God’s Purpose in the Gospel

Notes of an Address on Romans 8:29-80, Philippians 1:20, 3:20-21

I desire to bring before you the object which the blessed God has in view in approaching men, why He has His glad tidings preached in the world, and what He intends to accomplish by the preaching. The grace of God that brings salvation to all men has appeared, and this, I might say, is the great theme in the epistle to the Roman; but the thought which God has in His mind in causing this grace to appear is only touched upon in the verses which I have read, in chapter 8, and only there do we get the purpose which God has in view in the publication of His grace. I read the passages in Philippians because they present to us a man in whose heart the purpose of God has found such a place that unswervingly He pursues it as the great object before his soul.

We get a good deal about the gospel in Philippians, almost as much as in Roman; only in the latter it is much more the relief which has been brought to us, righteousness and life in the last Adam for all, how all is appropriated by us, and how we are made conscious of the love of God, delivered from sin’s dominion, law, and the lusts of the flesh, that we may live to God in the power of the Spirit; whereas in Philippians it is the goal that is in view, fellowship with the gospel, and how to walk worthy of it.

The occasion for writing to the Philippians was furnished by a gift which he had received from them as an expression of their desire to help on the work of the Lord, and he brings before them in the epistle what the gospel was destined to effect in order that they might be able more intelligently to have fellowship with it; and this is brought before them not so much in the way of a statement of doctrine as in the way in which he himself had been influenced by it, so that the end and object of Christ in meeting him in grace on his way to Damascus became the eager pursuit of his soul.

If you and I are to have intelligent interest in the work of the gospel we need to know what purpose God has in the preaching, what it is intended to accomplish. Even in things pertaining to the present life, before men are willing to identify themselves with any work which may solicit their interest and patronage, there are often a great many questions to be asked as to what is to be effected by it, what the end is in view.

Now we get enlightened, as to this in the passage which I read in Romans, and we see that what God has in view is Christ. His thought for every man is conformity to Christ. This is what God has in view in the preaching, indeed, it was His eternal thought. The man after the flesh, the child of Adam, must disappear after that order. He is to be allowed no place in the eternal sphere of light and blessing, darkness and banishment from the presence of God must be the portion of all who have not been, by the grace of God, changed into the image of God’s Son. Man, the child of Adam, as he is known in his moral characteristics on earth, must disappear altogether either in grace or judgment. If a man submits to Christ this is effected in grace by the power of the Spirit. If he is rebellious, he must disappear in the judgment, for before God there must be only one order of man. Hence, the apostle laboured to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. And so before ever the gospel goes out into the world God has got Christ in His presence risen and glorified, and this Man is to be righteousness for every other man, and life for every other man, and example for every other man, and the Man from whom every other man is to take character, and the Man to whom every other man is to be conformed.

This might be picked out of the simplest statement of the gospel, for it is only through this Man forgiveness is preached, only in Him I can obtain it. But if forgiveness, is only in Christ, and if it is only in Him I can find justification, how could I expect Him to retain me? Would I not forever feel that however graciously disposed to me He might be inclined to be, I must ever be repulsive to Him? True, Christ might be always a shelter to me, to keep God and me apart, so that wrath might never be my portion (thoughts like these I can fancy having a place in the human mind), but what I find is this, that Christ suffered to bring us to God, and if we are to be brought to God, it must be in a way agreeable to Him.

I may be told that it is on the ground of His work that forgiveness of sins is declared, and that there is no other thought in it than relief for the consciences of men. I fully admit that it is on the ground of that stupendous work of Christ that we can have any blessing, but I do not admit that any good comes to us in any other way than in and through Himself. And I also want everyone to see that a change has to be wrought in every man to whom the gospel comes if he is to be in blessing with God forever, and that that change means the passing away of all that he is morally as of Adam, and the participation in the moral perfections of Christ, and in the end to be conformed to His image, “For whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.”

This is the end the blessed God has before Him in the gospel, and it is to this end He works by His Spirit, and He will never allow Himself to be frustrated in His intentions, for “whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”

Now, in Paul we get a man who had apprehended this, and who appreciated it, and whose whole life was controlled by it, from the day the light of the purpose of God burst upon his soul, and he will have no goal for any man, but the goal which he himself strove to reach. The best of men or the worst of men was in one way all alike to him; he will have Christ and no other. He will not allow his eye to rest upon any natural quality; with him it is Christ or nothing. For Christ he had suffered the loss of all things. He had possessed everything in which a man might glory. He was as well born as any, for he was an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as moral as any, for he was, as touching the righteousness that is in the law, blameless; surpassing every other in zeal, for as a persecutor of the assembly he had no equal. But he says, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” or “have Christ for my gain” (Phil. 3:7-8). Paul had never seen a better man than himself until he saw Christ, and when he saw Christ he wanted no more of himself, his whole soul was captivated by that blessed object.

