1 Timothy 2:1-7, 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:1-2
The Day of Manifestation
To the solemn fact that all men must have to do with God abundant testimony is borne by the gospel. We read in Romans 14, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall how to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” And not only the overt acts, which men might be able to take account of, but the hidden motives, from which the actions spring, must all be brought to light, for “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
From this day of manifestation there is no escape for any one. It is but very little we know about one another. We pass by, with very little notice, the humble cottage of the peasant, and admire at a respectful distance the palace of the prince, but the horrors or the happiness enclosed within seldom manifest themselves before our eyes. It is so with the individual; no other human being knows all that a man knows about himself, “The heart knows his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Prov. 14:10). We are all very careful to put the best side out, the rottenness within being jealously guarded from the vulgar gaze. But in that day “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). In that day every man will appear just as he is, neither in his best nor in his worst, but in his true nature and character, without addition or subtraction, which might be used to decorate or to degrade.
Now, however blessed a prospect this may be for those who have tasted of the grace of God, it is a most appalling outlook for the sinner in his sins. Death may be dreaded—is dreaded—more than tongue can tell; and well it may be, with its cold, pallid, pulse-less, breathless, motionless form, around which gather stricken, bruised, broken, bleeding hearts, pouring out uncontrollable and wordless grief in gasps and sobs, which threaten the destruction of the frail, earthly tabernacle, but which elicit no response from the mysterious region into which the beloved object has been so ruthlessly hurried. It may be called, “a bend in the road,” “the debt of nature,” “a leap in the dark,” or anything else which the infidel heart of man may invent, but it is at once the most cruel, unnatural, loathsome, and awe-inspiring thing that a living man has to face; and yet the believer can say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
But to the unhappy mortal who begins to feel the presence of the ghastly destroyer drawing near, by far the greater part of his dread comes from the apprehension of something which, crouching in the shadows of the impenetrable future, makes its grim reality felt by every conscience not yet rendered insensible by neglect, ill-usage, or the narcotics of hell, and that something is the dread of having to render account to God. The sting of death is sin; and however terrible death may appear in itself, this makes it ten times more terrible.
But in what an unhappy condition must the relations of the creature with his Creator be, seeing he is appalled at the prospect of having to meet Him. Everything must be woefully out of joint when such is the case. One would not naturally expect such a state of things to exist. Nor would it exist were man not alienated in heart and mind from his Creator. But the truth is he is a sinner against the God who made him, and his only anxiety is to get as far away from Him as ever he can and to keep away from Him as long as he can; and the thought of having to do with Him is a constant terror to the mind. It is conscience that makes cowards of us all; and it will continue to make cowards of us until it has been purged by the blood of Jesus.
That man, as far as he has been able, has excluded God from the earth is easy to see. He has those who love Him here, no doubt; but they are few in number, and of little importance in the world; therefore of them I do not speak. His Son has been rejected by the Jew, slain by the Gentile, and at present is of little account among those who profess His name. To speak of Him where men congregate together requires a considerable amount of moral courage, not possessed by every one who would gladly see Him honoured, and to have Jesus referred to in polite society is more than will be tolerated. The one who does so will find himself considered a nuisance, and people will avoid him as they would a plague.
I am not forgetting that some are regular attenders at what they call a place of worship, though even this outward semblance of the acknowledgment of God is being abandoned by the many, and what with a heathenish ritual on the one hand and politics on the other, there is very little room in some places for the Father and the Son; nor have I overlooked the fact that certain parliaments of the world are opened with the invocation of the blessing of God, though by many of the legislators this is submitted to with very ill grace; nor has it escaped my mind that in case of war His intervention may be solicited by the combatants on both sides, each anxious for His intervention on their behalf, for the destruction of those in the opposite camp, though of course all confidence of success is placed in the skill of the commander, the courage of the men, and the destructive power of the engines of warfare employed in the field; no, I am keeping all these things distinctly in view when I say that God, as a living, blessed reality, to be brought into all the details of life, the Saviour, Guide, and Strength of His weak, erring creature—One who is necessary to our very existence, without whom, and apart from whose direction, it were, on account of the dangers of the way, madness to move; whose will is to be done in everything, and who is now, and shall be for ever, the chief joy of our hearts—is neither known, sought after, nor desired by the great majority of those who are within the circle of the Christian profession. Of course, outside of that He is not known at all.
No worshipper of a false god is ashamed of his leader or fetish. A Mohammedan, Buddhist, sun-worshipper, devil-worshipper, man-worshipper, beast-worshipper, reptile-worshipper—all are faithful to their respective creeds, and unblushingly proclaim their allegiance to that which they hold sacred. But with the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the majority of Christian professors neither can, nor will, have anything to do if they can avoid it. Nothing searches the heart and brings to light the secret rebellion within like the revelation of the true God. The antagonism of the human heart to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ can be explained in no other way than that the revelation of this blessed Being in the person of His Son brings to the soul the sense of responsibility and of failure in connection with that responsibility. “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
What has He done to render Himself so obnoxious to His creature? He gives to all life, breath, rain, and fruitful seasons, and fills men’s hearts with food and gladness. Heaven and earth unite in rendering testimony to His beneficence. His love is infinite, His patience marvellous, His grace past telling. And yet the language of the human heart has been ever since the Fall, “Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?” (Job. 21:14-15). What is the meaning of all this antagonism to a God of such unspeakable goodness? Why should there be a ban upon the name of Jesus, so that the timid amongst His people blush to the roots of the hair when in the presence of the men of the world they are compelled to bear a little feeble testimony to Him? And why may we speak about every other man, either dead or alive, without being branded rude or offensive, but not of Jesus? Why should not the Father and the Son be the great theme amongst men on the highway, in the drawing-room, and in public places of resort? Why should we see the novel and not the New Testament lay in the lap of the railway traveller? Why should it take less courage to scale a rampart bristling with cannon than to speak amongst strangers of Jesus and the love of God? Such questions are easily asked, but they may not be so easily answered. The answer furnished by Scripture is that man is a sinner, under the power of darkness, having his ideas of God conveyed to his mind by the father of lies. He is suspicious of his Creator, dreads having to do with Him, because he is a rebel against His authority, a transgressor at heart, loving to have his own way, and distrustful of God in His overtures of grace.
And yet the day is fast coming in which he shall have to give account of the deeds done in the body, which must be rendered to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. Woe be to those who have to stand before that throne on the ground of creature responsibility. What a day of anguish it will be for all who have failed to avail themselves of the shelter provided for those exposed by their sins to that judgment. In view of that day the Apostle says, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). It had no terrors for him, nor has it for any of the children of God, for all such have availed themselves of the way of escape held out to all in the gospel. “We have boldness for the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17). But for those who stand there in their sins it will be a day of blank despair.
Now whether it be as Saviour or as Judge that God deals with men, it is by Christ He does so. At the present moment He has assumed the character of Saviour, but there is a day coming in which He will sit as Judge upon the throne, and that is the day in which “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess to God.” There can be no escape for any one. As to the judgment of the living, those who know not God and who obey not the gospel shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thess. 1). As to the judgment of the dead, we have that in Revelation 20:11-15, “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Whether the judgment be that of the living or that of the dead, there does not seem any escape from the second death for those who come into it.
And is this not just what one should expect? Surely there must be something wrong where an innocent man is arraigned before the judge, and there must surely also be something sadly at fault where a guilty man escapes the punishment due to his offence. It is true that in the courts of the world men are often brought before the judges and placed upon their trial, and the jury may bring in a verdict establishing the guiltlessness of the accused, the Crown having failed to prove the reverse. But this is not so with men at the bar of God. No one is brought there to see whether he be guilty or not, but as guilty and proven guilty, to have determined by his works the degree of punishment which must be inflicted (Luke 12:47-48). Had man remained in innocence there would have been neither dying day nor judgment day for him, but having rebelled against God he has compelled his Creator to assume toward him the character of Judge, for the righteous Governor of the universe must deal with iniquity wherever it is found, and mete out to it the judgment which it demands.
The Psalmist pleads with the Lord not to enter into judgment with His servant, “for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Ps. 143:2). Therefore the only hope of the Psalmist was that he might not be brought to stand before the bar of God to be judged. Was this a vain petition? Is it possible to have such a prayer answered? Have we not seen that we must all give account to God? It is not a vain petition by any means, and were it not possible to have it fulfilled no man could be saved. To be compelled to give account to God is not the same thing as to be brought into judgment. All must be manifested before the judgment seat, but that does not mean that all thus manifested must have their portion in wrath or favour determined by the deeds done in the body. Salvation is not of works. The believer is already justified and partaker of the life of the risen Christ; and when the judgment comes he will be in the likeness of the Judge and glorified along with Him (Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:43). And not only that, but it is expressly stated by the Judge Himself that the believer does not come into judgment, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears My word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment [R.V], but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
It is necessary for the joy and comfort of our eternal relations with Him who loved us and gave Himself for us that He should go over our history with us, that we may get light as to all His ways with us, and that we should see a little of our own crookedness and of His grace and patience with us; also that we should receive rewards for our little service to Him in the day of His rejection, though all that service was, after all, but the fruit of His Spirit working in us that which was well pleasing in His sight. This will be rather the judgment of our works than the judgment of our persons. But the judgment of the wicked is not the judgment of their works, but the judgment of themselves by their works. To be judged by our works would be to be lost for ever. If man were not a sinner he would not have to come into judgment, but being a sinner there is no hope for him if he does. In that day there will be no miscarriage of justice, for every man will receive according as his work shall be. How the sinner, who by his works has rendered himself liable to that judgment, can escape coming into it the gospel alone can inform us.
Since the beginning of the world there never has been such a day as the present, nor indeed shall there ever be such a dispensation again. It is spoken of as “the accepted time” and “the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). It is the day in which God presents Himself to men as the Saviour of the lost. It is the day in which His gracious interposition on our behalf is testified of to the whole world. The day in which He declares that His desire is that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. In grace and love He has intervened on behalf of all men universally. Such a day of privilege for man never was before and never shall be again.
