2 Cor. 5:16.
J. A. Trench.
Article 41 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
A few words as to the setting of the truth in which this verse is found, may be helpful. The immediate connection is the way the love of Christ has been shown in His death, which brought out the truth of man's condition, "because we thus judge that if one died for all, then were all dead." So that, if, as the result of His having died for all, there were those that live, they do so according to the power of life seen in verses 1-4 of the chapter, as expressed in a risen Christ and involving a new creation. For "if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation" (ver. 17); while the basis of the whole new and wonderful position for us is found in Christ having been made sin for us, in verse 21.
Up to the cross God had been dealing with man as alive in the flesh in successive dispensations to bring out the state of the flesh, as, for instance, without law, under law, and by the testimony of prophet after prophet. But now the last test had been supplied in Christ come after the flesh. God having yet one Son, His well-beloved, sent Him also last unto them saying, "They will reverence My Son." But they took Him and killed Him and cast Him out of the vineyard. (Matt. 21) It was the first great fact in the ministry of reconciliation given to the Apostles (vers. 18, 19), that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." He had come in Christ into the world not to raise any question of sins, but to let all His goodness be manifested, if by any means to win this poor world's heart for Him. But the rejection of Christ proved that if alive and active enough in seeking the things of the world, man was perfectly dead to God, nothing in man's heart to answer to anything in God's, further evidence of this as the full truth of man's condition, being given in God having to give up Christ to death in order that any might live; if one died for all, then were all dead. It was plain, then, that all probationary dealings of God with the race were over. All possible sin had been consummated against God in the cross of Christ. When God had been manifested in nothing but goodness to man, man had been manifested in nothing but enmity against Him. The synoptic Gospels give us the history of this side of Christ's presentation in the world, and trace it to its close in His death. We know Him no more after that order of things.
But now the word (LOGOS) of reconciliation (namely, that in which reconciliation was actually effected) is added to all that brought out man's hopeless state in the flesh, in his rejection of Christ when presented to him in the full revelation of God's goodness. Now, instead of God not imputing or passing over sins any longer, He who knew no sin has been made sin for us, and the full end of all we have done and been after the flesh has come for God, and for the faith of our souls, in the judgment of the cross; so that we have become God's righteousness in Christ raised from the dead. "Therefore if any man be in Christ there is a new creation" (N.Tr.): "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new; and all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ." Nor could there be any sweeter fruit of what God has wrought for us than that in a new creation there should be no disturbing element found between our souls and God.
But if the truth of this be apprehended in any measure it will be readily seen that it involves, not only that we know Christ after the flesh no more, but henceforth no man on that ground. And this first supplies a needed test as to the reality with which we have entered into it. How do we regard an old acquaintance? It is no longer a question of "auld lang syne," or anything of that sort. If he is in Christ old things are passed away in the wonderful position we have in common by God's infinite grace according to a new creation; but if not in Christ he is dead, dead in his sins though still within the reach of Christ being presented to him that he may live. Note, too, how really all things have become new: as to the new spring of life, it is the love of Christ that constrains us (ver. 14); as to the new object, He who died for us and rose again has become the centre of our new existence instead of self as formerly; while our new motive is, whether present in the body when He comes or absent from it, whether amongst those who are alive and remain or those who sleep in Him, we may be well pleasing to Him (ver. 9.) When the passage is taken thus in its connection it does not need to be said that it in no way excludes other aspects of Christ's presence in the world, which abide for us in all their eternal significance. Here was found for the first time the lovely path of perfect man before God, and over Him heaven opened and the Father's voice expressed His perfect delight in Him. Here, too, was God manifest in the flesh, and the Father revealed in the Son. Eternal life, too, brought to light in this relationship of Him with the Father as never before; here, as come down out of heaven to be governed only by the will of Him that sent Him. He is the bread of God, the food of God's own deepest joy, in which we are given to have part when we reach Him through His death. (John 6:33, 53, 57)
It is well, too, to remember, in such a connection, that, if it is only as ascended up where He was before that all the light of the glory is shed back upon what He was down here, we know nothing of Him in the glory — not one characteristic trait of His blessed perfection, that was not manifested in Him here, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. Yet the Spirit has been given to us to bring to our remembrance by the Gospels all things whatsoever He said unto us, and He is essentially what He spake (John 8:25, N.Tr.), not only that the thrilling memory of all He was may ever be in our hearts, but that He may be the present living object before our souls in glory, according to all that He was manifested to be down here.
When, then, the force of no man or even Christ being known any more after the flesh is apprehended, it will be seen that it in no way touches the question of the natural relationships in which we have been placed by the will of God towards one another. It is, in fact, only in the Epistles that bring out our full place in the risen Christ that we find the full recognition of those relationships, as furnishing us with the heavenly springs and motives for a walk in them according to God.