Questions and Answers
WE are often asked certain questions which we invariably answer by reference to articles in the back issues of Unsearchable Riches. We find that some recurring questions have already been dealt with so satisfactorily in the magazine that we can hardly improve on what was said. The questions which come up most often are certainly on basic matters, and worthy of frequent review.
The questions come from our readers. The earlier questions were answered directly by A. E. Knoch. Later answers are selections taken from various back numbers of the magazine or in our other publications. Generally, they will be from articles by Mr. Knoch, and in some cases, we will edit them slightly in order to make them more directly and briefly responsive to the question. This is necessary, of course, since what was written was not originally in reply to a question.
As the law is not of faith, but of works, it is only a limited, local and national demonstration, for one nation and one land and one religion, not for all men in every land and every nation. The evangel of the Circumcision retains it; that of the Uncircumcision acknowledges the lesson it has to teach, but never seeks to repeat the demonstration. The law was not given until Israel came to Sinai. Even they did not have it before. It was never given to the nations. Not even Israel can fulfill it, in their dispersion. They must be in the land. It cannot be kept anywhere else, or by any other nation. How absurd it is for Christianity to leave faith, which is for them, and purloin the law, which is not theirs!
Law is not the foundation of God's dealings with the race. It only came in by the way (Rom.5:20). Its object was not to give men a standard of conduct by which they may walk to please God, but to transform sin into offense. It is only a temporary expedient in God's great demonstration, showing that man not only falls short of the glory of God, but is at enmity with Him. He not only fails, but rebels. The light of the law does not keep him from sin, but leads him on to offense.
The Circumcision evangel provides power to fulfill the law, but in the evangel of the Uncircumcision God's righteousness is manifested apart from the law (Rom.3:21). The early chapters of Romans review and restate the whole question of man's relation to God in order to clear the ground for a new foundation on which to rest a fresh revelation, quite distinct and different from the Circumcision evangel. It is not confined to the Circumcision and proselytes, but includes all mankind. It is not limited to the land. It does not appeal to God's written revelation, but to the light of nature and conscience, which takes the place of law among the nations.
Strikingly different is the relation of the believer to the law today from that of the Circumcision. Their evangel is contained in the new covenant. Jehovah will not loose them from the law. Rather He will impart His laws to their comprehension and inscribe them on their hearts. They will be given an inward impulse and a divine power to carry out God's precepts during the thousand years. They will fulfill it in the strength which He provides. It will no longer be a ministration of death.
The very opposite is our portion, as well as of those of the Jews who, like Paul, received the evangel of the Uncircumcision. To them, it does deal out death. They are caused to die to the law through the body of Christ. They are exempted from the law. They serve in newness of spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom.7:1-6). Not the literal precepts, but the just requirements of the law are fulfilled in those who do not walk in accord with flesh, but in harmony with spirit (Rom.8:1-4).
Justification can never come through law-keeping. It came to Abraham long before the law was given. It comes to us who never received it. It comes to those under it only by means of death to it. Yet its righteous requirements are fulfilled only in those who, by having God's righteousness, not their own, are led by His Spirit. Let us praise and glorify our God Who finds in Himself and in His Christ all that is needed to make us just, so that He can reconcile us to Himself and glorify us in His Beloved Son!
Our relationship to God and that to our fellow men should be kept entirely distinct in our minds when considering the dais. There is nothing between us and God to require such a session, but there is much between us and our fellows that needs to be settled by the illumination of that day. We grope in comparative darkness in regard to each other, and misjudge one another. Not only must our false and fleeting doctrines face the fire, but our good and bad or evil practices, as regards our fellows, must be requited. Many a matter have I left in the hands of Christ to be dealt with in the light of that day (2 Cor.5:10).
We have been justified before God by the work of Christ, but we are not justified among men by our own works. One was settled long ago and is everlasting. The other cannot be determined until our course is run and we are presented at the dais. We are to judge nothing before the time because the spring of human actions and its complexities are hid from us and are beyond our adjudication. Besides, no judge is competent to sit on a bench where he himself is brought to trial. Let us not judge now, but wait for the day of requital, when all will be rewarded in the light of perfect knowledge, and without the least danger of sin or mistake.
Who is more insistent than Paul that we are justified gratuitously by God's grace? Yet, when it comes to the dais, although he is conscious of nothing against himself, he insists that he is not justified by this (1 Cor.4:4). Such a contrast should show us the great difference between what is ours before God because of what Christ has done, and what is ours in relation to those with whom we come into contact by reason of our own actions. Moreover, if Paul did not justify himself, how can anyone else think of such a thing? We are all too prone to think we are right, and to demand that others acknowledge this publicly. We are not satisfied with the righteousness we have from God, but we want one of our own to flaunt before men, especially if our conscience is clear. A clear conscience is no criterion today.
Self-righteousness in view of our fellows is due to our ignorance of the flesh and to darkness as to our mortal state. Our condition is such that even a man like Paul prefers not to press the matter, but to leave it to the illumination of the dais, when we shall be immortal and free from infirmity and failure. The probabilities are that the most righteous act we have ever achieved was tinged with self and sin. By all means, let us not seek to justify ourselves or demand that others recognize our righteous acts or character. Let us postpone all this until the gloom of our dying state gives place to the glory of eternal life, when all will be manifest, and self will have no cover under which to hide.
