Darby Synopsis: 5. Colossians to Revelation

Table of Contents

1. COLOSSIANS
2. Colossians 1
3. Colossians 2
4. Colossians 3
5. Colossians 4
6. 1 THESSALONIANS
7. 1 Thessalonians 1
8. 1 Thessalonians 2
9. 1 Thessalonians 3
10. 1 Thessalonians 4
11. 1 Thessalonians 5
12. 2 THESSALONIANS
13. 2 Thessalonians 1
14. 2 Thessalonians 2
15. 2 Thessalonians 3
16. 1 TIMOTHY
17. 1 Timothy 1
18. 1 Timothy 2
19. 1 Timothy 3
20. 1 Timothy 4
21. 1 Timothy 5
22. 1 Timothy 6
23. 2 TIMOTHY
24. 2 Timothy 1
25. 2 Timothy 2
26. 2 Timothy 3
27. 2 Timothy 4
28. TITUS
29. Titus 1
30. Titus 2
31. Titus 3
32. PHILEMON
33. HEBREWS
34. Hebrews 1
35. Hebrews 2
36. Hebrews 3
37. Hebrews 4
38. Hebrews 5
39. Hebrews 6
40. Hebrews 7
41. Hebrews 8
42. Hebrews 9
43. Hebrews 10
44. Hebrews 11
45. Hebrews 12
46. Hebrews 13
47. JAMES
48. James 1
49. James 2
50. James 3
51. James 4
52. James 5
53. 1 PETER
54. 1 Peter 1
55. 1 Peter 2
56. 1 Peter 3
57. 1 Peter 4
58. 1 Peter 5
59. 2 PETER
60. 2 Peter 1
61. 2 Peter 2
62. 2 Peter 3
63. 1 JOHN
64. 1 John 1
65. 1 John 2
66. 1 John 3
67. 1 John 4
68. 1 John 5
69. 2 JOHN
70. 3 JOHN
71. JUDE
72. THE REVELATION
73. Revelation 1
74. Revelation 2
75. Revelation 3
76. Revelation 4
77. Revelation 5
78. Revelation 6
79. Revelation 7
80. Revelation 8
81. Revelation 9
82. Revelation 10
83. Revelation 11
84. Revelation 12
85. Revelation 13
86. Revelation 14
87. Revelation 15
88. Revelation 16
89. Revelation 17
90. Revelation 18
91. Revelation 19
92. Revelation 20
93. Revelation 21
94. Revelation 22

COLOSSIANS

The scope of the epistle compared and contrasted with that to the Ephesians; the state of the Ephesian and Colossian Christians
The Epistle to the Colossians looks at the Christian as risen with Christ, but not, as in that to the Ephesians, as sitting in heavenly places in Christ. A hope is laid up for him in heaven; he is to set his affections on things above, not on things on the earth. He has died with Christ and he is risen with Him, but not sitting in heavenly places in Him yet. We have in it a proof of that which other epistles demonstrate, namely, the blessed way in which our God in His grace turns everything to the good of those that love Him.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians the Holy Spirit had developed the counsels of God with regard to the church-its privileges. The Christians of Ephesus had nothing to be reproached with:1 therefore the Holy Spirit could use the occasion furnished by that faithful flock to unfold all the privileges which God had ordained for the church at large, by virtue of its union with Jesus Christ its Head, as well as the individual privileges of the children of God.
(1. How painful it is to see this beloved church taken afterwards as an example of the first love being lost! But all tends to the end.)
It was not so with the Colossians. They had in some measure slipped away from this blessed portion and lost the sense of their union with the Head of the body; at least, if it was not actually so, they were assailed by the danger and liable to the influence of those who sought to draw them away from it and subject them to the influence of philosophy and Judaism, so that the Apostle had to occupy himself with the danger and not merely with their privileges. This union with our Head (thank God!) cannot itself be lost; but as a truth in the church or of realization by individuals, it may. We know this but too well in the church of the day we live in. This, however, gives occasion to the Spirit of God to develop all the riches and all the perfection which are found in the Head and in His work, in order to recover the members of the body from their spiritual feebleness or maintain them in the full, practical enjoyment of their union with Christ and in the power of the position gained for them by that union. For us this is abiding instruction with regard to the riches that are in the Head.
If the Epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fullness that is in the Head and our completeness in Him. Thus, in that to the Ephesians the church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all; in that to the Colossians, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and we are complete in Him. There is another difference, however, which it is important to remark. In the Epistle to the Colossians we do not-save in the expression “love in the Spirit”- find any mention of the Holy Spirit. He is fully brought forward in the Ephesians. But, on the other hand, we have Christ as our life far more fully developed, of equal importance in its place. In Ephesians we have more largely the contrast of heathenism with Christian privilege and state. The formation of the soul in living likeness to Christ is largely developed in Colossians. It is more, in the well-known expressions, Christ in us than we in Christ, though these cannot be separated. A further important difference is that in Ephesians the unity of Jew and Gentile in one body holds a large place. In Colossians the Gentiles only are in view, though in connection with the doctrine of the body. These differences well noted, we may say that the two epistles have a great resemblance in their general character.