This salvation is infinitely greater than that which was accorded to Israel, when by the hand of Moses He brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage, purposing to bring them into the land of promise, in order that they might serve Him as a free people. That salvation was but temporal, and the great mass of those saved out of the hand of the taskmaster Pharaoh never reached the purpose of God for them. Their carcasses fell in the wilderness on account of their transgressions. And even the generation which was eventually brought into the land were driven out again for their idolatrous practices, and today their descendants are scattered over the whole earth under the government of God, on account of their rejection of the Messiah. But the salvation which is brought to light today, and which is preached in the gospel of the grace of God, is said to be “in Christ” (2 Tim. 2:10), and “eternal” (Heb. 5:9). It is not an outward, earthly deliverance from a carnal bondage, but it is the emancipation of the soul from the fear of death, and from the devil, the world, the flesh, and every spiritual foe that held the soul in captivity away from God. It is a salvation which is not yet revealed, but which shall come to light at the appearing of Jesus Christ, when all those who have by faith received it will come with Him in the clouds of heaven.
This salvation does not in itself alter the earthly circumstances of those who partake of it. It comes to a poor slave groaning under the lash of a cruel and tyrannical task-master, but from that bondage the gospel does not propose to release him. It raises with him the question of a far more cruel slavery under which he is held, and which, unlike the bondage in which his earthly master holds him, and from which death will eventually release him, has consequences which reach into eternity. Therefore it is of infinitely more importance than any mere temporal deliverance. It involves new relationships with God, and is the settlement of every question which could be raised between the soul and Him with whom we have to do.
Eternal glory is also bound up with it (2 Tim. 2:10). Those who enjoy it rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2). This is their destiny. They give thanks to the Father, who has made them meet to be partakers of the portion of the saints in light; who has delivered them from the authority of darkness, and translated them into the kingdom of the Son of His love: in whom they have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1). They are waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, who will change this body of humiliation, and fashion it like His body of glory (Phil. 3:21). And as regards this glorious hope they will not be disappointed, for “whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
As Israel, delivered from the Egyptians, had the land of Palestine before them, to which God led them through the desert, so believers, delivered from death and the devil as the oppressor of his helpless slaves, have heaven and the glory of God before them, and to this goal they hasten in their journey through the world. And as God fought for Israel, while they held their peace, so has He fought for us, annulling death and him who had the power of it, thus setting us at liberty to move forward on our heavenly journey to the inheritance that is ours where Christ has gone. But, as I have observed, their salvation was all outward and temporal, and had to do with flesh and blood; whereas ours is all inward and spiritual, and has to do with spiritual powers. Then He intervened on behalf of one nation only; now He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Then, again, as to the past dispensation, it was a dispensation of law. At Sinai God took up the character of Lawgiver, though previous to that it had been all grace; but at Sinai He proposed to the people the covenant of works; that they should inherit the land on the ground of the fulfilment of their obligations. Into this covenant the people, in the pride of their vain and foolish hearts, rashly entered, and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8). The madness and folly of attempting to inherit any blessing on the ground of their obedience should have been apparent to them long before they reached Mount Sinai, for their whole journey from the time they left Rameses had been marked by murmuring, complaining, and rebellion against God. Had they had less confidence in themselves they would have pleaded with God to go on with them to the end as He had begun, that was, in pure grace; and had they done so, who will say that He would not have listened to them?
But we have not to do with what might have been, but with what was, and with what is. They put themselves under law, and to them the consequences were terrible. Their work was portioned out to them by Him who knew exactly what the obligations of man to his Creator were. The demand was in no sense exorbitant. It was just what man must be if he were to be allowed to live upon the earth as the creature of God. And it was of life upon earth it spoke, not of getting to heaven. “Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev. 18:5). Neither did the law speak of faith. The dispensation was one of works, not of faith; as Paul says, “The law is not of faith: but, The man that does them shall live in them” (Gal. 3:12). Thus man’s attention was directed to himself and to his works, and to the blessing or curse which resulted from his obedience or transgression. The law did not occupy men with God; He was hidden in the thick darkness.
But the gospel takes the thoughts of men away from themselves to God, who in Christ is in the light; that is, perfectly revealed. It is no longer a question of what man is in goodness for God, but of what God is in grace and love for man. Were there no more in the heart of God for man than there is in the heart of man for God, our case would indeed be woeful. It took four thousand years of probation to bring fully to light the incorrigible hostility of the human heart to God. Had there been no need for this to be done the blessed God might have sent His Son as soon as man fell, and before He was driven out from Eden. Four thousand years may seem a long time to take in demonstrating the utterly lost condition of the creature; but God is patient, and what He does He does perfectly, so that the need to go over the ground again can never occur. As to man, in his littleness and impatience, his “time is always ready” (John 7:6); but until things are ripe for His intervention, God can wait, if need be, for thousands of years. Therefore, before He took the recovery of man completely into His own hand, He waited until it was perfectly proven that there was no power for recovery in man. Then He takes the salvation of the lost into His own hand, and assumes the character of a world-wide Saviour. He would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And to carry out the desires of His heart He has approached us in the Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus. All fleshly distinctions disappear in the presence of this Saviour-God. It is not Jew and Gentile, the former nigh and the latter afar off; but it is one God, one Mediator, and men—God, men, and the Mediator between. The salvation of God is for the whole world. It is no longer a Lawgiver, with a fiery law dealing with one chosen nation and leaving the rest of the world afar off in darkness; but it is a Saviour-God going out to men universally in the love and grace of His heart.
The desires of this Saviour-God could have had no fulfilment apart from this Mediator. To reach us in grace this Mediator was necessary, and He was also necessary for us if we were to have to do with God in grace. To destroy the human race as rebel sinners angelic means were all that was necessary to have employed; but to bring us to Himself in peace and blessing a Mediator was indispensable. Job felt the necessity of such an One, when he cried out in his bitterness of soul, “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 9:32-33).
Men may feel such a daysman as this to be a necessity, but where such an One could be found is far beyond his comprehension. One who could lay one hand upon God and the other upon sinful man would be beyond the possibility of the creature to find. He must be One who on God’s side shall stand on equality with Him, and who on man’s side must have come down to his level. He must be nothing less than God to me, for I am to find God in Him, and yet He must be One to whom I can speak as I would to a fellow-mortal. His terror must not make me afraid, neither must His hand be heavy upon me (Job 33:7). The fact is, this Mediator must be both God and man in one Person. No less a person will do for either God or the sinner.
And such an One is found in the Man Christ Jesus. God speaks of Him as “the Man that is My fellow” (Zech. 13:7). This divine Person, the eternal Son, has become Man, in order that He might be Mediator between God and men. In Him the invisible God has come to light in His nature, that man might know that God is love. In Him I see God manifest, and the darkness is dispelled from heart and mind. His very name tells me the manner in which God has drawn near to us. Jesus brings before us Jehovah the Saviour. At His feet I sit dawn to bask in the full blaze of the perfect revelation of God. I see Him down here in the midst of a world away from God and under the power of the devil.
When He speaks it is God I hear, and when He acts it is God I see. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because 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). Thus all His words and works are attributed to God who sent Him. In looking upon Him I see Him of whom man has naturally such hard thoughts, the One who is in his judgment a hard master and indifferent to the miseries of His creature, and I get to know how terribly He has been misunderstood, belied, and calumniated, and how His poor devil-deceived creature has suffered through the darkness and error in which he is by nature, and my heart is drawn out to Him by the irresistible attraction of His heavenly grace, so that I become a worshipper at His feet.
And this Mediator has given Himself a ransom for all. Had the desire of God for the salvation of lost sinners extended no farther than one nation, then the Mediator had only given Himself a ransom for that nation; but inasmuch as the desire of God is for the salvation of all, the ransom of the Mediator has been made to cover the whole human race. The ransom of the Mediator has opened a way of salvation for every soul of man. God has been met with regard to sin, and has been glorified in every one of His attributes, as He has also been in His nature, and in virtue of this He can send a message of grace to every creature.
The object of the gospel is to open the eyes of all to this great fact, in order that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among those sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18). Where the need of salvation is awakened in the soul of the sinner, and a little of the grace of God, as the gospel presents it, is apprehended, the steps of the wanderer are turned in true repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Until something of the grace of God is apprehended in the soul there will be no turning to Him.
But God, having found a ransom in the death of His Son, is able to send, in righteousness, a free forgiveness to every child of Adam, and this forgiveness finds him in his sins, and in the ruin and degradation into which sin has brought all mankind. It makes no demand upon him for anything. It does not ask him to make any alteration in himself with the object of fitting himself for God. Forgiveness comes to the outcast, the rebel, the thoughtless, the godless, the devil-deceived enemy of God, and it comes to him as he is and where he is, and it is a forgiveness that comes to him accompanied with the love of God.
It is not to believers it comes, but to unbelievers. No one can be a believer until he hears the report; for faith comes by report and report by the Word of God. Before one can be a believer there must be something to believe. This is true in natural things as well as in spiritual. Therefore the gospel comes to men in their natural unbelieving state, and it speaks to them of a Saviour-God and of forgiveness through Christ. The Apostle enters into the Jewish synagogue and preaches to them the intervention of God on behalf of man in the person of His Son; and having set Him in death and resurrection before them, he says, “Be it known to you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.” This was declared to them just as they were, as we say, in the rough. It was just the message to open the eyes of men to the grace of God, to cause them to turn to Him. And the same Apostle tells King Agrippa that he “showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). There was not only the declaration of the grace of God to men, but they were exhorted to avail themselves of it. There was also the terror of the Lord to be taken into account, and knowing this the Apostle says, “We persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). He also warns his hearers of the consequence of refusing such infinite grace. He says, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:40-41). Thus was forgiveness of sins declared, repentance enjoined, the terror of the Lord brought into view, and the awful consequences of despising the message set before their souls.
Forgiveness of sins is, as I have said, declared to men in their natural sinful condition; it is for all, and declared to all, without exception; but the Apostle by the Spirit has also a word for the one who believes, “By Him all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 13:38-41). He has forgiveness of sins for all, but the believer is justified. His sins are forgiven. He is justified from all things; and being justified by faith he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also he has access by faith into the grace in which he stands and rejoices in hope of the glory of God. He can set forward now toward the heavenly inheritance, with the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit. But not only would God have all men to be saved, He would also have them “come to the knowledge of the truth,” The truth is set before us in Jesus. In Him I learn all that can be known of God. The whole truth as to God is set before us in Him, and in Him I learn the whole truth about man. In Him I learn the spirit and bearing which become man in relationship with his Creator, and also with his neighbour. Unquestioning, whole-hearted obedience characterized Him from His entrance into the world until His death on the cross. He was here for the will of God; and whatever was the pleasure of Him whose Servant He had become, this He submitted to, irrespective of how that will affected Him.
