1. The Desire of the Heart of God
In this world everything is full of labour. The journey through it is a sore travail given by God to the sons of men, and in the end for their eternal profit, if they will commit the welfare of their souls and the disposal of their circumstances to Him, whose omniscient eye and almighty hand are over everything that He has made. The things that befall us on the way, the evils that beset us, the woes that come upon us with overwhelming power, the bewildering tangle of untoward events, the cruel thorns that seem to pierce through the centre of the very soul, have the tendency of giving us the impression that not in the whole universe exists one with love enough and power sufficient to minister to us the mercies that we feel we require. We are liable to think that no one cares for us, or that no one can render to us either sympathy or help. But all the exercises that we are thus passed through are, as I have said, for our eternal profit, if we commit the keeping of our souls to God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19).
We all look for rest, for that is the outlook of every human being. But not in this present order of things can it be found. Arise, depart, says our God, this is not your rest: it is polluted (Mic. 2:10). What rest could there be found in a world of rebellion against God? Could a God of infinite holiness create rest for His creature in a corrupted creation? or can He allow such a state of things to go on for ever? Not if He is a God of infinite goodness and love. Before He finds His rest we cannot expect to find ours, and He cannot rest in a scene where there is the slightest speck of defilement, or of anything contrary to Himself. For this we can be profoundly thankful.
Again, the idea man has of rest is a state of indolence, and the reason of this is because mental and bodily fatigue cry out for cessation of labour, and that on account of our present fallen and feeble condition. It is not pleasant to us to look forward to an eternity of ceaseless activity, for a third of our life seems necessary for the recuperation of our wasted energies. But no sense of weariness shall ever enter the bodies of the glorified. Toil shall have for ever come to an end, an endless day of the activities of divine love is all the employment in which we shall be engaged, and there shall be no night during which these activities shall be quiescent. Here we accomplish as hirelings our day, but—
“There only to adore
My soul its strength may find,
Its life, its joy for evermore,
By sight nor sense defined.”
The rest of God is coming. Men have made Him serve with their sins, and wearied Him with their iniquities (Isa. 48:24). But He had His own counsels to fulfil, counsels that were formed before the foundation of the world, counsels for the blessing of men, counsels of eternal love, which could not be allowed to fall to the ground unaccomplished, let the fulfilment of them cost whatever it might.
Man was a sinner under death, of which the devil had the might and wielded it over the whole human race, to keep them in terror of having in any way to do with God. Therefore it was necessary, that propitiation should be made for sins, death and the might of the devil both annulled. This could only be effected by the intervention of God on our behalf, for we were helpless to bring about deliverance for ourselves. But then if God intervene He must do it in righteousness. He cannot say, I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses I will forgive their sins, so that if they cannot go on with Me in My uprightness I will go on with them in their crookedness; if they cannot accommodate themselves to Me in My abhorrence of evil, I will go on with them in their abhorrence of good. The very thought of such a conclusion on the part of God would be akin to blasphemy. He cannot deny Himself. He must be true to His own nature.
Our confidence in Him lies in the fact that He is righteous, holy and true, and that He cannot deny Himself. Whatever may be the consequence of the entrance of sin into His universe, whatever it may cost Him to deal with it, if He is to show grace to His erring creatures who have become its slaves, He cannot change, He must deal with it in harmony with His nature and character. He may desire to show grace to the creatures whom He made in His own image and likeness, but it must be shown in strict righteousness, holiness and truth. In showing grace He will not convey any wrong impressions to His creatures in either a fallen or unfallen state, and grace He indeed desires to show.
This involved, not only that His Son should become man, should come and speak to us in grace, should reveal God to us in His true character, but that He should lay a foundation on the ground of which God could righteously present Himself to us as a Saviour, and set us in true and everlasting relations with Himself. But it may be profitable for both writer and reader to view the various ways in which this work appears on the page of inspiration. In 1 Timothy 2 this work of Christ is presented to us as an answer to that which we read of as
THE DESIRE OF THE HEART OF GOD
His desire is, “that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, prayer is to be offered for all men. But kings and all who are placed in authority are specially mentioned. And, I suppose, the reason for this is that those who exercise authority in this world can, if permitted of God, make the outgoing of the gospel, which is God’s power to salvation of believers, a very difficult matter.
In the preaching of the gospel all men are in view, for God is no respecter of persons; the gospel presents Him in His true and gracious character to all. The preacher has the whole world before him; and like the apostles labours “to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1:28), and that for the simple and blessed reason “that God would have all men to be saved.” The preacher is to be under the influence of the Spirit of God.
Therefore, we find the eternal Son here in flesh as Mediator between God and men. Not an angel come near to us to terrify us with his greatness and might, yet utterly unable to lay his hand upon God. “One was necessary who might lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:33). This was the kind of Mediator necessary for such a situation as had arisen between God and man. Speaking of God the patriarch Job says: “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 9:33-34). The type of the true Daysman comes to light in the person of Elihu, who 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 33:6-7).
Elihu was a man like Job, but he had wisdom given him of God sufficient to enable him to probe into the depths of the malady from which Job suffered, and to show him something of the righteousness of the One to whom he was imputing unfair and harsh dealings. Elihu speaks of the righteousness of God, and out of the whirlwind Jehovah speaks of His power; but both the righteousness and power of God are exhibited in the true Mediator, and also the love of His heart which is the spring of all His activities in His ways with us.