Superficially, the dais of Christ seems to be a "judgment seat," as our popular version calls it. But if we probe beneath the surface we will find even its most forbidding aspects suffused with favor to ourselves and to our fellows. Everyone who will be presented there will be a chosen favorite of God and will be treated accordingly. Not only will his sins be absent, having been transmuted into God's righteousness through the infinite virtue of the blood of Christ, but he will be reconciled through His death. God, in Christ, will not be there as a Judge to condemn us for our sins and offenses against Him, but as a faithful Friend, to reward us for our service and suffering, to adjust our relationship to our fellow saints, and to prepare us for our future glorious service by removing every impediment and hindrance.
The very losses we may sustain for faulty service or failure in conduct will be essentially gracious, for their effects will prepare us for the future. Even their remembrance might mar the bliss of the far-flung eons that follow, unless all were finally satisfactorily settled. Just as we burn up the rubbish that accumulates and threatens to become an eyesore, so the fire will consume only that which has no place in final perfection.
One of the most gracious aspects of the dais is its influence on our present service and conduct. If all realized that much that we do will be made a bonfire in that day, it would radically revolutionize "Christian" service. If we only remind ourselves that the race is not to the swift, unless they observe the rules, we would be more concerned to heed the Scriptures, and not walk disorderly. Even if we attain the highest honors among men for the passing period of our earthly life, what is that if it puts us in the lowest place in the coming eons? This is a very mean motive, but the grace of it lies in the fact that the very same selfish desire to have the pre-eminence, when viewed in the light of the dais, will cure us of it now, when we need such help.
The evangel of grace heralded by Paul, not only differs from that of the Circumcision in doctrine, but radically departs from it in practice. Like the priests of old and like all engaged in the service of the temple, Peter and the eleven had a right to be supported by the saints. Paul also had this right, but it was wrong for him to use it in making known the evangel of transcendent grace. Instead, the greatest of all the apostles, through whom more spiritual wealth was distributed than through any other, refused to claim his rights, and worked with his hands to supply his needs. This is the deportment which accords with the doctrines of grace. Without this spirit back of it, the truth will soon become lifeless and sterile, formal and corrupt.
The demand for and insistence on our rights is a prolific cause of friction and contention. God recognized it in the service of the Circumcision, but He has no pleasure in it now, for it is out of line with His operations and the spirit of grace in the evangel. Seldom, indeed, do others agree with us in what we consider to be our rights.
This does not necessarily imply that an evangelist must earn all his bread by working. Paul often received gifts, yet these also were the unforced fruits of the evangel, which are in accord with the present grace. But he did not claim them as a right. He should have had enough of these to free him from manual toil, if anyone could claim that right. And if he had received enough, no doubt he would have given all his time and strength to the evangel. This should be the case wherever it is practicable, and does not detract from the spirit of grace, which is the outstanding and essential characteristic of the present administration.
Let us learn this precious lesson. God's grace is not exhausted in effecting our salvation. He continues to be gracious in using us in His service. And the measure in which this is true of us is, humanly speaking, the amount of grace which is found in our service. The grace should not only be heard in our preaching, but seen in our practice. It is only when we realize that we have no more rights than the crucified criminals who suffered at His side that we are eager to renounce every claim for ourselves and seek to seize every opportunity to serve others with the same grace with which God has blessed us. And then we will not even claim the credit for our grace, but ascribe to God alone the power and the impulses which have enabled us to will and to work in accord with His delight.
God has made a unity. It is a spiritual unity. We should make it our business to preserve it. In the opening exhortation, after that most marvelous manifestation of divine grace contained in the earlier chapters of the epistle to the Ephesians, we are entreated by the prisoner of the Lord, to walk worthy of the calling with which we are called, with all humility and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being diligent to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph.3:1-3).
Most "movements" are marked by the opposite of this. The discovery, perhaps, of fresh truth leads to exaltation and pride, impatience with error, a lack of bearing with one another, and a diligence in forming a new, man-made unity in the bonds of doctrine. Every such "unity" is a fresh division. Even the attempts to form a unity which will not shut out any of God's saints have all failed, and, however sincere their purpose, they have all degenerated into another schism. A number of bodies which we have today began with the laudable desire of affording a common ground upon which all saints could fellowship with one another.
The moment man makes a unity he breaks the one which God has made. We are not called upon to make a unity; we are exhorted to keep the one already made. There is not the least excuse for forming a fresh unity; there is every reason why we should acknowledge the unity of the spirit and refuse all others which infringe upon it. Doctrines, however, they may attract those like-minded, must never be allowed to mar this unity. Peace is the true bond which binds us together, not a common creed.
Practical unity is dependent on the tie of peace, and this, in turn, depends on loving tolerance, on patience, meekness and humility (Eph.4:1-3). These are the rare virtues of which there is such a lack. It is pride which creates discord and disunity. Most of us have so much of it that, if we were not restrained by a deep conviction that our crucifixion in Christ shows what we are in ourselves, and our exaltation by God what His grace has made us, we would assert ourselves and make unity an impossibility. Without grace no vital unity is possible. Where this is lacking it soon disappears.
The whole spirit of the times is against unity. Everywhere freedom, independence and self-determination are held up as the greatest of goals for humanity. There is a revolt against authority. Children no longer need to be subject to parents, nor wives to their husbands, nor slaves to their masters, nor the younger to the elder, nor the citizen to the authorities, nor the saints to one another, nor the ecclesia to Christ. One would suppose that, at the consummation, all are to become all in themselves, self-centered, self-sufficient, independent, free, instead of being utterly subject to God (1 Cor.15:27,28). That such a spirit leads to discord and strife is evident all about us. But it should not lead us astray. We should not strive to be independent of one another. Rather, we should seek to stem this tide by practicing the opposite. Let us not insist on our rights but rather forego them when this will serve the saints. It may be humiliating, but that is just what we should covet. Let us remember that our Lord was vested with all authority, yet He chose the path of bitterest humiliation and shame.