In Him risen and glorified I also learn what man is in the thought of God, and to what God is bringing His people. The truth as to man’s relationship with God is set before us in Him, and in no other relationship can man be with God. The better I know Him, the better I know the thoughts of God about His own, “for whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). When risen from the dead He sent the message to His disciples, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” (John 20:17).
What a glorious message it is. May the reader be a partaker of it. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
The House of God
Now while it is true that the blessed risen Lord committed the preaching of this gospel to the servants whom He had fitted for the purpose, it is also true that only in His power was the testimony to be maintained in the world. He tells His followers that it was necessary that He should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name; but He commands them to tarry at Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high (Luke 24:46, 49), and this power He speaks of as “the promise of His Father,” the “Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:8). It is in the power of this Holy Spirit that the testimony of God is maintained on earth.
There is no power in the natural man for anything but evil; neither is there any power for good in the man born of the Spirit, unless he is also indwelt by the Spirit. The new nature has not in itself the power to fulfil its virtuous desires. Its aspirations are all right, but how to carry out into result the good that is inwardly appreciated the one born of God is at a loss to discover. The good he would, he does not; but the evil that he would not, that he does (Rom. 7). The power of the new life is the Spirit of God; and where He is, the soul is free from the law of sin and death and in walking after the Spirit he is able to fulfil the righteous requirement of the law (Rom. 8:4). He is not only born again, and as born again filled with desires to please God, but a power has come into him, and taken possession of him in a way that enables him to fulfil the right desires of his renewed mind.
It is so as to the service of God. The flesh can contribute nothing. Its activities are valueless in the things of God. Whatever is done for God in the world must be done in His power. This Paul seems to have had to learn after he had been caught up into the third heaven. The Lord allowed Satan to send a messenger, which Paul speaks of as a thorn for the flesh, to buffet him. It was really the care of the Lord for His servant that allowed Satan thus to trouble him. The natural pride of the flesh would, on account of the revelations given to him, have puffed him up, and thus rendered him unserviceable to Christ; but this thorn was something which seems to have crippled him in his preaching (2 Cor. 10:10), and made him contemptible in the eyes of those who looked at things from a human standpoint. Three times be goes to the Lord about this thorn, but the answer of the Lord to him leaves no doubt on his mind that, in sending this messenger to buffet him, Satan had overreached himself, and had made Paul a more valuable servant than ever; for all that is done for Christ on earth must be done in His power, and His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Therefore the Holy Spirit is here to carry on the work of the Lord. He takes up those gifted by the risen and glorified Christ for the service He has committed to them; but it is He who takes them up, and it is He who uses them. The vessel is fitted for the gift put into it, but the vessel is also filled with the power of God; and so we can well understand the Lord telling His servants to tarry in Jerusalem until they should be endued with power from on high. They had received their commission, and their work was set before them, but they were not to attempt to set about it in their own might. The body is the vessel of the Spirit, and He will use the members of the body; but that which the man is morally has come under the judgment of the cross, and He will not use that. If He refuses the flesh a place in His favour, so that a man has to be born again if he is to be in relationship with God, we may be very certain He will not use the flesh in His service.
But the Spirit of God being here in connection with the testimony of God, it is necessary He should have a house wherein to dwell. And it is important to see that God has a dwelling-place on earth. That He is omnipresent we know, and that in Him we live and move and have our being we read in His Word, but man from the beginning was taught to look to the heavens as the dwelling-place of God, and only on the ground of redemption did He take a dwelling-place on earth. As soon as Israel was delivered from the hand of the enemy and led forth as a people whom He had redeemed to Himself, He says, “Let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8): He dwells with men on the ground of redemption. Moses set up a tabernacle for Him in the wilderness; and afterwards, when in the land, Solomon built Him a house. But as that whole dispensation stood or fell on the ground of the fulfilment by man of his obligations, it very soon came to nothing, and their house was left to them desolate (Matt. 23:38).
Now, on the ground of the redemption accomplished by Christ, we have the saints builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). By the ministry of Christ upon earth this house was builded, and when He was glorified the Holy Spirit came down to take up His abode in it; and from that day until the present a divine Person has been dwelling here below. The First Epistle to Timothy was written to the end that the servants of God on earth should know how people ought to behave themselves in that house.
The first and most important thing referred to is, that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks” were to “be made for all men.” Why was this? Because “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The One who dwells there imparts His nature and character to those who compose the house. He has assumed the character of a Saviour-God on behalf of all men, and to this wondrous and blessed fact those who compose the house bear witness. Supplication is to be made for all men, for the grace of God goes out to all in the gospel, and the house is the pillar and base of the truth, in relation to this attitude of God toward a world in revolt against Him.
It is important to see this, for there are many and great truths which are not unfolded in this epistle, such as our eternal relations with God—children, sons, the Spirit of sonship, the Father’s name, eternal life, and our relations with Christ as His brethren, His body, and His bride. It is the light which shone out in Christ down here in the surrounding gloom that is to be maintained now that He has gone on high, in the power of the Holy Spirit through this marvellous structure which is spoken of as the assembly of the living God. I may say that there is added to that which came to light in Christ in the days of His flesh the fact of His death, resurrection, and exaltation to the right hand of God; but the house of God takes the place of Christ, as the witness of the grace and love of God to the world.
It is important to keep distinctly before the mind that there are two thoughts connected with the house of God; they are, first, God’s dwelling with us, and, second, our dwelling with Him. The latter is more that which is presented to us in the Father’s house of John 14. There it is a wonderful and everlasting place of blessing which is set before us, in which we shall enjoy to the full the sweetness of companionship with Christ and sonship in the unclouded light of the Father’s face, as holy and blameless before Him in love. The joy of that holy and blissful scene no creature tongue could tell. With that unspeakably blessed place the notion of testimony cannot be connected. It is all for the delight and satisfaction of the heart of the Father and the Son, and for our eternal happiness, rest, and joy.
But with the thought of God dwelling with us is introduced the idea of testimony and responsibility, though what is testified is not the joy of our relationship with God, but what He is in His grace to the world, in the darkness of which we are set to shine for Him. In the lives of those who compose the house the true character of the gospel is to be delineated; and for the truth of that gospel they stand in the midst of this ruthless and God-hating world, like a rock in the midst of a raging sea, and bearing a light which penetrates the surrounding gloom with the bright rays which emanate from every living stone in the building of God, to guide the despairing and storm-tossed mariner to the only haven of refuge. In that testimony every Christian is set by the very fact that he is a Christian. He may be a faithful or an unfaithful witness, but a witness he is, if he has taken the place of a believer in Jesus.
In the Epistle to the Philippians we have saints in the brightness of “first love,” and we see that all their energies are directed to the end that God as a Saviour might be kept before men in the testimony of the gospel. Their fellowship was with the gospel from the first day until the day in which Paul wrote to them; and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel they were all partakers of the grace of the Apostle. To him they had often ministered their carnal things; and the desire of the Apostle for them was that their manner of life might be in harmony with that gospel which was so dear to their hearts. And what was true of the Philippians is just that which should be true of all who profess His name. It is well to know how we ought to behave ourselves in the house of God.
Those who are living stones in that building are in the light of the revelation of God, and this is the secret and strength of their testimony, “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” This is the mystery of all the piety which comes to light in the house of God. And without controversy this mystery is great. It is the revelation of God in the Son down here in flesh and blood. This is what illuminates that glorious structure, a light which is above the brightness of the sun.
This is the great witness to a Saviour-God. Here prayer goes up to God unceasingly for all men, for those who pray are in the mind of God, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Rulers are taken account of, and prayer goes up for them that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, and the power of God is sought for those who go forth preaching the glad tidings (Acts 4:24-30). Where rulers set themselves against the testimony of God the attention of the Lord is besought to such, and for those who preach supplication is made, “that with all boldness they may speak Thy word, by stretching forth Thy hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy holy servant [R.V.] Jesus.” When Peter was cast into prison prayer was made for him without ceasing (Acts 12); and almost in every epistle Paul desires the prayers of the saints, “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1).
Of course, in speaking thus I have the house of God before me according to its true character, not that which it has come to in the responsibility of those who never learned how to behave themselves in it. False indeed it is as a witness for God in the midst of this darkness, and therefore it shall in the end be rejected by Him (Rev. 3:10). In the days of the apostles it had already become obnoxious to the judgment of God, and Peter tells us that the time had come when judgment must begin at it. And this is not, as some have thought, mere discipline, which was ever the portion of those beloved of God (Heb. 12:6), but it is judgment in the sense of the execution of wrath. It has its parallel in Ezekiel 9, where the executors of the judgment of God were to go through the city of Jerusalem and smite, and their orders were to “begin at My sanctuary.” If God begins to judge, that which is most privileged, and which lies nearest to Himself, but has been unfaithful, must be the first to feel the brunt of His anger. Surely none of His own will be suffered to perish, but that which professes the name of Christ in this world will as certainly come under His judgment as did the sanctuary in which for centuries He had His abode.
But if that which bears the name of Christ, and which is responsible to maintain the light of a Saviour-God in this dark world, has so miserably failed, as is manifest today, we are not bound to follow in its footsteps. Our eye need not be turned to it for our guidance in our path of testimony. The house is still here, and God by the Spirit still dwells in it, and we have plainly put before us in the Scriptures the conduct becoming such a holy place. There is all the more reason, now that the multitude have gone astray, for the individual to hold up the standard of truth, and to order his walk and ways according to the character of Him who has manifested Himself in the person of His beloved Son as a Saviour of the lost. When the profession goes to the bad the man of God has an opportunity of showing his faithfulness on behalf of His testimony to whom be owes so much.
Were things in the profession of Christianity as they should be, how irresistible that testimony would be. The desire of the heart of Christ for His own was, “that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21). In such a state of things the Spirit would be ungrieved, and the glorious light of the gospel would shine undimmed.
The house itself is not a preacher, nor does it direct attention to itself, but its privilege is to be so in the enjoyment of the love of God, that all who come into contact with it shall be made to feel that God has an interest in the salvation of their souls; in short, that He would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The moment it directs attention to itself it has become a false witness, a soul-murdering ignis fatuus, like the decoy lamp of a wrecker, which lures the storm-tossed mariner to destruction.
Therefore it is of all importance to have the heart well in the light of the love of God. We have no light in ourselves. Like the moon, which is entirely dependent on the sun for all the light it can minister to us in the still hours of the night, we are dependent upon the Lord, for it is only in Him that we are light (Eph. 5:8). Hence in the darkest day depicted by the pen of inspiration we are exhorted to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21). If our souls are kept continually basking in the warmth and comfort of that radiant light, there is no danger of our not bearing faithful testimony for God in the midst of this gross darkness.
