The word rendered "conversation" means, literally, "citizenship," or "life as a citizen." "Commonwealth " is preferred by others; but none of these terms perhaps expresses adequately the mind of the Spirit of God. "It is 'associations of life,' as, 'I am born an Englishman.'" The force of this will be understood, if we consider for a moment the truth of the epistle. Its subject is the experience of a heavenly man on earth. Stripped of everything which could have exalted, or might have been gain to, man in the flesh, by the revelation of a glorified Christ to his soul, he henceforward desires nothing but the possession of Christ in the place where He is. He consequently follows after, if that he may get possession of that for which also he has been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Instead, therefore, of minding earthly things (v. 19), his thoughts, objects, interests, and hopes are in heaven - concentred in Christ; and hence, just as an Englishman's associations are connected with his country, those of the Christian (the heavenly man) are connected with heaven. The engrossing object of his heart is there; he awaits the coming thence of the Lord Jesus Christ; and finally, when the Saviour returns, He will transform the Christian's body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory. The goal is then reached, but meanwhile the believer knows that he belongs to heaven, for his heart has found its object and home in that scene of glory of which Christ is the centre.
The Book of Ecclesiastes gives "the experience of a man who - retaining wisdom that he may judge of all - makes trial of everything under the sun that could be supposed capable of rendering men happy, through the enjoyment of everything that human capacity can entertain as a cleans of joy. The effect of this trial was the discovery that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; that every effort to be happy in possessing the earth, in whatever way it may be, ends in nothing. There is a cankerworm at the root. The greater the capacity of enjoyment, the deeper and wider is the experience of disappointment and vexation of spirit. Pleasure does not satisfy, and even the idea of securing happiness in this world by an unusual degree of righteousness cannot be realized. Evil is there, and the government of God, in such a world as this, is not in exercise to secure happiness to man here below - a happiness drawn from the things below, and resting on their stability; though as a general role it protects those who walk with God . . . . If we remember that this book gives us the experience of man, and the reasonings of man, on all that happens under the sun, there is no difficulty in those passages that have the semblance of infidelity. The experience of man is necessarily infidel. He confesses his ignorance; for beyond that which is seen, experience can know nothing. But the solution of all moral problems is above and beyond that which is seen. The Book of Ecclesiastes makes this manifest. The only rule of life then is to fear the God who disposes of our life, who judges every action all the days of the life of our vanity. There is no question, in this book, of grace or of redemption, but only of the experience of this present life, of that which God has said with respect to it; namely, His law, His commandments, and the consequent judgment - that which is decreed to man."
Doubtless it is, at the same time, a record of Solomon's experience, and of his experience at the end of his life, but the object of the book is as above stated. It may be added, that if the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches that earth, and earth's best things, cannot satisfy, the Song of Solomon shows that true satisfaction can only be found in Christ.
Hebrews 1:12, Hebrews 13:8.
It can scarcely be doubted that there is a reference in the latter scripture to the former, and with a special object; but the context of the two, as will be at once observed, is very different. In Hebrews 1, after detailing the glories of the person of Him who, having by Himself made the purification of sins, has "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high," the apostle points out that, in addition to His being the Son, Heir of all things, the brightness of the glory, the express image of His person, upholding all things by the word of His power, God Himself, He is also the Creator. This gives occasion for the contrast which follows. Every created thing will perish, "but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail." Here He is the eternal, unchanging One in contrast with the mutable and perishable works of this creation. In Hebrews 13 the comparison is with the leaders among the saints - those especially who had passed away, and whose faith, considering the issue of their conversation, the saints are exhorted to imitate. Of these leaders the saints might be bereft, but Jesus Christ would ever remain. He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. In this case He is the eternal One in contrast with mortal men. It may be concluded, at the same time, that the Spirit of God, in order to encourage and establish the Hebrew saints, expressly thus identifies Jesus Christ with the Creator; and this is the link between the two scriptures. Observe, also, that the unchanging Christ becomes the foundation, not only of the souls of His people in a scene of constant change and unrest, but also of the exhortation not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines. The truth partakes of His own eternal and immutable character.
