“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
It has often been said that the Holy Scriptures are but the history of two men—the first man, and the second; Adam and Christ; the first Adam, and the last; one out of earth, made of dust; the other out of heaven; one utterly false to his Maker, the other faithful in everything committed to Him; one a daily grief to the heart of God, the other His continual delight; one brought into death on account of his disobedience, the other brought there by His obedience: and this saying is indeed true; the Scriptures set before us the history of these two men.
But as Adam was, and is, continued in his descendants, so is Christ continued in the generation that derives from Him: “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy”—fallen, sinful, ruined, lost, death-doomed, haters of God. And “as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly”—lovers of God, obedient children, holy, righteous, overcomers of the world, the antichrists, and the devil (1 Cor. 15:47-48).
The characteristics of fallen Adam come to light in his generation, and they are all evil, and obnoxious to the judgment of God. The evil tree has produced after its kind, and all the race are without exception evil trees, and nothing but evil fruit is produced by any of them (Matt. 7:11, 17). No moral trait has yet come to light in any of the descendants of Adam that had not its origin in that fallen head; neither has any moral characteristic, in which God could take pleasure, been found in the heavenly generation that had not its origin in the heavenly Man. The generation of Adam is all evil; the generation of Christ is all good. Therefore we need not wonder that, in order to be in right relationship and eternal favour with God, a man must be born again.
But as long as we are upon earth in these mortal bodies, we still have within us the old Adam nature, for in the first instance we were all in him and of his generation; and the possession of a new, undefiled, and undefilable nature does not do away with the old. It is only on the ground of redemption by the blood of Christ, and as born of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, that we can be said to be of Christ’s generation (John 3:3; Eph. 1:7, 13; Rom. 8:9). Therefore as long as we are in this mortal body we have two natures within us; as born after the flesh, one altogether evil; and as born after the Spirit, or of God, one altogether good, for it is the nature of God Himself.
Now in the cross of Christ this old evil nature has received its judgment: “Our old man is crucified with Him” (Rom. 6:6). It has indeed come under the unsparing condemnation of God. It is not only that our sins have been dealt with in the judgment of the cross, but the evil tree that produced the evil fruit has also received its judgment. Thus has root and fruit been brought judicially to an end by that judgment.
But inasmuch as that judgment took place in our spotless Substitute, and not in ourselves (for had it been condemned in ourselves, we should have been under condemnation for ever), no alteration of state is by it alone produced in us, for it was done outside of us, and before we who live at the present moment were born; but it gives us, who are born of God and have life in Christ, the unspeakable privilege of reckoning ourselves as forever freed from the old standing we had in the flesh, and of taking account of ourselves as in Christ, dead to the whole order of things which relate to our original position in the flesh before God: dead to sin, dead to the elements of the world, not alive in the world, risen with Christ, and our life at the present moment hid with Him in God (Rom. 6:2, 11; Col. 2:20; 3:1-3). And what an unspeakable privilege this is for all who have been wearied and worn out seeking to gain for themselves, as men in the flesh, a righteousness by law-keeping, and consequent acceptance with God!
It is our privilege to take account of ourselves in relation to the last Adam, as in Him, having an unalterable standing in Him before God, and as severed from the fallen head by the cross; and in the denial of our old Adam standing, and of the responsibilities that belong to that standing, to bring the death of Christ, which has effected that deliverance for us, to bear upon all the activities of that evil nature inherited from Adam, and to put on in the power of the Spirit the beautiful characteristics of our heavenly Head. It is our privilege, by the Spirit, to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), to put to death our members which are on the earth (Col. 3:5), to bear about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our body (2 Cor. 4:10).
And it is just in this way the Spirit of God directs us in the Holy Scriptures. It is there we learn Him who is our life. It is there that heavenly life is portrayed before our renewed minds and hearts; and it is there we are assured that that life is our own. It is seen in perfection in Him, unadulterated by the intrusion of sinful flesh, for in Him there was no taint of evil; but whatever it may be mingled with in our practical ways, by our forgetfulness to keep the judgment of the cross upon our rebellious wills, it is ours by the quickening operation of God, and we have, in God’s account, no other life. And all the exhortations, injunctions, and commandments are to give direction to that life, in order that in its own spotless purity it may be reproduced by us in this evil world.
And it is just the transcendent qualities of this life that the Apostle labours to bring to light in these Corinthians, to whom he writes this epistle. He would have them think of the poor Jewish saints away in Jerusalem, and not only to think of them, but to send them a thankoffering, seeing the Gospel had come out from them to the nations of the earth. And to stimulate that which was of God in them Christ is brought forward as their great example. “For ye know,” he says, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.”
