2 Corinthians 5:14-18
The reader will notice that each of these passages of scripture presents the love of Christ to us, and each in a way different to the others; and I desire, the Lord helping me, to invite attention to the peculiar way in which that love is brought before our hearts in each place; and may it please God to make it a greater reality to both writer and reader. What we need, above everything else, is to have our hearts continually in the blessed sense of the love of that glorified Christ, who appears in the presence of God for us; and it surely is as we get to know something of the reality and greatness of that love, that we become more drawn away from things here to Himself where He is, and that He, who is eventually to fill all things, is made to fill completely the vision of our souls. It was this Person, known in the might of His eternal love, that enabled the apostle Paul to pass through this world entirely independent of every earthly resource. He says, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
I think we have in 2 Corinthians 5 the love of the SAVIOUR (though I am not very satisfied with that heading, but it will be useful put in this way, to distinguish it from the others), in Romans 8 the love of the PRIEST, and in Ephesians 3 the love of the HEAD, or HUSBAND of the church. I need not say it is the same blessed Person in each case.
The apostle had been speaking (2 Cor. 5) about the judgment seat of Christ, as that tribunal before which we all must appear, and where our whole responsible career must be examined into in the presence of the Judge. This possesses no terror for believers, who have boldness for that day, for Christ is already our righteousness, and we are taken into favour in Him, sharers in all that love of which He is the Object, and when that day comes we will be in bodies of glory like Him. But what of those who must appear there naked, destitute of righteousness, exposed without shelter to the wrath of which they are heirs? The apostle thinks of such, as that throne comes before his vision, and, with reference to them, he calls it the terror of the Lord. It was no terror to him, but to those appearing there Christless. This the apostle could use, in his preaching, to awaken up the consciences of his hearers. He reasoned before Felix of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come till the Roman governor trembled. There does not appear any lasting effect to have followed, because where the goodness of God is not apprehended there will be no turning to Him. Still men must be warned of the danger to which they are exposed, and the apostle says, “knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”
But it was a power mightier than human philanthropy that had laid hold upon the apostle and made him the greatest labourer in the glad tidings the world has ever seen. And he tells us what it was. He says, “The love of Christ constraineth us.”
Christ had set His heart upon the sons of men. His delights were with them. For this reason He became a man, remains a man, and will remain such forever. He has sought companions among men, and not among the angels. But not only in becoming a Man is His love for men seen, but in His humiliation and death. In love to men He laid down His life. He went into death. And why?
Simply because all were there. Death lay upon men as the righteous judgment of God, and while that judgment lay upon men, life was out of the question for them. But the love of Christ led Him to seek among those who lay in death those who would be with Him forever, He desired to become to men the Tree, the Fountain of life. He could not take this place until the judgment was removed. He came into death to remove it, and the apostle reasons that if One died for all then all were dead; all were under that judgment. He came into death, where all men were. He came in the greatness of His love, and lifted up upon the cross He bore the curse, and condemnation under which men lay. He died for all. One judgment lay upon all. There was not any peculiar judgment attached to one that was not the portion of the others. There was not one kind of judgment upon the reader and another kind upon the writer. By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Rom. 5:12). This Christ in love bore as the penalty of sin. He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again. Now in resurrection He is the fountain of life for all.
Around the tree of life in Eden, when man had sinned, there was placed cherubim and a flaming sword. The way to life was barred, and well it was, or how could man have been saved from the consequences of his sin? But the Tree of Life that is in the midst of the Paradise of God is accessible to all. He is Last Adam, a life-giving Spirit. The righteous judgment of God has been borne and the way of life laid open to all. This is testified of in the gospel.
The gospel is not merely something about Christ. It is Himself. “Whom we preach” (Col. 1:28), the apostle says. He also says, “When it pleased God . . . to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him (‘announce Him as glad tidings.’—N.Tr.) among the heathen” (Gal. 1:15-16). It is not merely that things about Christ are the gospel. He is it Himself. The gospel sets forth Christ as the perfect answer to every need that could possibly arise in conscience or heart.
Suppose a poor sinner feels he needs the grace of God, where is he to find it but in Christ? If I want righteousness, where am I to find it but in Him? He is become unto us righteousness. It is perfectly true that if I believe, it is counted to me, but Christ Himself is it. He was delivered for my offences and raised again for my justification. It is not that His resurrection is the receipt that my debt is paid, but in resurrection He Himself is my righteousness.
