(Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians.)Romans
The circumstances under which the epistle to the Romans was written gave occasion to the most thorough and comprehensive unfolding, not of the church, but of Christianity. No apostle had ever yet visited Rome. There was somewhat as yet lacking to the saints there; but even this was ordered of God to call forth from the Holy Ghost an epistle which more than any other approaches a complete treatise on the fundamentals of Christian doctrine, and especially as to righteousness.
Would we follow up the heights of heavenly truth, would we sound the depths of Christian experience, would we survey the workings of the Spirit of God in the Church, would we bow before the glories of the person of Christ, or learn His manifold offices, we must look elsewhere — in the writings of the New Testament no doubt, but elsewhere rather than here.
The condition of the Roman saints called for a setting forth of the gospel of God; but this object, in order to be rightly understood and appreciated, leads the apostle into a display of the condition of man. We have God and man in presence, so to speak. Nothing can be more simple and essential. Although there is undoubtedly that profoundness which must accompany every revelation of God, and especially in connection with Christ as now manifested, still we have God adapting Himself to the very first wants of a renewed soul — nay, even to the wretchedness of souls without God, without any real knowledge either of themselves or of Him. Not, of course, that the Roman saints were in this condition; but that God, writing by the apostle to them, seizes the opportunity to lay bare man's state as well as His own grace.
Romans 1. From the very first we have these characteristics of the epistle disclosing themselves. The apostle writes with the full assertion of his own apostolic dignity, but as a servant also. "Paul, a bondman of Jesus Christ" — an apostle "called," not born, still less as educated or appointed of man, but an apostle "called," as he says — "separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised afore by his prophets." The connection is fully owned with that which had been from God of old. No fresh revelations from God can nullify those which preceded them; but as the prophets looked onward to what was coming, so is the gospel already come, supported by the past. There is mutual confirmation. Nevertheless, what is in nowise the same as what was or what will be. The past prepared the way, as it is said here, "which God had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, [here we have the great central object of God's gospel, even the person of Christ, God's Son,] which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (ver. 3). This last relation was the direct subject of the prophetic testimony, and Jesus had come accordingly. He was the promised Messiah, born King of the Jews.
But there was far more in Jesus. He was "declared," says the apostle, "to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, ver. 4). It was the Son of God not merely as dealing with the powers of the earth, Jehovah's King on the holy hill of Zion, but after a far deeper manner. For, essentially associated as He is with the glory of God the Father, the full deliverance of souls from the realm of death was His also. In this too we have the blessed connection of the Spirit (here peculiarly designated, for special reasons, "the Spirit of holiness"). That same energy of the Holy Ghost which had displayed itself in Jesus, when He walked in holiness here below, was demonstrated in resurrection; and not merely in His own rising from the dead, but in raising such at any time no doubt, though most signally and triumphantly displayed in His own resurrection.
The bearing of this on the contents and main doctrine of the epistle will appear abundantly by-and-by. Let me refer in passing to a few points more in the introduction, in order to link them together with that which the Spirit was furnishing to the Roman saints, as well as to show the admirable perfectness of every word that inspiration has given us. I do not mean by this its truth merely, but its exquisite suitability; so that the opening address commences the theme in hand, and insinuates that particular line of truth which the Holy Spirit sees fit to pursue throughout. To this then the apostle comes, after having spoken of the divine favour shown himself, both when a sinner, and now in his own special place of serving the Lord Jesus. "By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith." This was no question of legal obedience, although the law came from Jehovah. Paul's joy and boast were in the gospel of God. So therefore it addressed itself to the obedience of faith; not by this meaning practice, still less according to the measure of a man's duty, but that which is at the root of all practice — faith-obedience — obedience of heart and will, renewed by divine grace, which accepts the truth of God. To man this is the hardest of all obedience; but when once secured, it leads peacefully into the obedience of every day. If slurred over, as it too often is in souls, it invariably leaves practical obedience lame, and halt, and blind.
It was for this then that Paul describes himself as apostle. And as it is for obedience of faith, it was not in anywise restricted to the Jewish people — "among all nations, for his (Christ's) name: among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ" (verses 5, 6). He loved even here at the threshold to show the breadth of God's grace. If he was called, so were they — he an apostle, they not apostles but saints; but still, for them as for him, all flowed out of the same mighty love of God. "To all that be at Rome, beloved of God, called saints" (ver. 7). To these then he wishes, as was his wont, the fresh flow of that source and stream of divine blessing which Christ has made to be household bread to us: "Grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (ver. 7). Then, from ver. 8, after thanking God through Jesus for their faith spoken of everywhere, and telling them of his prayers for them, he briefly discloses the desire of his heart about them — his long-cherished hope according to the grace of the gospel to reach Rome — his confidence in the love of God that through him some spiritual gift would be imparted to them, that they might be established, and, according to the spirit of grace which filled his own heart, that he too might be comforted together with them "by the mutual faith both of you and me" (vv. 11, 12). There is nothing like the grace of God for producing the truest humility, the humility that not only descends to the lowest level of sinners to do them good, but which is itself the fruit of deliverance from that self-love which puffs itself or lowers others. Witness the common joy that grace gives an apostle with saints he had never seen, so that even he should be comforted as well as they by their mutual faith. He would not therefore have them ignorant how they had lain on his heart for a visit (ver. 13). He was debtor both to the Greeks and the barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise; he was ready, as far as he was concerned, to preach the gospel to those that were at Rome also (ver. 14, 15). Even the saints there would have been all the better for the gospel. It was not merely "to those at Rome," but "to you that be at Rome." Thus it is a mistake to suppose that saints may not be benefited by a better understanding of the gospel, at least as Paul preached it. Accordingly he tells them now what reason he had to speak thus strongly, not of the more advanced truths, but of the good news. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (ver. 16).
Observe, the gospel is not simply remission of sins, nor is it only peace with God, but "the power of God unto salvation." Now I take this opportunity of pressing on all that are here to beware of contracted views of "salvation." Beware that you do not confound it with souls being quickened, or even brought into joy. Salvation supposes not this only, but a great deal more. There is hardly any phraseology that tends to more injury of souls in these matters than a loose way of talking of salvation. "At any rate he is a saved soul," we hear. "The man has not got anything like settled peace with God; perhaps he hardly knows his sins forgiven; but at least he is a saved soul." Here is an instance of what is so reprehensible. This is precisely what salvation does not mean; and I would strongly press it on all that hear me, more particularly on those that have to do with the work of the Lord, and of course ardently desire to labour intelligently; and this not alone for the conversion, but for the establishment and deliverance of souls. Nothing less, I am persuaded, than this full blessing is the line that God has given to those who have followed Christ without the camp, and who, having been set free from the contracted ways of men, desire to enter into the largeness and at the same time the profound wisdom of every word of God. Let us not stumble at the starting-point, but leave room for the due extent and depth of "salvation" in the gospel.
There is no need of dwelling now on "salvation" as employed in the Old Testament, and in some parts of the New, as the gospels and Revelation particularly, where it is used for deliverance in power or even providence and present things. I confine myself to its doctrinal import, and the full Christian sense of the word; and I maintain that salvation signifies that deliverance for the believer which is the full consequence of the mighty work of Christ, apprehended not, of course, necessarily according to all its depth in God's eyes, but at any rate applied to the soul in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not the awakening of conscience, however real; neither is it the attraction of heart by the grace of Christ, however blessed this may be. We ought therefore to bear in mind, that if a soul be not brought into conscious deliverance as the fruit of divine teaching, and founded on the work of Christ, we are very far from presenting the gospel as the apostle Paul glories in it, and delights that it should go forth. "I am not ashamed," etc.
And he gives his reason: "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith." That is, it is the power of God unto salvation, not because it is victory (which at the beginning of the soul's career would only give importance to man even if possible, which it is not), but because it is "the righteousness of God." It is not God seeking, or man bringing righteousness. In the gospel there is revealed God's righteousness. Thus the introduction opened with Christ's person, and closes with God's righteousness. The law demanded, but could never receive righteousness from man. Christ is come, and has changed all. God is revealing a righteousness of His own in the gospel. It is God who now makes known a righteousness to man, instead of looking for any from man. Undoubtedly there are fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, and God values them — I will not say from man, but from His saints; but here it is what, according to the apostle, God has for man. It is for the saints to learn, of course; but it is that which goes out in its own force and necessary aim to the need of man — a divine righteousness, which justifies instead of condemning him who believes. It is "the power of God unto salvation." It is for the lost, therefore; for they it is who need salvation; and it is to save — not merely to quicken, but to save; and this because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.
Hence it is, as he says, herein revealed "from faith," or by faith. It is the same form of expression exactly as in the beginning of Romans 5 — "being justified by faith" (ἐκ πίστεως). But besides this he adds "to faith." The first of these phrases, "from faith," excludes the law; the second, "to faith," includes every one that has faith within the scope of God's righteousness. Justification is not from works of law. The righteousness of God is revealed from faith; and consequently, if there be faith in any soul, to this it is revealed, to faith wherever it may be. Hence, therefore, it was in no way limited to any particular nation, such as those that had already been under the law and government of God. It was a message that went out from God to sinners as such. Let man be what he might, or where he might, God's good news was for man. And to this agreed the testimony of the prophet. "The just shall live by faith" (not by law). Even where the law was, not by it but by faith the just lived. Did Gentiles believe? They too should live. Without faith there is neither justice nor life that God owns; where faith is, the rest will surely follow.
This accordingly leads the apostle into the earlier portion of his great argument, and first of all in a preparatory way. Here we pass out of the introduction of the epistle. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (ver. 18). This is what made the gospel to be so sweet and precious, and, what is more, absolutely necessary, if he would escape certain and eternal ruin. There is no hope for man otherwise; for the gospel is not all that is now made known. Not only is God's righteousness revealed, but also His wrath. It is not said to be revealed in the gospel. The gospel means His glad tidings for man. The wrath of God could not possibly be glad tidings. It is true, it is needful for man to learn; but in nowise is it good news. There is then the solemn truth also of divine wrath. It is not yet executed. It is "revealed," and this too "from heaven." There is no question of a people on earth, and of God's wrath breaking out in one form or another against human evil in this life. The earth, or, at least, the Jewish nation, had been familiar with such dealings of God in times past. But now it is "the wrath of God from heaven;" and consequently it is in view of eternal things, and not of those that touch present life on the earth.
Hence, as God's wrath is revealed from heaven, it is against every form of impiety — "against all ungodliness." Besides this, which seems to be a most comprehensive expression for embracing every sort and degree of human iniquity, we have one very specifically named. It is against the "unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." To hold the truth in unrighteousness would be no security. Alas! we know how this was in Israel, how it might be, and has been, in Christendom. God pronounces against the unrighteousness of such; for if the knowledge, however exact, of God's revealed mind was accompanied by no renewal of the heart, if it was without life towards God, all must be vain. Man is only so much the worse for knowing the truth, if he holds it ever so fast with unrighteousness. There are some that find a difficulty here, because the expression "to hold" means holding firmly. But it is quite possible for the unconverted to be tenacious of the truth, yet unrighteous in their ways; and so much the worse for them. Not thus does God deal with souls. If His grace attract, His truth humbles, and leaves no room for vain boasting and self-confidence. What He does is to pierce and penetrate the man's conscience. If one may so say, He thus holds the man, instead of letting the man presume that he is holding fast the truth. The inner man is dealt with, and searched through and through.
Nothing of this is intended in the class that is here brought before us. They are merely persons who plume themselves on their orthodoxy, but in a wholly unrenewed condition. Such men have never been wanting since the truth has shone on this world; still less are they now. But the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against them pre-eminently. The judgments of God will fall on man as man, but the heaviest blows are reserved for Christendom. There the truth is held, and apparently with firmness too. This, however, will be put to the test by-and-by. But for the time it is held fast, though in unrighteousness. Thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against (not only the open ungodliness of men, but) the orthodox unrighteousness of those that hold the truth in unrighteousness.
And this leads the apostle into the moral history of man — the proof both of his inexcusable guilt, and of his extreme need of redemption. He begins with the great epoch of the dispensations of God (that is, the ages since the flood). We cannot speak of the state of things before the flood as a dispensation. There was a most important trial of man in the person of Adam; but after this, what dispensation was there? What were the principles of it? No man can tell. The truth is, those are altogether mistaken who call it so. But after the flood man as such was put under certain conditions — the whole race. Man became the object, first, of general dealings of God under Noah; next, of His special ways in the calling of Abraham and of his family. And what led to the call of Abraham, of whom we hear much in the epistle to the Romans as elsewhere, was the departure of man into idolatry. Man despised at first the outward testimony of God, His eternal power and Godhead, in the creation above and around him (verses 19, 20). Moreover, He gave up the knowledge of God that had been handed down from father to son (ver. 21). The downfall of man, when he thus abandoned God, was most rapid and profound; and the Holy Spirit traces this solemnly to the end of Romans 1 with no needless words, in a few energetic strokes summing up that which is abundantly confirmed (but in how different a manner!) by all that remains of the ancient world. "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man," etc. (verses 22-32.) Thus corruption not only overspread morals, but became an integral part of the religion of men, and had thus a quasi-divine sanction. Hence the depravity of the heathen found little or no cheek from conscience, because it was bound up with all that took the shape of God before their mind. There was no part of heathenism practically viewed now, so corrupting as that which had to do with the objects of its worship. Thus, the true God being lost, all was lost, and man's downward career becomes the most painful and humiliating object, unless it be, indeed, that which we have to feel where men, without renewal of heart, espouse in pride of mind the truth with nothing but unrighteousness.
In the beginning of Romans 2 we have man pretending to righteousness. Still, it is "man" — not yet exactly the Jew, but man — who had profited, it might be, by whatever the Jew had; at the least, by the workings of natural conscience. But natural conscience, although it may detect evil, never leads one into the inward possession and enjoyment of good — never brings the soul to God. Accordingly, in chapter 2 the Holy Spirit shows us man satisfying himself with pronouncing on what is right and wrong — moralizing for others, but nothing more. Now God must have reality in the man himself. The gospel, instead of treating this as a light matter, alone vindicates God in these eternal ways of His, in that which must be in him who stands in relationship with God. Hence therefore, the apostle, with divine wisdom, opens this to us before the blessed relief and deliverance which the gospel reveals to us. In the most solemn way he appeals to man with the demand, whether he thinks that God will look complacently on that which barely judges another, but which allows the practice of evil in the man himself (Romans 2:1-3). Such moral judgments will, no doubt, be used to leave man without excuse; they can never suit or satisfy God.
Then the apostle introduces the ground, certainty, and character of God's judgment (verses 4-16). He "will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first and also of the Gentile."
It is not here a question of how a man is to be saved, but of God's indispensable moral judgment, which the gospel, instead of weakening asserts according to the holiness and truth of God. It will be observed therefore, that in this connection the apostle shows the place both of conscience and of the law, — that God in judging will take into full consideration the circumstances and condition of every soul of man. At the same time he connects, in a singularly interesting manner, this disclosure of the principles of the eternal judgment of God with what he calls "my gospel." This also is a most important truth, my brethren, to bear in mind. The gospel at its height in no wise weakens but maintains the moral manifestation of what God is. The legal institutions were associated with temporal judgment. The gospel, as now revealed in the New Testament, has linked with it, though not contained in it, the revelation of divine wrath from heaven, and this, you will observe, according to Paul's gospel. It is evident, therefore, that dispensational position will not suffice for God, who holds to His own unchangeable estimate of good and evil, and who judges the more stringently according to the measure of advantage possessed.
But thus the way is now clear for bringing the Jew into the discussion. "But if [for so it should be read] thou art named a Jew," etc. (ver. 17.) It was not merely, that he had better light. He had this, of course, in a revelation that was from God; he had law; he had prophets; he had divine institutions. It was not merely better light in the conscience, which might be elsewhere, as is supposed in the early verses of our chapter; but the Jew's position was directly and unquestionably one of divine tests applied to man's estate. Alas! the Jew was none the better for this, unless there were the submission of his conscience to God. Increase of privileges can never avail without the soul's self-judgment before the mercy of God. Rather does it add to his guilt: such is man's evil state and will. Accordingly, in the end of the chapter, he shows that this is most true as applied to the moral judgment of the Jew; that none so much dishonoured God as wicked Jews, their own Scripture attesting it; that position went for nothing in such, while the lack of it would not annul the Gentile's righteousness, which would indeed condemn the more unfaithful Israel; in short, that one must be a Jew inwardly to avail, and circumcision be of the heart, in spirit, not in letter, whose praise is of God, and not of men.
The question then is raised in the beginning of Romans 3, If this be so, what is the superiority of the Jew? Where lies the value of belonging to the circumcised people of God? The apostle allows this privilege to be great, specially in having the Scriptures, but turns the argument against the boasters. We need not here enter into the details; but on the surface we see how the apostle brings all down to that which is of the deepest interest to every soul. He deals with the Jew from his own Scripture (verses 9-19). Did the Jews take the ground of exclusively having that word of God — the law? Granted that it is so, at once and fully. To whom, then, did the law address itself? To those that were under it, to be sure. It pronounced on the Jew then. It was the boast of the Jews that the law spoke about them; that the Gentiles had no right to it, and were but presuming on what belonged to God's chosen people. The apostle applies this according to divine wisdom. Then your principle is your condemnation. What the law says, it speaks to those under it. What, then, is its voice? That there is none righteous, none that doeth good, none that understandeth. Of whom does it declare all this? Of the Jew by his own confession. Every mouth was stopped; the Jew by his own oracles, as the Gentile by their evident abominations, shown already. — All the world was guilty before God.
Thus, having shown the Gentile in Romans 1 manifestly wrong, and hopelessly degraded to the last degree — having laid bare the moral dilettantism of the philosophers, not one whit better in the sight of God, but rather the reverse — having shown the Jew overwhelmed by the condemnation of the divine oracles in which he chiefly boasted, without real righteousness, and so much the more guilty for his special privileges, all now lies clear for bringing in the proper Christian message, the gospel of God. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (verses 20, 21).
Here, again, the apostle takes up what he had but announced in chapter 1 — the righteousness of God. Let me call your attention again to its force. It is not the mercy of God. Many have contended that so it is, and to their own great loss, as well as to the weakening of the word of God. "Righteousness" never means mercy, not even the "righteousness of God." The meaning is not what was executed on Christ, but what is in virtue of it. Undoubtedly divine judgment fell on Him; but this is not "the righteousness of God," as the apostle employs it in any part of his writings any more than here, though we know there could be no such thing as God's righteousness justifying the believer, if Christ had not borne the judgment of God. The expression means that righteousness which God can afford to display because of Christ's atonement. In short, it is what the words say — "the righteousness of God," and this "by faith of Jesus Christ."
Hence it is wholly apart from the law, whilst witnessed to by the law and prophets; for the law with its types had looked onward to this new kind of righteousness; and the prophets had borne their testimony that it was at hand, but not then come. Now it was manifested, and not promised or predicted merely. Jesus had come and died; Jesus had been a propitiatory sacrifice; Jesus had borne the judgment of God because of the sins He bore. The righteousness of God, then, could now go forth in virtue of His blood. God was not satisfied alone. There is satisfaction; but the work of Christ goes a great deal farther. Therein God is both vindicated and glorified. By the cross God has a deeper moral glory than ever — a glory that He thus acquired, if I may so say. He is, of course, the same absolutely perfect and unchangeable God of goodness; but His perfection has displayed itself in new and more glorious ways in Christ's death, in Him who humbled Himself, and was obedient even to the death of the cross.
God, therefore, having not the least hindrance to the manifestation of what He can be and is in merciful intervention on behalf of the worst of sinners, manifests it as His righteousness "by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe" (ver. 22). The former is the direction, and the latter the application. The direction is "unto all;" the application is, of course, only to "them that believe;" but it is to all them that believe. As far as persons are concerned, there is no hindrance; Jew or Gentile makes no difference, as is expressly said, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the [passing over or praeter-mission, not] remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus" (verses 23-26). There is no simple mind that can evade the plain force of this last expression. The righteousness of God means that God is just, while at the same time He justifies the believer in Christ Jesus. It is His righteousness, or, in other words, His perfect consistency with Himself, which is always involved in the notion of righteousness. He is consistent with Himself when He is justifying sinners, or, more strictly, all those who believe in Jesus. He can meet the sinner, but He justifies the believer; and in this, instead of trenching on His glory, there is a deeper revelation and maintenance of it than if there never had been sin or a sinner.
Horribly offensive as sin is to God, and inexcusable in the creature, it is sin which has given occasion to the astonishing display of divine righteousness in justifying believers. It is not a question of His mercy merely; for this weakens the truth immensely, and perverts its character wholly. The righteousness of God flows from His mercy, of course; but its character and basis is righteousness. Christ's work of redemption deserves that God should act as He does in the gospel. Observe again, it is not victory here; for that would give place to human pride. It is not a soul's overcoming its difficulties, but a sinner's submission to the righteousness of God. It is God Himself who, infinitely glorified in the Lord that expiated our sins by His one sacrifice, remits them now, not looking for our victory, nor as yet even in leading us on to victory, but by faith in Jesus and His blood. God is proved thus divinely consistent with Himself in Christ Jesus, whom He has set forth a mercy-seat through faith in His blood.
Accordingly the apostle says that boast and works are completely set aside by this principle which affirms faith, apart from deeds of law, to be the means of relationship with God (verses 27, 28). Consequently the door is as open to the Gentile as to the Jew. The ground taken by a Jew for supposing God exclusively for Israel was, that they had the law, which was the measure of what God claimed from man; and this the Gentile had not. But such thoughts altogether vanish now, because, as the Gentile was unquestionably wicked and abominable, so from the law's express denunciation the Jew was universally guilty before God. Consequently all turned, not on what man should be for God, but what God can be and is, as revealed in the gospel, to man. This maintains both the glory and the moral universality of Him who will justify the circumcision by faith, not law, and the uncircumcision through their faith, if they believe the gospel. Nor does this in the slightest degree weaken the principle of law. On the contrary, the doctrine of faith establishes law as nothing else can; and for this simple reason, that if one who is guilty hopes to be saved spite of the broken law, it must be at the expense of the law that condemns his guilt; whereas the gospel shows no sparing of sin, but the most complete condemnation of it all, as charged on Him who shed His blood in atonement. The doctrine of faith therefore, which reposes on the cross, establishes law, instead of making it void, as every other principle must (verses 27-31).
But this is not the full extent of salvation. Accordingly we do not hear of salvation as such in Romans 3. There is laid down the most essential of all truths as a groundwork of salvation; namely, expiation. There is the vindication of God in His ways with the Old Testament believers. Their sins had been passed by. He could not have remitted heretofore. This would not have been just. And the blessedness of the gospel is, that it is (not merely an exercise of mercy, but also) divinely just. It would not have been righteous in any sense to have remitted the sins, until they were actually borne by One who could and did suffer for them. But now they were; and thus God vindicated Himself perfectly as to the past. But this great work of Christ was not and could not be a mere vindication of God; and we may find it otherwise developed in various parts of Scripture, which I here mention by the way to show the point at which we are arrived. God's righteousness was now manifested as to the past sins He had not brought into judgment through His forbearance, and yet more conspicuously in the present time, when He displayed His justice in justifying the believer.
But this is not all; and the objection of the Jew gives occasion for the apostle to bring out a fuller display of what God is. Did they fall back on Abraham? "What shall we then say that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." Did the Jew fancy that the gospel makes very light of Abraham, and of the then dealings of God? Not so, says the apostle. Abraham is the proof of the value of faith in justification before God. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. There was no law there or then; for Abraham died long before God spoke from Sinai. He believed God and His word, with special approval on God's part; and his faith was counted as righteousness (ver. 3). And this was powerfully corroborated by the testimony of another great name in Israel (David), in Psalm 32. "For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him. Thou art my hiding-place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye."
In the same way the apostle disposes of all pretence on the score of ordinances, especially circumcision. Not only was Abraham justified without law, but apart from that great sign of mortification of the flesh. Although circumcision began with Abraham, manifestly it had nothing to do with his righteousness, and at best was but the seal of the righteousness of faith which he had in an uncircumcised state. It could not therefore be the source or means of his righteousness. All then that believe, though uncircumcised, might claim him as father, assured that righteousness will be reckoned to them too. And he is father of circumcision in the best sense, not to Jews, but to believing Gentiles. Thus the discussion of Abraham strengthens the case in behalf of the uncircumcised who believe, to the overthrow of the greatest boast of the Jew. The appeal to their own inspired account of Abraham turned into a proof of the consistency of God's ways in justifying by faith, and hence in justifying the uncircumcised no less than the circumcision.
But there is more than this in Romans 4. He takes up a third feature of Abraham's case; that is, the connection of the promise with resurrection. Here it is not merely the negation of law and of circumcision, but we have the positive side. Law works wrath because it provokes transgression; grace makes the promise sure to all the seed, not only because faith is open to the Gentile and Jew alike, but because God is looked to as a quickener of the dead. What gives glory to God like this? Abraham believed God when, according to nature, it was impossible for him or for Sarah to have a child. The quickening power of God therefore was here set forth, of course historically in a way connected with this life and a posterity on earth, but nevertheless a very just and true sign of God's power for the believer — the quickening energy of God after a still more blessed sort. And this leads us to see not only where there was an analogy with those who believe in a promised Saviour, but also to a weighty difference. And this lies in the fact that Abraham believed God before he had the son, being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able to perform; and therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. But we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. It is done already. It is not here believing on Jesus, but on God who has proved what He is to us in raising from among the dead Him who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification (verses 13-25).
This brings out a most emphatic truth and special side of Christianity. Christianity is not a system of promise, but rather of promise accomplished in Christ. Hence it is essentially founded on the gift not only of a Saviour who would interpose, in the mercy of God, to bear our sins, but of One who is already revealed, and the work done and accepted, and this known in the fact that God Himself has interposed to raise Him from among the dead — a bright and momentous thing to press on souls, as indeed we find the apostles insisting on it throughout the Acts. Were it merely Romans 3 there could not be full peace with God as there is. One might know a most real clinging to Jesus; but this would not set the heart at ease with God. The soul may feel the blood of Jesus to be a yet deeper want; but this alone does not give peace with God. In such a condition what has been found in Jesus is too often misused to make a kind of difference, so to speak, between the Saviour on the one hand, and God on the other — ruinous always to the enjoyment of the full blessing of the gospel. Now there is no way in which God could lay a basis for peace with Himself more blessed than as He has done it. No longer does the question exist of requiring an expiation. That is the first necessity for the sinner with God. But we have had it fully in Romans 3. Now it is the positive power of God in raising up from the dead Him that was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justifying. The whole work is done.
The soul therefore now is represented for the first time as already justified and in possession of peace with God. This is a state of mind, and not the necessary or immediate fruit of Romans 3, but is based on the truth of Romans 4 as well as 3. There never can be solid peace with God without both. A soul may as truly, no doubt, be put into relationship with God — be made very happy, it may be; but it is not what Scripture calls "peace with God." Therefore it is here for the first time that we find salvation spoken of in the grand results that are now brought before us in Romans 5:1-11. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." There is entrance into favour, and nothing but favour. The believer is not put under law, you will observe, but under grace, which is the precise reverse of law. The soul is brought into peace with God, as it finds its standing in the grace of God, and, more than that, rejoices in hope of the glory of God. Such is the doctrine and the fact. It is not merely a call then; but as we have by our Lord Jesus Christ our access into the favour wherein we stand, so there is positive boasting in the hope of the glory of God. For it may have been noticed from chapter 3 to chapter 5, that nothing but fitness for the glory of God will do now. It is not a question of creature-standing. This passed away with man when he sinned. Now that God has revealed Himself in the gospel, it is not what will suit man on earth, but what is worthy of the presence of the glory of God. Nevertheless the apostle does not expressly mention heaven here. This was not suitable to the character of the epistle; but the glory of God he does. We all know where it is and must be for the Christian.