This was not some new doctrine he was bringing under their notice, which they had never before heard of. It was not a thing they did not know, for he tells them they did know it. But though they had heard of it when the Gospel had been first proclaimed in their ears, they required to be reminded of it. We are, alas, too much like Pharaoh’s chief butler, who forgot the service rendered to him by Joseph, and left him languishing in the prison, while he enjoyed the favour of his royal master.
We need to be constantly on the watch lest we forget the One who has so greatly befriended us. We know His grace. We heard of it first in the Glad Tidings, of which He is the subject; and it was that grace that attracted us to Him at the first. And how often since then we have told Him:
“We know the grace that brought Thee down,
Down from that bliss on high,
To meet our ruined souls in need,
On Calvary’s cross to die.”
Yes, we know it, but let us not forget it. And may it have all its own wondrous power over our poor forgetful minds and hearts!
“Though He was rich.” Think of those riches. Men imagine themselves wealthy when they have grasped a little more than others of the perishable treasures of earth, the possession of which is often their ruin bodily and spiritually. But who could rightly estimate the wealth of the Creator Himself? And all things owe their existence to Jesus. What wealth of glory, dominion, power, and blessing was His! What dignity, majesty, greatness, grandeur, magnificence! What unspeakable happiness, immaculate affections, goodly fellowship, in light unto which no man can approach! There, in the serene, secure, unassailable unparagoned, and ineffable sweetness of the Father’s love, He had His eternal abiding-place! That home of infinite and unparalleled delight, where love eternal is met by love eternal, in the infoldment, reciprocity, and intransmutability of its own infinite and deathless nature! A scene into which no creature curiosity could penetrate, nor imagination call into existence, but best described in the words addressed by the Son to the Father: “The glory which I had with Thee before the world was”; and, “Thou lovest me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:5, 24). And yet for our sakes He became poor!
And into what depths of poverty did His grace cause Him to descend! At His birth He was laid in a manger, while the great people of the earth, who were but the work of His hands, and in addition to that rebels against God, poured noisily and haughtily into the comforts of the inn, where there was no room for Him; an early indication that the heart of this great world would be found securely locked against the entrance of this heavenly stranger.
Later on He could say that the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had roosting-places, but that He had nowhere to lay His head. There was to be no brightening of His circumstances. From a human standpoint the way before Him seemed to darken into impenetrable gloom. The barrenness of desert places, the loneliness of Olivet, the silence of Gethsemane: these all were privileged witnesses of the Man of Sorrows. Bethany alone sought to make up for the carelessness and base ingratitude of a thankless and hypocritical nation; but the very solitariness and extreme isolation of that sweet and hallowed spot became, on this account, the greatest witness of all to the utter poverty of Jesus, for it was all He had down here. And it was all for our sakes!
But the terrible and unparalleled nature of that poverty must draw its grim, terrific folds still more closely around this lonely Man. The arid waste of man’s indifference to the precious dews of heavenly grace, shed with such lavish hand in word and work upon a crushed and degraded people, must to its utmost boundary be trodden by those weary feet, whose every movement preached to deaf and disdainful ears the Gospel of peace.
For love, sown with prodigal extravagance, He must reap hatred. The desertion of many of His professed followers He must with sorrow of heart witness. The treachery of one of His most intimate followers, who with hypocritical kiss betrays Him to His enemies, He must bear in silence. Another, who professed the greatest devotion to Him, He must hear denying Him with oaths and curses. The plight of the rest of His poor disciples, like sheep in the presence of the wolf, beats in upon His breaking heart with merciless severity. He gives His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and He hides not His face from shame and spitting. And it was all for our sakes!
But the depths of poverty that were yet to be explored by this Divine and blameless victim open up before His soul with a terror that infinitely excels all that the imagination of man has ever pictured. A horror beyond all human thought appalling confronts this lonely Sufferer. Nailed to a gibbet, numbered with transgressors, surrounded by the rude Roman soldiery, His cross girt about by a mocking, insulting, blaspheming, howling rabble, He looks for some to take compassion, and finding none, He turns to God, and by Him He is abandoned. Horror heaps itself upon horror; but this, the greatest horror of all, overtakes Him in the midst of His deep distress and anguish of soul. This is the climax of that poverty which began in the manger at Bethlehem. Here the lowest rung in this fearful ladder of humiliation is reached. Here the bottomless is bottomed. Poverty reaches its limit, a limit without a limit. Betrayal, desertion, denial, ingratitude, reproach, spend their utmost and most merciless fury against the Son of God. In the barren, weary, wintry waste of a God-hating world, impaled upon a gibbet, without a disciple, without a sympathizer, without a friend; in the unutterable loneliness of abandonment by earth and heaven and with a heart broken by reproach, the storm of divine wrath against sin beats with infinite power upon His defenceless and thorn-crowned head. AND IT WAS ALL FOR OUR SAKES!