But if I want eternal life, where is this to be found but in Himself. He is our Life. He is both my Righteousness and my Life. And righteousness and life are presented in Him to all; for He has died for all. He says to the Jews, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” He says to the Samaritan woman, “Thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” The way He brings into life is by the communication of the Spirit. He gives the Spirit to those who believe on Him, and then we begin to learn something of the blessedness and reality of that love that was expressed to us in His death; and we begin to love the One who so loved us, and in this way we live to Him. When we begin to love, we begin to live; and not till then, I am persuaded.
Our love is precious to Him. He died to secure it. In exchange for the love of our hearts He would not take all the substance of our houses. My reader, it is not your purse, or your brains, or the labour of your hands He wants, but the love of your heart. He has given everything for it.
Then it is to Him He would have us live. That is, those of us who do live, those who have come under the influence of His life-giving power. Not so much for Him as to Him. He did not die that we might become great servants of His, but that He might have us all to Himself; that we might be to him, and not to another; that He might be, in our eyes, chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. I think you get the desire to live for Him in Martha, and the desire to live to Him in Mary. The former had but a poor apprehension of who He was, and of his mission to earth. She thought that He needed the labour of her hands, that He was here to be ministered unto. Mary knew better. She knew that He had come to minister, and that all the good and blessedness of heaven was there in His Person, and there for her. Martha said in her heart, “He needs my service,” and Mary’s inactivity was a source of irritation to her. Mary said in her heart, “He needs me,” and placing herself at His feet she hearkened to His word, and when the time for service came she served as none other could. She knew His mind better than her sister, better than His eleven faithful followers, and better than any soul upon earth, and her ways were more pleasing to Him than the way of His most intimate followers. And no one, except her Lord Himself, was so misunderstood, and to all but Him she was a mystery. Her inactivity moved her sister to complain, and her activity (Matt. 26) caused His disciples to become indignant. But He who needed nothing had come from heaven to win the affections of her heart, and she was determined that whatever men might say or whatever shape her actions might take in their eyes, He would have what He sought after.
The more we live to Him the better qualified we will be to live for Him; and let not my reader think that time spent alone in His presence, in heart occupation with Himself, is lost. It is great gain to us, for it is there we get acquainted with the mind and will of God, and gather strength for the evil day; and above all, it gratifies His heart; it is that for which He gave up His life.
In this vast world of death, where death has passed upon all, how blessed is the fact that there are those who live, and live to Him who died for them and rose again! They live by the life-giving power that is in Himself. They have passed by the might of His quickening influence out of death into life. They no longer live to themselves, to the satisfaction of their natural desires and carnal appetites. In the power of the Spirit the deeds of the body are mortified, and they live to Him who died for them and rose again.
Understanding this, what follows presents no difficulty. Henceforth know we no man after the flesh. All that order has passed away for us in the death of Christ; for even if we have known Him after the flesh, as the Jews did, and hoped in Him as come of the seed of David, henceforth know we Him no more. We have now the sphere of life before our souls, and Christ is there. Flesh is under death. We do not take account of the dead. We shall have to do with flesh and blood a long as we are here on earth, but death is upon all, and we know it, and links imperishable have been formed in the resurrection sphere, where death is unknown. Another Man, another world, another creation, and another order of things come powerfully before the soul, and the cords that bound us to the earthly order fall off, and for us that old order is over forever.
Therefore, if any man be in Christ there is a new creation. Everything in that new creation derives from Christ, and lives in the power of His life; and everything is of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. Sin cannot enter there. Death is unknown. Man and his weaknesses, and infirmities, and decay have no place there. Everything subsists by the power of God, and that creation thrills with the life of the Last Adam; and there God has His perfect satisfaction and eternal rest. Sin, death, hatred, strife, pain, poverty, want, and woe are unknown in that region, for old things are passed away. Righteousness, life, love, peace, and everlasting satisfaction there hold sway, for all things are become new, and we are called to the present enjoyment of these things, and the way to this is open.
May the blessed Lord awake our hearts to the reality of His mighty love, and give us to know what is the only thing that will satisfy that love, even that we might draw near to Him, not as those who think they can be of great service to Him, but as those who would render to Him that for which He died, our hearts’ affections.
