The Believer Established
I CORINTHIANS 16: 13 ; GALATIANS 5: 1 ; PHILIPPIANS 1: 27
; 4: 1
We need to take it to heart, beloved brethren, that there is an immense power continually at work to move our souls away from the great fundamental realities of Christianity. All our natural tendencies are to drift away from what is of God. Hence we have in the Holy Scriptures these repeated exhortations to "Stand fast." Such exhortations would have no place or point if there was not a danger of our being moved away from our true position and the proper joy of our blessings.
I hope that no one here will think that I mean to say that a believer may be finally lost. The Lord's word has settled that. He has plainly said, "I give unto them [My sheep] eternal life; and they shall never perish." But in our Christian life and course on earth we shall lose our spiritual joy, the present purpose of God in saving us will not be carried out, His Spirit's work in us will be hindered and enfeebled, and consequently we shall be lean and poor in our souls, if we do not "stand fast."
"STAND FAST IN THE FAITH."
I CORINTHIANS 16:13
It seems to me that at Corinth, where so many grievous things called for rebuke and correction from the Lord, the root of all the evil was that the believers there had failed to "stand fast in the faith." Neither the sectarian divisions, the legality, nor the carnality, which had come into that assembly, would have had a place there if the saints had been, in the power of the Spirit of God, standing fast in the faith.
I will read two portions from this epistle, to bring before you two prominent parts of the Christian faith. Of course many other scriptures might be cited in connection with such an important subject, but these two will suffice for the present. "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures," 1 Cor. 15: 3, 4. "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord," I Cor. 1: 30, 31.
The first article in the Christian faith is that "Christ died for our sins." Other scriptures tell us that He was delivered for our offences, that He bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that He by Himself purged our sins, entirely and eternally settling the question of our sins by His "one sacrifice." But here the fact on which special emphasis is laid is that "HE DIED for our sins." It was necessary, in order to His bearing sins, that He should become a Man, and take part in flesh and blood. Though there was in Him no taint of sin and no liability to death, in perfect grace He took part in a life in which He could bear sins and be made sin for us - a life which He could lay down. He has fully glorified God about our sins, and has laid down the life in which He bore them. "Without shedding of blood is no remission." There is no removal of sins apart from death. The very life in which alone He could bear sins is ended; there is a complete removal of the whole thing. "Christ DIED for our sins."
And, further, He was buried, and rose again the third day. After bearing sins and dying for them He is risen from the dead. He lives now in a condition in which He can never bear sins, or come under death and judgment. After enduring and exhausting the full desert of our sins He has entered as the Risen One without spot into the unclouded light of God's presence, and God holds every believer to be as clear of sins as He is. This is justification. He was "raised again for our justification," Rom. 4:25. There is a Man before God upon whom no spot can ever come, against whom no charge can ever be laid, a Man in unclouded and eternal acceptance, who is there as having dealt with and removed "our sins" to the perfect satisfaction of God. We are before God as clear of sins as He is. The knowledge of this gives cloudless and changeless peace. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST."
But the verses I have read from chapter I give us another and a most important part of the Christian faith. Many souls are not at perfect rest before God because they have not yet seen that CHRIST must be everything for them, and that it is only as being" IN CHRIST JESUS "that they can have any place in God's presence. Some believers that I know remind me of a dissolving view - one picture is beginning to fade and another is beginning to come, but for the present all is confused and indistinct. They have begun to distrust, and to be dissatisfied with themselves, but they have not yet altogether given themselves up. Christ has yet a certain place in the faith and the affections of their hearts, but they do not know what it is to be" IN CHRIST JESUS,"and to have Him as their wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." You will never have true Christian experience and joy until you learn in your soul that there is nothing about you as in the flesh-but material for the judgment of God. You may think this is a hard saying, but I press it as the indispensable precursor of perfect rest and full joy in Christ.
There are two things which go to make up a man; i.e., Wisdom and Power. Deprive a man of these two things and he is reduced to a nonentity. Now if you read this chapter you will see that God has completely set aside man in the flesh as to both his wisdom and his power. See verses 17-29. No flesh can glory in His presence. And this is fully proved by the cross.