Colossians 1

The great general resemblances in the two epistles
They commence in nearly the same way.1 Both are written from Rome, while the Apostle was a prisoner in that city, and sent by the same messenger and on the same occasion, as well probably as that to Philemon: so the names and salutations give us reason to believe. The address to the Ephesians places them perhaps more immediately in connection with God Himself, instead of presenting them as in brotherly communion on earth. They are not called brethren in Ephesians 1:1, only saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. They are viewed as walking on earth in Colossians, though risen. Hence, there is a long prayer for their walk, though on high and holy ground as delivered. In Ephesians it begins with the full purpose and fruit of God’s counsels. In that epistle the Apostle’s heart expands at once in the sense of the blessings enjoyed by the Ephesians. They were blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. For the Colossians there was a hope laid up in heaven. And there is a preface of many verses referring to the gospel they had heard and introducing his prayer for their walk and state down here. This brings us where Ephesians 1:7 brings us, but with a much more enlarged development of the personal glory of Christ, and more in a historical way of God’s actual dealings. It is also a more personal church address than the Ephesians.
(1. The name of Timotheus is not found in the address to the saints at Ephesus.)
Special characteristics of what is said to the Colossians
But let us consider more closely that which is said to the Colossians. The blessed calling of which the Apostle speaks (Ephesians 1:3-10) and the privileges of the inheritance (vss. 11-14) are wanting in Colossians; risen but on earth, they are not sitting in heavenly places, all things being thus their inheritance. It is not they in Christ there, but Christ in them the hope of glory, and the prayer referred to above fills up the chapter till we come to the common ground of Christ’s glory in Colossians 1:15; and even here the divine glory of Christ is brought out in Colossians, the simple fact of the purpose of God as to Christ in Ephesians. And not only we have not God’s inheritance ours; but in Colossians the Spirit as earnest of it is not spoken of. This indeed we have seen is characteristic of Colossians. The Spirit is not spoken of, but life. We have the Person and divine glory of Christ and our completeness in Him more insisted on in Colossians; but not the saints’ place with God in the same way. Further, as the saint is looked at as on earth, not in Christ on high, his responsibility is brought in (ch. 1:23). Colossians 1:3 answers to Ephesians 1:16: only one feels that there is more fullness in the joy of Ephesians 1:16. Faith in Christ and love to all saints are found in each exordium, as the occasion of the writer’s joy.
The Apostle’s prayer in view of the Colossians’ need
The subject of his prayer is quite different. In the Ephesians, where he develops the counsels of God with regard to the church, he prays that the saints may understand them, as well as the power by means of which they participated in them. Here he prays that their walk may be guided by divine intelligence. But this belongs to another cause, to the point of view from which, in his discourse, he looks at the saints. We have seen that in the Epistle to the Ephesians he views them as sitting in the heaven-lies. Their inheritance, consequently, is that of all things which are to be gathered together under Christ as Head. Here he prays for them in view of a hope laid up for them in heaven; his prayer, therefore, refers to their walk, that it may be in harmony with the object which they had set before them. As on earth and in danger of not adhering to the Head, the believers in Colosse were in danger of departing from that object. He prayed, therefore, in view of that heavenly hope. They had heard of this perfect and glorious hope. The gospel had proclaimed it everywhere.
The Colossians’ danger and its remedy
It was this gospel preached in view of a hope laid up in heaven which had produced fruit among men, fruit that was characterized by its heavenly source. Their religion, that which governed their heart in these relationships with God, was heavenly. The Colossians were in danger of falling back into the current of ordinances and of the religious customs of man living in the world, whose religion was in connection with the world in which he dwelt and not enlightened, not filled with heavenly light. There is nothing but conscious union with Christ which can keep us securely there. Ordinances to reach Him can have no place where we are united to Him; the philosophy of human thoughts none, where we possess livingly divine ones in Christ.
Nevertheless, how precious it is-even if we are not in the full height of our calling-to have an object set before our hearts which delivers us from this world and from the influences which hide God from us! Such is the Apostle’s object in this scripture. He directs the eyes of the Colossians to heaven, in order that they may see Christ there and regain that sense of their union with the Head which they had in some measure lost or were in danger of losing. The groundwork was, however, there-faith in Christ and love to all saints. They only needed realizing their union with the Head; which, moreover, could alone maintain them in the heavenly element above ordinances, above human and earthly religion.
The Apostle’s starting point
The Apostle, in order to raise them up, sets out as usual from the point where he found good in the saints to whom he wrote. This heavenly hope had reached them and had produced fruit. It is this which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions, and in particular from the Jewish system, which-although individuals who were in it by grace sighed for heaven-hid God behind the veil and enveloped the conscience in a series of ordinances at a distance from Him.
The practical, heavenly life on earth of those risen with Christ
Now, based upon this hope which placed the inner life of the Christians in connection with heaven, the Apostle prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. It is the fruit of a risen man’s connection with God on the earth. This is very different from commandments and ordinances. It is the fruit of intimate communion with God, of knowledge of His character and of His nature by virtue of this communion; and, although it refers to practical life, as belonging to the inner life, it leaves ordinances completely behind. The Apostle had to begin at this practical end, at Christian life. Perhaps the Colossians did not at first understand the bearing of these instructions, but they contained a principle which, already planted in their heart and capable of being reawakened, led them to the point which the Apostle aimed at, and was at the same time a very precious privilege, the value of which they were in a position to apprehend. Such is charity. The Apostle develops their privileges in this respect with force and clearness, as one to whom such a walk was well-known, and, moreover, with the power of the Spirit of God. They are not in heaven but on earth, and this is the path that suited those risen with Christ and looking to heaven from the earth. It is divine life on earth, not the Holy Spirit putting the soul of the believer at the center of divine counsels, as in Ephesians 3 through Christ dwelling in the heart by faith.
The knowledge of God’s will based on the soul’s spiritual state by means of His Word: a worthy walk and fruitful growth result and increasing knowledge of God
The first principle of this practical heavenly life was the knowledge of the will of God-to be filled with it, not to run after it as a thing without us, nor in indecision, in uncertainty, as to what it was, but to be filled with it by a principle of intelligence which comes from Him and which forms the understanding and the wisdom of the Christian himself. The character of God was livingly translated in the appreciation of everything that the Christian did. And remark here that the knowledge of God’s will is based on the spiritual state of the soul-wisdom and spiritual understanding. And this is of all practical importance. No particular direction by man as to conduct meets this at all-rather saves us from the need of spiritual understanding. No doubt a more spiritual mind may help me in the discernment of God’s will;1 but God has connected the discovery of the path of His will, His way, with the inward state of the soul and causes us to pass through circumstances-human life here below-to test and to discover to ourselves what that state is and to exercise us therein. The Christian has by his spiritual state to know God’s ways. The Word is the means (compare John 17:17,19). God has a way of His own which the vulture’s eye has not seen, known only to the spiritual man, connected with, flowing from, and to, the knowledge of God (compare Exodus 33:13). Thus the Christian walks worthy of the Lord; he knows what becomes Him2 and walks accordingly, that he may please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and growing by the knowledge of God.
(1. It is one of the deceits of the heart that, when we really know God’s will quite well, we go to ask advice of one no more spiritual than ourselves.)
(2. There are three measures given of the Christian’s walk in this form: worthy of God who has called us to His own kingdom and glory; worthy of the Lord, here; and worthy of the vocation with which we are called, that is, the Holy Spirit dwelling in the church, Ephesians 2; developed as it is in the end of chapter 3.)
The measure of the Christian’s strength; a life in harmony with God; its character, manifestation on earth and form
It was not then only the character of life: this life was productive; it bore fruit, and, as life grew up, by increasing knowledge of God. But this connection with God brings in another very precious consideration. Besides the character and the living energy which are in relationship with this knowledge, the strength of the Lord1 is developed in it also. They draw strength from Him. He gives it that they might walk thus. “Strengthened,” he says, “with all power, according to the might of his glory.” Such is the measure of the Christian’s strength for a life in harmony with the character of God. Thus the character of this life is revealed in the heavenly glory on high—Jesus Christ. On earth its manifestation—as it had been in Jesus Christ-is realized in all patience and long-suffering with joy, in the midst of the sorrow and afflictions of the life of God in this world. This form of the life, too, is striking: all divine strength according to His glory given in order to be patient, to endure. What a character it gives to the Christian’s life in this world! And there is a generous bearing with others which it enables us to maintain. Nor is anything a more manifest fruit of power than this. Will, too, is here subdued. Thus, in spite of all we have to endure, we have with God constant joy. It is a blessed picture of the form in which divine life manifests itself.
(1. The antecedent is, I think, here the Lord; but the Lord and God are greatly merged in one thought.)
The life of endurance: its source, aim and present possession
And here the Apostle connects this life of endurance with that which is its source, its aim and its present possession by faith. Walking thus we are full of joy, and we give thanks to the Father who has made1 us meet to share the portion of the saints in light. Here are the saints established in their proper relationship with God (their Father) in heaven-in the light, that which God is, and in which He dwells. Thus we have the state of the soul, the character of the walk, and the strength in which we accomplish it. As to meetness for God in light, we possess it. Moreover, we are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
(1. Take special notice here that it is not said, “Will make us meet,” as a thing yet to be done and in which we make progress.)
In the light: the means employed and the practical character of the work which places us there
The means employed and the practical character of the work which sets us in the light are then presented, introducing us (as far as Colossians does) into the counsels of God, but in a practical way-in their results future or present, not in counsel nor as the mystery of His will.
The Father has delivered us from the power of darkness and transported us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is not a Jewish rule for man; it is an operation of the power of God, who treats us as altogether by nature the slaves of Satan and of darkness; and places us by an act of that power in an entirely new position and relationship with Himself. We see indeed here, if we examine the principles in their origin, the same thing as in Ephesians 1:4-5; 2:1-6, as to our position before. But it is evident that the fullness and definiteness of a new creation are wanting.1 “The inheritance of the saints in light” and “the kingdom of the Son of his love” remind us of Ephesians 1:4-5; but it is not the thing itself, as it is in God’s mind, but our having been made meet for it when here; nor, consequently, the development of a position with which one is familiar as standing in it. The power and the love of the Father have made us meet for it, and although the character of God is necessarily there as light and love, according to His relationship to His Son, yet what we have here is not our own relationship with God Himself, outside the question of whence He took us, but the work in general which places us there in contrast with our previous position. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son; we have part in the inheritance of the saints in light: but where is the saint “without blame before him in love”? where our relationship to Him, according to the counsels of Him who saw only the good which He purposed in His own heart? where the “children unto himself by Jesus Christ,” through His predestination before the world was?
(1. We shall also see, farther on, that the starting point is somewhat different, and, though Ephesian ground is partially referred to, brings in man as he is found living in sin, and less absolutely to God, who finds him already dead in sins, and creates him according to His own counsels. But of this hereafter. Further, in Ephesians 1:6 our place is full grace in Christ; in Colossians 1 it is present, actual deliverance from the power of darkness and translation into the kingdom of the Son of His love-not χαρις (charis) or χαριτωσις εν τω ηγαπημενω (charitosis en to hegapemeno).)
Deliverance by God’s power and grace; the means employed by the Spirit
In Ephesians deliverance is brought in as a consequence of the position in which the heirs, the objects of the eternal counsels of God, are seen.1 Here deliverance is the chief subject. How dangerous and disastrous it is to depart from the Head and to lose the full consciousness, in the light, of our union with Him! How perfect and precious is that grace which takes notice of our condition and brings us out of it to God, to make us enjoy-according to the power and grace of God-the inestimable position which He has given us in Christ!
(1. This belongs to the principle mentioned above. In Ephesians, all is seen from the point of view of God’s eternal counsels before evil existed, the good which He purposed in Himself, although redemption was necessary when evil had come in, and the glory of God Himself and the basis of our glory in the accomplishment of them were made good in it. In Colossians man in evil is the object of grace.)
The means which the Spirit here employs to accomplish this work of grace is the development of the glory of the Lord, of the Son of His love.
The kingdom of the Son of His love
Here alone, I believe, is the kingdom called the kingdom of the Son; and, I think, it is only as introducing His Person as the center of everything and giving us the measure of the greatness of the blessing. It is the kingdom of One who has this place, the Son of His love, into which we are introduced. It is indeed His kingdom; and in order that we may apprehend the character of this kingdom as it is now for us and our nearness to God as having part in it, it is called the kingdom of the Son of His love. It is this which is the present foundation and characteristic of the relationship with God of those who are truly in and of it. As the kingdom of the Son of Man, it is His manifestation hereafter in glory and in government. Here it is characterized by the relationship of the Son Himself to the Father, in His Person, with the addition of that which gives us a full title to share it-redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
The glory of Jesus set in strong relief
The Apostle, having thus introduced the Son in His relationship to the Father, as the central and mighty object which was to attract the heart of the Colossians and set them free from the yoke of ordinances, sketches now the different parts of the glory of that Person. If, therefore, the assembly’s own glory is wanting, that of Jesus is so much the rather set in stronger relief before us. Thus God brings good out of evil and in every way feeds His beloved people.
The Lord Jesus the image of the invisible God seen of angels and men
The Lord Jesus is the image of the invisible God. It is in the Son of His love that we see what God is (compare John 1:18; and also 1 John 1:2). This is the first character of His personal glory, the essential center of all the rest. Now, in consequence of this proper character of His Person, He takes by right the position of representing God in the creation. Adam was created in some sort in the image of God and placed as center in a creation that was subjected to him. But, after all, he was only a figure of the Christ, of Him who was to come. The Son, in His very Person, in His nature (and for us as in the bosom of the Father), is He who makes God known, because He presents Him in His own Person and in a full revelation of His being and of His character before men and in the whole universe; for all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him. Nevertheless, He is a man. He is thus seen of angels. We have seen Him with our eyes or by faith. Thus He is the image of the invisible God. The perfect character and living representation of the invisible God have been seen in Him. Wondrous truth for us with regard to the Person of our Saviour!
The firstborn of all creation; its Creator and Head
But then what place can He have in creation when He has come into it according to the eternal counsels of God? He could have but one, namely, that of supremacy without contestation and without controversy. He is the firstborn of all creation; this is a relative name, not one of date with regard to time. It is said of Solomon, “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” Thus the Creator, when He takes a place in creation, is necessarily its Head. He has not yet made good His rights, because in grace He would accomplish redemption. We are speaking of His rights- rights which faith recognizes.
He is then the image of the invisible God, and, when He takes His place in it, the firstborn of all creation. The reason of this is worthy of our attention-simple, yet marvelous: He created it. It was in the Person of the Son that God acted, when by His power He created all things, whether in heaven or in the earth, visible and invisible. All that is great and exalted is but the work of His hand; all has been created by Him (the Son) and for Him. Thus, when He takes possession of it, He takes it as His inheritance by right. Wonderful truth that He who has redeemed us, who made Himself man, one of us as to nature, in order to do so, is the Creator. But such is the truth.
Christ as Man having right to all things created by Him and for Him