But the love of Christ has not come to an end in His death for us. This would of necessity be the case with regard to all the activities of the love of an earthly friend. It is not so as to Christ. His death has been the full and blessed expression of that love, but the same love fills His heart toward His own at this present moment as was brought to light in His death. We have not to mourn One who died for us in the greatness of His affection, and is now no more, for the One who gave up His life for us lives for is in the presence of God. He appears there on our behalf, with the object that we are to be with Him forever in the place where He is.
Look, for a moment, at Romans 8:28. There you get a wonderful class of men. They are designated as “them that love God,” “them who are the called according to His purpose.” Then in verse 29 you get His purpose concerning such; they are to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be “the Firstborn among many brethren.” And He it was who was to lead such into the purpose of God (Heb. 2:10).
“Thou gavest us in eternal love
To Him, to bring us home to Thee.”
He came to accomplish the will of God, and to bring the many sons to glory.
The first thing He does we have been considering. He removes the judgment under which they lay, and through death opens a way out of death and bondage, thus destroying the power of Satan; as Moses divided the Red Sea and opened a way out of Pharaoh’s dominions for the sons of Israel.
But more than this, He has gone every foot of the way which we are called upon to travel; felt every sorrow that could be felt by our hearts; was in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin; this He knows nothing about by experience.
Moreover, He knows us perfectly, and this is very necessary if He is to take entire charge of us. He knows our individual tendencies, and the way each of us, because of what we are, would be liable to take; and so He can anticipate our every movement, and come in with timely succour, and make intercession for us that we may not perish.
You remember how at the last supper He let the disciples know that Satan had desired to have them, that he might sift them as wheat. But He called, in a very special way, the attention of Simon to the fact (Luke 22:81), because on account of his confidence in himself, he was in more danger than the others. “But,” He adds, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” I cannot doubt He prayed for all, but Simon, in a special way, is apprised of the fact, for his fall was to be very grievous, and was great danger of him losing faith in God. This the Lord intercedes against.
Now think of this. We are to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, to be with Him where He is; He the centre of the throng; anointed with the oil of gladness above His companions, but we to be His companions, for His glory. Next He has undertaken the task of bringing us there. To this end it was necessary that He should go to the very bottom of our dreadful condition, under all the judgment that lay upon us, and also that He might be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and tread the whole path of faith in dependence upon God. All this He has done. But He has also entered into heaven itself. The One who has been at the bottom has gone to the top, and entered inside the veil as our Forerunner, having won the place for us. He appears in the presence of God for us, holds that place for us, and from thence ministers to us every bit of grace and strength needed by us for the journey across the wilderness.
He can carry us through. He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him. And this does not mean that He is able to save the greatest sinner that comes to Him, but that He is able to save the saint to the very uttermost; whatever the circumstance he may be called to pass through, whatever he may meet on the way, how ever great the peril he may be in, there can be no question as to the final result, for He ever liveth to make intercession for us, and it is the privilege of each of us to be able to say—
“’Tis as sure as the love I adore
I have nothing to fear or to dread.”
But, added to all this, it is our present privilege to draw near to God. His sacrifice has perfected our consciences; we know that there can be no imputation of sin, and the love of God has reached our hearts in the power of the Spirit given to us by Christ, and we are given to know that the presence of God is our home, our rightful and eternal place, and the place where we are most welcome, for it is the delight of God to have us there, and we draw near, and get a foretaste of that rest to which we are going, and breathe the atmosphere of that scene of holy love. And it is the joy of the heart of Christ to lead us there.
In 2 Corinthians 5 we are brought to reconciliation. Old things passed away, and all things become new, and all these new things of God, who has reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ. And in Romans 5:11 we, who have received the reconciliation, make our boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And from verse 31 of Romans 8 we find the apostle leading the boast of the saints.
He says, “What shall we then say to these things?” The things are the grace and mercy which he has been unfolding from chapter 3:21, up till the end of chapter 8:30; beginning with the free gift of righteousness, held out to all, until the justified are glorified; and in all God is seen to be for us. So the apostle asks, what is to be the reply of our hearts to this revelation of the grace of God. What are we to say to these things? Well, he says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” He will boast in God. And five times he, as it were, blows the trumpet, and flings out the challenge; but there is no one to answer the boasting of the apostle, or contest the victory of God.
“WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?” No one in the universe with the least hope of success. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, HOW SHALL HE NOT WITH HIM ALSO FREELY GIVE US ALL THINGS?” It is not, how shall He? It is, “how shall He not?” But every voice is dumb. “WHO SHALL LAY ANYTHING TO THE CHARGE OF GOD’S ELECT?” Silence throughout the universe. No voice replies. It is God that justifieth, “WHO IS HE THAT CONDEMNETH?” But the accuser hides himself, and there is no response to the challenge.
