2 Corinthians 12: Part 1

2 Corinthians 12  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The way in which, in this chapter, we find the highest state to which a Christian can be elevated, an exceptional one, no doubt, as an experience, and the lowest condition to which he can fall, and all the practical principles on which the divine work is carried on between these two extremes, is very striking. In the beginning of the chapter we find a saint in the third heaven, in paradise, where flesh could have no part in apprehension or in communication. He knew not whether he was in the body or out of the body. There was no consciousness of human existence in flesh; so he could not tell, nor could he utter what he had heard when he returned to the consciousness of flesh again. Such is the saint at the beginning of the chapter. At the end we find one, perhaps many, fallen into fornication, uncleanness, and lasciviousness, and unrepentant yet of their sins. What a contrast of the highest heavenly elevation, and the lowest carnal degradation! And the Christian capable of both! What a lesson for every saint, though he may reach neither extreme, as a warning; and how suited to give the consciousness of what natures are at work, and of the elements which are in conflict in him in his spiritual life down here! Another part of this chapter will show us where power alone is to be found to carry him along his path upon the earth in a way consistently with the heavenly good to which he is called. Paul uses a remarkable expression as to himself when speaking of his elevation to the third heaven: "I knew a man in Christ."
A few preliminary thoughts as to the law will facilitate our understanding this expression. The law gave to man a perfect and divine rule for his conduct upon the earth. But it never took him up into heaven. Heavenly beings, indeed, such as the Angels, act upon the abstract perfection of this divine rule as it is stated by the Lord Himself; they love God with all their heart, and their neighbor as themselves. This is creature perfection. But that is their nature in which God has maintained them. To prescribe feelings and conduct by law is another thing. Christians often forget this. The contents of the law are perfect in their place and for their objects. It tells us what the right state of a creature is, and forbids the wrong that the flesh is inclined to. But why prescribe this? No doubt obedience is a part of perfection in a creature. Mere doing right would not suffice for a being subject to God to walk righteously, because God has absolute authority over him. Thus God can, and we know does, prescribe certain particular acts of service to angels; and they obey.
But when a state of soul is prescribed-why is that? Because it is needed. It becomes necessary because of the state of the person to whom the command is addressed. He is otherwise inclined, in danger from other dispositions of doing otherwise. To command a person to do a thing supposes that he is not doing it, nor about to do it without a command. If we add to this that nine out of the ten commandments forbid positive sins and evil dispositions, because men are disposed to them (or there would be no need to prohibit them), we shall find that the very nature and existence of a law which prescribes the good on God's authority, supposes the evil in man's nature which is opposed to it. This is a deplorable truth, take either aspect of the case. You cannot command love (that is produce it by commanding it), and you cannot put out lusts by forbidding them to a nature which has them as nature. Yet this is what the law does, and must do if God gives one. It proves that what is forbidden is sin, and that it is in man to be forbidden; but law never takes it away. It prescribes good in the creature, but does not produce it. It shows what is right on earth in the creature, but how far is it from taking man into heavenly places! Law can have no pretension to it. Man has now, by the fall, the knowledge of good and evil. The law acts on this amazing faculty, of which God could say, " the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." But how? Man is under the evil; and it requires good in him which is not, and shows him all the evil which is in him. It presses the evil on him, and its consequences in judgment; and, as to the good it requires in him, it only gives the consciousness that it is not there.
Further, it shows no good to him as an object before his soul. I repeat, to make the distinction clear, it requires good in him, (loving God and his neighbor, for example,) but it presents no good to him. There is no revealed object to produce good nor be man's good in him in living power. It works therefore wrath. Where no law is, there is no transgression.
Now grace works quite otherwise; it does not require good where it is not, though it may produce it. It does not condemn the wicked, but forgives and puts away their sin. It presents to us an object, God Himself, but God come near to us in love. It does more, it communicates what is good. It is not a law. It does not require good where it is not, but produces it. It does not condemn the wicked, but it forgives and puts away their wickedness. It does not lead us to carry on the conflict between good and evil by pressing the evil on us., and making us feel it a burden not to be got rid of, and ourselves slaves to it, which the law does, making us feel " this body of death " as that under whose power we are, sold to sin, and, supposing we are regenerate, making us feel more truly and deeply that even this does not make us meet its requirements, so that we should be righteous by it, however much "to will is present with us," but the contrary. In a word, grace does not, in the knowledge of good and evil with which it deals, lead us to carry on the conflict by the sense of the power and dreadfulness of evil to which we are subject, and its consequences, but by the possession of perfect and divine good through which we judge the evil as raised above it by the possession of an object perfectly good, and which is our delight as well as our life, by the possession of Christ (being in Him and He in us) "I knew," says the apostle, "a man in Christ."
But this we must a little explain and open out. It is often very vague in many a Christian's heart. In paradise, without law, under law and through the presenting of Christ to him, man was responsible for his own conduct as a living man for things done in the body, He was viewed as a child of Adam, or " in the flesh." He stood, that is, before God in the nature in which he had been created, responsible for his conduct in it, for what he was in the flesh. The result was that in respect of these conditions he had failed, failed in paradise, lawless without law, a transgressor when under law, and last and worst of all, the closing ground of judgment, when Christ came, proved to be without a cloak for sin, the hater of Him and His Father. Man was lost.
In a state of probation for four thousand years, the tree had been proved bad; and the more the care, the worse the fruit. All flesh was judged. The tree was to bear no fruit forever. Not only had he been proved to be a sinner in every way, but he had rejected the remedy presented in grace, for Christ came into an already sinful world, and He was despised and rejected of men, It was not all that man, fallen and guilty, was driven out of paradise; but Christ come in grace was, as far as man's will was concerned, driven out of the world which was plunged in the misery to which sin had led, and which He had visited in goodness.
Man's history was morally closed. "Now," says the Lord, when Greeks came up, " is the judgment of this world." Hence it is we have " He appeared once in the end of the world." But now comes God's work for the sinner. He who knew no sin, was made sin for us. He drinks graciously and willingly the cup given Him to drink. He lays down the life in which He bore the sin-gives it up; and all is gone with it. The very life our sin was borne in on the cross was given up, His blood was shed. He has put away sin for every believer by the sacrifice of Himself—has perfected them forever. He that is dead is freed from sin. But Christ died. He then is freed from sin. But whose? Ours who believe in Him. It is all gone, gone with the life to which it was attached, in which He bore it. The death of Christ has closed, for faith, the existence of the old man, the flesh, the first Adam life in which we stood as responsible before God, and whose place Christ took for us in grace. What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His only Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. In that He died, He died unto sin once; in that He liveth, He liveth unto God.
(To be continued, D. V.)