The Source of the Glad Tidings
How sweet is the melody of the spring of water, as clear, cool, free, and refreshing, it leaps upward from the root of the sunken rock, to the ear of the lonely traveller, who feverish, footsore and weary, toils onward on his trackless way across the scorching sand, with the burning sun pitilessly smiting upon his unprotected head. And the more unexpected, the more beatific shall its music be. And “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Prov. 25:25). And surely unexpected, cheering and life-giving, comes the good news from the land of darkness and the shadow of death, the land from which there was no expectation, and on which the gloom of midnight and of terror rested; the land from which the worst was feared, the unknown region toward which we were being swiftly hurried, and where a fear rested, which was the king of all other fears. This is the far country from which good news has come to us.
The Glad Tidings of God. Who would have expected it? What child of Adam would ever have dreamed of hearing anything from God that could be designated good news? Not Adam himself, with his sin staring him in the face, and a guilty conscience forcing its deadly sting into the centre of his trembling soul, and upon his ear the sound of his Maker’s footsteps, as He walked in the garden in the cool of the day; not one of that rebel sinner’s race, whose guilty life calls loudly upon the judgment of the righteous Ruler of the universe; not the devil who by his baleful wisdom had compassed the ruin of his innocent victim; not angel fell or faithful; not the reader nor the writer: for the wisdom, the grace and the resources of God are past finding out.
What is the natural thought of the fallen creature regarding God? Does he think He has any regard for His creature? Does he consider that the One he has so deeply offended desires his happiness? Does he not rather view Him as his greatest enemy? Does he not regard with suspicion every approach of God toward him in grace? If he could, would he not keep out of the presence of God for ever? Does he not view Him as a hard master, who reaps where He has not sown, and gathers where He has not strawed? (Matt. 25:26). Is it not true that “there is none that seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11)?
Man is a fugitive flying from justice, and a vagabond upon the earth, and his great fear is of that day in which he must have to do with God. He may sometimes imagine that God thinks as little of sin as he himself does; and however terrible a thought that would be, he would prefer it to righteousness and holiness, for he well knows that a God of truth and righteousness must be against that which he feels himself to be.
The ruin of man was, in the estimation of Satan, the enemy of God, his greatest triumph, and truly it was fraught with the greatest consequences. The fair and stainless creation, fresh from the hand of its Creator, and which He had pronounced very good, was struck with the thunderbolt of man’s transgression, and in a moment was dismantled and overthrown. As far as the creature was concerned all was lost. The creation was wounded in its head. Man made in the image and likeness of God was a complete wreck. The devil was triumphant, and God was dishonoured.
But on the part of the Creator there is no perturbation, no apparent dismay at the awful discovery of man’s apostasy, no precipitant or hasty action from insulted and outraged Majesty, no hesitancy regarding the course necessary to be taken in the matter: His movements are confident, peaceful, powerful and unembarrassed. The guilt of each actor in the horrid drama must be made manifest, and the judgment must be pronounced, from which there can be no appeal. Adam must obtain his bread by the sweat of his brow, until he returns to dust, out of which he was taken; in sorrow must the woman bring forth children, and the subtle and mischievous betrayer must come under the curse of God, and must also hear that from the weak woman, who has by his subtlety been deceived, One shall spring who shall bring to an end his wicked machinations, and destroy his power forever.
This is the first intimation of deliverance for ruined man, the first unfolding of the Glad Tidings of God. A Deliverer is promised. He is to be the seed of the woman. The humiliation of the enemy is to be absolute. The victory of God is to be complete. Truly the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment (Job 20:5). “He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch that he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate” (Ps. 7:15-16). His head is to be bruised.
But man is naked. He is ashamed of himself. He is a transgressor, and exposed to the righteous judgment of God. Can this be repaired? Man can do nothing to fit Himself for the presence of God. Will God despise him? Will He drive him out from His presence in his nakedness and shame? Will He only act toward him as a just and austere Judge? Will He shut up His compassions, and deal with him as his sin deserves? Or will He intervene in mercy on his behalf? Can He do anything if He were ever so well inclined? As far as man is concerned all seems hopeless. With fig-leaves he attempted to annul the results of his transgression, but all to no purpose. The ruin was not to be repaired by the sinner. Even with the fig-leaves about his body he has to confess, “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10). No—
“Not the labour of my hands
Could fulfil Thy laws demands.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou atone.”
Salvation is of the Lord. Once fallen, the creature remains fallen for ever, unless God intervene on his behalf. He might righteously have cast off his creature for ever. He was under no obligation to meet the need of the sinner. Moreover how is He to show mercy, and yet maintain His righteousness? What resources has He at His disposal that have not yet come to light? He will justify Himself when the time for doing so arrives, meantime He will act in mercy. Therefore we read, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
Here we have the Maker at work again. In Genesis 1 we read of His six days’ work, and of His rest on the seventh day. But that rest seems now rudely broken. Again He is at work, but this time a work that manifests the loving-kindness of His heart. From now onward, in the Revelation given to us of God, it is not a Creator-God that we are to become acquainted with, but a Saviour-God. This is the work in which He delights (Jer. 9:24). We are not told that He delighted in creation, though He pronounced it very good; and when He laid the foundations of the earth “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). But the work of redemption, the meeting the need of poor sinners, is the great work in which is His delight.
Such a work as the recovery of a lost sinner He had never previously undertaken. The sentence pronounced against the sinner cannot be cancelled or recalled. It must be executed. But how then can the sinner be saved? It is in the garden this great secret begins to leak out. Here the problem is solved, at least in type. The judgment that rested on them falls upon a victim that dies in their stead. The clothing for the two naked sinners is found through death, and the victim that died for them becomes their covering under the eye of God. Here we see the mighty intervention of God in grace, and here we see the way of salvation set forth. Adam and His wife do nothing but submit themselves to the mercy of God. And regarding any poor penitent sinner, there is nothing be can do but confess in the words of the well-known hymn—
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Vile I to the Fountain fly:
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
He made the coats and He clothed them. Who else could have done it? Who other than God could have invented the salvation of which this was a simple figure? In whom else could the grace and compassion for such a work have been found? Was there a creature in the heavens above who at that moment beheld in vision the anti-type of that work of God? What must the devil have thought of it? Could be have connected it with the word still ringing in his ears, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel.” What did Adam and his wife think of it? Is it not almost a certainty that they saw in this gracious work of the Lord, that the judgment of their sin must be executed, but in grace another will bear it?
The sinner must, previous to this, have believed that God was against him. He had openly and presumptuously violated the commandment, though plainly apprized of the consequences? What could he expect from a righteous Judge except condemnation? He has no excuse to offer that would shield him from the death he deserved, or in the least mitigate his offence. God he only knew as a beneficent Creator, who had given him an exalted position, which he was to hold by his obedience to the commandment which had been given to him. He could not think anything else than that God was against him.
But in His dealings with these poor naked transgressors God begins to manifest His grace. With his back bent at his daily toil, and the sweat of labour damp upon his brow, Adam knows God better than he knew Him in the short day of his innocent life. I have no doubt that the tender consideration of his Maker for his fallen and exposed condition reached, and in measure, comforted, his sorrowing heart, and caused hope to spring up there where that heavenly plant had never bloomed before. I question if he would have given up what he now had learned of God even to return to innocence. To keep himself in the blessing of innocence he was cast upon his own resources, but now he is cast upon the resources that are in God, and this far more than counter-balances all he has lost.
The mighty volume of grace and love that is yet to be lavished upon man does not all come to light at once, nor could it come until there was a vessel here adequate to contain it. But it was all there pent up in the heart of God, and was beginning to let itself out in word, and type, and shadow, according to Divine and eternal wisdom. Satan shall see it, and read his own discomfiture; in the merciful way in which God deals with His erring mortal; demons shall see it, and tremble at the prospect of their doom; angels shall see it, as with earnest desire they study the grace bestowed upon men; and men, the recipients of it, shall see it and rejoice in it throughout all eternity.
The Mediator of the Glad Tidings
In writing these papers I have endeavoured to keep in mind that the faith of the reader must ever be brought to rest on the written Word of God, not on what I or any other may say about the subject on hand. What anyone may say concerning the truth of God is of very little account, unless it leads the soul to that which has been put on record for our instruction by the Spirit of the living God. The Lord had made known to His disciples all that would happen to Him at Jerusalem, when He was on His way with them on their last journey to that city, but when these things did actually take place they were as bewildered as though they had never heard of them. And when they beheld Him risen from the dead they were still unbelieving, until they saw it all clearly portrayed in the prophetic word.
Human creeds and expositions of Scripture are always defective, however well-meaning and careful the authors of such may be; and they must be defective because they are human and not divine. When one comes to Scripture, one comes to that which is absolutely reliable, because the Scriptures are “by inspiration of God”; and every word, as it came from the pen of prophet or apostle, is as truly given of God as was the writing on the wall of the palace of King Belshazzar. This therefore is the test by which everything that men would seek to impose upon us must be tried. Of the subjects of which Scripture treats man knows nothing, therefore in his dealings with such subjects the product of his own mind is valueless. My thought, then, in putting forth these papers is, not to press upon readers the theories originating in my own mind, but to direct attention to what God says in His holy Word, and should they accomplish this purpose I shall be well satisfied.
We have seen that the source of glad tidings is the heart of God, whose desire is that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). That all will not be saved is a certainty, for as long as the testimony of God is in this world there will always be those that believe, and those that believe not (Mark 16:16). But that does not alter the fact that the heart of God goes out to all in infinite goodness and genuine philanthropy.
And the proof of this is, that He has approached men in a Mediator, who gave Himself a ransom for all, and thus opened out a way of salvation for all. He has drawn near to men in the Man Christ Jesus. The mercies with which He has surrounded men; the fact that He gives fruitful seasons, and fills men’s hearts with food and gladness; the way in which He preserves even the unthankful and the unholy; the kindness that He lavishes upon His unworthy creature; the way in which He daily bears with rebellious sinners: all these things testify to a God of infinite compassion, and to a friendliness on His part that is neither appreciated nor reciprocated by man.
But immeasurably greater grace than this is evinced in the sending of the Mediator, for without Him we must have remained in nature’s darkness, and in the bondage of Satan and of sin. But the heart of God is seen to be equal to every demand that the condition of man imposed upon it, and the way in which He has answered to the demand calls forth the ceaseless praise of all who believe in the mission of the Mediator.
To give expression to the disposition of God toward men a mediator was always necessary. Man cannot bear to have to do directly with God, even if it were possible for God to have to do with man apart from an intermediary. Until the Son was here all His dealings with men were by angelic means, and the law was given by the disposition of angels (Acts 7:53), but even then a mediator became necessary, for man could not bear to hear the demand of God uttered by angelic ministration. The people say to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 19:19). And the complaint of Job was, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I should answer Him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:32-33).
Here we get the essential character of the daysman: one who “might lay his hand upon us both.” One who could represent God to me, and who could represent me to God, who could lay one hand upon the Almighty, and lay another hand upon a poor worm of the dust like myself, a hand not too heavy for me. One side of this was true of Job’s daysman, Elihu. He says, “Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead: I also am formed out of the clay. Behold, my terror shall not make thee afraid, neither shall my hand be heavy upon thee” (Job 33). But he could not say, “He that believes on Me, believes not on Me, but on Him that sent Me, and he that sees Me sees Him that sent Me” (John 12:44-45). He was but a faint foreshadowing of the true Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus, “The Man that is My Fellow, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zech. 13:7), the Man that could lay His hand upon us both. Wondrous Person! Marvellous revelation! Incomprehensible mystery! Son of God! Son of Man! Seed of the woman! Everlasting God! Creator of the worlds! My Lord and my God! This is the Mediator, in whom God has approached His poor ruined creature in infinite compassion.
“No man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18), but here we have One who had seen the Father (John 6:46), One who had eternally dwelt in His bosom, who could bring Him to light before the eyes of men, so that those who saw Him saw the Father. It was God drawn near to men in the Person of the Son become Man in order that He might bring God near to man.
The gospel is the setting forth of this wondrous Person. Naturally our thoughts are all about ourselves, and we judge by what we consider God will find in us as to what we are likely to find in Him. We suppose that He will deal with us according to that which He finds us to be, and if we cannot put ourselves into a state that we think will be pleasing to Him, we must bear the consequences. We view Him as a merciless Judge, and have therefore no inclination to come near to Him.
Along with all these wrong thoughts we have perhaps a substratum of confidence, that the good that we have done, or yet hope to do, may cause Him to forget, or pass over, the errors that we feel have been so objectionable in His sight, and if we could only pass out of this world in a right frame of mind, we might expect to escape the consequence of our sins.
Or supposing that we could only believe the gospel—this seems to be all that is necessary. And hence there is a search after faith, and the question as to whether we have faith or not is more than we can very well decide. If we could only satisfy ourselves that we believe—that we have the right kind of faith, we would then be quite sure that we had fulfilled the terms imposed upon us by the gospel, and settled peace would take up its abode in our souls. But that is just the question, and with very many true believers it never gets quite settled.
The reason of this is, the soul is occupied with self, and is on the principle of law, even in connection with faith in the glad tidings of the grace of God. The law occupied man with himself, and set before him his obligations, which he was to fulfil in order to enter into life. Hence, as regards his part in the blessing of God, the only question with him was as to whether he had fulfilled his obligations. If he had, he inherited the blessing; if he had not, he inherited the curse.
But the glad tidings of God turn our attention to another Man altogether. They turn our thoughts to Christ. The testimony is addressed to us, but it is not about us; it is about the Son of God. We are turned away from ourselves, and from what we are, and from what we have done, and we become engaged with Christ, and with what He has done. The glad tidings are concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us keep this in mind. Let us not get back to Sinai and to law, and to self-occupation. Let us listen to the testimony of God regarding His Son. There is a great deal said about us in the Word of God, but there is nothing there to our credit. Our sinful history is the black background that throws into relief the infinite grace of a Saviour-God. We get to know what we by nature are when we read what the law says regarding all that are under it.
In all that sinful history there is not one bright spot, not one element of good that might give us reason to think that man was capable of improvement. And our own experience of ourselves confirms the witness of Holy Scripture. But the Last Adam has not come in to make up for the shortcoming of the first Adam. He has come in to displace the first altogether. God has found His satisfaction in Christ, and He desires that we might find our satisfaction in Him also. He does not expect any good thing from us, and we should not be expecting any good thing from ourselves.
Many an exercised soul has been heard to say that he has not the slightest question regarding the truth of the gospel—that he believes that God sent His Son—that He died for our sins, and that God raised Him from the dead all this he will tell you he believes, but that his difficulty lies in his inability to believe in himself. What he means is he cannot believe himself to be a believer. But this is only an attempt to justify himself by fulfilling the obligations which he supposes the gospel.