In connection with this admirable truth, it was a part of God’s counsels that man should have dominion over all the works of His hands. Thus Christ, as man, has it by right and will take possession of it in fact. This part of the truth of which we are speaking is treated in Hebrews 2; we shall consider it in its place. I introduce it here merely that we may understand the circumstances under which the Son takes possession. The Spirit speaks of the One who is man, but the One who is at the same time Creator of all things, the Son of God. They were created by Him, they were necessarily then created also for Him.
Thus we have hitherto the glory of the Person of Christ and His glory in creation connected with His Person. In Him is seen the image of the invisible God. He has created all things: all is for Him; and He is the firstborn of all that is created.
Christ, the Head of the body, the firstborn from among the dead; His special place in relation to the church in resurrection power; His preeminence in all things
Another category of glory, another supremacy, is now presented. He takes a special place in relation to the assembly in the power of resurrection. It is the introduction of divine power, not in creation but in the empire of death; in order that others may participate in His glory by redemption and by the power of life in Him. The first glory was, so to speak, natural-the latter, special and acquired (although in virtue of the glory of His Person) by undergoing death and all the power of the enemy in it. Accordingly, it is connected, as we have just said, with redemption and with the introduction of others into the participation of the same privileges. He is the Head of the body, which is the assembly, the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, that in all things He might have the preeminence. He is the firstborn of creation, He is the firstborn1 according to the power of resurrection, in this new order of things in which man is predestined to an entirely new position, gained by redemption, and in which he participates in the glory of God (as far as that which is created can do so), and that by participating in divine life in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and everlasting life; and, as regards the assembly, as members of His body. He is the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from among the dead; the Creator and the conqueror of death and the enemy’s power. These are the two spheres of the display of the glory of God. The special position of the assembly, the body of Christ, forms a part of the latter. He must have this resurrection glory, this universal preeminence and superiority also, as being man, for all the fullness (namely, of the Godhead; see chapter 2:9) was pleased to dwell in Him. What place could He have except that of first in all things! But, before speaking of that which follows, some important remarks are yet to be made on that which we have been considering.
(1. One of these preeminences depends on His divine rights as Creator, the other on His work and on the power displayed in His humanity in the act of resurrection. He holds all as man and all by divine power; but in some sort it may be said that one part of His glory depends on His divinity, the other on His victory as man.)
Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection
The Son is here presented to us as Creator, not to the exclusion of the Father’s power, nor of the operation of the Spirit. They are one, but it is the Son who is here set before us. In John 1 it is the Word who creates all things. Here and in Hebrews 1, it is under the name of Son that He, who is also the Word, is revealed to us. He is the Word of God, the expression of His thought and of His power. It is by Him that God works and reveals Himself. He is also the Son of God; and, in particular, the Son of the Father. He reveals God, and he who has seen Him has seen the Father. Inasmuch as born in this world by the operation of God through the Holy Spirit, He is the Son of God (Psa. 2:7; Luke 1:35). But this is in time, when creation is already the scene of the manifestation of the ways and counsels of God. But the Son is also the name of the proper relationship of His glorious Person to the Father before the world was. It is in this character that He created all things. The Son is to be glorified even as the Father. If He humble Himself, as He did for us, all things are put into His hands, in order that His glory may be manifested in the same nature in the assumption of which He humbled Himself.
And already the power of life and of God in Him is manifested by resurrection, so that He is declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. This is the proof of it.
“All the fullness of the Godhead”: the one Person of Christ
In the Epistle to the Colossians that which is set before us is the proper glory of His Person as the Son before the world was. He is the Creator as Son. It is important to observe this. But the persons are not separated in their manifestation. If the Son wrought miracles on earth, He cast out devils by the Spirit; and the Father who dwells in Him (Christ) did the works. Also it must be remembered that that which is said is said, when He was manifested in the flesh, of His complete Person, man upon earth. Not that we do not in our minds separate between the divinity and the humanity; but even in separating them we think of the one Person with regard to whom we do so. We say, Christ is God, Christ is man; but it is Christ who is the two. I do not say this theologically, but to draw the reader’s attention to the remarkable expression, “All the fullness was pleased to dwell in him.” All the fullness of the Godhead was found in Christ.
The errors of the Gnostics
The Gnostics, who in later years so much harassed the assembly, used this word “fullness” in a mystical and peculiar sense for the sum and source (and yet, after all, in the sense of a locality; for it had a ορος (horos), limits which separated it from everything else) of divinity which developed itself in four pairs of beings-syzygies-Christ being only one of a pair.1 It is not necessary to go further into their reveries, except to observe that, with different shades of thought, they attribute creation to a god either inferior or evil, who also was the author of the Old Testament. Matter, they said, did not proceed from the supreme God. They did not eat meat; they did not marry; at the same time they gave themselves up to all sorts of horrors and dissoluteness; and, strange to say, associated themselves with Judaism, worshipped angels, etc.
(1. Indeed added to the four as supplementary.)
All the fullness dwelling in Christ
The Apostle was often in conflict with these tools of Satan. Peter also mentions them. Here Paul sets forth, by the word of God, the whole fullness of the divinity of Christ. Far from being something inferior, an emanation, or having a place however exalted in those endless genealogies, all the fullness itself dwelt in Him. Glorious truth with regard to the Person of the Lord our Saviour! We may leave all the foolish imaginations of man in the shade in order to enjoy the perfect light of this glorious fullness of God in our Head and Lord. All the fullness was in Him. We know indeed the Father, but revealed by Him. We possess indeed the Spirit, but the fullness of the Spirit was in Him, and because, having accomplished our redemption and our purification, He then received that Spirit for us. And God Himself in all His fullness was revealed, without any reservation, in the Person of Christ; and this Christ is ours, our Saviour, our Lord. He has been manifested to us and for us. What a glorious truth for us!
It is for His own glory, no doubt, that He should be known as He is, as love; but it is not the less true that this revelation was in connection with us. It is not only the Son revealing the Father, sweet and precious as that fact is; it is the fullness of the Godhead as such that is revealed and shown forth in Christ. It was the good pleasure of the fullness to dwell there.
Reconciled to God by Christ; peace made through the blood of His cross
But Christ was not only the Head of creation in virtue of the divine glory of His Person and the Head of the assembly as risen from among the dead and victorious over the power of the enemy; creation and all those who were to form the assembly were alike far from God, and the latter were so even in their will; to be in relationship with God they must be reconciled to Him. This is the second part of the glory of Christ. Not only was it the good pleasure of the fullness of the Godhead to dwell in Him, but by Him to reconcile all things to Itself, having made peace by the blood of the cross. This reconciliation of things in heaven as well as on earth is not yet accomplished. Peace is indeed made by the blood, but the power has not yet come in to bring back the whole into actual relationship with God according to the value of that blood.
Thus, in Israel, the blood was put upon the mercy-seat, and expiation-peace-was made; but besides this, everything was sprinkled, and the sins of the people were confessed. This, with regard to Israel and to creation, has not yet been done. As to that which is outward, it remains still at a distance from God, although peace is made. We know that it is the good pleasure of God to reconcile all things in heaven, and on the earth, by virtue of this blood. All things shall be restored to order under a new rule. The guilty, remaining in their sins, will be outside this scene of blessing; but heaven and earth will be completely freed from the power of evil (and even from its presence during the millennium, as regards manifestation-still later, absolutely from its presence itself), according to the virtue of that blood which has separated between good and evil, according to the character of God Himself, and so glorified God that peace is made. God can act freely for blessing; but here the work is twofold, like the glory of the Person of Christ, and refers to the same objects as His glory. It is in the counsels of God to reconcile unto Himself all things in heaven and on the earth through Christ. But Christians He has already reconciled. Once not only defiled, like the creature, but enemies in their minds, He has already reconciled them in the body of His flesh by means of death. The perfect work which Christ accomplished in His body, blotting out our sins and perfectly glorifying God His Father, has brought us into relationship with God in His holiness according to the efficacy of that work; that is to say, it is efficacious to present us, perfectly reconciled, holy, without blemish and without blame, before His face; and with the consciousness of it, and of the love that has wrought it, and the favor into which we are brought, so that in the sense of this the heart is brought back to God: we are reconciled to God. This supposes that we continue steadfast in the faith unto the end.
The occasion of warning; the worldwide testimony of God’s love
The position of the Colossians gave room for this warning, being viewed as walking on earth.1 We have seen that they had a little departed, or were in danger of departing, from the realization of their union with Christ.
(1. When the Christian is viewed as in Christ, there is no “if”: we are in Him. When he is viewed as a pilgrim here, we are on the road to actual glory and have to reach the goal, and here “if” comes in and danger and the need of being kept. But then we have the fullest assurance that we shall be kept and never perish, and be confirmed to the end, and the good work completed. Thus dependence on God is maintained in the saved, and confidence in His faithfulness.)
It will be noticed also that the Apostle speaks of his gospel as spread abroad in all the world. Grace had overstepped the narrow limits of Judaism and the expectation of the Messiah in order to make known the testimony of the perfect love of God in the whole creation under heaven, of which Paul was the instrument as the apostle of the Gentiles.1
(1. Note here how clear and full the statement is: verse 14, redemption and forgiveness; verse 21, reconciliation with God; verse 13, deliverance and introduction into the kingdom; verse 12, we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. All this we have, and so are called to walk worthy of the Lord.)
The two preeminences of Christ, the two reconciliations, and the double character of Paul’s ministry; the Word of God completed as to its subjects
Hitherto, then, the Spirit of God has set before us the two pre-eminences of Christ, that over creation and that over the assembly, and the two reconciliations which answer to them; namely, first, that of the things over which Christ is set as Head, that is, of all things in heaven and earth; and second, that of Christians themselves: the latter already accomplished, the former yet to come. The ministry of the Apostle had now the same double character. He has not undoubtedly to preach in heaven; but his ministry is exercised in every place under heaven where there is a soul to hearken. He is a minister of that gospel; and then he is a minister of the assembly, a distinct service or ministry, making known its true position and its privileges, connected indeed with the other, in that the gospel went out also to the Gentiles to bring them in (vss. 23,25). By this last instruction he completed the Word of God: an important principle with regard to the exclusive authority of the written Word, which shows that its totality already exists, demonstrated by the subjects which it comprises; subjects which are entirely completed, to the exclusion of others which people may seek to introduce. The circle of truths which God had to treat, in order to reveal to us the glory of Christ and to give us complete instruction according to His wisdom, is entire when the doctrine of the assembly is revealed. There were no others to be added.1
(1. It is not a question here as to the dates of the books, but of the circle of subjects. The law, the kingdom, the Person of Christ, redemption and the ways of God had already been brought out; the doctrine of the assembly was then to be revealed, in order to make the communications of God complete as to their subjects.)
Persecution and sufferings; the source of the enmity of Judaism
But this doctrine in particular exposed the Apostle to persecution and sufferings, which the Jews, especially, and the enemy sought in every way to inflict upon him. But he rejoiced in this as a privilege, because Christ had suffered on account of His love for the assembly-for His own. The Apostle speaks here, not of the efficacy of His death, but of the love which led Him to suffer. Looked at in this point of view, the Apostle could participate in His sufferings, and we also in our little measure; but the Apostle in a peculiar manner, as the special witness-bearer to this truth. If Christ had been content to accept the position of Messiah according to man, He would have been well received. If Paul had preached circumcision, the offense of the cross would have ceased: man could have taken part in the religion of God, if His religion had recognized man in the flesh. But if God is revealed, if His grace extends to the Gentiles, if by this grace, and without having respect to the Jew more than to the Gentile, He forms an assembly, which is the body of Christ, sharing the heavenly glory of His Son-this is what the flesh cannot endure. To be thus shut out as nothing worth before God, even in its religion, take what pains it might-this is unbearable. This is the source of the enmity of the Judaizing spirit, which is founded on the flesh, on man, and which is constantly reappearing in the Apostle’s history, whether as exciting the hatred of the heathen or as corrupting the doctrine of Christ and the simplicity of the gospel. Religion in the flesh boasts its own peculiar privileges (see Philippians 3).
Paul’s double ministry; the mystery made known
Thus we have a double ministry, as well as a double preeminence of Christ, and a double reconciliation; and each having a similar relationship the one to the other: Christ, the Head of all things in heaven and earth, the Head of the assembly; all things in heaven and earth are to be reconciled, Christians are reconciled; Paul exercises his ministry in the whole creation under heaven, he is the minister of the assembly. Naturally, his ministry was limited to the earth. In every respect the extent and bearing of the glory of Christ and of the ministry went beyond the limits of Judaism and were in contrast with the whole system.
The Apostle then insists on the second part of his ministry, of which he had been just speaking; dwelling however particularly on that which met the need of the Colossians and developing it, in order to secure them in the enjoyment of the whole circle of these precious truths. He completed the Word of God by announcing this mystery, which had been hidden from all ages and generations, but was now manifested to the saints. No display of the ways of God since the creation had (in the truths on which it was founded, in the revelation of God-of His power, or of His thoughts, which formed its basis and gave it its character) contained the mystery contained in the doctrine of the assembly. It had not been communicated to any of those who formed part of the system which preceded it, or who were the medium of light to others, as instrumental in the revelation of the light of God. Angels, men, Israel, the prophets-all were alike in ignorance of it. The assembly (this body united to the Son of God become man and glorified) and the calling of the Gentiles into that unity was hidden from them all.
Christ in us down here: the hope of glory;
the blessing and the power for every man
Now that Christ the Head of the assembly, the Head of the body, was glorified, the mystery of this body was made known. The Apostle here dwells on one particular side of this subject, which, after the Person of Christ, forms the center of all God’s ways. This side is Christ in us, especially as Gentiles, the hope of glory. And in this again we see how the saints are viewed as on earth, though in the power of resurrection. The aspect here given of the mystery is Christ in us down here, not union with Him actually in glory, though inseparable from that. In fact, this mystery was in every way a new thought, a new truth. That which was known was a Messiah who should be manifested among the Jews, the accomplishment of glory in their midst; the Gentiles at most having part in it, as subordinate to the people of God. But according to the doctrine of the assembly, Christ invisibly dwelt in the midst of the Gentiles,1 and even in them; and as to the glory He was only the hope of it. A Christ dwelling in the hearts of men, and of men formerly rejected and outside the promises, and filling their hearts with joy and glory in the consciousness of union with Himself-this was the wondrous mystery prepared of God for the blessing of the Gentiles. It was this Christ, a Christ such as this, whom Paul preached, warning every man and teaching every man according to the full development of the wisdom of God, which wrought mightily in the Apostle by the Spirit, in order that he might present every man in a spiritual state answering to this revelation of Christ, as being also its fruit. Not that every man would receive it; but there was no longer any limit. All distinction between them was blotted out, alike by sin and by grace, and there was but one thing to do; that is, to seek that every man, by the power of the Word and the Spirit, should reflect Christ and grow up unto the stature of His fullness, as revealed in the doctrine committed to the Apostle. He labored for this according to the working of Christ in him; for Christ was not only the object, but the power that wrought to form souls after His own image.
(1. I have already remarked that the Gentiles are especially in view in the Colossians, not the union of Jew and Gentile in one.)