The consequences are thus pursued; first, the general place of the believer now, in all respects, in relation to the past, the present, and the future. His pathway follows; and he shows that the very troubles of the road become a distinct matter of boast. This was not a direct and intrinsic effect, of course, but the result of spiritual dealing for the soul. It was the Lord giving us the profit of sorrow, and ourselves bowing to the way and end of God in it, so that the result of tribulation should be rich and fruitful experience.
Then there is another and crowning part of the blessing: "And not only so, but also boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation." It is not only a blessing in its own direct character, or in indirect though real effects, but the Giver Himself is our joy, and boast, and glory. The consequences spiritually are blessed to the soul; how much more is it to reach the source from which all flows! This, accordingly, is the essential spring of worship. The fruits of it are not expanded here; but, in point of fact, to joy in God is necessarily that which makes praise and adoration to be the simple and spontaneous exercise of the heart. In heaven it will fill us perfectly; but there is no more perfect joy there, nor anything higher, if so high, in this epistle.
At this point we enter upon a most important part of the epistle, on which we must dwell for a little. It is no longer a question of man's guilt, but of his nature. Hence the apostle does not, as in the early chapters of this epistle, take up our sins, except as proofs and symptoms of sin. Accordingly, for the first time, the Spirit of God from Romans 5:12 traces the nature of man to the head of the race. This brings in the contrast with the other Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we have here not as One bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, but as the spring and chief of a new family. Hence, as is shown later in the chapter, Adam is a head characterized by disobedience, who brought in death, the just penalty of sin; as on the other hand we have Him of whom he was the type, Christ, the obedient man, who has brought in righteousness, and this after a singularly blessed sort and style — "justification of life." Of it nothing has been heard till now. We have had justification, both by blood and also in virtue of Christ's resurrection. But "justification of life" goes farther, though involved in the latter, than the end of Romans 4; for now we learn that in the gospel there is not only a dealing with the guilt of those that are addressed in it; there is also a mighty work of God in the presenting the man in a new place before God, and in fact, too, for his faith, clearing him from all the consequences in which he finds himself as a man in the flesh here below.
It is here that you will find a great failure of Christendom as to this. Not that any part of the truth has escaped: it is the fatal brand of that "great house" that even the most elementary truth suffers the deepest injury; but as to this truth, it seems unknown altogether. I hope that brethren in Christ will bear with me if I press on them the importance of taking good heed to it that their souls are thoroughly grounded in this, the proper place of the Christian by Christ's death and resurrection. It must not be assumed too readily. There is a disposition continually to imagine that what is frequently spoken of must be understood; but experience will soon show that this is not the case. Even those that seek a place of separation to the Lord outside that which is now hurrying on souls to destruction are, nevertheless, deeply affected by the condition of that Christendom in which we find ourselves.
Here, then, it is not a question at all of pardon or remission. First of all the apostle points out that death has come in, and that this was no consequence of law, but before it. Sin was in the world between Adam and Moses, when the law was not. This clearly takes in man, it will be observed; and this is his grand point now. The contrast of Christ with Adam takes in man universally as well as the Christian; and man in sin, alas! was true, accordingly, before the law, right through the law, and ever since the law. The apostle is therefore plainly in presence of the broadest possible grounds of comparison, though we shall find more too.
But the Jew might argue that it was an unjust thing in principle — this gospel, these tidings of which the apostle was so full; for why should one man affect many, yea, all? "Not so," replies the apostle. Why should this be so strange and incredible to you? for on your own showing, according to that word to which we all bow, you must admit that one man's sin brought in universal moral ruin and death. Proud as you may be of that which distinguishes you, it is hard to make sin and death peculiar to you, nor can you connect them even with the law particularly: the race of man is in question, and not Israel alone. There is nothing that proves this so convincingly as the book of Genesis; and the apostle, by the Spirit of God, calmly but triumphantly summons the Jewish Scriptures to demonstrate that which the Jews were so strenuously denying. Their own Scriptures maintained, as nothing else could, that all the wretchedness which is now found in the world, and the condemnation which hangs over the race, is the fruit of one man, and indeed of one act.
Now, if it was righteous in God (and who will gainsay it?) to deal with the whole posterity of Adam as involved in death because of one, their common father, who could deny the consistency of one man's saving? who would defraud God of that which He delights in — the blessedness of bringing in deliverance by that One man, of whom Adam was the image? Accordingly, then, he confronts the unquestionable truth, admitted by every Israelite, of the universal havoc by one man everywhere with the One man who has brought in (not pardon only, but, as we shall find) eternal life and liberty — liberty now in the free gift of life, but a liberty that will never cease for the soul's enjoyment until it has embraced the very body that still groans, and this because of the Holy Ghost who dwells in it.
Here, then, it is a comparison of the two great heads — Adam and Christ, and the immeasurable superiority of the second man is shown. That is, it is not merely pardon of past sins, but deliverance from sin, and in due time from all its consequences. The apostle has come now to the nature. This is the essential point. It is the thing which troubles a renewed conscientious soul above all, because of his surprise at finding the deep evil of the flesh and its mind after having proved the great grace of God in the gift of Christ. If I am thus pitied of God, if so truly and completely a justified man, if I am really an object of God's eternal favour, how can I have such a sense of continual evil? why am I still under bondage and misery from the constant evil of my nature, over which I seem to have no power whatever? Has God then no delivering power from this? The answer is found in this portion of our epistle (that is, from the middle of chapter 5).
Having shown first, then, the sources and the character of the blessing in general as far as regards deliverance, the apostle sums up the result in the end of the chapter: "That as sin hath reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life," the point being justification of life now through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is applied in the two chapters that follow. There are two things that might make insuperable difficulty: the one is the obstacle of sin in the nature to practical holiness; the other is the provocation and condemnation of the law. Now the doctrine which we saw asserted in the latter part of Romans 5 is applied to both. First, as to practical holiness, it is not merely that Christ has died for my sins, but that even in the initiatory act of baptism the truth set forth there is that I am dead. It is not, as in Ephesians 2, dead in sins, which would be nothing to the purpose. This is all perfectly true — true of a Jew as of a pagan — true of any unrenewed man that never heard of a Saviour. But what is testified by Christian baptism is Christ's death. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto his death?" Thereby is identification with His death. "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; 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." The man who, being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, or Christian baptism, would assert any license to sin because it is in his nature, as if it were therefore an inevitable necessity, denies the real and evident meaning of his baptism. That act denoted not even the washing away of our sins by the blood of Jesus, which would not apply to the case, nor in any adequate way meet the question of nature. What baptism sets forth is more than that, and is justly found, not in Romans 3, but in Romans 6. There is no inconsistency in Ananias's word to the apostle Paul — "wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord." There is water as well as blood, and to that, not to this, the washing here refers. But there is more, which Paul afterwards insisted on. That was said to Paul, rather than what was taught by Paul. What the apostle had given him in fulness was the great truth, however fundamental it may be, that I am entitled, and even called on in the name of the Lord Jesus, to know that I am dead to sin; not that I must die, but that I am dead — that my baptism means nothing less than this, and is shorn of its most emphatic point if limited merely to Christ's dying for my sins. It is not so alone; but in His death, unto which I am baptized, I am dead to sin. And "how shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" Hence, then, we find that the whole chapter is founded on this truth. "Shall we sin," says he, proceeding yet farther (ver. 15), "because we are not under the law, but under grace?" This were indeed to deny the value of His death, and of that newness of life we have in Him risen, and a return to bondage of the worst description.
In Romans 7 we have the subject of the law discussed for practice as well as in principle, and there again meet with the same weapon of tried and unfailing temper. It is no longer blood, but death — Christ's death and resurrection. The figure of the relationship of husband and wife is introduced in order to make the matter plain. Death, and nothing short of it, rightly dissolves the bond. We accordingly are dead, says he, to the law; not (as no doubt almost all of us know) that the law dies, but that we are dead to the law in the death of Christ. Compare verse 6 (where the margin, not the text, is substantially correct) with verse 4. Such is the principle. The rest of the chapter (7-25) is an instructive episode, in which the impotence and the misery of the renewed mind which attempts practice under law are fully argued out, till deliverance (not pardon) is found in Christ.
Thus the latter portion of the chapter is not doctrine exactly, but the proof of the difficulties of a soul who has not realised death to the law by the body of Christ. Did this seem to treat the law that condemned as an evil thing? Not so, says the apostle; it is because of the evil of the nature, not of the law. The law never delivers; it condemns and kills us. It was meant to make sin exceeding sinful. Hence, what he is here discussing is not remission of sins, but deliverance from sin. No wonder, if souls confound the two things together, that they never know deliverance in practice. Conscious deliverance, to be solid according to God, must be in the line of His truth. In vain will you preach Romans 3, or even 4 alone, for souls to know themselves consciously and holily set free.
From verse 14 there is an advance. There we find Christian knowledge as to the matter introduced; but still it is the knowledge of one who is not in this state pronouncing on one who is. You must carefully guard against the notion of its being a question of Paul's own experience, because he says, "I had not known," "I was alive," etc. There is no good reason for such an assumption, but much against it. It might be more or less any man's lot to learn. It is not meant that Paul knew nothing of this; but that the ground of inference, and the general theory built up, are alike mistaken. We have Paul informing us that he transfers sometimes in a figure to himself that which was in no wise necessarily his own experience, and perhaps had not been so at any time. But this may be comparatively a light question. The great point is to note the true picture given us of a soul quickened, but labouring and miserable under law, not at all consciously delivered. The last verses of the chapter, however, bring in the deliverance — not yet the fulness of it, but the hinge, so to speak. The discovery is made that the source of the internal misery was that the mind, though renewed, was occupied with the law as a means of dealing with flesh. Hence the very fact of being renewed makes one sensible of a far more intense misery than ever, while there is no power until the soul looks right outside self to Him who is dead and risen, who has anticipated the difficulty, and alone gives the full answer to all wants.
Romans 8 displays this comforting truth in its fulness. From the first verse we have the application of the dead and risen Christ to the soul, till in verse 11 we see the power of the Holy Ghost, which brings the soul into this liberty now, applied by-and-by to the body, when there will be the complete deliverance. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." A wondrous way, but most blessed! And there (for such was the point) it was the complete condemnation of this evil thing, the nature in its present state, so as, nevertheless, to set the believer as before God's judgment free from itself as well as its consequences. This God has wrought in Christ. It is not in any degree settled as to itself by His blood. The shedding of His blood was absolutely necessary: without that precious expiation all else had been vain and impossible. But there is much more in Christ than that to which too many souls restrict themselves, not less to their own loss than to His dishonour. God has condemned the flesh. And here it may be repeated that it is no question of pardoning the sinner, but of condemning the fallen nature; and this so as to give the soul both power and a righteous immunity from all internal anguish about it. For the truth is that God has in Christ condemned sin, and this for sin definitely; so that He has nothing more to do in condemnation of that root of evil. What a title, then, God gives me now in beholding Christ, no longer dead but risen, to have it settled before my soul that I am in Him as He now is, where all questions are closed in peace and joy! For what remains unsolved by and in Christ? Once it was far otherwise. Before the cross there hung out the gravest question that ever was raised, and it needed settlement in this world; but in Christ sin is for ever abolished for the believer; and this not only in respect of what He has done, but in what He is. Till the cross, well might a converted soul be found groaning in misery at each fresh discovery of evil in himself. But now to faith all this is gone — not lightly, but truly — in the sight of God; so that he may live on a Saviour that is risen from the dead as his new life.
Accordingly Romans 8 pursues in the most practical manner the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. First of all, the groundwork of it is laid in the first four verses, the last of them leading into every-day walk. And it is well for those ignorant of it to know that here, in verse 4, the apostle speaks first of "walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The latter clause in the first verse of the authorised version mars the sense. In the fourth verse this could not be absent; in the first verse it ought not to be present. Thus the deliverance is not merely for the joy of the soul, but also for strength in our walking after the Spirit, who has given and found a nature in which He delights, communicating withal His own delight in Christ, and making obedience to be the joyful service of the believer. The believer, therefore, unwittingly though really, dishonours the Saviour, if he be content to walk short of this standard and power; he is entitled and called to walk according to his place, and in the confidence of his deliverance in Christ Jesus before God.
Then the domains of flesh and Spirit are brought before us: the one characterized by sin and death practically now; the other by life, righteousness, and peace, which is, as we saw, to be crowned finally by the resurrection of these bodies of ours. The Holy Ghost, who now gives the soul its consciousness of deliverance from its place in Christ, is also the witness that the body too, the mortal body, shall be delivered in its time. "If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by [or because of] his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
Next, he enters upon another branch of the truth — the Spirit not as a condition contrasted with flesh (these two, as we know, being always contrasted in Scripture), but as a power, a divine person that dwells in and bears His witness to the believer. His witness to our spirit is this, — that we are children of God. But if children, we are His heirs. This accordingly leads, as connected with the deliverance of the body, to the inheritance we are to possess. The extent is what God Himself, so to speak, possesses — the universe of God, whatever will be under Christ: and what will not? As He has made all, so He is heir of all. We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
Hence the action of the Spirit of God in a double point of view comes before us. As He is the spring of our joy, He is the power of sympathy in our sorrows, and the believer knows both. The faith of Christ has brought divine joy into his soul; but, in point of fact, he is traversing a world of infirmity, suffering, and grief. Wonderful to think the Spirit of God associates Himself with us in it all, deigning to give us divine feelings even in our poor and narrow hearts. This occupies the central part of the chapter, which then closes with the unfailing and faithful power of God for us in all our experiences here below. As He has given us through the blood of Jesus full remission, as we shall be saved by this life, as He has made us know even now nothing short of present conscious deliverance from every whit of evil that belongs to our very nature, as we have the Spirit the earnest of the glory to which we are destined, as we are the vessels of gracious sorrow in the midst of that from which we are not yet delivered but shall be, so now we have the certainty that, whatever betide, God is for us, and that nothing shall separate us from His love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then, in Romans 9 - 11, the apostle handles a difficulty serious to any mind, especially to the Jew, who might readily feel that all this display of grace in Christ to the Gentile as much as to the Jew by the gospel seems to make very cheap the distinctive place of Israel as given of God. If the good news of God goes out to man, entirely blotting out the difference between a Jew and a Gentile, what becomes of His special promises to Abraham and to his seed? What about His word passed and sworn to the fathers? The apostle shows them with astonishing force at the starting-point that he was far from slighting their privileges. He lays down such a summary as no Jew ever gave since they were a nation. He brings out the peculiar glories of Israel according to the depth of the gospel as he knew and preached it; at least, of His person who is the object of faith now revealed. Far from denying or obscuring what they boasted of, he goes beyond them "Who are Israelites," says he, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever." Here was the very truth that every Jew, as such, denied. What blindness! Their crowning glory was precisely what they would not hear of. What glory so rich as that of the Christ Himself duly appreciated? He was God over all blessed for ever, as well as their Messiah. Him who came in humiliation, according to their prophets, they might despise; but it was vain to deny that the same prophets bore witness to His divine glory. He was Emmanuel, yea, the Jehovah, God of Israel. Thus then, if Paul gave his own sense of Jewish privileges, there was no unbelieving Jew that rose up to his estimate of them.
But now, to meet the question that was raised, they pleaded the distinguishing promises to Israel. Upon what ground? Because they were sons of Abraham. But how, argues he, could this stand, seeing that Abraham had another son, just as much his child as Isaac? What did they say to Ishmaelites as joint-heirs? They would not hear of it. No, they cry, it is in Isaac's seed that the Jew was called. Yes, but this is another principle. If in Isaac only, it is a question of the seed, not that was born, but that was called. Consequently the call of God, and not the birth simply makes the real difference. Did they venture to plead that it must be not only the same father, but the same mother? The answer is, that this will not do one whit better; for when we come down to the next generation, it is apparent that the two sons of Isaac were sons of the same mother; nay, they were twins. What could be conceived closer or more even than this? Surely if equal birth-tie could ensure community of blessing — if a charter from God depended on being sprung from the same father and mother, there was no case so strong, no claim so evident, as that of Esau to take the same rights as Jacob. Why would they not allow such a pretension? Was it not sure and evident that Israel could not take the promise on the ground of mere connection after the flesh? Birthright from the same father would let in Ishmael on the one hand, as from both parents it would secure the title of Esau on the other. Clearly, then, such ground is untenable. In point of fact, as he had hinted before, their true tenure was the call of God, who was free, if He pleased, to bring in other people. It became simply a question whether, in fact, God did call Gentiles, or whether He had revealed such intentions.
But he meets their proud exclusiveness in another way. He shows that, on the responsible ground of being His nation, they were wholly ruined. If the first book in the Bible showed that it was only the call of God that made Israel what they were, its second book as clearly proved that all was over with the called people, had it not been for the mercy of God. They set up the golden calf, and thus cast off the true God, their God, even in the desert. Did the call of God then, go out to Gentiles? Has He mercy only for guilty Israel? Is there no call, no mercy, of God for any besides?
Hereupon he enters upon the direct proofs, and first cites Hosea as a witness. That early prophet tells Israel, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God. Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi were of awful import for Israel; but, in presence of circumstances so disastrous, there should be not merely a people but sons of the living God, and then should Judah and Israel be gathered as one people under one head. The application of this was more evident to the Gentile than to the Jew. Compare Peter's use in 1 Peter 2:10. Finally he brings in Isaiah, showing that, far from retaining their blessing as an unbroken people, a remnant alone would be saved. Thus one could not fail to see these two weighty inferences: the bringing in to be God's sons of those that had not been His people, and the judgment and destruction of the great mass of His undoubted people. Of these only a remnant would be saved. On both sides therefore the apostle is meeting the grand points he had at heart to demonstrate from their own Scriptures.
For all this, as he presses further, there was the weightiest reason possible. God is gracious, but holy; He is faithful, but righteous. The apostle refers to Isaiah to show that God would "lay in Zion a stumbling-stone." It is in Zion that He lays it. It is not among the Gentiles, but in the honoured centre of the polity of Israel. There would be found a stumblingstone there. What was to be the stumbling-stone? Of course, it could hardly be the law: that was the boast of Israel. What was it? There could be but one satisfactory answer. The stumbling-stone was their despised and rejected Messiah. This was the key to their difficulties — this alone, and fully explains their coming ruin as well as God's solemn warnings.
In the next chapter (Romans 10) he carries on the subject, showing in the most touching manner his affection for the people. He at the same time unfolds the essential difference between the righteousness of faith and that of law. He takes their own books, and proves from one of them (Deuteronomy) that in the ruin of Israel the resource is not going into the depths, nor going up to heaven. Christ indeed did both; and so the word was nigh them, in their mouth and in their heart. It is not doing, but believing; therefore it is what is proclaimed to them, and what they receive and believe. Along with this he gathers testimonies from more than one prophet. He quotes from Joel, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. He quotes also from Isaiah — "Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed." And mark the force of it — whosoever." The believer, whosoever he might be, should not be ashamed. Was it possible to limit this to Israel? But more than this — "Whosoever shall call." There is the double prophecy. Whosoever believed should not be ashamed; whosoever called should be saved. In both parts, as it may be observed, the door is opened to the Gentile.
But then again he intimates that the nature of the gospel is involved in the publishing of the glad tidings. It is not God having an earthly centre, and the peoples coming up to worship the Lord in Jerusalem. It is the going forth of His richest blessing. And where? How far? To the limits of the holy land? Far beyond. Psalm 19 is used in the most beautiful manner to insinuate that the limits are the world. Just as the sun in the heavens is not for one people or land alone, no more is the gospel. There is no language where their voice is not heard. "Yea verily, their sound went forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." The gospel goes forth universally. Jewish pretensions were therefore disposed of; not here by new and fuller revelations, but by this divinely skilful employment of their own Old Testament Scriptures.
Finally he comes to two other witnesses; as from the Psalms, so now from the law and the prophets. The first is Moses himself. Moses saith, "I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people," etc. How could the Jews say that this meant themselves? On the contrary, it was the Jew provoked by the Gentiles — "By them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you." Did they deny that they were a foolish nation? Be it so then; it was a foolish nation by which Moses declared they should be angered. But this does not content the apostle, or rather the Spirit of God; for he goes on to point out that Isaiah "is very bold" in a similar way; that is, there is no concealing the truth of the matter. Isaiah says: "I was found of them who sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me." The Jews were the last in the world to take such ground as this. It was undeniable that the Gentiles did not seek the Lord, nor ask after Him; and the prophet says that Jehovah was found of them that sought Him not, and was made manifest to them that asked not after Him. Nor is there only the manifest call of the Gentiles in this, but with no less clearness there is the rejection, at any rate for a time, of proud Israel. "But unto Israel he saith, All day long have I stretched out my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."
Thus the proof was complete. The Gentiles — the despised heathen — were to be brought in; the self-satisfied Jews are left behind, justly and beyond question, if they believed the law and the prophets.
But did this satisfy the apostle? It was undoubtedly enough for present purposes. The past history of Israel was sketched in Romans 9; the present more immediately is before us in Romans 10. The future must be brought in by the grace of God; and this he accordingly gives us at the close of Romans 11. First, he raises the question, "Has God cast away his people?" Let it not be! Was he not himself, says Paul, a proof to the contrary? Then he enlarges, and points out that there is a remnant of grace in the worst of times. If God had absolutely cast away His people, would there be such mercy? There would be no remnant if justice took its course. The remnant proves, then, that even under judgment the rejection of Israel is not complete, but rather a pledge of future favour. This is the first ground.
The second plea is not that the rejection of Israel is only partial, however extensive, but that it is also temporary, and not definitive. This is to fall back on a principle he had already used. God was rather provoking Israel to jealousy by the call of the Gentiles. But if it were so, He had not done with them. Thus the first argument shows that the rejection was not total; the second, that it was but for a season.
But there is a third. Following up with the teaching of the olive-tree, he carries out the same thought of a remnant that abides on their own stock, and points to a re-instatement of the nation. And I would just observe by the way, that the Gentile cry that no Jew ever accepts the gospel in truth is a falsehood. Israel is indeed the only people of whom there is always a portion that believe. Time was when none of the English, nor French, nor of any other nation believed in the Saviour. There never was an hour since Israel's existence as a nation that God has not had His remnant of them. Such has been their singular fruit of promise; such even in the midst of all their misery it is at present. And as that little remnant is ever sustained by the grace of God, it is the standing pledge of their final blessedness through His mercy, whereon the apostle breaks out into raptures of thanksgiving to God. The day hastens when the Redeemer shall come to Zion. He shall come, says one Testament, out of Zion. He shall come to Zion, says the other. In both Old and New it is the same substantial testimony. Thither He shall come, and thence, go forth. He shall own that once glorious seat of royalty in Israel. Zion shall yet behold her mighty, divine, but once despised Deliverer; and when He thus comes, there will be a deliverance suited to His glory. All Israel shall be saved. God, therefore, had not cast off His people, but was employing the interval of their slip from their place, in consequence of their rejection of Christ, to call the Gentiles in sovereign mercy, after which Israel as a whole should be saved. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever."
The rest of the epistle takes up the practical consequences of the great doctrine of God's righteousness, which had been now shown to be supported by, and in no wise inconsistent with, His promises to Israel. The whole history of Israel, past, present, and future falls in with, although quite distinct from, that which he had been expounding. Here I shall be very brief.
Romans 12 looks at the mutual duties of the saints. Romans 13 urges their duties towards what was outside them, more particularly to the powers that be, but also to men in general. Love is the great debt that we owe, which never can be paid, but which we should always be paying. The chapter closes with the day of the Lord in its practical force on the Christian walk. In Romans 14 and the beginning of Romans 15 we have the delicate theme of Christian forbearance in its limits and largeness. The weak are not to judge the strong, and the strong are not to despise the weak. These things are matters of conscience, and depend much for their solution on the degree to which souls have attained. The subject terminates with the grand truth which must never be obscured by details — that we are to receive one another, as Christ has received us, to the glory of God. In the rest of chapter 15 the apostle dwells on the extent of his apostleship, renews his expression of the thought and hope of visiting Rome, and at the same time shows how well he remembered the need of the poor at Jerusalem. Romans 16 brings before us in the most instructive and interesting manner the links that grace practically forms and maintains between the saints of God. Though he had never visited Rome, many of them were known personally. It is exquisite — the delicate love with which he singles out distinctive features in each of the saints, men and women, that come before him. Would that the Lord would give us hearts to remember, as well as eyes to see, according to His own grace! Then follows a warning against those who bring in stumbling-blocks and offences. There is evil at work, and grace does not close the eye to danger; at the same time it is never under the pressure of the enemy, and there is the fullest confidence that the God of peace will break the power of Satan under the feet of the saints shortly.
Last of all, the apostle links up this fundamental treatise of divine righteousness in its doctrine, its dispensational bearings, and its exhortations to the walk of Christians, with higher truth, which it would not have been suitable then to bring out; for grace considers the state and the need of the saints. True ministry gives out not merely truth, but suited truth to the saints. At the same time the apostle does allude to that mystery which was not yet divulged — at least, in this epistle; but he points from the foundations of eternal truth to those heavenly heights that were reserved for other communications in due time.
As usual, the introductory words (1 Cor. 1:1-3) of the epistle give us no little intimation of that which is to follow. The apostle speaks of himself as such "called [to be ] an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God," but coupling a brother with him, "and Sosthenes our brother," he writes to "the church of God at Corinth" — not to the saints, as was the case in the epistle to the Romans, but to the church at Corinth "to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus," as in the former epistle — "called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."
This will be found to lead the way into the main subject of the present communication. Here we must not look for the great foundations of Christian doctrine. There is the unfolding of the assembly in a practical way; that is, the church of God is not viewed here in its highest character. There is no more than an incidental glance at its associations with Christ. No notice is here taken of the heavenly places as the sphere of our blessing; nor are we given to hear of the bridal affections of Christ for His body. But the assembly of God is addressed, those sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints called, "with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Thus room is left for the profession of the Lord's name. It is not, as in Ephesians, "to the saints which are in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus." There is no such closeness of application, nor intimacy, nor confidence in a really intrinsically holy character. Sanctified they were in Christ Jesus. They had taken the place of being separate, "calling upon the name of the Lord;" but the remarkable addition should be noticed by the way — "with all that in every place call upon the name of the Lord, both theirs and ours." And this is the more notable, because if there be an epistle which the unbelief of Christendom tries more than another to annul in its application to present circumstances, it is this first letter to the Corinthians. Nor need we wonder. Unbelief shrinks from that which calls, now rather recalls, the saints to a due sense of their responsibility in virtue of their position as the church of God here below. Those at Corinth had forgotten it. Christendom has not merely forgotten but denied it, and so would fain treat a large part of that which will come before us tonight as a bygone thing. It is not disputed that God did thus work in times past; but they have not the smallest serious thought of submitting to its directions as authoritative for present duty. Yet who can deny that God has taken more care to make this plain and certain in the very frontispiece of this epistle than anywhere else? He is wise and right: man is not. Our place is to bow and believe.