I see three things in THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
1. That man in the flesh has been fully exposed to the very roots of his moral being. The character of that man has come out perfectly. There were two great parts of God's claim upon man; first, that he should love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength; and second, that he should love his neighbour as himself. It might have been possible in Old Testament times for men to say to God, `We cannot love Thee, because we do not know Thee: Thou has hidden Thyself in clouds and thick darkness.' But God has taken every argument of this kind out of man's mouth. He has sent His own beloved Son into the world to perfectly express His nature and character. What reception did He get? The world did not know Him, and His chosen people would not receive Him. Instead of loving God when He made Himself known, the cross was man's insulting answer to God's reconciling love.
Then as to man's duty to his neighbour. It might have been possible in Old Testament times for men to say 'Our neighbours are all so imperfect that we cannot find one who is worthy of our love' But this excuse will not answer now, for God has given man a Neighbour in whom the most exacting scrutiny could not detect a flaw. Did man love his perfect Neighbour? Ah no! Hear that fierce shout from frenzied throats -"Not this man, but Barabbas! Away with him! Crucify him!"
Man is fully exposed: he hates both God and his neighbour, when both are manifested in divine perfection. The cross is what the wisdom and power of man in the flesh led to, when he was allowed to take his own course. Could there be anything but judgment for such a creature?
2. I not only see man in the flesh fully exposed at the cross, but I see that exposed man dealt with according to the holiness Of God. The One who hung upon that cross was there "for sin." He who knew no sin was there made sin for us. As I see Him drinking the cup from which every sensibility of His holy soul recoiled--as I hear Him cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"- as I see Him brought into the dust of death - and know that it was for me, I have to own with an adoring heart that all that I am has been dealt with according to the holiness of God, and before God my history as in Adam has been closed in judgment and death.
3. There is a third thing, too, in that wondrous cross. I see there divine love bursting every barrier that man's sin had raised, that it might flow out and delight itself in the perfect blessing of its objects. By that cross the heart of God is righteously free to take its own wondrous course, and let out all its wealth of love upon sinners. The "river of God" can now flow out in floods of blessing, and in vast and widening streams of grace and glory through everlasting days. The old monk Suso might well say:
"Wouldst thou know the wisdom and wonders, Of God's everlasting plan?
Behold, on the cross of dishonour A cursed and a dying Man!"
The cross of Christ has closed our history before God as children of Adam, and God has now put us in a new position in Him who is raised from the dead. So that these words are true of all believers - "Of him are ye IN CHRIST JESUS." No longer involved in the ruin and condemnation of Adam--no longer identified with the "flesh " which God cannot allow to glory in His presence - they are in the standing and acceptance of the One in whom every attribute of God finds its perfect satisfaction and its glorious display. This is the Christian faith!
Now, let me ask, what is the gain of being IN CHRIST JESUS? In other words, what are the revenues of this new and exalted position? If the Queen gave some poor man a high position, everybody would expect her to furnish him with means to stand in that position with comfort to himself and credit to her. It is not less so with God, and when you take this new position you find that there are wonderful revenues connected with it. What vast stores of spiritual wealth are unfolded to our gaze in the words, "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord."
I fear that many of us are like the Indian spy who received from George Washington, for services rendered during the American War, a parchment entitling him to a considerable pension. He hung it round his neck as a charm, and many years after, when he was dying in great poverty, it was found there - the written authority for him to have so many dollars a year until his death. He had never drawn a cent of the money, and though nobody could question his title to it, he had been no better off than if he had been without it. Would it not have been well for that man to have had some good friend to make him acquainted with the real value of his parchment, and to see that he got the good of it?
If we miss the enjoyment and use of the spiritual revenues to which we are entitled, it is not for want of a Friend to tell us what they are, or to see that we get the good of them. It is because we grieve that Friend, and hinder Him in all His efforts to help us. The HOLY SPIRIT has been given to us, as the next chapter of this epistle tells us "that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God," not simply that we might know about them, but know the things themselves.
Christ Jesus is of God made unto us Wisdom. The wisdom of men, or of this world, is no help to our souls. In some quarters it is considered essential that a Christian should be well read in "modern thought," and up to date in all the discoveries and speculations of science! God has said that He will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent; and that He has made foolish the wisdom of this world. See 1 Cor. 1: 19, 20, 27. The outlook of this world's wisdom is bounded by the grave. Death comes in, and in that very day man's thoughts perish. "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave." That is, death deprives man of every single thing in which he can boast, or on which he can pride himself. Death strips man of everything but his responsibility to God, the full reality of which the unconverted man only then begins to know.
