In Christ Jesus
As we review our studies of this sevenfold group of letters to the early Christian disciples, we find, first, a very remarkable completeness of presentation of this great privilege of the believer. He is in Christ Jesus. In Him, he finds a new sphere of life with sevenfold blessing.
To this scarce anything could be added. All that subsequent epistles can do is to amplify what is here suggested.
We notice also a marked progress of thought which is the more remarkable inasmuch as the canonical order of the books we have studied is not their chronological and historical order. As to the composition of these letters, First Thessalonians, one of the last, belongs first. We might almost say the canonical order reverses the historical. And yet the order of the teaching, as we have seen, is exactly correspondent to the order of events in our Lord's human life, so that we cannot imagine these epistles to have fallen by accident into their existing arrangement any more than "a dropped alphabet could be picked up, an Iliad," or fragments of many-colored glass could be thrown together into a mosaic. Behind the order of these books, as they appear in our New Testament, must lie a guiding hand.
Manifestly there are, in our Lord's human and mediatorial life, seven marked stages, which naturally associate themselves with certain events whose order is unchangeable:
But this is exactly, and in every particular, the order of thought as found in these epistles, which, as we have said, are not in the order of their production by the inspired writer.
In the Epistle to the Romans the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord are the center of the argument, and are specially conspicuous.
In the two epistles to the Corinthians, the grand controlns the emphasis is upon the walk in the Spirit, wherein the lusts of the flesh are no longer fulfilled, and new liberty is found for service.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians we are taught that, in Christ, we are ascended into the heavenlies and, while living on earth, essentially experience heavenly joys. Notice here also the emphasis upon the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit, as the Spirit of love and power.
In the Epistle to the Philippians, the great thought is the joy set before us, which makes all the best things of earth to seem mere refuse and dross, to be trodden under foot; and all partaking of Christ's sufferings, nothing but an occasion of rejoicing.
In the Epistle to the Colossians, we see our privilege of being, in Christ, seated at God's right hand, so that we reckon on all future victories over sin as already accomplished.
In the Epistles to the Thessalonians our ultimate participation with our ascended Lord in the glory of His reappearing and the final triumph over death and the grave, are set before us.
It might be observed that this order is conspicuously similar to that in the intercessory prayer in John 17, where we are led on from the sanctity, or separation unto God, of the believers, to their unity with Christ and each other, and then to their final beholding and sharing of His glory.
The present schemes for church unity too often overlook the fact that the basis for all true unity must be found, not in a new organization more compact in character, but a new sanctification, more complete in its nature. The Epistle to the Ephesians first, of all the epistles, unfolds the oneness of believers in Christ Jesus. Paul ascribes to Him the making one of both Jew and Gentile, and the breaking down of the middle wall of partition -- that balustrade of stone separating the court of the Gentiles from the holy place, beyond which it was death for any Gentile to pass. And there was a further "middle wall of partition," which excluded even Jews from the court of priests, and from the holiest of all (Ephesians 2:14).
That epistle, which also in the fourth chapter gives the septiform of Christian unity, teaches us that it is a unity of the Spirit, and only as that Spirit of God is in actual control, can there be a true inward unity. Such unity as Christ prayed for is dependent on sanctity, and prepares for glory. Let us be content with no other -- unification is not always unity.
The companion thought to all this is one which ministers to our highest consolation and comfort: "Herein is our love made perfect that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17). The only way for love to be made perfect, so as to cast out fear, and so that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment, is to remember and realize our complete oneness with Him -- that, as He is there, so are we here; all that He is and has attained, obtained, secured, by His atoning death and holy obedience and mediation, He is and has, as our representative -- the second Adam.