There is another point also to be weighed in the next verses (4-8). The apostle tells them how he thanks his God always on their behalf, but refrains from any expression of thankfulness as to their state. He recognises their rich endowments on God's part. He owns how they had been given all utterance, and all knowledge, the working of the Spirit of God, and His power. This is exceedingly important; for there is a disposition often to consider that difficulties and disorder among the saints of God are due to a want of government and of ministerial power. But no amount of gift, in few or many, can of itself produce holy spiritual order. Disorder is never the result of weakness alone. This, of course, may be taken advantage of, and Satan may tempt men to assume the semblance of a strength they do not possess. No doubt assumption would produce disorder; but weakness simply (where it leads souls, as it should, to spread out their need before the Lord) brings in the gracious action of the Holy Ghost, and the unfailing care of Him who loves His saints and the assembly. It was not so at Corinth. Theirs was rather the display of conscious strength; but at the same time they lacked the fear of God, and the sense of responsibility in the use of what God had given them. They were like children disporting themselves with not a little energy that wrought in vessels which altogether failed in self-judgment. This was a source, and a main source, of the difficulty and disorder at Corinth. It is also of great importance to us; for there are those that continually cry out for increase of power as the one panacea of the church. What reflecting spiritual mind could doubt that God sees His saints are not able to bear it? Power in the sense in which we are now speaking of it — that is, power in the form of gift — is far from being the deepest need or the gravest desideratum of the saints. Again, is it ever the way of God to display Himself thus in a fallen condition of things? Not that He is restrained, or that He is not Sovereign. Not, moreover, that He may not give, and liberally as suits His own glory; but He gives wisely and holily, so as to lead souls now into exercise of conscience and brokenness of spirit, and thus keep and even deepen their sense of that to which God's church is called, and the state into which it has fallen.
At Corinth there was a wholly different state of things. It was the early rise of the church of God, if I may so say, among the Gentiles. And there was not wanting an astonishing sample of the power of the Spirit in witness of the victory that Jesus had won over Satan. This was now, or at least should have been, manifested by the church of God, as at Corinth. But they had lost sight of God's objects. They were occupied with themselves, with one another, with the supernatural energy which grace had conferred on them in the name of the Lord. The Holy Ghost in inspiring the apostle to write to them in no way weakens the sense of the source and character of that power. He insists on its reality, and reminds them that it was of God; but at the same time he brings in the divine aim in it all. "God," says he, "is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Immediately after he alludes to the schisms that were then at work among them, and calls on them to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment; informing them of the tidings which had reached him through the house of Chloe, that there were contentions among them, some saying, "I am of Paul," others "I am of Apollos;" some, "I am of Cephas," and others "I am of Christ himself." There is no abuse to which flesh cannot degrade the truth. But the apostle knew how to introduce the Lord's name and grace with the grandly simple but weighty facts of His person and work. It was unto His name that they were baptized; it was He that had been crucified. And be it observed, that from the first of this epistle it is the cross of Christ that has the prominence. It is not so much His blood-shedding, nor even His death and resurrection, but His cross. This would have been as much out of place in the beginning of Romans as the putting forward of propitiation would be out of place here. Expiation of sins by Christ, His death and resurrection, are given of God to be displayed before the saints, who needed to know the firm, immutable foundation of grace; but what the saints wanted most was to learn the gross inconsistency of turning to selfish ease, honour, and aggrandisement the privileges of God's church, and the power of the Spirit of God that wrought in its members.
It is the cross which stains the pride of man, and puts all his glory in the dust. Hence the apostle brings Christ crucified before them. This to the Jew was a stumbling-block, and to the Greek foolishness. These Corinthians were deeply affected by the judgment of both Jews and Greeks. They were under the influence of man. They had not realized the total ruin of nature. They valued those that were wise, scribes, or disputers of this world. They were accustomed to the schools of their age and country. They conceived that if Christianity did such great things when those who possessed it were poor and simple, what might it not do if it could only be backed by the ability, and the learning, and the philosophy of men! How it must ride triumphantly to victory! How the great must bow, and the wise be brought in! What a glorious change would result when not the unlettered poor only, but the great and the noble, the wise and the Prudent, were all joined in the confession of Jesus!
Their thoughts were fleshly, not of God. The cross writes judgment on man, and folly on his wisdom, as it is itself rejected by man as folly; for what could seem more egregiously unreasonable to a Greek than the God that made heaven and earth becoming a man, and, as such, crucified by the wicked hands of His creatures here below? That God should use His power to bless man was natural; and the Gentile could coalesce as to it with the Jew. Hence too, in the cross, the Jew found his stumbling-block; for he expected a Messiah in power and glory. Though the Jew and the Greek seemed opposite as the poles, from different points they agreed thoroughly in slighting the cross, and in desiring the exaltation of man as he is. They both, therefore, (whatever their occasional oppositions, and whatever their permanent variety of form,) preferred the flesh, and were ignorant of God — the one demanding signs, the other wisdom. It was the pride of nature, whether self-confident or founded on religious claims.
Hence the apostle Paul, in the latter part of chap. 1, brings in the cross of Christ in contrast with fleshly wisdom, as well as religious pride, urging also God's sovereignty in calling souls as He will. He alludes to the mystery (1 Cor. 2), but does not develop here the blessed privileges that flowed to us from a union with Christ, dead, risen, and ascended; but demonstrates that man has no place whatever, that it is God who chooses and calls, and that He makes nothing of flesh. There is glorying, but it is exclusively in the Lord. "No flesh should glory in his presence."
This is confirmed in 1 Corinthians 2, where the apostle reminds them of the manner in which the gospel had entered Corinth. He had come there setting his face against all things that would commend himself. No doubt, to one of such eminent ability and such varied gifts as the apostle Paul, it was hard, to speak after the manner of men, to be nothing. How much it must have called for self-denial utterly to decline that which he could have handled so well, and which people at Corinth would have hailed with loud acclamation. Just think of the great apostle of the Gentiles, on the immortality of the soul, giving free rein to the mighty spirit that was in him! But not so. What absorbed his soul, in entering, the intellectual and dissolute capital of Achaia, was the cross of Christ. He determined therefore, as he says, to know nothing else — not exactly to know the cross alone, but "Jesus Christ and him crucified." It was emphatically, though not exclusively, the cross. It was not simply redemption, but along with this another order of truth. Redemption supposes, undoubtedly, a suffering Saviour, and the shedding of that precious blood which ransoms the captives. It is Jesus who in grace has undergone the judgment of God, and brought in the full delivering power of God for the souls that believe. But the cross is more than this. It is the death of shame pre-eminently. It is utter opposition to the thoughts, feelings, judgments, and ways of men, religious or profane. This is the part accordingly that he was led in the wisdom of God to put forward. Hence the feelings of the apostle were distrust of self, and dependence on God according to that cross. As he says, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." Thus, as Christ Himself is said in 2 Cor. 13 to be crucified in weakness, such was also the servant here. His speech and his preaching was "not in enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power." Accordingly, in this chapter he proceeds to supplement the application of the doctrine of the cross to the state of the Corinthians by bringing in the Holy Ghost; for this again supposes the incapacity of man in divine things.
All is opened out in a manner full of comfort, but at the same time unsparing to human pride. Weigh from the prophecy of Isaiah the remarkable quotation — "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit." There is first the great standing fact before our eyes. Such is the Saviour to the saved. Christ crucified is the death-knell on all man's wisdom, and power, and righteousness. The cross writes total condemnation on the world. It was here the world had to say to Jesus. All that it gave Him was the cross. On the other hand, to the believer it is the power of God and the wisdom of God, because he humbly but willingly reads in the cross the truth of the judgment of his own nature as a thing to be delivered from, and finds Him that was crucified, the Lord Himself, undertaking a deliverance just, present, and complete; as he says, "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Flesh is absolutely put down. Man cannot go lower for weakness and ignominy than the cross on which hangs all the blessedness God gives the believer. And therein God is glorified as He is nowhere else. This in both its parts is exactly as it should be; and faith sees and receives it in Christ's cross. The state of the Corinthians did not admit of Christ risen being brought in, at least here. It might have drawn a halo, as it were, round human nature — this presenting the risen man in the first instance. But he points to God as the source, and Christ as the channel and means, of all the blessing. "Of him," says he, "are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." But then, as he shows, there was not only this great source of blessing in Christ, but there is the power that works in us. Never is it the spirit of man that lays hold of this infinite good which God vouchsafes him. Man requires a divine power to work within him, just as he needs the Saviour outside himself.
Accordingly, in 1 Corinthians 2, still carrying on the thought of Christ crucified, and connecting it with their condition, he intimates that he was in no wise limited to it. If persons were grounded in Christianity, he was prepared to go into the greatest depths of revealed truth; but then the power of entering safely was not human, but of the Holy Ghost. Man is no more capable of fathoming the depths of divine things than a brute can comprehend the works of human wit or science. This doctrine was utterly repulsive to the pride of the Greeks. They might admit man to have need of pardon, and of moral improvement. They fully admitted his want of instruction, and refinement, and, so to speak, of spiritualization, if it only might be. Christianity deepens our estimate of every want. Man not only wants a new life or nature, but the Holy Ghost. It is not merely His grace in a general sense, but the power of the Holy Ghost personally dwelling in him. It is this alone which can lead us into the deep things of God. And this, he lets us see, affects not merely this particular or that, but the whole working of divine grace and power in man. The whole and sole means of communicating blessing to us must be the Holy Ghost. Hence he insists, that as it is the Spirit of God in the first place who reveals the truth to us, so it is the same Spirit who furnishes suitable words, as, finally, it is through the Holy Ghost that one receives the truth revealed in the words He Himself has given. Thus, from first to last, it is a process begun, carried on, and completed by the Holy Ghost. How little this makes of man!
This introduces 1 Corinthians 3 and gives point to his rebukes. He taxes them with walking as men. How remarkable is such a reproach! Walking as men! Why, one might ask, how else could they walk? And this very difficulty — as no doubt it would be to many a Christian now (that walking as men should be a reproach) — was no doubt a clap of thunder to the proud but poor spirits at Corinth. Yes, walking as men is a departure from Christianity. It is to give up the distinctive power and place that belongs to us; for does not Christianity show us man judged, condemned, and set aside? On the faith of this, living in Christ, we have to walk. The Holy Ghost, besides, is brought in as working in the believer, and this, of course, in virtue of redemption by our Lord Jesus. And this is what is meant by being not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, which is proved by the Holy Ghost dwelling in us.
Here the apostle does not explain all this, and he gives a very withering reason for his reticence. These Corinthians had an uncommonly good opinion of themselves, and so they must be told plainly the reason why he does not open out these deep things. They themselves were not fit; they were but babes. What! the polished Greek believers no more than babes! This was rather what they would have said of the apostle or of his teaching. They thought themselves far in advance. The apostle had dwelt on the elementary truths of the gospel. They yearned after the fire of Peter and the rhetoric of Apollos. No doubt they might easily flatter themselves it was to carry on the work of God. How little many a young convert knows what will best lead him on! How little the Corinthians dreamt of depreciating the Second man, or of exalting the first! Hence the apostle tells them that he could not speak unto them as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat." Far from denying, he owns that their insinuation was true — he had only brought before them elementary truths. They were not in a condition to bear more. Now this is full of meaning and importance practically at all times. We may damage souls greatly by presenting high truths to those that want the simplest rudiments of divine truth.
The apostle, as a wise master-builder, laid the foundation. The state of the Corinthians was such that he could not build on the foundation as he would have desired. His absence had given occasion for the breaking out of their carnal wishes after the world's wisdom. They were making even the ardour of a Peter and the eloquence of an Apollos to be a reason for dissatisfaction with one that, I need not say, was superior to both of them. But the apostle meets them in a way most unexpected to their self-satisfaction and pride, and lets them know that their carnality was the real reason why he could not go on with them into deeper things.
This leads him to point out the seriousness of the work or building; for he presents the church of God under this figure. What care each servant needs to take how and what he builds! What danger of bringing in that which would not stand the fire or judgment of God — nay, further, of bringing in that which was not simply weak and worthless, but positively corrupting; for it was to be feared there were such elements even then at Corinth! Again he brings in another principle to bear upon them. Their party spirit, their feeling of narrowness, the disposition to set up this servant of Christ or that, was not only a dishonour to the Master, but a real loss to themselves. Not that there is any ground to suppose it was the fault of Peter or Apollos any more than of Paul. The evil was in the saints themselves, who indulged in their old zeal of the schools, and allowed their natural partiality to work. In point of fact this never can be without the most grievous impoverishment to the soul, as well as a hindrance to the Holy Ghost. What faith must learn is, that "all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas; … all are yours." Thus the subject enlarges, as is his wont, taking in an immense breadth of the Christian's possessions — life, death, things present, and things to come. "All are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
This again brings in another point before the subject closes. He is not content with the pressing of responsibility on others; he had a solemn sense of his own place, which made him wonderfully independent of the judgments of men. Obedience gives firmness as well as humility. Not in the smallest degree was the pride of the Corinthians met by pride on his part, but by keeping the Lord and His will before his soul. Yet this is certainly true that this effect of faith looks like pride to a man who merely views things on the surface. The calm going on in the service of Christ, the endurance of this spirit or that, as no more than the idle wind, was no doubt exceedingly unpleasant to such as were wise in their own conceit, and valued the criticism they freely bestowed on the different servants of the Lord. But Paul sees all in the light of the eternal day. They had forgotten this, and were in a sense trafficking with these powers of the Spirit of God. They were making them the counters of a game they were playing in this world. They had forgotten that what God gives He gives in time, but in view of eternity. The apostle puts the truth of the case before their souls as he had it vividly before his own. (1 Cor. 4)
Another thing is noticeable here. He had reproached them with walking not as Christians but as men (that is, with their habitual life and conversation formed on human principles instead of divine). On the other hand, it would appear from what follows, that they reproached the apostle in their hearts, — not, of course, in so many words, — with not being enough of a gentleman for their taste. This seems to me the gist of the fourth chapter. It was a thing that they considered quite beneath a Christian minister to work from time to time with his hands, often poor, occasionally in prison, knocked about by crowds, and so on. All this they thought the fruit of indiscretion and avoidable. They would have preferred respectability, public and private, in one who stood in the position of a servant of Christ. This the apostle meets in a very blessed way. He admitted that they were certainly not in such circumstances; they were reigning as kings. As for him it was enough to be the off-scouring of all men, this was his boast and blessedness. He wished that they did indeed reign that he might reign with them (that the blessed time might really arrive). How his heart would rejoice in that day with them! And surely the time will come, and they would all reign together when Christ reigns over the earth. But he quite admits that for the present the fellowship of Christ's sufferings was the place he had chosen. Of honour in the world, and ease for the flesh, he at least could not, if they could, boast. Present greatness was what he in no wise coveted; to suffer great things for His sake was what the Lord had promised, and what His servant expected in becoming an apostle. If his own service was the highest position in the church, his was certainly the lowest position in the world. This was as much an apostle's boast and glory as anything that God had given them. No answer can I conceive more telling to any one of his detractors at Corinth who had a heart and conscience.
In 1 Corinthians 5 we enter on another and more painful part of the epistle. A fearful instance of sin had come to light, so gross, indeed, that the like was not even named among the Gentiles. In fact it was a case of incest, and this among those called of God, and sanctified in Christ Jesus! The question is not in the least raised whether the guilty person was a saint or not; still less does he allow that which one so often and painfully heard pleaded in extenuation, "Oh, but he [or she] is a dear Christian." Christian affection is most excellent; as brethren we should love even to laying down life for each other; as it is also very right that we should own the work God has wrought, above all what He has wrought in grace. But when one bearing the name of the Lord has, through unwatchfulness, fallen into wickedness, which of course grieves the Holy Ghost and stumbles the weak, it is not the time to talk thus. It is the time, in the very love that God implants, to deal sternly with that which has disgraced the name of the Lord. Is this to fail in love to the person? The apostle showed ere long that he had more love for this evildoer than any of them. The second epistle to the Corinthians entreats them to confirm their love to him whom they had put away. They were too hard against him then, as they were too loose now. Here their consciences needed to be roused. To deal with the matter they owed to the Lord Jesus. It was not merely getting rid of the obnoxious man. They had to prove themselves clear in the matter certainly; but he puts before them another course, whenever the guilty one had repented.
"I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already," etc. The case was most gross, and there was no question about it. The facts were indisputable; the scandal was unheard of. "I have judged already, as though present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh." There was no discussion raised whether the person might be converted. The fact is, church discipline supposes and goes on the ground that those on whom it is exercised are Christians; but when it is a question of discipline, it is not the season for the display of Christian affection. This would falsify the conscience and turn the eye from off the point to which the Holy Ghost was directing attention. There was wickedness in their midst; and while known and unjudged, all were implicated; none could be clean till it was put away. Accordingly the apostle, while he expresses the desire that the spirit of the man should be saved in the day of the Lord, flesh being destroyed, at the same time rouses the saints to that which became the name of the Lord on the very ground that they were unleavened. If they were free from evil, let them act consistently. Let them preserve that purity in practice which was theirs in principle. They were unleavened, and therefore should be a new lump. Notoriously there was old leaven among them. What business had it there? "Put away from" — not the table of the Lord merely, this he does not say, but — "Put away from among yourselves." This is much stronger than expelling from the table. Of course, it implies exclusion from the Lord's table, but from their table too — "with such an one, no, not to eat." An ordinary meal, or any such act expressive even in natural things of fellowship with the person thus dishonouring the Lord, is forbidden.
Mark, they must put away. It is not the apostle acting for them; for God took particular care that this case, demanding discipline to the uttermost, should be where the apostle was not. What an admirable instruction for us who have no longer an apostle! None can pretend that it was an assembly where there was a high degree of knowledge or spirituality. The very reverse was the case. The responsibility of discipline depends on our relationship as an assembly to the Lord, not on its changing states. The Corinthians were babes; they were carnal. He who loved them well could not speak of them as spiritual. Nevertheless, this responsibility attached to the very fact that they were members of Christ — His body. If saints are gathered to the name of the Lord, and so are God's assembly, if they have faith to take such a position here below, and have the Holy Ghost owned as in their midst, this, and nothing short of this, is their responsibility; nor does the ruined state of the church touch the question, nor can it relieve them from their duty to the Lord. The church at Corinth had soon failed most gravely far and wide. This was the more shameful, considering the brightness of the truth vouchsafed to them, and the striking manifestation of divine power in their midst. The presence of apostles elsewhere in the earth, the beautiful display of Pentecostal grace at Jerusalem, the fact that so short a time had elapsed since they had been brought out of heathenism into their standing in God's grace, all made the present state of the Corinthians so much the more painful; but nothing can ever dissolve the responsibility of saints, whether as individuals or as an assembly. "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
Another thing is to be observed, — that the Holy Spirit's scale of sin is not that of man. Which of you, my brethren, would have thought of classing a railer with an adulterer? A railer is one who uses abusive language for the purpose of injuring another, — not the transient out-breaking of flesh, sad as it is, but provoked it may be, or at any rate, happening through unwatchfulness. The habit of evil speaking stamps him who practises it as a railer; and such a man is unfit for the company of the saints, for God's assembly. It is the old leaven of malice and wickedness. He is unclean. Doubtless the world would not so judge; but this is not the world's judgment. The Corinthians were under the influence of the world. The apostle had already shown that to walk as men is beneath the Christian. Now we see that to walk as the world, no matter how refinedly, ever exposes Christians to act worse than men of the world. God has stamped upon His children the name of Christ; and what does not express His name is inconsistent, not only with the Christian, but with His assembly. They are all as such held responsible, according to the grace and holiness and glory of Christ, for the sin done in their midst, of which they are cognisant. They are bound to keep themselves pure in ways.
There was another case also: brother was going to law with brother. (1 Cor. 6) We have no reason to think they had fallen so far as to go to law with those that were not brethren; this would seem to be a lower step still. But brother was going to law with brother, and this before the unjust. How often now-a-days one hears, "Well, one expects something better from a brother; and surely he ought to suffer the consequences of his ill-doing." This was just the feeling of the Corinthian plaintiff. What, then, is the weapon that the apostle uses in this case? The dignified place in the glory that God designs for the Christian: "Know ye not that we shall judge the world — judge angels?" Were such going before the Gentiles? Thus is seen how practical all truth is, and how God casts the bright light of the approaching day on the smallest matters of the life of today.
Again, there was no quarter in the world where personal purity was more unknown than at Corinth. Indeed, such were the habits of the ancient world, it would only defile the ears and minds of God's children to have any proofs of the depravity in which the world then lay, and that too in its best estate, the wisest and the greatest not excepted, — those, alas, whose writings are in the hands of the youth of our day, and more than ever, perhaps, in their hands. Those wits, poets, and philosophers of heathen antiquity lived in habitual, yea, often in unnatural grossness, and thought nothing of it. It is a danger for the saints of God to be tinctured by the atmosphere of the world outside when the first fervour of grace cools, and they begin to take up their old habits. It was certainly so at Corinth.
Accordingly the believers there were betrayed into their former uncleanness of life when the heavenly light got dim. And how does the apostle deal with this? He recalls to them the Holy Spirit's dwelling in them. What a truth, and of what force to the believer! He does not say simply that they were redeemed, though he brings it in also; still less does he merely reason on the moral heinousness of the sin; neither does he cite the law of God that condemned it. He presses upon them that which was proper to them as Christians. It was no question of man, let him be Gentile or Jew, but of a Christian. Thus he sets before them the distinctive Christian blessing — the Holy Ghost dwelling in the believer, and making his body (not his spirit but his body) a temple of the Holy Ghost; for here was precisely where the enemy seems to have misled these Corinthians. They affected to think they might be pure in spirit, but do what they liked with their bodies. But, answers the apostle, it is the body which is the temple of the Holy Ghost. The body belongs to the Lord and Saviour; the body, therefore, and not the spirit only, He claims now. No doubt that the spirit be occupied with Christ is a grand matter; but the licentious flesh of man would talk, at any rate, about the Lord, and at the same time indulge in evil. This is set aside by the blessed fact that the Holy Ghost even now dwells in the Christian, and this on the ground of his being bought with a price. Thus the very call to holiness ever keeps the saint of God in the sense of his immense privileges as well as of his perfect deliverance.
1 Corinthians 7 naturally leads from this into certain questions that had been proposed to the apostle touching marriage and slavery — questions which had to do with the various relationships of life. The apostle accordingly gives us what he had learned from the Lord, as well as what he could speak of as a commandment of the Lord, distinguishing in the most beautiful manner, not between inspired and non-inspired, but between revelation and inspiration. All the word is inspired; there is no difference as to this. There is no part of Scripture that is less inspired than another. "All (every) scripture is given by inspiration of God;" but all is not His revelation. We must distinguish between parts revealed and the whole inspired. When a thing is revealed of God, it is absolutely new truth, and of course is the commandment of the Lord. But the inspired word of God contains the language of all sorts of men, and very often the conversation of wicked men — nay, of the devil I need not say that all this is not a revelation; but God communicates what Satan and wicked men say (as for instance Pilate's words to our Lord and the Jews). None of these evidently was that which is called a revelation; but the Holy Ghost inspired the writers of the book to give us exactly what each of these said, or revealed what was in the mind of God about them. Take, for example, the book of Job, in which occur the sayings of his friends. What intelligent reader could think that they were in any way authorised communicators of the mind of God? They say sometimes very wrong things, and sometimes wise, and often things that do not in the smallest degree apply to the case. Every word of the book of Job is inspired; but did all the speakers utter necessarily the mind of God? Did not one of the speakers condemn one or other of the rest? Need one reason on such facts? This, no doubt, makes a certain measure of difficulty for a soul at the first blush; but on maturer consideration all becomes plain and harmonious, and the word of God is enhanced in our eyes.
And so it is in this chapter, where the apostle gives both the commandment of the Lord, and his own matured spiritual judgment, which he expressly says was not the commandment of the Lord. Still he was inspired to give his judgment as such. Thus the whole chapter is inspired, one part of it just as much as another. There is no difference in inspiration. What was written by the different inspired instruments is of God as absolutely as if He had written it all without them. There is no degree in the matter. There can be no difference in inspiration. But in the inspired word of God there is not always revelation. Sometimes it is a record which the Spirit gave a man to make of what he had seen and heard, sometimes he recorded by the Spirit what no man could have seen or heard. Sometimes it was a prophecy of the future, sometimes a communication of God's present mind according to His eternal purpose. But all is equally and divinely inspired.
The apostle then lays down — at least as far as may be here briefly sketched — that while there are cases where it is a positive duty to be married, undisguisedly there was a better place of undivided devotedness to Christ. Blessed is he who is given thus to serve the Lord without let: still it must be the gift of God. The Lord Jesus had laid down the same principle Himself. In Matthew 19, it is needless to say, you have the selfsame truth in another form.
Again, while the Lord employs the apostle thus to give us both His own commandment and His mind, the general principle is stated as to the relationships of life. It is broadly laid down that one should remain in that condition in which he is called, and for a very blessed reason. Supposing one were a slave even, he is already, if a Christian, a freeman of Christ. You must remember that in these days there were everywhere bondmen: those that then ruled the world took them from all classes and all countries. There were bondmen highly educated, and once in a high position of life. Need it be said that often these bondmen rose up against their cruel masters? The very knowledge of Christ, and the possession of conscious truth, if grace did not counteract mightily, would tend to increase their sense of horror at their position. Suppose, for instance, a refined person, with the truth of God communicated to his soul, was the slave of one living in all the filth of heathenism, what a trial it would be to serve in such a position! The apostle urges the truth of that liberty in Christ which Christendom has well-nigh forgotten — that if I am Christ's servant I am emancipated already. Match if you can the manumission he has got. Twenty millions will procure no such emancipation. At the same time, if my master allows me liberty, let me use it rather. Is it not a remarkable style of speech and feeling? The Christian, even if a slave, possesses the best freedom after all: anything else is but circumstantial. On the other hand, if you are a freeman, take care how you use your liberty: use it as the Lord's bondman. The freeman is reminded of his bondmanship; the bondman is reminded of his freedom. What a wonderful antithesis of man is the Second Man! How it traverses all the thoughts, circumstances, and hopes of flesh!
Then he brings before us the different relationships at the end of the chapter, as they are affected by the coming of the Lord. And there is nothing which shows more the importance of that hope as a practical power. There is not only the direct but the indirect allusion when the heart is filled with an object; and the indirect is a yet stronger witness of the place it holds than the direct. A mere hint connects itself with that which is your joy and constant expectation; whereas when a thing is little before the heart you require to explain, prove, and insist upon it. But this chapter brings vividly before them how all outward things pass away, even the fashion of this world. Time is short. It is too late either to make much of scenes so changing, or to seek this thing or that here below with such a morrow before our eyes. Hence he calls on those who had wives to be as those who had none, on those who were selling and buying to be above all the objects that made up the sum of business. In short, he puts Christ and His coming as the reality, and all else as the shadows, transitions, movements of a world that even now crumbles underneath us. No wonder that he follows all up at the end with his own judgment, — that the man most blessed is he who has the least entanglement, and is the most thoroughly devoted to Christ and His service.
Next in 1 Corinthians 8 he begins to take up another danger for the Corinthian saints. They had the sound of the truth ringing in their ears; and assuredly there are few sounds sweeter than the liberty of the Christian. But what is more liable to abuse? They had abused power to self-exaltation; they were now turning liberty to license. But there is a solemn fact which none can afford to forget as to both power and liberty — that without responsibility nothing is more ruinous than either. Herein lay the sad failure of these saints. In the sense of responsibility they were utterly wanting. They seem to have forgotten completely that the Lord from whom the liberty had come is the One in whose sight, and for whose glory, and according to whose will, all power was to be used. The apostle recalls them to this; but he takes up their license in going into heathen temples, and eating things offered to idols, not first of all on the high ground of the Lord, but on account of their brethren. In their boasted liberty, and because they knew an idol was nothing, they considered that they might go anywhere, and do what they pleased. Nay, not so, cries the apostle; you must consider your brother. There is many a disciple who, far from knowing how vain idolatry is, thinks a good deal of the idol. Thus, you that know so much, if you make light of going here and there, will induce other disciples to follow your steps who may slip into idolatry through it, and thus a brother perish for whom Christ died; and what is the liberty of one who is instructed may prove the extreme ruin of one who is equally a believer in the Lord. Thus he looks at the thing in its full character and ultimate tendency if unchecked. Grace, as we know, can arrest these tendencies, and avert the evil results.