But what he has yet to learn is, that Christ, and not himself, is to be the object of his faith; that it is not what God says about him, but what He says about His Son that is to bring peace to his heart. The gospel is concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the subject of the gospel. In raising Him up as a Man in this world the promises that God had made to the fathers were fulfilled. The promises were deposited in Him, and in Him they were presented to God’s earthly people. But they, knowing neither Him nor the testimony of the prophets to Him, condemned Him to death, and hung Him on a gibbet, and thus they forfeited every promise that had been made to them by God. This is the way in which they fulfilled their obligations.
But He was not only the Son of David, but the Son of God with power, and manifested as such by the Spirit of holiness, that characterized His whole walk through this sinful world, and by the fact that death had, in every instance in which it came before Him, to acknowledge Him as its Conqueror. It could not withstand the power of life that was in Him. Wherever it crossed His path it had to relinquish its prey. And when at last He went down into its dark domain, it could not hold Him. He went down into it in order to break its power, and when He touched it, its power was annulled. Every other man that entered its domain had to remain there.
How could it be otherwise than that He should prove Victor over death? What power could death have over the life that was in Him as the Son of the living God? He took the life that was common to mankind in order to be able to die, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” This life of flesh and blood (in Him altogether holy) He gave up, as that upon which the judgment of God rested, not in His case surely, but in ours, for whose sins He suffered, and thus was closed forever in the judgment of God our whole history as children of Adam; and the shedding of His precious blood is the witness to this, “for the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17).
God would have all men to be saved, and therefore the Mediator gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:4-6). And this opened up a way of salvation for all. All may not take this salvation that has been made available for them, but that is because the world in some form has such attractions for them, that the fear of coming judgment has lost its power over their souls, and the future becomes sacrificed to present advantage.
But the work by which salvation has been made available for all has been done by the Mediator. It cost Him everything to accomplish so stupendous a work, and no one but Himself could have undertaken it. He is the One who made the worlds, but the making of the worlds was but a small affair compared with the work of redemption. See, in the words of the prophet (Isa. 50:2-6) how He interrogates Himself with regard to this great work. He asks Himself, “Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem?” What could He do? He says, “Behold, at My rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinks because there is no water, and dies for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering.” All this could be done without, on His part, any “strong crying and tears” (Heb. 5:7), without any agony and bloody sweat (Luke 22:44) He had only to speak, and it was done (Gen. 1).
But the work of redemption was another matter. He cannot accomplish that work by the word of His power. The Creator has to come in the likeness of His fallen creature. He must take flesh and blood. He must become a man, a real man. Godhead He could not give up, but He could add manhood to Godhead. He must take the form of a servant, and this He does by being made in the likeness of men. There was no deception about it, no simulation, no counterfeit, no sham, no make-believe: He was the seed of the woman, born as any other man is born, but begotten of God, and without taint of sin. Here to have his path marked out for Him by God, to speak only that which was given Him to speak, to do only that which was given Him to do, to walk in dependence upon God, as a slave to hear and to do the commandment addressed to Him.
He says, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned (disciple) that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: He wakens morning by morning, He wakens mine ear to hear as the learned (disciple). The Lord God has opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” And this was but the pathway to that cross of woe where His soul was to be made an offering for sin, by means of which a way of salvation would, to the glory of God, be opened out for men.
If the pathway to Golgotha was so marked by reproach, shame, and suffering, what must have been those three hours of thick darkness, in which God gave expression to His utter abhorrence of sin, and in which His righteous judgment against it was poured out; when He the spotless One was made that cursed thing that God hated? Deserted by His disciples, abandoned by God, He drank the bitter chalice of Divine wrath to the dregs, and having finished the work, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.“O Lord, Thy wondrous story
The work is finished, and finished to God’s infinite satisfaction. He has been glorified by His Son, and here on earth where by sinful man He was rebelled against and dishonoured. And now One who glorified Him is seated at His right hand in heaven. He has the highest place in glory, and He is worthy of that place, not only because He is God equal with the Father, but on account of the work He has done. No one but He who was God could have taken up such a work, and finished it to the glory and praise of God. Moses proposed to make atonement for Israel, when they had made the golden calf (Ex. 32:30-33), but God would not listen to him, for Moses, had he known it, required an atonement to be made for himself. But the Son of God offers Himself, and God accepts the sacrifice, for it is of infinite value in His sight.
All men have not the same opportunities, for all have not the same measure of light from God. There are “the dark places of the earth” (Ps. 74:30), and there are the parts that have been illuminated with the light of a revelation from God, through messengers sent out from His presence, and filled with the Holy Spirit. But whatever be the measure of light men may through the goodness of God possess, to that light they are to be faithful, and the measure of that light is the measure of their responsibility, in the day in which they shall have to render account to God. For, “that servant that knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, 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 wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Men may have the truth, and boast in the possession of it, but if their conduct is a denial of it, then better they had not “known the way of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:21), for the higher they have been exalted by their privileges, the more terrible shall be their fall, when cast down to hell (Matt. 11:23), as they shall be when the judgments of God are let loose in the day of His fierce anger.
What use has man the wide world over made of the light bestowed upon him? Has it had the effect of turning his feet into the way of righteousness? Or of leading him as a poor helpless sinner in repentance to God, and in the confession of his helplessness? Alas, it has done neither. We have the sinful history of man’s fallen race in THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS clearly delineated, and what painful reading it makes!
The immediate descendants of Noah are the first that are brought under review in chapter 1. The antediluvians are passed by without notice, for the horrors of that age are better left buried beneath the waters of judgment. The descendants of Noah were, no doubt, well acquainted with the evil, for it would be often spoken of by those who had passed through the flood. They would also know how God dealt with those who wickedly departed from Him, and they would know how they, by means of sacrifice such as Abel offered, could find acceptance with Him. Besides, they had the testimony that creation bore to the eternal power and divinity of God, so that the idolatry into which they seem very quickly to have fallen was excuseless. They sinned against light.
And the reason of the down-grade trodden by their wandering feet was their deep-rooted detestation of their Creator, “They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.” This was the cause of their rapid plunge into idolatry. “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful: but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” Their course down the steep declivity of God-forgetfulness was rapid, reckless, and ruinous.
It was not the lack of light that turned the course of the world so early into the channel of demon-worship (Deut. 32:32, 1 Cor. 10:20): of light they had abundance. It was that innate hatred of having to do with a God of righteousness, holiness, and truth—a God who is an observer of His creature—an omniscient Being—a God to whom man is accountable—a God who sees and condemns the lust and the pride that fill the human heart, and give character to all his actions. Such a God as this cannot be attractive to such creatures as we by nature are. And therefore we do not like to retain Him in our knowledge. We prefer to forget Him, and to go on as if He had no existence, though even in the dark places of the earth men are surrounded with abundant testimony to the power and divinity of God, for—
“The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue etherial sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great original proclaim.
The unwearied sun, from day to day,
Doth his Creator’s power display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.
“Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale.
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
Whilst all the stars that round her burn,
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.
“What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice, nor sound,
Amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice:
For ever singing as they shine:—
‘The hand that made as is divine.’”
There are also made manifest traces of His goodness, for He gives rain and fruitful seasons, filling men’s hearts with food and gladness. Men are little aware of how they are dependent upon God for preservation from the abominations in which the flesh delights to riot.
If God altogether withdrew His protecting hand from His poor devil-deceived mortal, what a world this would soon become! He is the Preserver of all men, though specially of them that believe on His Son (1 Tim. 4:10). But if men are determined to dishonour God by their beastly idolatry, and if they will, in order to escape the stings of an accusing conscience, worship and serve the creature, even in the likeness of a creeping thing, they can scarcely complain if God withdraws His preserving power, and leaves them to dishonour themselves, as without His guardianship they most certainly would do. And we find it has been so, for “God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves,” and then we have men wallowing in such a midden of moral pollution as appals the imagination, and not only wallowing in it themselves, but delighting in those who take part in their beastly orgies.
The moraliser, be he Jew or Gentile, may in the pride of his corrupt heart judge all this in his neighbour, but God does not let him off on that account, if he does the same things that he condemns in others. “Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast in the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” And this was so, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Ezek. 36:19-23). And “wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself: for thou that judgest doest the same things.” Thus, whether it was the Jew teaching the law, or the Gentile moraliser teaching ethics, both are proved guilty of doing the things they condemn in others, and proved guilty by God who knows the heart (Rom. 2).
But every way in which a man may choose to walk has its own sure and certain result. If by a life of patient well-doing a man seeks for glory, honour, and incorruptibility, he cannot fail of eternal life. As to the power by which one may live such a life we must learn it in the gospel. It is true also that where men are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath, tribulation and anguish shall be their sure reward, and that from the hand of God, who has no respect of persons. “As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law.” The light he has had will be that by which he will be judged. “And as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” This is the Jew, the only people to whom the law was given. There is nothing about the Christian here, for a true believer does not come into judgment (John 5:24), though where one is a Christian in name only, and not a true believer in the Son of God, he must be judged according to his works, and the standard by which he shall be judged cannot be less than the light of Christianity.
It will not do, in the day in which God will judge the secrets of men, to plead that we have been orthodox in our views, or that we have taught others how to behave themselves, if we ourselves have practised evil, for “the judgment of God is according to truth against them that commit such things,” and to “hold the truth in unrighteousness” is to render oneself liable to the wrath that is revealed from heaven.
The four thousand years of man’s probation have proved him to be unmendably evil, the thoughts and imaginations of his heart only evil continually, and the more favourable his circumstances the more rebellious and unclean his ways. His activities are always reprobate, for they proceed from his own evil heart, and “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” “I the Lord search the heart,” and therefore He alone can tell us what it is (Jer. 17:9). We are dependent upon Him to tell us what we are, and He does it, in order that we may turn to Him, as those that are afraid of themselves, and find in Him One who is able to deliver us from that which we by nature are.
The light that the impenitent sinner has had will rise up against him in the day of judgment and will condemn him, because he has been unfaithful to it, as the law, under which the Jew was placed, has already risen up in his condemnation; for of all under it it says, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in heir ways: and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is a terrible indictment, but it is as true as it is terrible, for the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Therefore it is a ministration of death and condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7, 9), for being addressed to one who is by nature a transgressor, it cannot do otherwise than condemn him: it can no more justify the wicked than it can condemn the righteous. Man is seen to be the slave of sin: he serves it with every member of his body, when with every member of his body he should serve God.
There is yet another way in which man has been tested, and that was by the coming of Christ into the world. In Him God was presenting Himself to men in the goodness and grace of His heart. He was making no demands, He was not setting before men what they should be. He was not presenting to them their responsibilities; He was telling them what God was. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). He was not presenting the demand of God, but was there Himself the gift of God in their midst. He was approaching man in a way that would surely have won the affections of his heart if man in his very nature had not been implacable in his enmity against Him. He healed the sick, cleansed lepers, opened the eyes of the blind, raised the dead, cast out demons, fed hungry multitudes, and went about doing good. No evil thing could stand before Him.
“Disease and death and demon,
All fled before His word
As darkness the dominion
Of day’s returning lord.”
But all to no purpose. The heart of man remained obdurate, in spite of this revelation of infinite grace. For His love He had hatred. He laboured in vain, and spent His strength for naught: man simply would not have God in any way whatever. Without law, he was lawless; under law, he was a transgressor; visited by God in grace, he is proven to be a God-hater. He is a bad tree, and can produce nothing but bad fruit.
He has been tested in every way that the wisdom of God could invent, and he will not listen to his Maker, nor will he acknowledge that he has any obligation to show Him the least respect. The Son of the Father upon a gibbet is man’s final answer to the overtures of infinite Love. The case is closed, never to be reopened: he is stark naked in his sinfulness, as our Lord has said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin” (John 15:22). Man is without excuse: he is condemned by every test to which he has been subjected.
The Preaching of the Glad Tidings
Every single particle of blessing that at any time has been, is being, or shall be, brought to any human being has its foundation in the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is the basis upon which the whole vast fabric of eternal felicity shall be established. That which was there manifested is the light which shall make infinitely radiant God’s universe of blessing; for there the love of God was expressed, and that love shall be the light, the life, the warmth, and the glory, of that world of unfathomable and endless delight.
And what a world that shall be! Fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore, shall there find their eternal abiding-place. That world was the conception of the Father’s love, and that before the present world had an existence And when this world shall have been brought to an end, that world shall shine with a splendour brighter than the sun in the cloudless heavens, for it will be radiant with the glory of redemption.
To that sphere of unspeakable happiness the gospel calls every poor sin-burdened soul. The light of that world is in the hearts of the messengers who to find such needy mortals search the darkness of this nether world. The Son of God is the way to that radiant scene, and to Him all the weary and heavy laden are directed; and all who come to Him in the confession of their undone condition receive a hearty welcome. None are rejected, and to this one gospel message bears witness.
The apostles were, in the first instance, the preachers, whoever might take up the work after them (Mark 16:15). The risen Lord has given evangelists for this purpose (Eph. 4:11). In Acts we read that on account of the great persecution that took place at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, the saints were compelled to fly from Jerusalem, and that “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word,” so that the preaching was not wholly confined to the apostles. Afterwards Paul was converted, and was sent by the Lord direct to the Gentiles (Acts 26:17-18).
This sending of Paul to the Gentiles was in the most perfect harmony with the prophetic word to Christ, “It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee to be a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6; Acts 13:47). The gospel was to be preached world-wide. Peter was chosen to carry it to the circumcision, and Paul’s mission was to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). Therefore Paul considered himself debtor to the Greeks and Barbarians, to the wise, and to the unwise (Rom. 1:14).
The preacher needed not the consent of any human being before entering upon this glorious work. No man could give him authority to take up the service, nor could any deprive him of the right to go forth with the glad tidings. His title and authority lay in the gift imparted to him by the risen Head of the Body, and to Him alone, as a servant, was he answerable. His gift might be small or great, it might consist of two talents or five, but to the Lord alone must he give account, as to the use he made of what was committed to his trust (Matt. 25:14-30).
The Holy Spirit of God is the only power for the proclamation of this message of grace (1 Peter 1:12). Though the apostles knew what they were to preach, and where they were to begin the work, they nevertheless were told to tarry, in the city of Jerusalem until they would be endowed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). Not in human power, nor in persuasive words of human eloquence, was this heavenly message to be promulgated (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Everything done for God in this world must be done in His power. He will not allow the man after the flesh to contribute anything. The flesh has, as we have seen, been proven to be worthless and unprofitable, its mind enmity against God, and it has been brought to its end judicially by the cross; it is therefore valueless in the service of God. All confidence in human power had to be taken out of the great apostle of the Gentiles, and he had to learn that the grace of his Master was all he needed, for the Lord’s strength was made perfect in the weakness of the servant. This made him glory in his infirmities, for his own apparent weakness was but an evidence of the Divine power that wrought in him (2 Cor. 12) in the work of the gospel.
