Writings Vol. One
6. STANDING AND ACCEPTANCE IN CHRIST.
WE have been occupied so far with the work in us - with
new birth and eternal life: things which are in nearer relation to one another
than the views we are examining would at all allow. Yet it is surely true, as
has been stated, and as Scripture fully recognizes, that there is a life we
live, as well as a life by which we live. The life we live is pressed in the
new system, not merely to forgetfulness of the life by which we live, but
actually to the denial of it. The consequence is that the whole thought of
eternal life is lowered. It becomes merely a kind of triumph over death, which
when we enter heaven ceases to be even of much significance! Here is a
conversation which will enlighten us in this respect : -
"Is the expression 'heavenly" included in the idea of eternal life?
"No, I don't think so. I think eternal life refers to earth. I don't think we should talk about eternal life in heaven.
"Only we have it there."
"I don't think the term will have much force there."
"The thing will surely be there."
"WE shall be there."
"I will have to get this clear, for I don't understand it. How do you explain as to eternal life? I have understood that a sphere is included."
"I think it implies a sphere of relationship and blessing, but that is not necessarily heaven. I don't see much sense in connecting the idea of eternal life with heaven"
"Well, I don't, but still I have understood that it is connected with heaven also."
"I don't know the connection. The point of eternal life is that it comes in where death was. I think it stands in Scripture in contrast to death."
In another place an objector questions, and is answered thus : - "I don't understand; do you mean that when we go from this earth eternal life will cease?"
"I don't think the term has any longer force. "Is it only the term then?
"What the term expresses has not any more force."(!!)
So man's "thoughts" (of which there are plenty here) belittle and degrade everything they intrude into. In new birth we are taught that no life is communicated. Life itself is not to be understood as anything "substantive" that can be communicated. "Nature" disappears in this way along with life, as we find in the following : - "Have we not had a wrong idea as to what 'nature' means?
"It is the looking upon nature or life as something substantive: any substance is characterized by its nature; but you cannot talk of the nature of a thing till the thing is there." (!).
So as we (like the "murderer") have no "eternal life abiding in" us, we cannot, of course, talk of a nature as attaching to what does not exist. The argument is demonstrative if the basis is sound; but it shows how far a false step may carry one. Let us listen again : - "I have sometimes said that Scripture does not recognize two natures in the Christian: there is the nature in an undelivered man; when he receives the Spirit he is not in the flesh but in the Spirit, and the Spirit is not a nature but a Person." (!)
Poor Christian! when undelivered he has nothing but the flesh; when he receives the Spirit, it would seem he must have no nature at all; for the flesh is no longer that to him, and the Spirit is not a nature, but a Person! No doubt there is some way of filling up the void eventually; but with that we are not here concerned.
But this leads us on to what is before us now, the question of our standing in Christ, which according to Scripture is connected with the life we have in Him. Our natural life in Adam has involved us in the fall of the old creation; our spiritual new life in Christ has given us what we have been accustomed to call our standing in Him. The very term (although they use it) seems offensive to those who accept the views we are considering: "ecclesiasticism, standing, ground, and such ideas," we are told, "have almost ruined us." Yet, as I have said, the term is retained; perhaps it is only in accommodation to the weakness that has been induced by it: "If you talk about standing, I am a justified man, who have received the Holy Ghost." When it is asked, however, "But what about being in Christ?" the answer is, "The moment you bring in 'in Christ" it is new creation." And again : - " The moment you come to 'in Christ,' you get the revelation of God's purpose in Christ, and the work of the Spirit in the believer according to that purpose; that is new creation, it is not a question of standing."
Yet it is allowed that "the presentation of my justification is in Christ: He is my righteousness." One would think that to be in contradiction to what has just been stated; however that may be, it is only what is needed for the earth: "in heaven he will not be a forgiven or a justified man. He will not need that in heaven: nothing enters heaven but new creation."
Of necessity then the being in Christ has nothing to do with any thought of His being our Representative. Our Substitute in death, it is allowed, He was, and His resurrection therefore for our justification; but this does not involve any thought of representation in glory. "In Christ" is my state, as we have been told, a state which God has wrought by His Spirit, true, but still my state, and nothing else. So thoroughly is this maintained, that a Christian is said to be "in Christ as he is formed in Christ;" and "in Christ is the measure of our spiritual state."