In 1 Corinthians 9 he interrupts the course of his argument by an appeal to his own place as an apostle. Some were beginning to question his apostolate. It was not that he in the slightest degree forgot his call by God's will to that special service; neither was he insensible to the blessed liberty in which he was serving the Lord. He could lead about a sister-wife like another; he had foregone this for the Lord's sake. He could look for support from the church of God; he preferred to work with his own hands. So in the second epistle to the Corinthians he begs them to forgive the wrong; for he would not accept anything from them. They were not in a condition to be entrusted with such a gift. Their state was such, and God had so overruled it in His ways, that the apostle had received nothing from them. This fact he uses in order to humble them because of their pride and licentiousness.
The course of this chapter then touches on his apostolic place, and at the same time his refusal to use the rights of it. Grace can forego all questions of right. Conscious of what is due, it asserts rights for others, but refuses to use them for itself. Such was the spirit and the faith of the apostle. And now he shows what he felt as to practical state and walk. Far from being full of his knowledge, far from only using his place in the church for the assertion of his dignity and for immunity from all trouble and pain here below, he on the contrary was as one under the law to meet him that was under it; he was as a Gentile to meet him that was free from law (that is, a Gentile). Thus he was a servant of all that he might save some. Besides, he lets them know the spirit of a servant, which was so lacking in the Corinthians in spite of their gifts; for it is not the possession of a gift, but love which serves and delights in service. The simple fact of knowing that you have a gift may and often does minister to self-complacency. The grand point is to have the Lord before you, and when others are thought of, it is in the love which has no need to seek greatness, or to affect it. The love of Christ proves its greatness by serving others.
This, then, was the spirit of that blessed servant of the Lord. He reminds them of another point — that he was himself diligent in keeping his body in subjection. He was like a man with a race that was going to be run, and who gets his body into training. He puts this in the strongest way, "Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Mark the tact of the apostle. When he has something discreditable to say, he prefers to say it about himself; when he has something pleasing to say, he loves to put it with regard to others. So here he says, "Lest I myself become a castaway," not "you." He meant their profit, no doubt; his aim was for them to have their own consciences searched by it. If Paul even was exercising himself to have a conscience void offence; if Paul was keeping his body in subjection, how much more did these men need it? They were abusing all the comfort that Christianity brings, to live at ease and play the gentleman, if one may speak according to modern language. They had not entered in the smallest degree into the spirit of the moral glory of Christ humbled here below. They had dislocated the cross from Christianity. They had severed themselves from the power of service. Thus they were in the utmost possible jeopardy; but the apostle, who had the blessedness of Christ before him, and the fellowship of His sufferings is scarce another had like him, — even he used all diligence of heart, and held a tight rein over himself. Faithful man as he was, he allowed himself none of these licenses. Liberty indeed he prized, but it was not going here and there to feasts of idols. He was free to serve Christ, and time was short: what had such an one to do with heathen temples?
Thus he wants them to feel their danger, but first of all he begins with himself. He was free but watchful; and he was jealous over himself, the greater the grace shown him. It was not that he in the smallest degree doubted his security in Christ, as some so foolishly say; or that such as have eternal life may lose it again. But it is plain that men who merely take the place of having eternal life may, and often do, abandon that place. Those who have eternal life prove it by godliness; those who have it not prove the lack of it by indifference to holiness, and lack of that love which is of God. So the apostle shows that all his knowledge of the truth, far from making him careless, prompted him to yet greater earnestness, and to daily denial of himself. This is a very important consideration for us all (I press it more especially on the young in such a day as this); and the greater the knowledge of the saints, the more they need to keep it in view.
The apostle draws their attention to another warning in the history of Israel. These had eaten of the same spiritual meat, for so he calls it; they had the heaven-sent manna, — had drunk of the same spiritual drink; yet what became of them? How many thousands of them perished in the wilderness? The apostle is approaching far closer to their state. He began with application to his own case, and now he points to Israel as a people sanctified to Jehovah. At length the word is, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful." This was a great comfort, but it was also a serious caution. "God is faithful who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able." It is in vain, therefore, to plead circumstances as an excuse for sin. "But [He] will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry." He makes it plain that he is, with characteristic address, dealing with their little-exercised consciences from the statement of his own earnest vigilance over his ways, and then from the sad and solemn history of Israel judged of the Lord. Thus, too, he goes forward into new ground, — the deeper spiritual motives, the appeal to Christian affection as well as to faith. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? He begins with that which most nearly touches the heart. It would have been an order more natural, if one may so say, to speak of the body of Christ; as we know in the Lord's supper habitually, there is that which brings before us first the body and then the blood. The departure from what may be called the historical order makes the emphasis incomparably greater. More than that, the first appeal is founded on the blood of Christ, the answer of divine grace to the deepest need of a soul found in its guilt before God and covered with defilement. Was this to be slighted? "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" He does not here say, "the blood" or the "body of the Lord." This we find in 1 Corinthians 11; but it is here Christ, because it becomes a question of grace. "The Lord" brings in the idea of authority. This, then, is evidently an immense advance in dealing with the subject. Accordingly he now develops it, not on the ground of injury to a brother, but as a breach of fellowship with such a Christ, and indifference to His immense love. But he does not forget His authority: "Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and of the table of demons." It is not simply the love of Christ, but His full authority as the Lord. The apostle contrasts two mighty powers that were contesting — demons, on the one hand, a power stronger than man, struggling as to him here below; and, on the other hand, there was the Lord that had shed His blood for them, but the Lord of all who should judge quick and dead. Hence he follows up with a comprehensive and simple principle, but full of liberty withal, that in going into the market you need ask no questions. If I do not know that the food has been connected with idols, the idol is nothing to me; but the moment I know it, it is no longer the question of an idol but a demon; and a demon, be assured, is a very real being indeed. Thus what the apostle insists on amounts to this, that their vaunted knowledge was short indeed. Whenever a person boasts, you will in general find that he particularly fails precisely where he boasts most. If you set up for great knowledge, this will be the point in which you may be expected to break down. If you set up for exceeding candour, the next thing we may well dread to hear is that you have played very false. The best thing is to see that we give ourselves credit for nothing. Let Christ be all our boast. The sense of our own littleness and of His perfect grace is the way, and the only way, to go on well. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
Then in 1 Corinthians 11 we enter on another point. It would seem that the sisters at Corinth gave them a deal of trouble, and that they had forgotten entirely their due relative place. No doubt the men were at least as much to blame. It is hardly possible that women should ever put themselves forward in the church unless Christian men have deserted their true, responsible position and public action. It is the man's place to guide; and although women may assuredly be far more useful in certain cases, still, unless the man guides, what an evident departure from the order God has assigned to them both! How complete a desertion of the relative position in which they were placed from the first! Thus it was at Corinth. Among the heathen, women played a most important part, and in no quarter of the world, perhaps, so prominent a one as there. Need it be said that this was to their deep shame? There was no city in which they were so degraded as that in which the attained such conspicuous and unnatural prominence. And how does the apostle meet this new feature? He brings in Christ. This is what decides all. He affirms the everlasting principles of God, and he adds that which has so brightly been revealed in and by Christ. He points out that Christ is the image and the glory of God, and that the man stands in an analogous place as connected with and distinguished from the woman. That is to say, the woman's place is one of unobtrusiveness, and in fact, she is most effective where she is least seen. The man, on the contrary, has a public part — a rougher and ruder task, no doubt — one that may not at all bring into play the finer affections, but which demands a calmer and more comprehensive judgment. The man has the duty of the outward rule and administration.
Accordingly he marks the first departure from what was right by the woman's losing the sign of her subjection. She was to have a covering on her head; she was to have that which indicated as a sign that she was subject to another. The man seemed to have failed just in the opposite way; and although this may seem a very little thing, what a wonderful thing it is, and what power it shows, to be able to combine in the same epistle eternal things and the very smallest matter of personal decorum, the wearing of long hair or short, the use of a covering on the head or not! How truly it marks God and His word!! Men would scorn to combine them both in the same epistle; it seems so petty and so incongruous. But it is the littleness of man which calls for big matters to make him important; but the smallest things of God have significance when they bear on the glory of Christ, as they always do. In the first place, it was out of order that a woman should prophesy with her head uncovered; man's place was to do so. He was the image and the glory of God. The apostle connects it all with first principles, going up to the creation of Adam and Eve in a very blessed manner, and above all bringing in the second Man, the last Adam. Did they think to improve on both?
The latter part of the chapter takes up not the relative place of the man and the woman, but the supper of the Lord, and so the saints gathered together. The first part of it, as is evident, has nothing to do with the assembly, and thus does not dispose of the question whether a woman should prophesy there. In fact, nothing is said or implied in the early verses of the assembly at all. The point primarily mooted is of her prophesying after the manner of a man, and this is done with the greatest possible wisdom. Her prophesying is not absolutely shut out. If a woman has a gift for prophecy, which she certainly may have as well as a man, for what is it given of the Lord but for exercise? Certainly such an one ought to prophesy. Who could say the gift of prophecy given to a woman is to be laid up in a napkin? Only she must take care how she does exercise it. First of all, he rebukes the unseemly way in which it was done — the woman forgetting that she was a woman, and the man that he is responsible not to act as a woman. They seem to have reasoned in a petty way at Corinth, that because a woman has a gift no less than a man, she is free to use the gift just as a man might. This is in principle wrong; for after all a woman is not a man, nor like one officially, say what you please. The apostle sets aside the whole basis of the argument as false; and we must never hear reasoning which overthrows what God has ordained. Nature ought to have taught them better. But he does not dwell on this; it was a withering rebuke even to hint at their forgetfulness of natural propriety.
Then, in the latter verses, we have the supper of the Lord, and there we find the saints expressly said to be gathered together. This naturally leads the way to the spiritual gifts that are treated of in 1 Corinthians 12. As to the supper of the Lord, happily I need not say many words to you. It is, by the great mercy of God, familiar to most of us; we live, I may say, in the enjoyment of it, and know it to be one of the sweetest privileges God vouchsafes us here below. Alas! this very feast had furnished occasion, in the fleshly state of the Corinthians, to a most humiliating abuse. What led to it was the Agape, as it was styled; for in those days there was a meal which the Christians used to take together. Indeed, the social character of Christianity never can be overlooked without loss, but in an evil state it is open to much abuse. Everything that is good may be perverted; and it never was intended to hinder abuse by extinguishing that which was only to be maintained aright in the power of the Spirit of God. No rules, no abstinence, no negative measures, can glorify God, or make His children spiritual; and it is only by the power of the Holy Ghost in producing a sense of responsibility to the Lord as well as of His grace that saints are duly kept. So it was then at Corinth, that the meeting for the Lord's Supper became mingled with an ordinary meal, where the Christians ate and drank together. They were glad to meet — at any rate, originally it was so, when love was gratified with the company of each other. Being not merely young Christians, but unwatchful and then lax, this gave rise to sad abuse. Their old habits re-asserted their influence. They were accustomed to the feasts of the heathen, where people thought nothing whatever of getting drunk, if it was not rather meritorious. It was in some of their mysteries considered a wrong to the god for his votary not to get drunk, so debased beyond all conception were the heathen in their notions of religion.
Accordingly these Corinthian brethren had by little and little got on until some of them had fallen into intemperance on the occasion of the Eucharist; not, of course, simply by the wine drank at the table of the Lord, but through the feast that accompanied it. Thus the shame of their drunkenness fell upon that Holy Supper; and hence the apostle regulated, that from that time forward there should be no such feast coupled with the Lord's Supper. If they wished to eat, let them eat at home; if they came together in worship, let them remember it was to eat of the Lord's body, and to drink of the Lord's blood. He puts it in the strongest terms. He does not feel it needful or suitable to speak of "the figure" of the Lord's body. The point was to make its grace and holy impressiveness duly felt. It was a figure, no doubt; but still, writing to men who were at least wise enough to judge aright here, he gives all its weight, and the strongest expression of what was meant. So Jesus had said. Such it was in the sight of God. He that partook undiscerningly and without self-judgment was guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. It was a sin against Him. The intention of the Lord, the true principle and practice for a saint, is to come, examining his ways, trying his springs of action, putting himself to the proof; and so let him eat (not stay away, because there is much discovered that is humbling). The guard and warning is, that if there be not self-judgment, the Lord will judge. How low is the state of things to which all saints tend, and not the Corinthians only! There ought to have been, I suppose, an interposition of the church's judgment between the Christian's lack of self-judgment and the Lord's chastenings; but, alas! man's duty was altogether lacking. It was from no want of gifts. They had no sense of the place God designed self-judgment to hold; but the Lord never fails.
In 1 Corinthians 12 accordingly, the apostle enters on a full statement of these spiritual powers. He shows that the distinctive feature of that which the Spirit of God leads to is the confession, not exactly of Christ, but of Jesus as Lord. He takes the simplest and most necessary ground — that of His authority. This is observable in verse 3: "Wherefore I give you to understand that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed, and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." Impossible that the Spirit should dishonour, yea, that He should not exalt, Him who humbled Himself for God's glory. "Now, there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God that worketh all in all." They had forgotten all this. They were pre-occupied with human thoughts, with this clever Jew and that able Gentile. They had lost sight of God Himself working in their midst. The apostle points out that if there were different services, if distinct gifts to one and another, it was for the common good of all. He illustrates the nature of the church as a body with its various members subserving the interests of the body and the will of the head. "By one Spirit were we all baptized into one body;" it is not the Holy Ghost merely making many members, but "one body." Accordingly he confronts with this divine aim their misuse of their spiritual powers, — independence one of another, disorder as to women, self-glorification, and the like, as we see in 1 Corinthians 14 the detail. He presses that the least comely members, those that are least seen, may be of more importance than any others; just as in the natural body some of the most vital parts are not even visible. What would a man do without a heart, or liver, or lungs? So in the spiritual body there are members which are most important and not seen at all. But men are apt to value most those which make a showy appearance. Thus he rebukes the whole tenor and spirit of Corinthian vanity; at the same time he maintains their place of blessing and responsibility to the last. After all their faults he does not hesitate to say, "Now ye are the body of Christ." This way of dealing with souls has been grievously enfeebled in the present day. Grace is so feebly known, that the first thought you will find amongst godly people is what they ought to be; but the ground and weapon of the apostle Paul is what they are by God's grace. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular; and God hath set some in the church." It was far from his mind in the least to deny it. Observe here an important use of the expression, "the church." It cannot be the local assembly, because, looking at Corinth, no apostles were there. Whatever might be the providential arrangements outside in the world, he is looking at the assembly of God here on earth; and it is the assembly as a whole, the Corinthian assembly being, as every true assembly is, a kind of representative of the church universally. It is the church of God here below; not merely churches, though that was true also.
Thus we can look at what the church will be by-and-by — glorified and absolutely perfect. We can also look at a particular local assembly. Besides there is this most important sense of the church never to be forgotten — namely, that divine institution viewed as a whole on earth. Members of Christ no doubt compose it; but there is His body, the assembly as a whole, in which God works here below. Such is the reason why we do not find in this epistle evangelists or pastors, because it is not a question of what is needed to bring souls in or lead them on. He looks at the church as a thing already, subsisting as the witness of the power of God before men. Therefore it was not at all necessary to dwell on those gifts which are the fruit of Christ's love to and cherishing of the church. It is regarded as a vessel of power for the maintenance of God's glory, and responsible for this here below. Therefore tongues, miracles, healings, the use of outward powers, are largely dwelt on here.
But we pass on to another and a still more important theme, a wonderfully full picture even for God's word, that most perfect and beautiful unfolding of divine love which we have in 1 Corinthians 13. After all, if the Corinthians had coveted gifts, they had not coveted the best. But even if we may desire the best gifts, there is — better still; and the best of all is charity — love. Accordingly we have this in the most admirable manner brought out both in what it is and in what it is not, and that too as corrective of the wrong desires of the Corinthians, and the evil spirit which had manifested itself in the exercise of their gifts; so that what seems to be an interruption is the wisest of parentheses between chapter 12, which shows us the distribution of gifts and their character, and chapter 14, which directs the due exercise of gifts in the assembly of God. There is but one safe motive-power for their use, even love. Without it even a spiritual gift only tends to puff up its owner, and to corrupt those who are its objects.
Hence 1 Corinthians 14 thus opens: "Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." And why? Prophecy seemed to be somewhat despised amongst the Corinthians. Miracles and tongues were liked, because these made themselves of importance. Such wonders made men stare, and drew general attention to those who were invested evidently with a superhuman energy. But the apostle lays it down, that the gifts which suppose the exercise of spiritual understanding have a far higher place. He himself could speak more tongues than they all. It need hardly be added that he did more miracles than any of them. Still, what he valued most was prophesying. We must not suppose that this gift simply means a man preaching. Prophesying never means preaching. More than this, prophesying is not simply teaching. It, no doubt, is teaching; but it is a good deal more. Prophesying is that spiritual application of the word of God to the conscience which puts the soul in His presence, and makes manifest as light to the hearer the mind of God. There is a great deal of valuable teaching, exhortation, and application, that has no such character. It is all very true, but it does not put the soul in the presence of God; it gives no such absolute certainty of God's mind flashing on the condition and judging the state of the heart before Him. I do not speak now of the unconverted, though prophesying might affect such as well as the converted. The direct object of it was, of course, the people of God; but in the course of the chapter the unbeliever is shown coming into the assembly and falling on his face, and owning that God was among them of a truth. Such is the genuine effect. The man finds himself judged in the presence of God.
There is no need to enter into all that this chapter brings before us, but it may be well to observe that we have giving of thanks and blessing, as well as singing and prayer. Prophesying and the rest are brought in as all pertaining to the Christian assembly. What was not directly edifying, as speaking in a tongue, is forbidden unless one could interpret. I doubt very much whether there was any revelation after the scheme of Scripture was complete. To suppose anything revealed, when that which is commonly called the canon was closed, would be an impeachment of God's purpose in it. But till the last portion of His mind was written down in a permanent form for the church, we can quite understand His goodness in allowing a special revelation now and then. This gives no warrant to look for anything of the sort at any time subsequent to the completion of the New Testament. Again, it is plain from this that there are certain modifications of the chapter. Thus so far it is true that if anything has, through the will of God, terminated (for instance, miracles, tongues, or revelations), it is evident that such workings of the Spirit ought not to be looked for; but this does not in the smallest degree set aside the Christian assembly or the exercise according to God's will of what the Spirit still distinctly gives. And undoubtedly He does continue all that is profitable, and for God's glory, in the present state of His testimony and of His church here below. Otherwise the church sinks into a human institute.
In the end of the chapter a very important principle is laid down. It is vain for people to plead the mighty power of God as an excuse for anything disorderly. This is the great difference between the power of the Spirit and the power of a demon. A demon's power may be uncontrollable: chains, fetters, all the power of man outside, may utterly fail to bind a man who is filled with demons. It is not so with the power of the Spirit of God. Wherever the soul walks with the Lord, the power of the Spirit of God on the contrary is always connected with His word, and subject to the Lord Jesus. No man can rightly pretend that the Spirit forces him to do this or that unscripturally. There is no justification possible against Scripture; and the more fully the power is of God, the less will a man think of setting aside that perfect expression of God's mind. All things therefore are to be done decently and in order — an order which Scripture must decide. The only aim, as far as we are concerned, that God endorses, is that all be done to edification, and not for self-display.
The next theme (1 Cor. 15) is a most serious subject doctrinally, and of capital importance to all. Not only had the devil plunged the Corinthians into confusion upon moral points, but when men begin to give up a good conscience, it is no wonder if the next danger is making shipwreck of the faith. Accordingly, as Satan had accomplished the first mischief among these saints, it was evident the rest threatened soon to follow. There were some among them who denied the resurrection — not a separate state of the soul, but the rising again of the body. In fact the resurrection must be of the body. What dies is to be raised. As the soul does not die, "resurrection" would be quite out of place; to the body it is necessary for God's glory as well as man. And how does the apostle treat this? As he always does. He brings Christ in. They had no thought of Christ in the case. They seem to have had no wish to deny the resurrection of Christ; but should not a Christian have at once used Christ to judge all by? The apostle at once introduces His person and work as a test. If Christ did not rise, there is no resurrection, and therefore no truth in the Gospel; "your faith is vain: you are yet in your sins." Even they were quite unprepared for so dreadful a conclusion. Shake the resurrection and Christianity goes. Having reasoned thus, he next points out that the Christian waits for the time of joy and glory and blessing for the body by-and-by. To give up resurrection is to surrender the glorious hope of the Christian, and to be the most miserable of men. For what could be more cheerless than to give up all present enjoyment without that blessed hope, for the future at Christ's coming? Thus strongly was the whole complex nature of man before the apostle's mind in speaking of this hope of blessedness by-and-by.
Then, somewhat abruptly, instead of discussing the matter any more, he unfolds a most weighty revelation of truth. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." True, the kingdom is not yet come for which we are waiting, but it will come. See how all truth hangs together, and how Satan labours to make a consistency in error. He knows the weakness of man's mind. Nobody likes to be inconsistent. You may be dragged into it, but you are never comfortable when you have a sense of inconsistency about you. Hence, after one error gains empire over the mind of man, he is ready to embrace others just to make all consistent.
Such was the danger here among the Corinthians. They had been offended by the apostle's supreme indifference to all that is of esteem among men. His habits of speech and life were not at all up to the mark that they supposed seemly before the world in a servant of God. Out of this fertile root of evil has the clergy grown. It has been the effort to acquire as much refinement as possible. Holy orders make a man a sort of gentleman if he was not so before. This seems to have been at work in the minds of these critics of the apostle. Here we find what lay at the bottom of the matter. There is generally a root of evil doctrine where you find people wrong in practice. At any rate, where it is a deliberate, persistent, and systematic error, it will not be merely a practical one, but have a root deep underneath. And this was what now came out at Corinth. It was feebleness about that which, after all, lies at the very foundation of Christianity. They did not mean to deny the person of Christ or His condition as risen from the dead; but, this is what the enemy meant, and into this their wrong notion tended to drift them. The next step, after denying resurrection for the Christian, would be to deny it about Christ. And here the apostle does not fail to rebuke them, and in a manner trenchant enough. He (exposes the stupidity of their questions, wise as they flattered themselves to be. How? It is always the danger of man that he is not content to believe; he would like first of all to understand. But this is ruinous in divine things, which are entirely outside sense and reason. All real understanding for the Christian is the fruit of faith.
The apostle does not hesitate in apostrophising the unbeliever, or at any rate, the errorist he has in view, to expose his folly. "Thou fool," says he, "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." Thus the strongest possible censure falls on these Corinthians, and this for the very matter in which they plumed themselves. Human reasoning is poor indeed outside its own sphere. However, he is not content merely with putting down their speculations; he brings in subsequent and special revelation. The previous part of the chapter had pointed out the connection of Christ's resurrection with our resurrection, followed by the kingdom which finally gives place in order that God may be all in all. In the latter part of the chapter he adds what had not been explained hitherto. From the early portion we should not have known but that all saints die, and that all rise at Christ's coming. But this would not be the full truth. It is most true that the dead in Christ rise, of course, but this does not explain about the living saints. He had vindicated the glorious character of the resurrection; he had proved how fundamental, and momentous, and practical, is the truth that the body is to be raised again, which they were disposed to deny as though it were a low thing, and useless even if possible. They imagined the true way to be spiritual was to make much of the spirit of man. God's way of making us spiritual is by a simple but strong faith in the resurrection-power of Christ; look to His resurrection as the pattern and spring of our own. Then at the last he adds that he would show them a mystery. On this I must just say a few words in order to develop its force.
The resurrection itself was not a mystery. The resurrection of just and unjust was a well-known Old Testament truth. It might be founded on Scriptures comparatively few, but it was a fundamental truth of the Old Testament, as the apostle Paul lets us hear in his controversy with the Jews in the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, the Lord Jesus also assumes the same thing in the gospels. But if the raising of the dead saints was known, and even the raising of the wicked dead, the change of the living saints was a truth absolutely unrevealed. Up to this it was not made know. It was a New Testament truth, as this indeed is what is meant by a "mystery." It was one of those, truths that were kept secret in the Old Testament, but now revealed — not so much a thing difficult to comprehend when stated, as a thing not revealed before. "And behold," says he, "I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." Evidently this supports and confirms, while it might seem an exception to, the resurrection; but, in point of fact, it gives so much the more force and consistency to the rising of the dead in a very unexpected way. The general truth of the resurrection assuredly does put the sentence of death on all present things to the believer, showing that the earth cannot rightly be the scene of his enjoyment, where all is stamped with death, and that he must wait for the resurrection power of Christ to be applied before he enters the scene where the rest of God will be our rest, and where there will be nothing but joy with Christ, and even this earth will behold Christ and His saints reigning over it till the eternal day. The addition to this of the New Testament truth of the change gives immense impressiveness to all, and a fresh force, because it keeps before the Christian the constant expectancy of Christ. "Behold, I show you a mystery" — not now that the dead in Christ shall rise, but "we," beginning with the "we" — "we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed; for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality." And "therefore," as he closes with the practical deduction from it all, "my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work, of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
The last chapter is now before us, in which the apostle lays down a weighty exhortation as to collections for the saints. He puts it on the ground of their being prospered in any degree, and connects it with the special day of Christian enjoyment, when they gather together for the communion of saints. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by in store as he has been prospered, that there be no gatherings when I come." Need it be said how human influence has dislocated the truth there? No doubt this was precisely what the apostle, or the Holy Ghost rather, discerned to be at work at Corinth, the same mistake that has wrought so malignantly in Christendom; that is to say, personal rank, learning, eloquence, or a great name (as of an apostle for instance), invoked to call out the generosity of the saints (perhaps, even of the world), and increase the proceeds by all these or like means.
But is there not another danger? Is there no snare for you, beloved brethren? When persons are more or less free from the ordinary incubus of tradition, when they are not so much under the influence of excitement, and of those appeals to the love of being known and of pleasing this or that man, or the cause, or any of those human motives that often do operate, I apprehend that they are exposed to danger in a wholly opposite direction. Do we sufficiently make it a matter of personal responsibility to the Lord, everyone of us, to give, and that in connection with the first day of the week and its blessed surroundings and objects, when we meet at His table? Do we every one of us give as we are prospered by the way? It is very well to keep clear of human influence, but let us see to it that we do not forget that "the Lord has need" of our giving for the purposes He loves here below. And of this I am sure, that if we have rightly cast aside mere human calls, and if we do thank God for the deliverance from worldly influence, and from the power of custom, public opinion, etc., it would be a deep reproach if we did not do double as much now, under the grace that confides in us, as we used to do under the law that used to govern us. Your own consciences must answer whether you can meet the Lord about this matter. I believe that we are in no small danger of settling down in the conviction that our old way was quite wrong, and simply keeping the money in our pockets. It does seem to me, I confess, that bad as human pressure may be in order to raise money, bad as may be a variety of earthly objects in this way or that, bad as a worldly lavish expenditure is, after all, a selfish personal keeping to ourselves of what we have is the worst thing of all. I am quite persuaded that the danger of the saints of God who have been brought outside the camp lies here, — lest, delivered from what they know to be wrong, they may not seek in this an exercised conscience. Standing in the consciousness of the power of God's grace, they need to be continually looking out that they be devoted to Him. To cease doing what was done in a wrong way, and sometimes for wrong ends too, is not enough. Let there be zealous and vigilant exercise of soul, and enquiry how to carry out right objects in right ways, and so much the more, if indeed a simpler, fuller knowledge of God's grace and of Christ's glory has been given us.
