"I, Not I"

The apostles are the doctrinal foundation of the Church. We are "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone."

Whilst, in the mercy of God, the apostles were inspired to teach with authority the doctrines connected with and flowing from the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, they present themselves to us as disciples in the school of Christ, learning under Him, as their Master, the value and preciousness of those doctrines, to the instruction of their own souls. This gives a peculiar character to apostolic teaching. It is, not like a master occupied in the laborious task of teaching, a pupil certain rudiments in which he takes no interest himself, but as one finding an increasingly absorbing, interest in that which he teaches others. Thus the apostle Paul, in writing to the Philippians, says, "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe." It, was safe for them that the apostle should teach them "line upon line, line upon line;" but this was not irksome to him; his one subject was the Lord, and joy and confidence in Him. He was, therefore, writing from a heart filled with that in which he desired others to participate.

There are occasions in which the apostle Paul turns from a general statement to his own individual apprehension or experience of the doctrine he is propounding. Of this we have one very notable instance in the seventh chapter of his epistle to the Romans. In that chapter he is discussing the question of law - taking up under one view the previous passing notices of "law," and proving that which he had asserted. In Romans 3 he had asserted, "By the law is the knowledge of sin." How amply is this proved in Romans 7, "I had not known sin but by the law." Again, in chap. 3, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law." But how it is established we learn not till chap. 7, when the weighty conclusion, "The law is holy," is brought out against all man's reasonings to shift responsibility from himself, and to cast blame on the law. In Romans 6:14 we have the statement, "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace." How fully is it demonstrated in chap. 7, that one quickened by the Spirit, if he knew not redemption, and were set under law, would yet be under the dominion of sin.

But how does the apostle conduct these demonstrations? This is the interesting point. He is not only the demonstrator, but the subject of the demonstration; not only the teacher, but the scholar; not only the asserter of a broad, general principle, but, in his own person, the exhibition of the power of that principle. The change from "we" to "I," in this part of his writing - from truth generally recognized, to that very truth known in power in the individual conscience - is very noticeable. It is a great thing to bow the mind to the authoritative declarations of the word of God; but when that same word, as "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," enters into the conscience, and demonstrates itself as the word of God by laying us naked and bare before Him with whom we have to do; then do we justify God in His sayings, and clear Him when He is judged. God has been pleased to teach us what law necessarily is when applied to man in his actual condition (either as "in the flesh" or as quickened by the Spirit), by allowing one under the most favourable circumstances so to experimentalize on himself as to be able to hold up himself as an illustrious proof of the doctrine he teaches others. Saul, the persecuting Pharisee, by the aboundings of the grace of God over his sin, becomes Paul, the minister of the gospel of the grace of God, and the expounder of law as the strength of sin. Under the law himself, and knowing redemption through the CROSS of Christ as his deliverance from under the power of a most grievous and galling yoke, he could sympathize with those who were still groaning under the same yoke. Them that were under the law he approached, as full well knowing what it was to be under the law; and that too in a much deeper sort, by his deliverance from it, than when he was actually under it.

There is a brief but interesting period noticed in the Acts, in which, it can hardly be doubted, Saul the Pharisee went through a deep and searching process. "He was three days without sight; and neither did eat nor drink." A brief period; but if the Lord be the teacher; if He is taking in hand a man, even as a wild ass's colt to tame and break in; if He is showing that there must be an entire surrender unto Himself, and that every effort at self-justification is a fresh kick against the pricks, and only adds to our own misery, what depth of truth may not be learned in so brief a period!

Saul was arrested by the glory of Jesus and by the voice which said to him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?" He "asked, "Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"

Saul was then in a singular state for three days - blind to all external objects, and secluded from society. He knew that the despised Jesus was the Lord of glory, and that he had persecuted Him; but as yet he knew not fully the grace of the Lord Jesus, and his own need of that perfect grace. The thought still pressed on him, "What wilt thou have me to do?" How innate is this thought in man, the moment he begins to have to do with God. But this innate thought had, in Saul, been strengthened by his previous training under the law. Like those who were attracted to Jesus by His satisfying their hunger in the wilderness, he could understand labour on his part, but not GIVING on the part of the Lord. (John 6:27-28.) But now, Saul had to see light in the light of the Lord. The law itself would appear in a very different aspect, since the Lawgiver was revealed, from what it did before. Tenacious of the law, persecuting Jesus (in His disciples) in his zeal to maintain it, he had never really known what the law was. At the very time he was most self-satisfied as to his righteousness in the law, he really was "without the law." But now, having seen the Lord, the law too comes in its proper light. "The commandment came;" it flashed upon him in all its length and breadth: instead of having kept it, he now finds by it the knowledge of sin; and he "establishes" the law, in his own righteous condemnation. "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." … "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." "What wilt thou have me to do?" must be given up; no one can attain to the knowledge of righteousness in that way. By the law can only be the knowledge of sin.