The complete denial of all the positive side of representation in glory is made plainer perhaps by a quotation I have elsewhere given, which for its importance I shall give again here. It relates to the meaning and value of the burnt.offering, and I quote it fully that there may be no possibility of mistake: - "The blood of the burnt-offering never went inside; but that of the sin-offering did. I have thought this remarkable. The blood of the burnt-offering is connected with acceptance down here, but the blood of the sin-offering goes in to meet and vindicate God's glory - all His claims met and vindicated, and on the ground of this we can enter. We go in in the life of Christ. It was on the day of atonement that the blood of the sin-offering was carried in: we go in in a life which needs no acceptance, but the burnt-offering being all burnt on the altar is the ground of acceptance for man here on earth, and that will be equally true in the millennium. We get it set forth in figure in Noah's offering. There is no ground of acceptance for man down here save the death of Christ."
Let us look now at what is here presented to us as the scriptural and beneficial truth, in opposition to the well-nigh ruinous idea of "standing." Since it is allowed, however, that we may use the term as applying to our justification, and that Christ is our righteousness, the idea so far cannot be ruinous. Acceptance as symbolized in the burnt-offering is allowed also, and that "Christ has gone into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us representatively, that we may reach there." How far acceptance differs from justification is not apparent in this scheme, and the representation which brings us to heaven must have to do with the sin-offering aspect of Christ's work simply, as is plain: for the blood of the burnt-offering, we are told, never went inside the sanctuary, and avails only for man down here.
Now at the outset, whatever may be conveyed to us by the burnt-offering becomes, in this way, of comparatively small account. The sin-offering is competent for the removal of sin, and to bring us to heaven. When we are once there, we need it no more. If a man were taken to heaven immediately upon believing, he would not, so far as appears, need it at all. Israel as an earthly people will somehow need it till the close of the millennium; the heavenly people (as that) never need it, though as in the meantime upon earth, they do. What does it symbolize? It seems to be answered in the quotation given, "the death of Christ." But the death of Christ is shown forth in all the sacrifices, and the sin-offering is as competent to express that as the burnt-offering. The evident point of contrast between the two is not found in this, but that in the one the necessary judgment of sin is set before us, in the other the peerless obedience of the Sufferer. For this reason it is that, in complete contradiction to the place assigned it in what we are examining, while the sin-offering is offered in the outside place, and upon the ground without an altar, the burnt-offering gives its very name to the altar upon which it is offered, and upon which it all goes up as a sweet savour to God! The one is for the removal of sin; the other is for positive acceptance of the offerer. Thus while the one had indeed its absolute necessity with a holy God, the other was His delight, and was continually to be burning upon the altar, never to go out. The work which Christ had to do to put away sin was seen in the one case; in the other the glory of Him who knowing all that was to come upon Him, could say, "Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, 0 my God."
Did this avail merely for the putting away of sin or sinner from before God? and was there no overplus of value to give corresponding blessedness to our acceptance in the Beloved? Is this to be lost when we enter heaven? left as an old garment no longer needed, to be inherited by the millennial saints? "We go in in a life which needs no acceptance," is to be our comforting assurance; and in consistency with this we are informed that the "best robe" which is put upon returning prodigals is "really new creation, Christ formed in the Christian!" After the millennium, therefore, it is to be supposed that the sweet savour of an infinite sacrifice will go up no more. With the saints' state perfected, they need no more that which covered them for a time until they could shine out in their own beauty! Is this your thought also, reader? and does this song please you better than that we used so lately to sing: -
"Jesus the Lord, our righteousness!
Our beauty Thou, our glorious dress!
Before the throne, in this arrayed,
With joy shall we lift up the head.
"This spotless robe the same appears
In new creation's endless years,
No age can change its glorious hue,
The robe of Christ is ever new."
There are some, we trust, who if they are offered this so called advanced and heavenly truth as the new wine, will say with their whole hearts' approval still, "The old is better."
