or, Thoughts on Philippians 3 and Mark 10.
In Philippians 3 we have a striking illustration of the effect produced by the Holy Ghost in a soul which was indwelt by Him. As to the outward walk, what a brilliancy does He give! What stability before God! What true liberty! For the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to the soul; and the soul perceives Him so clearly, that all that is not Christ is rejected as being opposed to Him.
It is important to remark the contrast which exists between such a one and the man who is not full of the Holy Ghost, though he may be, or may seem to be, powerfully drawn toward Christ Jesus, or may even be as truly a convert as were the disciples. We shall see this contrast connected in succession with righteousness, the cross, and the glory, if we compare Philippians 3:4-11 and Mark 10:17-40.
In the history given us in Mark 10:17-27 we see a man whose position is in contrast with that of the apostle (in Phil. 3), which shews in a striking manner the effect produced by the Holy Spirit. The apostle had left all for Christ. Advantages, in which a Jew could boast, he had had beyond what the young man referred to in Mark 10 possessed. He had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, the most celebrated Rabbi; he was a citizen of Tarsus, a city renowned (if we adopt modern phraseology) as a university; he had been well trained in all the acquirements of the day. Moreover, he was privileged in having led a blameless life, as he tells us in verse 6. All this was very precious to him as a man, so long as he had not seen Christ. All that a man can pride himself in, Paul possessed. If any thought that the flesh might be gloried in, Paul could shew that he had more therein than they. But Christ in glory revealed Himself to Paul, and then he could say, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss, etc., that I might win Christ." What was the state of Paul's soul? I must gain Christ. This is all I have to do, my whole, sole business; everything else found in my pathway is but loss. Such is the effect produced by the Spirit of God in the soul which possesses Him. The apostle is troubled by nothing that he meets on his way: he sees as clear as noonday that all that is not Christ is loss. He sees Christ in the midst of every set of circumstances. Are they circumstances of suffering? So much the better; there will be the more of Christ. Christ is there: he sees Him by the help of God.
323 In comparing this with Mark 10 the contrast is seen, namely of a man who has not the Spirit: for this chapter presents us with one in circumstances similar to Paul, but not full of the Holy Ghost. He is portrayed, however, as a man of a character altogether lovely; but Christ was not his object, and natural loveliness availed naught. Yet his character was such that it attracted the attention of the Lord. Jesus "loved him," v. 21. He also was as to the law blameless. A Jew, he supposed that he was to have eternal life by the law. His thought as to Jesus was, That is the man that can tell me what I must do in order to inherit eternal life. The pure, excellent, and perfect character of the Lord had convinced him that the knowledge of the most excellent commandment might be learned from Him; and He hastens to Him. He was ardent in his desire to know what he had to do, and he drew near to Jesus with all possible respect, with "Good Master" (Jesus received not this praise from one who regarded Him only as a man), he even kneels before the Lord. There was something very lovely in the character of him who could say (and the Lord admits it as a truth) "All these things have I kept from my youth up." But the Lord puts his heart to the proof, in order to make manifest what are the motives which sway it, and He does so by means of the cross: "Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, etc., and come take up the cross and follow me."
However lovely and estimable the young man may have been, he does not take up the cross. When the state of his heart is in question, he has no will for what is Christ's. He looked for righteousness in the law; and Christ, present with him, succeeds not in engaging him in another course. He said not, as Paul, "I have suffered the loss of all things, and do esteem them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him - not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."
Such was the effect produced by the Holy Ghost in Paul by the revelation to him of a Christ in glory. Paul saw Christ and said, That is my righteousness, I make no count of my own. He desires not to have a human but a divine righteousness. We cannot have both; for if God gives me His righteousness, I do not present to Him that which is of myself.