Then we have various forms of ministry noticed. It is not here gifts as such, but persons devoted to labouring in the Lord; for there is a difference between the two things, as this chapter shows us strikingly. For instance, the apostle himself comes before us in ministry with his especial gift and position in the church. Then again, Timothy is there, his own son in the faith, not only an evangelist, but with a charge over elders at length, to a certain extent acting occasionally for the apostle Paul. Again, we have the eloquent Alexandrian thus introduced: "As touching our brother Apollos I greatly desired him to come unto you, but his will was not at all to come at this time." How delicate and considerate the grace of Paul who wished Apollos to go to Corinth then, and of Apollos who wished not to go — under the circumstances! On the face of the case we have the working of liberty and responsibility in their mutual relations; and the apostle Paul is the very one to tell us that Apollos's will was not to go as he himself wished at this time. It was no question of one in a place of worldly superiority regulating the movements of another of subordinate degree. The apostle did express his strong desire for Apollos to go; but Apollos must stand to his Master, and be assured that he was using a wisdom greater than that of man's. Finally, we observe another character of service lower down in "the house of Stephanas." This was a simpler case and a humbler position, but very real before God, whatever the danger of being slighted of men. Hence, I think, the word of exhortation — "I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)" etc. They gave themselves up in an orderly manner to this work. "That ye submit yourselves," not merely to Timothy or to Apollos, but to such, to the simple-hearted Christian men whose desire was to serve the Lord with the measure of power they had, and this proved by their persevering labour. Undoubtedly, in the midst of the difficulties of the church, in the face of the oppositions and disappointment, manifold griefs, enemies, and sources of sorrow and shame, it requires the power of God to go on without being moved by any of these things. It is an easy thing to make a start; but nothing short of the power of God can keep one without wavering at the work in the face of everything to cast down. And this was the question. We may suppose that these Corinthians were troublesome enough. From the statements made in the early part of the epistle it is evident; and so the apostle calls upon them to submit themselves. Evidently there was an unsubject spirit, and those ministered to thought they were just as good as the house of Stephanas. It is good to submit ourselves "unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us and laboureth." I am persuaded, beloved brethren, that it is no impeachment of the blessedness of the brotherhood to maintain the speciality of ministry in the Lord. There can be in these matters no more deplorable error than to suppose that there is not to be this godly submission one toward another, according to the place and power that the Lord is pleased to entrust.
The Lord grant that our souls may hold fast the truth here revealed, and in no general or perfunctory way. All I pretend to now is to give a sketch or combination of the parts of the epistle. But may the word itself, and every part of it, sink into our souls and be our joy, that we may not only take the precious truth of such an epistle as the Romans for the peace and joy of our hearts in believing individually, but also may understand our place by faith as of God's assembly on earth, and with thankful praise as those that call on the name of the Lord — ours as well as theirs — as those that find ourselves practically in need of such exhortations. The Lord give us His own spirit of obeying the Father.
2 Corinthians 1. It is impossible to read the two epistles to the Corinthians with the smallest care without perceiving the strong contrast between the wounded tone of the first epistle (the heart aggrieved so much the more because it loved the saints), and now, in the second, that same heart filled with consolation about them from God. This is exceedingly assuring, and it is as evidently divine, the effectual working of God's own grace.
In human things nothing really shuts out decay. The utmost wise men essay is to put a drag on the progress of corruption, and to stave off as long as may be the too rapid inroads of death. Thanks be to God, it is not so in divine things. There is nothing which so brings out the resources of God as His supremacy over evil in grace, nothing that so manifests His tender mercy and His goodness wherever there is real faith. And spite of the painful disorders of the Corinthians, reality was there. So the apostle, though heart-broken because of their state, would confidently look up to God about them, even in his first so strongly reproving epistle; for it was the Lord Himself who had told him He had much people in that city. There was small appearance of it when he wrote the earlier letter to them; but the Lord was right, as He always is, and the apostle confided in the Lord spite of appearances. He now tastes the joyful fruit of his faith in the recovering grace of the Lord. Hence in this epistle we have not so much as in the former the evidence of their outward disorders. The apostle is not occupied as there with the regulation of the state of the church as such, but we see souls restored. There is indeed the result of that salutary dealing in the very different state of individuals, and also of the assembly; but very emphatically, whatever might be the effect on the many, to a large extent there is a blessed unfolding of life in Christ in its power and effects.
Thus our epistle reminds us to a certain extent of the epistle to the Philippians, resembling it, though not of course the same, nor by any means of so lofty a character; but nevertheless a state appears wholly different from the downward path which the first epistle had reproved. For this change God had prepared His servant; for He takes in everything in His matchless wisdom and ways. He considers not only those written to, but the one He was employing to write. Assuredly He had dealt with them, but He had also dealt with His servant Paul. It was another sort of dealing, — not without humbling to them, in him withering to nature, without the shame that necessarily befell the saints at Corinth, but so much the more fitting him to go out in love toward them. As he knew what God's grace had wrought in their hearts, he could the more freely express the sympathy he felt, and, encouraged by all that had been wrought, take up what remained to be accomplished in them. But the unfailing grace of God, that works in the midst of weakness and in the face of death, and had so wrought mightily in him, made the Corinthians very dear to him, and enabled him to bring to bear on their circumstances and their state the most suited comfort that it was ever the mission of that blessed man to minister to the hearts of those that were broken down.
This he now pours forth abundantly, "Blessed be God;" for his heart, surcharged with grief when the first epistle was written, could open, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble," — no matter what, were it through grave faults, were it to their own deep shame and to his grief as once. But now the comfort far overcomes the sorrow, and we are enabled to "comfort them that are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." Here with a true heart he at once brings in the sufferings of Christ: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation."
The difference in this from Philippians, to which I have referred, is remarkable. The point in hand there is, that they were working out their own salvation, the apostle being, in a certain sense, completely shut out from them. Unable from circumstances, he there lets them know that he does not mingle himself with them in the same way. Their state did not need it. Undoubtedly this is a difference; but it is only that which is owing to their manhood in grace. Here they wanted more. It was the unfolding of grace in both; but the difference was largely to the credit of His name in the Philippians. It was the proof of their excellent condition that the apostle had such perfect confidence in them, even while he was absolutely precluded from being near them. He was at a distance from them, and had but small prospect of meeting with them shortly.
To the Corinthians he could speak otherwise. He was comparatively near, and was hoping the third time, as he tells us in the latter part of the epistle, to come to them. Nevertheless he interweaves his own experience with theirs in a way which is wonderfully gracious to those who had a heart. "And whether we be afflicted," he says, "it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation." Was it not the reckoning of grace? Whatever came on them, it was for their comfort. If affliction, the Lord would turn it to their blessing; if joy and consolation, no less to their blessing. At the same time he lets them know what trouble had come upon himself, and in the most delightful manner turns it to account. Whatever was the might of God that had sustained him when there was nothing on their part to give him comfort, but rather to add to the anguish of his spirit, now that grace was operating in their hearts, he shows how dependant he felt on their prayers. Truly beautiful is grace, and far different from the manner of man.
How blessed to have the working of God not only in Him that is absolute perfection, but in one who feels like ourselves, who had the same nature in the same state that has wrought such continual mischief towards God! At the same time, it is proved by such a one as this servant of God to be only the means of furnishing additional proof in another form that the might of God's Spirit is without limit, and can work the greatest moral wonders even in a poor human heart. Undoubtedly we should lose much if we had it not in its full perfection in Christ; but how much we should lose if we had not also the working of grace, not where human nature was itself lovely, not a spot without nor a taint of sin within, but where everything natural was evil, and nothing else; where nevertheless the power of the Holy Ghost wrought in the new man, lifting the believer completely above the flesh. This was the case with the apostle.
At the same time there was the answer of grace in their hearts, though it might be developed comparatively but little. Evidently there was a great deal that required to be set right in them; but they were on the right road. This was a joy to his heart, and so at once he encourages them, and gives them to know how little his heart had turned away from them, how he loved to link himself with them instead of standing aloof from them. "Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity," etc. He had been charged with the contrary. Being a man of remarkable wisdom and power of discernment, he paid the penalty that this must always entail in this world. That is, they imputed it to his ability and natural penetration; and the real power of the Spirit of God was thus merely accredited to flesh.
There was also an imputation of vacillation if not dishonesty. His purpose of visiting Corinth had been set aside. First of all the apostle takes this up in a spirit of self-renunciation, bent on Christ's glory. Supposing their imputation to be true, supposing Paul had been as fickle-minded a man as his enemies insinuated, if he had said he would come and did not come after all, what then? At any rate his preaching was not thus. The word that Paul preached was not "yea and nay." In Christ it was "Yea," where there is no "nay." There is no refusal nor failure. There is everything to win, and comfort, and establish the soul in Christ. There is no negation of grace, still less of uncertainty in Christ Jesus the Lord. There is everything that can comfort the sad, attract the hard, and embolden the distrustful. Let it be the very vilest, what is there lacking that can lead on and into the highest place of blessing and enjoyment of God, not only in hope, but even now by the Spirit of God in the face of all adversaries? This was the Christ that he loved to preach. By Him came grace and truth. He at least is absolutely what He speaks. Who or what was so worthy of trust? And this is put in a most forcible way. "For," says he, "all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen." It is not a bare literal accomplishment of the promises. This is not the statement any more than the state of things which is come in now; but as to all the promises of God, it matters not what they may be, in Him is the yea, and in Him the Amen, to the glory of God by us. They have found their every verification in Christ.
Was eternal life promised? In Him was eternal life in its highest form. For what will be eternal life in the millennial day compared with that which was and now is in Jesus? It will be a most real introduction and outshining of eternal life in that day; but still in Christ the believer has it now, and in its absolute perfection. Take, again, remission of sins. Will that display of divine mercy, so needed by and precious to the guilty sinner, be known in the millennium at all comparably with what God has brought in and sends out now in Christ? Take what you please, — say heavenly glory; and is not Christ in it in all perfection? It does not matter, therefore, what may be looked at, "whatever be the promises of God, in him is the yea, and in him the Amen." It is not said in us. Evidently there are many promises not yet accomplished as regards us. Satan has not lost but acquired, in the dominion of the world, a higher place by the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ; but faith can see in that very act by which he acquired it his eternal downfall. Now is the judgment of the world. The prince of the world is judged, but the sentence is not executed yet. Instead of being dethroned by the cross, he has thereby gained in the world that remarkable place and title. But for all that, whatever the apparent success of the devil, and whatever the delay as to "the promises of God, in Him is the yea, and in Him the Amen, unto the glory of God by us."
But further, the apostle is not content with this alone. He would have them know, having thus described the word which he preached, that which was infinitely dearer to him than his own character. Now he tells them that it was to spare them he had not come to Corinth. This ought to have been a reproof; and it is given in the most delicate manner. It was the sweet result of divine love in his heart. He preferred to tarry or turn aside, rather than to visit the Corinthians in their then condition. Had he come at all, he must have come with a rod, and this he could not endure. He wished to come with nothing but kindness, to blame nobody, to speak of nothing painful and humiliating to them (albeit, in truth, more humiliating to him, for he loved them). And as a parent would be ashamed in his child's shame far more than the child is capable of feeling, so precisely the apostle had this feeling about those he had begotten in the gospel. He loved the Corinthians dearly, spite of all their faults, and he would rather bear their unworthy suggestions of a fickle mind because he did not visit them at once, than come to censure them in their evil and proud state. He wished to give them time, that he might come with joy.
In 2 Corinthians 2 this is entered into a little more, and the deep anxiety of his heart is shown about them. We may easily gather what an open door for evangelizing is to one who was a great preacher of the gospel, as well as an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles. Although such an opportunity now offered itself, and was, no doubt, a strong impelling cause to work there, still he had no rest for his spirit. His heart was disturbed about the state of Corinth, and the case that tried him most in their midst. It seemed as if he felt nothing else, as if there was no sufficient call to occupy him in other quarters. He could turn from that most animating and immediate reward to any labourer in this world. Whatever might be the preciousness of presenting Christ to those who knew Him not, to see the manifestation of the glory of Christ in those that did know Him, to see it restored where it was obscured was something even nearer to his heart. The one would be, no doubt, great joy to wretched souls, and the spread of the glory of the Lord in the regions beyond; but here the glory of the Lord had been tarnished in those that bore His name before men; and how could Paul feel this lightly? What pressed so urgently on him? Hence it was that no attraction of gospel service, no promise of work, however fair, that called him elsewhere, could detain him. He felt the deepest affliction about the saints, as he says here, and had no rest in his spirit, because he found not Titus his brother, who had been to see them.
Then, again, among the particular instances which most pressed on him was, his exceeding trouble about the man he had ordered them to put away. For this he had authority from God, and the responsibility of heeding it abides, I need not say, in its entirety for us. We are just as much under that authority as they were. But now that God had wrought in the man who was the chief and grossest evidence of the power of Satan in the assembly, what a comfort to his heart! This sin, unknown even among the Gentiles, and the more shameful as being where the name of the Lord Jesus had been confessed and the Spirit dwelt, became the occasion of the most salutary instruction for all their souls, for they had learnt what becomes God's assembly under such humiliating circumstances. And they had responded to the solemn call pressed on them in the name of the Lord, and had purged out the evil leaven from the midst of their paschal feast. Only now they were in danger on the judicial side. They were disposed to be as over-severe as they had been previously unexercised and lax. Paul would infuse the same spirit of grace towards the penitent offender that filled himself. They had realised at length the shame that had been done to the Lord's glory, and were indignant with themselves as parties to identifying His name, not to speak of themselves, with such scandals. Thus they were slow to forgive the man that had wrought such a wrong, and Satan sought in an opposite way to separate them in heart from the blessed apostle, who had roused them to just feelings after their too long slumber. Just as Paul was horrified at their indifference to sin at first, so now it was impossible but that he must be concerned, lest there should be a failure in grace as a little before in righteousness. But there is nothing like a manifestation of grace to call out grace; and he lets them know what was his own feeling, not merely about the wrong-doer, but about themselves. "To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also; for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should gain an advantage over us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." This is his spirit. It is no longer a command, but a trust reposed in the saints; and when we think of that which is afterwards to appear in this epistle, what was still at work among them as well as what had been, it is certainly a most blessed and beautiful proof of the reality of grace, and of the effects which can be, as they have been, produced by it in the heart of a saint here below. What do we not owe to Jesus?
After having disposed of this matter for the present (for he recurs to it afterwards), he turns to speak of the way in which he was led of God through trial, no matter of what character. Let the question be of the man who had wandered so far astray, but was now restored really to the Lord, and to whom he desired that his brethren should publicly confirm their love; or let it be that he is turned aside from gospel work because of his anxiety on their account, he now tells them of the triumph which the Lord gave him to prove everywhere.
This leads in 2 Corinthians 3 to an unfolding of righteousness in Christ, but in a style considerably different from what we found in the Epistle to the Romans. There the broad and deep foundations were exposed to view, as well as the Spirit's power and liberty consequent on the soul's submission to Christ's work. The proposition was — God just and the justifier, not by blood only, but in that resurrection power in which Christ rose from among the dead. According to no less a work of such a Saviour we are justified.
But in this chapter the Spirit goes higher still. He connects righteousness with heavenly glory, while at the same time this righteousness and glory are shown to be perfectly in grace as regards us. It is not in the slightest degree glory without love (as sometimes people might think of glory as a cold thing); and if it withers up man from before it, — the fleshly nature no doubt, it is only with a view to the enjoyment of greater vigour, through the power of Christ resting on us in our detected and felt weakness.
The chapter opens with an allusion to the habit so familiar to God's church of sending and requiring a letter of commendation. "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?" Not at all. And what then is his letter of commendation? Themselves. What confidence he must have had in the gracious power of God, that his letter of commendation could be the Corinthian saints! He does not look around to choose the most striking instances of those converted by him. He takes what was perhaps the most humiliating scene that he had ever experienced, and he points even to these saints as a letter of commendation. And why so? Because he knew the power of life in Christ. He was reassured. In the darkest day he had looked up to God with confidence about it, when any other heart had failed utterly; but now that light was beginning to dawn upon them, yet still but dawned so to speak afresh, he could boldly say that they were not merely his, but Christ's, letter. Bolder and bolder evidently he becomes as he thinks of the name of the Lord and of that enjoyment which he had found, and found afresh, in the midst of all his troubles. Hence he says, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart." There were not wanting there those that endeavoured to impose legal principles on the Corinthians. Not that here it was the strongest or subtlest effort of the enemy. There was more of Sadduceeism at work among them than of Pharisaism; but still not infrequently Satan finds room for both, or a link between both. His ministry was emphatically not that which could find its type in any form of the law, or in what was written upon stone, but on the fleshy table of the heart by the Spirit of the living God. Accordingly this gives rise to a most striking contrast of the letter that kills and of the spirit that gives life. As is said here, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the new covenant." Then lest any should conceive that this was the accomplishment of the Old Testament, he lets us know it is no more than the spirit of that covenant, not the letter. The covenant itself in its express terms awaits both houses of Israel in a day not yet arrived; but meanwhile Christ in glory anticipates for us that day, and this is, of course, "not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
Next, we find a long parenthesis; for the true connection of the end of verse 6 is with verse 17, and all between properly forms a digression. I shall read the words outside the parenthesis, in order to make this manifest. He had said that "the spirit giveth life." Now the Lord (he adds) "is that spirit;" which last word ought to be printed with a small "s," not a capital. Some Bibles have this, I dare say, correctly; but others, like the one in my hand, incorrectly. "That spirit" does not mean the Holy Ghost, though it is He alone that could enable a soul to seize the spirit under the letter. But the apostle, I believe, means that the Lord Jesus is the spirit of the different forms that are found in the law. Thus he turns aside in a remarkable but characteristic manner; and as he intimates in what sense he was the minister of the new covenant (i.e. not in a mere literal fashion but in the spirit of it), so he connects this spirit with the forms of the law all through. There is a distinct divine purpose or idea couched under the legal forms, as their inner spirit, and this, he lets us know, is really Christ the Lord. "Now the Lord is that spirit." This it is that ran through the whole legal system in its different types and shadows.
Then he brings in the Holy Ghost, — "and where" (not simply "that spirit," but) "the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." There is a notable difference between the two expressions. "The Spirit of the Lord" is the Holy Spirit that characterizes Christianity; but underneath the letter of the Jewish system, faith seized "the spirit" that referred to Christ. There was the outward ritual and commandment with which flesh made itself content; but faith always looked to the Lord, and saw Him, however dimly, beyond the letter in which God marked indelibly, and now makes known by ever accumulating proofs, that He from the first pointed to the One that was coming. A greater than anything then manifested was there; underneath the Moseses and the Aarons, the Davids and the Solomons, underneath what was said and done, signs and tokens converged on One that was promised, even Christ.
And now "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." This was unknown under the Levitical order of things. There was a veiled form of truth, and now it is manifest. The Holy Ghost brings us into the power and enjoyment of this as a present thing. Where He is, there is liberty.
But looking back for a moment at the parenthesis, we see that the direct effect of the law (no matter what may be the mercy of God that sustained, spite of its curse) is in itself a ministration of death. Law can only condemn; it can but enforce death as on God's part. It never was in any sense the intention of God by the law to introduce either righteousness or life. Nor these only, but the Spirit He now brings in through Christ. "If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away," — it was not at all an abiding thing, but merely temporary in its own nature, — "how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be, rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation" (another point after the ministration of death; if it then) "be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory." It is not simply the mercy of God, you observe, but the ministration of righteousness. When the Lord was here below, what was the character of His ministration? It was grace; not yet a ministration of righteousness. Of course, He was emphatically righteous, and everything He did was perfectly consistent with the character of the Righteous. Never was there the smallest deflection from righteousness in aught He ever did or said. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. But when He went up to heaven on the footing of redemption through His blood, He had put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself: the ministration was not of grace merely, but of righteousness. In short, righteousness without redemption must destroy, not save; grace before redemption could not deliver, but at most forbear to judge; but righteousness founded on redemption provides the stablest possible basis for the believer.
Whatever the mercy displayed to us now, it is perfectly righteous in God to show it. He is vindicated in everything. Salvation is no stretch of His prerogative. Its language is not, "The person is guilty; but I will let him off; I will not execute the sentence against him." The Christian is now admitted to a place before God according to the acceptance of Christ Himself. Being altogether by Christ, it brings nothing but glory to God, because Christ who died was God's own Son, given of His own love for this very purpose, and there in the midst of all wrongs, of everything out of course here below, while the evil still remains unremoved, and death ravages still, and Satan has acquired all possible power of place as god and prince of this world, this deepest manifestation of God's own glory is given, bringing souls which were once the guiltiest and the vilest out of it, not only before God, but in their own souls, and in the knowledge and enjoyment of it, and all righteously through Christ's redemption. This is what the apostle triumphs in here. So he calls it not the ministration of life indeed; for there was always the new birth or nature through the mercy of God; but now he brings in a far fuller name of blessing, that of the Spirit, because the ministration of the Spirit is over and above life. It supposes life, but moreover also the gift and presence of the Holy Ghost. The great mistake now is when saints cling to the old things, lingering among the ruins of death when God has given them a title flowing from grace, but abundant in righteousness, and a ministration not merely of life, but of the Spirit.
So he goes on farther, and says that "that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious." This again is another quality that he speaks of. We come to what abides — to what never can be shaken, as he puts it to the Hebrews later. To this permanence of blessing we are come in Christ, no matter what else may come. Death may come for us; judgment certainly will for the world — for man at least. The complete passing away of this creation is at hand. But we are already arrived at that which remains, and no destruction of earth can possibly affect its security; no removal to heaven will have any other effect than to bring out its lustre and abidingness. So he says, "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face."
This characterized the dealings of the law, that there never was the bringing God and man, so to speak, face to face. Such a meeting could not yet be. But now it is. Not only has God come down to man face to face, but man is brought to look in where God is in His own glory, and without a veil between. It is not the condescension of the Word made flesh coming down to where man is, but the triumph of accomplished righteousness and glory, because the Spirit comes down from Christ in heaven. It is the ministration of the Spirit, who comes down from the exalted man in glory, and has given us the assurance that this is our portion, now to look into it, soon to be with Him. Hence he says it is "not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ." This is as in Christ when known to us. So "even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away." But then we do not wait here for their turning to the Lord, which will be their portion by-and-by. Meanwhile the Lord has turned to us, turning us to Himself, in His great grace, and brought us into righteousness, peace, as well as glory in hope — yea, in present communion, through redemption. The consequence is, all evil is gone for us, and all blessedness secured, and known to be so, in Christ; and, as he says here, "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Then, he adds further, "We all, with open [unveiled] face, beholding ["as in a glass" is uncalled for] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Thus the effect of the triumph of our Lord Jesus, and of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, is to put us into present association with the glory of the Lord as the object before our souls; and this is what transforms us according to its own heavenly character.
In 2 Corinthians 4 the apostle takes into account the vessel that contains the heavenly treasure. He shows that as "we have this ministry", and "have received mercy" therefore to the uttermost, "we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost." Such is the solemn conclusion: "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
This is the gospel of the glory of Christ. It is not merely that we have the heavenly title, as we are taught in 1 Corinthians 15. The utmost on this subject brought before us there was, that we are designated "heavenly," and are destined to bear the image of the heavenly One by-and-by. The second epistle comes between the two points of title and destiny, with the transforming effect of occupation with Christ in His glory on high. Thus space is left for practice and experience between our calling and our glorification. But then this course between is by no means sparing to nature; for, as he shows here, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." God makes us feel this, and helps on the practical transformation; and by what means? By bringing us into every kind of trouble and sorrow, so as to make nothing of flesh. For it is the allowed liveliness of nature that hinders the manifestation of the treasure; whereas its judgment leaves room for the light to shine out. This, then, is what God carries on. It explained much in the apostle's path which they had not been in a state to comprehend; and it contributed, where received and applied in the Spirit, to advance God's objects as regards them. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." What grace, and how blessed the truth! But see the way in which the process is carried on, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death." He speaks of the actualisation: all helps the great object, even such circumstances as seemed the most disastrous possible. God exposed His servant to death. This was only carrying out more effectually the breaking down that was always going on. "So then death worketh in us, but life in you. We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes." And thus then, if there was the endurance of affliction, he would encourage their hearts, calling, as he felt it, "light affliction." He knew well what trial was. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."
This introduces the Christian's estimate of both death and judgment as measured by Christ. He looks now steadily at all that can possibly appal the natural heart. Death the Christian may pass through. Judgment will never be for the Christian. Nevertheless his sense of judgment, as it really will come, although not for himself, is most influential and for others too. There may be a mighty effect on the soul, and a deep spring of worship, and a powerful lever in service, through that which does not concern us at all. The sense of what it is may be all the more felt because we are delivered from its weight; and we can thus more thoroughly, because more calmly, contemplate it in the light of God, seeing its inevitable approach and overwhelming power for those that have not Christ. Accordingly he says, "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven."
But let us not forget that he takes care (for his heart was not relieved as to every individual in Corinth) to add solemnly, "If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." He was not quite sure but that some there might be found exposed, because devoid of a Saviour. There are those who give this a very different turn, and make it to be a verse of consolation instead of warning; but such a view deprives us of the true scope of the clause. The common version and natural interpretation appears to me quite correct. It does not mean "since being clothed we shall not be found naked," which has no worthy lesson to convey to any soul. The readings differ, but that which answers to the common version I believe to be correct. The apostle would warn every soul that, although every one will be clothed in the day that is coming (namely, at the resurrection of the body, when souls are no longer found without the body but clothed), nevertheless some, even in spite of that clothing, shall be found naked. The wicked are then to be clothed no less than the saints, who will have been already raised or changed; their bodies shall be raised from the dead just as truly as those of the righteous; but when the unrighteous stand in resurrection before the great white throne, how, bare will they appear? What will it be in that day to have no Christ to clothe us?
After so salutary a caution to such as made too much of knowledge in the neglect of conscience, the apostle turns to that fulness of comfort which he was communicating to the saints. "We," he says, "that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." He has no wish to deny the sorrow and weakness. He knew what it is to suffer and be sorrowful far better than any of them. "We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed." Thus there is no mere wish to get away from the present scene with its sadness and trial. It is never allowed one to be impatient. To desire to be with Christ is right; but to be restive under that which connects us with shame and pain is not of Christ. "Not for," then, "that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon." This was his ardent wish, — to be "clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." It is not that he might die, but the very reverse, — that the mortality already working in him might be swallowed up by Him who is eternal life, and our life.
"He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God." It is not here wrought something for us, but "wrought us." This is a remarkable expression of the grace of God in associating with His unfailing purpose in Christ. "He that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit;" given us, therefore, even now a taste of the blessedness and glory that are in store for us. "Therefore we are always confident." Think of such language! Think of it as the apostle's words describing our portion, and in full view of both death and judgment! "We are always confident." We can easily understand one whose eye was simply on Christ and His love, saying, "We are confident," though turning to look at that which might well tax the stoutest heart. Certainly it were madness not to be overwhelmed by it, unless there were such a ministration of the Spirit as the apostle was then enjoying in its fruits in his soul. But he did enjoy it profoundly; and, what is more, he puts it as the common enjoyment of all Christians. It is not alone a question of his own individual feelings, but of that which God gave him to share now with the saints of God as such. "Therefore," says he, "we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: for we walk by faith, not by sight: we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
This, again, is a very important truth indeed in its own place, and the effect is most striking; namely, deep anxiety about the lost, and the consciousness of our own manifestation to God now. Not that I mean by this that we shall not be manifested by-and-by; for we shall be perfectly. But if we are manifest in conscience before God now, it is evident that there is nothing that can cause the slightest uneasiness in our being manifested before Christ's tribunal. The truth is, so far is the manifestation before our Lord a source of alarm to the saint (though it should surely solemnise the heart), that I am persuaded the soul would lose a positive and substantial blessing, if it could by any possibility escape being manifested there. Nor does it matter what the degree of manifestation may now be in conscience. Still, it can never be perfect till then; and our God would give us perfection in this as in all else. It is now hindered by various causes, as far as we are concerned. There is the working of self-love in the hearts of the saints; there is that which has cast a film over the eye which dulls our souls. Alas! we know it too well.