Where there has been division and discord, let us freely confess it, even if we imagine that we have had no hand in it. Let us remember Daniel. We would say that he, of all Israel, was innocent of the national transgressions. But he thought otherwise, hence he was personally humbled by them. He knew himself as vitally one with his people (Dan.9:3-20). We are far more closely joined to one another, so it ill becomes us to point at others. No matter who is to blame for schisms among believers, we must share the shame. Notwithstanding all the divisions into which the church has been rent, the believers in them are vitally and essentially one. The acts of each member of the body affect all and involve all. No one could claim to be as free of the offenses of the church as Daniel was of the sins of Israel. Let us not even be proud of our own unsectarianism, lest it should prove to be the opposite, but ashamed of the divisions in the body to which we belong, that we may be in the path of peace and unity.
God's grand goal is to be Everything in every one of His creatures (1 Cor.15:28). In order to accomplish this there must be intercommunication between them. God speaks to men in His Word. Men speak to Him in praise and prayer. Very few listen attentively to what He has to say but He hears every syllable that they utter. Yes, He listens even to the inarticulate groanings of their hearts. This is even the case when they address themselves to Him, although they do not know Him and do it only as a form, and speak of, and to, themselves. How, then, should He not hear our petitions, who are acquainted with Him and His Anointed?
The object of prayer is not to dictate to God what He shall do, or to get Him to alter some detail of His plan to conform with our wishes. Sober reflection would soon convince us that this would lead to confusion unutterably worse than we already have in the world. One saint wants this, another that, and if both pray for their own way, one, at least, must be refused, or, more likely, both. But if both close their prayers with "not my will, but Thine be done," they will be heard, they will be blessed, God will be glorified, and they will gain in the realization of His will by their fellowship with Him. This will usually humble them or confirm them in His ways, in view of their future work in making God known to the rest of His creatures. But the main gain will be God's, Who will be more to them through this experience than before. His great purpose to draw all to Himself is greatly advanced through such fellowship with the saints.
First of all, there are the "inarticulate groanings" mentioned in Romans 8:26,27. We are often ignorant as to what is best, for the future is hid from us, and we are not aware just what God has in view, so that we may conform to His will. For the life we live is far too intricate to be fully comprehended. Then we need only to lift our hearts to God in spirit, like music without words, to find ourselves in tune with His spirit, and rest in His peace, for He does know what we need, and will assure us that all is well, even when it appears to be unutterably ill. If we prefer, we may use words, such as "Gracious God, if it please Thee--!" Nothing more is needed. No definite request is necessary. This comes up unbidden, in the midst of affairs, whenever the load on the heart needs to be lightened.
But also we have the privilege of praying the prayers as set forth in Paul's epistles. Perhaps the most important example of prayer for us in this administration is the petition for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Paul prayed that we should have it, and God puts this desire into the hearts of those of His saints to whom He wishes to reveal Himself through a knowledge of the secrets which underlie the present administration (Eph.1:17). These are all clearly set forth in Paul's epistles, yet have been so smothered by tradition that very few of the saints have more than an inkling that there are some inexplicable "mysteries" which may be revealed to us in heaven. And this is quite right, if we are not graciously given the spirit of revelation in order to apprehend them beforehand.
First God awakens in us a wish to know what these mysteries conceal. When this wish is directed to Him it becomes a prayer, even though it be too vague for utterance. The spirit of revelation is the spirit of God which reveals Him and which inspired Paul to record the revelation of the various secrets of which the truth for the present is largely composed, for these unfold the fullest and highest revelation of the Deity. The spirit that is imparted to us, in order that we should understand it, is that same spirit that wrote the record. It is a special installment of that life-giving spirit which all the saints possess in limited measure as an earnest. It will reveal these things to all when they are vivified. Now it is the portion of those who are led to ask for it, in order to know God fully.
Thankfulness for favors received, for prayers answered, for benefits enjoyed, should arise from every grateful heart. But this falls far short of our privileges for today. Prayer should be accompanied by thanksgiving, before the answer comes, along with the petition. That is the faith that honors God! Let us be grateful that He will not blindly obey our behests. Let us give thanks that He will do only what is for His glory, which alone is our good. If we realize only a little of our own folly and feebleness we will be overwhelmingly grateful for every apparent failure to get what we want, for there can be no doubt that it would have been bad for us and against the glory of God. We are instinctively appreciative of receiving what we want, but let us thank Him in advance for sending only that which accords with His intention. Thanksgiving is not based on a thing or a theory, but on life, experience, action and rejoicing. Like the vivifying revelation which God has given us, the very form in which it is expressed conforms to its vital message. As it is such a brief and beautiful example of the divine mode of expression, we will set forth the literary structure of Philippians 4:4. Read down the left side and up the right. The center only calls attention to the theme of each line, which is repeated in reverse.
Joy is the beginning and end of God's eonian operations. In anticipation, the morning stars sang together at the start, and at the close, all creation will exult in the consummation. If the cosmos has such glorious boundaries, why should not we microcosms have a similar experience? I have been told that every atom is a miniature of the material world. Let us rejoice in remembrance of God's choice of us and His call and the salvation He has provided, and the place we have in His Christ. Let us enjoy the prospect of the glory that lies before us, for we surely will exult when the fulfillment comes. So shall our thanksgiving be the link between the joy of anticipation and the rejoicing of realization. And therefore it should always accompany prayer, not as a delayed and non-essential afterthought, but as the leading feature. Every petition should commence with thanks or worship.
