An Epistle of Christ: Part 3

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2 Corinthians 3
Again the Lord Jesus, amidst all His zeal, never failed in love. Strictly speaking, there is no motive in love, though there may be joy in its exercise; and this is our triumph. If I look for a motive, it is not love. Therefore love enables a man to meet all trials. Should one spit in his face, this makes no difference, for love abides; because it never draws its strength from circumstances, but rides above all circumstances. Nothing can be presented to a saint which can separate him from the love of God. The love which he enjoys triumphs over all circumstances. If we do not show this heavenly-mindedness of the love which is of God, doing nothing from any motive but obedience, we are not a true epistle of Christ. I might be walking lowlily, but if I did not show out Christ, I should be nothing. So Christ. He gave no answer when God gave no word. And we, in passing through the world, should stand still and wait if we cannot see how we may so walk as to please God.
In the latter part of the chapter, the apostle tells us how we may be acting as the epistles of Christ—ministers, not of the letter, but of the spirit. The letter refers to the requirements of God from man, which necessarily was a ministration of death. But the gospel is the manifestation of God, not from Sinai requiring righteousness; but from His own throne revealing the accomplishment of His own righteousness, and sending a message concerning it to draw our hearts to Himself. To those who submit themselves to this righteousness, the Holy Ghost is given on the foundation of the righteousness, and He is in them a Spirit of power. So now we can use great plainness of speech, because we are speaking of grace. We can tell men that they are wicked, wretched, and helpless. We can speak all things plainly, because we are not expecting anything from them, but telling them of God's grace to just such as they are. We can speak plainly of God, for it is of the God of all grace. Israel could not look at the reflection of the glory in the face of Moses, poor though it was; but now man can look plainly—wonderful to say—at the full glory of God, because it is now in the face of Jesus. It is this very glory that tells me of the putting away of my sins. I see the glory of God, not dimly, but as of one who put Himself in my place as a sinner, and who could not be in that glory if He had not put away all my sins; for my sins are enough to dim any glory. What a glorious thing, not only to see God visiting my soul in grace, but that, so to speak, the glory has taken the place of my sins! The transition from the cross has left nothing between them! Thus we get righteousness in our Head, and the Spirit goes with the message, so that there is power, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
The soul that submits to the righteousness of God becomes the epistle of Christ, because he is looking at Christ in the glory. This cannot be while only looking at Him down here; but when the eye is fixed on the Lord Jesus in glory, we are changed into the same image. The heart living in the glory counts all things else but dross and dung in comparison. This is the real victory—when all of this world surrounds me, to say, I do count them but dross and dung. This is being like Christ. We soon learn the weakness of the flesh in this, but the faith that thus looks to Christ is the true victory. The apostle said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We sometimes say this too lightly, for we have not proved it. We may say a believer can do all things, but he could say, I can do all things through Christ, for he had proved it by deep experience and arduous conflict.
The Lord give us so to recognize the power there is in Christ, as that we may heartily walk in the strength of it; though it humble us in the dust.
That which alone can make us an “epistle of Christ” is looking unto Jesus, or, as in verse 18, “with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.” The ministry of the Spirit is “taking of the things of Christ and showing them unto us.” There is power as the consequence of the Holy Ghost being here. Until Jesus was glorified, there could not be power nor anything to reveal. It is called the ministration of the Spirit. “Ye shall be endued with power,” etc.
It has struck me latterly in the last verse, we never attain the glory while down here, yet are always looking at it as an object, and “changed into the same image,” but we are not actually in any sense the same. Still we are daily growing up into Him who is the Head-who is in the glory. Paul says, “I press towards the mark... if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection,” at the end rather than at the beginning of his course; yet he had attained a great deal, if you look at him as to the realization of power. Now, that is what the individual Christian is called to, founded on the ministration of righteousness: glory and righteousness go together. It is not now merely that God forbears—this He did before; but He declares His righteousness; it is a righteousness now obtained, not a future thing. The law required righteousness from man, but that is a different thing from the administration of righteousness to man. Now He, Christ, is giving it unto us. The law was called the ministration of condemnation. The ministration of righteousness is also called the ministration of the Spirit, because the Spirit is here in virtue of accomplished righteousness in the person of Christ, who is up there in the glory. “He that ministereth to you the Spirit.” God ministers to each saint since redemption the Holy Spirit.