The Old Testament prophets were, as far as we can discover, men of natural fervency and eloquence. They were to “smite with the hand and stamp with the foot” (Ezek. 6:11); and contending with evildoers, they cursed them, smote them, plucked off their hair, and put them under solemn obligations to do the will of God (Neh. 13:25), for God was dealing with men in the flesh, and in a probationary dispensation, but man being proven incorrigibly wicked, and unmendably evil, the trial is closed, and now man can only be in relationship with God as born of Him (John 3:3-5). The trial is over, and now the work is entirely by the Spirit of God.
The proclamation was to be carried among all nations, and it spoke of repentance and forgiveness of sins for all. God was now speaking to men as He had never spoken before. The rejection of His Son had made the judgment of the world imperative. By His rejection it was morally judged (John 3:18-19; 12:31). It was seen to be not only corrupt but an inveterate hater of all that was of God, and absolutely irreconcilable. It cannot be improved. Nothing can be done with it but to visit it with the judgment that it has merited, and which will bring it to an end as a system of unmixed wickedness.
In view of this judgment the gospel calls upon the individual sinner to repent, and to believe the glad tidings. The day is appointed in which the judgment is to be executed, and during the time in which this judgment is delayed God assumes the character of Saviour towards all. There is no respect of persons. It is to the Jew first, as the man that dispensationally had stood near to God, and the preaching was to begin at the city that was stained with the murder of the Son of God. But it was not to end there. It was to go out to the whole world. All were to hear it, whether they were willing to hear it and to believe it, or whether it so aroused their wrath that they became ready to murder the heralds of it. It was good news, and the evangelist could not hold his peace.
Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes: to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). It is the means that God uses to deliver souls out of this present evil world. It is the glad tidings of that grace that carries with it salvation to all men. It calls upon men to take their rightful place as sinners in the presence of God, and to receive by faith the forgiveness that is proclaimed to all.
The whole world being, on account of its sinfulness, subject to the wrath of God, which is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, none could escape unless God has resources beyond all that ever was dreamed of by the creature. These resources the gospel makes manifest.
It holds out to all a righteousness that will perfectly meet the need of every poor sinner that will avail himself of it, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed, from faith to faith.” That is, it is revealed on the principle of faith, and the man who believes the gospel has that righteousness.
The law demanded righteousness from the sinner, and cursed him because he had it not; the gospel ministers to him the righteousness of God, and all he has to do to make that righteousness his own is to believe in the grace by which it comes to him; in other words, to submit to God’s way of salvation and abandon his own efforts to save himself. He is a sinner, and not righteous, and nothing that he can do can make him other than what he is; and therefore nothing that he can do can shelter him from the wrath that is revealed against his unrighteousness. If he will but submit to God’s way of salvation as declared in the gospel he will find every need of his soul met in Christ, for He is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
God has taken up the attitude of Justifier of the ungodly, and the way in which He has assumed this attitude silences every accusation that might be brought against His righteousness by the enemy of mankind. He has not passed leniently over sin in the abstract, nor has He winked at the sins committed by those who believed the gospel. The blood upon the mercy-seat is the standing witness of His intolerance of sin. Him who knew no sin He has made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). In His cross sin has received its judgment, and the One who took the place of the sin-bearer, and bore that judgment, has power to impart His own life to as many as are given to Him of the Father (John 17:2), and thus, as the last Adam, link them up in life with Himself—a heavenly Head, and a heavenly race, all in new and eternal relationships with God.
“Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested” (Rom. 3:21). It is no longer a question of man putting himself into right relations with God by means of his own legal efforts; God has Himself undertaken the work, and He has wrought in the most perfect harmony with His own nature and character, not abating one jot of His claims upon His creature, not doing violence to one of His glorious attributes, not passing over the rank rebellion of His insolent subjects, not shutting up in His own heart His boundless compassions, but satisfying every single requirement of His blessed Being; and in the way in which He has done this making known His unspeakable love to objects unworthy of His smallest favour.
It is thus God has brought about righteousness for those who have none of their own, and it is presented to men in the gospel, “The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all” is now held out to all without exception, “and is upon all them that believe.” It is offered to everyone, and it is upon the believer; that is, he has become the righteousness of God in Christ. It is not human righteousness, which would have been by the law, but God’s own righteousness; not man’s consistency with the relationships in which he has been placed as God’s creature, but the consistency of God Himself with His own nature and character, whether previously revealed or unrevealed; His consistency with Himself in taking up the attitude of Justifier of ungodly sinners. This is revealed in the gospel, and the believer stands in that righteousness in Christ.
David describes the blessedness of the man to whom God reckons righteousness, having no works of his own that would constitute him righteous in the presence of God, saying, “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. 4:6-8). If He dealt with the man according to the man’s own works, He would reckon nothing to him but sin, but dealing with him in grace, and on the ground of the blood of Jesus, He reckons him to be righteous.
The man whose blessedness this is, is the believer in Jesus. He knows himself to be a sinner, and confesses himself as such in the presence of God, for the preaching has assured him that if he comes in this way to God his forgiveness is a certainty. His eyes have been opened to both his own ruined condition and to the attitude of God in Christ, and he has turned from darkness to light, for he knows that to all that the light makes manifest the blood of Jesus is a perfect answer, and on such a soul the devil has lost his strangle-bold; from his power he turns to God, and receives the forgiveness announced in the glad tidings (Acts 26:18), and along with this an inheritance among all them that are sanctified by faith in Christ.
This is “the man in whom there is no guile” (Ps. 32). He is not seeking to make the best of a bad life. His sinful condition is acknowledged. Truth is found where God desires to see it, “in the inward parts” (Ps. 51:6), and a full confession is made of the iniquity that is discovered there; that is, truth is done (John 3:21), and there is no longer need for the soul to abide in the darkness; the light is approached, and the knowledge of God is seen to be the source of the deeds that are wrought, “they are wrought in God.”
Of the faith that justifies the sinner, Abraham’s was a grand example. He believed in “God, who quickens the dead, and calls those things that be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). “I have made thee a father of many nations” was the word of God to Abraham when both himself and his wife were dry trees. But this gave God the opportunity of manifesting Himself as the quickener of the dead; and as to Abraham, he placed no reliance on his body now dead, but gave glory to God., assured that He would fulfil the word that He had spoken, and therefore was he held to be righteous, not because of his works, which would only have condemned him, but on account of the faith that he placed in the God of resurrection. The reality of this faith, was tested later on, when he was told to offer up his son as a burnt offering. But it answered fully to the test that was put upon it, for his faith was still in the God of resurrection, and he counted that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, “from which also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11:17-19). This is the God in whom Abraham believed, when, as we are told, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
”Now 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 that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4). The God of resurrection has brought Himself before us, not in vitalising our mortal bodies, but in raising from the dead Him who was delivered for our offences. The resurrection of Christ is the witness to us that the sacrifice that He offered for us has been accepted. We read in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ be not risen, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” But if He is risen, and our faith is in Him, our sins are gone: we are justified from all things.
And being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have learned God as the Justifier of the ungodly. We see the way He has taken to accomplish this marvellous and for us necessary work. The work has been His own invention, and He has done it when we were without strength to do anything for ourselves. He could have righteously left us to the consequences of our sins, but He had compassion upon us, and found means for our deliverance from the judgment to which our sins had rendered us liable. He undertook our justification, and on His part there has been no failure. We see the One who was under our sins on the tree now on the Father’s throne. It is the Judge of the work that has done the work, and His approval of it has been made manifest, and between Him and the believer there is not one disturbing element.
“By whom also we have access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Through Him who laid down His life for us we stand in the favour of God. This is our assured place. Our Saviour has won it for us, and He maintains us in it. We have no standing in ourselves, and we need none, for He is everything for us in the presence of God.
And “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” There is no going back to innocence and Eden. All that is lost, as well as earth itself. Had we been able to keep the law, we might have retained our place as living men on earth. But having lost earth by our works, heaven has been gained for us by the work of God. A new world of glory opens up before the vision of our souls. To this world we never had any title, nor had the Adam from whom we sprung, not even in his innocent state. He was of the earth, made of dust, and of him in his fallen state we were but Christ the last Adam, the heavenly Man, has linked us up in life with Himself, and our place is with Him where He is.
And the heavenly door has been opened, the resurrection world shines bright before faith’s clear vision; life, glory, honour, and incorruptibility, is the goal to which our unfettered feet desire to hasten: we rejoice in hope of it. The Victim of Golgotha is there triumphant, the light and the centre of that sphere, and this gives the place an. attraction for us. The path to that home may be filled with tribulation, but we can boast in it, for it will work endurance. It will not drive us from Christ, but will make us draw all the closer to His side, for only there we shall feel ourselves safe. And endurance will give us experience, for day by day, as the difficulties arise, we shall experience the delivering power of the Lord, who will give us grace enough to meet all the need of our souls, and enable us to triumph over every obstacle that may be placed in our path. And this shall give us hope because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The Word of the Glad Tidings
The instant we come to contemplate the peculiar nature of the present dispensation we find ourselves face to face with eternal counsel. It may be a strange thing to say, but it is nevertheless true, that the fall, and consequently utterly lost condition of man, furnished an opportunity for the fulfilment of all that God had purposed to accomplish when He brought this creation into existence. It would be very difficult to convince anyone that acknowledges the infinite wisdom and might of the Creator, that there was no object in view in bringing into existence the heavens and the earth, and filling them with creatures set in intelligent relationship with Himself, or that when His work has been finished the universe will be other than that which He purposed it should be. Neither of these notions could be entertained by any sensible person that gave it a moment’s consideration.
It is said that man is moving slowly but surely upward from the sponge, the jelly-fish, or the decapod, onward to Deity itself, but it is the vain dream of a soul desirous to get rid of responsibility to God. Anything is grasped at and thought to be better than having to do with a holy and righteous God, who will render to every one according to his works! The madness of the creature, or the foaming of demons, is better than having to give account to God!
What a relief it is to be brought out of this darkness into God’s marvellous light! Let those who love the darkness wander in it. They prefer it to the light, because in it they can follow the desires of the flesh and of the mind, taking it for granted that responsibility to God is but a relic of barbarism, or a priestly bugbear. But their hatred of the Revelation that God has graciously been pleased to give to us only increases our thankfulness for the fact that our God has opened our eyes to take in its glorious and life-giving beams.
Man, set on the basis of responsibility, has ever been a failure. When innocent, he was unable to maintain himself in the place of blessing in which he was set by his Maker. With his eyes open to the enormity of his offence be grasped at Godhead, and fell under the power of death. The interdiction that was placed upon the tree of the knowledge of good and evil should not have been by him considered grievous; it was but a small tax levied by the Giver upon such an immense estate. Had this single reservation not been made, it would have appeared as though God had given the whole earth away, and had left Himself without claim upon it. And Adam had abundance without it. He had all that a true heart could desire. But he fell, and he brought sin and death upon all his posterity.
When this had all been manifested, God fell back upon His eternal counsel, and proceeded to carry out the great thoughts of His own heart without any help from the creature, fallen or unfallen. He manifests HIS WORD by means of the preaching, with which Paul says, he had been entrusted (Tit. 1:1-4). His Word is the expression of His thoughts, His purposes, His eternal counsels, in short, it is the revelation of Himself in His nature. It began to come to light as soon as man had fallen, but very gradually while man was on his trial, and while God was dealing, with him, in order to bring into evidence the need there was for His own intervention on his behalf, if any were to be saved from the righteous judgment, to which their sins had rendered them liable; and during that time promises, were given through the prophets that the time was coming in which God would take up the work of redemption, and bring deliverance to men apart from their co-operation in any way whatever, and that He would do this by means of the Messiah who was promised to Israel, but who was to be His salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6; Acts 13:47).
Therefore Paul tells the Romans that he was “separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” In the past dispensations the gospel was in promise, but it is so no longer, it is now preached; and where it places the believer is “according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality (incorruptibility) to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8-11); life as to our spiritual relations with God, and incorruptibility with respect to our bodies. The former we know now, for we live to God in the life of Christ, and for the latter we await His coming again. This corruptible shall then put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53).
All the activities of God are by His Word. As to creation, “He spake, and it was done” (Ps. 33:9); “The worlds were framed by the Word of God” (Heb. 11:3); and, “Upholding all things by the Word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). By that Word, the creation subsists, and without it, it would have no existence. Hence He who is the living Word is ever said to be the Creator, “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16-17).
When here on earth He cast out devils, and healed all manner of diseases by His Word. He raised the dead, silenced the raging of the sea, and made the winds obedient to His will. His Word is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), and by means of this His enemies are slain (Isa. 11:4; Rev. 19:21). It is also the means by which a generation of God is produced upon earth.
The preaching of the gospel is likened to a sower that went forth to sow. The seed is the Word of God. It is the vital copula between the soul and God. It produces a new nature, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6), just as “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” That which is produced is always of the same nature as that which produces it. The believer is born of God (1 John.5:1). “Of His own will begat He us by the Word of Truth” (Jas. 1:18). His Word is the expression of Himself. It is what He is, because it is His Word. When God speaks He gives expression to what He is; and it could not be otherwise, for His Word is Truth. No distinction can rightly be made between Himself and the Revelation which He has made to man, for that Revelation is the Revelation of Himself. Hence to be born of the Word of God is to be born of God.
It is the TRUTH: and nothing else is. The books written on theological subjects are legion, but not one of them is the Truth. They are every one of them defective, for the best and purest of them is only what the writer has learned concerning the Truth, and though they may be very useful as a means of turning the soul to the Fountain of the Truth itself, they are but human writings, disfigured by many a spot and blemish, and to make such a standard of faith would be destructive to the soul.
Though mingled with a great many hypocritical utterances, it is in the main true as regards man, that when he speaks he gives expression to that which he is, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). Hence we read, “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Rom. 3:13-14); all these things come out of the heart, the seat of life, “and they defile the man” (Matt. 15:18). These things manifest what he is, and they come forth out of the mouth.
We are born again by the living Word of God. Hence where new birth is, there life is: it is the principle of life in the soul. This in itself does not bring a man into Christianity, for Old Testament saints were all born of God, and they were viewed dispensationally as in the flesh, and a Christian is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). But where the Word has been heard, and has been received, and has taken root in the soul, a new nature is the result, and that nature is divine; the one in whom the Word has thus taken root is a child of God, he is born of the incorruptible, living, and abiding Word of God, the link between his soul and God has been formed.
The Gospel is the Word of Truth (Eph. 1:13), and of that Gospel Paul was not ashamed; it was the power of God to salvation to every one that believed (Rom. 1:16). It speaks in the ears of men declaring a Saviour-God. It opens the blind eyes to His abounding grace. It reveals His gracious attitude toward all men. It makes no demand upon the poor bankrupt sinner. It tells men not what they should be, but what God is. If the Word fall into the heart of the careless multitude, the devil, who is ever watchful, has no difficulty in taking it away; if it fall into the hard and stony heart that has never felt the gravity of sin against God, there may be joy for a little, but the frown of the world will swiftly cause it to wither away. If it fall into a heart filled with the cares and riches of this world, it will presently be choked. If it fall into a heart that has been alarmed by the prospect of judgment to come, it is likely to take root there, and no power in the universe can prevent its springing up to the salvation of the soul.