Ephesus was threatened with the removal of her candlestick because she had left her first love (Rev. 2:4-6). The saints there had allowed the world to come between them and the love of God, and that evil eclipse left their hearts cold and desolate, and they were of little service to God in the way of testimony. And if they did not shine, there was but little reason for keeping the candlestick in the place. It was not there for ornament, but for use, to hold a light for an absent and rejected Christ; and if it did not do that, and it could not do it where the heart was full of the world, there was nothing for it but the removal of it out of the way.
In speaking thus of the house of God there is no thought of a material building. As I have shown, the building is composed of living stones—believers on the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor am I thinking of their service, in the way of prayers, and intercessions, and giving of thanks for men, as only going on when they are gathered together. We read that men are to pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting. The house does not exist any more when the people are gathered together than it does when all are occupied with their daily avocations. Prayers are to go up continually to a Saviour-God; and men are to pray everywhere. There are places where women are to be silent—that is, in the assembly (1 Cor. 4:34)—but men pray everywhere, and at all times.
In the light of what we have been considering, how foolish and wicked the thought is that the time for gospel testimony is over. When that day comes we shall be glorified with Christ, though even then there shall be a testimony go out through others. But were that day over all testimony would be over, for there is no other testimony to be rendered. And we must keep in mind that in 2 Timothy, where the evil is depicted in its most awful colours, we have the Apostle telling the servant of the Lord to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4). When the blessed God abandons the character of a Saviour-God it will be time enough for us to speak of the testimony of the gospel as come to an end.
That this day shall come to an end we are well assured, but it is not so yet; therefore the reader may not despair, for still is it true that “him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
The apostles and evangelists were heralds of the gospel. They went everywhere preaching the Word; and wherever they went there were those who believed the report. As I have already pointed out, faith comes by report. It is so in natural things. If we cannot verify what we hear, we accept or reject it, according to the reliability, or otherwise, of the witness upon whose authority it comes to us. Without report of some nature faith could not exist. The Spirit of God tells us (Rom. 10:17) “faith comes by hearing,” or report; it is not the act of hearing, but the thing heard that is referred to. The report is the Word of God.
Therefore the word trust could not well be substituted for faith, though in the things of God they are very intimately connected. It is really because of faith in some testimony which He has given of Himself that I am led to trust Him. If I did not believe the testimony or word addressed to me, I would not trust Him; but His Word is the revelation of Himself—of His thoughts, His mind, His will—and by His Word I get to know Him in some measure, and this begets trust in Him, for He is worthy of the trust of all His intelligent creatures. I know men, therefore I do not trust them, for I know that they are evil and capable of deceiving me. I know myself, and therefore I do not trust myself, for I know that I am full of deception. I know the blessed God, for He has brought Himself to light in Christ, and Him I can trust with all my heart, for in such an one as Christ there is no deception. But if I did not take Christ, in the first instance, to be the perfect revelation of God, His WORD to men, it would show that I had no knowledge of God, for when He came to light in His Son I did not recognize Him, and without faith in the revelation which He gave of Himself I could have no trust in Him, for I could not trust a Being of whom I was so utterly ignorant.
The witness of men never makes us absolutely certain. There is generally an element of incredulity left lingering in our minds, even after we have accepted what we consider reliable human testimony; for, knowing what man is, we cannot absolutely trust him to tell the exact truth, and we are not very greatly astonished when we find we have been altogether deceived. But the gospel is the Word of the living God, and it sets Him before us in a light never known to us otherwise. It is His intervention on our behalf that it speaks of; and while, on the one hand, it exposes us to ourselves in all our sinfulness, nakedness, and ruin, on the other, it brings God before us in His fathomless grace, drawn near to us in the person of His Son, who gave Himself a ransom for all, that a way of salvation might be opened up for all, according to the desire of Him who would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The faith begotten by this report is divine. We cannot verify the things reported, but faith substantiates them to us, convinces us of their truth and reality, so that they become dearer to us than life itself.
A great deal has been said about faith, as though it was something introduced by Christianity, which had never been in the world previous to the advent of our Lord. As the revealed principle upon which men are brought into, and maintained, in blessing with God, it is indeed new, for there is today no other way of life proposed to men. But though faith was not the declared ground of blessing before Christ, there never was any other principle of blessing from the beginning. There are only two principles upon which blessing has been proposed to men: the one is works and the other faith. And the two are utterly opposed to one another as dispensations, though they blend together in perfect harmony in the soul of the saint of God. But “the law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12), and grace is not of works (Rom. 4:3-5). Law sets me to work; grace speaks of the work of God. During the whole period of the probation of man the fulfilment of his obligations, mingled with grace, was the ostensible ground upon which he was in relationship with God. The law which was given by Moses was the measure of the responsibility under which he was placed, and he was told that if he did these things he would live (Lev. 18:5). But on the ground of works it was impossible for man to inherit blessing, for he was utterly unable to fulfil his obligations. On that ground man was lost. Neither in the antediluvian, patriarchal, nor legal dispensation were men ever blessed on any other principle than that of faith. But that was not the public testimony of God to men, but rather His secret way of saving those who were the people of His choice. This could not become the revealed principle of blessing until the trial of man was over; for once it comes to light that man is to be saved by faith it is evident that he is a hopelessly lost sinner. Faith lays hold of the intervention of God in grace; but this is unnecessary if man can deliver himself by his own efforts. The law proved that man, even with the help of God, was unable to secure a title to life; for the truth is he never was under pure law at all. The law was spoken from the midst of the devouring fire, and out of the thick darkness the voice of the Lawgiver broke upon the ears of the trembling tribes; but they very soon broke that covenant, and the second time it came to them it came mixed with the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord (Ex. 34:5-7). But even accompanied with this announcement of grace on the part of God, it proved itself to be a ministration of death and condemnation. There was no possibility of man living in relationship and blessing with God on the ground of works.
There is a notion in some people’s minds that the various dispensations were moral and spiritual stages in the history of the world, each stage being evolved out of the one preceding it, and all leading up to perfection in Christ. Every fresh acquisition of light is said to be according to the ability of man to take it in; that the world is advancing from infancy to manhood; and that the standard was raised according to the growth of the understanding of the disciple. But what we learn from Scripture, supported by the history of the world as we know it, is just the opposite of this, and that, instead of moral and spiritual progression in each dispensation, retrogression has been the invariable order. If we take the antediluvian world, instead of making use of the light given them of God, things became so intolerable to its righteous and holy Governor that nothing would do but the complete destruction of the human race, Noah and his family excepted. Take the patriarchal age: the sons of Noah became worshippers of idols (Josh. 24:2). Out of this Abram was called: but Isaac does not come up to his father in power with God; Jacob is lower in the scale than Isaac, and the sons of Jacob lower still, while the twelve tribes revolted against the rule of Jehovah, broke the law, stoned the prophets, and murdered their Messiah. And as to the Gentile nations, we have a record of their progress in Romans 1:21-32, and the reading of it is enough to make the hair of one’s head stand on end. The history of the world has been downgrade from start to finish.
Into this world came the Son of God manifesting the Father in His own person by word and work. Did it know Him? Not in the least (John 1:10; 1 Cor. 1:21). Did it welcome the light which came in His person? It hated it with perfect hatred (John 3:19-20; 15:24). The antediluvians could not have displayed more ignorance of God or antipathy to Him. And it was not the uneducated, ignorant, thoughtless multitude which set themselves so in opposition to Him, but it was the enlightened leaders of the people who condemned and crucified Him. The fact is, the infancy of the world was not so far away from God as its manhood is. His ways with men were less restricted then than they are now. The world got farther and farther away from Him as it grew older, and He grew more reserved with regard to it, and His visitations became less and less frequent, until with the corruption of Christianity they ceased altogether.
When man had ruined himself by his primal transgression he could expect nothing from the hand of God but the judgment of which he had been forewarned. Faith in the grace and mercy of God was as yet a stranger to his heart. It could only be brought into existence by report, and as yet no report of the compassions of God had gone forth. Hence his one desire was to get away from God altogether, and, if possible, have no more to do with Him for ever. But though he had broken with God God had not as yet broken with him. If the creature will not seek his Creator, then the Creator will seek His creature. “Where art thou?” brings him from his hiding-place, naked in his transgression. He must now give an account to God as to the cause of his deplorable condition; he must hear what God has to say to him; and his eternal destiny must depend upon what shall go forth from the lips of Him against whom he has so grievously offended. His weal or woe must be determined by the word of God. And because of this, faith must now be the principle of his relationship with God.
In answer to the Creator’s question a superficial account of his error is given with callous indifference as to the effect which his words may have upon the fate of that poor deceived creature whom but a little while ago he had taken to his bosom, claiming her as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He said nothing about the secret and treasonable thought of his heart, to grasp at divinity in eating the forbidden fruit. The after history of that man and his guilty race—above all, the Son of God laid lifeless in the tomb of the godly Arimathaan, murdered by wicked hands—exposes to the very roots the treasonable nature of that primal disobedience.
But the announcement of a Deliverer awakens faith in the heart of the poor sinner; while the coats of skin with which their nakedness was clothed spoke of God as a Justifier, and set in figure before their eyes the way in which their justification could alone be effected. This faith found a resting-place in the heart of Abel, who came in the confession of his sinful condition, but with a sacrifice which set forth in type the sacrifice of Jesus. This God accepted, and Abel obtains witness that he is righteous; for the acceptance of his gifts meant his own acceptance by God. By the same faith Enoch walked with God, and escaped the common lot of mankind by translation. This faith acting in Noah leads him to prepare an ark for the saving of his house, thus condemning the world; and he became the sole heir of the righteousness which is by faith; and in the world which succeeded the deluge he became the witness of the favour of God towards those who cast their souls upon His unfailing grace. Abraham, in the power of the same faith, leaves the world and all earthly expectations, putting his trust in the living God, who, he was certain, would not leave the demon-ruled earth for ever in the state in which He then saw it to be, but would bring in an order of things which would have moral foundations, and which would be brought about by the God of resurrection. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and myriads of others follow in the same line, “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11). These are some of the effects produced by faith in the heart, and without faith it is impossible to please God.