Neither the day of judgment nor the day of reward is wholly future. Every day is one of award. Whenever we confront the Word ofd, His Holy Spirit, His law, our own conscience, the all-knowing God Himself, we are in the virtual presence of His mercy seat and judgment seat. And in the midst of all the terrors of His omniscient eye, there is but one deliverance from mortal fear -- we are in Christ and identified with Him. God sees us not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Christ Jesus; and condemnation is impossible, as impossible to us as to Him. And so, wonderful as it seems, because we are in Him, His reward is ours, and to realize in any measure our oneness with Him is so far to anticipate and make present in foretaste our day of coronation and glorification. Our one aim should therefore be a full appropriation by us of all that is freely given to us, and appropriated by God for us in our Lord Jesus. We should seek to cast out unbelief, and in faith receive and enjoy all that our God has bestowed and challenged us to claim as our own, in Him.
The study of this subject, as thus unfolded in these epistles, is:
A study of salvation
This word is used in the New Testament in at least three very distinct and yet associated senses:
It is worthy of particular notice that the first and last are simply bestowed by grace as a gift of God, not of ourselves or having any direct connection with our endeavors or cooperation. But the second depends upon our joint action with God. "Work out your own salvation... For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to [work]." All through, the salvation is wholly a divine work; but it is beautiful to observe how clearly defined in each case, and how distinct, our attitude is. When salvation comes to us as to Zacchaeus, our attitude is simply that of the faith which receives, accepts, appropriates the gift of God. The salvation, which we work out with fear and trembling, demands a love responsive to God's love, and which yields our will to His will, and leads us to work as He works in us. The salvation which He reserves for us and reveals at the final advent of our Lord in glory, is one upon which our hope is to fix its gaze and which it is to hold in perpetual contemplation.
Taken together these three give us the complete conception of salvation. It begins in justification, which is received at once and forever as the free gift of God by faith in Christ. The process of salvation is sanctification, in which our new love to God leads us to will what He wills, and work out what He works in. The completed and glorious salvation, which awaits us at the last day, is our glorification, which our hope is to anticipate and contemplate as a final state of perfection.
A comprehensive presentation of the whole matter may be found in Titus 2:11-13, which is a very conspicuous statement of the entire work of Christ in human salvation. Here are two appearings, or epiphanies, of our Lord. At the first, there is a salvation brought to all men; at the second, a salvation perfected in glory for saints; and, between the two, there lies the experience of the disciple in this present evil age, when he is to work out his own salvation -- by denying himself ungodliness and every worldly lust, and by living soberly (as to himself), righteously (as to other men), and godly (as to God) .
No man has any proper sense of the grandeur of Christ's work of salvation, who does not apprehend the threefold aspect of that work; and much confusion of ideas will be avoided so soon as we get these distinctions clearly fixed in mind.
For example, how much needless mystification has come from not properly understanding the two apparent conditions of salvation in Paul's famous "word" or message "of faith" in Romans 10:8-10. Here inquirers after salvation have often stumbled, because confession with the mouth seems coupled with belief in the heart, as though the two were equally necessary to salvation; whereas, in no other case is confession thus made essential. For example, Philip told the eunuch, Acts 8:37: "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest." And Paul told the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-31): "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." There is no mistaking New Testament teaching on this point. See Acts 8:38-39, where Paul in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia says: "By him all that believe are justified from all things."
How then can this same Paul teach Roman Christians that confession with the mouth is essential to salvation?
If we notice carefully the language he used, we shall see that the reference is not the same, in the two parts of his message.
The message of faith: With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; the former is the salvation that comes at once to faith -- righteousness mainly in the sense of justification; the other salvation is that which is to be worked out by us in obedience and conformity to God, and, of this obedience, confession is the first great act. Hence also Paul says, if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord -- that is as actual ruler and sovereign of thy whole self -- thou shalt be saved.
Again let us observe the growth of this complete salvation. Justification is instant deliverance from the penalty of sin; sanctification is progressive deliverance from the power of sin; glorification is final deliverance from the presence of sin.
