The parenthetical nature of the Christian Dispensation — Romans 4:11 etc.
Did Christ preach after death to the Old Testament saints? — 1 Peter 3:18-20
Christ their constant theme — Hebrews 13:7, 8
Can the translation be correct? — Genesis 1:20; 2:19
The things of Jesus Christ — Philippians 2:21
Unusual breaking of bread — Acts 2:46 etc.
Bible Treasury Volume 14, p. 32. February 1882.
Q. Will you do me the great favour to direct me as to the reconciliation of your views of the parenthetical nature of the Christian Dispensation with the passages in the New Testament which seem to teach that Abraham and Christians are one in relation to the benefits that flow from the mercy of God through the Redeemer? If the scriptures alluded to did not seem so plainly to contradict your distinction of heavenly and earthly, I could adopt your view. But with only the light I have now, there is nothing for me but painful uncertainty. Lexington, Va., Dec. 30, 1881. F.P.M.
A. The passages of the News Testament to which our correspondent refers are doubtless such texts as Romans 4:11, Galatians 3, and Hebrews 11. The reason why they are supposed inconsistent with the special privileges of the believer now, is that the distinctive place of the Christian, and yet more of the Church, is not apprehended. People assume that to be born of God, and to be justified by faith, are the sum and substance of present blessing. But it is not so. All saints are necessarily born of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was never enjoyed till Pentecost; and on this depends the body of Christ. Compare Acts 1:2 with 1 Corinthians 12:13. And the gift of the Spirit, as thus over and above the new birth, as it could not be before redemption, was to be the permanent privilege of the Christian. The Comforter or Paraclete was to abide with the disciples forever. Even as to justification by faith, Romans 4 makes this difference between Abraham and us: he believed that God was able to perform His promise; we believe on Him that raised up from the dead Jesus our Lord, after accomplishing His work in death for our offence. The Old Testament had promise; we rest on accomplishment; so that there is a grave difference at the threshold. Then Galatians 4 shows that even the true saints of old were in servitude; but that now it is a question of the adoption of sons, the Spirit of the Son being sent forth into the hearts of the sons, crying Abba, Father. The inheritance of promise is common ground; but this quite consists with fresh and superior blessing consequent on redemption. If we think not of the individual, but of our corporate relationship, the difference is at least as marked. The olive tree of testimony according to promise is not at all the same as the house of God, or the body of Christ. There is continuity in the olive tree, even if some of the natural branches were broken off for unbelief to let in the Gentile wild olive graft; and the Gentile, if not continuing in goodness, is to be cut off, that God may ingraft again the natural branches no longer abiding in unbelief. "And so all Israel shall be saved" in the depth of God's wisdom and mercy. But this quite distinct from Ephesians 2, where the two are formed into one man, in which is neither Jew nor Gentile; and we are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone. During the Old Testament the middle wall was not broken down, nor were both made one. Even in the Lord's ministry here below, "Go not," said He, "into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:" dead and risen, He sends them to any or all. How could the house be even begun before the foundation, not of prophets and then apostles, but "of the apostles and prophets" whom the ascended Head gave as gifts? And the body is formed in union with Him by the Spirit sent down from heaven.
Thus, if there are benefits which all saints enjoy from God's mercy through Christ, which is thankfully owned, there are fresh and unspeakably great privileges which flow from redemption, and the presence of the Holy Ghost, who associates us in unity with Christ on high. In these last lies the peculiar blessing of the Christian and the Church. When Christ comes, the worthies of faith will, no doubt, receive the promise; but God has none the less provided some thing for us, though we and they shall together enter on glory in that day.
Q. 1 Peter 3:18-20. — What is the meaning? Did Christ preach after death to the Old Testament saints?
A. To be understood, this verse must be taken with what goes before. Christ was put to death in flesh, but made alive in the Spirit, in which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, disobedient as they at one time were when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved through water; which figure also doth now save you, etc. Just as we read in 1 Peter 1:10-12 of Christ's Spirit in the prophets testifying, so we here learn that His Spirit (i.e. in Noah) preached. Those who heard were disobedient then, and their spirits are in prison now. Christ's Spirit by Noah went and preached to them when they were living men, before the Deluge came; but they rejected the Word, and now consequently their spirits await the judgment at the resurrecion of the unjust. The collocation of the Greek (τοῒς ἐν φυλακῆ πνέμασιν) is decisive, that the true connection is not with the preaching, but between the spirits and prison. They were sinners disobedient to the message, not saints comforted. The preaching was on earth, where the unbelieving rejection was; and because of it their spirits are now imprisoned (the very opposite of paradise) till judgment come.
Bible Treasury Volume 14, p. 96. June 1882.
Q. Hebrews 13:7, 8. Does this mean that the faithful leaders here alluded to make Christ their constant theme in their speech with one another as well as with others?
A. I do not doubt that so it was with these servants of the Lord, as it should be with all of us who love Him. But this scripture says nothing about it, speaking of two wholly distinct matters. (1) Ver. 7 calls on the Hebrew Christians to remember their guides, who (the which) spoke to them the word of God, revealed truth in general; and to follow their faith, surveying throughout the issue or termination of their career. Their "conversation" in the sense of Christian course was closed. The saints who remembered them would do well to imitate their faith when here. (2) Ver. 8 introduces a new subject: if there be any link with ver. 7, it is a contrast with the faithful servants who were gone. "Jesus Christ [is] yesterday and today the same, and forever." He is declared to be, the man, the unchangeable. What a safeguard against being carried away by various and strange teachings! Christ truly known satisfies the heart and gives rest to the mind otherwise greedy of novelties. Thus do even the naturally fickle become by grace restful and stable as they grow up to Him in all things.