The true Mediator has been here, and here presenting the rights of God where the rights of the fallen creature man were ceaselessly forced upon the ears of a selfish world, He had little to say on man’s behalf, but much to say on behalf of God. He ascribed righteousness to man’s Maker (Job 36:1-2). He will not have it that God was indifferent to the ruin and to the danger in which His rebel creatures were on account of their sins. He says: “He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). He also says: “Neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me” (John 8:42). He tells Pilate: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth” (John 18:27).
God is set forth in Him in His true character, and in infinite grace to men, and this grace is fully exhibited in His giving Himself a ransom for all; and man is manifested in the truth of his fallen condition as God’s inveterate foe who utterly refuses that grace, and who in the pride of his rebellious heart refuses to be indebted to God for eternal happiness. Poor blind and stupid mortal under the dominion of sin, and liable to a judgment from which there is but one way of escape, refuses that way of escape when it is brought within his reach, and can be secured by simple faith in the One who is held out as Saviour for all! The folly of such a line of action is apparent but difficult to understand.
This grace flows through righteousness, for the ransom of the Mediator has dug a righteous channel from the heart of the beneficent Creator to the heart of the most disreputable sinner; for God desires that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. By that ransom the righteousness, holiness, truth and majesty of God have been glorified, and that righteousness that was once against men is in favour of all who believe on His Son.
But it is not only that the Mediator was man. This He truly was. Woe to the mortal who denies it! He could be no Saviour for mankind if He were not; for how could the judgment that rested on us have been borne by Him, had He not come in flesh and given it for the life of the world? His terror did not make men afraid, neither was His hand heavy upon them. Rather was the hand of God heavy on Him in judgment, that it might be light on us in the blessing of eternal life and love.
But not only was He man, a true man, Son of David, the perfect witness of the truth and manifestation of the righteous character of God, but also was He the Son of God with power despoiling death and defeating him who had the might of death, and delivering us from the bondage under which we lay on account of its fear. Thus not only was the righteousness of God borne witness to, but the power of God also, the love of His heart too as the source of that love that was the spring of that glorious intervention on our behalf.
Therefore, not only are we saved by this grace, but in His intervention on our behalf all that He is in righteousness, power and love has been exhibited, and we have gained the knowledge of the truth. All that God was—His righteousness, holiness, intolerance of sin, His love to His erring creature man—came to light in that hour in which the rebel will of the child of Adam, acted on by the fell deceiver of the human race, found no obstacle, no restraining hand against its foaming tide of God-hatingness that surged around the man-rejected and God-forsaken Nazarene. But there and then was God glorified in and by Man, more than He ever had been by man dishonoured.
The sending of His Son to accomplish this stupendous work is the eternal witness of the favourable disposition of God to His human enemy; and the Son’s surrender of Himself that a way of salvation might be opened up for all is the mighty witness that in all things He and the Father are one.
2. The Love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14)
In 2 Corinthians 5 we are reminded of the judgment-seat of Christ, and of His love, and both have a necessary place in the ordering of our walk down here in this world. That we do not belong to the world, that we are not of it, that we have not, as children of God, derived our moral and spiritual existence from it, is directly declared to us by our blessed Lord Himself, but He has also permitted us to hear Him setting us in this holy character before the Father (John 15:19; 17:16), “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” are His own words.
Everyone must spend his eternity in the place for which he is fitted. He could not be in any other place, for God must have order in His own creation. Of the holy city, new Jerusalem, it is said: “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie” (Rev. 21:27), and this shall be equally true of the whole redeemed creation (Rev. 21:1-8). Every one shall in the end find his own proper place, and shall know that it is the only place in which he rightly could be, for it is the only place to which he is morally fitted. Not only Judas (Acts 1:25) but every other must go to his own place.
Believers are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). There was no place suitable for the first Adam in his sinless state but the Garden of Eden, and there he was placed. There is no place suitable for the last Adam but a place far above all heavens in the glory of God, and that is the place He occupies. If there is no place for that prime rebel the devil but the lake of fire, there is no other place for any of his seed. No lost sinner will be happy in hell, but neither would he be happy in heaven if it were possible for him to be there. Happiness cannot be his portion, because he has lost God, and by his godless life has fitted him himself for a godless and woeful eternity.
But God is bringing many sons to glory, those in whom He has already done a work in view of the destiny to which He has called them, and to whom He has given His Spirit as earnest or pledge. This makes us always confident, well knowing that to be at home in this mortal body means that we are absent from the Lord, walking by faith, not by sight; but to be absent from the body would be present with the Lord. It cannot be otherwise, for He that has wrought us for this selfsame thing is God; though, of course, our proper hope is to have this mortal, which is the present condition in which our bodies are, swallowed up of life.
Knowing all this, and having our affections formed by the revelation made to our souls, we labour, whether present or absent, to be agreeable to Him, and that in view of being manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or evil. This has no terror for us, for we know that then we shall be in the likeness of Christ, the Judge, who shall sit on that throne.
But as to sinners who are still without Christ, how shall such stand there? Is it not a terrible, the most terrible, subject that any human being was ever called upon to contemplate—a sinner in his sins before a righteous, holy, sin-hating and omnipotent Judge, there to receive for the things done in the body, the full penalty demanded by a career of rebellion against God! “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade men.” Felix, the Roman governor, became filled with fear as Paul stood before him and reasoned of righteousness and temperance and judgment to come; but whether the effect was lasting we are not told. How fearful a thing it is for a sinner in His sins to fall into the hands of the living God, in the day in which God will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make known the counsels of hearts!