"If any man be in Christ, it is new creation:" for that we have the full authority of Scripture; for it is by a new creation alone that we come into relationship with Him who is its Head. Adam, says the apostle, "is the figure of Him who was to come" (Rom. v. 14). Our connection with the fallen head is by our part in the old creation, and so by the life communicated to us. According to the type the communication of spiritual life from the Last Adam who is a quickening Spirit (i Cor. xv. 45) brings with it consequences in blessing more than commensurate with the inheritance of sorrow entailed by our relation to the first. "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (ver. 22). In Rom. v. the apostle carefully develops the heritage on each side of the many from the one, before he goes on to enlarge upon the results to us of that death with Christ which frees us judicially from our place in Adam. The sixth and seventh chapters cannot be understood aright until we have made our own the teaching of the latter half of the fifth. The study of it ought to assure any one of what is a riddle yet to the leader in this new departure, "where the idea of standing comes from." As in our former head we fell, so in our present One we ''stand;" and "in Christ" means identification with our new creation Head. Thus the apostle can say, "If any man be in Christ, old things have passed away," as he could not if merely the inward change were contemplated: for the new life does not accomplish in itself this passing of the old things; but looking at the new place which accompanies the new life, it is absolutely simple. Identified with Christ before God, the flesh is gone: we have our part in His perfection. "In Christ," in its natural force, neither speaks of Christ in us, nor of association with Him, with both of which these teachings confound it; and this is seen in the very text which is claimed by those who hold them as conclusive in their behalf.
The simple fact that there are two opposite modes of expression for these two opposite ideas, we in Him and He in us, ought to be convincing: they surely do not mean, as they are made to mean, only the same thing! The Lord puts them together for us in His parable of the Vine and the branches. We have only to remember in the application of it, that no one is naturally in Christ, and that the scriptural figure which takes in this fact is that of grafting. This prepares us for what has stumbled some, that in a parable of vital relationships there should be branches that are taken away because they bear no fruit. It is simple enough if we only realize that they are grafts which have not struck. The Lord does not speak of grafting, because He is not showing how the connection of His branches with Himself is begun, but only the necessity of fruitfulness, and how it is realized: but the difficulty suggested is accounted for by what we know to be the truth. That the branch should abide in the vine is needed for fruit, and the graft that does not abide has formed no vital connection. That vital connection is that by which alone, the branch being in the vine, the vine (in its sap) comes to be in the branch, needs no demonstration.
Living connection is that which, as we have seen, subsists between the Last Adam and those to whom He has become a quickening Spirit. The nature of the parable forbids more than a certain idea of the results in blessing of the identification of the living soul with its Head of supply; but there is the same limitation in all parables. The parable of the Vine is found in the midst of such expressions as those we are considering, and shows, if there were otherwise cause to doubt, the essential difference of the two things which are vainly sought to be made identical.
It is simple enough that the new creation "stands" in the sufficiency of its glorious Head, and that our standing individually results as part of this; while ting away of sins or of the "old man ;" it implies the positive value of the wondrous person of the Man Christ Jesus, of which our place before God is the due recompense. And this is expressly declared in the apostle's statement, that "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. v. 21). So far then as we have gone, the system we have been examining is negative and destructive wholly. New birth is robbed of life; life is nothing substantive, and can have therefore no "nature" attaching to it, for there is nothing for it to attach to; eternal life will have no particular force just when you have fully reached it; standing (if you talk of standing) is merely that you are a justified man who has the Holy Ghost; the best robe in heaven is just the change wrought in yourself; you may need to be accepted in Christ until you get to heaven, then you will be so perfected as not to need it.; your being in Christ, and Christ being in you are only equivalent expressions: and so, like the blast of a simoom the work of desolation moves along.