But it is not only that by which we are born again, it is also the food of the believer’s soul. As new-born babes we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, that by it we may grow up to salvation (1 Peter 2:2, N.Tr.); that is, to the complete emancipation of the soul from every evil thing that would hold it in bondage. The prophet could say, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16). The Word is the food of our spiritual being as natural bread is the food of our bodies. That which is fed with the bread that perishes will itself perish, but that which is fed with the bread of life, the bread that comes down from heaven, will live for ever (1 Cor. 6:13; John 6:58, 63). We are apt to imagine that all that is required is to have the body well nourished with natural bread, and forget that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God” (Luke 4:4).
It is the means by which we are kept from defiling influences in our passage through this unclean world (Ps. 119:9). It searches us, probes to the centre of our moral being, discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, warns us when there is the least deviation from the path of righteousness, and cheers our hearts with the bright prospect of arriving at the rest that remains for the people of God. It opens heaven to our spiritual vision, it surrounds our earthly pilgrim pathway with light divine, and it sheds its light into the very belly of hell, giving us to appreciate the grace that has delivered us from the eternal consequences of our sins. It rebukes the will of the flesh, stimulates us to walk after the Spirit, holds ever before the eye of faith the witness of the fathomless love of God in the death of His only begotten Son.
It is the means by which God gives effect to His counsels. Without it there never would have been anything for Him in this fallen world. By the encouragement which it poured into the heart of Adam he was enabled to call his wife “Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” In the light of it Abel offered the acceptable sacrifice, Enoch walked with God, and Noah prepared an ark for the saving of his house. It kindled a hope in the heart of prophet and martyr that no power on earth could quench and no hell-invented instrument of torture could extinguish. It converts the sinner, establishes the saint, and judges the impenitent. It lifts up the fallen, supports the feeble, and emboldens the faint-hearted. It is God in a world that knows Him not, Christ in the sphere of His rejection, and life in a spiritual necropolis. It slays the rebellious, awakes the drowsy conscience, and heals the broken heart. It is hated and feared by the devil, scorned and derided by the wiseling, and, alas, too often neglected by the saint. It is the commandment of the Father, the witness of the Son, and the sword of the Spirit. It throws light upon the beginning, makes manifest the end, and contains all we need for the present time. In Christ we see it living, in the Scriptures we have it written, and in the Spirit we have it in power. We need nothing else for spiritual light, we need nothing else for spiritual food, and we need nothing else for spiritual refreshing. In a word, it is the light, life, soul, sustenance, fountain and fullness of the ransomed universe. And surely we can well understand it to be all this, seeing it is the perfect expression of all that God is in His approach to men—Himself revealed in Jesus, who is the living Word.
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:1-4). It was the Father’s commandment that was spoken by the Son, and it was eternal life to all who heard it with the hearing of faith; and therefore “blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
The responsibility of hearing that Word is great, and the consequences of rejecting it fearful to contemplate. “See that ye refuse not Him that speaks. For if they escaped not who refused Him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaks from heaven whose voice then shook the earth: but now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, “Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:25-29).
Let us who love that sacred Name,
With heart and soul divinely stirred,
With holy boldness share the shame
Allotted to the Living Word.
The night is cold, the darkness dense,
The preaching impotent has grown,
Feeble and faithless the defence
Of that which we have heard and known.
And yet with pride of heart we cry,
We are the temple of the Lord!
And leave the sin-sick soul to die
Without the life-imparting Word.
Saviour Divine, we bow the knee
Low at Thy footstool and confess
That oft we ask ourselves, Are we
Exculpate of Blood-guiltiness?
O may we hold and spread abroad
That Word of wonder-working grace
Until the City of our God
We enter, and behold Thy face.
In the Word of God there are two great principles, or lines, of truth that run throughout the dealings of God with men, right from his creation until the judgment of the great white throne, and they are the line of responsibility and the line of life. By the former is meant, the responsibility of the creature to maintain himself in the place of blessing in which he has been set by his Maker, and that by the fulfilment of his obligations; and on these terms Adam was set in the very beginning of his history. This principle was represented in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was reserved by God for Himself: Adam was not to eat of it: every other tree was free for his use.
Man was to remain in the state and circumstances in which an all-wise and beneficent Creator had placed him, for they were absolutely perfect. He was just to remain as he was, rejoicing in the good things with which he was surrounded, and giving thanks to the Giver of all good. He was not to think that by any act of his he could increase the wealth of blessing that had been so bountifully lavished upon him.
A SERIOUS QUESTION, that of good and evil, was in the universe, how long before man came upon the scene we are not told, but Adam was to let it alone. What had he to do with it? Why mix himself up with a question, of the nature of which he knew nothing? His place was outside everything pertaining to it, and he had better remain there. True, he could easily open the door of access into that fearful arena, and, as far as that particular matter went, rival his Maker, but at what a fearful cost! But the wily adversary hid from him the cost, and dangled before him the supposed gain. He grasped at divinity, and fell under death.
But there was not only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, there was also the tree of life. As long as man fulfilled the rightful obligations imposed upon him by his Maker access to the tree of life was open to him; when he failed he was cut off from it. There was no second chance given to him. To have given him another trial would have been to admit the first trial to be insufficient. The cherubim and the flaming sword, placed to guard it against any attempt to reach it, left him to the ravages of disease, decay, and death.
THE LAW GIVEN TO ISRAEL raised this question afresh, and again we have, in the dispensation introduced by Moses, that which was represented by the two trees—responsibility and life. Let a man fulfil his responsibilities, and life is assured to him; but let him break one commandment, and his title to be preserved alive is gone for ever. Therefore the law that was ordained to life, became an instrument of death. It confirmed the judgment that already lay upon man on account of sin.
The question raised by the tree of responsibility must have a perfect answer before the tree of life can be reached. The fact that we have failed to fulfil our obligations cannot be ignored by the righteous Judge. He cannot act towards us as though sin did not exist, or as though we had not sinned wilfully and wickedly. Men will act without respect to righteousness and will force their way through many a legitimate barrier to reach the end they have in view, for they have little respect to moral rectitude. But one cannot expect the moral Governor of the universe to act thus. The great principles of righteousness have had their origin in the attributes of His own being, and they are the principles that bind and give character to all His activities, and they cannot be sinned against with impunity.
GOD MAY HAVE LONG PATIENCE with a world of rebels against His authority such as this is, but it is unthinkable that He should continue its existence indefinitely, or that He should leave it without a distinct testimony regarding its end. Life in an unfettered and sinful condition cannot be immortalized. A deathless world of God-defying sinners would be a blot on the escutcheon of the King eternal, and we may rest perfectly assured no such blot nor any other shall be there. God will reach the end He has in view in the most perfect consistency with His own nature and character. No attribute of His Being shall be damaged. And this is really the security and confidence of the believer in Jesus. What security or rest of heart could any intelligent creature have, were he to find his Maker as indifferent to truth and righteousness as he knows himself and his fellows to be? The thought were blasphemy—and yet how common the thought is—that the affections of the Creator are as fickle, faithless, fantastical, and lawless, as are the affections of the creature. The safety and the peace of mind possessed by the saint of God flow from the fact that not the smallest claim of a single Divine attribute has, through the exercise of the mercy that has saved his soul, been ignored. Where the word of righteousness is understood the feet are planted upon a rock that is unshakeable.
The life derived from Adam—the life of flesh—cannot be continued. It must be brought to an end, “On the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17), and “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). As long as man lives in the flesh, so long shall he be dominated by sin (Rom. 8:8), and because of this God is compelled to put an end to such a sinful existence. It is clear that such a state of existence could not be, by a righteous and beneficent Creator, allowed to continue for ever.
But the judgment pronounced upon Adam on account of his transgression, and which came upon all his descendants, because all were sinners, does not seem to have included anything but the death of the body. What was to be the consequence of a life of rebellion against God does not seem to be taken in here. We have to come to other scriptures for that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). And when that judgment has come, we read, “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15).
LIFE ACCORDING TO GOD—life in which the soul lives to God—is only to be found in Christ, “He is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). No one can live to God in the life of Adam. It is a corrupt life, and in its nature hostile to God. To live to God man must have a new life, a life that Adam in his innocent condition did not possess any more than in his fallen state. The life that he had in his innocent state was as pure and perfect in the eyes of God as could be. But once fallen, there is no mending of it, nor can man be recovered for God in that life. Until the question of his responsibilities has been raised, and has had a perfect answer, living for ever is an impossibility.
I do not mean to convey the idea that the life of man as a responsible living being ceases to exist, but that the judgment of death lies upon him in his life of flesh and blood here on earth, and that he has never been able to give God a ransom for his soul, so that he might live for ever, and his flesh not see corruption (Ps. 49:7-9). But death is not by any means annihilation. It is the break up of the earthly structure, by means of which man has his practical existence down here, and where he lives his life of God-forgetfulness. His body goes to the dust, out of which it was formed, and his spirit to God who gave it. Thus his life of flesh and blood is ended.
But the life lived by man in the flesh is moral death, for it is a career of practical separation from God. He is alive to sin, and to the things that belong to this world, but dead toward God—dead in trespasses and sins. His affections are set upon the things that minister to his carnal appetite, and he cares nothing for the Word of God, nor for the companionship of His people. All this is moral death. There is no love to God in the natural heart, and where the soul loves God there and there only is life. Because God is love there is no possibility of living to Him or of knowing Him, apart from loving Him. To live to Him who is love, love must be begotten in the heart, and this can only be by the gospel, which sets forth the love of God to man; and when this is believed, the Holy Spirit is given, who sheds abroad in the believer’s heart that love, so that “we love Him because He first loved us,” but apart from this all is moral death.
THE SEPARATION THAT EXISTS BETWEEN MAN AND GOD was brought in by sin. The love and the confidence that were natural to him in his innocent state were displaced by the fear and distrust that took possession of his heart in consequence of the transgression of which he was guilty; and that fear and distrust of his Maker dominate and shape the lives of every one of his descendants. And it is not that wholesome and reverential fear that has its congenial habitation in the heart of every intelligent being who is in right relations with God, but it is that terror that is born of the sin of which his conscience tells him he is guilty, and which prevents him from looking at God in any other light than that of a merciless Judge, and this is so wrought upon by his viperous enemy, the devil, that even the overtures of his Creator’s unfathomable grace are utterly disbelieved and refused.
Two words describe the natural condition of fallen man, and they are dead and lost. Alive—fully alive—to this godless world, to its pleasures, to its pride, to its lust, to its vices, and to everything that will minister a momentary gratification to his insatiable desires; but dead to God by the enmity of his apostate condition, and by the darkness in which he has found his God-forsaken home; but a darkness that is loved, because he thinks it hides from view the deeds of which he feels he ought to be ashamed.
And lost, because in him there is neither power nor desire for recovery. He can invent no remedy for his fallen condition. He is sin’s servant, and his lusts like a whirlwind carry him away in the path of destruction. He can neither retrace his footsteps nor moderate the rapidity of his headlong career. Therefore he will banish the thought of God from his mind altogether, for every such thought only increases his misery.
The carnal mind is enmity against God. The thought of God is hateful to the flesh. The gospel has no charm for the natural ear. The judgment to come is treated as a baseless priestly invention. God is a hard Master, a compassionless tyrant, who has no respect for the work of His hands; that is, if He exists at all, which some men think may be very rightly questioned. Therefore the only thing to do is to act as though He did not exist, and by “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” make themselves as happy and as comfortable as they can in the land of the vagabond.
THE LIFE OF THE LAST ADAM is the only life in which a man can be made to live to God; and this life the believer in Jesus possesses. He is the living bread come down from heaven, to give life, not only to the Jewish nation, but to the world; and “if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). By faith this bread is to be appropriated. His flesh is to be eaten, and His blood is to be drunk; a dead Christ is to be appropriated by faith. I am to claim that death as mine. That death is the judgment of all that I am as a child of Adam, and in the life of Christ, and in that life only, I live to God. I am quickened out of my death in sin by the communication of the life of the risen Saviour. I have parted company with my old sinful life, and am partaker of the life given to me by God in the power of the Holy Spirit, “and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11).
Nothing can be more important for us than to realize that we have this new eternal life, that it is our own proper life, that in that life we are in relationship with God, that it is the life in which we live to Him, that it is the life that is in the Son, that it is stainless, incorruptible, deathless, the life by the possession of which we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:4). It is ours by eternal counsel (Tit. 1:2), by the gift of God (Rom. 6:23), by His quickening power (John 5:25), in the witness of the Spirit (Gal. 4:6), and through faith in the gospel, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
The fact that God has given to us this eternal life, and that this life is in His Son, is supported by three mighty witnesses—the Spirit, the water, and the blood. The water and the blood came out of the side of Christ when He hung dead upon the cross. The death of Christ has made a complete end of our sins. They exist no longer, and to this the blood bears witness. The death of the One who bore the judgment of them has put them away for ever. The water bears witness that through that death we have moral purification, for in that death the man that committed the sins is in the judgment of God gone out of existence. The Spirit has come down to us from an ascended Christ, and is the witness to us that life is only in Him. These three bear witness to the one blessed truth, “That God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). Therefore, he that has the Son has life, and he that has not the Son has not life. Our sins are gone, and our unclean nature also, in the judgment of the cross, and as born of God we are in new and eternal relationships with one another and with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
EVERYTHING THAT WAS CONTRARY TO GOD in us and about us was brought under the judgment of the cross, and there made an end of, and therefore we have a right and title to view ourselves only as partakers of that new life and nature that is ours by the quickening power of God, whatever we may actually find in ourselves that may be contrary to all this. The flesh in us is not mended, and we find it ever ready to assert itself, but it has been ended judicially, and when our Saviour comes and changes our bodies into the fashion of His own it will have actually passed away for ever. Meantime we can rejoice with joy unspeakable that
“That precious stream of water and of blood,
Which from his wounded side so freely flowed,
Has put away our sins of scarlet dye,
Washed us from every stain, and brought us nigh.”
Just as by nature we were in the life of the first Adam, so by faith and the quickening power of God are we in the life of the last Adam. The old Adam life and the sins committed while we were in that life have been made an end of in the judgment of the cross. The old order is gone judicially, though not yet actually, for we have still the flesh in us, though we are not in it. Death—the death of Him who in love to us died in our room and stead—has been the judicial end of all that we were in Adam, the first and fallen head of the race. The flesh forms no part of us in our vital relations with God. It does not come in there at all. We are not in the flesh (Rom. 8:9): it is a past condition for us who are Christ’s. We are not in the standing and responsibilities of the first man. We surely have our responsibilities—every intelligent being has—but it was not by the fulfilment of our responsibilities we gained righteousness, peace, and favour with God; neither is it by our own efforts that we are maintained in the place of blessing that we now occupy. It was grace that saved us, and that without the slightest co-operation on our part; and it is grace that keeps us, and will keep us to the end, until we shall have reached the glory of God, of which we rejoice in hope. To Him be all the praise.