But, however, the fact of all having to give account to God may have been used of the Lord to influence him in his gospel testimony, it was not the mere need of men nor the fearful danger to which they were liable that constrained him to go out with the glad tidings to the nations. He says: “The love of Christ constrains us, having judged this, that one died for all, then all have died: and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who died for them, and has been raised.” How fully justified are His words, speaking as the Man of God’s counsels, as recorded in Proverbs 8, where He says: “I was set up from the beginning, or ever the earth was . . . and my delights were with the sons of men” (vv. 23-31).
Not angels but men were the creatures that occupied the mind of the Creator, with such the counsels of love were engaged. In the intervention of God on behalf of lost sinners, angels are passed by. Fallen though many of them be they do not seem to be the subjects of redeeming grace. Though man was of a lower order in creation than these spiritual and deathless beings, yet only with man was His eternal mind engaged. Even when the head of our race had fallen away from Him and lay under death and Satan’s power, yet with the ruined and guilty race did He spend thousands of years, cultivating, disciplining, giving laws, sending prophets, though the laws were broken and the prophets persecuted, ill-treated and slain. Like the wild ass, man scorned the voice of the driver.
But this persistent rejection of sovereign mercy, could not drive back the love into the heart of Him whose delights were with the sons of men. It was a far cry from the form of God to the form of a servant, from the light unapproachable to the darkness in which lay a lost world, but constrained by the mighty love of His heart He would take the journey. In that descent myriads of angelic beings must be passed by, but not for an instant must they detain Him. The effects of His desire lay far beneath even them. He will assume the figure of a man. He will take part in flesh and blood. He will become a man among men. He will enter into their circumstances, not the circumstances of innocent Eden, but those found in a world away from God—hunger, thirst, bodily weakness, the reproach of those who neither appreciated nor understood the only righteous way that could be taken for their salvation; all these sorrows He must know. With one exception He must be in all things tempted like as we are; He could not know experimentally what it was for the creature to be drawn away of his own lust and enticed, for He was infinitely holy. He knew no sin.
And it was not to innocent man He came, but to man upon whom on account of sin death lay. He died for all because all were dead. Death lay upon man the first moment he sinned, and death lies upon all his posterity from the hour of their birth. “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). It is not that death has actually taken place, but it is certain to take place, unless by some special intervention of God, as in the case of Enoch and Elijah.
That men in their natural state are morally dead is also a solemn fact. He is alive to sin, to the pleasures of this world, to His own selfish ambitions, but to God he is dead. He does not know Him; he has no desire to become acquainted with Him. He does not hear His Word; that is, His Word does not carry conviction to heart or conscience as the voice of God; He does not hear it as God’s Word. God, the true, the living God, is not found in any one of his thoughts. He does not love God, nor can he love Him while death lies upon him as the penalty of his sins. Therefore he does not live to Him; for no one can live to God except in love of Him, for “God is love.”
He must be brought out of the state in which he is by nature. He must receive a new life and nature. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” and the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. Man must be born again. There must be a new beginning of existence with him as far as life and nature are concerned. He must be born of the Spirit, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The spiritual has come in in the risen Christ, flesh having been brought judicially to an end in the judgment of His cross.
The delights of living men are not with the dead. We bury our dead out of our sight. When death comes in all happy and joyful associations are completely severed, and where complacency existed abhorrence is found. We remember what they were, and with breaking hearts we recall the sweet companionship we had with them, but all those things which were the happy delights of life are at an end, and the dust must go back to dust, for the separation between the living and the dead is infinite.
And are there no great moral lessons to be learned from this? Why should we shrink from contact with the dead? And why should they be loathsome in our sight? In our natural state we are at enmity with God; yea, the carnal mind is enmity itself against God. Indeed, such is the moral gulf between man and God that nothing but mutual abhorrence can describe it (Zech. 2:8). The cross alone shows us the terrible nature of the fall, and of the abominable character of sinful flesh. When His beloved Son, in whom was all His delight, took our place as representing what we were, He was forsaken of God.
And yet His heart was set on the sons of men. Not that they were complacent in the state in which they were by nature. No, all that they were had to come under the righteous judgment of God. But He would bear that judgment. He would give Himself for all, in order that He might be able in righteousness to cause some to live to Him by the life-giving power that lay in Himself. He by His death on the cross gained the right to communicate His own life to those dead in sins.
“They which live”; that is, live by the life that is in Him, who died for them and rose again. The fountain of life is in Himself. He is the life of all who live according to God. He is the true God and eternal life (John 5:20). To live in the Adam life is to live to sin and to self, which is all moral death. To live in the life of Christ is to live in righteousness and love. And either in the one or in the other life all men live. Those who live in the life of flesh live to themselves, not to God. Those who live in Christ live to God, not to themselves. The former are dead while they live.
Therefore in Christ is new creation. Judicially the old order is gone in the cross, and the believer, viewed as in Christ, is of the new and heavenly order where all things are of God. In Christ there is not a trace of the old order, neither do we know men after the flesh. Our eternal relations are with all who are in the life of Him who died for us and rose again. For those in the last Adam the old things are past away, and all things are become new. And all those new things are of the God who has reconciled us to Himself by Him who knew not sin, but was made sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Surely our everlasting delight shall be in that love that brought Him down from the Father into this world, and also into death itself to cause us to live to Him in the love created in our hearts by the knowledge of His love which, after all, is knowledge-surpassing! May we increase in acquaintance with it.