The second point of importance in this sentence is Who. We may rejoice briefly in many things and in a multiplicity of persons. But the chief source of genuine joy for us will center about two, One the Source and the other the Channel of our greatest and most lasting blessings. Only in God and His Christ is the spring perennial of perfect and eternal bliss, and only through the apostle of the nations comes the transcendent grace to us, the least deserving of all God's creatures. It is to Paul's declarations that we must turn if we wish to enjoy fully the special and supernal blessings in store for us among the celestials.
But the bliss here bestowed is not alone that which comes through a realization of our place in Christ, but that which is connected with our service in the Lord. It is comparatively easy to be happy in Him, but may seem beyond us to rejoice in the performance of His work, for then we come into contact, if not collision, with our fellows. Then we are likely to have ample cause for sadness and sorrow and despair, due to the persecutions and misunderstandings, not only from the world, but from our fellow saints, as well as the fiery arrows of spirit adversaries. Here is where most of His people fail. As they do not believe God creates evil, they cannot well rejoice when it jolts them, for they think it must come from the devil, and is contrary to God's intention. It is only when we see that God uses evil as well as good, for His eonian operations, that we can rejoice in very much that befalls us in this life.
Finally, we should have no difficulty in fixing upon the proper season for rejoicing. Israel concentrated most of its joy upon the harvest festival of tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. For seven days they were to rejoice (Lev.23:40). Yet at some other times, they were to afflict their souls (32). They were to be cut off from among their people if they did not afflict their souls on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev.23:27-32). So must it be under that immature, enigmatic administration. What a contrast with us! When are we charged to afflict our souls? Never! When shall we set aside a time to rejoice? Holidays? Sundays? Birthdays? Anniversaries? Why not? But these, numerous as they may be in some lands, are far from enough. We should rejoice always! Again and again!
Eternal is best applied only to that which had no beginning and will have no end. No one but God has eternal life. Everlasting, on the other hand, should be used only of that which continues without intermission endlessly. Not a single one of the Lord's personal followers is alive today. None of them received "everlasting" life. They are dead. If everlasting life permits of interruption by death now, why not in the resurrection also? All of these expressions denote definite periods of time, measured by eons, or ages. Eonian life begins in the next eon.
Now it is evident that the Lord had no thought of a life lasting forever. Then, how could He be raising anyone in the last day? This life (John 6:40) was to be bestowed in resurrection. There could be no resurrection apart from a previous death. In short, our Lord spoke in such a way that we are sure that eonian life (so-called "everlasting life") does not commence until He calls His own from the grave.
As this eonian aspect of life has a definite beginning, it also has an end. But as the end does not come until death is abolished, it changes from "eonian" life into actual never-ending life. This never-ending life coming at the consummation will be the portion of all. It is not the special privilege of the believer. The peculiar kind of life (eonian life) promised to faith begins at Christ's presence, when those who are His will be vivified, and continues through the last two eons, embracing the millennium and the succeeding eon in the new earth, until the eons end, and the last enemy, death, is abolished. Hence the life itself received in vivification is in effect "everlasting," though never so called in the Word of God.
A favorite definition of "eternal" or eonian life is found in our Lord's prayer in the third verse of the seventeenth of John: "Now it is eonian life that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Him Whom Thou dost commission, Jesus Christ." The deduction is that it consists in knowing God, and that it is not a question of time or duration, but of simply a kind of life.
The question whether eonian life is quantitative or qualitative, whether it is life for the eons, or the life of the eons, would not arise if we understood what eons were intended. The reference is to the eons, certain specific eons, not to eons in general. Everyone has life in the eon in which they exist, altogether apart from faith. It is evident that eonian life refers to the life which comes to the saints at the presence of Christ. It lasts for the last two eons.
We have a parallel case in the millennium. Literally, "millennium" means simply a thousand years. We are living in the second millennium after Christ. But we are not living in the millennium. Nor does the term suggest simply a long period of time. It is rich with quality. It is redolent with peace and plenty, and approaches perfection.
Eonian life, then, is life for the eons and the life of the eons, one of which will include the millennium. It is life and fellowship with Christ during the period of His public administration of the universe, resulting in its final reconciliation. Hence it is not only life for a definite time but life of a definite character. In contrast to past eons it will be a life of power and joy and accomplishment of God's will. It is in contrast with life after the eons, for then there will be no reigning, no process of reconciling, for government and enmity will have passed away.
The true endlessness of the believer's life is not connected with the eons. If eonian life were endless, then sin and estrangement would also be endless. The believer's life is endless not because it is eonian, but because it is deathless, immortal (1 Cor.15:54). Here again we see the transcendent nature of Paul's teaching. Nowhere else is there clear teaching as to the endlessness of the believer's life. Indeed it is implied in such expressions as "the resurrection of life," and "quickening" or vivification. But the horizon of all who came before Paul was bounded by the eons and corresponded to their limitation in space to the earth. Paul received heavenly revelations and spoke of God's purpose "before times eonian" (2 Tim.1:9), and the consummation when God is "All in all" (1 Cor.15:28).
Incorruptibility and immortality are the great truths which more than mend the breach left by the expulsion of the imprecise expression "eternal life." One who has a life beyond death and corruption need have no fear as to the future. And both are necessary. Life is not always a boon. There will come a time when men will desire to die but will be unable to effect their wish. To live on in our present corruptible bodies would be ten thousand times worse than death.