7. RECONCILIATION, AND THE REMOVAL OF THE OLD MAN.
THE presentation of what is claimed to be the truth as to reconciliation is a very good example of the style of argument which largely prevails among teachers of the school we are reviewing; with whom boldness of assertion seems to make up for lack of demonstrative force. It is amazing in these reports of conferences from which our knowledge of their utterances have mostly to be gained, how little serious attention is given to the Scriptures which are professedly before them, and how little serious attempt there is to hold them to Scripture. Texts are cited, of course; and sometimes a feeble demurrer is made, sure to be silenced immediately, though it were only by an emphatic repetition of the statement questioned. It is easily seen, as the present leader, though with a certain wise caution, says himself, that they are not "simply!" - who are "simply?" - expositors of Scripture, but only of what Scripture has taught them; but we are right in expecting that what Scripture has taught them shall be able to stand an appeal to both text and context; and this one finds here indeed little asked or proffered. There are remarks, to be sure, upon texts many, the effort to connect which with the context, and so with serious exposition is sometimes remarkable enough.
For instance, in a question raised with regard to the assertion that "fellowship with the Father and the Son," as spoken of in John's first epistle, was limited to the apostles, reference is made to the sixth verse of the first chapter, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him." The answer is ready: "That is saying, if we say we have it. It does not say we have it." And here is the exposition: "The pretension is, that you have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness. The truth is that we walk in the light, and have fellowship with one another" (!!) But the pretension then is, in fact, to be apostles; and the walking in darkness (which cannot be part of the pretension, but is the mournful reality which exposes the pretension) is a strange and roundabout proof in denial of so exceptional a claim. The "we," as spoken by an apostle, would in that case be as strange as all the rest. For manifestly he would not exclude himself or any one else from the searching test of such a principle; and in this is putting himself in the common rank of Christians, and not separating himself from them as one of a peculiar class. The "we," all through his various use of it, is that of Christian profession, and the light or darkness characterizes the true or the false profession - nothing else. Notice also whence the light shines: it is that of the sanctuary, where God Himself is revealed. He is in the light; and that light is just what creates Christian fellowship: "we walk in the light, as He is in the light;" and that establishes the true fellowship for us all, into which every true Christian enters. The apostle is bringing to bear upon this the great central truth of Christianity - the open holiest, and thus has already shown the fellowship to he divine, as to which he is now concerned to maintain the fact that no Christian can be found outside of it. "Our fellowship"is thus not a different one from this, but that into which (by the ministry of the apostles indeed) all believers are introduced; and in the "we" so constantly repeated here, we have the apostle putting himself thus with all the rest, instead of claiming for himself or others a peculiar and exceptional fellowship.
Fellowship is rightly said to be participation in common; but community of thought is strongly objected to: "they that eat of the sacrifices have fellowship with the altar; it is evidently not community of thought there." But if we look at this more closely, we shall surely realize that it is after all the principles which are identified with it that the altar embodies. The altar itself literally is only an inanimate structure, with regard to which the term can only be used as it is idealized. But as to all mental objects, ideas, fellowship in these may be rightly spoken of. One might quote, I suppose, every dictionary that exists, only that, as we shall see directly, the dictionary goes for nothing with those whose views we are examining. Let us take Scripture then, and the very Scripture which they cite against it, and it may be maintained without possibility of successful denial that the altar in this case, apart from the principles which it represents, would mean nothing - be utterly senseless in the connection in which it stands. And just so with the idol of which the apostle speaks in the same relation: the idol in itself is "nothing in the world." Take it in connection with all for which it stands, and for idol you may write "devil."
But there is another interest in maintaining things like these: "Is it not helpful to see that on account of the difficulties and opposition around, there must be a fellowship?" "The word (fellowship) implies to me a special bond in a scene of contrariety; that is, I believe, the force of it in Scripture. And there will be nothing in heaven to call for fellowship." Thus we see how to preserve consistency, and rule fellowship out of heaven, it must be denied that any element of it exists that would entitle it to be there. Thus it is another of those terms, whose number seems continually increasing, which in the hands of these teachers lose their significance for eternity, and are lowered from heaven to earth; and thus error to be maintained requires continually fresh concessions to be made to it. Alas for him who has committed himself in anywise to it, and has not lowliness to judge his departure and draw back his foot from the ever more devious and downward way!
But to come to what is our theme at present - reconciliation; we shall, as usual, put together the statements made regarding it, and without comment, that they may speak thus for themselves, and make their own impression. Afterwards I shall examine them. It is a pity that the doctrine is only to be found in these conversational remarks which, as already said, can hardly, save by courtesy, be called "readings." Yet the sense is after all sufficiently clear, and the extracts are, save where noted, from one speaker who is entitled to be considered the foremost leader in a movement which is rapidly changing the aspect of many of the central doctrines of Scripture for those who are being carried by it.