3. The Good Shepherd
In John 10 Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and gives His life for the sheep. His death is not viewed here in the aspect in which it is viewed in 1 Timothy 2, where in answer to the desire of the heart of God, who would have all men to be saved, He took up a mediatorial character and gave Himself a ransom for all, thus opening a way of salvation for all. Nor is it set forth as in 2 Corinthians 5 as springing from the desire of His own heart, leading Him to take upon Himself the judgment, under which all lay, in order that He might righteously be able to cause men to live to Him by the power of life in Him risen from the dead.
Here it is His sheep that are before His heart and mind, the sheep that were given to Him of His Father. None else comes into view in this chapter. If the world will not have Him, He will have His sheep. He will see to it that not one of them shall be lost, He looks upon them as dear to the heart of the Father; and they were also dear to His heart. He was no hireling, the sheep were His own. He could part with His life of flesh and blood, but He could not part with them.
It is not a New Testament figure of speech. In the past dispensation Israel is viewed as the sheep of Jehovah (2 Sam. 24:17; Ps. 80:1; 23; 100). But this was only in a governmental way and as a nation on the earth. They were not as a people in vital relationship with Him. They were not all Israel that were of Israel (Rom. 9:6), nor were they all His sheep who were outwardly viewed as His. They were more ignorant of Him than the cattle of the field were of the one to whom they belonged, for the ox knew his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but of Him the mass of the people knew nothing (Isa. 1:3). The labour He had spent on that nation; the cultivation under which they for centuries had been, was proved to be in vain.
But in the midst of this evil generation there was a seed of God. There were many who were subjects of heavenly grace, who were born of God. Such have been here from the beginning, though never able to take the place of children of God until the Son had come and had died and risen, and the Holy Spirit had been given.
These were the true sheep of Jehovah, the generation of the righteous (Ps. 14:5). They were in the midst of a generation of the wicked one, and all together ostensibly, as I have said, Jehovah’s sheep, but many bearing none of the characteristics of such; children of God and children of Belial in the same fold; for the time had not come for God to manifest His children, nor could it come while flesh was under probation. Law, and not grace, was the principle of that dispensation.
Not until the true light came was everything brought into perfect manifestation, “In the person of Christ it shone in all its splendour, and then nothing could be hid. Everything came out in its true character, for everyone was seen in his relation to Christ. Everyone who had heard and learned of the Father came to Him. Those born of God received Him. His true sheep heard His voice, and responded to His call. Those who boasted of their descent from Abraham by natural generation paid no attention to Him; they received Him not.
He entered by the door into the sheepfold. Others who were nothing but thieves and robbers took their own violent ways of gaining entrance, they climbed up some other way. But they did not get access to the sheep; “The sheep did not hear them.” “He that enters in by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep.” The characteristics that marked the Shepherd and the way in which He would enter the fold had been pointed out in the prophetic word, and to Him the One who had charge of the door gave access to the sheep. His own sheep He called by name and led them out.
He did not enter into the fold to abide there along with the sheep, but to bring them out into salvation, liberty and green pastures. It was true that He was rejected, true that His sheep were cast out by those that took the place of shepherds. Nevertheless it was also true that this was His way of bringing His own out of bondage into the liberty of children of God. If they were cast out they were only cast out into companionship with Himself, for He was cast out before they were. If they were hated, He could say: “They hated Me before they hated YOU.” The leaders of the people cast out of the synagogue the man who had been born blind and who had received sight by the mercy of the Lord. But when cast out be found himself in the company of Christ, and in the place of rejection learned Him as the Son of God. The place of rejection is the place of light.
There were other sheep that were not of the Jewish fold, but they were Christ’s, and He says “Them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one flock, and one Shepherd.” These were Gentiles, and they were not to form a flock by themselves; but the sheep taken out of the Jewish fold, along with the Gentiles, were to form one flock, a new thing in the history of God’s dealings with the nations. It is a heavenly company that God owns upon earth during the day of Christ’s rejection.
But for His sheep He must lay down His life. David put his life in jeopardy for his father’s sheep. When in the plains of Bethlehem there came a lion and carried off a lamb of the flock, and he says “I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.” A bear also fell by his hand (1 Sam. 17). He was there to guard the sheep his father had committed to his care, and if it cost him his life he would be faithful. And later on, when the day came for God to manifest the man who was after His own heart: “He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds from following the ewes great with young. He brought him to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands” (Ps. 67:70-72).
And here we have the true David, the Man after the heart of the living God, in the midst of the sheep committed to Him by His Father, not only endangering His life in battle with the roaring lion, but laying down His life for them; for only by His death could the forces of evil be annulled. But by that death they have been rendered as powerless as though they never had existence. Death and him that had the might of death have been annulled (Heb. 2).
Then He is the good Shepherd who has brought His sheep into intimacy with Himself. He says: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine, as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep” (N.Tr.). This is the intimacy resulting from the divine life and nature in the power of the Spirit. This is fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). How unspeakable such a privilege is, to be brought out of immeasurable distance, and out of the blind night of our alienation from God, into the nearness of the Beloved of the Father and the brightness of the light of His revelation!