At the end of the three days, through the ministry of His servant Ananias, the Lord, even Jesus, removed the scales from his eyes, and filled him with the Holy Ghost, and gave him another sight, even to see that same Jesus whose glory had overwhelmed him, in all the fulness of His grace, and as being Himself to him the righteousness of God - a righteousness far higher than that he had hoped to attain by the law. (See Phil. 3:9.)

But did this knowledge of righteousness put the law in a more favourable light? or did it only tend to make it known in a deeper power of condemnation, so that death to the law and deliverance from it, by the body of Christ, became an equally apparent necessity, as death to sin, by Christ's having borne his sins in His own body on the tree? What says Paul, with his eyes open, and filled with the Holy Ghost? "We" (viz., all quickened by the Spirit) "know that the law is spiritual;" it is intended to reach the thoughts and intents of the heart, and the spiritual acquiesce in, the exposition of the Lawgiver Himself as to its exceeding breadth. (See Matt. 5.)

The apostle, however, passes from "We" to "I." His new perception of the law gives him, at the same time, a new perception of himself. "The spiritual man judgeth all things," and to judge himself is one of the main offices of this power. And now, what is Saul the Pharisee as seen in this new light? "I am carnal, sold under sin." The application of the spiritual law to such a subject only tends to bring out his misery in the strongest relief. It is now something more than, "the commandment came." It is "the holy, just, and good commandment," making manifest "that sin dwelleth in me;" so that with my knowledge that the law is spiritual, if even now put under it, "sin would have dominion over me." See my honest struggle. It shows how I consent to the goodness of the law, how entirely I acquiesce in its demands. It is no less my happiness than my duty, to love God with all my heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and my neighbour as myself. But the moment that I, in earnestness of purpose, make the effort to fulfil this, I am made conscious of a counteracting force in me, too strong for me to contend with, and I am aroused to the consciousness that "sin dwelleth in me." It is no accident, no habit, but an innate principle. I am forced therefore to separate myself from myself. "It is no more I, but sin that dwelleth in me." Such a discovery, made under honest struggle, is very different from the reception of the doctrine that sin dwelleth in us, and the use of this as an apology for sin. There is the difference, between "we know" and "I know." The one is the knowledge of that which is true, the other the truth applied to the individual conscience by the Holy Ghost; and where He teaches, the truth is never handled lightly. "For I know," says the apostle, "that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." The Lord Himself had ruled that "the flesh profiteth nothing." Brought into closest contact with the Spirit, instead of being profited thereby, it only shows its contrariety and resistance. If, says the apostle, I not only consent unto the law in my judgment, but even delight in it after the inner man, it makes me acquainted with the depth of my misery, and forces me to cry out for deliverance. With the judgment convinced of the excellence of the law, and the affections engaged unto its goodness, and with an honest desire of getting the better of sin by the means of it, I find myself inexpressibly miserable, a slave to a tyrant that will not let me go, and from whom I cannot emancipate myself. It is true, I can say, "It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me." But this does not satisfy. I want deliverance from myself, and am forced out of myself to find it in another, even in Christ Jesus. Redemption through His finished work alone meets my deeply-discovered necessity as a sinner; and I am forced out of the place of a doer, into the humble, yet happy, place of a receiver. "Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace."

If the question be raised, Must every one quickened by the Spirit go through this painful process? the answer is, that this is the necessary experience of honest legalism - even miserable bondage. But where deliverance is known, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the recognition of the doctrine, and experience of the fact, that "in my flesh good does not dwell," is even more deeply learned than in the honest struggle against "sin that dwelleth in me." The disciple of Christ learns to justify God, in His wisdom in the CROSS of Christ. He is made increasingly conscious, that nothing short of a complete redemption, in and by Jesus Christ, meets his case. Self, in his thought, becomes identified with sin; and he loathes self, rejoices in Christ Jesus, and has no confidence in the flesh. Let the eye be turned from Christ to self, darkness and misery are the necessary results. We have no power against self, but by looking to Jesus. It is a deep, solemn, humbling truth, that the natural constitution of man is, that he is under "the law of sin and death," and that no effort of his can alter his constitution or extricate him from its misery; and more than this, that the good law of God, when honestly appealed to for help, only makes him sensible of the real misery of his condition. "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" alone makes "free from the law of sin and death." I may analyze this constitution of man, and be thereby enabled to say, "Not I, but sin that dwelleth in me;" yet this is not deliverance, but misery. If I want deliverance, I must look to another source, even the grace of God in Christ Jesus. "I thank God through Jesus Christ."