Righteousness is shown by God in two ways: first, in setting Christ at His own right hand; secondly, in not letting the world see Him any more, whom it rejected and cast out. The Spirit now convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment: “of sin,” in rejecting Christ; “of righteousness,” because Christ is gone to the Father; “of judgment,” because the prince of this world is judged. If I receive the demonstration, I partake of it, and the demonstration of righteousness placed Christ on the throne at the right hand of God. “I go to my Father.” In verse 7: “So that they could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance,” etc. There was no veil, but the state of Israel was such that they could not bear a sight of the glory, “which glory was to done away.” So in verse 13, Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel might not look to the end of that which was abolished; showing, I believe, the moral condition of the people, for Moses had no veil when he went to God, but they could not get beyond the outward thing. The veil was over Moses' face, and all was veiled to them, so that they could not see to the end. He is here giving the meaning of the act: they could not see to the end, but stopped short in the things given. The veil is now not on the things but on their heart, which is done away in Christ; “nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.” In Christ everything is fully revealed in the reality and truth of it, not in mere types and shadows. They could not see to the end; it is always because of the hardness of their hearts, though the veil is at one time on the glory, and at another on their hearts. Moses put a veil over his face, but it was God's purpose being fulfilled. Now we are not as Moses, but use great plainness of speech. It is not now about the people, but about the ministration.
The Holy Ghost is come down here, because Christ is in the glory; therefore we do not leave people in dimness and darkness. We speak boldly; we tell you plainly you are “accepted in the beloved,” righteous as He is righteous, and the glory is your portion. We speak thus very boldly about it; “For we are not as many who corrupt the word of God, but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ.” The difference in the subject of ministration gives this greater boldness. It is not a certain working of the soul to get up to Christ; but when Christ is thus really and truly revealed to the heart, it is inwrought by the Spirit of God in the soul, and graved and written on the “fleshy tables of the heart.” The soul will be exercised upon receiving this glory, not to be satisfied in knowing merely as a fact there is this righteousness, but to have it wrought in the heart. We should be not only thinking about Christ sometimes, but wholly occupied with Christ Himself. What a little compass it reduces a man into when Christ is received in the heart! Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts.” He carried them about with him, though they were leaving him and preferring other teachers; but he appeals to them as a proof of his ministry, and his commendation is seen and read in them as his converts. Therefore he is proved to be an apostle. There was the public testimony to Christ, and what evil had there been permitted amongst them was corrected. So he could say, Titus brings me an account of how you received my first letter, and he writes a second, now that he is happy about them, in which he speaks of the glory of God who “comforteth them that are cast down,” and of faith and obedience, etc. Still he was jealous over them with a godly jealousy, because of judaizing teachers.
The end of that which was to be abolished was Christ. In Hebrews Christ is the starting-point of His house; if they departed from that, they were not His house at all. The law was only a shadow; the substance or body is Christ. The Lord was the body, so to speak, of the spirit; and that is what is meant, I take it, here, “Now the Lord is that spirit.” The spiritual meaning of all is the Lord. They had neither the image nor the reality; but the Holy Ghost gives the meaning of those things in the power of a glorified Christ. “If the ministration of death was glorious,” etc. There was glory in the establishment of the law, not in the law itself, but going with it. “For even that which was made glorious” —which was introduced with glory— “was not to remain “; but the glory in Christ is not merely introduced; it is a reality which will remain forever. The law was the shadow, Christ was the fullness. That shows what the things He manifested were, “those which remained.” It looks at first as if characteristically the things Paul ministered were to remain, but it is the glory of Christ's person remains. It is the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, that gives a distinct character to Paul's gospel—not merely the glorious gospel, but really the gospel of the glory of Christ: the glory of God shines in His face.
Short of this, you cannot minister righteousness; you may set forth all the attractiveness of Christ and draw sinners, like the woman who loved the Lord, as a sinner attracted by His grace, but had not found righteousness yet, till sent away in peace. “Thy sins, which are many, are forgiven thee.” The Holy Ghost tells us now of righteousness, because Christ is set down on the Father's throne; He declares God's righteousness by and in “Jesus Christ the righteous.” As soon as you have unqualified righteousness, you have a present heavenly character; you are not merely attracted to Christ, but suffering with Him who is in the glory.
People are told sometimes, practically, they must find out what work the Spirit has done in them, instead of having set forth the work of Christ as accomplished for them. None went beyond the preaching of the cross for many ages past, fearing to preach God's righteousness, lest it should lead to Antinomianism. But now we see it is the ground of perfect righteousness we start upon; and that is the very reason we desire to walk so as to please Christ.
In John 15 we are spoken of as being loved according as we have loved Him, not as in grace, but by the Father. The place righteousness is put in shows that the church's place is with God. The heavenly position is shown. God receives us into His presence in Christ when Christ is received. Having the Spirit, we “wait for the hope of righteousness.” What is that? Oh, it has set Christ at the right hand of God, and in Him sets you there too. “Set in heavenly places” is the church's place properly. In Rom. 3:2222Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:22) it is not the righteousness of a certain class of men for God, but God's righteousness for man who had none of his own-"none righteous.” It is “unto all,” as much for the Gentiles as Jews, “and upon all that believe “; though presented to all, it is by imputation (that real by grace, and not by accomplishment) on them only that believe. God ministers righteousness, which we have none of our own (that is the gospel), because Christ is set down at the right hand of God. But we should have been ignorant of the fact if the Holy Ghost had not come down to tell us of it. The church's proper association is with Christ in the heavens. And when in the glory, I shall only have my body put right, for everything else I have now by the Spirit. The coming of the Lord is to take us into the place, where we are in spirit by faith already, to which we belong.