To the outward eye it would have seemed that by means of the cross men had deprived Him of life; and as to the wicked and murderous determination of His enemies it was unquestionably true that they were His murderers; but it was beyond the power of man to put Him to death. As to His life, He says: “No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father.” Surely it were impossible for the creature to kill the originator of life, or be spoken of as having done so, except in murderous intent. That men were guilty of His murder is most true, for they did all that lay in their power to accomplish it, but this would have completely failed had He not of His own will laid down His life. His murder could not have expiated our sins, He died for our sins, but not by the sinner’s hands. In His death the guilt of man was brought to light, for it was man’s wickedness condemned Him to the cross, but it was what went on between Him and God during the thick darkness that from the sixth until the ninth hour fell upon that awful scene, that made atonement for sin. Him, who knew no sin, was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
Here again instead of faith we have reasonings and divisions among the people: “Many of them said, He has a demon, and is mad: Why hear ye Him? Others said, These are not the words of him that has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” We cannot arrive at the truth by our reasonings. They appeal to Him: “How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” But what assurance would that give them? A man may say a great many fine things about himself, but on what ground is he to be believed? Had He not told them very plainly? And yet they had not believed. He had told them by the signs He had wrought under their eyes. He had done His works in His Father’s name, and this left them without excuse, naked in their sin (John 15:22).
But the truth must be told however terrible be the import of His words: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.” They prided themselves in being Abraham’s children: “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man.” It is easy to forget when one does not wish to remember. They had forgotten the brick kilns of Egypt, their oppression by Moab, Canaan, Midian and others during the time of the Judges. And even at the moment they were under the domination of Rome. Yet they could say they had never been in bondage to any man. What fools pride can make of its victims!
But the Lord points a power that had a moral domination over them, a power of which they had taken no account at all. He says: “Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin” (John 8). From this powerful oppressor no one but the Son could deliver them. They were sin’s slaves, and of their father the devil, and proved to be his children by the fact that they were murderers and apostates. Their moral links were all with hell; they had no moral link with Him. “Ye are not of My sheep.”
He says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand; I and My Father are one.” One in the unity of the Godhead, one in life and nature; one in essential Deity; one in purpose, mind and thought; one in their affection and desire for the sheep. Well may we all and each one of His ransomed people say: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores (revives) my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23). May both reader and writer meet there.
4. The Victory of God (1 Corinthians 15)
One might have supposed that the apostle would have begun his letter to the Corinthians with this subject rather than thus leaving it to the last. But we may be absolutely certain that the way of God in this matter which the servant is guided to take is the instruction and spiritual blessing of His saints. He makes no mistakes. His first word, His last, and every word that lies between, is in its rightful place, and the order in which the letter is to be read is in the order in which it has been given.
It was needful that he should bring the cross before those who still thought something of the human mind as contributory to the building up of the soul in the knowledge of God, and at this subtle and dangerous foe it was necessary that the first blow should be dealt. When the ignorance, the stupidity, the folly of the leaders of this world were only equalled by their boastful pride which was manifested in the light of the cross, then he could proceed to unfold to them the gift of the Spirit by whose means the hidden things of God’s eternal purpose could be made known to them, things that lay outside the limits of the circle in which the activities of the human mind was capable of moving either in innocence or guilt; also how everything was to be taken up by them according to the divine and perfect order of His house.
This subject that is called “The Gospel” is brought in at the end of the epistle, not in a revelatory way, as though they had never heard it before, but in a correctory manner, for though they had both heard and believed it they were being led away by the enemy from the vital truth of it. Hence, though he leads the Corinthians in the faith of their souls beyond all that had been communicated to them previously, he begins by reminding them of the simplest elements of the gracious intervention of God for their salvation.
It is “The gospel which I preached unto you.” He had nothing to alter as regards what he told them at the beginning, nor indeed is there anything today to be added to, or subtracted from, that which he preached among the nations. It was not to be elaborated upon by the fictitious growth of a higher civilization, nor was it to be embellished by the rhetoric of the leaders of the thoughtless crowd, but it was to be told in its own simplicity in the language that the people knew, stripped of all eloquence of speech. It appealed to conscience and to hearts to the need of the sinner for such a salvation as it declared, and declared the love of the heart of a Saviour God who had brought salvation near to them in Jesus.
And Paul was not ashamed of it. It was the power of God to salvation to every soul that believed. It was unpopular with the world for it made nothing of his civilization, and if possible less of his fancied goodness. It also brought the conscience of the sinner face to face with a holy and righteous Creator and thus roused up the hatred of the natural heart against God. And therefore was it anathematized, mocked and persecuted. It was so at the beginning of the preaching and it is so today, and it must continue thus until Christ take the throne and the reign of righteousness begins.
This gospel to which the apostle draws their attention was a gospel he had announced to them, which they had received and in which they stood.
They had believed what they heard from the lips of the messenger of the Lord, as we read in Acts 18, “Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized.” They threw in their lot with the preacher and were duly received into the company of all on earth who called on the name of the Lord.
Not all in Corinth believed. Still we are told that many did. Neither was it those who led in the affairs of the city who welcomed the divine message. Some of such may have confessed Christ; but the apostle has to remind them that not many wise men after the flesh had been called, for God had chosen the foolish, the weak, the ignoble, and the things that are not, that He might annul the things that are, so that no flesh should boast before Him (chap. 1).
But this gospel was that by which they were saved, if they held fast the word that had been announced, supposing that that word was true. No one can get good by believing a lie. If what they had hearkened to with the hearing of faith had been a baseless invention of evil men, it would have been better for them never to have heard it: and with this bold blasphemy they were being assaulted by the enemy of God and of their souls. Therefore, the apostle brings the gospel once again before them.
He says, “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.” It had not its origin in the mind of the preacher who had declared it to them. As in another place he avers, “The gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). So here he says he had received it, and he had announced it to them. “By which also,” he says, “ye are saved.” How needful then that they should hold it fast lest it should slip out of heart and memory.
