2 Corinthians 12: Part 3

2 Corinthians 12  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The being, as men speak, in the third heaven, is not always our place and portion. It is a mistake to think it would puff us up. A creature is never puffed up in the presence of God and with Him before the mind. It is when the eye is off Him, when we have been in the third heaven, but are no longer there, that the danger begins. We are in danger of being puffed up about having been there when we have lost the present sense of the excellency of what is there, and in which we lose the sense of self. This is what we find in Paul's case. The man in Christ has Christ for his title, and is entitled thus to all that Christ enjoys, to joys and glories which mortal apprehensions cannot receive-the language formed by mortal thoughts and ways cannot express, that are not meet to be communicated in this scene of human capacities. They belong to another sphere of things.
But, wonderful as that is into which we are brought, the question of good and evil, the knowledge of which we have by the fall, and cannot get rid of, nor is it desirable or meant we should, must be thoroughly and experimentally gone through by us. It has been as to acceptance. In respect of that it is finally and forever settled before God by the death and resurrection of Christ. But we have to learn to judge the evil and to delight in the good. The law, as, we have seen, makes us learn the evil as looking to be judged for it. In grace we are first put into the position of perfect blessing in Christ, and then we judge what is contrary to it. This is the difference of bondage and liberty. Still we have to judge it, and grow in our apprehension of good. In the instruction of our chapter this (as in all God's ways with the apostle, who was to be both quickly and fully taught in order constantly and deeply to teach others) was done in the strongest and fullest contrast of the extremes. The third heaven, if it did not set aside the flesh in fact forever, must show what a hopeless, unchangeable thing it is. And so it did. Paul had entered into the third heaven with no consciousness of the hindrance of the body, still less with any working of the flesh in any way. But he must return into the practical state of existence in which he had to serve Christ with the consciousness of what he was as Paul. And here the only working of the flesh, the only way it took cognizance of Paul's having been in the third heaven, would have been, if it had been allowed to do so, to have puffed him up at having such wondrous revelations. It was unchanged in evil. Paul must learn this practically, even by a visit to the third heavens, instead of this amazing privilege taking away or changing it. It was not allowed to act, but he must learn truly to judge it for himself.
Note this difference. It is not necessary, when we are in Christ, that flesh should act in order to judge it in ourselves. Alas! it is often in that way we do learn it, but it is not necessary that it should act even in thought. By God's ways, and through communion with Him, we can learn to judge evil in the root in us without its bearing fruit. If we do not learn to judge it in communion with God, where there may be very real exercise about it (and a very great conflict of will against God if it has acquired any head), we learn it in its fruits through the giving way to the temptation of Satan. When it is not judged, we learn, no doubt, the evil-not yet indeed the root, but Christ is dishonored, the spirit grieved, and but for the coming in of grace, sin will in such case have acquired deceiving power in our hearts.
In what has preceded, we have found three important points brought before us in this chapter First, the man in Christ; secondly, the gross evil of the flesh if our members be not mortified; thirdly, that this same flesh is not at all corrected in its tendencies even by a man's being in the third heaven, nor by anything else. Paul needed a messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be puffed up. There is another collateral point, indeed, which I would here briefly notice; the difference between our abstract position as men in Christ (and we are entitled to consider ourselves as such; it is our true position as Christians according to grace), and our actual condition with the consciousness of the existence of the flesh and all our bodily circumstances and infirmities down here.
Into this actual condition we have now to follow Paul in our chapter, and to learn where power is to be found to walk rightly in it. The flesh exists unchangeable in its nature, a pure hindrance.
First, we may remark that no extent of knowledge, even where given of God, is in itself spiritual power in our souls. We cannot doubt that such revelations as Paul received in the third heaven strengthened his own faith, made him understand that it was well worth sacrificing a miserable life, such as this world's life is, for it, and gave him a consciousness of what he was contending for, a sense of the divine things he had to do with, which must have exercised an immense influence upon his career in this world. But it was not immediate power in conflict in the mixed state in which he found himself when he had to speak of " myself Paul." He had, and so have we, to walk by faith, and not by sight. The wickedest man would not sin while his mind had the glory of God before his eyes; but that would no way prove the state of his heart and affections when it was removed. Like Balaam he would turn to his vomit again. So in point of fact the Christian (however strengthened and refreshed by times on the road by what is almost like sight to him, and by communications of divine love to his soul) has to walk by faith, and not always in these sensible apprehensions of divine results in glory. Not that he is to walk in the flesh or lose communion, but he is not always under the power of especial communications of the glory conferred on him, and divine love to his soul. Paul knew a man fourteen years ago—not every day in that state. He could rejoice in the Lord always. Some Christians are apt to confound these two things—special joy and abiding communion, and to suppose, because the first is not always the case, the discontinuance of the latter is to be taken for granted and acquiesced in. This is a great mistake. Special visitations of joy may be afforded. Constant fellowship with God and with the Lord Jesus is the only right state, the only one recognized in scripture. We are to rejoice in the Lord always. This the flesh would seek to hinder, and Satan by the flesh.
Here we find first the privilege of having the title to hold ourselves dead. We are not debtors to the flesh. It has no kind of title over us. We are not in the flesh. We may reckon ourselves dead and alive unto God, and sin shall not have dominion over us. It is all-important to hold this fact. The flesh is unchanged, but there is no necessity of walking in it-not more as to our thoughts than as to our outward conduct. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death; sin in the flesh is condemned by the death of Christ; the power it had over us, when under law (if not lawless), it has no longer. When we were in the flesh the motions of sin which were by the law wrought in us all manner of concupiscence. But we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us. We are delivered from the law, having died in that, in which we were held. Our whole condition is changed. What the law could not do just because it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh.
But if the flesh be not changed, how is this realized in practice? It is this which is taught us here. It is first the giving conscious nothingness and weakness in the flesh. This is not power, but it is the practical way to it. We are entitled, as to our standing before God, to reckon ourselves dead unto sin and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and in practice to hold ourselves, as in this condition, not debtors to the flesh to live after the flesh; and sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under law, but under grace. But our chapter goes farther than this: it shows us power so to walk. The flesh is then practically put down. The measure, as stated by the apostle, is this -" Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body."
His object was not to gain this life. Alive in Christ we have it. But he held every movement, thought, and will of the flesh under the judgment of the cross, and so the life of Christ was left free.
Such is our path. Admitted into the very presence of God, into the holiest, by the blood of Christ, we judge in its roots, in communion with Him according to His infinite grace, everything that is not of Christ in us, and the grace we meet and are made partakers of in this communion carries us along our road in lowliness and grace. Our fleshly tendencies are thus only the occasion of receiving the grace which keeps us safe from their power. I may be humbler than ordinary men if I have dealt with God about my pride, and so of every danger. The present power of Christ keeps the evil out of our thoughts. We have brought God into our life in this respect. It is not merely the absence, comparatively speaking, of a particular character of evil. The flesh—evil—is judged according to God, and I am lowly in spirit, and walk softly and safely. But where there are real dangers, God helps us in this. Not only do I bear about the dying, but we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake. God works; some messenger of Satan is sent (not sin-far from it: God cannot send that; but some humbling process which prevents sin and pride working), unpleasant to the human heart, but needed for it.
All self-activity of the flesh is sin. The body is dead because of sin if Christ be in me; that is, if alive, it is only sin; and if Christ is my life, the Spirit is life. My body is not counted as alive, or to be so in its will. What is of me in will and nature-me as a conscious living man, a child of Adam in this world-is annulled, or is a hindrance; it has no connection with God: a man in it cannot please God. " I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
(Continued from page 127.)
(To be continued, D. V.)