Faith is the link between God and the soul of man, and it is a link that nothing can break. It is also a great deal more certain than sight. Sight may be defective; we may be mistaken in trusting to it but we cannot be mistaken as regards faith. It is the Word of God rooted in the soul, the Word that is preached in the gospel living in the heart of the man who receives it. It is like nothing else, and it is beyond the power of man to give a definition of it. No definition of it is attempted in Scripture. Hebrews 11:1 is in no sense a definition of it, but a statement regarding its characteristics and power. Like everything else, it has been called into existence by the Word of God. Apart from that Word it could have no existence. As I have said, it is the Word of God rooted in the soul, and enlightening it with the knowledge of Him whose Word it is. The Word of truth implanted in the soul is that which forms an eternal link with God. To prevent this the devil snatches away the preached Word out of the heart where he can, lest it should take root, or, in the words of Scripture, “lest they should believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). If the Word is believed it takes root, for the believing is the taking root. In this I am not attempting to define that which I have said cannot be defined, but I am showing from Scripture, as well as I am able, some of the things which are true of faith. Scripture shows that it is indestructible, that it is the gift of God (Phil. 1:29), that it overcomes every obstacle and every enemy (1 John 5:5), and it is by that means we are kept by the power of God to salvation (1 Peter 1:5). It makes the unseen things much more real to the soul than the seen things are, and where it is not there is no link with the living God.
It is not difficult to see that, man having fallen under the dominion of sin, the power of the devil, and the judgment of death, his eternal destiny must be settled by the attitude which God may assume toward him; and hope or despair must result from whatever word proceeds out of the mouth of God when his guilt comes to be mentioned. From the outset God directed the attention of men to Himself as their only hope, and by revealing His grace and love sought to beget in their hearts confidence in Himself. On the other hand, it was the object of the enemy to prevent the Word taking root in the heart of the hearer, so that man might be kept for ever at a distance from the source of all blessing. He has been successful with the great mass of mankind, but the day is coming in which he shall receive his judgment, and in that day the redeemed universe will rejoice with great joy.
The past dispensation was one of law or works, but the present is a dispensation of faith. It is now no question of what a man’s works are; he can be saved no other way than by faith. It is now “he that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). On the ground of works no one could have been saved, for man’s works are all evil; but now in the name of Jesus forgiveness of sins is preached everywhere, and the man who believes is justified from all things. He may be the most moral man in the world, or he may be the most degraded, but every man needs a Saviour, and in the gospel that Saviour is presented to him as One who died for our sins, was buried, rose again, and is now at the right hand of God; and by faith in Him salvation is secured. The hymn which says, “Cast your deadly doing down … Doing ends in death,” has been said by those who are ignorant of the gospel to be blasphemy, but it is the truth of God. It is faith and faith alone that saves the soul; that is, of course, faith in the Saviour of the lost, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this dispensation God presents Himself as the worker (John 5:17), and Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). If man was unable to keep himself in his first estate, we need not imagine he will be able to recover himself once he is fallen. No: God is the Justifier of the ungodly, the Saviour of sinners, and the soul who believes on Jesus is justified and saved by the grace of God. “To him that works not, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
For mere man there is no other place in relationship with God but innocence or glory. But innocence being now lost, glory is the only alternative to the lake of fire; though the latter place was never intended for man at all (Matt. 25:41). There can be no return to innocence, for man has acquired the knowledge of good and evil; and he has that knowledge in a fallen condition, having acquired it by an act of disobedience, and this knowledge he retains throughout his history of rebellion against God. God said of fallen man, he “is become as one of Us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:22) and he was turned out of the garden with the judgment of death hanging over his guilty head. There was no getting back to his original state, and therefore he is cast out from the place where he had enjoyed the rich blessing of God. Now if he is to be with God at all in blessing, he must be with Him in a new way; he must be with Him in a way consistent with the knowledge gained by his wicked attempt to grasp at equality with God; and he must be with Him in a way suited to Him who could say that, as far as knowledge of good and evil was concerned, he had become as “one of Us.” If he is to be in blessing with Him he must not have thoughts of good and evil which differ from those of his Creator, who alone is the source and supply of all blessing for the creature. He must learn to connect good with God, and he must also learn that all good for the creature comes from God, and lies in complete subjection to His holy and righteous will. And he must learn to connect all evil with the creature, and see it as giving character to those who are in revolt from His authority. He must also be brought to know that “none is good but one, that is God” (Luke 18:19), and to love the good and hate the evil, as God does.
Having broken through the fence erected by his all-wise and beneficent Creator, and having become acquainted with things which lay outside the sphere in which his happiness was enclosed, man could not be in relationship and blessing with God on the old footing. Of course, if the knowledge of good and evil, which made him as “one of Us,” had not been brought in by sin, and if his human moral perfections had not been disturbed by that knowledge, this might indeed have been, and in fact it was, what the law proposed. But in gaining this knowledge man fell away from God, became His enemy, and also became morally corrupt. He loved the evil which had ruined him, and which was now his master, and he hated the good, between which and himself his sin had fixed an impassable gulf. Upon the ground of creature responsibility, according to the place in which he was set on the day in which he was created, there was no standing for him at all. He not only had lost innocence, but he had fallen under the power of evil; and to innocence there was not only no return, but life as God’s creature upon earth, according to his primal relationships and responsibilities, was as impossible as was his return to innocence. It may have taken, and it did take, four thousand years to bring this fully to light, but it was true from the outset, though known only to God.
But the question of innocence being over as regards man, another question comes to light, and that is the question of righteousness. This the law raised fully with man as possessing the knowledge of good and evil, without raising the question of how he came by that knowledge. It promised life on the ground of perfect obedience. It was not life in heaven nor in the glory of God that it held forth as the reward of fulfilled obligations, but life upon earth, from which man at the beginning was debarred in consequence of the fall. By the fulfilment of his obligations he was to maintain himself in life and blessing here upon earth. This proved to be a ministration of death and condemnation, for the poor creature to whom it came was unable to fulfil its righteous demands. Neither life nor righteousness was obtainable under that covenant. Moses had said, as I have already noticed, that the man who did the things commanded would live in them; but as no one did them there was no one to claim the blessing, and therefore death went on with its work, undisturbed by the efforts of the creature to justify himself, and thus ward off his weapon. Therefore the question of gaining righteousness and life by the law, or, what is the same thing, by the fulfilment of creature responsibilities, is just as completely closed as is the question of innocence.
That trial of man under law was carried out under the most favourable circumstances in which the creature could be placed. The people who were taken up to be thus tested were brought up out of Egypt, from the most bitter bondage that any people could be under; and they were brought out of that bondage by the almighty power of God, their eyes being made to witness His terrible judgment upon those who had held them captive, and who had set themselves in opposition to Him when He had intervened as their Deliverer. In the wilderness they were with God, living upon His bounty. To satisfy their hunger bread was given to them out of heaven, and to meet their thirst the flinty rock poured out a plentiful supply of water, cool and refreshing. By day the cloud sheltered them from the broiling sun, and by night the fire lit up their wanderings. But all to no purpose, as far as the gratitude of their hearts was concerned; they filled the wilderness with their wretched murmurings.
In the land He fought their battles, gave them the lands, houses, and cities of their enemies. But what report does the law in which they prided themselves give concerning them? “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
But now the scene is altogether altered. God intervenes for the deliverance of His poor sin-dominated creature. We have seen the way in which He has intervened in the person of the Mediator, who gave Himself a ransom for all, in consonance with the desire of a Saviour-God, who would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. On earth, and in the place where man had dishonoured God, broken His laws, and refused Him in every way in which He had sought to win his heart from paths of sin and death, His beloved Son magnified the law and made it honourable, glorified Him in every one of His attributes, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, and thus opened up a way of salvation for the whole human race.
But redemption having been accomplished we see Man gone back to the Father in perfect righteousness, and thus a new place for man is laid open before the vision of faith. It is not now an innocent man, without the knowledge of good and evil, in an earthly paradise, enjoying the blessing of God in an earthly way, but it is a heavenly man in a heavenly paradise, before God revealed in all the fathomless love of His heart; and this is now, as I have said, the only place of blessing for man wherever found.
Therefore this fact changes the whole character of righteousness. It is now a question of fitness for the glory of God. And this helps us to understand the statement of the Apostle in Romans 3, where he says, there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. The Apostle does not mean to convey the impression that man was once fit, but fell away from that fitness. There are two statements made: the first, that he had sinned; the second, that he is short of the glory, and the reason this is stated is because the glory of God is now the standard of fitness for blessing. There is no getting back to what Adam was. That is all over, as I have said, and as Scripture declares. On the original ground of relationship with God all are lost. God has intervened to recover man in Christ. All have sinned, and this does away with his title to life here on earth, and as he is short of the glory he cannot come in there, so that he is completely undone.
But the gospel reveals to man a new kind of righteousness altogether, the righteousness of God, and entirely apart from law or the conduct of man in any shape whatever, though witnessed by the law and the prophets. These had testified that man had no righteousness of his own, that anything which he might boast himself in as righteousness was only filthy rags; but while rendering this testimony to the unrighteousness and undone condition of those under law, testified of righteousness on the part of God which was yet to be revealed. The sacrificial system under law and the prophetic word brought this righteousness before the people, who found themselves unable to obtain righteousness by their own efforts. But it was not then revealed, nor could it be revealed while the question of man’s righteousness by works of law was still being considered. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:21-23). This is a righteousness not to be measured by man’s accountability as a child of Adam, nor by the relationship in which such a man stood with God; but it is a righteousness which is measured only by the full revelation which God has been pleased to give of Himself, and by the ability of man to stand in the full light of that revelation. It is righteousness on the part of God which, while it covers the whole ground of man’s responsible career, so that he is justified from all things, places the believer in Christ before God revealed in all His attributes and in His nature as love. It is a righteousness which makes the vilest sinner who believes the gospel as fit for the glory of God as Christ is, for we are made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).
This is very different from that which was written upon the two tables of stone, and which was the righteous demand of God upon His creature man. There was no revelation of God: He spoke the words out of the thick darkness, and man was required to do nothing but love God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself, and this was simply that he might on earth enjoy immunity from death and from all the consequences of sin. But the gospel unfolds an entirely new order of things—the righteousness of God, a new place for man in glory, in all the light of God fully revealed; and this is the place in which Christ is, in all the value of His infinite sacrifice, by which God was glorified, and according to the excellency of His blessed Person; for it is on the ground of that which He has done that He has been so highly exalted, and the place of acceptance in which He is tells us of the unspeakable delight of the Father in Him, He has glorified God, and on this account God has glorified Him in Himself (John 13:31-32).