Who can picture the pitiable condition of a man whose vital forces begin to fail at fifty, leave him infirm at a hundred and senile at two hundred, still living on in utter weakness and decadence, vile and loathsome, but unable to die? We do not want such immortality! We want incorruption first and immortality afterward.
A marvelous passage in Galatians sets forth the pattern. It reads as follows: With Christ have I been crucified, yet I am living; no longer I, but living in me is Christ (Gal.2:20). Notice that this reads somewhat differently from the A.V. It is a beautiful example of emphasis. Christ has the emphatic position. It begins with Christ and ends with Christ. We are given the least emphatic place, together with a negative. The very form of this passage teaches us the truth which it sets forth.
Later, the apostle shows the practical side: Now those of Christ Jesus crucify the flesh together with its passions and lusts (Gal.5:24). Notice that! God is demonstrating what men amount to in the flesh, so, at the very beginning of the truth for the Uncircumcision, Paul shows the foundation of it, the crucifixion of the flesh. Then again, in Galatians 6:12, "Whoever are wanting to put on a fair face in the flesh, these are compelling you to circumcise, only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ Jesus." Ever so many of the Lord's people are included in this category. Where are those who do not try to put on a fair face in the flesh? Religion is largely an attempt to make something out of the flesh. But Paul says: "Now may it not be mine to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world" (Gal.6:14). You see, it is not the death of Christ merely, for salvation, but the cross of Christ for humiliation. So few make the distinction, but there is a tremendous difference. It is the shameful death. The end of the flesh is in view here. All the attempts to be spiritual Israel, to associate ourselves with the physical features of the evangel of the Circumcision, all that is in connection with the flesh and is finished in our case. Alas, how few indeed see the truth that we have been crucified with Christ.
Much good teaching concerning grace has failed to be fruitful because those who heard did not realize their need of it. They cannot consider themselves so utterly degraded, so grace is wasted on them. My prayer is that God may in some way or another make the reader of these lines realize the death to which God has put them by crucifixion. Then it will not be difficult to reveal His grace to them, and for us to revel in its power.
This question always arises upon the reception of the conciliation. Indeed, immediately after the apostle sets forth this transcendent truth in the fifth of Romans, he asks and answers two questions, which put the same difficulty before us.
The first (Rom. 6:1) is: "What, then, shall we declare? That we may be persisting in sin that grace should be increasing?" The second (v.15) is: "Should we be sinning, seeing that we are not under law but under grace?" The first question is answered by setting forth the truth of our death with Christ and our life toward God. It ends with the significant statement that "Sin shall not be lording it over you, for you are not under law, but under grace." "Thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" has been tried, but law has utterly failed to emancipate man from Sin. On the contrary, law brings bondage to Sin. But grace gives perfect liberty. Yet liberty is not license. It is true that, if we persist in sin, grace will increase. But it is also true that grace woos with far more effect than the fear of the law's penalties. To please God is a much more potent incentive for those who know Him than all the thunders of Sinai. It was fitting, and in accord with His purpose, that we should sin while being estranged and enemies, for this provided for a display of His favor, but now that we know Him, no such fitness exists, and sin would reflect upon His character. To persist in sin, while inviting more grace, is contrary to the tendency and teaching of that grace.
But then, without persisting in sin, may we sin, seeing we are not under law but under grace? Here again, the fact that sin cannot but call for grace is not denied. It would be an immense relief to many of God's dear saints if they could only realize this emancipating truth. But they are afraid that it will lead to looseness and sin. On the contrary, a true appreciation of the grace by which we are established, of liberty from the law, will give a joyous power over sin which the law never could impart.
Grace liberates. Yet if we should voluntarily slave for Sin we would become, in practice at least, that which we once were, of which we are now ashamed. We would act as Sin's slaves when we are God's slaves. The rations of Sin are death and distance from God--which we cannot bear. We might be tempted to think that God gives eonian life as wages to those who serve Him. Not so. It is given to us as a free gift, altogether apart from our conduct. But does not this very fact, coupled with all His favors in the past and present, appeal to us most potently so that we voluntarily leave the service of Sin for the service of God?
Our morality, or lack of it, does not affect our relationship with God. Grace knows no barriers whatever, either in our past, present, or future. On the other hand, however, our morals should be and are far more manageable in the liberty of grace than under the lash of the law.
The only possible way to determine right from wrong is to acknowledge first of all the place and purpose of God. None of our rights can rest on injustice to Him. We cannot have any clear idea of the nature of the great white throne judgment unless we know what will accrue to God by means of it. Perhaps the most terrible misconception of its function has come from the unscriptural and abominable teaching that all who are judged will be tormented forever in the lake of fire which follows it. In that case, it is utterly futile and harmful, and so sheer injustice to God, for He will lose all and gain nothing as a reward for His vast expenditure of creative power and provision. The injustices that men have practiced toward men--and how great is the sum of them!--not all of them together would amount to so unspeakable an injustice as that men's acts should not be righted in their relation toward the Deity, so that He may reap the harvest of His work.