God has brought us to Himself in Christ, and there is new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Here there is not one element of the old order, “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Old responsibilities, old nature, old relationships, old affections: in Christ all these are gone, and in their stead have come to pass new nature, new responsibilities, new relationships, new affections; a new man, in whom we may well glory, for He is the masterpiece of eternal love.
Before this work of God took place we were what our head was—fallen, sinful, under death, and all of our sins amenable to a judgment, that would have been to us eternal banishment from the presence of God. But now we are what Christ, our heavenly Head is: His place, His relationship to God, and His acceptance, determine ours. What He is we are in the account of God. All we require in order to be with Him in the Father’s house is to have our bodies changed and fashioned like His, and this will be effected at His coming again (Phil. 3:20).
And for this we wait. Except for the necessity of having our bodies changed we are as fit to be the companions of Christ in glory as God can make us (Col. 1:12). The work of Christ for us on the cross, and the work of the Spirit in us, give us confidence as to our fitness for heaven. A change of body will complete the redemption that is ours in Christ (1 John 1:7; Eph. 1:7; John 13:10; Tit. 3:5-7; Phil. 3:21). But we are not always taken to heaven the moment we are fit for it, but in the ways of God with us we are left here upon earth with sin all about us and an evil nature within us, and we are no sooner converted to God than we begin to feel THE NEED OF DELIVERANCE FROM SIN’S DOMINION, for slaves of sin we were in our unconverted state. It is not only that we have committed sins innumerable, but we are sin’s bond-servants. It rules us as a tyrant rules a slave, and we are compelled to serve it with every member of our body. In our unrenewed state in the flesh we suppose that we can as easily become servants to God as a servant can change one master for another. But when, through a work of God’s Spirit in us, we seek to carry out His will in our practical everyday life we feel how terrible are the bars of steel by which we are held in the service of unrighteousness. We are willing enough to recognize our own responsibilities, but the attempt to fulfil them makes us conscious of the law in our members that is too strong for the desires of our renewed minds.
Our desires are all right. We are resolved to do good—to fulfil our obligations, the measure of which is clearly set: before us in the law of Moses. We will sin no more. We will for the future tread a path pleasing to God. All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient. We have got forgiveness for the past, or at least we hope we have, and the future will not find us debtors.
Now the struggle has begun. We are determined to walk righteously, but we find that we are lame on both our feet. Our determination is to have nothing more to do with sin, but there is something in us that cries out for it with more powerful voice than that which deprecates the committal of it. The good that we would do we do not, and the evil that we abhor we do. There is an evil principle in our members at war with all the good desires of the mind, and it is more powerful than they. We now learn that, however good our intentions may be, we have no power to bring them to pass. We are captive to a power of evil that lives in the members of our body. Sin has the mastery over us, and with every member are we compelled to serve it. Our state is wretched in the extreme, and our good desires only make us all the more miserable. We would like to pursue the path of righteousness, but a terrific force of evil drives us in the opposite direction.
And by the law that we acknowledge as holy, just, and good, we see ourselves condemned as sinners. We admit that the law is no exorbitant demand, but is the exact expression of our natural obligations. By keeping it we would bring forth fruit for the approval of God, so that we should be accepted by Him, and that our souls should live. But in this struggle between right desires and the evil disposition of the flesh, we learn that not till the Ethiopian can change his skin, or the leopard his spots, can the man that is accustomed to do evil begin to do good (Jer. 13:23).
We may be able to distinguish between the right desires of our renewed minds, and the perverse nature of the flesh; and we may also be able to identify ourselves with the former, and refuse to identify ourselves with the latter, and this is a great advance, in the knowledge of ourselves in the mixed condition in which saints are in this world. But that knowledge does not drive away our misery, nor help us to overcome the evil power that works in our members, and brings forth fruit unto death. Because we can say when we sin, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:17), we cannot say that our doing evil is no matter, nor can we escape the condemnation of the law, under which we feel ourselves to be. We cannot come to such unworthy conclusions, as that God would condone our sins, and hold our neighbour accountable to his. What can we do? and to whom shall we look for relief?
We can do nothing but fall down on our faces before God, groan out our wretchedness, and cry out for a deliverer. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The realization of our utterly lost condition stares us in the face. It is not only that we were sinners needing forgiveness, our fallen Adam nature was sinful and incapable of betterment. We have learned that in our flesh good does not dwell (Rom. 7:18), and that “the carnal mind is enmity against God”; that “it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). The struggle is ended. We look away from ourselves for a deliverer.
It has been said that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and in this case the saying is abundantly verified. God has intervened for us in two marvellous ways: by means of the cross, and by the gift to us of His Holy Spirit. The law could not enable us to overcome the evil tendencies of our Adam nature. It rather provoked it to transgress, for it drew attention to the evil by the very prohibition against it, and cursed us for our disregard of its authority. It could not justify us. It could not give us power against the evil. It had no sympathy with our helpless condition. Its authority had to be maintained, for it was the expression of the righteous requirements of God, and to set aside its authority would have been to reduce the creation of God to a state of anarchy and rebellion against Himself, and to give the government of the universe into the hands of Satan and his subordinates.
But God has intervened, and that in infinite grace and mercy. By the cross He has made an end of our whole sinful condition. He has maintained the authority of the law, and manifested His utter abhorrence of sin that had dominated us. Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and putting Him in the place of the sin-bearer, He dealt with sin as sin deserved, and thus brought to an end in the judgment of that cross our whole condition as in the flesh, thus ending our history as before Him whether as lawless Gentiles or legal Jews, so that we are no longer on the ground of a responsibility that holds us to the fulfilment of our obligations as a means of entering into life, but rather, as having died out of that carnal order, we are privileged now to reckon ourselves as alive to God in the life of the risen Saviour: we are dead to sin, and alive to God in Him (Rom. 6:11).
We have also His Spirit as the power of that life, so that we may be able truly to confess to His everlasting praise that “the law of the Spirit of life in. Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2), and to show this by fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law, having abandoned every attempt to subject the flesh to its rightful authority, for we are not under the law, but under grace. And because of this, sin shall not have dominion over us, for we get all the help we require from God. It is an old, trite, but true saying, “The flesh is in us, but we are not in the flesh.” We are not in the standing and responsibility of children of Adam. We are in the Spirit for the Spirit of God dwells in us, and the Spirit is not given to us to help the flesh, but to enable us to keep the flesh in the place of death, where it has been placed in the judgment of the cross.
I need scarcely say that the life which is ours in Christ is a life of continual dependence upon God. If anyone thinks that deliverance means that we are brought into a certain state of soul in which there is no longer need for watchfulness against the subtlety and the power of sin, and that the rest of the believer’s journey is plain and peaceful sailing, and that all conflict is at an end for ever, he is greatly mistaken, and in very real and imminent danger of a dreadful fall. We require to be continually on the watch against that power that once dominated us, and we need to be instant in prayer to God lest we yield to the enticements of the world, fail to reckon ourselves dead to sin, allow the will of the flesh to became dominant, and wander out of the pathway of righteousness. We need to keep our body under, to bring it to subjection, to mortify its deeds, to present it a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, and these things are not done without continual prayer to God, for, as I have said, our life is a dependent one.
The whole redeemed creation is being set up on a new principle, that of resurrection, and in the power of God, for the creature has no might of his own. The creature has miserably failed in connection with everything that was committed to his responsibility. And at this we need not be astonished, for surely all power belongs to God. But in Christ God has intervened to place everything rescued from the ruin of this world in His own power, exhibited in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
I desire that we might better understand that by the gospel God is transferring all who believe from the footing of creature responsibility to the rock of resurrection, and that, as I have said before, is where His almighty power has come to light. Christ is risen, and the believer is in Him, as partaker of His life and Spirit. Here can come no failure, no death, no condemnation; and His Spirit dwelling in us is the pledge of the quickening of our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11). Knowing this, we are made conscious of our absolute dependence upon Him, and this dependence is expressed in continual prayer, for we know that we cannot get on rightly one moment without Him. Thank God, He is ever accessible, and His power ever available for those that seek it with their whole heart.
At this present time deliverance is not so much talked of as it used to be in days gone by, and I have wondered why this is so. It cannot be because it is not so much needed as formerly, when it used to be the most usual subject taken up by believers met together for edification. It certainly must be learned and experienced if one is to be victor over the world, the flesh, and the power of the devil. And yet how little one hears it referred to!
Can it be that our practical state of soul is so low that we are unaware how greatly we are dominated by the will of the flesh? Has the upward way to heaven become so hidden from our eyes that we imagine that we are making progress in that direction when we are calmly drifting downward and away from it in the current of a Christless world? Are we so sound asleep that we feel not the fetters that bind us in the service of sin? Are we absolutely certain that there are any sins except murder and theft? Now, when everyone is grasping after his neighbour’s goods, are we quite sure that covetousness is a breach of the commandment of God, that the man who covets has no inheritance in the kingdom of God, and that because of such sins the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience? (Eph. 5:6). Are we in continual exercise to be found walking in the pathway of the will of God, or are we content to go on with a fair show of morality and religion, our own will being the spring of all our activities? We might hesitate to enter the theatre, but consider it a prejudice to be overcome; the political arena, the concert, we look upon as more necessary things. The world must be governed, and we must not shirk our obligations, for we cannot leave everything in the hands of the devil. Thus we reason, and this world and its things get all our attention, and the Father’s world recedes from our view.
If we have thus lived and walked at a measurable distance from God, it is not surprising that we have felt no need of deliverance from sin and the elements of the world. The cry for forgiveness of sins is heard occasionally, though not so often as we would wish, but the cry for deliverance, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” is heard at very rare intervals today. There is a possibility of forgetting that we have been brought to God out of the bondage of sin, that we might be before Him in the conscious enjoyment of His great love, and in the determination to walk by His grace in the pathway of His revealed will. Like Him who came from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him.
The Mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19)
Having sought, by the help of the Divine Spirit, to refer the attention of the readers of “Scripture Truth” to the glad tidings of God, I do not feel satisfied to close the subject without some reference to that which the apostle to the Gentiles calls “The Mystery of the Gospel.” Something would indeed be felt lacking were no hint given of such a glorious subject.
That the Gospel, as far as relates to deliverance from sin, is concerned, can be viewed as complete without mention of this wondrous mystery is evident, for it is fully set before us in the first eight chapters of Romans, and there is no hint of anything of the kind, though the Gospel, as taught in that epistle, paves the way for its unfolding as it is found in the Ephesian Epistle. And this must be evident to anyone with even a very limited acquaintance with these two epistles.
In Romans we have the utterly undone condition of both Jew and Gentile placed beyond the reach of honest criticism, the “no difference doctrine” thoroughly established, and the whole world subject to the judgment of God. Next, we have both Jew and Gentile justified on the one principle, that of faith, standing in grace, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. We have also both dead to sin and to the law, indwelt by one Spirit, in Christ, having the Spirit of adoption, able to call God Father, the Spirit witnessing with the spirit of both that they are children of God, and all predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, to the satisfaction of that love from which there is no separation. How this bears upon the mystery will, if God permit, come to light as we proceed.
But in order to show clearly that the Gospel, even as preached by Paul, is not the same thing as the mystery, I will refer to a few passages of the Word of God. The latter is said to have been “kept secret since the world began” until made manifest “by the scriptures of the prophets” (Rom. 16:25-26). That these are the prophets of the present dispensation Ephesians 3 makes quite clear, for there we read , “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” “NOW revealed” could have no reference to Old Testament prophets, who were all dead. And in verse 9 we read, “Which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” It was the secret of the Creator, and never divulged until this present dispensation had been for some time running its course.
But the Gospel, to which Paul says he was separated, had been “promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). The Gospel, then, was not a secret hidden in the heart of the Creator, but borne witness to by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures, right from the beginning of the fall of man until the end of Malachi. These Scriptures make a decided distinction between the Gospel and the mystery—the former borne witness to during the whole probation of man, and the latter the secret of God while that probation lasted.
Another great difference between the two is this: the Gospel is the setting forth of the intervention of God on behalf of His lost creature, with a view to his recovery from sin’s slavery, that he may be free to present his body a living sacrifice, wholly given up to the will of God, and by it the love of God is carried to the whole world, by those who preach the Word in the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Repentance and remission of sins is preached among all nations, and the man that believes is justified from all things. The Gospel refers to the meeting of the need of the sinner by the fathomless grace of a Saviour God, and conformity to the Son of God in glory is the climax of everything, and the goal placed before the soul (Rom. 8:29-30). Therefore when the apostle gets to that in Romans, there is nothing more to be added, except to show how all this can be reconciled with the promises made to the Jewish people.
But what has the body of Christ got to do with my salvation? Could I not have been saved without being brought into such a close and blessed relationship to Him who is my Saviour? Sinners in other dispensations have been, and shall be, in glory, without being members of the mystical body of Christ; and if this could be true of them, why could it not be true of us?
The question is not hard to answer. The truth of the body of Christ does not lie on the line of the mercy of God to His fallen and rebellious creature, but on the line of divine purpose. To rightly understand this mystery we must get off the line of His compassions to sinners under judgment, and get back in the thought of our minds to before the foundation of the world, where, untrammelled by the intricacies of a fallen creation we may, in the unbroken calm and holy love of a sinless atmosphere, contemplate the eternal counsels of the Father, who for His own glory and the glory of His beloved Son invented, arranged, and ordered in infinite wisdom the blessing of all His creatures. Our place in relationship with the Father and the Son was all settled before the world’s foundation. And the centre of those eternal counsels was the Son of the Father’s love. All the great thoughts of God centre around the Man, Christ Jesus He is the Firstborn of all creation, Head of all principality and power, Head of the body, the Church; Firstborn among many brethren, and Centre supreme of the whole vast universe of blessing.
It is on this line of divine counsel that we find the Assembly of the living God, the mystery, the body of Christ, and indeed the various families of the redeemed, when we contemplate them according to the rank in which they are for ever placed on the ground of redemption. I doubt not that each family of the redeemed will occupy its own peculiar place with relation to is living Head, the place given to it in eternal counsel. But this is not the same thing as the revelation of the compassions of God to ruined sinners, though before God begins with any individual sinner, He has in view the goal to which that soul shall be brought when his work has been completed. It surely is true of every individual taken up by Him in grace, “Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). But the love of God, which is now, and ever shall be, the great joy of our hearts, has its manifestation, not in the height of the blessing to which we have been brought, but the depths into which the Son of God descended when He laid down His life for us (Rom. 5-5-8; 1 John 4:9-10). The love of God has been manifested in meeting our deep need as sinners, not in bringing to pass the counsels of that love. Let us never forget this.