Colossians 2

The necessities and difficulties of the way felt by Paul as a man
Now this power wrought in the Apostle’s weakness; in a human heart that felt the necessities of men and the difficulties that occurred by the way-that felt them as a man, although according to God, and was the fruit of His love. He desired that the Colossians should understand the conflict he had for them, and for all those who had never seen him, in order that they might be encouraged and be thoroughly united in love; so that they might understand, in all the riches of a full assurance, the mystery of God.
Union with Christ, realized in the heart, a safeguard from the enemy’s wiles
The Apostle felt that it was this which they needed and which would be a blessing to them. He knew that union with Christ, realized in the heart, was a safeguard from the wiles of the enemy, to which the Colossians were exposed. He knew the unutterable value of this union, and even of its realization by faith. He labored, he wrestled in prayer-for it is indeed a conflict-in order that the full sense of this union with the glorious Head might be wrought in their hearts, so that the Christ on high should be in them by faith. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were found in the mystery, of which this was to their souls the center and the power. They had not to seek elsewhere. Science, falsely so called, might pretend to furnish them with heights to which the simplicity of the doctrines of Christ did not reach; but, in fact, the wisdom of God and the depths of His counsels left these cloudy efforts of the human mind at an infinite distance. Moreover, they were truth-reality-instead of being but the creatures of imagination inspired by the enemy.
Science, falsely so-called, and the efforts of the human mind left at an infinite distance by God’s simple and marvelous revelations
For this reason, the Apostle had brought forward these marvelous revelations of God respecting the double glory of Christ and with regard to His Person. He declared them in order that no one should beguile the Colossians with enticing words. He avails himself of the order that existed among them and of their faith to guard them against the danger they were in from these thoughts, which might glide unperceived into their minds, while all was yet going on well and the consciousness of their faith was not touched. This often happens. People have faith in Christ, they walk well, they do not perceive that certain ideas overthrow that faith; they admit them, while still maintaining the profession of faith together with these ideas; but the force of the truth and the sense of union with Christ and the simplicity that is in Him are lost. The enemy has so far attained his end. That which is received is not the development of Christ, but something outside Him.
Man’s pretended knowledge and attempts at explanation of the creation apart from God; Satan’s part in his speculations
Therefore, the Apostle says, “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him; rooted and built up in him, and confirmed in the faith, even as ye have been taught.” When we have received Christ, all the rest is but a development of that which He is and of the glory which the counsels of God have connected with His Person. Knowledge, or pretended knowledge, outside this does but turn us away from Him, withdraw our hearts from the influence of His glory, throw us into that which is false, and lead our souls into connection with the creation apart from God and without possessing the key to His purposes. Thus, since man is incapable of fathoming that which exists and of explaining it to himself, his efforts to do so cause him to invent a mass of ideas that have no foundation and to endeavor to fill up the void that is found in his knowledge through his ignorance of God by speculations, in which (because he is at a distance from God) Satan plays the chief part without man’s suspecting it.
Apparently inconsistent principles which cannot be reconciled without Christ; man’s tendency and the Christian’s safeguard
Man, as a child of Adam, is not at the center of the immense system of God’s ways. Out of Christ and without Christ, he does not know the center; he speculates, without foundation and without end, only to lose himself more and more. His knowledge of good and evil and the energy of his moral faculties do but lead him astray the more, because he employs them on higher questions than those which simply relate to physical things; and they produce in him the need of reconciling apparently inconsistent principles, which cannot be reconciled without Christ. Moreover, the tendency of man is always to make himself, as he is, the center of everything; and this renders everything false.
Christians then ought to walk with simplicity in the ways of the Lord, even as they have received Him; and their progress ought to be in the knowledge of Christ, the true center and fullness of all things.
The dangers of philosophy and religion; Judaism as the religion of the flesh
When man occupies himself philosophically with all things, the insufficiency of his own resources always throws him into the hands of an intellectual leader and into tradition; and, when religion is the subject, into traditions which develop the religion of the flesh and are suited to its powers and tendencies.
In those days Judaism had the highest pretensions to this kind of religion, allied itself with human speculations and adopted them, and even pursued them assiduously; offering at the same time proofs of divine origin and a testimony to the unity of the Godhead, which the absence of the grossness of pagan mythology and the meeting of human consciousness of the divine rendered credible. This relative purity tended to remove-for enlightened minds-that which was disgusting in the pagan system. The Jewish system had, by the death of Jesus, lost all pretension to be the true worship of God; and was therefore suited (by the advantages it offered in the comparative purity of its dogmas) to be an instrument of Satan in opposing the truth. At all times it was adapted to the flesh, was founded on the elements of this world, because by its means, when owned of God, God was proving man in the position man stood in. But now God was no longer in it; and the Jews, moved by envy, urged the Gentiles to persecution; and Judaism allied itself to pagan speculations, in order to corrupt and sap the foundations of Christianity and destroy its testimony.
In principle it is always thus. The flesh may appear for a time to despise tradition, but that which is purely intellectual cannot stand in the midst of humanity without something religious. It has not the truth nor the world which belongs to faith, and for an immense majority superstition and tradition are needed; that is to say, a religion which the flesh can lay hold of and which suits the flesh. God by His power may preserve a portion of the truth or allow the whole to be corrupted; but in either case true Christian position and the doctrine of the assembly are lost.1
(1. There were some very beautiful legends, embracing partial truths, in the Gnostic system; but they had lost God and truth and reality of conscience before God.)
We may indeed find philosophy apart from the religion of the flesh, and the latter apart from the former; but in this case philosophy is impotent and atheistic, the religion of the flesh narrow, legal, superstitious, and, if it can be so, persecuting.
Human wisdom and men’s traditions in opposition to a heavenly Christ who answers all our need
In our chapter we find philosophy and the emptiness of human wisdom united with the traditions of men, characterized as “the elements of this world,” in opposition to Christ: for we have a heavenly Christ who is a perfect contrast to the flesh in man living on earth, a Christ in whom is all wisdom and fullness, and the reality of all that which the law pretended to give or which it presented in figure: and who is at the same time an answer to all our wants. This the Apostle develops here, showing death and resurrection with Him as the means of participating in it.
What we have and are in the Person of Christ
And, first, all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily. Instead of the misty speculations of men and fantastic aeons, we have the fullness of God bodily, in a real human body, and thus efficaciously for us, in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the second place, we are complete in Him; we need nothing out of Christ.1 On the one side, we have, in Him, God perfectly presented in all His fullness; on the other side, we possess in Him perfection and completeness before God. We are wanting in nothing as to our position before God. What a truth! What a position! God, in His perfect fullness, in Christ as man; we in Him before God, in the perfection of what He is-in Him who is Head of all principality and power, before which man in his ignorance would incline to bend the knee! We are in Him, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells as to His Person; in Him, who is above all principality as to His position and His rights as Christ, man exalted on high.
1. (These expressions relate to the double character of Christ already set before us in chapter 1. They show us what we have in Christ in a positive way, as that which follows applies it to everything here below which would prevent our enjoying it. In Christ is the fullness of the Godhead, the object of our delight, in whom we possess all things. We have also in Him a position above all creation, in the perfection which has placed Christ there. We are completed in Him who is the Head of all principality and of all power. As regards the phraseology, the change of a word, to one not, however, better in itself, shows the mind of the Apostle. In Him dwells all the completeness of the Godhead bodily; and we are complete in Him.)
The Apostle then enters into some details of application to demonstrate that the faithful have all in Christ, viewed according to the position which He has taken without having anything to seek elsewhere here below.
The true circumcision
Circumcision (the divine token of the covenant with the Jews, and of the putting off the flesh, which was required in order to form part of God’s people) had its reality in Him. By the power of the life which is in Him, and which is theirs-being made partakers of the efficacy of His death-Christians account themselves to be dead and have put off this body of sin by faith. This is the true circumcision of Christ made without hands. Circumcision made by hands was but the sign of this putting off the body of the flesh-the privilege of the Christian in Christ. Having a new life in Christ, he has efficaciously put off the old man.
Buried with Christ and raised up with Him
We are buried with Christ by baptism (this is its meaning), in which also we are risen with Him by faith in this operation of the power of God whereby He was raised from among the dead. Baptism was the sign and expression of this;1 faith in the operation of God which raised Him, the means by which is effected in us this marvelous resurrection with Christ into a new state and scene- this happy death, or rather this precious participation in the death of Him who has accomplished all for us. And when I say “faith,” it is the power of God’s Spirit working in us. But it is the power of God Himself, as it wrought in Christ, which works in us to give us the new standing in life. Viewed in connection with our resurrection with Christ it implies-by the very fact of our receiving it-that we are forgiven perfectly and forever. We were under the burden of our sins and dead in them. This burden Christ took upon Himself and died for us, accomplishing what put away our sins in going down into death. Raised up with Him, inasmuch as partaking of that life which He possesses as risen from the dead, we have-like Him and with Him-left all that burden of sin and condemnation behind us with the death from which we have been delivered. Therefore He says, “Having forgiven you all trespasses.”
(1. Some do not connect “risen” with baptism. If so, I apprehend the passage must be read thus: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism; in whom also ye are risen together [meaning with Christ] through faith.” Baptism clearly signifies death, and it is not the baptizing but the coming out of the water which can be applied to resurrection. The giving of life is in no way the sense of baptism even as a figure, but leaving the life of Adam by death (the death of Christ) and entrance through that gate into a wholly new place and position.)
Out of death and into life: various sides of the subject in Ephesians, Romans and Colossians
Christ, when He arose, left death and the weight of condemnation under which we were lying behind Him-we also being raised up with Him. Naturally God, in thus raising us up from the state in which we were, has not raised us up to condemn us, or with condemnation attached to this new life, which is Christ Himself. For He had already borne the condemnation and satisfied the justice of God and died for the putting away of sin before He communicated this life to us. God brought us out of death and condemnation with Christ who had borne it for us. But this is connected with another aspect of this work of grace, spoken of here, and also in Ephesians, and even in John 5 and 2 Corinthians 5. He who is alive in sins is dead in them towards God. If I look at him as alive in them, death must come in and has come in on the cross (see Romans 6). This side is not brought forward in Ephesians; only death in Romans; in Colossians, death and resurrection in Christ, of which we have spoken. In Ephesians this is not spoken of at all. We are viewed as dead in sins, dead towards God, and all good is a new creation according to God’s counsels. We are quickened together with Christ when dead in sins. This also is taken up in Colossians: only it is not spoken of as a new creation. But in both a new life is given when we are dead; only Ephesians begins with this in Christ raised and exalted, and by the same power in us. In Colossians it is introduced as completing what is taught of the administration of this doctrine of death in baptism and our resurrection by faith of God’s operation in Christ. In Ephesians grace finds us dead and quickens with Christ. In Colossians it finds us alive in sins and brings in death and resurrection, and completes this by quickening with Christ.
The ordinances blotted out
All the ordinances, likewise, which belonged to the rudiments of this world and which applied to man in the flesh and weighed as an unsupportable yoke upon the Jews (and to which they endeavored to bring others into subjection), which put the conscience always under the burden of a service unaccomplished by man and a righteousness unsatisfied in God-these ordinances were blotted out. In them the Jew had put his signature, so to speak, to his guiltiness; but the obligation was destroyed and nailed to the cross of Christ. We receive liberty as well as life and pardon.
The might of spiritual wickedness; the Colossians viewed on earth though risen; their danger and its remedy
This is not all. There was the strength of principalities and powers against us-the might of spiritual wickedness. Christ has vanquished and despoiled them on the cross, having triumphed over them in it. All that was against us He has put aside, in order to introduce us, entirely delivered from it all, into our new position. It will be seen here that what the Apostle says of the work of Christ does not go beyond that which He did for our deliverance, in order to set us in the heavenly places. He speaks (vs. 10) of the rights of Christ, but not as sitting in the heavenly places, nor as leading the enemy captive; neither does he speak of us as sitting in Him in the heavenlies. He has done all that is necessary to bring us into them; but the Colossians are viewed as on earth, though risen, and in danger at least of losing the sense of the position which was theirs in virtue of their union with Christ, and were in danger of slipping back into the elements of the world and of flesh, of the man alive in the flesh, not dead, not risen with Christ; and the Apostle seeks to bring them back to it by showing how Christ had accomplished all that was requisite-had taken out of the way all that prevented their attaining it. But he cannot speak of the position itself: they were not consciously in it. In the things of God we cannot comprehend a position without being in it. God may reveal it. God may show us the way to it. The Apostle does so here with regard to the Person of Christ, which alone could bring them back to it; and at the same time he develops the efficacy of His work in this respect, in order to set them free from the shackles that kept them back and to show them that all obstacles had been removed. But in detail he has to apply it to the dangers that beset them rather than to display its glorious results in heaven.
The shadows and the Substance; the worship of angels: apparent humility
Jewish ordinances were but shadows; Christ is the substance. By bringing in angels as objects of homage and thus putting them between themselves and Christ, they would separate themselves from the Head of the body, who was above all principalities. The simplicity of Christian faith held fast the Head, from which the whole body directly drew its nourishment and thus increased with the increase of God. It looked like humility, thus to bring themselves into relation with angels, as superior and exalted beings who might serve as mediators. But there were two faults of immense importance in this apparent humility. First, it really was thorough pride-this pretension to penetrate into the secrets of heaven of which they were ignorant. What did they know of any position held by angels, which would make them the objects of such homage? It was pretending to mount up into heaven for and by themselves and to measure their relations with God’s creatures without Christ, and at their own will to connect themselves with them. Second, it was to deny their union with Christ. One with Him, there could be nothing between Him and them; if there were anything, then they were dead and twice dead. Besides, by this union they were one with Him who was above the angels. United to Him, they received, as we have seen, a communication, through all the members of the body, of the treasures of grace and life which were in the Head. The mutual links between the members of the body itself were thereby strengthened, and thus the body had its increase.
Applications of the doctrine of being dead and risen with Christ
Two applications of the doctrine that they are dead with Christ and risen with Him follow (ch. 2:20). He applies the principle of death to all the ordinances and to the asceticism which treated the body as a thing vile in itself which ought to be rejected; and (ch. 3:1) he uses the resurrection to raise their hearts into a higher sphere and to bring them back to Christ by looking up, they being dead as regards the old man.1
(1. These applications flow from chapter 2:11-12. It is to be remarked that Romans from chapter 5:12 treats of death to sin, in which man (as child of Adam) was alive. In Ephesians man is reckoned as dead in sins as towards God. Colossians takes up both: chapter 2:11-12 follows them out, adding resurrection with Christ. Verse 13 follows Ephesian doctrine. Chapter 2:20 and chapter 3:1 follow on chapter 2:11-12, and we have the putting off of the old and putting on of the new man.)
Philosophy and human tradition: the widespread, ruinous effects of its principles
To make these instructions more plain by showing their connection, we may remark that the Apostle points out the double danger, namely, philosophy and human tradition, in contrast with Christ (ch. 2:3; see verses 9-15). While identifying us with Christ, he speaks of the bearing of the work of Christ Himself rather than of this identification. In verses 16-19 he applies it first (vs. 16) to subjection to ordinances, that is, to the Jewish side of their danger; and then (vs. 18) to the Gnostic philosophy,1 science falsely so called, which linked itself with Judaism (or to which Judaism linked itself), reproducing itself under a new form. From verse 20 the Apostle applies our death and resurrection with Christ to the same points, or to the deliverance of the Colossians by raising their thoughts on high.
(1. Although this word has the appearance of learning and of not being scriptural, this is not the case. Science, falsely so called, of which the Apostle speaks elsewhere, is in Greek “gnosis,” whence this presumptuous and corrupting philosophy was called “Gnosticism” and its votaries “Gnostics.” It plays an immense part in the history of the church, with which I have nothing to do here. But its principles are frequently found in the New Testament, brought forward by the apostles in order to combat them. The Jews had largely fallen into the notion of a mediatorial work of angels, though not in the form exactly of Gnostic philosophy.)
But the Colossians are not the only ones who may have been in this danger. In the main these principles have been the ruin of the church at all times. They are those of the mystery of iniquity,1. which has so much ripened since then and produced effects so various, and under such different modifications, on account of other principles which have also acted, and under the sovereign providence of God. We shall see the deep, simple and decisive principle which is involved in it in the verses that follow.
(1. This was working in the apostles’ days; Paul withstood it in the energy of the Holy Spirit. After his departure that power was gone. The historical church never had the two great fundamental principles of Christianity, perfection in Christ (“by one offering he hath perfected forever”) and the presence and leading power of the Holy Spirit down here. These were supplanted by sacraments and the clergy.)
The evil system judged as false by Christ’s work, resurrection, and union with Him
The verses already quoted, as far as the twentieth, had judged this whole Judeo-philosophic system from the point of view of Christ’s work, of His resurrection, and of union with Him in His heavenly position.
The system demonstrated as false and absurd; the ordinances connected with corruptible things
That which follows judges it after our position. The preceding verses had demonstrated that the system was false, because Christ and His work were such as is declared in them. The passage we are going to consider shows that this system is absurd, cannot be applied to us, has no possible application, because of our position. On the one hand, it is a false system, null and void in all its parts, if Christ is true and is in heaven; and, on the other hand, it is an absurd system in its application to us, if we are Christians. And for this reason: it is a system which supposes life in this world, and relationships to be acquired with God, having their foundation in that life, while it pretends to mortify flesh; and yet it addresses itself to persons who, for faith, are dead. The Apostle says that we are dead to the rudiments of this world, to all the principles on which its life acts. Why, then, as though we were still living (alive) in it, as though we were still alive in this world, do we subject ourselves to ordinances which have to do with this life and which suppose its existence-ordinances which apply to things which perish in the use of them and which have no connection with that which is heavenly and eternal? They have indeed a semblance of humility and self-denial as regards the body, but they have no link with heaven, which is the sphere of the new life-of all its motives and all its development; and they do not recognize the honor of the creature, as a creature come out of the hand of God, which, as such, has always its place and its honor. They put a man in and under the flesh, while pretending to deliver us from it, and they separate the believer from Christ by putting angels between the soul and the heavenly place and blessing; whereas we are united to Christ, who is above all these powers, and we in Him.
These ordinances had to do with merely corruptible things- were not connected with the new life, but with man living in his life of flesh on the earth, to which life the Christian is morally dead; and as far as regarded this life, they did not recognize the body as a creature of God, as it ought to be recognized.
Christ, the substance, lost; the dangers of the system then and now
Thus, the system of ordinances had lost Christ, who was their substance. It was connected with the pride that pretended to penetrate heaven, in order to put itself in relation with beings whom we do not know in such a manner as to have any relations with them-pride which in so doing separated from the Head of the body, Christ, and thus disowned all connection with the source of life and with the only true position of the soul before God. This system falsified equally our position on earth by treating us as though still alive after the old man, whereas we are dead; and dishonored the creature as such, instead of recognizing it as coming from the hand of God.
That which was a danger to Christians in the Apostle’s days characterizes Christianity at the present time.
The Christian’s position set forth in warning of danger and for instruction
The Christian’s position was thus set forth, but in its application thus far rather to the danger of Christians than to their heavenly privileges. Thus grace has provided us with all we need, using every privilege, using the faith of some, giving warnings and instruction above all price, and turning the faults of others to account.