But the Christian anticipated all this. He sees the true character of man's wisdom, and recognises that it must all wither under the blight of death; and he turns to One who is risen from the dead, to find in Him the unfolding of divine thoughts, and wisdom of an imperishable order, connected with scenes where death can never come. The knowledge of God is true wisdom (see Proverbs 2:2-5), and while man is professing to seek after God, only to prove that by wisdom he cannot know Him, the Christian sees the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Moreover CHRIST becomes the touchstone and test for everything. For example, there were some at Corinth who had drifted so far away from the faith as to say that there was no resurrection. This seemed to involve a peculiarly difficult subject, but spiritual wisdom brought in CHRIST, and the whole matter was settled at once. See I Corinthians 15:12, 20. Again, at Colosse the Christians were in danger of being drawn away by "philisophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world." How does Paul expose the true character of all this? By adding, "and not after Christ." That risen and glorified One is our Wisdom, and everything that is not of Him, or that turns us from Him, is folly.
Then there are often practical questions and difficulties in Christian life that call for wisdom. The true test and measure for everything is CHRIST. He is the true Solomon - the Solver of hard questions. It is astonishing how many perplexities disappear when our hearts are simple enough to bring in Christ. May we know more of what it is to have Him thus as our Wisdom!
Christ Jesus is of God made unto us Righteousness. How many are going about at this day, as of old, to establish their own righteousness! Some even who are truly converted are not free from legal thoughts as to this matter, and think that they must be, or do, something to improve, or maintain, their title to be in God's favour. My brother, if you had Elijah's faith, and Peter's fervency, and Paul's devotedness and energy, and John's love, you would not be one bit better off as to righteousness than you are now. We have a righteousness that is divinely perfect; we never did, and never could, contribute a fraction to it, and nothing can ever dim its brightness, or take from its excellence. "Not having mine own righteousness," says Paul, "which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith," Phil. 3:9. Now, my brethren, God would have our hearts to be maintained in the wonderful joy of this from day to day. I dare say most of us hold it as a doctrine, but to what extent are our hearts in the real good and present joy of the glorious fact that Christ Jesus is of God made unto us Righteousness?
Christ Jesus is of God made unto us Sanctification. No one truly knows what sanctification is until he learns this. A very common idea that people have of santification is that it consists of giving up things that one has a conscience about; i.e., things that are felt to be wrong. An unconverted man might do this, and there would be nothing of divine sanctification in it. But the moment we see that a risen and glorified Man is made unto us Sanctification, it carries us altogether away from the world and from what is of the flesh--both bad and good. Many a person would be quite happy to go to a Temperance Gala who would not think of going to a low Music Hall. But the one is as much of the flesh as the other, however great the difference may be morally and socially. Christ risen and glorified has nothing to do with either: He is outside everything that is of the world and of the flesh: He has sanctified Himself that we also might be sanctified through the truth. He is the measure of our sanctification, and the standard of our practical purification also; for it is written, "We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure," 1 John 3: 2, 3.
Christ Jesus is of God made unto us redemption. If we want to know what redemption is, according to God's thoughts, we must learn it in Christ Jesus. God makes Him the glorious Object Lesson, if I may so say, in whom we learn the divine fulness and perfectness of redemption. We see a man risen and ascended in a glorified spiritual body, and seated in unclouded acceptance at the right hand of God. He is the First-fruits of the resurrection harvest, in which the full display and triumph of redemption will be seen. He is the First-born among many brethren, who will all be conformed to His image in heavenly glory. Our salvation will not be entirely complete in result until He shall change our body of humiliation, and fashion it like unto His glorious body. Redemption in its full result and power cannot yet be seen in us ; we are still in mortal bodies, and subject to disease and death. But Christ Jesus is of God made unto us redemption, and all that is true in Him, even as to bodily condition, will very shortly be true in us. His glory is the pledge and measure of ours.