The effect of our manifestation before the tribunal of Christ is, that we shall know as we are known. That is, it will be carrying out in absolute perfection what we now know in the measure of our spirituality. Now, what is the effect of one's arriving at a better knowledge of himself, and a deeper consciousness of the Christian's place in Christ? Always a real blessing, and a means of greater enjoyment of Christ. Is it not much to have a lowlier feeling about ourselves? to esteem others better than ourselves? and thus to deepen daily in the grace of the Lord Jesus? And are not these things the result? And will the perfect knowledge of ourselves be a loss, and not a gain?
At the same time, it is solemn assuredly for every secret to be spread out between the Lord and ourselves. It is solemn for all to be set in the light in which we may have been misled now, and which may have caused trouble and grief to others, casting reproach on the name of the Lord, — in itself an affecting and afflicting thing. Never should we be deceived by Satan. He may accuse the saints, but they ought in no case to be deceived by him. He deceives the world, and accuses the brethren. Alas! we know, in point of fact, that we are liable through unwatchfulness to his wiles; but this does not make it less a humiliation for us, and a temporary advantage for Satan when we fall into his trap. We are not ignorant of his devices; but this will not always, nor in itself in any case, preserve us. There are defeats. The judgment-seat of Christ will disclose all; where each hidden thing will be clear; where nothing but the fruit of the Spirit shall stand for ever.
Nevertheless the sight of that judgment-seat brings at once before his eye, not the saints, but the perishing world; and so complete is the peace of his own spirit, so rich and sure the deliverance Christ has accomplished for all the saints, that the expressed effect is to kindle his heart about those that are braving everlasting destruction — those on whom the judgment-seat can bring nothing but hopeless exclusion from God and His glory.
For we say here by the way, that we must be all manifested, whether saints or sinners. There is a peculiarity in the phrase which is, to my thinking, quite decisive as to its not meaning saints only. As to the objection to this founded on the word "we," there is no force in it at all. "We" is no doubt commonly used in the apostolic epistles for saints, but not for them exclusively. Context decides. Be assured that all such rules are quite fallacious. What intelligent Christian ever understood from scripture all the canons of criticism in the world? They are not to be trusted for a moment. Why have confidence in anything of the sort? Mere traditional formulas or human technicalities will not do for the ascertainment of God's word. The moment men rest on general laws by which to interpret scripture, I confess they seem to me on the brink of error, or doomed to wander in a desert of ignorance. We must be disciplined if we would learn indeed; and we need to read and hear things as God writes them; but we do well and wisely to eschew all human byways and short-cuts for deciding the sense of what God has revealed. It is not only the students of medieval divinity, or of modem speculation, who are in danger. None of us is beyond the need of jealousy over self, and of simple-hearted looking to the Lord.
Here, indeed, the apostle's reasoning, and the nicety of language, furnish demonstrative evidence in the passage (that is, both in the spirit and in the letter), that we must all, whether saints or sinners, be manifested before Christ; not at the same time nor for the same end, but all before His judgment-seat at some time. Had the language been, "we must all be judged," the "we" must have been there limited to the unconverted. While they only come into judgment, believer and unbeliever must alike be manifested. The effect of manifestation for the believer will be the fulness of rest and delight in the ways of God. The effect of the manifestation for the unbeliever will be the total withering up of every excuse or pretence that had deceived him here below. No flesh shall glory in His presence, and man must stand self-convicted before the Judge of all. Thus the choice of language is, as usual in scripture, absolutely perfect, and to my mind quite decisive that the manifestation here is universal. This acts on the servant of Christ, who knows what the terror of the Lord is, and calls him out to "persuade men." What is meant by this? It is really to preach the gospel to men at large.
At the same time the apostle adds, "We commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf." For he had expressed his trust of being made manifest to their consciences, as well as stated how absolutely we are manifested to God. "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause." Then he brings in the constraining power of the love of Christ, and why? Because, as he looked round him, he saw nothing but death written on man, and all that pertains to him here below. The whole scene was one vast grave. Of course, he was not thinking of the saints of God, but, contrariwise, in the midst of this universal death, as far as man is concerned, he rejoices to see some alive. I understand, therefore, that when he says, "If one die for all, then were all dead," he means those who had really died by sin, and because of the contrast it seems to me plain "He died for all, that they which live" (these are the saints, the objects of God's favour) "should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." What was the effect of this? That having thus before his soul, not the universal death of all only, but some who by grace were alive, through the death and resurrection of Christ, he now brings out, not the contrast of the new creation with all that went before — yea, the contrast of the Messianic hopes as such with that higher glory which he was now asserting. Even a living Messiah could not satisfy what his soul had learnt to be in accordance with the glory of God. Not, of course, that he did not delight in the hope of his nation. It is one thing to value what God will do for the earth by-and-by, it is quite another to fail in appreciating that which God has now created and revealed in a risen Christ above, — once rejected and dying for us. Accordingly it is one glory that will display the promises and ways of God triumphing over man and Satan; it is another and far surpassing glory which He who is the Messiah, but much more, and now the heavenly man, reveals. His death is the judgment of our sins in God's grace, and an end of the whole scene for us, and hence perfect deliverance from man and from present things — yea, even from the best hopes for the earth.
What can be better than a Messiah come to bless man in this world? But the Christian is not occupied with this at all. According to the Old Testament he looked at it, but now that the Messiah is seen dead and risen, now that He is passed into heavenly glory through death, this is the glory for the Christian. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh:" this puts the saints in a common position of knowledge. "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh." As for a living Messiah, and all the expectations that were bound up with Him and His coming here below, all this is passed away for the Christian. It is not that the Messiah will not return as such; but as for the sphere and character of our own relations, they are founded on death and resurrection, and seen on high. Such is the way the apostle treats it. He looks at Christ in His relationship with us as One that has passed out of this earth and the lower creation into heavenly places. It is there and thus we know Him. By knowing Him he means the special form of the truth with which we are concerned, the manner in which we are put into positive, living association with Him. That which we know as our centre of union, as the object of our souls, is Christ risen and glorified. In any other point of view, however bright and glorious, "now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ," etc.
It is not merely if any man look to Christ: the Old Testament saints rejoiced to see His day; but this is a very different thing from being in Christ. There are many who take the scriptures in so crude and vague a manner that to their eyes it is all the same; but I hope such is not the case with any here. No doubt, to be in Christ as we are now is through looking to Him. But it was not always so. Take the disciples in the days of Christ's pathway here below: were they in Christ then? Certainly not. There was the working of divine faith in them. They were unquestionably "born again;" but is this the same thing as being "in Christ"? Being in Christ means that, redemption having come in, the Holy Ghost can and does give us a conscious standing in Christ in His now risen character. To be "in Christ" describes the believer, not in Old Testament times, but now.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." Thus there is a blessed and suited ministry. The law directed a people at a distance from God. It supposed such a condition and dealt accordingly. Even if a poor brute touched the mountain, it was to be stoned. At length God came down to meet man in grace as he is; and man rejected God manifest in flesh. Redemption was thereby effected; man is brought without sin to God. Christ is the person who made both good. He brought God down to man, and He brought man in Himself up to God. Such is the position in which we stand. It is not any longer merely God coming down to man in Christ. This is neither the manner nor the measure in which He reveals Himself now. The Lord Jesus Christ is gone up to heaven; and this not as a sole individual, but as the head of a family. He would not take the place of headship until all the evil was completely gone. He would give us His own acceptance before God. He took His stand on retrieving God's moral glory by bearing our sins; yet as He came down, so He went up to God, holy and spotless. He had by His own blood blotted out the sins of others who believe in Him. It was not merely a born Messiah, the chief of Israel, but "God was in Christ."
Observe, not that God is in Christ, but that He was. It is a description of what was manifested when the Lord was here below. But if it be a mistake to read God is, it is a still greater error too common in books, old and new alike, that God has reconciled the world. This is not the meaning of the statement. The English version is perfectly right; the criticism that pretends to correct it is thoroughly wrong. It is never said that the world is reconciled to God. Christ was a blessed and adequate image of God; and God was in Him manifesting Himself in the supremacy of His own grace here below. No doubt His law had its suited place; but God in grace is necessarily above the law. As man, at least as of Israel, Jesus was born under the law; but this was in not the slightest degree an abandonment of God's rights, and still less of His grace. God came near to men in love in the most attractive form, going in and out among them, taking up little children, entering into houses when asked, conversing by the way, going about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. It was not merely in quest of the lost sheep of Israel. How could such grace be restrained only to Jews? God had larger thoughts and feelings than this. Therefore let a Gentile centurion come, or a Samaritan woman, or any body else: who was not welcome? For "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
Full of grace and truth, He would not even raise the question of this trespass or that. There was no doubt of man's guilt; but this was not the divine way of Christ. Other and more efficacious aims were in the hand of the God of all grace. He would save, but at the same time exercise the conscience more than ever. For great would be the loss for a sinner awakened, if it were possible for him not to take God's part against himself. This is the real course and effect of repentance in the soul. But God was in Christ reconciling the world for all that, yea in order to it. It was not a question of dealing with them for their trespasses. And what now that He is gone away? "He hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." He is gone, but not the errand of mercy for which He came. The Messiah as such disappears for the time; there remains the fruit of the blessed manifestation of God in Christ in an evil world. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech by us: we pray in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." But how can this be? On what basis can we essay such a task! Not because the Spirit of God is in us, however true it may be, but because of the atonement. Redemption by Christ's blood is the reason. "For God hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Then, following up this in the next chapter (2 Cor. 6), the true moral traits of the Christian ministry are shown, and what a price it had in his eyes. What should not be done and endured for the sake of worthily carrying out this ministration of Christ here below! What should be the practical witness to a righteousness not acquired by us, but freely given of God! Such is the character of it, according to the work of Christ before God and of His redemption; so we should "give no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments." In every thing crushing to nature did the apostle fulfil his mission. Is the reproach of Christ to be an apostolic perquisite? Are not His servants to share it still? Is it not true from first to last?
Again, in serving the Lord, there are two special ways in which we are apt to go astray. Some err by an undue narrowness, others by as injurious laxity. In fact, it is never right to be narrow, and always wrong to be lax. In Christ there is no license or excuse for either. But the Corinthians, like others, were in danger on both sides; for each provokes the other. Hence the appeal, "O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels." There was the caution against a narrow heart; but now against a lax path he warns, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" Thus is embraced individual responsibility as well as corporate. "For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them."
Thus, as in the exercise of ministry according to Christ, there was nothing that should not be endured; there was no scorn or trial, no pain or shame, but what he himself counted as nothing that Christ only should be served, and the witness of His name kept up in this world according to His grace; so now he presses on the saints what is incumbent on them as the epistle of Christ, to make good a true witness for Him in this world, steering clear of all that is hard and narrow, which is altogether alien from the grace of God, and of that laxity which is still more offensive to His nature. In the first verse of 2 Corinthians 7 the whole matter is wound up, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The second verse evidently belongs to the subject succeeding. In the rest of the seventh chapter he renews (and has, I think, connected both with these words about the ministry and the responsibility of the saints) what he had alluded to already among them. He touches, with that delicate tact so characteristic of him, on their repentance. He would encourage their hearts in every way, but now ventures to go somewhat farther in the grace of Christ.
Accordingly his own feelings are told out, — how exceedingly cast down he had been, and oppressed on every side, so that he had no rest. "Without were fightings, within were fears." Indeed, the fear had gone so far, that he had actually been tried as to the inspired epistle he had written. The apostle had a question raised in his mind about his own inspired epistle! Yet what writing was more certainly of God? "For though I made you sorry with the letter, I do not regret, though I did regret." How clearly we learn, whatever the working of God in man, that after all the inspiration of a vessel is far above his own will, and the fruit of the action of the Holy Ghost! As we find an unholy man might be inspired of God to bring out a new communication — for example, a Balaam or a Caiaphas, so holy men of God still more. But the remarkable thing to note is the way in which a question was raised even about an epistle which God has preserved in His own book, and, without a doubt, divinely inspired. But he also mentions how glad he was now that, having sent off that letter, he had made them sorry. "For I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance; for ye were made sorry according to God, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing." How great is the grace! "For sorrow according to God worketh repentance to salvation not to be regretted: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed according to God, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." What a comfort to the heart that had been so profoundly touched by their state!
In 2 Corinthians 8, and 2 Corinthians 9, the subject of contributing for saints is resumed, though a great deal more fully than in 1 Cor. 16, and with a fresh spring of joy communicated to his spirit. What an evidence is given of the exercises of his heart in this thing too! It appears he had spoken confidently about the Corinthian saints. There had been afterwards much to wound and weaken that confidence; but he now returns to the matter, and reckons with certainty that the God who had wrought in the painful matter, not of the guilty man only, but in them all about it, — that His grace would also give him cause for joy in rousing their hearts into largeness of love for those that were depressed elsewhere. He had boasted of the liberality of the Corinthians, which had kindled zeal in others. On the one hand, he would have his hope of them verified, on the other he desired none to be burdened, but certainly fruit Godward both in the givers and in the receivers. How rich and enriching in His grace! Blessed be God for His unspeakable gift!
In 2 Corinthians 10, and 2 Corinthians 11 he comes to another subject — his own ministry — on which a few words must suffice. Enough had been cleared away to open his heart on it: he could enlarge here. It was his confidence in them that made him write. When his spirit was bound, because of there being so much to cause shame and pain, he could not be free; but now he is. Hence we have here a most blessed opening of what this servant of God felt in what was necessarily a sore distress to his spirit. For what could be more humbling than that the Corinthian saints, the fruit of his own ministry, had admitted into their hearts insinuations against him, doubts of the reality of his apostolate, all that lowering which, in other forms but not substantially unlike, we may have too often observed, and just in proportion to the importance and spiritual value of the trust reposed of God in any on the earth? The apostle knew sorrow as no other ever knew it. Not even the twelve tasted its bitterness as he did, from spirituality and from circumstances; and the manner in which he deals with it, the dignity, and at the same time the lowliness, the faith that looked right to the Lord, but at the same time the warmth of affection, grief of heart mingling with joy, furnish such a tableau as is unique even in the word of God. No such analysis appears anywhere else of the heart of one serving the saints in the midst of the greatest outrages to his love, as we recognise in this epistle. He bows to the charge of rudeness in speech; but they had used the admitted power of his letters against himself. Yet he warns lest what he is absent they may learn in him present. Others might exalt themselves through his labours; he hoped when their faith was increased to preach the gospel in the regions beyond. (2 Cor. 10) They had exalted the other apostles in disparagement of him. They had even imputed to him selfishness. It might be true, thought they, that he had reaped no material benefit himself from them; but what about others, his friends? How much there was calculated to wound that generous heart, and, what he felt yet more, to damage his ministry! But in the midst of such sorrow and the rather as flowing from such sources, God watched over all with observant eye. Wonderfully hedged in was His servant, though to speak of himself he calls his folly. (2 Cor. 11) But no human power or wit can protect a man of God from malice; nothing can shut out the shafts of evil speaking. In vain to look to flesh and blood for protection: were it possible, how much we should have missed in this epistle! Had his detractors been brethren of the circumcision from Jerusalem, neither the trial nor the blessing would have been anything like what it is for depth; but the fact that it came to Paul from his own children in Achaia was enough to pain him to the quick, and did prove him thoroughly.
But God sometimes lifts us up to look into the glory, as He comes down into the midst of our sorrows in pitiful mercy. This, with his own heart about it, the apostle brings before us lovingly, though it is impossible, within my limits, so much as to touch on all. He spreads before us his sorrows, dangers, and persecutions. This was the ministry of which he had boasted. He had been often whipped and stoned, had been weary, thirsty, hungry, by sea and land: these were the prizes he had received, and these the honours which the world gave him. How it all ought to have gone to their hearts, if they had any feeling at all, as indeed they had! It was good for them to feel it, for they had been taking their ease. He closes the list by telling them at last how he had been let down from the wall of a city in a basket, — not a very dignified position for an apostle. It was anything but heroism thus to escape one's enemies.
But the same man who was thus let down immediately after speaks of being caught up to heaven. Now, it is this combination of the truest and most proper dignity that ever a man had in this world, — for how few of the sons of man, speaking of course of Christians, that approached Paul in this respect; so on the other hand, how few since have known the dignity of being content to suffer and be nothing, of having every thought and feeling of nature thoroughly crushed, like Paul, within as well as without! So much the more as he was one who felt all most keenly, for he had a heart and mind equally capacious. Such was he who had to be thus tried as Christ's bondman. But when he comes to special wonders, he does not speak about himself; when about the basket he is open. Thus here he talks ambiguously. "I know a man" is his method of introducing the new portion. It is not I, Paul, but "a man in Christ" is taken up, who had seen such things as could not be expressed in human words, nor suited to man's present state. It is therefore left completely vague. The apostle himself says he does not know whether it was in the body, or out of the body; so completely was all removed from the ordinary experience and ken of man. But he adds what is much to be observed, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh." Thus a deeper humiliation befell him than he had ever known, — "a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan," — the allowed counterbalance to such extraordinary experiences. It was Paul. The secret could not be hid. But Christ is here, as ever, the theme of the apostle from first to last. This was the treasure in the earthen vessel; and in order to bring about corresponding profit, God works by external means as well as by inward grace, so as to carry forward His work of enhancing always and increasingly what is in Christ, and making less and less of man.
The close of the chapter sketches, with painful truth but a loving hand, the outbreakings of that nature, crushed in him, pampered in them. For he dreaded lest God should humble him among them because of their evil ways. What love such a word bespeaks!
The final chapter (2 Cor. 13) answers a challenge which he kept for the last place, as indeed it ill became the Corinthians above all men. What a distress to him to speak of it at all! They had actually dared to ask a proof that Christ had spoken to them by him. Had they forgotten that they owed their life and salvation in Christ to his preaching? As he put in the foreground patience as a sign of apostleship, which in him assuredly was taxed beyond measure, so now he fixes on this as the great seal of his apostleship — at least, to them. What can be more touching? It is not what Jesus had said by him in books, or in what power the Spirit had wrought by him. "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you … examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves." They were the living proof to themselves that he was an apostle of Christ to them. There is no allowance of a doubt in this appeal: rather the very reverse was assumed on their part, which the apostle admirably turns to the confusion of their indecorous and baseless doubts about himself. "Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction." Brief and pregnant salutations follow, with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost.
Galatians 1. We saw the second of Corinthians characterized by the most rapid transitions of feeling, by a deep and fervent sense of God's consolations, by a revulsion so much the more powerful in a heart that entered into things as few hearts have ever done since the world began. For as the first epistle had put down man in every form, and more particularly man as an expression of the world in its pride, so the second epistle breathes the comfort of God's restoring grace, and is characterized therefore by the strongest emotions of the heart; for he ardently loved these saints. He had felt their wrong, but at the same time had been lifted marvellously above what might be called personal feeling, and so much the more, therefore, could have the grief of love unmingled with that which really impairs its strength, and leaves its sensibilities incomparably less acute. So much the more, then, we find the working of spiritual feeling as expressed by him in the second epistle, where he speaks of God lifting up those that were cast down, as He had delivered himself from the imminent danger to which he had been exposed even as to life.
In the epistle to the Galatians we have another tone and style, a serious and grieved spirit, with feelings not less deep — it may be, even more profoundly moved — than in writing to the Corinthians; and for this reason, that the foundations were still more deeply affected by that which was working among the assemblies of Galatia. It was not the worldly presumption of man, nor the slight which this would inevitably cast on apostolic authority, as well as on the order of the church, on morality even, at least on Christian morality, on the comely ways of brethren one with another in private as well as in their public assemblies. In the epistle to the Galatians a deeper question was raised — nothing less than the fountain of grace itself. Hence in this epistle it is not so much the laying bare the need of man — of the sinner, as the vindication of that same grace of God for the saint, with the exhibition of the ruinous results to him who is drawn aside from the deep and broad groundwork that God has laid for souls in Christ. Here particularly the Christian is guarded against the inroads of legalism. If the world were the great enemy at Corinth, the law perverted is that against which the Spirit of God raises up the apostle in writing to the Galatians. Flesh alas! has an affinity for both. This epistle, as those to the Corinthians, opens with an assertion of his apostolic place. At the outset here (not there) he sets aside human intervention. Men were not his source, nor was man even a medium to him. He strikes accordingly at the root of all successional or derived authority. "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and," — in order to make it still more evident, — "by God the Father, who raised him from the dead." This is peculiar to our epistle. In the epistle to the Ephesians we shall find that the apostle claims a still higher character for all ministry. There it is not traced to God the Father, that raised Christ from the dead; but it descends from Christ ascended to heaven (which, we shall soon see, perfectly fits in with that epistle). Here it is the total judgment of flesh in its religious pretensions, and more particularly a blow to that which is an essential principle of law. The whole legal institution depended on a people lineally descended from Abraham, as their priests on a similar succession from Aaron. Being, of course, dying men, whether it be the general privileges of Israel, or the special place of the priest, all was transmitted from father to son. In its own proper sphere and blessings Christianity knows nothing of the sort, but denies it in principle. So here Paul is "an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, that raised him from the dead."
To have been with the Messiah, the hearer of His words and the witness of His work, up to His departure, was ever a condition to those who were accustomed to the twelve apostles. The apostle himself meets that difficulty in the face, and in effect concedes to his detractors that he was not made an apostle by Christ here below. But if not called to have his place among the twelve, it was the Lord's sovereign dealing to give him a better one. There is no approach to a vaunt about his dignity. He does not even deign to fill up the sketch. He leaves it to spiritual wisdom to gather what was the evident impression of the truth.
For his own special call was an indisputable fact; and it is a great joy to the heart to think how Christianity (while it leaves the deepest and the highest space in all directions, so to speak, for the working of the Holy Ghost, while there is more room in it than anywhere else for the play both of the renewed mind and the affections that the Spirit of God gives, while, consequently, it admits of the richest possible exercises of both mind and heart), nevertheless, in its grand truths rests on the most patent and certain facts. For God considers the poor; He has regard to the simple; He has children in His eye. And facts tell on their mind. Indeed, there is no soul really above them. Whoever despises the facts of Christianity, as if nothing in Scripture were worthy of meditation, or of ministering to others but exercises and speculative deductions, will be found, if he do not find himself often, on the verge of dangerous delusions, both for the mind and for the walk.
But the apostle here does not reason about the matter. He simply states, as I have said, that his apostolic character was not only from Jesus, but from God the Father, that raised Him from the dead. It had a resurrection-source, instead of being from Christ on earth, and in relation to the work God was doing when He sent His Son here below. Along with himself he takes care expressly to couple others: "and all the brethren which are with me." Paul did not stand alone. He had the faith that could by grace cleave to God if he had not a companion; but God blesses that faith, and acts by it on the conscience of others, even on those that, alas! too often might be ready to turn aside. In this case, happily, the brethren near at hand went along with him in heart. After wishing those addressed grace and peace, as usual, he speaks of the Lord in a manner singularly in unison with the object of the epistle: "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us" — not from judgment, not from the wrath to come, but — "from this present evil world." The evil that was gaining ground among the Galatian believers — legalism — links the soul with the world, and indeed proves it to be evil by giving present credit to the flesh, and association with all the system that is around us now. But in truth the Lord "gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever."
At once the apostle launches into the troubled sea. There is no recounting what God had done for them. There is no mention here of grace, nor even of any special powers conferred by the Spirit of God. We shall find he does not forget this elsewhere: he reasons on it in another part of the epistle. But his heart was too agitated not to betake himself at once to the point of their danger. Consequently, without further preamble, and with an ominous silence as to their state (for, indeed, it could not be spoken of), he at once breaks the ground. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another."
Mark how nicely every word was suited to deal with their souls. He speaks of "the grace of Christ." He warns against "another gospel," i.e., a different one, which was really none at all. It was not another, as he says. "But there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." And then he, indignant at such a thought, makes his most solemn appeals. "But though we" — Paul himself, or any that were associated with him — "though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." Nor this only. "As we have said before, so I say now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received." The apostle stands to the truth preached and received. What he preached was the truth as to this matter. He does not deny that others preached it; but if so, they preached the same truth. The apostle was given to preach the truth more fully than any other. To depart from this was fatal. Nor this only. If he had preached the full truth of the gospel, he insists that they had received it. He will not hear of any pretended misunderstanding. He refuses all cover for different thoughts. In either case "let him be accursed."
And he justifies this strength of warning: "For do I now persuade men or God? Do I seek to please men? For if I yet pleased men, I should not be a servant of Christ." Impossible to serve two masters! Christ never mingles with flesh or law any more than with the world. Bondage is there; and He is a deliverer, but it is to God's glory, and for His own service in the liberty of grace.
And now the apostle enters on another part of his subject. His account proves how independent he was of the very persons whom they would have desired to have seen associated with him. It was an offence in the eyes of the Jewish Christians, and perhaps specially of the Christians that Judaize, that the apostle had been so little at Jerusalem — that his intercourse was so scanty with the twelve. The apostle accepts the fact in all its strength. Far from wishing to gain credit, either for the gospel or for his own apostolic place, in consequence of being linked with those that had been apostles before him, he insists on that very independence which they counted a reproach. His is an apostleship to itself, as real as that of the twelve, but of another order, not at the same time, nor in the same manner. All sprang, no doubt, from the same God, from the same Lord Jesus Christ; but even so from God and from the Lord in other relationships. Very particularly was it marked by the manner of his call, that his apostleship had no connection with either the world or the flesh. It had nothing whatever to do even with the Lord Himself, in the days of His flesh, when acting as minister of the circumcision in the land of Judea. Invariably, where man seeks to bring in a successional apostleship, the twelve become the great model.
Hence it is that Rome, which most decidedly in principle rests on human succession (as all worldly religion must, to a certain extent, embrace the same principle) — Rome, I say, seeks to derive her authority, as all know, from Peter. No person can intelligently read the New Testament without perceiving the utter fallacy of such a system; for Peter was expressly, as the next chapter of this epistle tells us, apostle of the circumcision. So were the others that seemed to be the chief. If any apostleship would have served for the Gentiles, it ought to have been Paul's then; for Paul was the apostle of the uncircumcision. What a condemnation of themselves, that no system which ever seeks for an earthly succession can in the least make Paul answer its purpose! In his case the breach with man was evident; the association with heaven, and not Jerusalem, was too plain to be disputed or evaded. Successor to Paul there is none; if so, who and where? In the case of the twelve, we do find an apostle chosen to supply the gap of Judas — chosen, I admit, of God, though after a Jewish sort, as Chrysostom justly remarks, for the Holy Ghost was not yet given. I admit that this was all in place and season then for Jerusalem.
But at the same time it is plain that the apostle Paul here starts with the instructive fact, that the very thing for which some Judaizers then blamed him was the distinctive glory of that to which the Lord had called him. "I certify you, brethren," says he, "that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. For ye have heard of my conversation in times past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus."