Colossians 3

Exhortation to Christians as risen with Christ: they are dead because Christ died for them, and now they are alive in Christ; that life is hidden in God
Now begin the direct exhortations founded on the truth that has been developed, and adapted to the state in which the Colossians were; that is, viewed as risen with Christ, but not sitting in heavenly places.
Risen with Christ, they were to set their affections on things above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not on things on the earth. The two could not go together. To look, to have one’s motives, above and below at the same time is impossible. Be tempted by things, have to resist them, we may; but this is not to have them as our object. The reason for this is, however, found in our position: we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. It does not say, “We must die.” Man cannot do this by will: we cannot deny will by will. Nor would the will of the flesh ever do it. If it acts, it does not abdicate. We are dead: this is the precious, comforting truth with regard to the Christian by virtue of Christ having died for him. He has received the life of Christ, and all that Christ did for him in that life belongs to him. Thus he is dead, because Christ died for him. The life with which the power of temptation, guilt and the attacks of sin are connected exists no longer to faith. By death all that was connected with it has come to an end. Now that which was connected with the life of the old man was sin, condemnation, weakness, fear, powerlessness against the assaults of the enemy-all that is past. We have a life, but it is in Christ; it is hidden with Him in God. We are not yet manifested in its glory, as we shall be manifested before the eyes of all in heaven and earth. Our life is hidden, but safe in its eternal source. It has the portion of Christ, in whom we possess it. He is hid in God, so also is our life: when Christ shall appear, we shall also appear with Him.
The individual character of our life in Christ, hidden, but safe in its eternal source
It will be remarked that the Apostle does not speak here of our union with Christ, but of our life, of the fact that we are dead and that our life is hid with Him in God. He does not speak of the assembly with regard to our position; he speaks, no doubt, of Christ as being its Head, as to His personal glory, but not of it as to us. He speaks of us individually. Each one has his own life in Christ truly, but as his own; it is not union with other Christians. We have this life in Christ, but it is not here our union as one body with Him. It is the individual character of the Christian, to whom Christ, the Head, is everything.
The absence of any mention of the Holy Spirit in the epistle; life in Christ and its nature
That which is also highly important to observe in connection with this truth is that in this epistle there is nothing said of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle speaks practically of their love in the Spirit, but in the instruction of the epistle he does not name Him. Even when he says, “There is neither Jew, nor Greek,” it is in the new man, not because we are one in Christ. The individual was to cleave to the Head. He was no longer living in this world; he was dead, and his life hid with Christ in God. But this was for himself; he was to know it and hold it fast for himself, as necessary truth, that he might be preserved from the wiles of the enemy. In a word, it is life in Christ. Elsewhere we see many of the things which the Apostle here mentions spoken of as the fruit of the Spirit, by which communion and union are maintained; but here it is simply in the nature of the life that these fruits have their source. It is quite natural, consequently, that the compass and the assemblage of all spiritual relationships in one, in Christ, which we find in the divine instruction when the Holy Spirit is introduced are wanting here.
The Holy Spirit and His work characterizing Ephesians
In the Epistle to the Ephesians this operation of the Holy Spirit is found everywhere and characterizes the whole of that which is developed in communion with the Head, Christ, with whom we are united in one body by the Spirit. Thus we are individually sealed by the Spirit of promise, the earnest of our inheritance; we all have access to the Father by one Spirit; we are also builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit; the union of the Gentiles in one body is now revealed by the Spirit; saints are strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man; there is one body and one Spirit; we are not to grieve the Spirit; we are to be filled with Him; the Word itself is the sword of the Spirit. The union of the body with Christ, our resurrection with Him, that we are sitting in the heavenlies in Him-all that flows from this union is fully developed; but at the same time the Holy Spirit, who unites us to Him, and unites us all together as one body, and who here below characterizes the presence of God in the church, who acts in us, secures our future, and becomes our strength in the present-the Holy Spirit, I repeat, is found everywhere, to complete the truth and to give it its present force for us here below.
Many of the exhortations in the Epistle to the Ephesians are nearly the same as those to the Colossians. But in the Epistle to the Ephesians they are connected with the Spirit; in that to the Colossians, with the action of the Word and of grace in the heart. This gives an immense range and a connectedness to the doctrine of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in that which regards our position here below, because it brings in God Himself, and as dwelling in us by the Spirit, and filling us, whether as in the individual or in the oneness of the body; and gives the full scope of the counsels of God.
The possession of life set forth in Colossians
Yet the possession of life is in its way as important as the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It makes the blessing ourselves, not merely an operation in us, and, as we have seen, the character of divine life is far more fully developed; whereas in Ephesians it is more contrast with the previous state.
The action and presence of the Holy Spirit as presented in Romans
In the Epistle to the Romans we have (ch. 8) this action and presence of the Holy Spirit presented in a very remarkable way as to the individual. He characterizes us vitally in the principle of our resurrection, is the witness in us that we are children, filling us with joy and with the hope of glory as heirs, the support of our weakness and the source of our petitions and our groans. In the Epistle to the Romans it is in connection with our personal relationship to God; in that to the Ephesians, as the presence of God in us in connection with our union to Christ as one body.
The Holy Spirit’s purpose and starting point in Ephesians
and Colossians and the different character of the epistles
There is another thing to be noticed here which throws light on the purpose of the Holy Spirit in these epistles. The starting point in that to the Ephesians is the counsels of God. Man is looked at as he is, without one pulse of life as regards God; he is dead in trespasses and sins, by nature the child of wrath. God is rich in mercy; He raises him up with Christ, who in grace went down into death, and places him according to His counsels in the same position as that Christ is in. We are His workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus. God is pleased to bring us into His presence according to His own counsels and His nature. It is not said that we are dead with Christ. Man is not viewed as living in the flesh, so that in one way or in another he had to die. This was not necessary. The Ephesians were to apprehend, on the one hand, the full contrast between God and man according to His counsels; and on the other, man’s sinful state according to nature. In their epistle all is the work of God Himself according to the original purpose of His own heart, of His nature, and of His will;1 man is already dead, and even Christ is not brought in as to His place till viewed as dead, and thereon risen and exalted on high.
(1. Hence we have no justification in Ephesians. It treats of a new creation.)
The Colossian danger, living in the world; its remedy, dead and risen with Christ
The Colossians were in danger of subjecting themselves to ordinances, and thereby were in a position to consider man as living in the world; and the Apostle makes them feel that they are dead with Christ. He was obliged in grace to follow them where they were, for their danger was to take man into consideration as living on the earth; in order, nevertheless, to show that the Christian had already died with Christ, and his life on earth was as risen with Him.
The Ephesian standpoint: dead in sins and quickened together with Christ
In the letter to the Ephesians man is not said to die with Christ. He is dead in his sins when God begins to act towards him.
No man is alive to God. The Christian is quickened together with Christ, Christ Himself first viewed as dead.
Life and the new nature set forth in Colossians and the energy of God in Ephesians
This character of the Colossians, however, the dwelling on life or the new man, has its value for us all, and a great value, because the life, the new nature, and grace working in it, are much less brought forward in the Epistle to the Ephesians, where the subject is the energy of God, who creates men in Christ and unites them to Him, fills the believer and the assembly here with the nature and the character of the new man, and thereby of Christ, yea, of God Himself.1 One might suppose that there was only the Holy Spirit acting in the fullness of His power and filling the individual and the assembly. But in this Epistle to the Colossians we find that there is a new nature, an intrinsic change, not of the flesh indeed, but of the man. For we are viewed, not merely as quickened by the Son, but as dead and risen with Christ, the Man who had died, so as to have passed out of-put off-the old standing of a child of Adam, and into a risen one with Christ-put on the new man. This is at once a standing and a state before God, a source of tastes, of sentiments, of desires, of arguments, and of moral capacities which are in connection with the very nature of God, who has caused it to spring up in the heart. We are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us. But this source is a life, which needs that the Holy Spirit should reveal to it the objects that are suited to it, and that awaken these tastes and feelings, which satisfy them and cause them to grow. It needs that the Spirit of God should act in it to give it strength; but it is a real life, a nature which has its tastes attached to its very existence;2 which, being enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is conscious of its own existence; and in which we are the children of God, being born of Him.
(1. This difference is of deep interest and brings out the character of the Epistle to the Ephesians in a remarkable way-an epistle in which everything is influenced by the high point of view taken by the Spirit and flows from the original and eternal counsels of God and from His operation to bring those counsels to perfection-the settled purposes of His own heart. He desires to have-He creates-something in order to show forth the immense riches of His grace. He has taken the dead and the lost: but they are only the objects of His operations, suited to make these manifest on account of their own condition. He does not work upon the nature of man, because it is contrary to His own, in order to destroy this contrariety. He quickens from the dead and creates. In Colossians the death of the old man is spoken of, which it was necessary to take into consideration. God be praised, we are entitled to view it as already dead, because Christ has died for us.
I may add here to that which I have said of the Holy Spirit that when the Apostle speaks in Colossians of the power of hope in us, he does not mention the earnest of the Spirit. It is still Christ in us, the hope of glory. Throughout it is Christ, and Christ as life.)
(2. With this difference between the actings of the Spirit and the existence of the new life is connected the liberty of the soul. When we are born of God, we have necessarily a taste for holiness; love acts in us; we take pleasure in the righteousness of God. But, by virtue of these sentiments, although my heart appreciates love in God, and this love attracts me and inspires me with a measure of confidence, yet my conscience condemns me, I feel that I am not that which I love. I am under the law and uncertain of my relationship with God. When I have learned the value of Christ’s blood, that He is my righteousness, the Holy Spirit dwelling and acting in me gives me the sense of my relationship with God. I have the consciousness of it in my soul, and the Holy Spirit bears witness of it. There is liberty.)
The new nature, and the old man and the new
Neither is it unimportant that we should learn, with regard to the life of the flesh, and when thinking of it, although it be on the negative side, that we are dead; that God recognizes nothing belonging to the old man; that He takes pleasure in a new nature, which is indeed ours by grace, but which is of God Himself, and which is the moral reflection of His own.
We are dead, then, and our life is hid with Christ in God. We have members on earth-no recognized life; and we have to put to death1 all these members of the old man. The Christian has to deny them practically as belonging to the old man, while his life is there where Christ is. They bring down the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Christians walked in these things when they had their life in them; but this is no longer the case; and they deny not only gross sins, the fruit of positive lusts (ch. 3:5-6), but all the workings of an unbroken will and an unsubdued heart, every indication of the actings of the will of that nature which knows not God and is not ruled by His fear, all anger and malice and falsehood flowing from selfishness or the fear of man (vs. 8). Truth reigns in the heart which has put off the old man, according to the simplicity of the new man,2 which is renewed also in knowledge after the image of Him who created it (vss. 9-10). The new man walks in the light. It is not only that there is a conscience which judges good and evil according to that which man ought to be according to his nature as a responsible being; there is a new man who judges the old man altogether, judging good and evil according to the knowledge of God. Such is the putting off.
(1. It is a very different thing from dying to sin. This supposes evil in the thing that dies (save, of course, in the case of Christ, who did it for those who had); whereas putting to death is an act of power in that which is good-the new man.)
(2. These three form the whole character of evil in man: generally, violence and corruption, the last taking the twofold form of lust and falsehood. So, before the flood, the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. Falsehood is Satan’s form of corruption, and violence also characterizes him. The Lord declares him to be a liar and a murderer (John 8:44). Man adds the lust because of flesh.)
Before Christianity, and after: new apprehensions of the divine life which knows God
Before Christianity, which is the full revelation of God, there were indeed, as need not be said, souls born anew; but their rule, when a rule was definitely given, was man’s responsibility (whatever piety and grace might inspire), and the law, which was the perfect measure of that which man, as a being responsible to God, ought to be. Saints then did not distinguish between a new and an old man, although of necessity they had the conscience of the old man and the tastes of the new in measure in many respects. The sense, for instance, of the evil of falsehood had not at all the same place as with the Christian. Now the new man is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him who created him.1 God Himself in His nature is the standard of good and evil, because the new man has the knowledge of what that nature is; he is made a partaker of it, and he has the light of God. It is an intelligent participation by grace in the nature of God, which is the marvelous and precious privilege of the Christian. God works in this nature; but by communicating it, He has placed man in this position. Christ is the perfect model of this image, the type of the new man.