How blessed practically to learn this holy lesson! We first repent of sin and believe on the name of the Son of God. We have thus immediate salvation. We are accepted in the beloved and have new standing by grace, out of the reach of all condemnation and judgment. And now, as saved saints, we are to begin a life of new and loving conformity to the will of God. We are first of all to confess Him as both Saviour and Sovereign, Prophet, Priest, and King. Then we are to study conformity to His will and consecration to His service, and so grow in grace and knowledge of Himself, changed into His image from one degree of grace and glory to another; and so we shall find our salvation itself growing; we shall be saved from the dominion of sin, the sway of self, from unfruitfulness and unfaithfulness, and saved from final apostasy.
And when He comes again our blessed hope will find fruition in the perfection of a faultless as well as blameless character, and a perfect condition of heavenly bliss and glory.
Such is the salvation found in Him who is the sphere of the believer's life, the object of his justifying faith, his sanctifying lovove, his glorifying hope. Where else has any such salvation been found, offered, or even suggested? We hear much of the other "great religions of the world," but not one of them has even hinted the possibility of such a salvation. For that the race had to wait for a direct revelation from God out of heaven.
The condition of our entrance
One thought remains to be considered: the conditions of our entrance into this sphere of being. How am I to get into Christ Jesus and so abide in Him? There are two sides to this matter: by faith as my own act, by regeneration as God's act. On the one hand I repent of sin, and trust in Him as my Saviour. I deliberately choose to be in Him, in Him to live and move and have my being, to have Him surrounding and separating me from all else unto Himself, and providing me in Himself with all my needs and desires, and protecting me in Himself from all my fears and foes. But all this would not introduce me into Christ as the new sphere of my life, but for the power of God. It is not enough to enter a new sphere of life. I must have capacity to live in that new sphere and to breathe its atmosphere.
Every form of life has its sphere, and requires adaptation to it. As we have already seen, what is life to one animal may be death to another, and reversely. If the bird is to live in the water, it needs gills; if the fish is to live in the air, it needs lungs. Every sphere of existence has its laws, and demands adaptation of nature to enter into and live in the new element. Hence He who created us must recreate us, giving us the power or right to enter this new sphere of being, and the power or capacity to receive and enjoy life in Christ Jesus. Both sides of this great matter are presented to us in one or two verses in John 1:12,13, "As many as received Him, even to them that believe on His name, to them gave He power [right or authority] to become the sons of God; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Here the believing or receiving is the human act of faith, and the giving of power or capacity to become sons of God, to be born of God, is regeneration, the divine act of new birth.
What a privilege to be thus insphered in Christ! Who can describe the security, the absolute safety of a disciple who abides in Him? The more we search into the wonderful Word of God, the more shall we be persuaded that there are concentric circles about God, and that the closer we get and keep to Him as center, the more immunity we shall have from evils of every sort. In the inmost circle of intimate fellowship perhaps no saint has ever yet dwelt. But who can limit the possibilities of a holy life? What closeness of union and communion may yet remain to be enjoyed by some who more completely than has ever yet been realized, hide themselves in the pavilion of God and abide in the secret place of the most high, under the shadow of the Almighty, covered with His breast feathers and trusting under His wings! (Psalm 91).
The whole challenge of our theme is in the direction of a full conformity to Christ. And what is conformity, but transformity! Romans 7:2. To be conformed is to be transformed, to be so assimilated to God as to lose one's spiritual separation from Him.
Dr. Edward Judson calls attention to a sort of fish, or water animal, "which resembles seagrass, and hides itself in the midst of marine vegetation. Below is the head, looking like the bulb of the plant, and above is the body and the tail, looking like the blade of seagrass. The ocean currents sway the fish and the grass alike, and so the little fish escapes being devoured by its enemies. It swims along, and one can hardly perceive where fish leaves off and the grass begins, so perfect is the disguise. So a great many Christians' lives are so blended with the world that they can not easily be distinguished. They are swayed by worldly maxims and habits; they share with the world in its sinful pleasures. The difference betwe so blended with the world that they can not easily be distinguished. They are swayed by worldly maxims and habits; they share with the world in its sinful pleasures. The difference betwedifference betwe