Now this blessed Person is preached in the gospel as righteousness for every soul on earth. Just as the one that died for Adam and Eve in the garden became their covering under the eye of God, so is this glorious Person held out as righteousness for all. He is the “best robe” in which every poor returning prodigal is brought near to God, and accepted in His sight.
And this is just what made the Apostle not ashamed of the gospel. He says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). And there was a necessity for this righteousness, for wrath was revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. All were sinners, and sinners against whatever light they had from God, whether that light was creation, tradition, or law: no one was consistent with the light he had, and hence in the day of judgment there would be nothing but condemnation for all, if God had no way of justification for man apart from works of law, for as many as have sinned without law shall perish without law, and as many as have sinned “in the law shall be judged by the law, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:12-16).
The conduct of man having been proved to be inconsistent with whatever measure of light God had in wisdom and in goodness given to him, and the wrath of God having been revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness, there is no hope for any one on the ground of creature responsibility. And wrath must be the portion of all, whether he be Jew or Gentile; for though all have not had the same measure of light, all have been inconsistent with whatever light they had; and though the judgment will be in proportion to the light so graciously given, there is no one who has not rendered himself liable to it. And as it is “wrath revealed from heaven,” and not governmental, such as pestilences and the sword, it is in its nature eternal and does not terminate with the present life; it is wrath outside His moral government of the world.
How is this state of things to be met? if none are righteous, and wrath is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness, how can any be saved? This is where the greatness and the grandeur of the gospel comes in. If man has got no righteousness for God, God has got righteousness for man, and the groundwork of it all is the ransom of the Mediator, the blood of Jesus. This blood is on the mercy seat, bearing witness to accomplished redemption. It declares the righteousness of God, with respect to the passing over of past sins, such as the sins of believers in the dispensations which have run their courses. If God took sinners like Abel, Abraham, and David into His favour, and did not deal with them according to their works, it was not because He thought lightly of sin, but it was on account of the work of the cross, where sin has received its judgment, and where God has been glorified about it. This blood of Jesus was the foundation of blessing for all saints in all dispensations, but the principle upon which they were justified was always faith in the Word of God. But now forgiveness of sins is declared world-wide, and the soul who believes the gospel is justified from all things (Acts 13:38-39).
And the righteousness of God is just as available on the behalf of the Gentile as on the behalf of the Jew, for God is as much the God of the Gentile as He is of the Jew; and, indeed, it was when Abraham was in uncircumcision that righteousness was imputed to him (Rom. 4). The Apostle tells us that he believed in Him who quickens the dead, and calls those things that be not as being. In the steps of that faith the gospel calls all men to walk. But we have not, like Abraham, to believe that God shall quicken the dead, we have the witness of this power of God before our eyes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and has been raised again for our justification. And thus believing on the God of resurrection, whose power we see acting on our behalf in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, we are justified from all things.
And the righteousness thus made ours is entirely of God, it is not our own righteousness. We had no hand in it. It is not by our works, one way or another. It is like the coats of skins: they were the work of God. It has often been said that God had not a stitch in man’s apron of fig leaves, and that man had not a stitch in God’s coat of skins. It is altogether the work of God. He has undertaken to clothe naked sinners, and He has provided the clothing at an infinite cost to Himself. The clothes, to use the figure, are carried to men, to all men, in the gospel. The believer is clothed with Christ, who is made unto us righteousness, and we are “made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Now being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5). We are no longer short of that glory: we are as fit for it as Christ is; for from God He is made unto us righteousness, and it is in His fitness we are fit. We have none of our own.
The gospel not only brings righteousness to man, it brings also deliverance from the dominion of sin, so that man may be no longer under sin’s bondage. Its reign, as far as the believer is concerned, is to be brought to an end; he is no longer to be controlled by it, but instead of that, he is to become a bondsman to righteousness, having his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Thrice happy are those who know and enjoy this marvellous and blessed deliverance.
But the question may be asked, Is man in his natural condition sin’s bond-slave? Can he never practise righteousness? Must he always and only yield obedience to this terrific master who pays such dread wages as death for all the service rendered to him by his poor degraded servants? Yes, unless delivered by a power greater than his own, he must, as long as he is in this world, continue to serve that pitiless tyrant who for his service brings him dishonoured to the grave. Nor is that all, for afterwards there is the resurrection and the judgment.
But God says that all have sinned; and for the creature to deny this is to fling back the truth as falsehood in the face of his Creator. And God has not only said that all have sinned, but He has said that all are under sin (Rom. 3:9); and the proof that this is so lies in the fact that both Jew and Gentile serve sin with every member of their bodies. Sin reigns in the members, and every member serves it with all its might.
Now, to deliver man from this dreadful and unhappy condition, God has drawn near to us in Christ. Surely to justify us, as I have already shown, but also to deliver us from the bondage of sin, so that we might be servants of righteousness.
In answer to this it may be said that freedom does not seem to be any part of the gospel, but that it is only out of one bondage into another. Such is not, however, the case. The only power that held man in bondage universally was sin, and from this he gets deliverance, not by coming under a new master exactly, which would be only out of one condition of slavery into another, like a slave changing masters in the market. It might be all very well if he got a good master in place of a bad one; still, it would not be liberty for him, however much bettered his conditions might be. The gospel sets you free, free absolutely; so much so that the Apostle is able to exhort the Romans with regard to their future conduct, which is now to be willing service—service rendered to God out of pure love to Him.
There is one thing—and only one in such a slavery as that of sin—that can set the slave at liberty from his master, and that is death. And this is just the way in which the believer has been set free from the bondage in which the gospel found him. It is through death that he has part in all the blessings of the glad tidings of the grace of God. Not his own death I need hardly say, but the death of Christ for him—a death which he is to appropriate and make his own as one who lives in the life of Christ risen from the dead. He is henceforth to reckon himself dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ. That which is true of Christ he has the privilege of reckoning true of himself. But let us see how the Apostle sets before us this important and blessed truth, and may the Lord by His Spirit guide our thoughts as we inquire at the fountain of eternal truth.
In connection with deliverance there is one thing that has been truly said, and that is, that no one can be in it until he desires it with his whole heart. The doctrine of deliverance is placed before us in Romans 6, the experimental process through which the soul has to pass before it is ready to accept the doctrine is set before us in chapter 7, and the happy results which flow from the acceptance of the doctrine are found in chapter 8. But, as I have said, we cannot be in it until we desire it; and how few there are who desire to be dead to all that the flesh longs after. Many seem to be content to know that their past sins are forgiven, and they flatter themselves that their shortcomings are not so heinous in the sight of God as are those of the unconverted, or, if they are, that they have Christ to intercede for them, or else they will hold tenaciously to the eternal security of the saint, or that the righteousness of Christ will make up for their deficiencies: in some way or other they confidently expect all to come right in the end, though their present relations with God are not of the happiest kind practically. A full gospel it was not their privilege to hear at the beginning, and now that they are converted the old wine of a fleshly religion is preferred to the new wine of spiritual Christianity.
In our natural condition it is not only true of us that we are sinners and therefore need righteousness, it is also just as true of us that we are without strength, and therefore require power if we are to be as to our walk well-pleasing to God. And the former is not so difficult for us to learn as is the latter, for conscience, even without any work of grace in our souls, keeps reproving us on account of our ways; but we are all very confident that with a little help from God the latent good that we fancy dwells in us would be filliped into activity, and result in righteousness. But what we have to learn is, that our sins were only the outcome of our sinful state, the evil fruit of the evil tree, and that death to the old is the only way of deliverance for us.
Therefore it is indeed a great day in the history of our souls when we learn that “our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (v. 6). Our old man is our old condition in the flesh. The cross has cut us off from the old sinful head, the first Adam, and we are brought face to face with a new position created for man in Christ risen. And to apprehend this is of the utmost importance; indeed, there is no possibility of deliverance without it. My new place before God is in Christ risen: I have no other. There is no other standing for any one in relationship with God. This new place has been created for man by His death and resurrection, and it is there for my appropriation; and what is true of Him I am to reckon as true of me. “In that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He lives, He lives unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (vv. 10-11). I am not in the flesh at all, I am in Christ; I am alive to God. In Him. Nor am I now alarmed or distressed on account of the incorrigible wickedness of the flesh. It is no better than ever it was; indeed, I now know it to be a great deal worse than ever I knew it, because I have an increased apprehension of what is suitable, or otherwise, to God; but it is not I. It is what I was, but what I am no longer; I am what Christ is before God, for “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). He is dead to sin, so am I; He is alive to God, so am I.
Perhaps it may be asked, What is it to be in the flesh? It is to be in the standing and condition of a child of Adam, responsible to fulfil all the obligations resulting from the relationships belonging to such a standing. These obligations were set before Israel in the law given from God at Sinai; and where there is a work of God in the soul which causes that law to be recognized as holy, just, and good, the attempt to fulfil these obligations is just what causes all the exercises described in the latter part of chapter 7, and which leads the soul to the discovery of its own utter weakness, and the powerful nature of the law of sin which reigns in his members. He learns that “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be” (chap. 8:7, R.V.), and that they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Deliverance is found when the soul realizes that it is in Christ before God. It becomes no longer in my mind a question of what I am for God, but of what Christ is for God. I have got Him as righteousness, holiness, and every other thing that I want; I have Him for my acceptance, and for my life, and I lose sight of myself altogether, and know that there is no condemnation to them that are in Him (chap. 8:1). Self no more occupies my thoughts, but God revealed in Christ in His fathomless love, and Christ who supplants self altogether. I now reckon myself dead to sin, and alive to God in Him.
This great truth is set before us in baptism. The Apostle asks the Romans if they are unaware that so many as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto His death. The initiatory ordinance into Christianity, which placed us outwardly in relationship with Christ as Leader of our salvation, placed us upon the ground of His death: we were baptized to Him, but in being baptized to Him we were baptized to His death. It could not be otherwise, because the Christ to whom we were baptized was a Christ who had died and risen again. And the object in thus placing us on the ground of His death was “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (chap. 6:3-4). The doctrine of dead to sin and alive to God in Christ was thus in figure set before them, and they had obeyed it from the heart (v. 17). Thus had they their freedom from sin, and ability by the Spirit, who shed the love of God abroad in their hearts, to live to God; and in this the Apostle seeks to encourage their souls.
Power to obey this doctrine set before us in Romans 6 lies in the Spirit of God. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (chap. 8:9). It is by the Spirit we are enabled to occupy our new position in Christ. “In the flesh” describes our position previous to our reception of the Spirit of God. Even a work of God in our souls does not seem to take us out of the flesh, for it is clear that the exercise described in the latter part of chapter 7 is that of a soul who loves righteousness, but is under law, and in the flesh. Law and flesh seem to be correlative terms.