1 Thessalonians 5:6-10.
Although rendered "watch" in verse 6, and "wake" in verse 10, it is really the same word. The application, or the sense in which it is used, may easily be gathered from the context. The apostle has been speaking of the manner in which the day of the Lord will burst upon the careless world, even as a thief in the night. Turning then to the Thessalonian saints, he says, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief;" and he gives as a reason for this, that they "are all the children of light, and the children of the day." Hence the following exhortation: "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." Manifestly in this passage it is watching morally which is enjoined; that is, as verse 8 distinctly shows, moral conduct becoming the Christian as being of the day, and not of the night. They were to be morally characterized by watching in contrast with sleeping, with sobriety, "putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." "Salvation" is brought in here in its final and complete sense, only therefore to be realized at the coming of the Lord, even as the apostle says, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake [watch] or sleep, we should live together with Him." Understanding "salvation" as explained makes it evident that "watching" and "sleeping" in this verse are employed in the sense of being alive at, or having fallen asleep before, the Lord's return. It is a comfort to be reminded in this connection, that whether we are of "the dead in Christ," or of those that are "alive and remain" at the coming of the Lord, the object of His death for us will be fully accomplished for both classes alike - that we should live together with Him. E. D.
The Cleansing of the Leper.
Christian Friend vol. 16, 1889, p. 309.
It is important, in the apprehension of our blessings, to understand the overflowing of grace. Man is fallen, but the grace of God does not restore him to his first estate. It brings him, where it is received, into a higher position and fuller blessing. Nay, the very ruin of the fall has become the occasion for the abounding of grace. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Sin indeed reigned unto death; but it is neither paradise, nor the tree of life there, which are regained, for grace reigns "through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Leprosy typified the working of sin in the flesh, by which man is rendered unclean. The leper must be excluded from the place where Jehovah dwelt. But in the day of his cleansing, he is not merely restored to his position in the camp of the people of God, his leprosy becomes the occasion for bringing him into a position commensurate with the fulness and efficacy of the means provided for his cleansing. It is God who provides the means according to the holy love which is His nature; and if it be His providing, the blessing also must be according to Himself. Hence, when the priest pronounces that the leprosy is stayed - that is, that the evil will working in man has been arrested by the converting power of God - there is a process gone through in which we may learn that the state of self-will and moral uncleanness is supplanted by one characterized by the obedience of Christ, and the power of the blessed Spirit of God. Let us note the details of the leper's cleansing. There are three parts. First, that which is connected with the two birds. Here the priest is prominent. Secondly, "he that is to be cleansed" (no longer called "the leper") washes himself and his clothes, and repeats the washing seven days after. Thirdly, on the eighth day the man that is to be cleansed is presented before the Lord by the priest.
The two birds present to us Christ in death and resurrection. In the power of the eternal Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. The bird was killed over running water. The energy in which the blessed Lord offered Himself in death to God was not the energy of human nature, perfect as His was, but that of the eternal Spirit. What eternal efficacy does it give to the act, in contrast to the lawless self-will working in man! The living bird, with cedar-wood, scarlet, and hyssop, are dipped in the blood of the dead bird. The living bird is thus identified with the bird in death. Death has passed on Jesus, and in that death man according to the flesh is gone, be he high or low, with all that flesh can glory in. The blood of the dead bird, which was killed over running water, is then sprinkled on the one to be cleansed seven times, and the priest pronounces him clean. The priest is one who utters the mind of God. It is not here the experience of the man, but the positive declaration of the Lord by the priest with regard to the sprinkled one, that he is clean according to the efficacy of the blood shed in death - a death where all that is of flesh is gone, but where the power of the eternal Spirit, in which Jesus offered Himself, gives it a value which none but He, whose mind as to the once leprous man the priest pronounces, can estimate. The living bird is then let loose into the open field. This is liberty - freedom in the power of life to reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The state of liberty entered upon, the walking in newness of life, flows from the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second part is far more experimental. The man that is to be cleansed washes his clothes, shaves off all his hair, and washes himself in water. Water is purification by the power of the truth - the Word. "The truth shall make you free." Again, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth." Truth now is connected with the gospel, as we read, "The word of the truth of the gospel." It came by Jesus Christ. Hence we further read, "This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth." Here the testimony of the Spirit of truth is to the coming of Jesus into the place of death. The water flowed from His dead side. The power of the truth is experimentally known, that by the washing of death the past history of a life of sin is closed. The man is no longer to live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. In shaving off his hair he lays aside all the dignity and strength of nature. That too is gone in death, and now the man is transferred from the outside place; he enters the camp, the enclosure of the people of God. On the seventh day he has to repeat the washing, and the laying aside of the dignity and strength of nature is more carefully attended to. It is the same washing of death, but apprehended differently. He now not only realizes that he has quitted the old outside place, but how completely he is fitted to belong to the new. He enters his tent, and is at home there.