(1. Note here the difference of the corresponding phrase in Ephesians. There the Christian is created after God in righteousness and true holiness. Here it is the new apprehensions of the divine life which knows God. It is our state, not God’s creative act. Not that this contradicts the Ephesian view; on the contrary, “renewed” here is another word from Ephesians. It is that which is wholly new, never was there before (ανακαινουμενοι; anakainoumenoi). In Ephesians “renewed” is what is kept fresh and new.)
Putting on the character of Christ: the divine check on taking amiable nature for divine grace
Other differences have disappeared: there remains but the old man, which we only acknowledge as dead, and the new man. To the latter Christ is all; so that there is none but He whom they see and whom they acknowledge, and He is in all believers. They put on, therefore, as such, as elect, holy, beloved (Christ being their life), the character of Christ, mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another if offense has been given, even as Christ has done to us.1 Finally, they put on love, the bond of perfectness, that which gives a divine character to all the qualities that have been enumerated and that were manifested in Christ, and a divine check on taking amiable nature for divine grace, for divine love is holy.
(1. Remark here how patience and graciousness and long-suffering characterize the Christian. It is remarkable how this is the case everywhere. So must it be in a world like this. So was it in Christ. So in 1 Corinthians 13 the traits of charity are all subjective and of this character. Not that that is a definition of charity, but it is characteristic of it. Where these traits are wanting, charity is.)
And note here that the putting on of these qualities is in the consciousness of the blessed place before God expressed in the words “elect of God, holy and beloved.” It is as such. Nor can we do it otherwise. It is in the sense of this wondrous favor that grace develops itself in our hearts. So in Ephesians: “As dear children.”
Peace as the crown, seal and bond of the Christian’s walk in unity; resultant thanksgiving
Several of these qualities may be resembled by things in nature; but the energy, the features, the bond of divine love, which acts in the sense of communion with God, are totally wanting in the latter; and this gives a character, a completeness, a righteousness of application, a perfection, a propriety, and an energy to the manifestation of these qualities, which love alone can give. For it is indeed God Himself who is there, acting in His nature which He has imparted to us. For He who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. With regard to the state of the soul, there is a crown to this walk, wherewith they who follow it constantly are adorned. The peace of Christ reigns in the heart, that sweet and ineffable peace which nothing could disturb, though His spirit passed through everything to try it, for He walked ever with God. God has also called us to this; He is the God of peace. And here the Apostle introduces the oneness of the body, not as to its privileges in Christ, but as to the fact that Christians are called to be together in the unity of which peace is the seal and the bond. And then there will be thanksgiving; for the soul is conscious of the love and the activity of God, and everything flows to it from that love.
The activity of the soul; the Word of Christ its directing power; praise and thanksgiving
But, besides peace and thanksgiving towards God, there is the development of life in the knowledge of what is revealed, its food and joy. This too is enjoyed in the activity of life and love towards others. The enjoyment of God and of that which is in His presence leads to this activity of the soul. When the latter is real, it is the joyful liberty of a nature that is itself in the activity of love that is natural to it and which receives its energy from communion with God, according to His nature. The word of Christ unfolds all that is revealed to the soul as that in which it lives, and in which it expands itself, and is thus the rule, and active and directing power, because it is the expression of that nature, and the revelation of all its ways, and of its active energy in love in Him.
The Apostle, therefore, exhorts that the word of Christ may dwell in them richly. This is the development, according to the perfection of God, of the new man, and the wisdom of God to form and direct him. Paul desires that Christians may fully realize this. It is by communion with the Lord, holding communion with Him, that it is done. The word being that in which the wisdom is found; also according to this development the saints can teach and admonish each other.1 But in this case it is not only wisdom that we learn and that is displayed in us, but affections in connection with Him in whom we have found this wisdom, so that these expressions of the life of Christ, as true wisdom in the world, find their voice in our hearts in praise, in thanksgiving, in singing His excellency. All the intimate affections in which spiritual life develops itself express themselves, according to what we have learned: they flow from the Spirit of Christ and are the expression of the soul’s connection with Him and of the feelings this produces in the heart. Christ in His Person, in the consciousness of His presence, as the object of our thoughts, and in the moral fruits proceeding thence, sustains the communion and the communications of the soul that is occupied with His praises.
(1. It is simpler to put the stop after “one another,” and only a comma before “teaching.”)
Christ Himself as the aim and object of the heart and mind in all we do
But this consciousness of relationship with Christ, in the life which is of Him in us, applies to everything. Nothing is done without Him. If He is the life, all which that life does has Him for its end and object, as far as the heart is concerned. He is present as that which is the governing motive and gives its character to our actions, and which preoccupies our heart in performing them. Everything relates to Him: we do not eat without Him (how can we when He is our very life?); we do not drink without Him; what we say and what we do is said and done in the name of the Lord Jesus. There is the sense of His presence; the consciousness that everything relates to Him, that we can do nothing-unless carnally-without Him, because the life which we have of Him acts with Him and in Him, does not separate from Him, and has Him for its aim in all things, even as water rises to the height from which it descended. This is what characterizes the life of the Christian. And what a life! Through Him, dwelling in the consciousness of divine love, we give thanks to our God and Father.
Observe here that the Christian life is not only characterized by certain subjective qualities which flow from Christ, but by its having Christ Himself for the aim and object of the heart and mind in all that we do in every respect. Christ personally reigns in and is present to the heart in everything.
Christ known
To the inexperienced eye of man nature is often confounded with grace; but the intelligent consciousness of Christ as the heart’s object, of His presence, of the seal of His approval when one thinks of Him, cannot be confounded with anything. There is nothing that resembles it, nothing that can appear to take its place. When He reveals Himself to our heart, and the heart walks with Him, and communes with Him in all things, and seeks only the light of His countenance, the seal of His favor on the soul in all things, then He is known, well-known. There is none but He who thus communicates Himself to the soul when it walks in the way of His will, as expressed in the Word.
The Christian character of diverse relationships of life: their charm and depth when marked by grace
After these great and important principles of the new life, the Apostle enters into the diverse relationships of life, giving warnings against that which would endanger them, by showing what the Christian character of each one of them is. To the wife, obedience-affection was natural to her. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband.” To the husband, affection and kindness-his heart may be indifferent and hard. Children are to be obedient; fathers, gentle, in order that the children’s affections may not be estranged from them and that they may not be induced to seek that happiness in the world which they ought to find in the sanctuary of the domestic circle, which God has formed as a safeguard for those who are growing up in weakness; the precious home (if Christ is acknowledged) of kind affections, in which the heart is trained in the ties which God Himself has formed; and that in connection with the Lord, and which, by cherishing the affections, preserves from the passions and from self-will; and which, where its strength is rightly developed, has a power that, in spite of sin and disorder, awakens the conscience and engages the heart, keeping it away from evil and the direct power of Satan. For it is God’s appointment.
I know indeed that another power is required to deliver the heart from sin and to keep it from sin. Nature, even as God created it, does not give eternal life, nor does it restore innocence or purify the conscience. We may, by the energy of the Spirit, consecrate ourselves to God outside these relationships, renounce them even, if God should call us by more powerful obligations, as Christ teaches us in the gospel. The rights of Christ over man lost by sin are sovereign, absolute and complete. He has redeemed him; and the redeemed one is no longer his own, but belongs to Him who gave Himself for him. Where relationships exist, sin indeed has perverted everything and corrupted the will; passions come in; but the relationships themselves are of God: woe to him who despises them as such! If grace has wrought and the new life exists, it acknowledges that which God has formed. It well knows that there is no good in man, it knows that sin has marred everything, but that which sin has marred is not itself sin. And where these relationships exist, the renunciation of self-will, death to sin, the bringing in of Christ, and the operation of life in Him restore their power; and if they cannot give back the character of innocence (lost forever), they can make them a scene for the operations of grace, in which meekness, tenderness, mutual help, and self-denial, in the midst of the difficulties and sorrows which sin has introduced, lend them a charm and a depth (even as Christ did in every relationship) which innocence itself could not have presented. It is grace acting in the life of Christ in us which develops itself in them.
To be without natural affection is a sign of hopeless apostasy and estrangement from God, of the complete selfishness of the last days.
I am not drawing a false picture, or speaking poetically, as though the bright side were all; I only say that God has formed these relationships, and that whosoever fears God will respect them. Grace is requisite. They give occasion, through their intimacy itself, to all that is most painful, if grace does not act in them. The Apostle warns us here of this danger. If the Lord is the bond in them, if our still closer union with Him forms the strength of our natural relationships, then grace reigns here as elsewhere; and, to those who stand in these relationships, they become a scene for the lovely display of the life of Christ.
The work of grace: its effect upon the conscience even when the heart is not converted
It will be observed how the Apostle consequently introduces Christ into them, and especially in regard to those who are subject in them, wives and children; in order to sanctify, by so exalted a motive, the obedience suited to their position. He does this still more where the tie is not of nature but one which has its origin in a sinful world-and from sin itself-that between slaves and their masters. Grace does not set itself to change the state of the world and of society, but to lead souls to heaven by renewing them after the image of God. I doubt not that it has very much altered for the better the social condition of man; because, through bringing the conscience immediately before the only true God whom it has revealed in His own perfections, and establishing by its authority that of the natural relationships in the human family, grace has had its effect upon that conscience even where the heart was not converted, and has furnished it with a rule in that which regards morality. But Christianity, as to its own doctrine, treats the world as alienated from God and lying in evil-man as the child of wrath and lost.
Man’s state and the soul’s connection with God and what is eternal
Christ, the Son of God (who if He had been received could have put all things right, and who will hereafter by His kingdom establish righteousness and peace), was rejected by the world, and the friendship of the world is enmity against God. The state of man is treated in the gospel in a deeper way than in regard to his social condition. It is viewed with reference to the soul’s connection with God, and consequently with that which is eternal. God imparts a new life unto us, in order that we may enjoy those new relationships with Himself which redemption has gained for us. Now as Christ, while living, was the expression of the love and the omnipotent goodness of God in the midst of a fallen creation, so, being now rejected by the world (which thus condemned itself), Christ, who dwells by His grace in the heart of one who has received life, becomes to that heart a source of happiness in communion with the love of God, which lifts it up and sets it above circumstances, be they what they may. The slave, in possessing Christ, is free in heart; he is the freed man of God Himself. The master knows that he himself has a Master, and the relationship in which he finds himself takes the form of the grace and love that reigns in the heart of him who in it exercises his authority.
The Christian slave: his Master and his reward
But as I have said, to the poor slave Christ is especially presented as a resource. He may serve his master, whether a good or bad one, with faithfulness, meekness and devotedness; because in so doing he serves the Lord Himself and is conscious that he does so. He will have his reward there where nothing is forgotten that is done to glorify Christ, and where masters and slaves are all before Him who has no respect of persons.
Two principles act in the heart of the Christian slave: his conscience in all his conduct is before God; the fear of God governs him, and not his master’s eye. And he is conscious of his relationship to Christ, of the presence of Christ, which sustains and lifts him above everything. It is a secret which nothing can take from him, and which has power over everything, because it is within and on high-Christ in him, the hope of glory. Yes, how admirably does the knowledge of Christ exalt everything that it pervades; and with what consoling power does it descend into all that is desolate and cast down, all that groans, all that is humbled in this world of sin!
Three times in these two verses, while holding their conscience in the presence of God, the Apostle brings in the Lord, the Lord Christ, to fill the hearts of these poor slaves and make them feel who it was to whom they rendered service. Such is Christianity.