It was a gospel that he never wearied telling, though as to his outward circumstances it brought nothing but despisal, persecution and imprisonment. Still the joy he had in the proclamation of it was altogether greater than the griefs he endured at the hand of his enemies. This gospel the Corinthians had heard and believed, but now they must hear again. “That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures”; and that He was seen of a multitude of witnesses, the greater part of whom being still alive when Paul wrote the epistle. His resurrection was therefore well authenticated.
Now Christ was preached, that He rose from the dead, and those to whom the apostle writes were professed believers of the preaching. How came it that some among them affirmed that there was no resurrection of those that are dead? No exception can be made on behalf of Christ, for He also died and was buried. He was no less dead than those who were in their graves; He was dead and buried. Therefore, if there is no resurrection of those who are dead, He is not raised; and if He is not raised, then is our preaching vain; your faith also is vain and ye are yet in your sins; and all who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
How foolish and self-destructive are the reasonings of the creature even when under the inspiration of the devil! How easily he can be deceived, and how thoroughly blinded and bewildered is he capable of being when he can be found to embrace as glad tidings that which would be the destruction of all his hope of happiness for eternity! How needful it is for us to be kept in prayerful dependence on God that we may escape the snares of the enemy of our souls and the reasonings of our own minds and be content with the revelation God has given to us in the words in which we have it!
“But now is Christ risen from the dead.” The apostles have borne true witness of God; the gospel is His message to ruined sinners; we have not believed in vain; we are not in our sins; they are gone in His death who died for them; all that have fallen asleep in Christ shall be raised in His likeness; He is the firstfruits of all that have fallen asleep in Him, and like to the firstfruits the harvest shall be—Blessed be God!
By man sin came into the world and by sin death. Not the devil, though he was the first sinner, introduced death among men. It came in by man, and passed upon all his race, for all were sinners like himself. But by man also has resurrection of those who are dead been brought to pass. No longer does the devil hold the keys of death and hades: they are in the hand of Him who, by submitting to it as the righteous judgment of God upon man as a sinner, has annulled its power. The hour is fast approaching in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth. He has been the destruction of that which for thousands of years had proved itself to be the destruction of the race of Adam. By the power that lies in Himself, and on the basis of the battle He has fought and the victory He has won, He will bring out of death and hades all who have gone down into them.
But 1 Corinthians 15 is occupied almost exclusively with the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Therefore, He says that not only as death came in by man, so also resurrection has come in by man; but “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” This is more than mere resurrection, for all in Christ partake of His life. Not all that are raised can be viewed as in Christ, but only those who have come under His quickening power.
But each is raised in his own rank: “Christ the firstfruits,” He is already risen. “Afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming;” these shall share His reign and glory. “Then comes the end,” the end of resurrections, when the whole contents of death and hades shall be cast into the lake of fire, and that whole condition of things shall have forever ceased to exist. The impenitent but come out of one death to enter into another, which is no more annihilation than the first was. Then having annulled all rule, authority and power, the Son gives up the kingdom to Him, who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
From verse 20 of this chapter till the end of verse 28 is a parenthesis, in which in the first place Christ is spoken of as firstfruits of those fallen asleep. Our Lord told His disciples, when after being risen He came into their midst, how necessary it was that He should suffer, and be the first to rise from the dead. He had first of all to invade the stronghold of Satan, and there break his might so that He might have complete control in that region, and that He might bring death and hades forever to an end.
But here He is viewed not only as the One who has accomplished the destruction of both death and hades, but as the one who is firstfruits of those that sleep. Though it is His voice that shall raise both just and unjust He is not said to be firstfruits of the latter; for only the saints are those who have fallen asleep. He is our risen and exalted Head, and of His life we partake, a life that death cannot touch. It has power over the earthly tabernacle for a moment now, but the life which we have in Christ cannot be touched by it. He stands in a special relation to those who shall be in the first resurrection, those asleep.
Here death is viewed as the last enemy that shall be annulled: “He must reign, till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Psalm 8 tells us that Jehovah has put all things under the feet of this Son of Man. And here the subjection of all things to Him is so universal that the Holy Spirit deems it of necessity to draw our attention to the fact that it is evident He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. Then when all has been put under His feet He Himself will give up the kingdom to Him who is God and Father, and God shall be all in all.
But after all that has been said another objection has to be anticipated; “How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Even today is this question asked. But even what this fool sowed was not quickened unless it died. Nor did he sow the body that he reaped, but a bare grain, whatever it might be, of wheat or of any other. God gives it a body as He has pleased, and to each of the seeds its own body. It is not wheat sown and barley that is raised, but if wheat is sown wheat is raised, and thus of all seeds sown. Neither has God confined Himself to one kind of flesh. Already are there four kinds—men, birds, beasts, fishes. There are also heavenly and earthly bodies, and their glories varied. One glory of the sun, another of the moon, another of the stars; and star differs from star in glory. Thus also, He says, is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, dishonour, weakness, a natural body; it is raised in incorruptibility, in glory, in power, a spiritual body. The natural body is seen in the first man, Adam, who was made a living soul; the last Adam a quickening Spirit. This I take to be what was true of Him as risen, though He quickened souls out of moral death when here below and that by the life that was in Himself. But I do not see that He took the position of last Adam until He rose from the dead. The spiritual was not, however, first, that it should give place to the natural; but the natural was first that its unprofitableness might be manifested, and, when this was shown, the spiritual came to light. But when we come to the first and second men, the first is out of earth made of dust, and the second out of heaven. This distinction between the first and second man was quite as true of them down here before redemption was accomplished as after. But not till Christ was glorified could a race after His order be spoken of in contrast with the race deriving from Adam. Now we can contemplate the two races and see the marvellous distinction that exists between them. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly.