324 Now, suppose that I had kept all the law and am without fault; such a righteousness would not be of God, but that of a man. The law of God requires that man shall love God and his neighbour; and this is what man does not do; but even supposing that I had kept His law in its fullest extent, I should only have a human righteousness, whereas I have a far better righteousness in Christ, even that of God Himself. Does the law demand that I should give my life in order to glorify God, and that, too, in behalf of worthless sinners? Of a truth I should not know how to obey such a commandment; but Christ has done so; He could say, "I have glorified thee on the earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do"; and He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. The manner, too, in which Christ gave Himself up on the cross altogether exceeds all that we could have done, even if we suppose that we had the power to fulfil the law. Christ has glorified God as man, and is now glorified with God. It was thus that Paul saw Him, and he virtually said, That is the righteousness which suits me well.
In how amazing a manner has God been manifested in Christ Jesus! By faith I see Him on the cross, and I say to myself, I cannot do without that glorious work; for from the moment that righteousness is of Christ it is no longer of me. Paul, when he saw Christ, had this thought, Behold in heaven the One who has communicated to me a divine righteousness; and his expression necessarily is "that I may … be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God." So long as we seek a human righteousness, it is evident we do not know the righteousness which is of God. Paul, having seen the glory of God, stops not before he has said, I shall be there where Christ has the right to be. He is entered into heaven with a divine righteousness. There is my place too: all else is but dung and dross. Yes, all else is for me loss.
If Christ is thus before our eyes, all that is not Christ is an embarrassment. We must win Christ. Faith, having once apprehended the righteousness of God, can no longer put up with the righteousness of man; to faith there is a needs-be to walk in a more excellent way. The riches which the young man valued had no longer any attraction for the heart of Paul; he had seen Christ and God's righteousness in glory, the end and prize of the heavenly calling.
325 In Mark 10:25 Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Great was the astonishment of all; and they said, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus concealed not the truth. It was impossible with man, but all things were possible with God! As to man, however excellent may be his pretensions, it is impossible: he loves money; he is ambitious. To cut the matter short, if man's ability to save himself is in question, Jesus Christ declares it is impossible. But let us suppose that we have left all, as Peter said, "Lo! we have left all and followed thee"; and in truth they had, by the grace of God, really followed Jesus. The hearts of the disciples were really attached to Jesus; affection was really awakened in them towards Him. They had done that, grace helping, which the young man could not make up his mind to do; even as the Lord said, "Verily I say unto you, There is no one that has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, etc., for my sake and the gospel's, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time … with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life." You have been obliged to break, for My sake, ties here below: well, you shall find the same, stronger and more perfect, among the children of God; and, at the end, eternal life. There are souls who have apprehended these things, and who have set out, and that sincerely, as pilgrims with Jesus; but on that road we have to follow Jesus, and Jesus has passed by way of the cross: we shall meet then that which will fully put us to the proof.
"And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him." We may say to ourselves, perhaps, what a blessed thing to have Jesus immediately before us! But the disciples were amazed; we desire to be in the way with Christ and to follow Him, but we are ignorant of what the cost may be; the disciples walked in it, and they found what the difficulty was: if Jesus went to Jerusalem, it was to be put to death there. The Jews would crucify Him, yet go thither He would. His disciples were filled with fear as they followed, because they had not the Holy Ghost; still they forsook not as yet their Master, yet they were amazed and in trouble.
326 Jesus is the good Shepherd; He leads forth His sheep, He walks before them and the sheep follow Him. The disciples were afraid as they followed Jesus, Jesus led them to the cross. The cross is on the road which leads to glory. Well! that was just what Paul desired. The disciples were amazed and afraid; Paul's state (Phil. 3) was far different, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings being made conformable unto his death." Instead of being frightened, Paul thought, I shall be partaker of the sufferings of Christ. I shall then have much more of Him; I shall die to sin, to the world; I shall be much more conformed to the likeness of Christ, and all that destroys the flesh destroys that which hides Christ. It was no imaginary danger; Paul's trial was at hand - the alternatives of the question were life or death. Death was before him, but he saw that it was the means of having more of Christ; so that he said, I willingly take all that, for it is Christ. He had no desire to have sufferings, but to have the fellowship of His sufferings, to be made conformable unto His death.
