifested in connection with Israel. Now in the fourth, it is the practical walk of the child of God in the power of these truths. Now we notice a word, so characteristic that you might call it the keyword of the whole of this part of the epistle; and it is so different from the law. The law says, "cursed be he that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." It says, "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not." What does the holiness of grace say? "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." It is entreaty, and entreaty by the mercies of God, — not by the wrath of God, not by His judgment, — to present our whole body a living sacrifice. So you find that unfolded in this last part of Romans, which is the practical walk. I can only say that as righteousness is the theme of the entire epistle, so here it is still practical righteousness.
We now come to Galatians; and here we see a most marked and clearly defined subject running all through the epistle. In many points it is very similar to Romans. It is closest of all Paul's writings to that epistle, as you might naturally expect. And yet there are certain very marked distinctions. The theme of Galatians is one, and it is our relationship to the law, our relationship to the law and to Christ, as contrasted. The apostle in the first two chapters brings out the fact that he has been set free entirely from everything of earth, of the law, of Judaism. As I was saying, he has got it all from Christ in the glory. Then he goes on to unfold to them through that epistle, how they have the question of law and the question of Christ; which is it for them? He asks, is it circumcision or is it Christ? He says, "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by love." It was a distinct attack of the enemy that he met in this epistle. You find that he begins the epistle very differently even from the way he begins Corinthians. There was terrible evil at Corinth; the saints there were in an awful condition, but still the apostle can thank God for all the gifts that there were amongst them. But when he comes to Galatians, he says, "I marvel that ye have so quickly departed from Him that has called you in the grace of Christ to another gospel." And why is it he speaks so sternly? The immorality was not as great as at Corinth, but when truth is assailed, when something is put in the place of the gospel, or worse yet when the gospel itself is going to be adulterated, then the apostle says, "though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you let him be accursed." When the truth of God is in question there can be no disloyalty, no uncertain sound. If the saints have fallen into evil as at Corinth, they are to be recovered from it, but if the gospel is gone, what have we left? As I was saying it was not the absolute denial of the gospel, but it was corrupting it, and corrupting it with that which is apparently of God, putting into it the law. Now the law in its place is perfect, — holy, just, and good, — and the gospel is perfect in its place; but when you bring the two together, you have a corruption of the two best things. And that makes a corruption which is so terrible, that the apostle could wish, as he says, that they would cut themselves off that trouble them with such teachings. It is not a gospel he says. And so you find all through the epistle that he takes up and dwells upon the wondrous fact that the gospel of the grace of Christ is an entirely new thing, that sets aside the law.
As I was saying in the first two chapters, he puts before us the heavenly character of the gospel as superceding the law. Then he goes on with the next chapter to speak of the contrast between Christ and the law, and how grace antedated law in the covenant with Abraham 430 years before Sinai. Then he passes on in the next portion to speak of the liberty of the Spirit, the walk in the power of the Spirit of Christ, in which if we walk we are not under the law on the one hand, and we shall not fulfil sin on the other. Here we have the spirit of sonship, and are not children of Hagar, typical of the law and bondage, but children of the free woman, of grace and of promise.
The last two chapters are devoted to the practical walk. Love is the fulfilling of the law. Walk in the Spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. The fruits of the Spirit and the burden-bearing of one another, the highest kind of law — the law of Christ. He closes with the wondrous statement about the new creation. "From henceforth let no man trouble me for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." "As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised only lest they suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. As many as walk according to this rule peace be upon them." And so we have the new creation which sets aside the law, and all our connection with it, and places us where the Spirit of Christ can lead us on to liberty and holiness and power.
We come now to Ephesians, that wonderful epistle which is the sanctuary of all Paul's writings. We have in it first the unfolding of the counsels of God: how He has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world given us the place of sons, in holiness, and placed us on the ground of redemption where all His purposes can be made good to us, and then placed the seal of the Holy Ghost upon us, as the earnest of the inheritance. We next see the perfect position of the believer in Christ — partaking of His life, place and power, and united to Him as Head. In Him we, once dead in trespasses and sins, are quickened, raised up, and in Him are seated in the heavenly places; He Head of the body, His Church, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. Every verse of this wondrous epistle is full of most precious truth: I fear to spoil them by attempting even to speak of them. I only want to quote three suggestive and characteristic portions. They are, first the two prayers of Paul: the first chapter and the fifteenth verse, "Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love to all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand."
In that prayer you have the desire that we may know what is ours. He prays to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of power, the God through whom all has been accomplished; that we may know the hope of His calling; the hope attached to the calling wherewith we are called. Then the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. That is the portion which we inherit. It is not looked upon as our inheritance, but as God's inheritance in us. Then the greatness of His power, which He wrought in Christ. In other words what is set before us in this prayer is that we may know what is ours in Christ, just as you have in the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, our heavenly inheritance unfolded there, in type, in the land.