And this is the eternal purpose of God; to have us in the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Even now we are of the order of the Second Man and last Adam, as far as life and nature go. As He, from whom we derive our new vital existence and relations with the Father and the Son, is heavenly, so are we heavenly. The cross has judicially made an end of our existence as deriving from our first and fallen head, and now are we a new creation in Christ. The old things can be taken account of as having passed away, and all things have become new. Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, nor can corruption inherit incorruptibility.
Before referring to that which is called “A mystery,” I would just glance at that which lies between verses 29 and 34. The apostle asks a question impossible for the objector to answer “What shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?” Baptism places us on the ground of death, the death of Christ, so that we are privileged to reckon that as He is dead to sin, so are we need not say He never was alive to it in the sense in which we are, for sin dominated us completely. But He had to do with it on earth and to meet it in every human being, and eventually was made sin on the cross, but now He lives absolutely to God. We as having His life are to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Him. Baptism places us on this ground administratively, as those who have no life for this world, our life being hid with Christ in God. Why then should we be ready to give up the present life, if there is not to be a resurrection and a life with Christ in a sinless and heavenly home? By the word of the Scriptures, and the teaching of Philip, the eunuch of Abyssinia learned that the life of Christ had been taken from the earth, and coming to water he says “Here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” If the life of Christ has been taken from the earth, then he is willing to let his life also go.
Not only that, but the apostles stood in jeopardy every hour. His conflict with men at Ephesus who opposed the preaching like irrational brute beasts was all in vain. It profited him nothing, if the dead rise not. It should rather have been his slogan: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Alas, some of them were lacking in the knowledge of God.
But if flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, he will tell them a mystery that will enlighten those who are honestly in darkness, and whose labours for Christ were through this mischievous fallacy in danger of utter paralysis. It is at the resurrection of the just that all service for Christ which has been done down here will be rewarded, but if there is no resurrection, all their labour for Him is in vain. He says “Behold I tell you a mystery, we shall not all fall asleep, but we shall all be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the word that is written: death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is thy sting? Where, O death, thy victory? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin the law; but thanks to God, who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, my beloved brethren, be firm, immovable, abounding always in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
5. The Serpent of Brass (John 3:16)
The great subject in the ministry of the Apostle John is the life eternal come into this world, in the eternal Word become flesh. This life was promised before the ages of time, and in the promise of it no other creatures but men seem to have been in view: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” But though the promise was before time began, there could not be the manifestation of it until man was found on the platform of responsibility a fallen being, having previously been tested in every way that divine wisdom could invent, and proved to be unmendably evil, in his very nature enmity against God. Then, and not till then, did this purpose of God come into manifestation, the word of which is now declared in the proclamation of the gospel.
Therefore the brazen serpent comes late in the history of the journeyings of the children of Israel from the brick kilns to Gilgal. And we may rest assured that every item of His ways with them as recorded is deeply instructive for us, and for that very purpose has it been placed on the page of Scripture “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
In Egypt we have the blood-sprinkled lintel and two side-posts of the houses of the children of Israel, showing how God could pass over their firstborn in the execution of His righteous judgment manifested in smiting the Egyptians. Death lay upon the Israelites as justly as upon the Egyptians; and God is no respecter of persons. All were alike sinners. But the blood of the pascal lamb on the lintel and door post was in the sight of the destroying angel as the blood of the doomed sinner whom he was out to slay. In every such case the judgment he was executing had preceded him, and therefore he passed over that house. He could do nothing else.
In the Red Sea we come to the salvation of the Lord: Christ delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:24-25). The people are out of the dominion of the oppressor, and brought to God in the wilderness. They witness the complete discomfiture and end of Satan in that character, although in another aspect he may still prove a powerful foe.
After this the people had the bitter water to drink: that is the application of the death of Christ to the will of sinful flesh. This we cannot drink until we bring the cross of Christ into it, who took all the bitterness out of it by bearing the judgment of it in His love to us. When we can say: “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me,” not only is the bitterness gone, but the water becomes unutterably sweet.
The sprinkled lintel and the Red Sea are connected with the deliverance of the people from Pharaoh, the oppressor; the bitter water, and, I may say, the smitten rock, with our journey through the desert; the brazen serpent, the springing well, and the Jordan, with our entrance into the land. At Gilgal the reproach of Egypt is rolled away for us; this means that as dead and risen with Christ, the body of the flesh is put off. Flesh has no entrance into heavenly places. Were we actually in the heavenlies this would present no difficulty, for no longer could we connect ourselves with sinful flesh; but as we have only got this position in Christ, and are still practically in a complex state, partakers of both the life of flesh and the life of Christ, we can only by the power of the Spirit take our true position as dead to the whole order in which we once lived, and now only alive in the risen Christ. In Romans we are to take up the attitude of dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, for we are there viewed as still alive in the world. But in Colossians, where we have Gilgal, we are not alive in the world, nor shall we be until Christ, who is our life, appears, and we appear with Him in glory. Romans 6 is the bitter water, Colossians is Gilgal and circumcision. But I come back to the brazen serpent.
In John 3 the true state of things comes vividly to light. The subject of the chapter begins at the twenty-third verse of chapter two. To those who believed in His name the Lord does not trust, not because He knew not the kind of people He had to deal with, but because He knew all men, and required no testimony regarding man; for He knew what was in man. He may have a fair exterior; his unbelief may have given way before the evidence furnished by the signs wrought for the blessing of men, and a kind of human confidence in the report that had reached him may have taken its place, but He who knew what was in man knew there was no foundation there on which anything could be built.