But the apostle, the great teacher of the CROSS of Christ, he who determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and HIM CRUCIFIED, presents himself also as a disciple, deeply learned in that wondrous doctrine which he is so delighted to preach.

It is no uncommon thing for even believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to get under the law. The earliest inroad on the grace of the gospel, was the attempt of certain men from Judea to teach the brethren: "Except ye be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses, ye cannot be saved." (See Acts 15) The Galatian converts had been fascinated by this doctrine, so taking and specious that, under some form or other, it has been found in all ages corrupting, as leaven, the pure doctrine of grace.

With the law, the apostle had done; every expectation from it had been cut off; he knew it as the ministration of death and condemnation, and the power of sin. He dared not build again the things he had destroyed, and constitute himself a transgressor, by asserting the law as in force over believers, when he had shown their deliverance from it, through faith in Christ Jesus. "For I," says the apostle, "through the law, am DEAD to the law, that I might live unto God;" an impossibility, if the law yet stood between him and God; but not only a possibility, but, as it were, a happy necessity, if, instead of the law, he saw Jesus to be the way to God, even Him who had "suffered the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." He then proceeds, as a scholar who had made great proficiency in the doctrine of the CROSS, and as a saved person who had learnt it as "the power and wisdom of God:" "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet NOT I, but Christ liveth in me." Saul, the Pharisee and legalist, had come to his end, judicially, in the CROSS of Christ. All that Pharisaism and legalism had done, or could do for him, was to lead to condemnation. That condemnation had passed on Him on the CROSS. When Jehovah made His sword to awaken against "the Man my (His) fellow," it pierced Jesus, but it pierced Him as the sinner's Substitute. It was the act of God Himself, to "make Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

The anticipation of the CROSS cast a deep shade on the whole ministry of Jesus. He knew wherefore He had come. He knew what awaited Him, even that baptism which so straitened Him till it was accomplished. He knew the holiness of God, for He was Himself God. He knew the hatefulness of sin, as that which was most opposite to God. He knew the wrath of God, as it must needs meet sin. And with such perfect knowledge He recoiled, as it were, from the CROSS. A martyr does not recoil from the stake; but in the stake there is no wrath of God, no hour of darkness, such as passed over Jesus when He lost the sunshine of God's presence; no desertion, such as Jesus felt when He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It was a divine impossibility that the cup He so dreaded should pass from Him. He bowed His head submissively, and drank it up. Now when the apostle says, "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST," he "arms himself with the same mind;" and not only acquiesces in what God had done in the CROSS, but acknowledges the divine impossibility of any other way of justification before God. God Himself must be the justifier; righteousness in any other way is an impossibility. Saul must be set aside. Christ must appear. It is a divine impossibility that flesh should glory in His presence. Paul, then, justifies God in the CROSS; he acquiesces in the divine necessity of setting him aside. Saul, the Pharisee and legalist, is dead and buried out of sight; bring in the law, and you revive him in all his sin and shame. We shrink from the CROSS, in this aspect; it bears hard upon us! But when we bow and take it up, what peace and calmness possess the soul! It is written, "Knowing this, that our old man is CRUCIFIED WITH HIM." We receive the doctrine, and bow to its authority. But are we disciples? Can we take the place with Paul, and say, "I AM CRUCIFIED with Christ"? Has the necessity which drove us to the cross, because of there being no other way of escape, changed into admiration of the doctrine, so that we pursue it with intense interest, so that the more we learn, the deeper the doctrine appears? The CROSS of Christ is a wonderful school; the deepest intelligence of the renewed mind cannot sound its depths. But as we go on in this school, it is the truth which, at one and the same time, exercises our conscience and engages our affections. Well may another apostle call upon us to "gird up the loins of our mind," and intently and reverently study the sufferings of Christ, and the glories to follow - things which angels desire to look into.