For us the cross is light in comparison with that which Paul had to suffer. Nevertheless, it is the cross which takes from us all that which hinders our realising Christ in glory. What a contrast between the disciples, amazed and afraid, when going up to Jerusalem to the cross was in question, and the apostle Paul, who gloried in everything that could communicate to him anything more of Christ! He knew that, in passing through death, he should die to death. When Christ died, He died not as to communion with the glory of the Father. On the contrary He therein only realised that He had done with the guilt which, for our sakes, pressed heavily upon Him, done with the world which was a desert land - a land of drought where no water was. Death was to Him to depart and enjoy in His Father's presence, eternal blessedness; for us death is not aught else.
Therefore, as Christ said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit," so Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." If death gives us more conformity to Christ, we need not stop to consider what suffering the flesh may find therein; we find our profit in it, because it is death to all that is not Christ, and we glory in it because it makes us more like to Christ. Is the cross before me? Good! I shall have more of Christ; the energy of the Spirit makes me say, "If by any means I may attain unto the resurrection." I see Christ in glory; well, I desire to be as He is and to be with Him. I desire to possess Him just as I see Him; and if to gain that, or a fuller measure of it, I must pass through death; to me to die is gain. Where there is the energy of the Spirit, there is light, and a single eye which makes us judge that Christ is worth all, and that all else is worth nothing: and this purifies the saint's heart.
327 In Mark 10:35 we have James and John asking of Jesus to place them one on the right and the other on the left. They desired a good place in the kingdom. James and John had faith; spite of the dangers which they saw on the road to Jerusalem, they believed that Jesus would have the glory and the kingdom, and they said, At all events give us a good place. But about whom were they thinking? About James and John. Then Jesus speaks to them of drinking of the cup and again sets the cross before them, subjecting them to the will of the Father, even as He Himself was obedient thereunto.
Here we have a step in advance. The question is of glory but the Holy Spirit has no fellowship with this self. The heart is not delivered from it until the Spirit has guided our thoughts to Jesus. So was it with Paul, in whom we find altogether another thing than 'myself' - (I will labour hard to have a good place). Paul is occupied with Christ more than with Paul - "That I may win Christ." It was the Spirit who thus set Christ before him. The power of the Spirit had so directed his thoughts to Jesus, that Paul is, as it were, lost in Jesus. The effectual presence of the Spirit crucifies egotism and gives us freedom of thought about ourselves while on the way; it occupies us with but one object - Jesus: to be conformed to the pattern and to look to Him is all that we have to do, and this purifies the heart.
Paul laboured more than they all; and therefore, in a certain sense according to man's thoughts, he has a title to the most excellent place; yet he did all, just because he did not seek such a place, but he sought Christ alone. If he win Christ, what a righteousness! If there be sufferings by the way, well, it is but conformity to Christ; if death, it is gain; for we look for the Lord Jesus Christ, who win change our vile bodies, and render them like unto His own glorious body.
328 Paul thinks not of himself; the Spirit fills him with Christ Himself, and all that conceals from him Christ and His worth is rejected. The Spirit gives clearness of view and repose to the heart through the knowledge of the righteousness of God. Then we desire to have Christ, to possess Him, and we find what is the way thereunto. To Jerusalem and the cross! No matter; it is the cross of Christ, and Christ on the cross and Christ with the cross, but it is naught less than the divine righteousness which we have in Him.
In Mark we have the young man who would not abandon his riches and take up the cross, in order to have heaven; then the disciples following Jesus in fear, yet following. In Philippians 3 we see Paul following the Lord without fear and with joy, whatsoever sufferings might be his, because he loved Christ, as Christ, for His own sake. The important matter is for each of us to have Christ in Himself, which gives a pure heart and a single eye; and to have Christ so entirely our all that all our business may be to possess Him, and in view of the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, to count all things but dung and dross. Again, approved by Him and filled with Himself, we shall be in peace according to the righteousness which God Himself has given to us.