Now, it is evident — and to this I call your particular attention — that the apostle here binds together his gospel with his apostolic place. This was the serious move of the enemy. You cannot attack such a servant without attacking his testimony. You cannot weaken his apostleship without endangering the very gospel that you have received yourselves. And this is always true in its measure, and shows the exceeding gravity of opposition where God raises up for His own special work in this world; but more particularly where, as in the apostle's case, the mere manner of his conversion, the special form of his separation unto God, bears the impress of the truth he was to preach. To impugn the one is to imperil the other. The Galatians did not think of this; people that are thus blinded by the enemy never do. To them, no doubt, it appeared as if they were zealous and sincere champions of unity. They were grieved to think that the Jewish church, with its twelve apostles and its elders, with its manifold links with antiquity and God's past testimony on earth, should seem separated in any measure from the apostle and his work. No doubt there was a difference of tone. Had a man come down from the teaching of the twelve, albeit inspired of God to write, as we know some of them were, and all of them having a most truly apostolic place, he might have been startled by the teaching of St. Paul. Can it be doubted that the special form of spiritual thought and feeling formed, for instance, by James's or Peter's teaching, yea, even by that of John, while harmonizing, where the heart was open, with the instruction of Paul, nevertheless would appear at first very different? We know how feeble and slow the heart is, and how apt disciples in general are to narrow the riches of the grace and truth of God. Even in Christianity how much need there is to remember what the Lord warns us of in Luke 5 — that no man accustomed to old wine straightway desires new, but says, The old is better. This was at work even in those early days. It had tainted among others the Galatians; for although, in point of fact, what had converted them was the heavenly testimony of the apostle Paul, nevertheless they had in time become acquainted with Christians who had not been so favoured, perhaps from the churches in Judea. Saints they may have been; and such, we know, moved about from Jerusalem. At any rate, the Galatians, naturally fickle, were quick to take up prejudices. They had somehow become uneasy. Those that were used of Satan, both to oppose the apostle in person, and also to distrust that testimony which they had not spirituality enough to appreciate, busily insinuated doubts into the minds of these Gentile brethren, and found too ready an ear among them.
Thus the apostle had to link together the gospel of grace with his own apostolic dignity; and we do well to take heed to this remarkable fact. With the utmost simplicity he shows that his own separation from man was a part of God's ways for the purpose of making more strikingly felt the great truth that he was afterwards to proclaim. He had been himself (could they deny it?) at least as zealous for the Jews' religion as any Jew of the straitest sect. He had made as much proficiency as any of his day — it may be, more. Who of his nation had advanced in Judaism beyond him? Who more zealous of the doctrines of his fathers? Therefore, it came to pass that there was nothing the apostle had not learned of which they boasted. He had been trained up under the most distinguished teacher — the great Rabbin Gamaliel; but "when it pleased him, who had separated him from his mother's womb, and called him by his grace, to reveal his Son in him." Mark, again, the strength of the expression. It is not simply that he was brought to follow Jesus, to believe and confess His name; but God revealed His Son in him. And we can all see how exactly the phrase falls in with the words of our Lord given in the Acts of the Apostles; for the wonderful truth burst upon the apostle's ear from the beginning, in the Saviour's call to him from heaven. The oneness of the saints with Christ Himself is, as we all familiarly know, clearly intimated. So here it is said that God was pleased to reveal His Son in him, that he might preach the good news of Him among the heathen.
Immediately, then, as it is added, he conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before him; but went into Arabia, and returned again, not to Jerusalem, but to Damascus, the place near which he had been called at first. "Then after three years," he says, "I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter." Surely now there was some link with the twelve! Not so. He went simply to make the acquaintance of Peter, and abode with him — how long? Fifteen days. Far too short a time, if it were a question of due initiation into the testimony of the twelve. But, in point of fact, he did not see the twelve. He saw Peter; but "other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." To this he gives the most solemn asseveration: "The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not." Thus he accepts the challenge that was given by unbelief. He heartily avows what they counted a defect; and not Only so, but with the greatest solemnity assures them that he had not seen the apostles, save only Peter, and James the brother of the Lord, and these but for a short space.
The apostleship of Paul, therefore, was entirely independent of Jerusalem and the twelve. He had derived the gospel that he preached from the Lord, and not from any of his fellow-servants who had been engaged in the work before him. Nor had he conferred even then with flesh and blood; his mission as well as conversion and call were alike independent of it. He had been called, as none could deny, in a way which not even any other apostle had ever known. Of none else could it be so said that "it Pleased God to reveal his Son in him." It was not thus that Peter or the rest were drawn to follow their Master. The language would not have been applicable when the other apostles were called. There was no question of revealing His Son in them then. The very utmost that could be said was, that God had been pleased to reveal His Son to Peter and the others. But there was no sense of union then. There was no consciousness of the identification of the saint with Christ. Accordingly, the language would have been premature and entirely beyond the conscious experience of the saints, or the real truth of the matter in the sight of God. But God took care that the call of Paul should be delayed till the whole order of the Jewish apostleship should be complete. He took care also that the twelfth apostleship should be filled up; for it is a profound mistake to suppose that Peter and the other apostles had been hasty in numbering Matthias with them, and that Paul was really the twelfth apostle according to the mind of the Lord. The truth is, that they had their relationship to the twelve tribes of Israel. This seems to have been the reason of their being twelve; and it is to me clear that our Lord establishes this as the true reference and key when He declares that, in the regeneration, the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and they shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. One of them fell from his place, but the vacancy was filled up directly.
Thus all had been duly prepared of God, with a far-reaching wisdom, to make the call of Paul an evidently and entirely separate thing, to make his apostleship as distinct in fact as in form; to give him fresh communications, even as to the Lord's supper, and to convey anew the very gospel that he preached as the revelation of the Son in him. The Lord did stamp the testimony of Peter as being truly the revelation of His Father. Flesh and blood had not revealed it. It was not a question of man's wit. His Father had made a revelation to Peter. What had been revealed? He revealed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. But, I repeat, this simply was revealed to him. You cannot go farther. Jesus, the rejected Messiah, was the Son of the living God, the giver of life, the quickening Son of God. In Paul's case the Holy Ghost could go a step farther, and that step He seems to me to take. The apostle states it with perfect calmness, and without comparing others. There is no depreciating of any soul, but the plain statement of the positive truth, which after all is the best and the humblest way, that most of all magnifies God, and edifies His children. So it was, then, that the apostle presents his own wonderful relation to Christ. It was not merely that Paul was lowered by the carping Judaizers — God's grace was being sacrificed. It was not merely that his apostleship was doubted — God's magnifying of His own Son was set at naught. It was the ungrateful heart of man that, in its avidity after something that would bring an appearance of strength and unity, would sacrifice that which was of heaven for what was after all connected with the earth and the flesh.
Another thing, too, let me just point out in passing. If ever there was a man who more than another contended for the oneness of the saints in every sense, — above all, for the one body of Christ, for the unity of the Spirit, — it was the apostle Paul. Nevertheless, there never was one that had a deeper sense of the importance of walking, if need were, alone with God. Be assured that it is the same simplicity of faith which enters into both these things now. On the other hand, where unity becomes an object, it is never understood; and at the same time the walk of faith cannot be maintained. In short, the man who, occupied with Christ above, enters for that very reason most into the blessedness of the body of Christ here below by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, is the very one that will know in fit season what it is not to confer with flesh and blood. No doubt this might be provoking to human importance sometimes. It might seem entirely despising his brethren. "Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood."
No doubt also his line of procedure did not at all consort with their desires, who were sticklers for earthly order, and a line that looks safe and respectable to natural eyes. What! an apostle, or at any rate one that says he is an apostle, setting aside what God inaugurated in Jerusalem, not even conferring with those whom the Lord Himself called by His personal summons here below? Here they might flatter themselves were plain tangible facts; here the amplest testimony on the Lord's part that the twelve are really His chosen apostles. But as for the apostle Paul, he says he was called, and this by his master from heaven; but by his own showing nobody heard the call of Christ but himself. One can readily conceive men of strong prejudice and of weak faith thus hesitating, especially in presence of the apostle's strong assertion of entire liberty from the law for the Gentiles. Consequently it is plain from the beginning, that the apostleship of Paul made a demand upon faith which the other apostolate did not. He was an enemy stopped in sovereign grace. He was not converted first, and then gradually led into that highest degree, but called at once to be an apostle as well as saint in a way that belonged to no one but himself. It was from and in connection with Christ in heaven. He acts on this in faith; he understands it with an energy and a brightness that increased even in his Roman prison.
But it was true from the first. "Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood." Had Paul gone up to present his credentials to the others, he would have lowered, obscured, and done as far as in him lay to destroy the special blessedness and peculiar glory of his apostleship. But he was not thus disobedient to the heavenly vision. And God held the reins that the truth might be kept unsullied and pure; and he goes south and north as the Lord guided His servant, but not to Jerusalem to those that were apostles before him. He visits Arabia and Damascus once more. Then after a certain lapse of time he does see Jerusalem, but no more than Peter and James, — not the apostolic college officially. And you will observe the immense importance attached to this simple account; for all here is plain matter of fact, but pregnant with the weightiest consequences as long as the church and the gospel last here below.
"The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ." Was this then a reproach? Be it so: such was true. It was really part of God's wondrous ways with him, as indicating the true character of Christianity and of its ministry as contrasted with Judaism. It was therefore not only for him, but for the instruction of the Galatians, and of us all. If understood, it completely cut all the earthly swaddling-clothes of the heavenly church, and of the Christian. Those who lived in Jerusalem were too prone to preserve the clothes and the cradle which had their place and use at first, but had no claim to be kept up among the Gentiles. Whatever might be the apostle's tenderness toward his nation elsewhere, not an earthly link but must be snapped. Accordingly the apostle lays stress on the fact that he was "unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me."
This, be it observed, was part of God's way with him beyond all others. There was no such thing as a gradual training. The other apostles enjoyed this more. They had followed Jesus in His earthly path of presentation to Israel. They had been by degrees instructed according to the testimony which the Lord Jesus was pleased to give; and most suited it was, of course, to the time, people, and circumstances. Anything else would have been imperfect; but still it had essentially a transitional character. It was partly directed to the hearts and consciences of the Jews, partly in view of the approaching rupture of all ties with Israel.
In Paul's case there was nothing of the sort. His testimony was characteristically though not of course exclusively heavenly, as it was also the witness of grace to the fullest. How could it be otherwise with one persecuting at the moment that he was arrested, in hot deadly opposition to God's church up to his most unexpected call from heaven? Thus is seen sovereign grace, and nothing else, as well as a heavenly link instantly formed between the Lord in glory and His servant on earth. No wonder that the apostle attached the greatest moment to the facts of his conversion and call, and that, instead of hiding his lack of familiarity both with the apostles and with the churches in Judea, he glories in it. It was through no such channel that he had his apostleship. Christ on high had called him. Such was the will of God the Father that had raised Christ from the dead.
Galatians 2. But we have a good deal more. He tells us that fourteen years after he again went up to Jerusalem. He went up with Barnabas, taking Titus with him. It was by revelation, not by summons from Jerusalem, or to acquire a title thereby. And "Titus," as he says here, "who was with me, being a Greek," etc. So far from this being the smallest allowance of Jewish prejudice, it was itself a powerful blow against it. Thus, going up with Barnabas, he took Titus, a Gentile, along with him; and even so by revelation. It was rather to have Gentile liberty secured by the twelve apostles, and that the Judaizers should be condemned by the church at Jerusalem. It was the very reverse of deriving his authority from either. He went up by revelation for the purpose of getting a condemnation in Jerusalem itself of those who would force Jewish principles on the church of God at large. The legal mischief had emanated from Jerusalem: the remedy of grace must be applied by the apostles, elders, and brethren there. It was a misuse of the respect naturally accorded to some who came from Jerusalem; and so God took care to correct the evil by a formal, public, authoritative sentence of the body there, instead of a pure and simple rejection of the error among the Gentile churches, which might have looked like a schism, or at least a divergence of feeling between them and the apostle Paul. It might have been inferred that Paul was to do what he could with the Gentile churches, but that the twelve exclusively cared for the churches in Judea, he consequently having nothing to do with them. But it is not so. The apostle goes up to Jerusalem, not only with Barnabas, who had come from thence, but taking with him Titus, who seems not to have been there before — Titus, his own valued companion in labour, but a Gentile. In fact, what Jerusalem had done, as far as this was concerned, was to let slip men that would impose circumcision — evil workers, as he in a later epistle contemptuously calls such like of the concision; for they were corrupting the Gentile churches by Judaism, instead of helping them in Christ.
Thus, then, God directed and ruled that the apostle should go up and have the evil condemned on the spot, and at the centre from which it had emanated. And when he went there, was it a question of receiving aught from the twelve? Nay; he communicated unto them the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles. It was not that they communicated to him the gospel they had learned from Jesus here below, but he communicated to them that gospel he was in the habit of preaching among the Gentiles. But it was in no vain glory, in no tone of superiority, though, no doubt, it was a far fuller and higher testimony than theirs; for he adds, "privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run or had run in vain." He granted that persons might indulge in some such thoughts about him. It was for the chiefs at Jerusalem to judge for themselves, and they did judge to the confusion of the apostle's adversaries. "But neither Titus [he takes occasion to say parenthetically], being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." And what was the result of all this? Why, that though there were "false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage," Paul did not give place by subjection even for an hour, "that the truth of the gospel might continue with them." For the foundation was at stake. "But of these who seemed to be somewhat." Here he takes up, not the mischievous troublers of the Gentiles, whom he does not hesitate to call "false brethren," but the highest in office he found there. "Of these who seemed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me)." It is interesting to note the earnestness and strength with which the apostle speaks, now the question had been fairly raised. Pungent, abrupt, indignant, he none the less was led of God. "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me; but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter," etc. A different issue ensued from their settling down in the mutual independence of the Gentile churches and the Jewish. "They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision." They thus acted and pronounced according to the evident intention of God conveyed in the character of their apostolates respectively.
Thus, it is seen, the truth was established. The apostle Paul interferes in no way with the work which God had given the others to do. He owned and valued, in its own place, the difficult, weighty, and momentous work which God had assigned to Peter, James, and the rest; but at the same time he stood firmly — humbly, of course, and lovingly, but firmly — for that which the Lord had assigned to himself and his colleagues among the Gentiles; and, so far from Christ's liberty having been in the least weakened, the apostolic conclave put their seal, with the whole church at Jerusalem, upon it most heartily. (Acts 15) As it is said here, "They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do." But this was not all. He mentions another fact, and of the greatest gravity, closing this part of his argument — that when Peter subsequently came down into the Gentile quarters, he had been himself affected by the subtle spirit of Judaism, i.e., the chief of the twelve! How little is man to be accounted of! And Paul, far from deriving his apostleship or aught else from Peter, was obliged to rebuke him, and this publicly. "When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed: for before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" I call your attention particularly to this, brethren, that an act apparently so simple as Peter's ceasing to eat with the Gentiles had such a solemn character in the eye of the apostle Paul, that he considered it a question of the truth of the gospel. Are you prepared for this searching judgment of what looked a small and indifferent matter? Do your souls go along with Paul's decision? Or are you inclined toward the easy-going yieldingness of Peter? Can you seize the gravity of this?
Remember what it must have been to one like Paul to censure the most honoured of the twelve. For Peter is not said to have withdrawn from the Lord's table where the uncircumcised met, but from the simple matter of eating with the Gentiles. The truth of the gospel, to the apostle Paul's mind, was at stake. Need it be added that he was right and Peter wrong? The gospel had brought in before God this double conclusion, founded on the first Adam and the last. It supposed, and went forth to every creature on the ground of the total ruin of Jew and Gentile. There was no difference: all had sinned. And it proclaimed the full and equally blessed standing of those who received Christ. There was no difference in the blessing of Christ: man's guilt and God's grace were alike indiscriminate. There was no difference either way. (Rom. 3, Rom. 10) But the act of Peter went to maintain a difference. The truth of the gospel, therefore, was compromised. And there were reasons why Peter was grievously in fault, particularly as he did no longer adhere to the law, but lived as one conscious of the freedom from it which the gospel gives those who believe in a risen Christ. Why then did he want the Gentiles to live as did the Jews?
The apostle accordingly now turns to the great argument of his epistle, and the discussion of those grand principles that are characteristic to Christianity, and in full agreement with the facts that have already been brought before you. "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." But then he goes farther. He says, "If, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore the minister of sin?" This would have flowed from Peter's conduct. Had Peter been right, it was evident that the gospel had put Peter in the wrong. The gospel had led Peter to treat the Jews and Gentiles all alike. The gospel had given him to sanction in his ways and words the overthrow of the partition wall. If Peter was acting rightly now, this had all been a mistake, and consequently the gospel — nay, solemn to say, Christ Himself — would be thus a minister of sin. Such was the serious but necessary import of Peter's act. Peter would have been horrified at such a conclusion. This shows us the exceeding seriousness of a step apparently so trifling as his abstaining from further intercourse with the Gentiles in mere ordinary life. The apostle's discerning eye at once judged by Christ and by that gospel which he had learned from Him. He habitually measured things not so much by their bearing on Jews or Gentiles as by their effect on Christ's glory. In point of fact, to bring in Christ is also best of all to secure the blessing, the privileges, the glory that God has in His grace for every one that believes. Paul was pleading for the real interests of the Jew just as much as of the Gentile; but he presses this most clenching argument — that Peter's conduct involved the making Christ Himself the minister of sin; "for if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor."
Then the apostle at once explains, as annexed to this, the real state of the case. "I through the law am dead to the law." As you know, he had been under law as a Jew. And what was the effect of God's giving him to have an application of law in his own conscience? Why, to feel himself a dead man. As it is reasoned out in Romans 7, the law came, and he died. "I through law am dead to law, that I might live unto God." The law in itself never produces such a result. All that the law can do, even when yielded by the might of the Spirit of God, is to force on a soul the consciousness of being dead before God. The law is never life to the dead, but kills morally those who seem alive. "I through law am dead to law." It is thus, then, that grace uses it to give me death in my conscience before God. Thus I am dead through the law. The Spirit of God can employ it to make a man feel that all is over with him; but He goes farther in grace, and by that very law brings the man in dead to the law, and not merely condemned. He through law died to law, that he might live to God! Here he comes to the positive blessing; for the Spirit cannot rest in what is but negative. But it is life after death to law, and consequently in another sphere.
He next announces the true secret of it all: "I am crucified with Christ." It is not merely that I have found in Christ a Saviour, but I am crucified with Christ. My very nature is dealt with. All that I have as a living man in the world is gone, — not, of course, as a mere matter of fact, but, what is far more important, as a matter of faith. The history of the flesh — its sad and humbling history — is soon over; but the history that faith opens into never closes. "I am crucified with Christ." This terminates all for me as a living man here below. "Nevertheless" — astonishing to say, for it could not be natural life — "nevertheless, I live." And what sort of life can this be? "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." How precious to have done with one's sinful self and to begin a life so perfect as Christ's! "And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
I have nothing to do with the law any more, even if I had been once under it as a Jew. For the law was used with killing power; and, slain as it were in my conscience, I found in that very place Christ Himself by the grace of God, — Christ that died for me; and not merely this, but Christ in whom I died. I am crucified with Christ: consequently all that remains for me is living this new life which Christ is in me. And this life is sustained by the very same person who is its source. "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me," etc. It is not a question of my loving Him, though this is and must be true of the saints; but this would tend to throw the soul on self, and it is not the reckoning of grace. What comforts the soul, what strengthens and keeps it up, is that He "loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Thus, as he says most emphatically, "I do not frustrate the grace of God;" they did, every one who substituted aught but Christ and His cross. Every one who went back from such a gospel as this was, as far as it went, frustrating the grace of God. "If righteousness come by the law," (he does not merely say, "come of the law," but come by it,) "then Christ is dead [died] in vain." Not so; it is exclusively of grace by Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. It is wholly apart from works of law.
Accordingly, in Galatians 3 he pursues his reasoning. "O foolish Galatians," he now breaks out in an impassioned appeal to them, "who hath bewitched you [that ye should not obey the truth should here vanish], before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth crucified among you?" Observe the place the cross has here, not merely Christ's blood, but His death on the cross. As we saw it in the Corinthians applied to judge the worldliness of the saints there, so here it judges their legalism. "This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" There are two things in the Christian; he has a life, a new life in Christ, but he has also, the Holy Ghost. The law kills instead of giving life, and puts under condemnation instead of giving that Spirit which is necessarily a spring of sonship and liberty. Having brought in the true character of the Christian's life as flowing simply and solely from Christ, and from Christ crucified too, so here he takes up the Holy Ghost. He was given, whether in power or in person, not by the law, but by the hearing of faith.
"Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain, if it be yet in vain? He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" There could be but one answer. This immense privilege had no connection with law whatever. The Holy Ghost is given as the seal of faith in Christ on the accomplishment of redemption, not before nor otherwise.
Then he takes up Abraham; for this is always the stock argument of those who would bring in circumcision and the law, Abraham being emphatically the friend of God and the father of the faithful. And mark how the Holy Ghost turns Abraham into an additional and most unexpected proof of the grace of God and the truth of the gospel. Only we must carefully bear this in mind, that in the epistle to the Galatians we never rise exactly to church ground. It is Christian ground, certainly, but not the church as such. Of course the same persons who are here in present view belonged to the church of God; but then they are not contemplated in their heavenly relationship, but as the children of promise, as we shall see in the end of this very chapter. There are many present privileges and future glories that belong to the Christian; and promise is one of them. We are not to suppose that a higher and more heavenly character blots out the lesser place; of this the apostle takes advantage here. But he proves more when he says that Abraham believed God; it was plainly not a question of law. Abraham never heard of the law. "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith" (not those that cry up the law) "are the children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith," not by becoming proselytes of the gate, or entering on a legal basis, but "foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." Later, and in a far fuller way now, the gospel was the blessed answer to this early grace. He does not say that it is the complement of it; but most decidedly it flows from the same divine spring of grace. The gospel, not the law, owns its kindred with the promise. "So then," says he, "they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham." The law holds out but never gives blessing. Those that are of faith, not those who pretend to the law and do it not, are blessed with their father.
But he goes deeply. He tells them that as many as take the ground of law — works are under the curse already. Not that they have actually broken down and failed; but so incapable is man of standing before God on the principle of doing the law, that it is all over with him the moment he pretends to it. "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." The consequence is, that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God; and this he proves, not only from the promise, but from the prophets. When the prophet speaks of any one living, it is by faith "The just shall live by faith." Hence, you see, all exactly suits the gospel as Paul insisted on it. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." He does not say, that the Gentiles were under that curse, but that Christ bought off us who were in this position from its curse; for in truth, whatever might be our boast, all we (the Jews) got from the law was a curse, not a blessing; and what Christ did for us was to purchase us from that awful plight in which the law could not but put us because we had transgressed it. And thus the blessing of Abraham could flow freely towards the Gentiles who never were there.
And this leads to another point, — the relation of the law to the promises. How do they stand related? and how do they affect each other? The apostle turns this into an admirable piece of divine reasoning in defence of the gospel. "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man's covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, no man annulleth or addeth thereto." Everybody knows this. When once a covenant is "signed, sealed, and delivered," it must not be meddled with. You cannot lawfully add to it, any more than set aside its provisions. "Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as to many; but as to one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant confirmed before by God unto Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, can not annul so that it should make the promise of none effect." Such is the application. "For if the inheritance be of law, it is no more of promise:" otherwise by the condition of law you would annul the promise. That is to say, the covenant that was made between God and Abraham had reference to the seed which was coming, symbolized by Isaac, but really looking onward to Christ. Nothing that God afterwards introduced annulled this. If the law, introduced afterwards, were allowed to exercise control, the effect would be to set aside the promise. It would be first adding to it, and not only so, but annulling it. The inheritance, therefore, depends on the grace of God fulfilling His promise, not on man's accomplishment of the law, even if possible. The promise is therefore entirely distinct from the law, which was not heard of for four hundred and thirty years after. The long lapse of time ought to have guarded men from mixing up the law with the promise, and thus from the appearance of annulling the promise by the law, for this would be most dishonouring to God. We can understand a foolish man making a covenant, and the next day repenting of it, which is never true of the divine purposes. In this case it was God that gave the promise; it was He that confirmed the covenant to Christ, without saying a word about the law till four hundred and thirty years after. How impossible, therefore, to add the law to the promise! Still less is it possible to let the law set its force aside. "To Abraham were the promises made, and to his seed."
This is exceedingly important, and the more as I believe the scope of the allusion to Abraham and to his seed is not often appreciated. The argument is founded upon the unity of the seed of promise in this connection. For God does speak elsewhere, and even on this occasion, of a numerous seed. One of the encouragements, as we know, which God furnished to Abraham was, that he should have a seed like the sand of the sea, and like the stars of the sky. These were his lineal posterity. But where the Gentiles are mentioned, God only speaks of seed without reference to number.
This is best seen by turning to Genesis 22, where both facts are found in the same context. I just refer to it for a moment, because it adds much to the beauty of the reasoning in Galatians. In verse 17 it is written, "In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore." At first sight it seems most extraordinary, if the apostle referred to such a Scripture for the proof of the importance of one seed; because, if there is anything that lies on the surface of the passage, it is the multiplicity of the seed — a seed expressly said to exceed all reckoning. This, then, is not what the apostle Paul has in view, but in contrast with it. And mark the difference. When God speaks of the seed numerous as the sand or the stars, He gives them a Jewish character of blessing. "Thy seed (i.e., the numerous seed) shall possess the gate of his enemies." God promises the final power and glory of Israel in the earth, putting down their foes, and so forth.
But immediately after this it is added, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. "Here we have the Gentiles expressly named, and to this the apostle refers. Mark it well. When God gives a pledge not of possessing the gate of enemies, when He speaks of the blessing of the nations, instead of the overthrow of Israel's foes, then he speaks simply of "thy seed." There is no comparison of countless seed; there is not an allusion to the sand of the sea, or to the stars of the sky. On this the apostle reasons.
What the Jews would have liked, no doubt, was power (and the Galatians, after all, were in danger of slipping into the same snare; for the law suits the world, as grace does not), and in the world present power and honour. This the Jews are destined to have by-and-by; for the promises to Abraham are not exhausted yet. Whereas the Holy Ghost by the apostle draws attention to the contrast of "thy seed" (as one) with the numerous seed, with earthly blessing attached to them; whilst to "thy seed" simply, without reference to stars or to sand, no more is annexed than the blessing of Gentiles. This it is to which we are come now under Christianity. By-and-by will be fulfilled the promised earthly blessing, and power, and glory for Israel like the sand and the stars. The Jews will surely be exalted, as well as converted nationally, and they will then put down their enemies, being made the head when other nations become the tail. But meanwhile, under the gospel, there is an express promise of the blessing of the Gentiles when God spoke of the one seed, which is Christ. Already "thy seed," the true Isaac, is given, and in that true seed the Gentiles are being blessed. It is no question now of being subject to the Jews, who shall never possess the gate of their enemies, but be peeled and scattered and few, while the gospel is going forth. The other part remains, and must be accomplished in its own day, when Israel's heart turns to the Lord. Meanwhile another and a better sort of blessing is given, as a better Seed also is given — the true Heir of all the promises of God, even Christ the Lord. And, doubtless, God had all this in view when He pledged Himself with an oath to Abraham. He did not forget His people Israel; but He had always the glory of Christ before Him; and the moment we rise up to this blessed Seed of all blessing (the true Isaac, dead and risen really, as the son of Abraham was then in figure), the blessing of the Gentiles is secured in that one sole person, before the Jews are multiplied in their land under the new covenant, and possess the gate of their enemies.