Reconciliation, then, we are told, "is one of the terms the force of which you must find from its use in Scripture. The dictionary would not give you the scriptural use of it. In the ordinary use of the word the sense is that two persons estranged have been brought together. That is not the scripture-idea. It is not minds that are reconciled. There was no enmity on the part of God towards the world; and certainly the mission of Christ was not to make people more pleasant. Yet in Christ God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. If you say that 'it came out in the Lord's ministry of grace here on earth,' then you will be bound to admit this, that His ministry was ineffective." "The truth of reconciliation is plainly stated in 2 Cor. V.: God was in Christ; He ignored every other man in a sense, for the moment; there was one Man before Him, and that was Christ." "The ministry of reconciliation began with Christ Himself, and meant that in the presence of Christ here everything was under time eye of God on a wholly new footing in connection with Him. That was the effect of the presence of Christ. The new fooling was grace and favour. God was in a new light towards man. He saw what was perfectly suitable to Himself in Christ.
"The ministry of reconciliation was effected in Christ in His life. God approached the world outside of it. He was favourable to the world in Christ, not hostile; but when you come to the word of reconciliation it is the testimony that reconciliation has been effected in death. It is not now simply that God has approached the world in another Man, in Christ being here, but the man hostile to God has been removed. So you have both things now, God's approach to man, and the man antagonistic to God removed in death. That is what I understand by the word of reconciliation, and we have to accept it."
"The difficulty," says another, "with many of us as to reconciliation is, that we have looked at it as reconciling us to God, instead of seeing it as the abolition of us, that all might be in a new Man."
"That is the idea."
And now in opposition to the dictionary meaning: - "We have stopped at this, Alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled."
"How could that man be reconciled? you could not reconcile a man who is an enemy in mind by wicked works. He can only be so as being in another individuality."
Again "You cannot reconcile what is alienated; it is impossible to reconcile that which is at enmity. If enmity is there, it is there; it is enmity of will; that is not to be reconciled. 'They that are in the flesh cannot please God.'"
"It is you that were alienated."
"But the point is that you are reconciled by being removed, and where the distance was complacency is, because Christ has come in. Hence it is that reconciliation involves new creation."
"That which you are morally has to go; personally you are reconciled. Is that the thought?" "I don't object to that, but you may depend upon it, if you press that on people you will give them the idea that reconciliation is some kind of change of sentiment in them. I have no doubt that this is in the mind of the vast proportion of Christians." . "That is, in new creation the saints are presented 'holy, unbiameable, and unreproveable.'" "It must be that; you could not conceive of any process which would change the man who was an enemy in mind by wicked works into holy, unblameable, and unreproveable; no such process is possible, even to God."
Elsewhere we find: - "The reconciliation of things is remarkably simple. Everything is taken up in Christ. The reconciliation of persons refers to individuals, and has to be individually accepted. 'Through whom we have now received the reconciliation.' In Corinthians it is, 'We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.' Reconciliation has to be accepted when it is a question of persons, therefore there was the ministry of reconciliation."
"Is there any thought of the enmity being brought to an end in reconciliation?"
"The enmity is only brought in to show that the one marked by it must go. You cannot improve with reference to enmity. You cannot reconcile what is at enmity. It is the purest folly to think of reconciling what is hostile."
"It says, 'When we were enemies we were reconciled."
"Yes; but it was by learning that what was at enmity had been removed by the death of Christ. That is the way of it. I do not think that the apostle refers to a change of feeling on the part of people, but to acceptance of the truth that what was at enmity has been removed. They had received the word of reconciliation - ' When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.' They had accepted that as their death. This is the truth on God's side - on the experimental side it is somewhat different."
Once more, even though it may be ad nauseum "Do you think a man, an enemy to God by wicked works, could ever be changed into unblameable and unreproveable in His sight? It could not be. That person could be, but not that man." . .
"How would you explain our identity remaining?"