Then the second prayer is in the third chapter, fourteenth verse. You notice it is quite different; "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, 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, which passeth knowledge." In other words you have, in this second prayer, the desire that the knowledge of His love may be translated into the heart's affection. This is just in line with what I was saying in the beginning, that these precious truths may be living and practical in our lives, that we may be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. Now those two truths give us, as you might say, the sum of the epistle to the Ephesians: knowledge and power — knowledge of our position and the love that corresponds with that.
I would say that there is no such thing in God's mind as Ephesian truth without Ephesian love; and in the address to Ephesus in the book of Revelation, what He has to say to them is not that they have lost their truth, but that they have lost their love. That is practically the losing of their testimony, and their candlestick. Oh, what love, what joy, what grace, correspond with such a place as is set before us, for instance, in the second chapter!
We, quickened with Christ, and in Him in the heavenly places! we who once were dead! In the latter part of that chapter we are looked at as those who were at a distance, afar off, but now made nigh by the blood of Christ. How near? Near enough to form His Church, the dwelling-place of God by His Spirit.
And so we might go on, for there is so much that is tempting in it. But doubtless it is so familiar I scarcely need to more than mention the various subjects to you. Take, for instance, the great presentation of Church truth you have here. In the first chapter you have the Church presented to us as the body of Christ, He the head. In the second chapter you have it presented as the house of God, His habitation; and in the fifth chapter you have it presented as the bride of Christ, presented to Him in glory. The Church is looked at in those three ways. As the body it is a question of activity and service, all the members engaged in service to the common Head and to one another. This is enlarged upon in the fourth chapter, where we see the gifts and their functions, and the unity of the Spirit in connection with the exercise of those gifts. As house it sets before us responsibility, God's house in order, subjection to His rule and authority. If we are in God's house, and are builded together as a habitation of God through the Spirit, what order, what subjection should that require! And then the bride; that bride which is to be presented to Him a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. What manner of men ought we to be as those that wait for their Lord. In connection with the subject of the Church, I can only refer to the "mystery" in the third chapter. No one can understand the true nature of the Church, nor of the dispensation in which we are living, who has not grasped that truth.
Let us not think that it is an easy thing to enter into these truths, or that mere intellectual familiarity is all that is required. Satan is determinedly opposed to our making good to ourselves any of these blessings. We are to be on our guard, and to "fight the good fight of faith," if these things are to be practically enjoyed. All this is dwelt upon in that familiar portion in the sixth chapter, which reminds us so vividly of the conflict in Joshua's day with the inhabitants of Canaan, to which evident allusion is made. This is a real conflict, if not a physical one, and no heavenly blessings can be practically enjoyed without it.
But I must speak of one more feature before leaving Ephesians: those practical exhortations which you find at the close of the epistle. As it has been often noticed, the epistle that sets us in Christ in the heavenly places, guides our feet upon the earth; and, as I have often remarked, that in the tabernacle where you have the glories of our position in nearness to God, our feet are upon the desert sands. So are our feet upon earth while we behold the glories of our heavenly position. But we must pass on, taking that thought as the key to the next epistle, that to the Colossians.
The theme of Colossians, you might say, is not exactly a wilderness theme. It is Christ, it is the glory of Christ, higher even than Ephesians in that way. In Colossians we have the glories of that blessed One, just as you have in the first and second chapters of Hebrews, with which this book corresponds. It is Christ who is put before us — Christ we are warned not to let go. But if you notice more carefully, you find that in Colossians he looks upon the saints as on earth; and speaks of their responsibilities in such a way that if one were not clear as to the truth of our standing, we would think there were some uncertainty about it. He says, for instance, "If ye hold fast," "if ye be not moved away from the hope of the gospel." The "ifs" and the conditions show that it has to do with the walk upon earth, and not with our standing. And yet how beautifully blended these are together, — the believer's standing and his walk that flows out of it.
So you find, as I was saying, that it is Christ Himself, the person of the Lord, that is here presented. And that reminds me of the beautiful illustration you have in the first chapter of Genesis. The fourth day of creation, the number which speaks, just as Colossians does, of our responsibility in walk. What is it that happened on the fourth day?
There were to be lights in the heavens. It is dispensationally the truth of the Church with Christ in heaven, and in our individual history it is the truth of the believer's walk with his heart set upon Christ in heaven. If we are going to walk through this world we have got to have light, and this world yields no light. The light that is shed upon us by these gaslights came not from earth. It was dug out of the earth in the form of coal, but where did that come from? Ages ago the light from the sun came down to this earth, and, I might say, was incorporated into the plants and then buried out of sight, until dug up and finally set free, as you have it here in the form of light; but it all originally came from the sun.
So for us as Christians in our walk through this dark world, there is no light except from Christ the glorified One at God's right hand.
We may talk about practical things, our guidance as to this and that every-day matter, yet there is nothing so common, there is no duty so trivial, but must get its light from Christ in glory. That is the theme of Colossians, which is given for us in one verse, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God."
Looking briefly at the details of the epistle we have first, as I have been saying, Christ's supremacy stated in the strongest way. After thanking God for their faith, and praying for their growth in all Christian fruitfulness, the apostle goes on to speak of the glorious Person in whom we have redemption. He is the image of the invisible God, that is, divine. He is also the First-born or Head of all creation, as Man, for He was the Creator and Upholder, as God, of all things. More, He is Head of the Church, as first-born from the dead, "that in all things He might have the pre-eminence." What a constellation of glories in that blessed Person!