Colossians 4

General exhortations to persevering prayer in communion with God and with thanksgiving
The Apostle ends his epistle with some important general exhortations.
He desires that the saints should continue through prayer in communion with God, and in the sense of their dependence on Him, conscious of His nearness to them, and of His readiness to hear them. For that which speaks to the heart for our walk is not enough; the soul must know its own relations with God, exercising itself in those relations; and it must receive directly from Him that which assures it of His love. There must be perseverance in this. We are in conflict with evil, which has a hold upon our own hearts if we are without the strength of God. We must therefore commune with God. We must watch therein with settled purpose of heart, not merely as an occasional thing: anyone can cry out when he is in need. But the heart separated from the world and all that is of it occupies itself with God, with all that regards the glory of His name, according to the measure in which we are concerned in it.
The conflict is carried on with a tender and freed spirit, having only His glory as the object, both in the assembly and in the individual walk. But thus one understands that God works and that He does not forsake us, and thanksgiving is always mingled with the prayers we address to Him.
The Apostle’s own dependence; the clear distinction between God’s family and the world
Paul felt his dependence on this blessing, and he asked for a share also in their prayers, that God might open his mouth and that he might proclaim the gospel as he ought to do.
Now we are in a hostile world, in which hostility is easily awakened where it does not already exist openly, and in which offense is quickly taken at things wherein perhaps we neither saw nor intended evil. We must take away the occasion even from those that seek it and walk in wisdom with respect to them that are without.
How clearly the within and the without are here distinguished! Those within, whom God acknowledges, His family, His assembly-they are His own. Those without, they are the world, those who are not joined to the Lord. The distinction is plainly marked, but love is active towards them that are without, and, being itself in the enjoyment of communion with God, it is careful to do nothing that might prevent others from enjoying it.
God acting upon the heart of the natural man by circumstances and using those who walk with Him as His voice to sinners
But there was something more: they were to redeem the time. The natural man, taken up with his own affairs and disinclined to serious things, gave Christian love little opportunity to set grace and truth before him and make him care for his own soul, thus serving the Lord and using time in His name. The heart of man cannot always escape the influence of surrounding circumstances, which bear witness to his heart and conscience that he is under the dominion of sin and already eating its bitter fruits here below-circumstances which bring to his conscience the remembrance of a too much forgotten God, which speak with the mighty voice of sorrow to a broken heart, glad at least to have a resource in God when his hand is pierced by the broken reed on which he leaned. God Himself acts upon man by these circumstances, and by every circumstance of life. One who is walking with the Lord knows how to avail himself of them. Satan may indeed deceive a man, but he cannot prevent God at all times from speaking to the heart. It is a happy thing so to walk with God that He can use us as His voice, when He would thus speak to poor sinners. Our speech ought always to be the expression of this separation from evil, this power of the presence of God which keeps us inwardly apart from it, so as to make that power felt by others; and that, in all the questionings which arise in the heart of man, wandering out of the way in confusion and darkness, and even leading others astray thereby, we may know how to give an answer which comes from the light and conveys light.
The bearer of the epistle commended and witness borne to the love of others
Tychicus was to carry the testimony of the interest which the Apostle took in the welfare of the Colossians, and of his confidence in their interest in him. Paul bears witness to the love of others, and to their concern also in the progress of the gospel and the prosperity of the faithful.
Marcus now commended, after formerly drawing back
Marcus, who had formerly drawn back from the toils of the work, receives a testimony here on the Apostle’s part and a still better one later (2 Tim. 4:11), for he had made himself useful to the Apostle himself. Such is grace. The secret of the interest Barnabas took in him comes out here: he was nearly related to him. This dear servant of God was from Cyprus too. He went there and took Mark with him. The flesh and Judaism find their way everywhere. The power of the Spirit of God is requisite to raise us above and set us beyond their influence.
Demas: the Apostle’s silence as to him explained by his later conduct
Demas receives no special testimony. The Apostle conveys his greetings, but is silent as to himself. Only in the Epistle to Philemon is he named as a fellow-laborer of the Apostle. Afterwards he forsook Paul. He was a brother: the Apostle admits his claim but says nothing; he had nothing to say. “And Demas,” for Paul’s style is terribly cold.
The epistle “from Laodicea” not written to the Laodiceans
We may observe that the Epistle to the Ephesians was written at the same time and sent by this same Tychicus. The one “from Laodicea” is, I doubt not, one that they were to receive from that assembly, written by Paul, and by which the saints at Colosse were to profit; possibly the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he may have had communicated to the Laodiceans. Be this as it may, all that is said is that it was one of which the assembly at Laodicea was in possession, and by no means that it was directly addressed to them: rather the contrary. It is very possible that a letter, or a hundred letters, may have been written by Paul to others, which it was not in the purposes of God to preserve for the universal assembly: but here there is no proof that a letter had been written to the Laodiceans. Tychicus was the bearer of two: he may have been the bearer of three, one of which differed only in some details of application which might serve to confirm the Colossians without being in the main another divine communication for other days; but, I repeat, it does not appear to be so from that which is said here. It might be said, a letter “from Laodicea,” because it was there, instead of a letter to Laodicea; but it is not the usual mode of expression. We have seen that the letter to the Ephesians is another communication of the Spirit of God. It has been preserved for us. We do not know whether that from Laodicea was the same, communicated by them to the Christians of that city; or another, which they were to send to the Colossians (an assembly in their vicinity), and which-adding nothing to the divine relations-has not been preserved for us.
It appears that Christians were not very numerous at Laodicea. The Apostle salutes the brethren there. There were some who assembled in the house of one Nymphas; they were not in a case to have a letter addressed to them in particular: still the Apostle does not forget them. But that which he says here is an almost certain proof that the Apostle had not addressed any epistle to them. He would not have sent greetings through the Colossians to the brethren in Laodicea if, at the same time, he had written a special epistle to the latter. The case is plain enough: there were brethren at Laodicea, but not in great numbers, and not in that distinct position which gave rise to an epistle. But this little assembly in the house of Nymphas was not to be forgotten; it should profit by the epistles addressed to other assemblies more considerable than itself, and whose condition required an epistle, or gave occasion to write one which epistles were transmitted to Laodicea, according to the Apostle’s order.
The epistles to be mutually read and enjoyed
With regard to the Epistle to the Colossians, it is not a supposition. The Apostle commands them expressly to have it read in the assembly at Laodicea. The latter had also received another epistle from some other assembly, and the Colossians were to profit by it in the same manner. The two assemblies, which were near each other, were mutually to enjoy the spiritual favors that were granted them.
Individuals not forgotten; Archippus exhorted
The Apostle does not forget individuals even. Archippus receives a solemn exhortation to take heed to the ministry which the Lord had committed to him and to fulfill his service.
The Apostle had not seen these assemblies (ch. 2:1).

1 THESSALONIANS

The date of the Thessalonian epistles, the circumstances which occasioned them and their subjects
We find in the epistles to the Thessalonians, and especially the first (for in the second it was already needful to guard that freshness from the perfidious attacks of the enemy), the condition and the hope of the Christian as such in this world in all its freshness. These two epistles are the first that Paul wrote, unless we except that to the Galatians, the date of which is uncertain. Already long occupied with the work, it is only when this work was considerably advanced that in watching over it he guards it by means of his writings-writings as we have seen, various in character, according to the state of the churches, and according to the divine wisdom which, by this means, deposited in the Scriptures that which would be necessary for all ages.
Newly converted, the Christians at Thessalonica suffered much from the persecution of the world-a persecution which the Jews of that place had already previously stirred up against Paul himself. Happy at the gracious work there and rejoicing in the state of his dear children in the faith (a testimony to which was borne everywhere, even by the world), the Apostle opens his heart; and the Holy Spirit sets forth by his mouth what that Christian condition was upon the earth which was the source of his joy in the case of the Thessalonians; and what the hope which threw its light upon the believer’s existence, shining around him through his whole life, and illuminating his path in the wilderness. In a word, the Christian character is unfolded to our eyes with all its motives and its joys, and that in connection with the testimony of God and the hope which is our strength in bearing it.
The doctrine of Christ’s coming specially presented as linked with every spiritual relationship
We all know that the doctrine of the coming of Christ, which universally accompanies the work of the Spirit that attaches our hearts to Him in the first spring of a new life, is specially presented to us in these two epistles. And it is not merely formally taught as a doctrine; it is linked with every spiritual relationship of our souls, it is displayed in all the circumstances of the Christian’s life. We are converted in order to wait for Him. The joy of the saints in the fruits of their labors is realized in His presence. It is at the coming of Christ that holiness has all its value, its measure being seen in that which is then manifested. It is the consolation when Christians die. It is the unexpected judgment of the world. It is unto the coming of Christ that God preserves His own in holiness and blameless. We shall see these points set forth in detail in the different chapters of the first epistle. We only point them out here. In general, we shall find that personal relationships and the expectation of His appearing have a remarkable and enlivening freshness in this epistle in every respect. The Lord is present to the heart-is its object; and Christian affections spring up in the soul, causing the fruits of the Spirit to abound.