Is then man, as he is in Adam, to be set aside? Are all his aspirations after greatness and wisdom, not only to be disappointed, but to end in his judgment? Such is the truth proclaimed by the CROSS; such is the lesson learned in the school of the CROSS. "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST." But is this bitter disappointment? Is there nothing to be expected from the flesh? Nothing. "The flesh profiteth nothing." "Forasmuch as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." But it is not bitter disappointment, though it cost many a struggle to acquiesce in the wisdom of God in passing sentence on the flesh in the CROSS of Christ, and many a hard struggle too, for ourselves practically to authenticate this sentence. To learn, under the teaching of the Spirit, to say, "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST," is the repose of the soul, and the spring of all true Christian energy. No one can say, "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST," without also saying, "Nevertheless I live." But is "the old man" again alive? Is Saul the Pharisee risen up from under the judgment of the CROSS, again to justify himself, again to seek righteousness by deeds of law, again to be in bondage to ordinances, or to live upon that which he himself can do? Not so; the old man is condemned and executed. It is not "I," the old man, "I," the Pharisee, "I," the legalist, "I," the moralist, "I," the religionist. It is "I, NOT I." "CHRIST liveth in me." It is strictly a new life, not drawn from Adam or any earthly source, but from Christ risen; a life heavenly in its source and in its aspirations - such a life as the highest human aspirations cannot even "conceive." The higher those aspirations rise, they only the more distinctly show the immense gap, impossible for man to traverse, between man of the highest order in Adam, and "Christ liveth in me." Is Jesus risen and at the right hand of God, and equally above man in whatever rank, condition, or, pretensions, on earth? So is this wonderful being, who thus describes his being, "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST, nevertheless I LIVE; Yet NOT I, but CHRIST LIVETH IN ME," equally above every other being; and by reason of this, his essential dignity, he can afford to take the lowest place here. This "honour cometh from God only."

"I, NOT I." If "Christ liveth in me," then this life has its object, its food, its pursuits; it cannot be satisfied with that with which the old man sought to be satisfied; it can neither be nourished by its own works, nor by ordinances. It must have an object, and food, and pursuits congenial to it. All these are found in Christ. "The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." The life now lived is not in its native climate; nothing around it really ministers unto it. It is a life pre-eminently "of faith." That same Jesus, the Son of the living God, who in heaven will be the one absorbing object, is the one absorbing object to faith now. Would any be kept from the bondage of legalism, it must be by looking unto Jesus. It is not a speculative life; on the contrary, it is a life full of affection; for its object is Jesus, as the disciple (rather than the apostle) adds, "who loved me, and gave Himself, for me." The affection of Jesus to us draws forth ours to Him. The love of Jesus, when He was here, found its activities amidst all the miseries of this world; and if His love produces the like in us, he who is most living by the faith of the Son of God, will be most active in the midst of the misery of this world, because, as the disciple of the CROSS of Christ, he has learnt that nothing short of divine love can meet its miseries.

If the apostle, enabled deeply to analyse the workings of law on one quickened by the Spirit - to know it as the strength of sin, could account for the deep, inward struggle by this principle, "I, NOT I" - "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me;" as a disciple deeply instructed in the doctrines of the CROSS, he instinctively repudiates the thought of attributing life to Adam (the head of the family of death), and corrects himself, as it were, when he Says, "Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." "I, NOT I!" what deep doctrine is contained in the expression. Have we, as disciples, made such proficiency in the school of the CROSS as to ascribe all evil to ourselves, all good to Christ - sin and death in us, life, and righteousness in Him? "Every good and perfect gift cometh down from above." Nothing perfect ascends up from man to God.

"I, NOT I!" It is a great practical principle. If the apostle says, "I speak as a man," or "Ye walk as men," he uses the expression disparagingly; it is not the high ground of one who has been CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST, but, nevertheless, IS ALIVE - in whom CHRIST LIVES. He has come down from divine to human motives. If he speaks about himself, he says, "I speak foolishly." Surely it were folly to speak of self, instead of Christ, unless compelled to do so, as the apostle was. But in his labours he still remembered, "I AM CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST," and where "I" would, almost necessarily and innocently, appear, the corrective comes in, "I, NOT I." Had he even to vindicate his apostleship, in writing to the Corinthians; as, likewise, to set before them that the gospel which he preached hinged on the resurrection of Christ, and that, touch that fact, the gospel was gone; he brings forward the witnesses to the resurrection (living witnesses), and then adds, "Last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet NOT I, but the grace of God which was with me." Deep scholar, indeed, in the grace of God; well instructed disciple in the doctrine of the CROSS! The doctrine of the CROSS was not used by this disciple to set self aside as to judgment only, but to set self aside where it would fain show itself as though the Lord needed our help, our zeal, our energies. It is a hard lesson to learn, not to look with complacency on our labours for Christ, and for the blessing of others, instead of looking to "the travail of His soul."

"I, NOT I!" What mixed motives do we discover in ourselves! Where love should constrain, how often is there vanity and self-seeking! There is a vast amount of activity at work in the things of God; may it be increased; but it is only as the grace of God is with us, that any effectual work is really done. "Not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Labour in the Lord is not, cannot be, in vain. It will stand, and be made manifest in that day. Let there be all activity, and diligence, and patient painstaking; but when "I" would be prominent, then the CROSS is our refuge against self. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Let there be the wholesome correction drawn from this doctrine. "I" must meet its end in the CROSS, that Christ may live in me. "I" must be set aside, too, by the CROSS, even in my labours, that the grace of God may appear. Thus "shall no flesh glory in His presence; but," as it is written, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."