Bible Treasury Volume 14, p. 112. July 1882.
Q. Genesis 1:20, Genesis 2:19. Can the translation be correct? The first text seems to teach that the fowl as well as fish sprang from the waters by God's fiat; the second distinctly states that out of the ground were formed the fowl as well every beast of the field. X.Y.Z.
A. The margin corrects, or rather in giving the true construction leaves no room for, the error. Nothing really is said or intended about the waters bringing forth fowl: the latter are spoken of in a distinct clause. Benisch and Leeser are just as faulty as the Authorised Version, or more so, as they perpetuate the error in the face of its marginal emendation; De Sola, Lindenthal, and Raphall break off from the error, due probably to the Targum of Onkelos, the Talmud, R. Eleazar Hagadol, Rashi, and other Rabbis, who maintain hence the common origin of fish and birds from the waters. Many follow these from Bishop Patrick down to Professor Gaussen; and no wonder as the Septuagint and the Vulgate and the Arabic are wrong, though the Hebraso-Samaritan and the Syriac are right. The true rendering is, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly, etc. and let fowl fly, etc." There is no discrepancy in this case to be reconciled.
Bible Treasury Volume 14, p. 160. October 1882.
Q. 1. Philippians 2:21. Will you please interpret the passage "All seek their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ"?
2. In a paper of a small periodical for September the writer defines "their own things" as the "certainty of salvation," "my portion on earth" "heavenly joys conveyed to my soul by the Spirit of God come down from heaven." Then he says "Now when we are seeking our own things . . . It is very evident that we cannot devote ourselves to Christ's things." Is this in any sense the right force of this scripture? Do you consider that any of the things enumerated were in the mind of the Spirit of God in this passage?
Are not "the things of Jesus Christ" His own interests, in the plucking of a brand from eternal ruin as truly "the conscious union (of the beloved) with Christ . . .in heavenly places"? QUERIST.
A. 1. There is no just doubt that the apostle here speaks with deep feeling of the waning of love and devotedness to Christ, His interests and objects, among all that bore His name. It is not to be limited to his then companions, any more than to unwillingness to undertake so long a journey as from Rome to Philippi. It is his solemn assertion of the selfishness creeping over Christians as a whole, though he intimates in the passage itself blessed exceptions in Timothy and Epaphroditus, as in the saints doubtless to whom he was writing. "The things of Christ," it is manifest from the epistle itself, include the gospel and fellowship with it and its conflicts, love for the saints and sympathetic help in their every need, not only spiritual but personal and temporal, individual progress in the grace of Christ as well as gracious consideration of one another, with Himself before us both in the love that came down to obey even to the death of the cross and in the glory where He is now on high, as well as in the assurance of His speedy coming. The Epistle essentially contemplated the saints as in the wilderness, not in Canaan, though this be true also and the view in Ephesians.
2. It is false doctrine, therefore, that Christ's things according to this epistle (and it is here only this expression occurs) begin in heavenly places (Jordan behind), and that "my own continue during my course," in the true sense of this scripture. This is an exaggeration of the truth which is always untrue, an atmosphere of falsetto for those who are not breathing the free air of Christ and all the truth. The apostle, the Holy Spirit, does not mean, "a great deal in Christianity" as "one's own." Selfish interests are meant, I do not say open sins which man would blame, but such things as he would rather praise (Psalm 49:8). It is not only a false interpretation, but, it is to be feared, of the enemy, that seeking our own things means to learn the certainty of salvation, the heavenly joys, etc. The practical issue of this dangerous and evil one-sidedness would be to expose souls under such influence to real selfishness, value for rank and social enjoyment, love of money, power, and party, etc. the very snares against which the unsophisticated truth would guard the simple in God's grace. It is false that "our own things" ought to continue during our course. We fail if we allow selfishness for an hour. In every respect the teaching is erroneous and mischievous.
Bible Treasury Volume 14, p. 272. May 1883.
Q. Acts 2:46; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:20. A few, in a gathering, met on a week-day for the breaking of bread at the house, and at the request of a sick (perhaps dying) person, and another (who had previously expressed a desire to break bread, but who cannot go to the Lord's-day meetings for that purpose) is allowed to do so at the same time, both not having been publicly received at the Lord's table, and the gathering not having been previously acquainted with the intention thus to break bread.
1. Does this not in effect bring these two into fellowship?
2. Is it not irregular reception?
3. If the Lord's table is the expression of unity, should not intermediate meetings for breaking of bread be confined to those in fellowship?
A. Undoubtedly the breaking of bread is the sign of Christian fellowship, the communion of Christ's body and blood. And it is as well, as a regular rule, to inform the assembly of any such act as breaking bread with a sick saint, as also of another expected to break bread there who could not usually, both being souls on adequate testimony recognised as members of Christ's body, against whom no valid objection existed. Otherwise the act, if done without such care, might become a plea for factious persons and real offences against godly fellowship. Acts 2:46 proves that there is no scriptural hindrance. The saints at first used to break bread at home daily. A week-day, therefore, in a private house, is no sufficient objection, though the Lord's-day be rightly owned as the constant claim of grace on all saints with the authority of the word in Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 11:16. But we have to take into account the present ruin of the church, and, while careful of order and zealous for edification, we must not forget the many members of Christ outside as to whom we should act in gracious wisdom. Hence it is notorious that when at the close of many a conference breaking bread on a weekday, and in towns where there might or might not be saints gathered to Christ's name, we have gladly let known saints break bread with us though there had been no previous intimation. We should seek to apply the "one body and one Spirit" in grace, as well as stringently. Singleness of eye, with a heart of love, in subjection to the Lord, will have His guidance.