"That is the point; the complacency is where the distance was; that is in you. It is not that God sweeps all away and brings in an absolutely new race. He does so morally, but not actually. The old man has gone, and where he was Christ is; this has come to pass in the Church."
What then is reconciliation? - "I think the idea of the text is a bringing into conscious complacency with the divine mind and pleasure." "What I understand by it is, that where distance was there is complacency. . . . The distance has been removed in the removal of the man. I don't see in what other way God could remove distance. The distance came in by man, and the removal of the distance means the removal of the man. But the point is that where the distance was now there is complacency."
"Would you preach the ministry of reconciliation to sinners?"
"It would not be much good to them."
"Where is the ministry of reconciliation to be exercised?"
"I think very much amongst those who believe."
"But do they need to be reconciled?"
"I think so, if they are to be for the satisfaction of God."
"When the apostle says, 'Be ye reconciled to God,' had they touched it?"
"I do not think the Corinthians had touched it. . . I think it is practical; the Corinthians had not left Adam for Christ. They were practically very much in Adam. They had believed in Christ; I don't doubt for a moment they were Christ's, and had received the gift of the Holy Ghost. But certainly, judging by the epistle, they had very little readiness to leave Adam for Christ." "The truth for the Christian is this, that in the acceptance of reconciliation he has put off the individuality connected with sin, but at the same time he has put on the new man which after God is new created."
We have now before us - produced, some will think perhaps, at unnecessary length - what ought to enable us to arrive at a sober and sufficient judgment of what is presented for truth with regard to the doctrine. Truth there is in it also, along with much that is new, as generally in these teachings. The misfortune is that here, as in so many cases, the true is not new, and the new is not true. Not merely so, but some of the statements seem absolutely wild and reckless, easily as they were accepted by those who heard thdm when first made. Only the knowledge that they have been and are being so by so many could make it worth while to repeat or challenge them now. Their currency and the gravity of much with which they connect themselves, give them an importance which in themselves they are far from having.
At the outset we are warned against the dictionary meaning of the word; though it is not and cannot be denied that it is the correct translation of that which has been chosen by the Spirit of God as fittest to convey His meaning, and it would not seem to be one of those words for which, as is well known,when Christianity came in, it had to coin a meaning of its own. Scripture also, at first sight, would certainly appear to confirm the dictionary use. Any simple person would suppose so upon reading that "when we were enemies, we were reconciled," "you that were alienated and enemies in your minds by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled," and "to reconcile both to Himself, having slain the enmity." The general consent, one may say, of Christians for many centuries has without suspicion accepted Scripture and the dictionary as speaking in the same way.
It is startling to find, in what might seem to be the same line of things, - that is, in arguing against some kind of change of sentiment, as from enmity to friendship (which the dictionary use favours, if not involves) the strong assertion that no process of changing a man who is an enemy to God by wicked works, is possible to God! To save the speaker's character for sanity, we have to assure ourselves that he is only using the word "change," so confusing in this connection, for "whitewashing," perhaps. God cannot whitewash a man, of course, and take him for what he is not. And we are encouraged to believe that that is his meaning by what he says elsewhere, that "it is impossible to reconcile that which is at enmity; if enmity is there, it is there." Truly; we shall not dispute about this; but why so earnestly and with such extraordinary emphasis, insist upon this? was it ever in dispute? while another passage still, very similar to the one we have been trying to mend, seems to assert for it that "change" is really meant: "Do you think a man, an enemy to God by wicked works, could ever be changed into unblameable and unreproveable in His sight? It could not be. That person could be, but not that man."
So it is evident that we must walk very carefully, and define very closely, to suit these leaders of the poor perplexed sheep of Christ! How good to have a Bible that always remembers that God has chosen the poor! But we may say then that a "person," an enemy to God, may be changed in this manner; but a "man," an enemy to God, may not! Is that intelligible? Let us go on and see what is to come of this.
Some one asks, seemingly in the same perplexity with ourselves, "How would you explain our identity remaining?" Perhaps he wants to know whether he is after all still a "man," or only a "person." But happily he is assured that his identity remains:- "That is the point; the complacency is where the distance was; that is, in you. It is not that God sweeps all away, and brings in an absolutely new race. He does so morally, but not actually. The old man has gone, and where he was Christ is."