The experience described from verse 5 to the end of verse 24 of chapter 7 is not Christian experience, but the experience of a soul under law and the power of sin, and the Christian is under neither (chap. 6:14). Neither is it the experience of an unconverted man, for he delights in the law of God after the inward man (chap. 7:22). It is evidently the experience of a soul made alive by the quickening power of the Word, but in ignorance of the new position for man created in the person of Christ by death and resurrection, and without the indwelling Spirit. The reason I say without the indwelling Spirit is because he speaks of himself as “in the flesh,” and Scripture says, “are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (chap. 8:9). The soul whose experience is here described is in the flesh, under law, and under the dominion of sin; and these things are not true of any one indwelt by the Spirit of God. Next, he struggles against sin, which has the mastery over him, speaks of the commandment as holy, just, and good; delights in it, and is wretched because he cannot fulfil its requirement; and this is not true of any unconverted soul.
In chapter 8 we have that which is really Christian experience: there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus; the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death; for such the whole state of flesh has been brought to an end by the cross of Christ, so that they may walk after the Spirit and fulfil the righteous requirement of the law; they are in the Spirit; the Spirit of God dwells in them; Christ is in them, and the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness; and the Spirit of the God of resurrection dwelling in them is the pledge of the quickening of their mortal bodies; by the Spirit they mortify the deeds of the body, and live; He is the Spirit of sonship, whereby they cry, Abba, Father; He bears witness with their spirits that they are the children of God; and He makes intercession for them with groanings which cannot be uttered.
Who would be foolish enough to suppose that all this is true in the man whose experiences we have so graphically described by the Spirit in chapter 7? The fact is, whatever may be said against it, new birth and sealing with the Spirit are not the same thing, neither do both take place at the same instant. The Word of God has power enough in it, apart from any reference to the death and resurrection of Christ, to quicken souls: but in order to the knowledge of justification the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection for our justification must be believed (4:24-25; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Paul did not, we may be sure, preach a different gospel to others from that which he preached to the Corinthians, and what he preached to them was, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and this is the gospel, he says, “by which also ye are saved.” We see from this passage, and also from the third and fourth of Romans, as well as from many others, that the accounts we get in the Acts of the preaching are not intended to give us the doctrine of the gospel, but rather the fact that Christ was preached, and the reception the preaching met with in the world. In Acts we have no account of Paul’s setting before the Corinthians the facts of Christ’s death for our sins, and yet he tells them that this was the gospel he preached to them.
This is a dispensation in which the truth is all declared and the secret ways of God in His grace with men are over, and He does not now propose to bring us into blessing without giving us to understand in some measure the ground upon which our blessing rests, and upon which it righteously can be ours.
Therefore I am thoroughly convinced that the experience of which I have spoken, as described in the latter part of Romans 7, lies between the impartation of a new spiritual nature to man and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The chapter does not enter into the modifications which may be found in the practical lives of the saints of God; the truth is given in its own proper nature and power, and we have to receive it in this way. But to attempt to make the Scripture fit into the practical experience of souls is to rob ourselves of its glorious truth and power for blessing. Our business is rather to seek to find out where souls are by the light given to us in that which the Spirit has been pleased to put upon record for our instruction. We may find souls in an experience similar to that described in Romans 7 who, we are confident, have the Spirit. This will be through not knowing the truth of a full gospel. But that is what we find in souls, not what we find in Scripture: let us stick to the latter.
Power does not lie in new birth or in any other work wrought in us, but in the Holy Spirit of God. He is the power of the new nature, and if we occupy ourselves with the objects which He sets before us in the acceptance of the new place given us in a risen Christ, reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Him, and go on in constant dependence on God, realizing our own weakness, the victory over sin will most surely be ours.
The Holy Spirit
Power belongs to God (Ps. 62:11). It does not lie in the new nature, though that nature be of God, and though it be both incorruptible and indestructible. The soul newly and only born again is as weak and helpless as is a babe newly born after the flesh: it can do nothing but desire. The desires of one born again are right, but he has no power to put these desires into practice: the good he would he does not; but the evil he would not, that he does. I have already spoken of this; it is the state of soul described in the latter part of Romans 7. The Spirit of God is the power that makes the difference between this and the next chapter, but along with that heavenly gift, the realization of the new place we have in Christ risen from the dead. For the soul who has the Spirit of God, and knows his new place in the risen Christ, and walks in dependence upon God, uninterrupted victory over sin is his constant realization, it is not that there will not be conflict, but the conflict described in Romans 7 is a conflict which is so one-sided that one of the combatants has it all his own way, and the other can do nothing at all but groan out his utter wretchedness, like a weakling in the hands of a giant; but when the Spirit of God is there it is He who takes up the conflict, and victory is ours (Gal. 5:17).
It is necessary to have the Spirit, for without His indwelling there is no power against sin. There is no power in the creature, let the creature be in nature or in new birth. Power is only in God. Adam fell when in innocence; and, indeed, every creature falls who is not upheld by the might of God. It is impossible to suppose that power could reside anywhere else than in the Creator Himself. Redemption places man in the power of God, and this is one of the first things he has to learn, in order that his walk may be in dependence upon his Redeemer. No inherent power is bestowed upon the creature by any work that may be done by God in his soul. A great work has been done already in the souls of His people, and we are still looking for a great work to be done, for we wait the Saviour from heaven who will change our bodies and fashion them like to His own (Phil. 3:21); but no work shall ever be done in us that will set us up in a power independent of God. Indeed, the principle of sin is just this, that man arrogates to himself an independent existence from God, and claims the power and prerogative of doing as he pleases. Christ is said to have been crucified through weakness, but lives by the power of God (2 Cor. 13:4). He was weakened down in death when He gave Himself for our sins, but by the exceeding greatness of the power of God He now lives in resurrection, and by that same power we now live in Him, and soon shall live with Him (Eph. 1:19, 23; 2:1-6; 2 Tim. 2:11; Rom. 8:11). God, on the ground of the death of Christ, is setting everything up in His own power, and this is just the security of the new heavens and the new earth, and of all that will be in them.
Therefore, if we are to be brought to the knowledge of the truth, we must not only learn our sinfulness and the need of righteousness, but we must also learn our utter weakness. But this weakness we only begin to learn when there is a work of grace done in our souls; and the first work of grace is new birth. It is that which the Lord tells Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (John 3). When that work has been wrought in our souls our great desire is to please God; and though we mix up our acceptance with our doing, and expect God to approve of us because of that which He may find in us, still our delight is really in the doing of His will so far as we know it, and the misery of our condition lies in the fact that we are under the dominion of sin, and unable to do the good which we approve of. This is the way we learn that we are without strength.
Now the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from this terrible bondage. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Where He is there is always a measure of this liberty, even where the soul is yet in ignorance of his true place in Christ risen. Where the doctrine of the gospel only has been learned there is no more power than where it is utterly unknown, for, as I have said, all power lies in the Spirit. But even where the Spirit is, and our place in Christ unknown, the measure of liberty enjoyed will not be complete. The cross and the Spirit go together, and both are necessary for complete deliverance.
The Spirit sheds abroad in the believer’s heart the love of God; is in his heart the Spirit of sonship crying, “Abba, Father;” witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God; occupies us with objects that carry us out of ourselves altogether, and which are more attractive than any earthly things; and without such objects liberty would be impossible for us. But the cross has severed us completely from the old things, and in Christ we are brought into a new order of things altogether, and the Holy Spirit is the power by which these things are known and enjoyed, but when they are known and enjoyed the reign of sin is over for us for ever.
Now, though saints in the past dispensations were born again, they are never said to have been sealed with the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit as a Person dwelling upon earth and in the bodies of believers was unknown till the day of Pentecost. The blessed Lord told His disciples that it was expedient that He should go away, for if He went not away the Spirit would not come to them; but if He went He would send Him. But John the Baptist had already pointed Him out as the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
This divine Person came to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, and He has been here ever since, and will be here as long as the church remains upon earth.
Christians are builded together for His habitation. They are His house, but of that I have already spoken. But He also dwells in believers’ bodies. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. God claims them: they are His (1 Cor. 6:20); and we are to present them to Him a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1); but we can only do this in the power of the Spirit.
No greater gift could God bestow upon His people than the gift of the Spirit. The Lord says to His disciples, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). No less a gift would do for those who have no might in themselves. Nothing would suffice for our redemption but the death and resurrection of God’s Son, and no other power than that of His Spirit could lead our souls into the blessedness of the new place that is ours in and with Christ.
The first thing in the history of the dealings of God with souls is new birth, for without that there would be no seeking after God. This is produced by His Word, and His word of glad tidings. When this takes place the soul becomes a seeker after God. His eyes are opened, and he turns from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan to God, that he may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith (Acts 26:18). There clearly we see a work of grace in the heart previous to the soul coming to God and receiving forgiveness, and I do not think that Scripture speaks of any work done in the soul previous to new birth, indeed, the very term “born again” precludes the idea of anything previous.
Quickening is also the first beginning of that work of grace, for until that takes place the soul is in moral death. Still, these terms do not both convey the same thought to the mind, for one is a man’s birth, and with that we cannot connect any previous history. But with regard to quickening, it is a dead man who is said to be quickened; that is to say, a new life has been communicated to him. And yet life is connected with new birth, for we are born again by the living Word of God. This settles the question that Scripture does connect life with new birth. But “quickened together with Christ” (Col. 2:13) is only predicated of a person who has received the Holy Spirit. It is consequent on His “having forgiven you all trespasses.” It is the same life surely, but now in the energy of the Spirit of God, for in no other way than by the gift of the Spirit could we be said to be in living association with Christ. He “lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 13:4); He was quickened by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18); and by the Spirit gave commandments to His disciples after His resurrection (Acts 1:2). Therefore, in order to be said to be quickened with Him, the life we have must be looked at as in the energy of the Spirit.
We are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believe the gospel of our salvation; and that is the deliverance of Christ for our offences, and His resurrection for our justification (Eph. 1:13; Rom. 4.25; 1 Cor. 15:1-4). New birth, faith in Christ raised from the dead, and the gift of the Spirit: this is the order in which these things come to us if we believe the Scriptures. It is because we are sons, not to make us sons, that we have received the Spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). In the power of the Spirit we worship the Father (John 4:23; Phil. 3:3); in His power the gospel is preached in the world (Luke 24:49; 1 Peter 1:12); by the Spirit the things which ear has not heard, nor the eye seen, nor the heart conceived, are known (1 Cor. 2:9-10); and these things have been spoken by the apostles in words taught by the same Spirit (v. 13); prayer is also to be offered in the Holy Ghost (Jude 20); and He makes intercession with groans which cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26).