But now he was in prison, and others went on announcing that Christ whom he had loved to proclaim. Some of those preachers desired with a true heart to further the work of God, others sought to add affliction to the bonds of the apostle, but if Christ were preached, God was sovereign and the devil could do nothing but defeat himself, and Paul rejoiced that though he was bound the word of God was not. He says, “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.”

The apostle was about to stand before that power which had condemned Christ and put Him to death, and flesh was not to be counted upon in such a trying moment. Peter had counted upon it and had failed miserably. It is not in the energy of flesh that one can stand before the power of the world in confession of Christ. Men may with great boldness confess a creed, and if need be give up their lives for it, but it is quite another matter to stand for Christ. For this, one needs more than human power. There were three things which Paul counted upon for support in the presence of earth’s godless judges. First, he was encouraged by the fact that though Satan had been successful in placing him in bonds, it had turned out unto the furtherance of the gospel, and thus the enemy had defeated himself. Second, he counted upon the prayers of the Philippians. Third, the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. All this that in that crucial moment there might be no shrinking or, timidity shown, but that he might in the Spirit of his Master witness a good confession.

It is in this way he looks at salvation. It was the powers of hell he was about to encounter, but he will meet them in dependence upon God. His desire was that Christ should be magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. It was not of any importance to him in which way he was to glorify God. The only thing that had importance in his eyes was that nothing of Saul of Tarsus was to be seen, whether that might be his courage, or his cowardice, his weakness, or his strength, but that in that body of his, in which before the moral glory of Christ had burst upon his soul he had magnified himself, Christ should be magnified. The entire disappearance of self, and the display of Christ in the face of Christ’s enemies, is what he designates as his salvation. It is not himself who is to be visible, Nero, and his accusers, and judges must be confronted by Christ in the body of the apostle.

This shows us what a large place the purpose of the gospel had in the heart of the apostle. He saw that Christ was come to displace every other man, and he desires that nothing but Christ might be seen in him. And he encourages these saints on this line. In chapter 1 he desires that their conversation might become the gospel of Christ, and in chapter 2 he shows them how this is to be brought about. He desires them to have one mind, but he does not leave them in any kind of doubt as to whose mind this is to be. We are all ready enough to admit that we ought to be of one mind, but I might want all the saints to be of my mind, and some one else might want all the saints to be of his mind; and yet no one might wish to be of my mind, and I might not wish to submit myself to the mind of any other man upon earth. But the apostle lets them know that if he desires them all to be of one mind that mind is to be Christ’s. If every saint upon earth had the mind of Christ there would only be one mind in the whole church of God. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And when you come to look into this mind what do you find? Simply this, that Christ viewed everything in its bearing Godward. He looked at nothing with reference to Himself, but He looked at everything with reference to God. Man looks at everything with reference to himself, and judges of it in the way in which he is affected by it. It never was a question with Christ as to how anything might affect Him. The great question with Him was as to how God was affected by it. Hence, obedience was what marked Him, and the will of God was everything to Him. In this mind we are to work out our own salvation, and come out in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation as children of God, shining among them as lights in the world, and holding forth the word of life.

In chapter 3 Paul is seen in the race to apprehend that for which he had been apprehended—conformity to Christ in glory. As to the flesh, he could boast more than any other, but all was loss, all rubbish, everything must go that he may have Christ for his gain. There were enemies of the cross all around him in the Christian profession, who wanted to retain the man after the flesh. They were a source of annoyance to the saints and a grief to the apostle, but their end was destruction, whatever they might profess. He warns the Philippians of them. The Saviour was in heaven. Our home is there. We look for Him to come and change our vile bodies and fashion them like to His own. This is what we have been taken up for. We are to be His companions, in the place where He is, conformed to His image. Then there will be no trace of the old man about us, we will be altogether like Christ. The very body in which Christ has been magnified down here shall be changed, and it also shall bear the likeness of Christ. May we know better than ever what God has in view in the preaching, and thus be better able to have fellowship with the glad tidings; and if the purpose of God by the gospel has its proper place in our hearts we will be down here like the apostle, only desiring Christ to be magnified in our bodies and looking for the Saviour from heaven who will change these bodies in which He has been magnified and fashion thorn like to His own body of glory.