What is right? Man has no standard by which to determine this except the feeble flicker of conscience and the monitions of nature. We will probably discover, some day, that most of our rights were wrongs, and even that which seemed altogether right contained an admixture of wrong. This is difficult to discuss unless we take a concrete example. The best is property rights. You have a certificate of title to a piece of land. You can trace its ownership back until someone took it "by right of discovery" perhaps. But what right is that? The land was created by God, and belongs to Him until He gives a valid title, which He will never do because you cannot pay for it, and it is not for sale. Property rights! They will never be right until they revert into the hands of the only rightful Owner and Creator. With this background it would be easy to quiet all the titles in the world in an instant, and, at the same time give God His rights, and His creatures theirs. In this way, God will become the universal Owner. All their rights will be found only in Him. So He will become their All.
I have studied the problem of Jewish-Arab relations in the Holy Land a long time, and at close range, and I am quite sure that, judging by our human standards of right and wrong, there is no solution possible that does not wrong one side or both. But it will be solved in the future in perfect justice, not by recognizing the spurious claims of either party, but by giving God His prior and unimpeachable rights. He will not give the land outright to either one. In this, they are both wrong. He will not allot it to the Arabs, so they must be wrong. He will not allot it to the unbelieving Jews, so they are also wrong. All are wrong! All are usurpers. They are squatters without the least chance of securing a right or title to the land. Moreover, they rob Jehovah of His rent. They ought to give a tenth of its produce to support His worship. He will take away the land from all of them and allot it to the saints in Israel in that day, who will restore it to its proper function, which is the manifestation of God's goodness and glory, and the maintenance of divine service in His dwelling place.
Let us not deceive ourselves with the idea that, because all is of God, all our actions are pleasing to Him. Let us not excuse the confusion and division among the saints, as if it were commendable on the part of each one to differ from all others. If all disagree it does not show that all are right, but that all are wrong. Let us not be proud when we differ from others, but ashamed. These things are not intended to puff us up, but to humble us. Of all mankind, we should be the most concordant and agreeable.
Truth does not need the support of vituperation and reviling. Indeed, the reviler should be shunned by the saints (1 Cor.5:11). They are not to shun the one who is reviled.
We are often prone to go to two extremes. For example, some insist on the "freedom" of the human will, and that God must, perforce, submit to it. Others discard the will of man altogether. Both reason from the Scriptures, instead of believing all the passages and harmonizing them. May we lovingly implore all to consider and believe all that is written (Luke 24:25)? A fragment of truth may be most misleading, because it rests on Scripture. Let us strive to acknowledge every atom of truth in both extremes of a dispute. "Now a slave of the Lord must not be fighting, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing" (2 Tim.2:24,25).
The real nature of a covenant is more easily seen among men, who are equal. In some countries, a contract is not even legal if there are not mutual obligations. I have signed contracts into which the fictitious sum of ten dollars was inserted, in order to comply with the law. In reality, all literal covenants are mutual, and both contracting parties assume obligations, and must meet conditions. So-called "unconditional covenants" are figurative, being literal promises or gifts, and are called covenants because of some notable relation or association, and because the one active party assumes the gift or promise as an obligation, which goes far deeper than a promise.
The covenants made between God or Jehovah, and Abraham are exceedingly graphic presentations of the meaning and usage of the word "covenant," for they range from the literal and physical to the purely figurative and spiritual, and, at times, this is indicated by the manner in which they are inaugurated. Even the literal covenants with Abraham, in contrast with the law, demand so little from man, and promise so much from God, that they are merely promises, as they are usually called in the later Scriptures. In the first covenant, Abram's part was to leave his own land and people and go into Canaan. For this, he is to be made a great nation, be blessed, receive a great name and be made a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen.12:1-3). For parting with Lot, the land and seed as the soil are promised to him. When Abram refused to take any rewards from Sodom, Jehovah gives Himself in place of these. As a result, without any further obligation, he is promised seed as the stars of heaven. And because Abram believes this he is reckoned righteous (Gen.14:21-15:6).
We should seek to get beyond the facts to the profound feeling expressed in God's "unconditional covenants." A contract is a formal promise in which the acts of the one party oblige the other to perform his part. If a man kept the law of Moses, Jehovah was bound to see to his welfare. In His covenants, God does not simply promise to do this or that, but binds Himself to fulfill His Word. It is this precious quality which is brought over into the "unconditional covenants" by retaining the word "covenant," when, in reality, there is no second party who could hold Him to it by fulfilling his part. In fact, there cannot be an "unconditional covenant" or a contract with no obligation for one party. In figure, it is a glorious reality that God, knowing that we can do nothing in return, nevertheless engages Himself to bless us just as if we could pay Him for it to the last mite!
As Paul is commissioned for the nations, this covenant is for them, not for Israel. As the spirit was already being dispensed, it was not future, but the "new covenant" of Jeremiah 31:31, given to Israel, lacks the essential features of a literal contract, for it demands nothing in return for the wonderful blessings that it confers. Literally, it is a promise, by Jehovah, to replace the old covenant, which failed because they did not fulfill their part, by a different relation, in which He alone would be the active Agent and they merely the recipients of His blessing. If this is true of that future covenant, how much more so of the Pauline one? What part had the nations in fulfilling? On what conditions did they receive their blessings? Every literal covenant puts definite obligations on both contracting parties. What did the nations take upon themselves? Nothing! It was not Israel's covenant, nor any literal covenant which Paul dispensed.
If Jehovah has already indicated the depth of His mercy to Israel by calling His promise to them a covenant, how much more fitting is it for Him to use this figure when revealing His grace to the nations! Oh, that we could all realize and enjoy the depth of grace which this figure conveys! Personally, all who know a little of God's grace realize that we have made no promise, we have executed no contract, we have assumed no obligation, either for present blessing or for future glory. If we had, the outcome would be questionable, or rather foredoomed to failure. How then can there be a literal covenant between us and God? But how delightful to realize that God has not merely made known His beneficent intentions toward us, but has confirmed them by transforming them into obligations on His part, which He, for His own honor, must fulfill!