These four challenges of the apostle refer more to the way in which God has come out to us, and except the second, which refers to the inheritance, do not go farther than our justification. But whom He justified, them He also glorified. So the powers of darkness must once more be waked up to hear their once feeble captive, now strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, boast himself in God.
“WHO SHALL SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF CHRIST?” He who brought the love of God to us will not fail to bring us to the home of love. He has not only the ability to do it, but His love is as great as His power. He has died for us. This is where we have learned His love. But He has broken the power of death; He is risen, and is even now at the right hand of God; and in the power of that love, of which His death has been the expression, He makes intercession for us.
The roll of enemies is called. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword. Can any one of these, or all of them together, separate us from the love of Christ? They may separate you from the love of relative and friend, and even to a great extent from the love of the brethren. Paul has to say that all in Asia had turned from him, and could only mention one who was not ashamed of his chain. And, he says, “at my first answer (before Nero) no man stood with me, but all men forsook me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Persecution had separated him from every friend he had about him at the time. But what about the love of Christ? Did it fail? “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengtheneth me.” “And,” he adds, “the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom; to whom be glory forever and ever.”
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”. “Tribulation will work patience, and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3). So that instead of these difficulties, through which we have to pass, coming in between us and the love of Christ, they are, through His love, very profitable to us, because they help to break the cords that bind us to flesh and blood, and His great love draws us to His side, where there is fullness of joy, and pleasures for evermore.
But the apostle rises to the full height of his boasting in verses 28 and 39. “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It has been brought to us in Him, expressed in His death for us, and in Him it is our portion forever.
And this quenchless, fathomless love of Christ is what is set before our hearts as our great and present privilege to enjoy. It surpasses knowledge; but it is to be known. It is to our souls like the glorious sun to our bodies. In its beams we find warmth and comfort. But its immensity no finite heart can take in. How free and sovereign! It found us in death, darkness, and distance, presenting no redeeming feature, and with nothing loveable about us; yet He loved us. It was only through wrath, and curse, and death, we could be reached, yet He came where we were, bore in His own body the guilt of our dreadful condition, and where the waves and billows of fiery judgment rolled over Him, He grappled with the authorities of darkness, and destroying all their power, came back from the field of carnage with all the mighty love of His heart beating for His own as strong and fervently as ever. Truly, “many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”
How good and blessed it is to know this love, to know that we are the objects of it, to view it in all its faithfulness, and eternal unchangeable character; to see it poured out in death for us, to follow it to the right hand of God, and hear it in all its heavenly might making intercession for us! And how necessary also it is that we should know it, that it should be the continual light of our hearts, if we are to be here according to the mind of God! To this end the apostle bows his knees before the Father.
He had been contrasting in the latter part of chapter 2 the privileges into which the Gentiles had been brought in Christ, with their former condition as “Gentiles in the flesh.” At that time they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” But “NOW IN CHRIST JESUS” they were “made nigh by the blood of Christ,” and through Him both Jew and Gentile had “access by one Spirit to the Father.” They were also “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;” part also of that building which is “growing unto an holy temple in the Lord;” and in the Lord they were also “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Chapter 3 unfolds the only ground upon which such privileges were possible to the Gentiles, and that ground is the mystery of “the Christ,” where there is not Jew and Greek, bond and free, male and female; but Christ is everything, and in all—one new man.
Then he bows his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named. Every family, and I suppose there are many, has its distinctive privilege. The elect before the flood, the patriarchs, the Jewish believers of the past dispensation, those saved at the present time, and those after the church has left the earth, and I suppose angels may also be included; but each one of these families is named of the Father, because the name of Father gives the full revelation of God. But the desire of the apostle is not that we should know so very much about the families of other dispensation; as that we should know the peculiar privilege which belongs to the family of which we Gentiles form part.
The apostle is on his knees for these Gentiles. He could preach to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. He could rebuke them, warn them, write to them, exhort them, weep over them, and rejoice on their account; but when all this was done, when he had set before thorn, so far as words could do it, the glories to which they were called, he could do no more, he could not enable them to take in a simple idea, he has recourse to prayer.