We are not to grieve Him, for we are sealed by Him unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). He does not leave us when He is grieved, but we miss His gracious and blessed leading of our hearts and minds into the glorious sphere of heavenly relationships and affections which are ours in Christ. He has, when we grieve Him by the allowance of the flesh, to occupy us with our miserable selves, and our sad failure, in order that we may be led to self-judgment, confession, and restoration. But leave us He never shall, until we meet in the air the Christ to whom He is guiding us, when we shall never again grieve Him. The Psalmist has to ask that Jehovah may not take His Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11), for he had the Spirit only as the Spirit of prophecy, but we have Him as the seal of the righteousness which is ours in Christ, and as the Spirit of sonship; and He is so linked up with the life which is ours in Christ that, whatever our ways may be, He is in us and with us for ever. And this is a great incentive to a holy walk, and is so presented in the Epistle to which I have referred above.
It is also by Him that our affections are led out to Christ as the coming One, the Morning Star, the Harbinger of the day—the One who will come for His church before He appears to the world as the Sun of Righteousness, “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.” Our interest is great, no doubt, in the coming of our Lord, but His is greater. How often and how greatly has He been grieved and quenched in that which professes the name of Christ; and what, if I may use the expression, extra trouble and expense has He been at in bringing the bride of Christ safely to her heavenly Bridegroom! But that day of days, when He shall see the infinite joy of Christ in His bride brought home to glory and the Father’s house, and the unspeakable joy of the bride at meeting Him of whom she has heard so much, but whom she has never seen, shall more than compensate Him for all the grief that His heart has been put to by our naughty ways.
What a gift He is! May we be filled with His power continually, and may we ever walk so as not to grieve or vex such infinite holiness and love as is expressed in His continual care and tender grace toward us.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” This is the grand and glorious conclusion arrived at by the Holy Spirit, after having traced, for the benefit of the Roman saints, the manner and result of the intervention of God on behalf of His poor creature, who in his natural and responsible condition lay helpless and undone under sin’s cruel slavery, and subject to the infliction of eternal wrath.
In Adam there was nothing but death and condemnation for the creature. The head was fallen, and all the race was of necessity also fallen. Far off from God, ungodly, transgressors, rebels, enemies, children of wrath, are some of the terms employed in the Word of Truth to set before us the terrible nature of our natural condition as in the first and fallen head. In the abominable corruption of the flesh we wallowed, with no confidence in God, suspicious of all His gracious advances on our behalf, preferring darkness to light, hatred to love, curse to blessing, war to peace, earth to heaven, the creature to the Creator, even the oppression of the devil to the sway of infinite and eternal love. We were at a distance from God, and at that distance we were determined at all costs to keep ourselves. We would not seek Him, and should He come out as the seeker after us, every corner of the universe would be ransacked for a hiding-place. If we looked backward dark was the history of the world, dark and deceitful our own personal history, darkness lay upon everything around us, and before us loomed the blackness of darkness for ever. Without God we were miserable, and the thought of God made us ten times more miserable. Our money was given for that which was not bread, and our labour for that which did not satisfy. We snatched occasionally a momentary pleasure from the indulgence of our carnal appetites, but our seasons of depression were terrific, and the thought of having to meet God and to render account to Him was intolerable. As hell and destruction are never satisfied, and the grave and the barren womb never say, Enough; so was the bottomless pit of our corrupt nature ever demanding fresh novelties supplied from the hell-invented markets of a godless world, and so were we finding that the whole universe would be of itself insufficient to fill one human heart.
What could it be for a soul away from God but unhappiness? No creature is sufficient for himself, nor indeed is the creation itself sufficient for the creature set by God in intelligent relationship with Himself. God alone can suffice for the heart of man; and woe, unutterable woe, must be the portion of those who, having said to God, “Depart from us,” shall be compelled to hear Him in the day of judgment say to them, “Depart from Me, ye cursed.” The souls that will not have Him in time need not expect Him to have them in eternity.
This is man’s day, a day in which he has lawlessly followed the dictates of his own evil heart, despising the testimonies of God, persecuting and slaying His servants, and murdering His beloved Son, while at the same time embellishing the world with everything that will furnish some little pleasure to him in his forgetfulness of God. But God’s day is coming, and in that day all that man trusts in shall be like a spider’s web, blown to atoms by the first blast of His withering wrath, and houseless and homeless he will find himself exposed to the eternal condemnation of his Creator, whose mercy has been so despised.
But for the soul in Christ there is no condemnation. The condemnation has been borne by Him in whom I am placed before God. The sins, the sin, the judgment, the death, and the slavery to sin—all are gone, and “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” New relationships, new hopes, new life, new objects, and new power have come to pass in and through Him who is my righteousness, my life, and my salvation before the face of God.
In Him I am of God (1 Cor. 1:30). I derive my new moral, spiritual existence from God: I am born of Him. Nothing of Adam enters into that which is in Christ. They are two different orders of men. One made of dust, the other out of heaven. The cross is the end of my connection with the former—“I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). There I have been brought to an end judicially. I could not have been mended, therefore have I been ended. Apart from law I was lawless, under law a transgressor, visited by God in grace in the person of His Son I was a God-hater. Ungodly, a rebel sinner, an enemy of God. Such was the flesh. Such it is, for it is incorrigible. Such was I. Such is the flesh still in me. But I am not in it, thank God. “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9). I am of Christ’s order.
“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and not “the law of sin in my members,” is now the principle and power which regulates my conduct on my way to glory. “What the law could not do” God has done; not by mending the old—that could not be done—but by ending for me the whole condition of flesh, and giving me the Holy Spirit to rule, regulate, guide, and empower the inward man, so that I might walk after the Spirit and fulfil the righteous requirement of the law, and thus “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour.”
In Christ is new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). There “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new;” new nature, new life, new relationships, new affections. And all these things are of God. The man in Christ is of God, and everything connected with him. In Adam is old creation: old, fallen, sinful, defiled, dead, and lost. In Christ is new, and “as He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
“Of such an one will I glory” (2 Cor. 12:5). It is well to know that to them that are in Him there is no condemnation; but that does not exhaust all that there is in Christ. We learn this to begin with; but we have in Him an inexhaustible wealth of blessing that will never be all learned while we are upon earth. Who could fathom the bliss of being “holy and without blame before Him in love?” or fully estimate the dignity and delight of being before the Father’s face, as sons along with, and in the likeness of, His Son? We read these words in our Bibles, and we believe them too, but we may well ask ourselves what power they possess over our souls.
Paul boasted of the man “in Christ.” He tells the Philippians that if any one thought he had whereof to boast in the flesh, he himself had more. And when he had for a moment decorated himself with these virtues, that the Philippians might get a look at what he was in the flesh, he tears them off, and in utter disgust throws them upon the midden of corrupt fallen humanity, counting them dung that he might have Christ for his gain and be found “in Him.” When arraigned as a prisoner before King Agrippa, in the presence of Festus, the chiliarchs and great men of the city, the sense of the dignity of his place in Christ does not for a single instance fade from his heart and mind. Confronted with all the pride and pomp of royalty, the awe of authority, the glitter, glamour, and fascination of a gaudy, voluptuous court, and with a charge of inciting the populace to riot hanging over his head, he answered the haughty monarch, who, scoffing at his attempt to get at his seared and benumbed conscience, breaks forth into that expression which many have taken to be the language of a soul on the point of surrender to Christ, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” in those words which so forcibly set before us the way in which his soul entered into the infinite wealth of blessing that was his in Christ, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:29).
It has often been remarked that he does not say, “Such as I shall be when glorified,” but “Such as I am.” Dragged out of the temple by the multitude, who sought to murder him, rescued by the military, bound with two chains, almost torn to pieces by Pharisees and Sadducees, once more forcibly taken out of their violent hands by the soldiers, brought before Felix as a “mover of sedition” and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” and thrown again into prison, where he lay for two years. To be brought in such a state as all this must have reduced him to, into the presence of such magnificence and dazzling splendour as shone that day in the court of King Agrippa, one might have thought his apparently wretched and miserable condition would have so pressed itself upon his spirit that all the enthusiasm produced in him by his new-found faith would have died in his soul. But no. The happiness that was his in Christ, the dignity of his heavenly calling, the favour of God, the knowledge of the Father and the Son, all that God was to him, all that Christ was, the love of God declared in death, the joy of bearing in a small measure the reproach of Christ, of suffering shame, blows, and imprisonments for His name, the privilege of confessing Him before these haughty rulers, as well as before the meanest of the creatures of God—these sweet and glorious considerations made good to his soul in the power of the divine Spirit exalted him and maintained him upon an elevation as far above the garish circle that surrounded Agrippas as heaven is above earth.
He pitied them. And indeed they were to be pitied. Their rank, their glory, their greatness, the honour paid to them by their inferiors—what availed it all with death at their elbow, and a hopeless eternity looming in front of them? They were now having their “good things” (Luke 16), and Paul his “evil things,” but Paul’s evil things were infinitely better than their good things. His evil things were the reproach of Christ, and that was greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. Miserable, from a human standpoint, was his lot. His property, his reputation, his distinction in the flesh, his scholastic training, his easy circumstances, his liberty—all were gone, and his life was in peril. What more is needful to be added to make the picture of utter desolation complete? And yet his soul’s desire for king and courtier was, that they might come to be as he at that moment was. Marvellous man! How deeply he had entered into the blessedness of the man in Christ.
Another thing I would notice in connection with this subject before bringing this paper to a close. We have the believer in Christ in Romans 8:1, and the love of God in Christ in the last verse of the same chapter. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ, neither is there any separation from the love of God, for that love is there also. In unfathomable grace God has brought us to Himself in Christ, and set us before His face in all the value of that work wrought by Christ, and in all the acceptability of His person. But it is in Christ that the love of God has had its full and blessed expression, and it is in Him also it has found its eternal resting-place. We are where there is no condemnation, and we are also where there is no separation from the love of God.
May the Lord lead our hearts more truly into the enjoyment of our place as in Christ, and more constantly into the love of God; and may the petty distinctions of the flesh, in which we would be ever ready to glory, drop out of sight, and our boast be rather of a man “in Christ.”