Thirdly, on the eighth day he is presented with his offerings before the Lord. Here he learns the value of the precious blood in another way than when he was sprinkled with the blood of the dead bird. This is the blood of the trespass offering, and as such it reached to every detail of conduct, not merely positive sin, but every inconsistency of walk, everything unsuited to a holy people. Hence it was applied to the right ear, to the thumb of the right hand, and to the great toe of the right foot. The precious blood, which meets every detail of walk and ways inconsistent with the holiness of the presence of God, thus becomes the measure of consecration, of obedience in action and walk. We have said this took place on the eighth day. The seventh day is the rest which closes the week of the first creation. The eighth enters upon a new era altogether; it conducts into a region that is not of this creation. That era has not yet come; it will be when God is all in all. It is characterized by the complete and eternal taking away of sin out of the creation of God, according to the infinite value of the sacrifice of Christ, and the vast universe of bliss will be filled with the power of the Spirit of God. This is accomplished by redemption. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the taker away of the sin of the world, and also He who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Now, though that blessed time is not yet come, already redemption is known, and the one consecrated to God, according to the value of the blood, learns that he is not only free in the life of Christ, but the place he is brought into is characterized by the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The oil is first sprinkled seven times before the Lord. It is not yet applied to him, but he is brought where the fulness of the Spirit's presence pervades the scene. It is an immense thing to be conscious that on the ground of redemption there is here on earth a present sphere of the presence and operation of the Holy Ghost. It was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost, when the rushing mighty wind from heaven filled the house where they were sitting. Then the Holy Ghost came, and the assembly was formed, and became the habitation of God by the Spirit. The oil was then applied to the man. It is put where the priest had already applied the blood. The Spirit is the power and spring of obedience in actions and walk, as well as of enjoyment of the blessed place into which he is brought. The rest of the oil is then poured upon his head. The whole man is now characterized by the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Let us notice that here again it is the priest who is prominent. The one to be cleansed is clean according to the judgment of the priest pronouncing the mind of God. Further, it is no action of the man to present himself before the Lord. The place of blessing into which he is brought is also in accordance with the priestly estimate of the provision of the grace of God. What rest does it give to the soul when it realizes that all has been wrought out and accomplished for it by God Himself, according to His own mind! The action of the priest is in accordance with this blessed will and good pleasure of God.
No type can fully set forth the blessing which we possess in Christ; it does but prefigure it. Hence it is impossible that the blessings which are now known by the Christian, through the presence and indwelling of the Holy Ghost, could be fully indicated in the type we have been considering. The Holy Spirit is received that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God. He is the power of life in our souls - the life of Christ. Our bodies are His temple, and as dwelling in us He unites us to Christ. As come from heaven, sent by the Father in the Son's name, He is the Comforter of the saints during the absence of the Lord, and abides with them for ever. What an important fact for us is the presence of the Holy Ghost! Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty - liberty to behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, so that we should be transformed into the same image from glory to glory. We are not yet conformed to His image; not yet in the Father's house in bodily presence; not yet where He is, to behold His glory which the Father has given Him, but the Spirit is come. He is here to announce to us the things to come, to glorify the absent Saviour by taking of His things and showing them to us - the things which are His in the place where He now is with the Father. What a transference from the outside unclean -place to the sphere of the presence and operations of the blessed Spirit of God, both dwelling with us and in us, revealing the things of the Father and the Son, while waiting to be conformed to the image of Christ! Then we shall be with Him and like Him. T. H. Reynolds.
* * *
If I am in Christ, He is in me, and what I have to do is to manifest the life of Christ, that others may see Christ in my walk, and ways, and spirit.