But when I see the blessed apostle so eager after the advancement of my soul in these eternal things, and when I discover, by his attitude here, that he did not consider his writings sufficient for the accomplishment of the object he had before him, I may well be aroused to be anxious about myself, and may gather that if his writing was not in itself enough, my reading would not be enough; and that while I require to read, or he would have had no need to write, in addition to this, upon my knees before the Father is my place, if these things are to have in entrance into my soul.
He prays the Father to grant them, “according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” The reason He says “inner man” is because the outer man has nothing to do with these things. The outer man has to do with visible things, the inner man with things invisible, things within the veil. We look at these, the apostle says (2 Cor. 4:18), and he rejoices that “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” This is the obverse of what we have been considering in 2 Corinthians 5 and Romans 8. In those passages it is more His love to us, we in His heart; here it is He in ours. But it is Himself in connection with that vast sphere of glory of which He is Head and Centre. It is Himself in His own circle of things.
“That ye, being rooted and grounded in love.” Having our roots deep in the love of God so as to draw all our sap and nourishment from that soil, that we may be ever in healthy vigour of soul, and “grounded,” or rather founded, in love. Having a firm base to rest upon, like a building firmly established upon a rock, against which wind and wave might beat in vain. Like a tree full of sap and flourishing, and like a strong castle that becomes part of the rock upon which it is established, steadfast and immovable. Thus rooted and founded we may be able to apprehend with all saints what is “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the vast inheritance of God, which Christ is to fill, and to know “the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This is what the apostle pleads for on bended knees before the Father. He is in the mind of God about His assembly. He desires that it should be the vessel which should fill the universe with the light of God, that all that God is, should be displayed by that vessel, which is the body and bride of Christ. We read that in Christ all fullness was pleased to dwell; but how very wonderful that all fullness should be found in the church! To this end God is at present at work, by the power of the Spirit, in the hearts of His people, setting aside all that is of the old creation in them and forming them after Himself in divine love.
Saints are being formed in the divine nature. It is not the cultivation of what is good and pleasant in the flesh, but what comes solely from God. God is love, and love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. The source of his being is the love of God. It is not human affection, however right and proper this is, but it is God in the saints. So, he says, “If we love one another God dwelleth in us” (1 John 4:12).
This love, as we have seen, is expressed in death. “Hereby perceive we the love (of God is in italics and, does not give the thought), because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). Now, He says to His disciples (John 15:12), “This is My commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you.” It was the love that was expressed in Him that was to come out in His own. Therefore we read, “He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
It has been said that we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, if necessary. But it is always necessary. There is no self in love, and there is a great deal of self in us, which, to walk in love, must be sacrificed. “Walk in love as Christ also has loved us and has given Himself for us” (Eph. 5:2). In this world men guard themselves from the encroachment of their neighbours. Each cares for his own things, and self-interest is man’s first and supreme thought, for man is beyond all thought utterly selfish. But in the assembly of God it is to be the opposite of this, for there a man is no object to himself. His neighbours everything and himself nothing. There is to be no self-assertion, but continual self-surrender. If our hearts are filled with the love of Christ, we will not find it difficult. The commandment, that we should love one another, as He has loved us, will not be grievous to us.
But we need to be strengthened with might by the Father’s Spirit in the inner man, and have Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith; we, rooted and grounded in love, and the breadth, length, depth, and height of that vast goodly inheritance filling our vision; and above all, our hearts saturated with that knowledge—surpassing love of Christ; and if these things are so with us, we will most assuredly be filled unto all the fullness of God. It will be so in the world to come, for the city has the glory of God, but it is the mind of God that it should be so now, and we need not think it impossible, for He is able to do exceeding abundant above all that we ask or think. The extent of our asking, even the apostle has to say, comes very far short of what He is able to do (His willingness is not in question), and perhaps we think of greater things than we ever ask, but whatever we ask, or whatever we think, there is One able to do far exceedingly above all, and for eternity the assembly will declare His glory.
O that we might know that love better! We need little else. He died for us. He came where we were. The waters reached to His soul, but found His great love quenchless. He poured out His soul unto death that He might have us, that He might have the undisputed right to call us His own, and that we might live to Him. He makes intercession for us, in the power of that deathless love, to bring us to the place He has secured for us in the Father’s house. He will share all His glory with us. He, the Last Adam, will have His Eve with Him, when not only will the morning stars sing together, and the sons of God shout for joy, but when the pulses of that vast realm of fadeless glory, in everlasting gladness, shall beat with the holy love of God, and when His spotless bride, His companion forever, shall rest with unspeakable joy in that love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.