The administration of this mystery was committed to Paul, and only to him, though not to him only was the revelation of it made. He says, “It is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5). To the other writers of the New Testament the Spirit of God revealed this mystery as well as to Paul, though none of them make the slightest reference to it in any of their writings which have been preserved by God for the enlightenment of our souls. I have no doubt the apostles were all equally instructed in the truth of God, but to each was given his own special line of service. But it does not follow that because John sets forth eternal life in the Son of God, and subsequently in us, therefore he understood these things better than Paul or Peter. Neither would it be right to assume that because the administration of the mystery was committed to Paul, therefore it was better understood by him than by the others. Enough for us to know that he through whom the revelation has come to us Gentiles had perfect knowledge in the mystery of Christ.
The revelation of this mystery seems to have been given by the Lord subsequent to the conversion of Paul. Indeed it seems as though an indication of its existence was conveyed to him in the words that fell upon his ear when he lay prone upon the earth on the highway to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” I do not at all question that these words could have been rightly addressed by our Lord to Saul, apart altogether from the fact that those persecuted saints were members of His body, for who had Saul in his madness risen up against, if not the Lord of glory? He says before King Agrippa, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). But as Jesus was personally beyond his reach, and His members near at hand, his wrath fell upon them. It was Jesus, and Jesus only, against whom the storm of his insane fury was spending its puny and impotent force.
Nevertheless one cannot easily banish from the mind the impression that, seeing the close relationship that exists between the head and the body, the Lord was intimating to that ravening wolf how nearly related and how dear to His heart those suffering saints were, who were being so ruthlessly put to death, nor that those never-to-be-forgotten words would most surely return to his soul in living power, when he would learn that those lowly men against whom he was so furious were the members of the body of the risen and glorified Christ. No wonder that he never forgave himself this awful wickedness. Though morally head and shoulders taller than anyone else, he calls himself the chief of sinners; though on his shoulders and heart lay the care of all the churches, he speaks of himself as less than the least of all saints; and though labouring more abundantly than all the others, he counts himself the least of all the apostles, one not worthy to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the Church of God (1 Tim. 1:15; Eph. 3:8; 1 Cor. 15:9). To this man the stewardship of the mystery was committed.
And with this mystery, how beautifully the Gospel that he preached harmonizes! However important and infinitely precious are the teachings of Peter and John (and who but the God from whom they emanated could rightly estimate their worth), they do not lend themselves so readily to the inclusion of this mystery, for both seem to keep up a semblance of distinction between Jew and Gentile nowhere found in Paul’s writings (1 Pet 2:10-12, 3 John 7), for Paul speaks of a “new man,” in whom the distinction between Jew and Gentile has no existence, but Christ is everything and in all (Col. 3:11).
I trust the reader will not for one instant suppose that there is the slightest want of harmony between the writings of these men of God. A careful study of the Word makes manifest the most perfect concord. But, as I have already indicated, to each one was given the happy service of setting forth a certain aspect or character of the revelation of God, and because of this we are better able to get acquainted with it, until in the end, perhaps, we contemplate it in its own divine and incomparable unity.
Colossians and Ephesians are the two epistles that more than others speak of this great mystery. In the former epistle the greatness of the Head is the subject; in the latter the wondrous privileges of the members of the body. The better we know the Head, the easier it will be for us to understand the truth of the body, for the body derives from the Head. It is the Head that gives grace and dignity to the body. It is not by getting acquainted with the body that we gain the knowledge of the Head: the reverse of this is the truth. Therefore, if we are to understand the Ephesian epistle, we must not neglect that to the Colossians.
In Colossians we have the Creator in His own creation, not speaking to it as one outside it, using angels or prophets to declare His will, but come into it Himself, taking part in it, supreme in every department of it; the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in Him, all that God is in His approach to man residing in the body of Jesus. He it is who is Head of this mystical body. In the measure in which we can enter into the greatness of such a Head, in that measure only can we appreciate the dignity of the body.
When we come to the Ephesian epistle we are at once in the contemplation of counsels that were before the world was, and which have nothing to do with this world, whether in innocence or in guilt. We are not here occupied with a remedy for ruined sinners, but with the vast scheme of divine counsel, and with the putting forth of almighty power for the fulfilment of those counsels. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, and this in agreement with His eternal purpose, “that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Here we have the height of our calling set before us. It is not our union with Christ, but our relation to His God and Father that we are first of all occupied with. And to get hold of this truth is of the utmost importance, for were this not true of us, union with Christ would be impossible. No one can be united to Him who is not of His order. We are His brethren. His Father is our Father, and His God is our God. Eve was bone of Adam’s bone, and flesh of his flesh. Isaac’s wife must be of his kindred (Gen. 2:23; 24:4). If we are to be His body we must be of His order. No foreign element can find entrance into that marvellous organism. Therefore it is in Him we have our relations with His God and Father. The Firstborn among many brethren, and the brethren that surround Him are “all of one” (Heb. 2:11). This, our highest blessing, is the first thing the Holy Spirit occupies us with, in this epistle.
He has also taken us into His confidence, and made known to us the mystery of His will, that in the coming age He is going to gather everything in heaven and upon earth under Christ. To us the heavens seem far away, and things are apparently greatly scattered throughout the universe. But in the dispensation of the fullness of times he will unite the whole universe under one Head. He will bring together, govern, control, and direct the whole creation. He who could say, “The foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has not where to lay His head” will have the pre-eminence in every department of the heavens and of the earth. The dispensation of the fullness of times is the culmination of all the ways of God with His rebellious creatures. In that day everything that was foreshadowed by men lifted by God into a position of prominence from Adam downward, and who failed, every one of them, in the trust committed to them, will be found centred in Christ, who maintained and shall maintain all to the glory and praise of God.
In Him we have obtained an inheritance, for whatever He inherits we inherit along with Him, and with Him we are joint-heirs. And this “according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will.” It is not given to us in answer to any request or desire on our part. He has acted from Himself in His infinite wisdom and eternal love. We have not been consulted about this, nor about any blessing that He has bestowed upon us. And it is well for us that He has thus acted, for had He left the deciding of our blessings to ourselves, hired servants and not sons would have been our eternal portion.
In chapter 2 we have the putting forth of His power usward, for the accomplishing of those purposes spoken of in chapter 1. And the condition in which we are said to be found is quite in keeping with the character of the epistle. Death has closed up the whole scene as far as its relations toward God is concerned. We are not here viewed as in Romans active in hostility against God, but dead in trespasses and sins; life nowhere but in the living God. And however appalling it be to contemplate such a scene of moral death, it but furnishes the occasion for God to fulfil the purposes of His eternal love.
And this power of God which in chapter 2 is seen to be active toward us, is first of all witnessed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is spoken of as “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward.” That power has raised Christ from the dead, and set Him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but in that to come.
I have spoken of the power of God which was first of all witnessed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is spoken of as “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward.” That power has raised Christ from the dead, and set Him at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name named, not only in this age, but in that to come, put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all (Eph. 1:20-23).
This is the power that is active toward us, and which will never rest until we are found with Christ at the height of those eternal counsels of love. The fact that the Head has been placed where He is is the pledge and guarantee of the glorification of the body, for where the Head is, there must also the body be. May we have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him that we may be assured of this!
The manifestations of the boundless love, that is the spring and fountain of all God’s activities toward us, are here seen in a different way, from the way in which they are seen in the gospel. In the gospel, that love is witnessed in the death of Christ (Rom. 5:6-8), but here in Ephesians, where we are viewed, not as sinners active in sin’s service, but dead in sins, “God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, has quickened us together with Christ.” The love that was manifested in the death of Jesus has not in that terrible ordeal to which it was subjected lost any of its power. It is here seen bringing us out of death in the life of our risen Redeemer, or rather in the life of God Himself, though in this, if a distinction can be made, a difference does not exist. But in Colossians, for a very good reason, the life is of Christ—He is it, whereas here it is of God. The life, however, is the same, divine and eternal.
It is the exceeding greatness of the power of God manifested in raising Christ from the dead that is seen in its activity toward us. From the middle of verse 20 of chapter 1 the reference is only to Christ. To the end of the chapter nothing that is there said is true of us, except that we are His body. In chapter 2 when we come in, it is as quickened with Christ, and Jew and Gentile raised up together with Him, and made to sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ; not at His right hand, far above all principality, etc., this is only true of Christ. It is enough for us to know that we are united to Him in the place where He is, but there must always be something distinctive in the glory that is His, and which no one can share with Him, for in all things He must have the pre-eminence.
And here for the first time in the epistle we come to union with Him. Jews and Gentiles are taken up out of their death in sins, quickened with Christ. God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love wherewith He loved us, has put forth His life-giving power, and caused us to live in the life in which He raised His Son from the dead, setting us down in union with Him in the heavenlies, that in the ages to come He might display the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The time for display has not yet arrived, but when it does arrive it is in the blessedness of our union with Christ that the riches of that grace will be displayed.
What wealth of blessing is thus bestowed upon those who were once Gentiles in the flesh, without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and atheists in the world. For such we were in our natural condition. Dead in sins we all were, whether Jews or Gentiles; by nature children of wrath, the one as truly as the other. But the Jews had been brought into outward relationship with God; were loved for their fathers’ sakes; they had the law and the promises; were the chosen people of Jehovah, and were under His special care and cultivation. But the Gentile had none of these things. He was left like the wild olive out in the waste, unpruned and degenerate, and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus, and by His precious blood, we who were afar off have been made nigh. How nigh? “In Christ Jesus.” Farther away we could not have been, nearer we could not be brought. We were as far off as our fallen condition and our enmity against God could place us, now we are as near as our acceptance in the Beloved can bring us. And on the ground of the blood of Christ, that blood which is the witness of the greatness of the love that has been lavished upon us.
“For He is our peace.” He is our peace, if it is a question of our relations with God. He has made peace by the blood of His cross. Every question that holiness or righteousness could raise with regard to our sins or ourselves, has been raised, raised with Him when He took our place, was made sin for us, and bore our sins in His own body on the tree. The storm of divine fury that our guiltiness had aroused, and which beat upon His defenceless head, has spent all its fury; and peace unclouded, unruffled and everlasting is crowned with glory.
And He is it. We needed righteousness, holiness, and redemption, and on the part of God He has been made all these to us. We cannot tarnish that righteousness, we cannot pollute that holiness, we cannot shake the foundation of that redemption. If we fail, there is no failure in Him. “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). Our peace is He who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification; and “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). He is established by God as our permanent righteousness, and that in the place where righteousness is needed, not before men (this we might dispense with in our contempt of their opinion) but in the presence of God Himself.
But He is also our peace as between Jew and Gentile, for He has made both one, broken down the middle wall of partition between us, and abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments in ordinances, that He might form the two in Himself into one new man, making peace. It is not the Jew degraded to a Gentile level, nor the Gentile exalted to the level of the Jew, but both in Christ, not in the flesh at all, where only these distinctions exist. The Jew no longer a Jew, and the Gentile no longer a Gentile, but both formed into one new man, where peace must reign, for it takes two to quarrel.
Both also are reconciled to God in one body by the cross, He having by it slain the enmity. Here we are out of all relations and distinctions that exist in the flesh, and we are in Christ, in new creation, and in right relations with God, and also in right relations with one another. And in order that our ways in this world might be regulated by what God has made us in Christ, the glad tidings of peace has been preached to the Jew that was nigh, and to the Gentile that was far off, for by Christ we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Here we touch again the summit of our privileges. It is not access to Jehovah by blood that cannot take away sins, and by a carnal priesthood, but through Him whose blood is of infinite value, and whose priesthood is after the power of an endless life, and that, too, by one Spirit to the Father. Here in this verse we have the whole Trinity concerned in our approach to God.
In the next few verses, from verse 19 to the end of the chapter, we have the use of God, first in its vital and incorruptible character; and second, in its responsible and public character, which has alas, become sadly corrupted. “Now, therefore,” we are told, “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, grows unto a holy temple n the Lord.” Here I am persuaded the reference is to that which our Lord said He would build (Matt. 16:18), against which the gates of hell would be unable to prevail. This He builds Himself, and He builds it of material that is of His own nature, and which is instinct with His life, material that is of the same nature as the rock upon which it is built—the power of life in the Son of the living God. This structure will stand against all the assaults of the power of death.
But in verse 22 we have the house of God in its responsible character, and upon which professed servants of Christ are viewed as at work. This is referred to in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17. There we find builders good and bad, building with good and bad material, some of which will stand in the day that will be revealed in fire, and some of which shall be burned up. But all this has reference to the house as the dwelling-place of God, and though very closely connected with the mystery in the way in which we have been contemplating it, this is not the same thing.
From verse 13 until the end of verse 18, we have the nature and character of the privileges into which we are called, and which are alike common to believing Jews and Gentiles.
In chapter 3 we have the administration of this mystery in the hands of Paul.
In chapter 4 we have the power of life in the risen and glorified Christ active in the members down here, with a view to the building up of the body.
In chapter 5 where we have this mystery again, it is the love of Christ that is the foundation of all His activities with relation to His church, which is there regarded as His body and His spouse.
To Paul and to none other was the administration of this mystery committed. He alone was used of God to bring Jew and Gentile out of the whole state in which they were, as under law or without law, and to place them both on one common level, and in new relationships and privileges before God in Christ; leaving Jew and Gentile still in the world, to be taken up as separate people, when once the times of refreshing should come from the presence of the Lord.
This mystery, then, “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men,” is, “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel.” Whatever blessings shall be the portion of the Gentiles in the time to come, they will possess everything in an inferior and subordinate position to Israel. Instead of their possessing things in common with Israel they themselves will be possessed by Israel (Isa. 54:3; 60:9-16). They shall never be joint heirs with the chosen nation of Israel. But in the present dispensation we find a remnant taken out of Israel, and a chosen number taken out from the nations, and placed on an entirely new platform of blessing, and that by the quickening power of God, no longer Jews and Gentiles, but new creation in Christ, every earthly and national distinction gone for ever, and heirs together of all over which Christ is placed as Head.
And not only this, but both a joint-body, in marvellous relationship with Him who is placed as Head over all things, and in the closest relationship with one another that can possibly be imagined. Nor indeed could it have been imagined had it not been made the subject of revelation to poor Gentiles like ourselves. The Jew and the Gentile remain undisturbed in the world, the national privileges of the Jew for the time being set aside, and both Jew and Gentile concluded under sin, while the mercy of God is being proclaimed to both by the Gospel, by means of which “the promise of Christ” may be the portion of both. These three things go to complete that which the apostle here calls “The Mystery.”
Among the Gentiles, by him to whom the administration of this mystery was committed, the unsearchable riches of the Christ were proclaimed. And what profound and incomprehensible riches are His! The One through whom the vast thoughts and counsels of the Father shall all be worked out and fulfilled! All the infinite wisdom, knowledge, purposes, and resources of the Godhead—Who could search all these to their finality, or perfectly understand one conception of the Divine mind? To the man who was the greatest enemy of Christ, the chief of sinners, the less than the least of all saints, and the one not meet to be called an apostle, was this grace given, that he should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and bring to light what is the stewardship of the mystery, which hitherto had been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.