Now, beloved brethren, are you living upon the revenues of your new position in Christ Jesus? God would have you to be supported and sustained by these things from day to day. The Holy Spirit dwells in you that you may know these things, and have the conscious enjoyment of them now. Whether as to wisdom, or righteousness, or sanctification, or redemption, are you finding all in Christ Jesus, and thus glorying in the Lord-rejoicing in Christ Jesus and having no confidence in the flesh? This is the Christian faith. The man after the flesh has gone, for God and for faith, and the Christian, by the Spirit, now finds everything in Christ Jesus-the Second Man. May we have grace in these evil days to "stand fast in the faithl"
"STAND FAST...IN THE LIBERTY."
GALATIANS 5: 1
The epistle to the Galatians is most solemn, because it shows how soon we may be drawn away from Christian liberty. The Galatians had heard a clear and full gospel from the apostle Paul, had been soundly converted to God, and had received the Holy Spirit. They had "begun in the Spirit," Gal. 3:3. I beg you to notice that expression. The man who is in the joy and blessing of the position and revenues we have spoken of in I Corinthians 1 is "in the Spirit." The Holy Spirit has brought him to renounce all confidence in the flesh, and has led him to find everything in Christ Jesus. The Galatians had known something of this, but had failed to "stand fast" in it, and it is most important that we should be warned against the beginnings of such an awful retrogression.
Mark the subtle way in which the enemy went to work in Galatia! We may imagine him speaking on this wise. `Now you have made a good start, and have got wonderful blessings, and you will have to be very different men from what you have been in the past. You must now carry out all the word of God. Abraham and his descendants were circumcised by the command of God, and you must be so likewise. Then you may plainly see that God gave the law by Moses, and therefore that must be your rule of life. Further, you would be a better Christian if you were to fast once or twice a week ; and at any rate you will observe the day on which your Saviour was born, and that on which He died.' Thus the enemy and troubler of God's people speaks. Does it not sound very nice? Who would suspect any harm in such good words?
The fatal flaw in all this is that it turns the believer back to himself. It is all you must do this; you must do that; you must be thus; and so on. The mark of a man walking in the Spirit is that, he is maintained in constant distrust of himself, and in constant satisfaction with Christ. We are then in happiness and liberty. But if Satan can succeed in turning us back to ourselves, though we may for a time think we are getting on splendidly and be very well satisfied with ourselves, the result will be darkness and bondage. The exhortation of Paul by the Spirit is, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
In the old days of slavery, when a slave ran away from his master it was his great desire to reach British soil. On that ground, British law made him a free man. Our land of liberty is "IN Christ JESUS," and the law of that land makes free; as Paul says, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death," Rom. 8:2. The Holy Spirit is indissolubly connected with "life in Christ Jesus." So that the Christian has not only a new position and new revenues, but also a new Power - a Power that acts to maintain him in the holy liberty of "life in Christ Jesus." I believe the first step on the way to weakness and bondage is to grieve the Spirit of God. If we do so we grieve the Person who is our only Power, and the One by whom alone we can "stand fast" in the liberty. And does it not grieve Him when we turn back from Christ to be self-occupied and legal? It is going back to a man for whom God has nothing but judgment - a man whom He cannot support in any way.
There is real danger that those who have escaped to the free country may go back to the land of slavery. The Galatians had gone back. Well may Paul say, "0 foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" They did not know that in going back to the law and ordinances they were returning to man in the flesh, and glorying in flesh of which God had said that it should not "glory in his presence." They had got off the ground of being "IN CHRIST JESUS," and therefore had got out of touch with the Spirit of God, and were in legal bondage. Paul recalls them to their true position and privilege, and exhorts them to "stand fast" in it.
"STAND FAST IN ONE SPIRIT",
with one mind striving together with the faith of the gospel," Phil. 1: 27. The gospel was in great conflict; both Jews and heathen were opposed to it; but Paul was, as he tells us in verse 17, "set for the defence of the gospel." He was in prison for it again, as before at Philippi, and he was assured that the saints at Philippi were partakers of the grace that made him willing to be in prison for "the defence and confirmation of the gospel." See verse 7. He was not terrified but triumphant, and was anxious that the brethren should understand that the things which had happened to him had "fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel" (verse 12) ; and he was willing either to live, or to die, for that holy cause. Now he longs that the Philippian saints should "stand fast" in this spirit, "striving together with the faith of the gospel"--that is, thoroughly identified with it in heart and interest - and in nothing terrified by their adversaries.