Having presented this glorious Person, we are next called to contemplate His work, as revealed in the gospel; where we have the truth of perfect and eternal reconciliation, not only of things in heaven and earth, but of persons who were enemies. But the gospel goes on to declare that wondrous mystery of "Christ in you the hope of glory," and of the Church His body, which was also the apostle's earnest, ardent care. This closes the first chapter. The second chapter gives us the fulness of His people in Christ, in whom indeed all fulness dwells, laid up for His beloved people. They enter into this fulness by "walking in Him," "rooted and grounded in love," having been buried with Him, and now as risen with Him. This has put us in a place of liberty, where ordinances are a thing of the past, having been blotted out at the cross, where Christ triumphed over principalities and powers. Carnal religion has no place here, and punctilious keeping of rules must give place to the activities of that resurrection life which is ours.
From such a point it can easily be seen what the walk should be. I have already quoted the verse which serves as the key-note for the walk; and in connection with that we have, "mortify your members which are upon earth." We may rest assured that where death and resurrection with Christ are entered into, every earthly duty will be fulfilled. What a wilderness book that makes — Christ the power and pattern of the life!
That leaves us with the epistle to the Philippians as the close of this portion. Now in this epistle you have the repetition of truths looked at previously, you know, corresponding to Deuteronomy, which gives us the repetition of the law. You have the repetition of our wilderness journey, the lessons we have learned from it, the principles by which we are guided, and, as God goes over it all with us, giving us wisdom for our further path.
Do you notice how beautifully it joins on with the epistle to the Colossians. As we have already had occasion to remark that Deuteronomy and Numbers are very similar. There is only this difference, that in Deuteronomy you have God come in. Now here in Philippians, just as in Colossians, you have the truth of Christ on high as the light by which we walk down here. The same truth is put before us, but now without the conditions that would be appropriate to a book of Numbers. It is not, "if ye will continue" there is no thought of that; he says, "being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun the good work in you will perform it unto the day of Christ." I need scarcely more than allude to the theme and structure of the book, for it is familiar to us all. Christ in those four chapters is presented in a fourfold way, clearly marking the divisions of the book. First Christ is our life, in the first chapter. "For me to live is Christ;" Christ is the whole sum of our life down here. Then in the second chapter, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus;" it is Christ set before us in His humiliation and in His exaltation, we to imitate Him in the path of lonely humiliation, and of service that flows out from it.
I sometimes think we forget, because we are so charmed with the first part of that second chapter, the beauty of the last part. In the first part it is Christ humbling Himself to be the servant, but in the last part you have Epaphroditus humbling himself as the servant. It is beautiful to see that with the example of Christ before him, Epaphroditus can, in his little measure, do the same thing, and be nigh unto death in the service of the saints, for love to that precious Saviour, who is the object of his heart. So too in the same portion, Timothy is like wise commended, and Paul is willing to be poured out as a drink-offering. That is the order — Christ first, and His people imitating Him.
In the third chapter you have the resurrection. Paul with his eyes on Christ, forgetting the things that are behind, reaches forth to what is before. Christ in glory is his object — the object that first led him to cast off all human righteousness as dung, and press on, a heavenly citizen, to see and be with and like Christ.
In the fourth chapter you have the sustenance for the way. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Remembering this, we can not only rejoice in the Lord, but stand fast in Him. If there has been disagreement, saints can be reconciled; if there is need, God's face can be sought. Good is to fill our minds rather than evil, and the fruits of love and grace will abound under every circumstance.
I know you have anticipated, perhaps, every thing that has been said, but, as I have remarked, is it not well to have our minds refreshed from time to time with these priceless truths, that we may exhibit their power in our lives?
I neglected to mention the epistle to Philemon as a post script to Colossians. It will only need a word to show how fittingly it is that. Philemon, you know, lived at Colosse; the epistle to him was written at the same time as that to the Colossians, as is evident from the salutation and general style. It was written about Onesimus. Bearing in mind that Colossians has to do with the practical walk, here we have a practical illustration. The saints might talk in quite a learned way, you know, about the glories of Christ and all that; and Philemon might say, I am seeking those things which are above, where Christ is, and I, of course, will mortify my members upon the earth. Very well, Paul says, here is the slave that ran away from you, receive him back with all the love, as a brother beloved. It illustrates the fact that it is Christ who is the guide and power of the life, and I have no question, and Paul had no question, about Philemon doing that. Beautifully too does the same grace show itself in Onesimus in being willing to return. In that way it is a practical illustration that with Christ before us we are not visionary, nor careless in our walk; but that in all the details of life, in the smallest matters, we have a guide, a principle which controls and makes all to be conformed to the image of Christ. May it be so with us, dear brethren, and may we find in our lives that these truths set us free indeed, and conform us to the image of our blessed Lord, for that is His desire and His will for us.