Predetermination, or rather, designating beforehand is a scriptural thought, which should be considered in its contexts to determine its scope. That it is applied to the saints cannot be questioned (Rom.8:29,30; Eph.1:5,11). But it is also applied to the acts of evil men, especially at the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:28). Paul, in Ephesians, puts us on the right track when he calls attention to the fact that we were designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11). Predetermination is only one aspect of God's larger purpose. There is a double harmony in this verse. The pre-determination agrees with the purpose, and that agrees with the counsel of His will. The latter two are concerned with all which is headed up in the Christ, both that in the heavens and that on the earth (v.10).
The same agreement is seen in connection with pre-designation in the conclusion of the first part of Paul's epistle to the Romans. We are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving Him, according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand... (Rom.8:28,29). God cannot confine Himself in His working to the saints alone because they are vitally affected by their environment, sinners as well as saints, things as well as persons. Consequently, while only those who love God are spoken of as designated beforehand for special blessing, this involves a previous purpose in regard to all as well as them. And the purpose must have been formed in God's mind before its execution or it would lack the essential sense conveyed by the elements of the original word, BEFORE-PLACing.
The divine process, expressed in human terms, but refined by divine usage, is this: God wills to reveal Himself. He takes counsel with Himself, as there was none other. As a result, He forms a purpose or plans all to the consummation. Some are chosen or selected and designated beforehand to be associated with Him in the execution of His purpose, and have a special place in His plan. What is true of them is not said of all, and should not be attributed to them. All will be saved, but only those chosen have eonian salvation. Only the members of the government in the United States are elected. The rest of us are not elected to be private citizens. Neither are the bulk of mankind chosen not to be saints. Saints alone are selected according to His purpose.
God is not a man, so we cannot reason from our standpoint to His. Yet a wise man will act more like God than a fool. As I did much of the work myself on the first house I built, I made no detailed plans, thinking I could save myself that effort. But experience taught me the folly of this. So, when I built my last house, I had an architect make detailed drawings from my full sketches. Alterations, while building, are vexatious and expensive. That is doubtless why God's plans show so much detail. Of course, it could not all be revealed to us because of our limitations. But some prophecies of the future are most minute in their descriptions, and these are only samples of God's foreknowledge.
What a marvelous revelation it was for our hearts when we first saw that God had a purpose or plan! He knows all beforehand because He created all and operates all according to the counsel of His will. This word, purpose, is the one which tells us of God's activity in respect to all things before they enter the sphere of His operations. Nothing is left to chance. And the purpose is based upon counsel, not guesswork, and conformed to His will. He has a definite object in view, and has planned all beforehand, so that He will be All in all at the consummation. Let us keep this order. God's will leads to counsel, and counsel presents a plan or purpose which is for all, and not till then are election and predesignation introduced for some.
It is the very opposite of fatalism. For the greater part of a year, I lived among a people who attributed everything to kismet or Fate. Its effect is quite the reverse of a joyous submission to a God Who is operating all for our welfare. They had not the least idea why things were as they are, or that they were cooperating for their benefit. Many were submissive, but depressed, hopeless and despondent, and some were quite sure that fate was against them and always would be. I object to the word fatalism on philological grounds. It ought to be fate-ism. But I would not change it, for its effect is fatal and deadening. The result of seeing God's hand and heart in even the most trivial of our experiences, in contrast, is a continual solace for the bitterness of our existence and fills the heart with continual joy and rejoicing, even in the severest strokes of apparent misfortune. It is an elixir of life and happiness.
What a puzzling task it would be to sort things out into essential and otherwise! Theologians could make this an eternal battle-ground, such as the age of responsibility, or just how much must the sinner hear in order to become a Christ-rejector, etc., etc. When I lose something, I almost subconsciously leave it in the hands of God lest it disturb my work, and manage without it meanwhile, if possible. In almost every case it turns up of itself, and I am thankful that its loss did not disturb my spirit, as it ordinarily would have done.
Is it not a sorrowful sight to see how the saints, who have believed for their own salvation, refuse to believe in His glorification? Almost all reject some phase of it. Some refuse to believe that all is for Him and denounce the reconciliation of all. Others will not give Him His place as the One through Whom all is being operated today. Still others, such as we have been considering, have difficulty in accepting the basic truth of the beginning, that all is out of Him. May He be gracious to us in our feeble efforts to grasp His glories, and grant that we give to Him the praise that is His throughout the times eonian!
Christ was made sin for us on Golgotha. As such He suffered God's wrath. But He was also an odor of rest, a sweet smell, a delicious satisfaction. He gave Himself, not only for our sins, but as an Oblation, to win God's favor and delight (Eph.5:2).
Perhaps there is no more powerful deterrent from sin than a knowledge of this aspect of Christ's sacrifice. As the Sin and Trespass Offering, He suffered for our sins, thus satisfying the demands of justice. But we are not mere neutrals, saved from indignation. He was our Approach Offering, or Present, which gives us access to the divine Presence. He was our Oblation, which secures to us God's favor when sin no longer bars our entrance. Let no one suppose that righteousness alone is sufficient to give access to God's presence. As with an earthly potentate, we must pave our way with costly gifts. Christ, as our Oblation, did this for us. Hence our walk should not merely lack sin, but should be fragrant with acts which transcend righteousness.