“I have finished the work thou gavest me to do... Now come I to thee. “We shall be to the praise of His glory then, as we are to the praise of His grace now. In Ephesians Christ's coming is not even spoken of, because they were seated in heavenly places; and therefore all that was spoken to them was about the inheritance; the thing set before us is the inheritance in heaven, the possession, not the glory or translation. In Colossians it is “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven.”
Why? Because they were not holding the Head, but holding angel-worship and all sorts of things. They had slipped down from the full possession of their place, and he is getting them back. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.” In Ephesians they were going on properly, and he could unfold to them all. In Peter it is “to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled... reserved in heaven for you “-” ready to be revealed.” Here they are seen as begotten again, walking towards heaven, and therefore the word is “as pilgrims and strangers in the earth,” in virtue of the resurrection. If the flesh be not judged, one will not stand. The coming of the Lord is the proper hope of the soul to be converted to; as in Thessalonians, “to wait for his Son from heaven.”
It is of the utmost importance that we should thoroughly get hold of what the church is and its identification with the Lord Jesus. Its importance may be gathered from the very many and various ways the enemy seeks to attack that truth, and it is always liable to be let slip, for it is easily lost. To have the one truth, that I am in and associated with Christ, uppermost in my thoughts, is a most difficult thing, and the easiest lost of any, because it is a thought, of course, of the Spirit, and nature will always sink the soul down into something in itself by which it is to satisfy God. I am to understand that the power working in my soul is “according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.” And it will not do if the soul has not taken up its position with Christ. One need not speak of hypocrisy, but sincerity will not do. I ought to crucify the world, and the heart should settle down easy and happy. This puts Satan out. I do not mean that there would be no conflict with him, but we must keep him outside. Satan always acts on the flesh; he has no power over the new man. If we are in the light, all things are made manifest. What a wondrous thing to say we are “one spirit with the Lord!” “He that, is joined to the Lord is one spirit “; and what ' persons we should be if abiding under the power! of that one spirit with the Lord in heaven! What great peace we should enjoy, now that nature is duly judged! The knowledge of righteousness, without the present power of the Holy Ghost, has led many into Antinomianism. They have turned to the flesh to keep down the flesh; and it is impossible, if a man is so occupied with himself, to keep him from self-importance. A danger exists that, when some have seen the truth of the church being in heavenly places, and there has been the labor and working of the soul itself, they may get a great many ideas of the blessedness of the glory, without having got peace, because they have not got their souls on the ground of righteousness, by which alone we are enabled to crucify the flesh. If, all of a sudden, the question were seriously put, Are you safe and ready to be taken? they would be all aback; the. ground of the heart is not so thoroughly plowed up as that they know they are made the righteousness of God in Him. Job said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself,” etc. Was that the first time Job had seen God? Yes, in that way. God will have nothing but good in His presence, and the soul finds itself nothing but evil, and says, “then I cannot have it.” But it is His grace that is working. The soul, brought into the presence of God in that way, rests in His perfect grace, and has done with itself; then all the bright place into which it is brought is enjoyed; and we eat the corn of the land.
Moses saw the promised land from Pisgah, but did not go into it; to see it from outside is a different thing from entering it. It is easier than as Joshua who went in by conflict; Moses on the contrary did not strike a blow. You know now what it is to sit in heavenly places, and what it is to enjoy “the things that remain.” It is true, there is conflict; but you do get into possession. It is wonderfully connected with the whole armor of God, always the defensive first. The person is first thoroughly preserved spiritually, before a sword is put into his hand. Temptation would pull us down from the place God has set us in: but when it is conflict, it is fighting as in danger of being turned out. A person not spiritual cannot tell what it is to be fighting with wicked spirits in heavenly places. He would say, all his battles were on the earth, neither does he know the joy of sitting above. The difference between the Red Sea and Jordan is that the Red Sea is Christ's dying and rising again for us effectually; in Jordan, it is our death and resurrection with Him. Therefore the moment they had passed the Jordan, they were all circumcised. The first thing in the knowledge of the church's place in heaven is the destruction of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (where it is real). We want to have things real with God and not ideas. We cannot go on without faith.
The coming of Christ is such a different thing to the soul when our true position is understood. Instead of my desiring it that I may get rid of myself and what I may be doing on the earth, it will be that I may enjoy Him and be with Him in heaven. The affections may be attached to Christ; but unless righteousness is known, there cannot be the quiet waiting for Christ. I dare not look for Him until I know the righteousness of God in Christ. If I have not liberty, I may be wishing for Christ to give me liberty: but when the soul has liberty, it is the peaceful enjoyment of the soul with Him and happy affections! Nothing more easily slips from our souls, even when there is a true desire for it, than the coming of Christ. “Be not conformed to this world.” J. N. D.
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