This then is the apostle's allusion and reasoning; but he proceeds to meet a natural objection. If the promise be the only means of enjoying the inheritance, what is the good of the law? Does not this make very light of it? You say that the promise is everything, and that the law cannot either set aside the promise or add other clauses to it. What then is the end of the law? It is for the purpose of bringing in transgression, answers the apostle. This is all that people's zeal and labour come to. They spring from unbelief — from undue thoughts of self, from ignorance of God, from slight thoughts of Christ. Legal activity is but labouring in the fire for vanity; and if, alas! the Christian dooms himself to such hard labour instead of resting in the faith of Christ, whom has he to blame? Certainly not God, nor His plain and precious word. He will gain transgression thereby; nothing more, nothing better. "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." Thus it is evident that the legal system is a parenthesis. Promise was before the law, and flowed out of the grace of God. The law came in meanwhile, serving its own object, which was to bring out what was in the heart of man. For he is a sinner; and the law called out the sin into articulate transgressions, and made it perfectly plain that the heart is only evil continually, and proves it by plain transgressions; that is all. Then comes the seed, and the promise is made Yea and Amen in Him — all the promises of God. As made under the law He was for Israel; but He died and rose, and was thus free to bless a Gentile as much as a Jew. For what has a risen man to do with Israel more than the nations? All question of natural ties drops in death; as the cross is the disproof of any right to Christ in either. For Jew and Gentile were alike guilty of crucifying Him. All therefore becomes a matter of the pure grace of God; and He is pleased to bless the Gentiles in the Seed, even Christ dead and risen.
The law is of a wholly different nature, and hence was ordained of angels in the hand of a mediator. The creature intervenes here, and the consequence soon appears. For he comes to another and most cogent argument. "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one." The meaning is that you never can get stability in blessing until you have simply God putting forth His own power according to His own grace. Leave room for God, and for God alone. Such is the only possible way in which blessing can be brought in, in order that such souls as we are should be blessed and maintained in it. And thus it is with the promise. In it there is one party, — even God Himself, who gave it, and accordingly fulfils it in that Seed to whom the covenant was confirmed. But the moment you bring in the law, you have two parties; and, strange to say, instead of the greater party being God, it becomes man, whose responsibility is to God. God asks, and man is called to give, i.e., is called to obedience. Alas! we know too well the result from sinful man. Grace alone in such a case brings glory to God. Thus, clearly, in the law man becomes the prominent and responsible party, not God. This never can bring man to God any more than glory to God. The law, accordingly, never was the truth, either on God's side, or man's. It was, of course, altogether just and right in itself. Man had his duty to God, and be ought to have done his duty; but it was precisely what he could not do, because he was a sinner. To make this evident by transgressions was the object of the law. It was to demonstrate his sinfulness, not to gain the inheritance. But this was only provisional and parenthetic. After all, what God had at heart was the accomplishment of His own promise in grace. When He gave the promise to Abraham, He said, "I will give." And now in Christ He has accomplished it — I mean already. But before He sent the promised Seed, man's self-confidence needed the discipline of the intermediate thing, the law; and after infinite long-suffering on God's part, the people who undertook to obey it had to be swept out of the land for their disobedience.
The law was given them with all pomp and solemnity. It was ordained by angels, who had nothing to do with promise, which God gave direct to His friend. When He had anything unfailing to do or say, He loved to appear in grace; He said it Himself, and did it for Himself. But when men would have anything fraught with distress to His people, when through their folly confusion must ensue, contrary to all that His heart loved, then it was left to others. Thus the law was ordained by angels in the hands of a mediator. A double intervention comes between God and man, in contrast with the simplicity of His ways of grace. In grace, God in the person of His Son speaks and accomplishes ALL; and thus He is glorified from first to last. Man is only the receiver; and truly, as we know, "it is more blessed to give than to receive." God reserves to Himself this great blessedness in the gospel; whereas under the law there was nothing of the kind. Then I must repeat that God could only make claims; and man had to take the place, if he could, of giving to God — of rendering his obedience. He was bound to do what he ought; but, in point of fact, all was a failure, and could be nothing else, because man was a sinner.
This then is what the law brought in. Is it against the promise of God? Not at all. Rather, if man had been able to obey the law and so acquire a title, then two systems would have interfered with each other as being to the same end. Some would have received the inheritance because of promise, and others on the ground of law. Thus the two totally opposite roads of grace and law would have been leading to the same result. This must be indeed confusion; as it is, there is none. Under law all is lost; under grace all is saved. The law and the promise are both from God, but the law's use is only negative and condemnatory. It cannot and ought not to spare sinners. The promise has another and most blessed place. It brings in deliverance for man in the accomplishment of God's purpose in Christ. This is what is found under it. Thus the law pulls down what is evil, and the promise gives what is good and builds it up. The law brings man in his nothingness into evidence, it proves that he is only a poor lost sinner. Grace brings out the faithful promise of God, and His goodness to him that deserves nothing. Thus, rightly understood and applied, the law and the promises, while wholly distinct, are in no way inconsistent with each other. Merge them, as unbelief does, and all is confusion and ruin.
Further, it is laid down, if there had been a law capable of giving life, righteousness would be by the law. But this could not be. On the contrary, "the Scripture hath concluded all under sin" — not under righteousness — by law. Thus, whether it be the Gentile without law, or the Jew with it, all are shut up under sin. "The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe."
But, he adds, faith is come (that is, the testimony to be believed by man now, or the gospel). This he means here by "faith." "Before faith came we [Jews] were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God." Instead of being under a slave, with rigorous and humiliating discipline, there is now the place of a child before his Father; the Christian stands by faith of Jesus in direct relationship to God. "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
This is shown still more fully in the allusion to baptism: "As many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." It is of course assumed that every Christian had been baptized. There was no doubt or difficulty on this head in these early days. There was no believer, Jew or Gentile, who had not gladly submitted to that very blessed sign of having part with Christ, and of that which is made good by Christ. "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." It is not a question of law at all. Christian baptism, contrariwise, supposes man dead; and the only death that can deliver man out of his own death is the death of Christ. Therefore, when a man is baptized, he is not, of course, baptized into his own death; there is no sense in such a thought. He is baptized into Christ's death, which is the sole means of deliverance out of his state of sin. So here the Christian puts on Christ, not the law or circumcision. He wants to get rid of the first Adam and all its appliances, not to keep it on; and therefore he puts on Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female;" all is Christ and only Christ. It is not an old creation, but a new one. Can anything prove that it is not an old creation better than this — that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, which last at least is an absolute necessity for the perpetuation of the race? All this vanishes in Christ; we are all one in Him; and if you are Christ's, what need to be circumcised! You do not want to become the children of Abraham in that sense, which would be the revival of the flesh. If Christ's, they were Abraham's seed already, "and heirs according to the promise;" for Christ, he had shown before, was the one true Seed; and if we are Christ's, we belong to that one true Seed, and therefore are the children of Abraham without circumcision at all. Nothing can be more conclusive than this disproof of the fleshly pretensions that were connected with Jerusalem, and were brought in under cover of Abraham, but really to the subversion of the gospel.
In Galatians 4 the relation is taken up, not of the law to the promise, but of the Christian now to the condition of the saints of old — a very important point also. Here one may be very brief: "The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children," etc. The comparison would take in the Old Testament saints; or the application ("even so we") is to those then alive, who had been under that state of things. "We, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world; but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The apostle shows that, so far from bringing in Christians and putting them on the ground of the Old Testament, God is really leading those who were in that connection out of it all by redemption. He fully allows that the Lord was both made of a woman and made under the law; but what was the ultimate object in view! It was not to keep people under the law, still less could it be to put any under the law, but to bring them clean out if they had been under it before. Such was the case with the Old Testament believers, and many Jewish believers then alive. Was it possible, then, that any could desire to put the Gentiles under law, when they had been brought out from it themselves by the will of God, the work of Christ, and the witness of the Holy Spirit? What a gross inconsistency! What a subversion, not only of the truth of God revealed in the gospel, but also of redemption, which is its basis! For Christ bought off those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons, bringing them by grace into a place of known salvation and intelligent joy in relation with our God and Father, out of that bondage and nonage which the law supposes.
But what about the Gentiles? "Because ye are sons." He does not condescend to reason about their place in the matter, but puts them at once in their due relationship. Because they were sons, God sent that blessed proof and power of their sonship. He gives freely the Holy Ghost on their acceptance of Christ's name; or, as it is here written, "He sent forth the Spirit of his Son in your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." That is, if the Holy Ghost was given as the seal of their redemption, and as the joy of the sonship, wherein they now stood, in the exercise of their nearness to God and enjoyment of His love, they cry, "Abba, Father," — the very words of Christ himself (but in how different circumstances!) to His Father. "Wherefore, thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
Thence he advances to another point of his argument. Indeed, we may say that now he thunders on the Galatians that were dragging in the law. Did they know that for a Gentile Christian to take up Judaistic elements is in principle to go back to heathenism? Heathenism! Why they thought they were becoming more truly religious, more reverent in their value for Scripture. They thought that Christianity would be all the better for adopting the ancient forms and beautiful figures of the law. Not at all, says the apostle, you are returning straight into your old heathenism without knowing it yourselves. For he had shown that our purchase by Christ delivers even the Jew from subjection to the law; whilst Gentiles are set at once on the ground of grace without the intervention of any legal apprenticeship whatever, "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" What can be conceived more serious or trenchant than such a statement as this? Impossible to find a blast more withering to all that they were aiming at. Born and bred in the abominable idolatries of the heathen, they were strangers to the institutions of Israel. They had been lately brought by the grace of God into Christianity, where they found Jewish brethren, now made one, as it is said, in Christ. Ignorant or false men had made them hanker after circumcision. What were they doing? When a Gentile Christian, mark, takes up such Old Testament elements, according to the Holy Ghost, it is not to him merely Judaism, but a return to his Gentile idols, little as he may think so.
Jewish elements were borne with in a Jew. The apostle Paul himself, in Rom. 14, insists upon the forbearance of a Gentile even towards the Jew that might be still encumbered by his days, meats, and so on. But the moment a Gentile takes the system up, or a Jew presses it on a Gentile, it is nothing but downright heathenism. Who would have ventured to say, without express scripture, that the old Jewish forms thus adopted by a Gentile believer have such an idolatrous character? Yet how true it is, the more we look below the surface; indeed, in our day it becomes more and more palpable to the eye. Ritualism is the present most patent comment on the apostle's statement. The very defence set up, and the meanings which these men put on the forms and ceremonies of which they make Christianity so largely to consist, demonstrate their most barefaced turning back to idolatry. Do not suppose that idolatry has its character saved because Jesus is worshipped. Christianity refuses to be mingled with anything but itself. Tender and comprehensive as Christianity is, it is also the most exclusive thing that can be. Truth must necessarily be exclusive, and all who hold the truth must, in their adhesion to it and Him who is its personal expression, be exclusive too. (I mean by this, of course, exclusive of sin and falsehood.) There can be no compromise; but to be exclusive in any sense save as the expression of the truth in Christ would be in its own way an utter and heartless falsehood. There is nothing that requires more the power of grace; for even the truth itself, if severed from grace, ceases to be the truth. Being found only in Christ, it supposes the manifestation of grace; light does not in the same way that truth does. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (Compare John 1:9 and 17.)
Now the Galatians were unwittingly in danger of giving up the truth. They were only, as they supposed, beginning to cherish a becoming attitude toward the religion of the fathers, and of all who had before Christ honoured God on earth. Venerable religion! — the only system of earthly worship which had ever possessed God's sanction. Why not adopt what was wanting in Christianity? Where was the harm of taking up what saints of old submitted to? No, rejoins the apostle; you are going back to heathenism. They had been idolaters before they became Christians; and to take up Jewish principles in addition to Christ is to turn back again to their cast-off idols. Next, we are told, wherein this consisted. "Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. What! is this all? I have known a divine who had a character for intelligence use these words as a motto and sanction. And no wonder. Christendom is built upon this footing. They think that it is quite right, for the church especially, to appoint days for this and that saint; to have certain seasons to remind one of the Lord's incarnation, ministry, and crucifixion, of His resurrection, ascension, and so on. I choose the best facts; for I have no wish to rake up abuses. All this is counted a great, wise, and sensible help to devotion. Well, "sensible" help in the meaning of an appeal to nature it is; but it is a sensible help to idolatry, not to living faith. This is the very evil which the Spirit of God so earnestly and energetically denounces here by the apostle Paul. He does not charge them with anything of an openly gross or immoral nature; but what a proof that the truth of God, that the grace of Christ, is exclusive of everything but itself! Nor is there a greater evidence of God's tender and considerate care for us than such a fact as this. For He knows our tendency to mingle law with grace in some form or measure, and treats that which was of the fathers and long before Moses, as a foreign ingredient deleterious to Christians. As God has wrought for us on the cross, and delivered us from every atom of sin in Christ, so He will not allow us to mix one earthly or legal element with the revelation of His grace, which He has made ours in redemption, and proclaimed to us by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
Hereon the apostle puts before them another expostulation: "I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." And this directly follows his censure of their observance of times and seasons. "Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are." They knew very well that he had nothing to do with the law or its ordinances. "Be as I am." By this he plainly means — free from law. "For I am as ye are." They were, after all, Gentiles, and as such ought to have had nothing to do with the law. So he calls on them to be as free of the law as himself. For he, though a Jew, had completely done with the law, and all that pertains to it. "For I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all." That is, the apostle, instead of regarding his despised freedom from the law as a just reproach, glories in it. There was no insult to him, nor injury done, in saying that he did not acknowledge the law for a Christian.
But, further, he refers in a very affecting manner to some personal circumstances — how in his own body he was a witness of having nothing to do with flesh; for what God had been pleased to put upon him as serving Him in the gospel was not great power of nature, but that which made him contemptible in his preaching. It is evident that the thorn in the flesh was something which left him open to a slight, and made it difficult indeed for any one to understand how a man who was called to be an apostle should find it hard to convey plainly his mind in preaching. It is quite obvious that there was a hindrance of some sort. It seems to have been something which affected his speech too, and exposed him to ridicule and to unfavourable comments where men were carnally-minded. But in this he could glory. It was something painful to bear. At first he prayed the Lord to take it from him; but no! though he had prayed thrice, as his Lord had done on another and wondrous occasion, so the apostle was to have communion with Christ in this way, and learn that there is something better than the taking away of that which makes nothing of the flesh. The power of Christ must rest upon him. Thus it appears that the Galatians as well as the Corinthians had been similarly affected. And this leads him to speak of another trial. When they first knew him, there was no difficulty felt on this score; they heard him as an angel of God. It was they who had changed, not he. They had so completely lost sight of the grace of Christ, the sweetness and the bloom of it, that he travailed again for them: his soul once more passed through that which had exercised him when they were converted.
Then he gives a closing blow to those who doted about the law. He says to those who would be under the law, why do you not listen to the law? Look at Abraham and his house; look at the maid Hagar; look at Isaac and Ishmael. There you have in a figure the two parties that are still found on the earth: the law party symbolized by Ishmael, the child of flesh; and those that cling to the grace of God, who have their pattern in Isaac, the child of promise. Now, what does God say about it? Why this: "Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, and the other by a freewoman." The apostle expressly reasons on Abraham, as they were always anxious to cite Abraham, the father of circumcision. Their main support then, as they thought Abraham, had two sons; but they stood, according to Scripture, on wholly different principles. "The child of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise." How apt the illustration for exposing the judaizers! The case is hit off exactly to the life. Which son represented them? Under which type did they fall — Ishmael or Isaac? Whom did their principle make them resemble?
There can be no doubt about the matter. "Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" "Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, which answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us [all?]. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath a husband." The application of this is as plain as it is conclusive, for those who appealed to Abraham and bowed to the word of God. Instead of going up to Jerusalem on earth, instead of endeavouring to effect a junction with the law or anything else here below, the gospel wants no such allies, but repudiates them all. The very reverse of their system is true. The true link is with Jerusalem above, as our prototype is Isaac, the child of the freewoman. Theirs was the slave's son — Ishmael.
Then, bringing in the name of Jerusalem, the Spirit leads him to apply the prophecy of Isaiah, which shows that millennial Israel (in their turn abandoning self-righteousness, and made free by God's grace in Christ) will look back and count as their own those now brought in as Christians, and find far more children begotten by the gospel, in the time of their own desolation, than even when they flourished of old, and had all that earthly power and glory could give. Thus a decisive blow is struck at the principle of connection with the law; and it was evident that they did not truly "hear the law." Their ears were heavy, and their eyes blinded by their legalism. Nor did they understand the prophets better. To be under law was fatal to Jerusalem. Everything lost then would be gained when promise has its way. Up to the destruction of Jerusalem it was law; but now, under Christianity, Jerusalem, being rebellious and scorning promise like Ishmael, is cast out and has nothing. She is desolate; she is no longer in the condition of the married wife, but like the fugitive bondwoman. She is as one that has no husband. Yet, wondrous to say, when she desires to be under grace by-and-by, all those that are now brought in by promise will be accounted as children to her. Such is the reasoning in which the apostle uses this very remarkable prophecy. When Jerusalem is humbled by the mercy of God, and betakes herself to her Messiah and the new covenant, she will "hear the law," and the prophets will be accomplished in her blessing, and in the largeness of love the present children of promise (even Christians, as being in a certain mystical sense children of Jerusalem) will be her boast. But this will be Jerusalem, under not law but promise and liberty, restored by grace after having lost everything by the law, and reduced to utter desolation. But for us now the apostle carefully adds the principle of our heavenly character. Ours is Jerusalem above, not a city on earth. That is, he links on the heavenly character of Jerusalem for us before touching on the desolate place of Jerusalem after the flesh, or of the predicted change of heart and blessing in grace, when she will be glad to appropriate, as it were, the Christians born now after the Spirit. This closes the course of the apostle's argument.
Next he turns to direct exhortation, the chief salient points of which will call for but few words. It is liberty and not law that the Christian stands in. At the same time he insists in the most peremptory manner that our liberty in Christ is to be used for holiness. He shows that the Spirit of God dwelling in the believer gives no license for the action of the flesh. In other words, if the believer simply were one forgiven by grace, without having either life in Christ or the Holy Ghost dwelling in him, he might, perhaps, plead that he could not avoid sinning. He had been brought to a place of blessing outside himself and by another, the Saviour, which in itself gives the soul motives indeed but not power; whereas, for the soul who is brought to God by the gospel, and planted in the liberty wherein Christ makes free before God, it is no more a question of flesh, but of the Holy Ghost who is given to him. And who will venture to say that the indwelling Spirit of God fails to supply power to him who submits to the righteousness of God in Christ? Hence the point is not at all whether we have intrinsic power, but whether He is not now abiding in us as "a Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." — Undoubtedly such is the assurance of God's word to His children; and thus Galatians 5 is in contrast with Romans 7. In that chapter of Romans we have a man converted indeed, but without liberty, and consequently powerless. He sees the right, feels the good, desires the holy, but never, accomplishes. The reason is, that he has not yet come to own by faith that he has no strength any more than righteousness, and that Christ is all and in all. He is afresh making efforts to improve, yet still in bondage and misery. He is occupied with himself. He feels what he ought to do, but he does it not, and thus is increasingly wretched. Sense of duty is not power. What gives power is the heart surrendering itself in everything, and thus set at liberty by Christ. I am perfectly delivered, and the measure of my deliverance is Christ, and Christ raised from the dead. This is Christianity; and when the soul thankfully accepts from God this blessed liberty, the Holy Ghost is given to and acts in the believer as a Spirit of peace and power; so that if there is the flesh lusting against the Spirit, the Spirit resists this, in order that (for such is the true meaning) they should not do the things that they would.
Accordingly he draws from this a most weighty argument against bringing in the law as the rule of life for the believer. You do not need it, because the Holy Ghost thus working strengthens you unto love. Liberty comes first, mark; power and love afterwards. And how true all this is! Make a child thoroughly happy, and you will soon see that its duty becomes comparatively light and a joy. But when one is miserable, does not every duty, even where it may be as light as a feather, feel as if it were an iron chain on you? It is no wonder that one who is thus tied and bound feels restive under it. Far otherwise is God's way with souls. He makes one first thoroughly happy in the sense of His grace and the liberty Christ has won, and then the Holy Ghost becomes an indwelling spring of power, though His power is put forth in us only as we have Christ kept before us. Thus, if we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the desires of the flesh. Such is the secret of true power. The consequence is, "If ye are led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law;" and more than this, if we are producing the fruits of the Spirit, he can easily say, "Against such there is no law." Let others talk as they will of the law, no law can censure the real fruits of the Holy Ghost, or those in whom they are found.
Then we come to the closing chapter (Gal. 6); and here we find the Spirit of God calling for tenderness in dealing with those who are overtaken in a fault. "Ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Besides, we have a more daily duty: "Bear ye one another's burdens." It is not merely to seek in love a fallen brother, but to be the succourer of others in their difficulties. Love finds its activity in caring for those that are cast down, "and so fulfils the law of Christ." Do you want a law? Is not this just the law for you! It is the law of Christ. Thus He lived and moved here below. The law of Moses tells a man to do his duty in his own place. The law of Christ makes the going out of love towards another, so to speak, to be his joy. It was exactly what Christ was on earth; and the expression of Christ is the prime call of the Christian.
But there is more for us. He shows that God would give us a deliverance from self-importance; and what a mercy it is to be so blessed, that one can afford to forget one's self! Now, the law always brings fallen man into importance: such it must be in its principle. The law necessarily makes the man, and the man's doings, to be the prominent object. Hence the effect of the law in all its ramifications on man is the same. Thus it wrought among the Galatians. After all their vapouring about the law, they were biting and devouring one another. Was this the love the law claimed? Had they been occupied with Christ, they would have really loved one another, and in other respects too fulfilled the law, without thinking about themselves or it. Such is the effect of Christianity, and such in perfection was Christ Himself. But spite of, or rather because of, their use of law, they were self-important, without holy power, and judged instead of loving each other. How abortive is man in the things of God! "For if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden." Thus, whatever may be the energy that seeks souls in love, there is nothing after all like Christianity for maintaining individual responsibility intact.
How wholesome is the language here, "Every one shall bear his own burden!" But responsibility is always according to the relation in which one stands, and the measure of knowledge which each possesses, or ought to possess. Let me press this gravely upon those who are here this night. If I am a man, I am responsible as such; being fallen and sinful, this will end in judgment. If I am a Christian, I am responsible according to that position and privilege. My responsibility is defined by the place in which I am found. If I am a mere man, a sinner, the end of that is (for responsibility is not like power, destroyed by sin) the eternal judgment of God. If I am a Christian, I acquire a new kind of responsibility. My business is to act consistently with the new place in which grace has put me. Let us never confound the two. One of the most dangerous errors in Christendom is, that these two things are lumped together. The truth is the distinctive boon and mark of Christendom. There is now much confusion of things that differ; and so, more or less, error runs through the whole of it in all its parts; but I know not anything more ruinous than this. The most difficult thing in Christendom is for people to know what it is to be Christians, and to take this place by the faith of Christ themselves. That is, the most simple and most obvious truth is just the last thing a man thinks about. And no wonder. What Satan aims at is, that people should not count themselves what they are, and that they should be always slipping into what they are not. The result of this is, that neither God has His place, nor they. All is confusion. Christ is forgotten.
But then there is another point of exhortation too; and surely we ought not to forget that there are not only the common links of love, and the willingness to succour one another, as we see, beginning with a most extreme case and ending with a general one; but still further, "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things;" and not only that, but also the general responsibility of the saint and in a solemn manner. It is not only that we are put now where we can be the witness to grace in all its outgoings, but, besides that, we are where flesh might show itself. And this is a universal principle. If I sow to the flesh, I shall of the flesh reap corruption; if I sow to the Spirit, I shall reap life everlasting. Eternal life is beyond doubt the gift of divine grace; but, besides, the eternal life that I have now by pure and simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what I find at the end of my course as well as at the starting. There is such a thing as, by patient continuance in well doing, to seek for eternal life. Eternal life is spoken of in this double way in scripture (Rom, 6:22-23); and I also press this as a truth of no small importance and but too much forgotten.
Then, further, attention is drawn to another topic — his own writing of this letter. It was a very unusual circumstance. The apostle, as far as I know, wrote no other letter to any one of the churches of the saints. To the Galatians there was an exception. If he wrote to the Romans, it was transcribed, or at any rate written, by another. He signed ordinarily, putting his subscription at the end, i.e., his own name, to verify it; but he did not write it. Writing was a somewhat laborious task in those days, and it was a kind of profession to be a writer or scribe, before printing, of course, was known. Now the apostle in writing to the Galatians was so moved in love, and so yearned over them in their danger, that he actually wrote the epistle with his own hand. He draws particular attention to this fact ere he closes: "You see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand." Thus it was the ardour of love and grief; it was the earnestness of his purpose that could not bear in this instance to employ an intermediary. Just as he had shown that God in His love to man had given the promise direct, so the apostle Paul acts in his care for the saints of God where all the foundations were endangered.
Finally, he concludes by putting the sentence of death, if I may so say, on circumcision, and all such as might adopt it. He intimates also how vain a thing is legalism, because those that were pleading for circumcision in no case carried out their own principle. Bring in one part of law, and you fall under the authority of the whole. You are bound to carry it out consistently. This they never thought of doing. The enemy had ensnared them by crying up circumcision, in order to betray them into a link with Judaism; but they had no thought of bearing the real burden of the law. As for himself, he gloried only in the cross. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Along with the cross goes a new creation. How blessed, and how all-important for our souls! The cross has sentenced the world; and this very sentence of the world is our deliverance from the world. We are crucified unto it by grace, as the world is crucified unto us by judgment. For the world there is nothing yet executed, any more than the great results of grace for the saints as yet appear in their fulness. The solemnities of Christ's judgment await men in the day of the Lord. But the whole matter is decided before God. And this is of immense moment to remember. Christianity brings everything to a climax; it also settles all questions. The Christian by the cross of Christ has terminated his connection with flesh, with the world, with the law. He is brought into another condition. And what is this? He is a new creature in Christ. Therefore, no wonder that he says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ."
At the same time it is shown to be, not what it might seem, a negative power only, but along with it is the new creation into which grace forms us. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." Gentiles might boast in their freedom. What ground is there for boasting in this? In Christ alone, in His cross, let us boast, and in the new creature which is by Christ. Therefore the apostle adds, "And as many as walk according to this rule [that is, the rule of the new creation], peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." Those that walk according to this rule would be saints in general. The "Israel of God," I apprehend, would mean, that the only part of Israel whom God owns now consists of those that really are of faith — those that received Jesus. It is not a vague general expression for all saints, but implies that fleshly Israel was nothing now. If any of them believe in the Crucified, they were God's Israel. Soon all will believe in Christ, and all Israel be saved. But this is a future prophetic vision not touched on here. The new creation is a present blessing that the soul already enjoys. It is an actual result of the cross of Christ. Consequently we have no allusion to the Lord's coming in this epistle to the Galatians. It is all devoted to the deliverance of the saint from this present evil age by the cross of Christ, and his consistent maintenance of the new nature and position of grace — of the new creation in Christ Jesus.
May the truth of God sink into our hearts! Thus all things fall into their place, and the Spirit connects us in heart with that which God is doing and will do for the glory of Christ. The apostle had heard enough of circumcision: it was repulsive to him henceforth. It was his to bear in his body a very different brand — "the marks of the Lord Jesus," the scars of the only warfare that is precious in the sight of God the Father. Lastly, he desires for his brethren, that "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" might be with their spirit. Nothing more in keeping with the wants of those addressed, who had so soon turned aside from the grace of Christ to a different gospel.