The visitation of the Gentiles by God through His servants was a new thing, for the times of their ignorance, when they worshipped the work of their own hands, God had winked at. They had not then come into view as a people taken account of by God. But now that the Word has come to them it is in infinite grace, and in all the unsearchable riches of the Christ. It has not come to them in the way in which the law came to Israel, but it is in all the love of the heart of Him who gave His only begotten Son; and by the Gospel a light above the brightness of the sun has been made to shine in the remotest and darkest regions of the earth. By means of a temporal salvation accorded to one favoured nation, and a law for the ordering of that nation’s conduct in its relationship with God, great light was caused to appear, astonishing and terrifying the peoples of the earth; but compared with the unsearchable riches of Christ, now preached among the Gentiles, that light is little else than darkness. Eternity itself will not enable the creature to come to the end of the riches that dwell in Him, in whom the wisdom, power, and resources of the Godhead are centred.
The bulk of the Gentiles may profit nothing through the preaching. They may even hate the light, and remain in the darkness of idolatry, but they are at least brought to behold the administration of that mystery, an administration which was committed to the Apostle, who was sent among them by the risen Christ. The effects of the preaching they could see in the separation from this evil world of those who believed the Gospel, the heavenly-mindedness that in some measure characterized them, and Jew and Gentile sitting down together in the closest relationship, and walking together in a unity that was impossible for them to understand. These are some of the ways in which the administration of the mystery could be seen by all. It might wound to the quick the pride of the hitherto favoured Jew, and the faithful steward of this mystery might have to bear alone the brunt of his jealous rage, but the unsearchable riches must be preached, and the administration of the mystery be brought to light, whatever happened to the servant of God to whom the ministry was given.
The principalities and powers in the heavenlies must also learn something from what God was bringing to pass in this fallen world. These interested spectators of the grace of their Creator to His rebellious creatures must by the church be taught the manifold wisdom of God. Peter says the angels desire to look into the grace that has come to the believing remnant of the Jewish nation (1 Peter 1:12). Here by the church is made known to the heavenly host the infinite resources that are in the mind of God. These celestial hierarchs had been witnesses of the ways of God with men during the term of their probation. They had seen the pride and rebellion of the heart of man, under the influence of the devil, rejecting every experiment on the part of God to direct the feet of the sinner into the paths of righteousness. The infinite patience and long-suffering of the Lord had been delineated before those holy beings during the age of law, while the idolatry of the Gentile was winked at, and in spite of the lawless condition of the world they had observed the wisdom of God exercised in the sovereignty of His grace, reserving to Himself out of the fallen race a generation of the righteous who had obeyed the very testimony that had been rejected by the majority of mankind. And, last of all, they had seen the Saviour, who had come in unspeakable grace into the world, taken by wicked hands, crucified and slain. Now by the church a new thing is brought to light, a heavenly people are found upon earth, who are not of this world, even as Christ is not of this world, and who are members of the body of the risen and glorified Saviour. The subtlety of the devil has been no match for the wisdom of God. All along the line he has suffered defeat at the hand of God, and according to the greatness of his wickedness and the depth of his deceit, has been brought to light the righteousness of God and the sublimity of His wisdom. The Church becomes thus the lesson-book of an angelic beings.
The Mystery was the great secret of the Creator. This indicates to us the wonderful place the Church shall have in the new heaven and the new earth. In the ordering of the nations (Gen. 10), Israel was in the mind of God, and the place that that nation was to occupy was taken account of, and prepared, half a millennium before it was redeemed out of Egypt (Deut. 32:8-14). That nation was to be supreme among the nations of the earth, and it will yet be when God takes them up again, when He makes atonement for His land and for His people (v. 43). “In that day,” He says, “will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by My Name, says the Lord that does this” (Amos 9:11-12).
This is His purpose in connection with His ordering and government of the nations upon the earth. But the mystery belongs to eternal counsel. It was hidden in the heart of the Creator, and never divulged to any creature, until He had turned that persecuting Benjamite into the most devoted servant that ever in this world lifted up his voice in the name of Christ; and to him, as we have seen, the administration of this mystery was committed.
But it is not for no purpose we are told that it was hid in the heart of the Creator. Such a statement implies that it was designed to have a wonderful and most important place in the creation of God. And this is just what we are told in the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. We have seen that God has raised Christ from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come and has put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all.” Here we have Christ supreme in the whole creation of God, everything under His feet, the Godhead alone excepted (1 Cor. 15:27). He is Head over everything that has been created, but Head, not over, but to the Church, WHICH IS HIS BODY, the fullness, or complement—that which completes—of Him that fills all in all. This is the eternal place of the Church in redeemed creation; the body of Him who is Head over all things.
The desire that the saints of God might understand this mystery brings the steward of it down upon his knees in the presence of God. The slowness to enter into the depths of this masterpiece of Divine wisdom manifested by the saints, gave the Apostle continual anxiety. He has said all that he can say about it in words, and in very simple words too, but in the things of God the letter is not everything. When the letter has been learned it is only the Spirit that can give the things vital power in our souls; for these things belong to “the depths of God.” Therefore the Apostle is down upon his knees making an appeal to the Father, who is the Author and Originator of this mystery, that He would grant according to the riches of His glory, that the saints might be strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man. The natural ability of the creature, even when born of God, is of no avail in the understanding of the things that relate to Divine counsel. The Gospel that is preached to the men of the world, repentance and remission of sins, can be understood by anyone, but when we come into contact with the deep things of God, we must have the aid of the Divine Spirit. But this is freely granted.
Another requisite is Christ dwelling through faith in our hearts. We are ever, thank God, in His heart, but not always has He His rightful place in our hearts. Then, “being rooted and founded in love,” we require to be always in the consciousness that we have a place in the love of God, from which no power in the universe can dislodge us. Thus equipped we shall be able to look abroad with all the saints upon the breadth, length, depth, and height of that universe that shall be the result of the fulfilment of all the vast counsels of the infinite wisdom, power, and love of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we ourselves shall be filled to all the fullness of God.
Of this universe which shall be radiant with the glory of redemption, the love of God, Christ and His body is the centre. He is surely centre supreme, but we are His body, and the Head and the body cannot be separate. And from that centre we look abroad upon a sphere lit up with the revelation of God, as it shone down here in the Son of His love. And of that universe Christ shall be the light, as the sun is the light of the solar system. But it will be by means of His body that He will illuminate that wondrous sphere of everlasting peace and joy. His members will be like the rays of the sun, which from that central orb in the heavens shall visit the remotest parts of that system, enlightening, warming, and vitalizing everything, so that everything will be continually rejoicing in the love of God.
We have a pretty good idea of what the body is to a man down here. It completes him. It is himself, a part of himself that gets a good deal of his attention—too much in most cases. He nourishes and cherishes it. It is the means by which he is in contact with things down here. By its means he makes known to others what kind of a man he is morally. His every movement is the manifestation of his moral state. He can be known by no other medium. To lose his body is to lose his place on earth, and to bring to an end the works that must come up before the judgment seat of Christ, to the praise or blame of the saint, or to the eternal condemnation of the impenitent sinner. Blessed is that man who has presented his body a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable, which is his intelligent service (Rom. 12).
And is this figure of speech, which is used by the Spirit of God regarding our relations with Christ, to convey no true meaning to our souls? Is it not used to enable us to understand the service in which our Saviour shall engage His members throughout the ages of eternity? Even now, and here in this world, His members are to come out morally descriptive of their glorified Head, and in this way do we truly serve Him. And is this to cease in the coming ages? If so, we shall cease to be His body, and He shall cease to be our Head.
How much do we appreciate this marvellous relationship that was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began? How deeply have we by the Spirit of the Father entered into the profound blessedness of it? Joined to Christ! Part of Himself! As truly part of Him as my body is part of myself. The Head and the body make one Man. Our relationship in this way is to Him on the human side. We are not joined in this way to Godhead, which would deify us. It is to the glorified Man, viewed as Man, that we are thus united. None of the other redeemed families is thus united to Him. This is the Father’s gift to Him in the day of His rejection by this world, and only the Spirit of the Father can lead us into the knowledge of it.
Colossians 2 shows us that the saints of God on earth are beset by two terrible dangers. Those to whom the Epistle was addressed were, on the one hand, in danger of giving up heaven as their hope; and on the other hand, there was a danger of their seeking something to add to the fullness that was for them in Christ. Hence the hope that was laid up for them in heaven is brought forcibly before them at the very outset of the epistle. They were dead with Christ from the elements of this world, and they were risen with Him through faith of the operation of God who raised Him from the dead; and these two things were administered to them by baptism, the initiatory ordinance into the profession of Christ upon earth. Therefore as dead with Christ they had nothing to do with the elements of the world; they were dead, and their life was hid with Christ in God, and they were not to appear as living men in connection with this world’s system until Christ would appear, and then they would appear with Him in glory. Meantime as risen with Him they were to set their mind upon things above, where Christ sits upon the right hand of God. They had a heavenly place, and they were not to surrender it for an earthly, which would come under judgment at the appearing of Christ.
But he would have them know the great conflict he had for them, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as had not seen his face in the flesh, that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the full knowledge of the mystery of God (chap. 2). This mystery of God is something wider than the body of which Christ is Head. It is the whole scope of Divine counsel—the great plan that was in the thought of God before He began any of His works—that to which from the beginning all the operations of God in the universe were tending. This was not apparent in past dispensations while man was under probation; but now that the probation of man is over, and his helplessly lost condition has been made manifest, the ground is cleared for the unfolding of Divine counsel, and of the activities of eternal love toward the fulfilment of that counsel. And of that mystery of God the Church is the centre; that is, as the body of Christ. It will be the nucleus of that universe of blessing. Christ, the supreme Centre of all, but in the Church, and by its means, filling everything with the glory of redemption. We have something analogous to this in John 17:23, “I in them, and Thou in Me.” The Father in the Son, and the Son in the assembly. In John it is the manifestation of the children of God, and the display is connected with the reign of Christ; but in the passage in Colossians, which we are considering, the outlook is eternity itself. But the difference, if a difference does at all exist, will not be great: God in Christ, and Christ in the Church, and the whole vast inheritance by this means recovered for God, and filled with His glory.
“Our God the centre is,
His presence fills that land;
And countless myriads owned as His
Round Him adoring stand.
“The Lamb is there, my soul
There God Himself doth rest
In love divine, diffused through all
With Him supremely blest.
“But who that glorious blaze
Of living light shall tell,
Where all His brightness God displays,
And the Lamb’s glories dwell?
“God and the Lamb shall there
The light and temple be,
And radiant hosts for ever share
The unveiled Mystery.”
In this mystery of God dwells all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. While the love, wisdom, and power of God were working to bring this eternal purpose of God into actual existence, the enemy was working in all his wicked enmity to defeat the intention of the Creator. Though chief of the ways of God he had fallen from his high estate, and had dragged legions of others with him in his rebellious career. Man also had become his victim, and was now serving him who held him in bondage by the fear of death, which was the judgment of the sins of which he was guilty; death of which the devil had secured the might, and which he used to terrify the sinner, and to keep him at a distance from God Influenced by Satan, the poor fallen child of Adam is even to this day priding himself in the miserable drivellings of his ignorant and corrupt mind. Professing themselves to be wise, men only became fools. It has always been so, and it is so today. Even professing Christians have become wiser than Scripture! The revelation given to us in the goodness of God has become antiquated! The mind of man has advanced out of childhood, and those that hold to “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 2:24) must be left behind! Christianity has had its day, and that day has passed for ever; the mind of man has outgrown such primitive notions! It would be senseless to suppose that the world has made no progress during the last two thousand years! We cannot remain at the dead level of the ancients! The demand of the present generation is for greater light, and the thoughts of God must give place to the greater thoughts of the creature! And not one of these thoughts are for the elevation, but for the degradation of themselves. It is just history repeating itself, this time in that which professes the name of Christ, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). It is man exalted to heaven by the revelation of God, but thrust down to hell through his rejection of that revelation.
The warning of the great Apostle has to a great extent fallen upon deaf ears. He says, “Beware lest any man make a spoil of you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power.” What could the creature add to the fullness of the Godhead? All that God is in His approach to man dwells in the body of Jesus, and in Him that revelation was made. He could say, “He that has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9). What pleasure could one who has seen the Father find in the contemplation of a mere fallen child of Adam? Who having heard the Father’s words spoken through the lips of Jesus would care to listen to the drivellings of human philosophy? Who that knows what truth is, would seek to feed his soul upon the vapid conceptions of the creature?
The revelation of God is a perfect revelation. It can have no additions, neither does it require any. We only need to get better acquainted with it. We have been mercifully delivered from the speculations of the mind of the creature in its wanderings from the living God. We have been brought out of darkness into His marvellous light. We can truly say, “We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). All this has come to us in the body of Jesus, and there it resides, and nothing can be added to it that is of any value to our immortal souls.
And we are complete in Him. All the completeness of the Godhead is presented to us in Jesus, and in Him we are presented complete before God. We require no additions to the revelation of God in Jesus, neither do we require any additions from the creature to complete our acceptance before the face of God. In every way He is enough for the need of our souls. And therefore, as we have received Him, so are we to walk in Him; “rooted” in Him, drawing from no other source the nourishment that we need for our growth in the true knowledge of God.
And “built up in Him”; refusing everything that on the part of man proposes to lift us out of mere childhood, and finding our spiritual development from Him, and from Him alone. “And stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” That teaching requires no additions. John says in his first epistle, chatter 2:24 “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 also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” What could the mind of man add to the perfect revelation of God in the Son of His love?
We need not expect anything from man, for he can contribute nothing to the fullness that is in Christ, nor to the blessedness of our position before God, neither need we expect anything from principalities and authorities, for the Head of the body is Head of all these. Our happiness and our safety lie in “holding the Head,” and in realising that in every way we are complete in Him, “from whom all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, increases with the increase of God.” To let go the Head in quest of additional light or nourishment is to wander in a rayless wilderness of human speculation, and to become a prey to the roaring lion, who goes about seeking whom he may devour. But to hold the Head is to find abundance of grace ministered to our souls, and to be always satisfied with the good things of God.
We who believe on the Son of God, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, are called in one body, and we are exhorted to walk worthy of the calling. But as there is a certain moral state of soul in which only this can be done, we have it pointed out to us in plain and unmistakeable terms, “With all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:2-4).
We have been looking a little at the way in which the knowledge of the mystery should affect us in our relations with one another, for both Jew and Gentile are one body in Christ, and the knowledge of this is the only thing that could enable two such opposite peoples to walk together in peace. And we may well encourage our hearts that if we walked in all lowliness, meekness, and long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, the unity of the Spirit would be kept, and our practical relations with one another would be divinely harmonious.