"The old man has gone!" Ah! does not a ray of light break in there? Is perhaps the old man the "man" about whom our guide was thinking, when he spoke of the impossibility of the man being changed? But then why distinguish so carefully between the man and the person? The old man is in fact the person that was, before grace had brought him under its dominion, the child of Adam in all the sad inheritance of his fallen father; and because we were all naturally alike in this pre- Christian state, Scripture speaks of "our" old man. But it is not the nature - the flesh - which still remains in us, and with which so many confound it; "our old man was crucified with Christ" and for every Christian is put off, and non-existent. Thus the question is never raised of "changing" the old man, nor could be raised by one properly acquainted with its force in Scripture. This new man does not dwell in us along - side of the old, but displaces it; yet it is the same man who was once "old" who now is "new." He has put off his former self, which the cross of Christ has ended before God in judgment, but from which it has thus liberated him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that henceforth he may no longer serve sin (Rom. vi. 6). The old man cannot then be distinguished as man or person distinct from the one individual alone existing throughout. The assertions made are false and preposterous; and, of course, you do not find a trace of them in Scripture. They are simply the inventions of a fertile but unbalanced mind. It is the man who was once alienated and an enemy to God by wicked works, who in every case of conversion becomes the holy, unblameable and unreprovable child of God. There is no impossibility with God of changing the one into the other; and there is no unchangeable " man" to pronounce or speculate about. And reconciliation, instead of being so far on in Christianity that persons who are indwelt of the Spirit (as the Corinthians) may yet be strangers to it, is at the threshold of Christian life. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled" not as Christians, but as "alienated and enemies to God by wicked works, He hath reconciled us;" "God was in Christ, reconciling the world" - and not believers - "to Himself." No subtle distinctions can take away from us what God has thus written with a pencil of light in His immutable Book. "If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
How plain, therefore, that the reconciliation does involve a change in the man from this alienation and enmity, wherever it takes effect! How plain that the answer given to the invitation, "Be reconciled to God," involves the dropping of resistance and estrangement, upon the assurance of gracious provision made by which His banished may be restored to Him. The weakness of God is stronger than man, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man; and the amazing spectacle of the Son of God dying for His enemies has power still, through the might of the Spirit to subdue enemies to the love that seeks them. Consequently the testimony of reconciliation is not that of the removal of the old man; nor can this be found in connection with it: it is merely forced in in this way where it does not belong. One wonders at the feebleness that can either put forth or accept such triviality as the following. In answer to the objection that Scripture says, "When we were enemies we were reconciled;" it is replied - "Yes: but, it was by learning that what was at enmity was removed by the death of Christ. That is the way of it. I do not think that the apostle refers to a change of feeling on the part of people, but to acceptance of the truth that what was at enmity had been removed. They had received the word of reconciliation - ' When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.' They had accepted that as their death."
Now the whole of this is necessarily and at once overthrown by the very sentence which it is supposed to explain. We have the testimony of the very man who says this, that ministry of reconciliation preached to sinners "would not be much good to them;" and the very words he is explaining assert that it is enemies who are reconciled! Where are we told that it was "by learning that what was at enmity had been removed"? One can only answer, "Nowhere." Instead, we have confessedly the speaker's thoughts: "I do not think!" And where does it say or suggest that "they had accepted that death as their death," in any such sense as the removal of the old man? Not a hint is given of this in that part of Romans from which the text is quoted. It comes afterwards in the sixth chapter, and in quite another connection from what is given to it here. Would it not be well if there were indeed an expositor to help us, instead of men whose knowledge is of fragmentary texts, threaded together with their own thoughts, and in supreme disregard of context?
Before we close we must look at what is said concerning the ministry of reconciliation on our Lord's part, as it is stated in the second of Corinthians: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." Here, as it was in the ministry of Christ on earth that this was accomplished, there could, of course, be no word of the removal of the old man; but here is the comment : - "God was in Christ: He ignored every other man in a sense, for the moment; there was one Man before Him, and that was Christ. The ministry of reconciliation began with Christ Himself, and meant that in the presence of Christ here everything was under the eye of God on a wholly new footing in connection with Him. That was the effect of the presence of Christ. The new footing was grace and favour. God was in a new light towards man. He saw what was perfectly suitable to Himself in Christ."