O, the darkness and the light of it
O, the sorrow and the joy of it!
O, the grief and the gladness of it!
O, the hate and the love of it!
O, the judgment and the mercy of it!
O, the law and the grace of it!
O, the dishonour and the glory of it!
O, the hell and the heaven of it!
O, the loss and the gain of it!
Ponder it well, my soul! for it was for thy sake:
He “loved me, and gave Himself me.”
“That ye through His poverty might be rich.” This was the cause of His wondrous journey from Bethlehem to Golgotha; from the manger to the gibbet. The grace of his heart was the fount from which flowed forth all this down-stooping; this self-forgetfulness; this self-abnegation; this renunciation of uncountable riches; this self-abasemeat; this unmurmuring acceptation of the servant’s pathway, with all that was involved in it; this submission to the cross, the wrath, the judgment due to sin. It was all undertaken, and patiently borne, that we through His poverty might be rich.
And O, what infinite wealth has come to us through His great poverty!
We have been enriched in righteousness, in eternal life, in holiness, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, in sonship, in the possession of all things, in union with Christ, in fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ, and in the hour of His coming again to find our eternal home with Him in the Father’s house, where we shall see Him as He is, and be like Him, to the eternal satisfaction and delight, not only of our hearts, but of the heart of the Father and the Son.
But in Philippians this grace of the Lord Jesus is presented in another way. It is not what He has done for our sakes, but for the Godhead glory, but with a similar object in view is it brought to our notice, that is, as our great example. “Let this mind be in you.” What mind? The mind that was in Christ Jesus. The grace that came to light in Him down here is to be a mighty power in our souls, reproducing Him in this world out of which He has been rejected. He was full of grace and truth, and of His fullness all believers have received. Hence that grace is to give character to our lives down here. It is to be operative in our souls.
How has it come to light in Him as presented here? This is most beautifully brought under our notice. “Who being in the form of God.” Here, first of all, we are privileged to contemplate Him in the outward position and semblance of God; the embodiment of might, authority, majesty, supremacy, and everything else that belongs to God. Yet not counting this a position to maintain at all costs, but necessity having arisen for the intervention of One mighty enough to undertake a work for the glory of the Godhead, He divests Himself of this outward form, and takes the form of a servant.
Here He stands in opposition to the first and fallen head of the human race, who, though created by God and placed as His servant in a very exalted position, grasped at Divinity, and fell headlong under the power of death. Jesus when in the form of God empties Himself, taking a bondsman’s form, taking His place in the likeness of men. And this is the mind that is to take possession of us.
Then, having been found in fashion as a man, He humbles Himself, becoming obedient unto death, and that, too, the death of the cross. When He took the form of a servant there was no unreality about it. When He was in the form of man He was just as truly a servant, as when in the form of God He was truly Master. And as obedience—unquestioning, uncomplaining obedience—is what is due from every servant, so was He obedient to God in all relations of life. He says, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me” (John 6:38). And this He did perfectly without any respect for the consequences to Himself. He uttered no word but that which was given Him from the Father. He did no work but that which the Father gave Him to do. He went nowhere but at the express command of the Father (John 3:34; 12:49; 10:32; 6:57).
In Him I learn man’s true place as set in intelligent relationship with God. Humility of mind, and unqualified obedience to God, regardless of where the path, marked out by God for my feet to tread, may lead to. The will of God is to be done irrespective of the consequences. There must be no murmuring, no complaining. We are not to reason why we are led in certain directions, nor why we have been plunged into circumstances that are both difficult and painful. All we require to be assured of is, that these things are God’s will for us. The issues are entirely His concern. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
In Corinthians what He did is said to have all been for our sakes. Here in Philippians it is all for the sake of the Godhead. But, as I have already intimated, we learn in both cases the effect God would have this grace produce in us, which came so perfectly to light in Him. I learn in Philippians that I am to place myself at the disposal of God, and to tread the path He has marked out for my feet, regardless of where it may lead; and in Corinthians the saints are, under God, to be everything to me, and for them I am to lay down my life. But for all this we must draw from the inexhaustible supply of grace that is found in Himself.
In the answer of God to this self-sacrificing life of Jesus we learn His infinite appreciation of it. “Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Here we have His estimate of the devoted, faithful, self-sacrificing spirit in which that work was undertaken, and carried through to the finish, without the slightest semblance of regret that it had been undertaken, or of failure in the accomplishment of it. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).
What an example for us the Son of God is! May we keep our eye steadily fixed upon Him, and may we be ready at all times to pass unsparing judgment upon the slightest departure from the path marked out for us, whether that path be with reference to obedience to God, or love to His people. These are difficult days, and to be here for His pleasure we require to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”