Then the fact that our Head is in heaven, yea, gone far above all heavens, has, where it is kept in view, the power of detaching us from earth, and causing us to walk as heavenly men through a world of which the devil is both prince and god, for well we know that wherever the Head is, this place belongs to the body. We have also seen that the body is for the display of the Head, and that all the beautiful characteristics of the Head are to be developed in the body, and manifested in it, not only in this world but in redeemed creation. But this we must go into a little more in detail.
I will turn to the Epistle to the Romans, chapter 12. There the Apostle desires to regulate the conduct of the saints with regard to the various gifts with which they were endowed. These gifts were given to them in connection with their individual responsibility, but the body is brought in to show them that however brilliant from a human standpoint some of the gifts might seem to be, he who possessed them was not to think more highly of himself on that account, for everyone else was a member of the body as he was, and in the body the members were all of equal value, otherwise divisions would be the sure result. But here there is no unfolding of the mystery.
In 1 Corinthians 12 the truth of the mystery is more gone into, and there in connection with the manifestations of the Spirit in the assembly. The human body is first of all taken up as a figure of the body of Christ, “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” The human body is taken up to illustrate this great mystery. Next, we are told the way in which this body has been formed, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” The Apostle goes back to Pentecost in his thought for the formation of the body. The Spirit of God unites all the members together into one body, and also to the living Head of that body in heaven.
And as every saint is a member of that one body of which Christ is the Head, there should be no divisions in our practical lives down here. Every member of the body has his own special place in the body, and given to him by God, and is necessary to the welfare of all the others. There may be members that are more prominent than others, and that because of the place in which they are set in the body, but such are no more valuable than are the members that seem to be set in a position of less honour; indeed, as to our natural bodies, on these we bestow more abundant honour. And the knowledge and certainty of this preserves us from self-occupation, pride, and envy. If our status in the body seems to have a brilliant character, unless we are very watchful, the vanity of the flesh will be aroused, and instead of being tender and considerate in our attitude toward others, and using that which has been given us for the building up of the body, we will most likely be characterized by a haughty, hard, and domineering spirit, and be an annoyance rather than a comfort to the saints. On the other hand, if our position in the body be neither prominent nor brilliant, the tendency is to shrink from any service which might be given us to do, and the whole body be deprived of the ministry no one but ourselves can give.
The knowledge that we are all one body in Christ, and that God has set the members in the body as it has pleased Him, will greatly help to preserve us from the miserable jealousies and envies that prey upon the vitals of practical Christianity. The clearness of my organs of vision, or the quickness of my organs of hearing, is for the benefit of the whole body, for the body is one, and receives benefit or loss according to the health, or otherwise, of each separate member. In saying this I speak of the members in their activities down here; for, as I have before indicated, there is a way of looking at the body as altogether according to the operations of God’s Spirit, into which no failure of any description can enter. But viewed in connection with the responsibility of the saints who compose it, we read that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member be glorified, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:26).
How different from the present state of things in the church would it be, were this wondrous truth more deeply engraven upon our hearts Self, that has such a prominent place with us, and whose fancied rights are so zealously safeguarded, would disappear altogether, and the most fervent love and earnest care for the well being of one another would take its place. We would not be looking at one another as separate units, whose prosperity would provoke our envy, and whose adversity might find us without pity, but every member would be viewed as of that body of which Christ is the Head, and all members together as of that spiritual organism, love and unity would take the place of discord and division, the Holy Spirit would be ungrieved, peace would prevail, and the work of the Lord would prosper.
In chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians we have in detail some of the lovely characteristics of the life that animates the body, and without which, whatever else a man may have, he has neither part nor lot in this vital organism. The body is animated by love, love is the nature of the life of the body, for the body lives by the life-giving power of God. This being so we can well understand that, were the flesh kept in the place of death, schism would be unknown, the body would be energized, directed and controlled by the Head, harmony would exist, and Christ would be set forth in testimony.
Before the day comes in which the whole universe shall be cleansed from the presence of sin, and a new heaven and a new earth created in which righteousness shall be made to dwell, the almighty power of the Lord, which to bring this about shall have to be expressed in judgment, is manifested through the gifts given by Him for the building up of His body. He gave to this end some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
This is not the self-building up in love referred to in verse 16, but the Word of God ministered in the power of the Holy Ghost; first, by apostles and prophets who are in the foundation of the building, and whose authoritative communications we have in the Holy Scriptures; so that in this sense these continue throughout the dispensation, though the servants themselves have long passed away out of this scene. The evangelists by the proclamation of the gospel gather in those who are to be members of the body, and the shepherds and teachers build them up in the faith. The work of assimilation and the self-development of the body by means of the impulse derived from the glorified Head are of a different nature from the service rendered by the gifts.
But all this work is to continue until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the Son of God, at the full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ; in order that we be no more babes, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of that teaching which is in the sight of men, unprincipled cunning, with a view to systematized error; but holding the truth in love, we may grow up to Him in all things, who is the Head, the Christ. The source of supply remains undiminished, the vital connection between the Head and the body continues undisturbed; and though, viewed from a human standpoint, there may seem to be hindrances to the development of the various members on account of the carnality and self-seeking of the saints, nevertheless in the end the body will be found to be all that it was intended to be at the beginning, for the failure of men cannot alter the purpose of God.
But it may be asked, How does the knowledge of this great mystery bear upon the practical lives of the saints down here in this world? The answer to this question can only be found where we find the truth of the mystery itself, and that is in the Holy Scriptures. We must not allow our own imaginings the slightest place in the consideration of such an important subject. They must be mercilessly nipped in the bud. We are here seeking after the things that belong to full growth, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world for our glory (1 Cor. 2). We are here occupied with things the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him, and which are only made known by the Spirit of God, and only by the spiritual are discerned. The ability in which the natural man prides himself is worthless here.
From Ephesians 4:17 till verse 21 of chapter 5, also in Colossians 3:1-17, we get instructions as to the way in which the true life of the body, which lies in the glorified Head, is to manifest itself in this world. The life derived from the first Adam is corrupt and unmendably evil, and whatever is pleasing to God we must learn in the life of Jesus down here on earth. God has quickened us together with Christ, and that with the life that is in Himself, and we have to learn to distinguish between the characteristics of this life and those of the life of flesh. In the school of Christ we learn how to do this, and Jesus is the object lesson set before us that we are to imitate. But this involves for us the putting off of the old man, all that we were morally as of Adam, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and the putting on of the new man, which according to God is created in truthful righteousness and holiness. This is professedly done by all who have been baptized to Christ (Gal. 3:27); but it is done in a much more real way when we learn that our old man has been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6), and that we have our standing now in Christ risen (8:1), and in Him are alive to God.
Lying also is to be put away; and it is not only that we are to cease to deceive, but the truth of God is to be the subject of our conversation when we find ourselves in company with one another. Nothing could be more horrible than one member of the body attempting to deceive the others, and no one could be guilty of such wickedness had he any right sense of the oneness of that spiritual organism. As begotten of God we are all of one family, possessing one life and nature, and that life and nature divine; but in earthly relationships we are not unaccustomed to see members of the one family at war with one another, and however grievous and sinful it may be, it prepares us for seeing the same thing in the family of God. But who ever saw the members of a man’s body striving together in bitterness and wrath? If I deceive the members of the body I deceive myself, and if I quarrel with them I quarrel with myself; for though we be many members, the body is one, and we are all one body in Christ. It is the privilege of each member to look upon all the other members as himself. It is the way in which the Head views the whole body, for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but be nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church. We should, therefore, take pattern from Him, and by means of whatever grace He may have given to us seek to nourish, cherish, build up, and encourage those who form part of this great mystery.
We are to be careful also not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom we have been sealed for the day of redemption, for if He be grieved, He has to occupy us with the evil that has grieved Him, and until we judge ourselves, and get back into our normal condition, that is, filled with the Spirit, we can make no spiritual progress, but are useless for the service of Christ, and have become a source of weakness to the whole body. We can only serve one another as we derive nourishment from the Head, and as the Spirit is the link between all the members, uniting them into one body, and also is the link between the whole body and the Head, our service is useless while that Holy Spirit is grieved. Therefore in order to be of any practical service to the saints, we require to be on our guard against the intrusion of the flesh, for if the flesh is allowed a place, the Spirit cannot be other than grieved.
Therefore we have the activities of the flesh pointed out. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” Where such things as these are allowed, and to a certain extent they are found everywhere amongst saints, how can the comfort of the Spirit be realized? The allowance of such things paralyzes all spiritual perceptions, the gravity of having given the flesh such a loose rein is not seen, and discord and division take the place of harmony and integration.
But these things are only pointed out to be abandoned, and another line of conduct altogether is indicated for us to pursue, “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” These are the things that make for peace, the things that are pleasing to God, and which never grieve His Holy Spirit. They are the things that would always be pursued by the saints of God, if the flesh were kept in the place of death, for they are the characteristics of the life with which the body is instinct
We are to be imitators of God, because it is by His life we have been quickened out of death in sins. He has communicated His own life to us, for the life of flesh, the old Adam life, is corrupt, and in its nature enmity against God, and never can be anything else, therefore there was nothing for it but the judgment of the cross, and now we live in another life altogether; and only in that life are we in relationship with God, and therefore are we to be His imitators. But as this life had its manifestation in Christ when on earth, for God is love, we are to keep our eye upon Mini, and walk in love as He also loved us, and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. In fact, all our ways are to be regulated by that high standard of practical life which is set before us in the mystery. Husbands are to love their wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; and the wives are to be subject to their own husbands, as the church is subject to Christ. Seeing the mystery is entirely outside the whole earthly order of things, one might be prepared to find that earthly relationships would be left out of all the teaching connected with it. But this is not so. Instead of the revelation of this wondrous mystery setting aside those relationships, it does not in the least weaken or disturb them, but it gives a practical character to them, that is supremely beautiful.
Let us contemplate for a brief moment the activities of the love of Christ for His church. We are told He loved the church. Before it had any actual existence He saw it in the divine and marvellous plan of redeemed creation. It was portrayed in the volume of the book of eternal counsel. It had its unique and glorious place in the purpose of the Father. It shone at the centre of that universe of blessing, that wild be the final result of all the activities of everlasting love, the one all-glorious and irradiant orb that far eclipsed every other luminant. He saw it in all its beauty. He beheld it as His body, His complement, in the day when His humiliation would be at an end for ever, and in the day when the satisfaction and gladness of His heart would be come. He contemplated it as the vessel in winch all His moral excellencies would be everlastingly displayed. In His estimation it was the perfection of beauty. It was His bride, His beloved and constant companion, it was the one woman that was perfectly the glory of the man. It was the “helpmate” for the last Adam, the “Ishshah” that was derived from “Ishi.” In divine counsel the Father had given everything to the Son, but in His supremacy as the glorified Man and image of the invisible God, it was not good for man to be alone, a companion must be found for him. An Eve must be found for the last Adam.
But if Christ is to have His church, He must tread a path of humiliation, sorrow and gloom. He must go into a sleep infinitely deeper than that into which Adam went to get his bride. Hatred and rejection at the hand of His rebellious creature must be endured, infernal forces must be encountered, devilish treachery, and miserable cowardice, must be manifested amongst His most intimate companions. He must be numbered with the transgressors, and be impaled upon a gibbet; and above all, He must suffer the abandonment of God. But to secure this pearl of great price, this treasure hid in the field, He will sell all that is His, yea, the giving up of His life will not be considered too great a sacrifice. He knew all that He must undergo to make this treasure His own. Before ever He left the encircling light, in which the Godhead shrouds Himself from the gaze of the creature, He was well aware of all the sorrows that He must suffer in order that to this pearl of great price He might have undisputed right.
But His love will bear Him up above all the evils He may have to encounter. He loved the church, and gave Himself for it. And it is this church that is nearest to Him, and dearest to Him. Of all that is His in the creation, nothing is so precious to Him, for it is part of Himself. His thorn-crowned head, His pierced hands and feet and side, proclaim in our ears and in the ears of the universe His great love for her. The darkness, the forsaking, the death, the burial—all publish with one voice His unfathomable love. Truly the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.
Having given Himself for it, He devotes Himself to it. He sanctifies it, purifying it by the washing of water by the word, His object being to present it to Himself glorious, having no spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, for all these things speak of the old creation, of which the church is no part. No spot of defilement or wrinkle of decay shall ever be found upon her. She shall abide for ever in all the beauty and youthful vigour of her bridal day. May the power of this be ever in our souls.
All saints upon earth in this dispensation are in this unity, however it may be practically denied. Ostensibly there seems to be a great variety of bodies in Christendom, with believers and unbelievers inseparably mixed up together, but in Christ the one body remains today as ever, incorruptible, undefiled and perfect. There is no change whatever in this great mystery. But if this truth were in power in the hearts of the saints of God, we should be preserved from the sects and parties, which are the result of a fearful allowance of the flesh. The knowledge that believers are brethren together in the family of God, in the same relationship to God as Christ, and in intimacy with the Father and the Son, might have kept them together as one flock; but when we have the truth of the one body added to this, divisions are seen to be horrible wickedness. In faithfulness to Him who is holy and true, evil must be always refused, but, alas, we have seen evil where nothing but good exists, and separation from evil has been sometimes made the excuse for getting rid of certain of the true people of God. God and the word of His grace are sufficient for us in the worst days that can come upon us, but who cares for either, once the will of the flesh is aroused?
On the ground of the one body, we come together to eat the supper of our Lord, for it is the only revealed ground upon which Jew and Gentile could be together in unity. The one loaf on the table represents the body of the Lord, which was given for us; and in partaking of it we become identified with it, and though many we are one body in Christ (1 Cor. 10). Therefore to refuse the supper to a member of that body (unless he can be rightly charged with wickedness) is to practically disown the unity of the body, and to break the unity of the Spirit, by whose indwelling that body has been formed. May we be preserved from this evil.
Paul alone speaks of the body and the bride in this way. John speaks of the bride, the Lamb’s wife; but there it is the saints in a governmental aspect, and as that which was formed by the ministry of the twelve apostles. Their names are in the twelve foundations of the wall (Rev. 21:14). In connection with the city Paul has no mention He was not of the twelve. But, as we have seen, the mystery which was hid in God, and for which Christ is said to have given Himself, and which is His body, is altogether by the ministry of Paul: none of the other apostles mention it. I am not denying that it is composed of the same saints. I only speak of it in the way in which the Spirit presents it as the work of the twelve; and the absence of the name of Paul in the foundations is the clearest proof of the difference between the mystery and the city.
I do not see that I should say more. The mystery is great, as everything is great that is of God. But it has been made known, and the terms in which it has been revealed are simple enough. The thing for us is to get on our knees before the Father, who is the Author of all those secrets of infinite wisdom, and to cry to Him that in this day of confusion, in which we require to be well fortified with divine truth, to give us to understand the greatness and the glory of that which was in His heart when He laid the foundation of the earth, and which He hid from every creature until the time had come when He in His great wisdom deemed it necessary to bring the great secret to light, that His people’s hearts might be filled with the greatness of it, and that principalities and powers in the heavenlies might know His all-varied wisdom. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.