The gratification of the flesh, the filth of the flesh, and selfishness stand in marked antithesis to the exalted service and adoration offered to God by Christ in His sacrifice. Our conduct is not an imitation of His behavior during the years of His ministry to Israel. The Circumcision are exhorted to follow in His footsteps. We are to imitate God's grace in our dealing with others, and walk in love.
Many questions arise in our daily walk which cannot be settled by a definite passage in God's Word. Then it is that we can obey Paul's injunction, "become, then, imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph.5:1). If we are fully aware of God's present plan in this secret administration of transcendent grace, we will never be at a loss for light to guide our steps aright. Those who pick up a passage at random in any part of the Bible will, alas, be led astray by the very torch in which they trust. We should be so suffused with the spirit of God's present operations that we intuitively act in harmony with them. This should show the immense practical value of a clear and correct knowledge of present truth. It is especially important to grasp the heights and depths of God's grace, for it alone can give us the power to turn it into practice. May we never appeal to a lower standard, as exhibited in other administrations! May we always walk in accord with the greatest and highest revelation of God's love, as it has been revealed to us only in Paul's epistles to the nations! Only so can we please Him in our walk and praise Him in our worship!
No consideration can convince me that there are any limits to God's grace. Sin is not its superior. Where sin increases grace superexceeds. But I deplore the perversity which makes this an excuse for sin. Grace is not a theological theory. It is a vital power. It is not in word only, but in deed. Let no one delude himself into the belief that it gives license to sin. It imparts power to overcome sin. I cannot acknowledge anyone to be His who talks of grace and lives in sin; however, God knows those who are His. God's indignation has been revealed against those who persist in offending Him. With grace comes light. We once were darkness, and could not keep from stumbling. Now we are light, and need not miss the way. Without in the least tarnishing the glory of grace, we must insist that it bear fruit according to its kind, or it will degenerate into sentimental lenience.
God's saving grace has made its advent, and trains us to disown worldly desire, and to live sanely and justly and devoutly. Christ gave Himself for us, that He should be redeeming us from all lawlessness and be cleansing for Himself a people to be about Him, zealous of ideal acts (Titus 2:11-15). In the main, no doubt, this follows of itself from an appreciation of His grace, but even Paul, in his day, found it necessary to call the attention of the saints to this matter, and instructed Titus to speak of these things and entreat and even expose. In fact, it seems that some of the guilty ones slighted Titus because of his insistence in this regard, or possibly because he had exposed their conduct.
If this was so in those days of apostolic power and in the first fervor of a fresh revelation, we should not, I suppose, expect to find it otherwise in these degenerate and dismal days when most of that which professes to be Christian is a sham and a shame. But, nonetheless, it aches our heart when the very power of a godly walk is made the means of indulgence of the flesh, when immunity from punishment serves as an incentive to sin, when the knowledge that God will turn all evil into good tempts men to violate His holy will.
A sin committed in ignorance may be condoned. A sin against law and light calls for many stripes. But a sin against grace is the most heinous of all. Let us not be deceived into thinking that we should countenance it in any way. That is no longer grace. Those who betray grace have no right to expect it from their fellows. It would be good if all of us would concentrate on the epistle of Titus for a while. Even then there were those who avowed an acquaintance with God, yet by acts denied it (1:16). Even then some were not merely to be exposed, but that severely (1:13). Crete seems to have anticipated the coming decadence. A life out of harmony with the truth does far more damage than the good which comes from making it known.
Yet severely as we should condemn sins which insult God's grace, just so eager should we be to recognize and acknowledge heartfelt regret on the part of those who have committed them.
The epistles of Paul to Timothy deal with the "latter eras" and the "last days." The second letter is especially applicable to the difficult times in which we find ourselves. In the first epistle the church is presented as "the pillar and base of the truth" (3:15). In the second the figure changes to a "great house" (2:20). This is what the church is today. It no longer upholds the truth. It is a great house full of all sorts of vessels, some to be shunned and some to be sought.
The basis of practical fellowship remains just as it was in the beginning. While the Lord knows those who are His, we are not called upon to determine this. All that we can decide and act upon is the conduct of those who take the name of Christ. "Let everyone who is naming the name of the Lord withdraw from injustice" (2 Tim.2:19). Even if we feel that a man is a true member of Christ's body, we may not have fellowship with him if he is involved in moral evil.
In service, the same rule applies. Some in the great house are vessels of gold and of silver, serving up the truths of Christ's redemptive sufferings and present glory: others are vessels of wood and of earth, concerned with the cleansing and sanitation of mankind. In which class do we find ourselves? How can we change? The process is most simple. Let the vessel to dishonor but purge itself and, lo! it is transformed from an earthen jar to a golden vase, or from a wooden bucket to a silver dish! We are not called upon to cleanse one another. We must purge ourselves. All that our Owner requires is cleanliness: that will prepare us for every good deed.
This is our preparation for service and fellowship. But just as we are required to diligently seek to preserve the spirit's unity, so we are also required to seek the fellowship of those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.
The clean heart--this is the basis of practical fellowship in these declining days of apostasy. Not doctrine, not knowledge, but an unmixed motive and clean life. The heart in Scripture is the center and core of a man's life. Out of it are the issues of life. It is not, as with us, the seat of the affections, but the spring of every action, the source of every deed. Sincerity should characterize those who attract our fellowship.
"Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with all who are invoking the Lord out of a clean heart" (2 Tim.2:22). This is the basis of fellowship for these dark days.
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