Now that it is the truth that in every intervention of God for man Christ was before Him, the justification of the love manifested, is fundamental truth, surely; and that when Christ was born into the world, His good pleasure in men had not only decisive expression, but its justification in the Son of man. But that does not make the interpretation of the apostle's words which has been given us the more exact. True as what is said in itself may be, it is yet assuredly not the truth which is stated in them. God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself is not at all the same as God having Christ before Him; and one may say, manifestly not. God in Christ as seen in His gracious ministry to men,is that identification of God with Him who represented Him on earth which showed Him in a grace which did not deal with men according to their trespasses. It does not speak of Christ as the ground of such favorable regard, but as the One who expressed this regard on God's part. The effect or otherwise of the Lord's revelation of God in this way is not in question; and His sorrowful complaint through the prophet, of labouring in vain and spending His strength for nought, should have hindered this being pleaded as an objection. Yet was His work with His God, as He declares. It could not be in vain, whatever the effect among men, to reveal God thus; and where must one be to say it? God's attitude is what is declared: "He was favourable to the world, not hostile," is the truth of it. But the whole object of the proposed interpretation of this passage is evidently to make reconciliation in it as far as possible in accord with what I can only call the theory that reconciliation means the removal of the old man. The reconciliation here, therefore, cannot be permitted to involve the invitation to a change of attitude on man's part, however much this is favoured by the direct appeal of those to whom the word of reconciliation is now committed, "Be ye reconciled to God." This too is enfeebled as much as possible by being turned into "accepting the reconciliation." You must guard this from any suggestion of minds being reconciled, which we have been told is not in it! You are only to think of enmity being removed as this may be contained in the old man being removed.
"Minds are not reconciled"; and yet to be reconciled is, according to another definition,to be "brought into conscious complacency with the divine mind and pleasure!" How is this to be done without the mind? But indeed there is no putting together the various and conflicting statements. Reconciliation is, of course, on God's part towards man - He reconciles; man is reconciled - not reconciles: reconciliation is that "where distance was, there is complacency; and this means divine complacency. God has removed the distance by removing the man; that is the reconciling to Himself, and no work in us comes into this. Well, then, is the whole world reconciled? Why no! we must accept the reconciliation. After all, then, if divine complacency is to be where the distance was, and that is in us, reconciliation there is not until we are reconciled: the "be ye reconciled" must take effect. Reconciliation awaits, then, the response on our part before it is accomplished; that is, before it is reconciliation. This is the opposite of what has been so strenuously contended for, and is proved by the very statements which are meant to be the denial of it! Scripture does not negative the dictionary after all.
But more than this; if this is true, and it is as asserted, Christians who have to be reconciled - people, it may be, as in the case of the Corinthians, who have already received the Spirit of adoption, and cry, "Abba, Father, " - then they must be doing so, and rightly doing so, while yet in them the distance is not removed, and divine complacency has yet no existence! There is no divine complacency, but distance unremoved, for those whose souls refuse the distance and draw near to God in the place of children! This is the contradiction into which men fall who "do not read Scripture in the letter," in which God has been pleased to give it, but in that which their own minds have distilled out of it, and which they call, the spirit. How plain it is, that if reconciliation means divine complacency now where distance was before, then, unless there are believers who are not in the value of Christ's work before God, reconciliation must be coincident with the very beginning of true faith in the soul, and not in the place in which these teachings put it; and then, as a further consequence, that the word of reconciliation is not the announcement of the removal of the old man, but the simple story, than which nothing deeper or more wonderful exists, that "while we were yet without strength Christ died for the ungodly," and that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son" for the salvation of the lost! By and by those who have received the message of reconciliation will still need to know about the crucifixion of the old man; but God's reconciling kiss waits not for this, but meets us in our very rags and wretchedness. When we are enemies, we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son.
Chapter 7. DELIVERANCE AND DEATH TO SIN.
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