There is a danger of being selfishly occupied with our individual blessings, and forgetting that we are identified with a great and holy cause. The testimony and cause of God and of Christ is committed to us, and the maintenance of the whole depends upon each individual being true to his post. The strength of a British regiment depends upon every man that is in it, and every man feels in measure that he is responsible for the whole. Every man must stand heart to heart, and shoulder to shoulder; and it is something like that the apostle means when he says, "Stand fast in one spirit...striving together with the faith of the gospel." It is not so much preaching as suffering that is in question here. Are we prepared to be true to divine colours whatever it costs us? It was prison for Paul. It was suffering for Christ's sake at Philippi. They were waging the same warfare in which they had seen the apostle engaged, and in which he was still suffering. See verses 29, 30. He was not terrified, and he did not want them to be so. He says, as it were, There is no fear; we are on the winning side; but let every man do his duty.
Humanly speaking, Paul had enough to dishearten him. He was in the hands of a bloodthirsty tyrant. The saints at Rome had turned their backs on him, and neither stood by him publicly, nor cared for his necessities privately. And yet he is as bold as a lion, and says, "I am set for the defence of the gospel." Is it not magnificent? He would face the combined power of the whole world single-handed for God's interests. True, he might be slain! Well, he had counted the cost, and it was his earnest expectation and hope that CHRIST should be magnified in his body whether by life or by death. God's cause might seem to be a hopeless one, but he was set for it. Like the noble captain of the London, who refused to save his life, but said, `I will go down with the passengers,' he would stick to his post, whatever it cost. Do we know anything of this spirit, my brethren?
You may say, and if you are like me you will say, `I am such a poor weak thing I can do little or nothing.' It may be so, but do you bless God that He has called a poor heart like yours to the honour and joy of being identified with what He is doing for Christ in this world? There is no honour like it, and no favour from God so great as to be allowed "in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." It is not so much the outward service of the hands, and feet, and lips, though this is important in its place, but the loyal spirit of hearts that seek not their own things, but the things which are Jesus Christ's.
"STAND FAST IN THE LORD"
PHILIPPIANS 4: 1
In saying this, Paul was not telling them to do something that he knew nothing of himself. He says, "I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly," Phil. 2:24. He had no human reason to expect that he would see them again, but when he looked at it in connection with the Lord, he had faith that he would see them. When the Lord is brought in what are all the powers either of Jerusalem, or of Rome? Then the Philippians were to receive Epaphroditus "in the Lord" (verse 29) ; he had gone through a most trying service to bring their gift to Paul, and now he was coming back, and was to be received - not merely in the way of human friendship - but "in the Lord." Further, the apostle says, "Rejoice in the Lord...Rejoice in the Lord alway"; (chap. 1: 3, 4) - in circumstances, however bright, but in the Lord. If circumstances were dark the joy would not suffer if it was "in the Lord." Again he says, when receiving the help they sent him, he "rejoiced in the Lord greatly," chap. 4: 10. In every circumstance, and at every moment, the Lord was the first Person before his heart. He was looking at everything, and holding everything, in connection with the Lord. I think that is standing fast in the Lord.
If we were thus standing fast in the Lord do you not think it would often make a great difference? Perhaps half of our lives would have to drop out of existence, and the other half he strangely altered! Everything that could not be connected with THE LORD would have to go, if we were truly standing fast in the Lord.
It seems that two sisters at Philippi had some little difference. How does Paul put them right? "I beseech Euodia, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord," chap. 4: 2. If things were not right between you and me, and both of us were to get into the presence of the Lord, and give Him His right place in our hearts, we should be of one mind. Not simply one giving in to the other, but both giving in to THE LORD. Have you never fancied that you had some great grievance, and got so under it that you felt you must go to the Lord about it? It was a mountain when you began, but somehow as you told Him about it, it grew less and less, until at last you were heartily ashamed that you had ever mentioned it to Him, or allowed it a place in your heart?
May the affectionate words of the beloved apostle be treasured, and heeded, in all our hearts! "Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."
Next: The Lost Hope
Home | Links | Writings | Biography