Man must be born again. He is like some of the ancient edifices that we may see, standing monuments of former greatness and grandeur, but so fearfully weather-beaten and so corroded by age, that not from foundation to roof-tree is there one stone that will not, at the least ungentle usage, crumble into powder. Man is utterly undone and lost. There must in his case be a completely new beginning. With him there must be a fresh start, and that from the very outset.
Though by great signs and wonders the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, and though for forty years they were fed and tenderly cared for in their wilderness journey, they made no progress in the knowledge of God, nor did they ever exhibit the least sign of thankfulness for the deliverance that He had granted to them when they were slaves in Egypt, nor for the innumerable mercies they daily experienced at His hand. At the slightest grievance that beset their path they broke out into murmurs against Moses and Aaron, and now when nearing the end of their journey they lift up their rebel voices against God Himself. Their forty years in the desert were one long day of provocation.
“And the people spake against God and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” Their increase in the wickedness and boldness of rebellion is evidenced by their attack upon the God who had borne the burden of the whole thankless congregation for forty years. Where, except in a mere handful of the people, can we see the slightest trait of the divine nature? How justly in the song of Moses is their state described He says: “They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of His children they are a perverse and crooked generation.” It is better to leave out “the spot” in this verse. It is in italics, and therefore not in the original “Not His children’s is their spot” is best. His children have no spot. Spot is blemish. Their spot branded them as not of God. I have said, His children are without spot (S. of Sol. 4:7; 2 Peter 3:14), and thus shall they be presented, when the day of presentation comes.
In the fiery serpents that were sent among the people in answer to their murmurings, the evil of their fleshly nature is indicated. 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). “The carnal mind (mind of the flesh) is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). The bite of the serpents brought death: “Death by sin.” Man must learn what he is—a fallen, sinful being.
And the remedy is not the removal of the serpents. The people request Moses to pray Jehovah for this. But this cannot be. To take away evil flesh would only be to cast into destruction the whole human race, for evil flesh is all that man as a child of Adam is. To condemn all that is evil, and to condemn it in the judgment of himself, would be his eternal destruction, for out of that judgment there could be no recovery for him. God’s way is not the removal of the serpents through their destruction, but through the serpent of brass lifted up on a pole. This serpent represents in a typical way God’s judgment of sinful flesh. But that judgment is set forth in the Son of Man lifted up on the cross; for “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even to must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The serpent Moses made was in the likeness of the serpent that bit the people, so was the Son of Man in the likeness of the flesh of sin. It was of brass, and brass is a type of the judgment of God against sin. The altar where the offerings were slain, and their bodies burned, was of brass. So also on the cross was the Son of Man under the judgment of the flesh of sin, abandoned by God, and being dealt with as sin deserved, though He Himself was altogether the delight of the heart of God. Had there been any taint of sin in Him He would have needed a saviour for Himself. But He was holy, spotless and undefiled, always delighting in, and doing, the will of the Father who had sent Him.
God having thus in the sight of the universe given expression to His holy abhorrence of sin, and also of His righteous judgment of it in His cross and sufferings, raised Him from the dead and crowned Him with glory and honour, proclaiming Him life-giving Head for all.
He that has the Son has this life. Like the bitten Israelite who, feeling the deadly virus in his blood, looks away from the wound to the serpent on the pole and experiences the joyful thrill of a healthy, life enter into and wake up his spiritless being; so I, in a sense of my sinful and undone condition, look back upon that cross of the holy Saviour, and see Him there in the likeness of sinful flesh under a judgment to which He was not personally liable, but to which I well know I was, and by faith I lay my hand on the head of the victim in identification with Him, knowing that the awful judgment that He bore for me has made an end of all that I was in the flesh, and that in Him risen from the dead I live to God in His life, a life that never can be tainted by sin, nor can be overcome by the might of death.
There never was a moment in the history of the human race in which the evil of the flesh was so manifested as it was at the cross, and that was the moment in which it disappeared from the presence of God in His unsparing judgment, and never since that moment has it been regarded by God as in vital relations with Himself, or shall it ever be. A man is now in relationship with God in Christ, and in Him only. The believer is in Christ, and “If any man be in Christ it is new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). We have a new life, eternal life, the life of the last Adam.
Our relationships with God are new, Christ’s Father is our Father, and His God our God. And our relationships with one another are new. Christ’s brethren, all believers, are brethren together, and we know no man after the flesh. For us the old order has passed away, and though we still are in mortal bodies, we are only looking for the hour in which mortality shall be swallowed up of life. Then nothing shall remain of the old order, either in us or about us.
The love of God, the love of Christ—the love of Father and of Son—of which the cross is the perfect and eternal witness, is the light, and the atmosphere, and the glory in which our ransomed, restful, and rejoicing souls live, and shall live to the ages of the ages. There in that radiant, sinless, and cloudless sphere of spotless purity and unspeakable joy, surrounded with sons brought to glory, all in the image of the Son of His love, God shall have reached the end He had in view before He began His works of old. And there shall also be the Man of His counsels who glorified Him where He had been by His fallen and rebellious creature terribly dishonoured, restoring what He had never taken away, and laying a foundation in the blood of His cross on the basis of which such a sphere of glory could be brought about, and on which it for ever could remain unshakable. And He will be there with His Bride—the last Adam with His Eve—for whom in the knowledge-surpassing love of His heart He gave Himself.