1 Thessalonians 1

Knowing the Father: the relationship and affection of little children
In these two epistles only is an assembly said to be “in God the Father,” that is to say, planted in this relationship, having its moral existence-its mode of being-in it. The life of the assembly developed itself in the communion that flowed from this relationship. The Spirit of adoption characterizes it. With the affection of little children the Thessalonians knew the Father. Thus John says, when speaking of the little children in Christ, “I write unto you because ye have known the Father.” It is the first introduction into the position of liberty in which Christ has placed us- liberty before God and in communion with Him. Precious position! to be as children to One who loves as a Father, with all the liberty and tender affection of that relationship, according to divine perfection. For here it is not the adaptation of Christ’s human experience to the wants in which He acquired it (precious as that grace is); it is our introduction into the unmingled enjoyment of the light and of the divine affections displayed in the character of the Father. It is our communion, tender and confiding but pure, with Him whose love is the source of all blessing. Nor do I doubt that, freshly brought out of heathenism as the Thessalonians were, the Apostle refers to their knowledge of the one true God the Father in contrast with their idols.
The Thessalonian Christian life and Paul’s joyful remembrance of its first fresh impressions; the three divine motives of it: their source and spring
The Apostle, in declaring (as was his custom) that which he felt respecting them-the aspect in which they appeared to his heart and mind, speaks neither of gifts, as to the Corinthians, nor of the grand features of an exaltation that embraced the Lord and all saints, as to the Ephesians and even to the Colossians (with the addition of that which their state required); nor of the brotherly affection and fellowship of love which the Philippians had manifested in their connection with himself; nor of a faith that existed apart from his labors, and in communion with which he hoped to refresh himself, adding to it that which his abundant gifts enabled him to impart to them, as he writes to the Romans whom he had not yet seen.
Here it is the life itself of the Christian in its first fresh impressions, in its intrinsic qualities, as it developed itself by the energy of the Holy Spirit on earth, the life of God here below in them, which he remembers in his prayers with so much satisfaction and joy. Three great principles, he tells the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13) form the basis and ever abide as the foundation of this life-faith, hope and love. Now these three were the powerful and divine motives of the life of the Thessalonians. This life was not merely a habit; it flowed, in its outward activities, from immediate communion with its source. These activities were quickened and maintained by divine life and by keeping the eye constantly fixed upon the object of faith. There was work and labor and endurance.
Ephesus and Thessalonica compared
There were the same in Ephesus, as we see it in Revelation 2. But here it was a work of faith, labor undertaken by love, endurance fed by hope. Faith, hope and love are, we have seen, the springs of Christianity in this world. The work, the labor, the endurance continued at Ephesus, but ceased to be characterized by these great and mighty principles. The habit continued, but the communion was wanting. They had forsaken their first love.
The first to the Thessalonians is the expression of the living power in which the assembly is planted: Ephesus, in Revelation 2, of its first departure from that state.
The work of faith, labor of love and endurance of hope
May our work be a work of faith, drawing its strength, its existence even, from our communion with God our Father! May it be, each moment, the fruit of the realization of that which is invisible, of the life which lives in the certainty, the immutable certainty, of the Word! May it thus bear the impress of the grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ and be a testimony to it.
May our labor in service be the fruit of love, not performed merely as duty and obligation, although it is this, if we know that it is before us to be done!
May the patience that we must have, in order to go through this wilderness, be, not the necessity we feel because the path is before us, but an endurance sustained by the hope that belongs to our view of Jesus by faith and that is waiting for Him!
The twofold character of faith, hope and love for the heart and conscience
These principles, faith, hope and love, form our character as Christians:1 but they cannot be, and ought not to be, formed in us without having objects. Accordingly, the Spirit presents them here. They have a twofold character. The heart rests by faith in Jesus, waits for Him, counts upon Him, links itself with Him in its walk. He has walked here below, He represents us in heaven, He watches over us as the Good Shepherd. He loves His own; He nourishes and cherishes them: our faith and our hope keep Him always in view. The conscience is before God our Father; it is not in the spirit of fear: there is no uncertainty as to our relationship. We are the children of a Father who loves us perfectly; but we are before God. His light has authority and power in the conscience: we walk in the sense that His eye is upon us, in love but upon us. And light makes everything manifest. It judges all that might weaken the sweet and peaceful realization of the presence of God and our communion with Jesus and our confidence in Him, the intimacy of the communion between our souls and the Lord. These two principles are of all importance for abiding peace, for the progress of our souls. Without them the soul flags. The one sustains confidence, the other keeps us in the light with a good conscience. Without the latter, faith (not to say more) loses its liveliness; without the former, the conscience becomes legal, and we lose spiritual strength, light and ardor.
(1. They are found oftener in Paul’s writings than is thought; as 1 Thessalonians 5:8 and Colossians 1:4-5. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 we have faith and love, but he has to clear up their thoughts as to hope.)
The means of the soul’s progress;
Paul’s life confirming his testimony
The Apostle reminds them also of the means used by God to produce this condition, that is, the gospel, the Word, brought in power and in much assurance to the soul by the Holy Spirit. The Word had power in their heart-came to it as the Word of God; the Spirit Himself revealed Himself in it, giving the consciousness of His presence; and the consequence of this was the full assurance of the truth in all its power, in all its reality. The Apostle’s life, his whole conduct, confirmed the testimony which he bore-formed a part of it. Accordingly (it is always the case), the fruit of his labors answered in character to him who labored; the Christianity of the Thessalonians resembled that of Paul. It was like the walk of the Lord Himself whom Paul followed so closely. It was “in much affliction,” for the enemy could not bear so plain a testimony, and God granted this grace to such a testimony and “with joy of the Holy Spirit.”
True testimony in the power of the Spirit
Happy testimony to the power of the Spirit working in the heart! When this is so, everything becomes testimony to others. They see that there is in Christians a power of which they are ignorant, motives which they have not experienced, a joy which they may scoff at but which they do not possess; a conduct which strikes them and which they admire, although they do not follow it; a patience which shows the impotence of the enemy in striving against a power that endures everything and that rejoices in spite of all his efforts. What can we do with those who allow themselves to be killed without becoming less joyful, nay, whom it makes more so; who are above all our motives when left to themselves, and who, if oppressed, possess their souls in perfect joy in spite of all our opposition; and who are unconquered by torments, finding in these only an occasion for bearing a stronger testimony that Christians are beyond our power? At peace, life is all of it a testimony; death, even in torture, is still more so. Such is the Christian, where Christianity exists in its true power, in its normal condition according to God-the word (of the gospel) and the presence of the Spirit, reproduced in the life, in a world estranged from God.
The world as a witness to the gospel’s power
Thus it was with the Thessalonians; and the world, in spite of itself, became an additional witness to the power of the gospel. An ensample to believers in other places, they were the subject of report and conversation to the world, which was never weary of discussing this phenomenon, so new and so strange, of people who had given up all that governed the human heart, all to which it was subject, and worshipped one only living and true God, to whom even the natural conscience bore testimony. The gods of the heathen were the gods of the passions, not of the conscience. And this gave a living reality, an actuality, to the position of Christians and to their religion. They waited for His Son from heaven.
Happy indeed were those Christians whose walk and whole existence made of the world itself a witness for the truth, who were so distinct in their confession, so consistent in their life, that an apostle did not need to speak of that which he had preached, of that which he had been among them. The world spoke of it for him and for them.
The importance of the testimony; the character of that borne by the Thessalonians
A few words on the testimony itself, which, simple as it may be, is of great importance and contains principles of great moral depth. It forms the basis of the whole life, and of all the Christian affections also, that are unfolded in the epistle, which, besides this development, contains only a special revelation of the circumstances and the order of the coming of Christ to call His people to Himself and of the difference between that event and the day of the Lord to judge the world, although this latter follows on the former.
That which the Apostle points out, as the testimony borne by the faithful walk of the Thessalonians, contained three principal subjects: first, they had forsaken their idols to serve the living and true God; second, they were waiting for His Son from heaven, whom He had raised from among the dead; third, the Son was a safeguard from the wrath which was to be revealed.
Christianity giving a positive object-God Himself- for man’s need
An immense fact-simple but of vast import-characterizes Christianity. It gives us a positive object; and this object is nothing less than God Himself. Human nature may discover the folly of that which is false. We scorn false gods and graven images; but we cannot get beyond ourselves, we cannot reveal anything to ourselves. One of the most renowned names of antiquity is pleased to tell us that all would go well if men followed nature (it is manifest that they could not rise above it); and, in fact, he would be in the right if man were not fallen. But to require man to follow nature is a proof that he is fallen, that he has degraded himself below the normal state of that nature. He does not follow it in the walk that suits its constitution. All is in disorder. Self-will carries him away and acts in his passions. Man has forsaken God and has lost the power and center of attraction that kept him in his place and everything in his own nature in its place. Man cannot recover himself, he cannot direct himself; for, apart from God, there is nothing but self-will that guides man. There are many objects that furnish occasion for the acting of the passions and the will; but there is no object which, as a center, gives him a regular, constant and durable moral position in relationship with that object, so that his character should bear its stamp and value. Man must either have a moral center, capable of forming him as a moral being, by attracting him to itself and filling his affections, so that he shall be the reflex of that object; or he must act in self-will, and then he is the sport of his passions; or, which is the necessary consequence, he is the slave of any object that takes possession of his will. A creature, who is a moral being, cannot subsist without an object. To be self-sufficing is the characteristic of God.
Man in innocence and happiness
The equilibrium which subsisted in the unconsciousness of good and evil is lost. Man no longer walks as man, having nothing in his mind outside his normal condition, outside that which he possessed; not having a will, or, which comes to the same thing, having a will that desired nothing more than it possessed, but that gratefully enjoyed all that was already appropriated to its nature, and especially the companionship of a being like himself, a help who had his own nature, and who answered to his heart-blessing God for everything.
The will of man; his condition under paganism
Now man wills. While he has lost that which formed the sphere of his enjoyment, there is in him an activity which seeks, which is become unable to rest without aiming at, something further; which has already, as will, thrown itself into a sphere that it does not fill, in which it lacks intelligence to apprehend all that is there and power to realize even that which it desires. Man, and all that has been his, no longer suffices man as enjoyment. He still needs an object. This object will either be above or below the man. If it be below, he degrades himself below himself; and it is this indeed which has taken place. He no longer lives according even to nature (as he to whom I have alluded says), a state which the Apostle has described in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans with all the horrors of the plain truth. If this object be above himself and below God, there is still nothing to govern his nature, nothing that puts him morally in his place. A good being could not take this place to exclude God from it. If a bad object gains it, he becomes to the man a god, who shuts out the true God and degrades man in his highest relationship-the worst of all degradations. This too has taken place. And since these beings are but creatures, they only can govern man by that which exists and by that which acts upon him. This is to say, they are the gods of his passions. They degrade the idea of the divinity: they degrade the practical life of humanity into slavery to the passions (which are never satisfied and which invent evil when they are surfeited with excess in that which is natural to them) and are thus left without resource. Such, in fact, was the condition of man under paganism.
Man’s need met: God has revealed Himself in Christ as the object of man’s heart
Man, and above all, man having knowledge of good and evil, should have God for his object; and as an object that his heart can entertain with pleasure, and on which his affections can be exercised: otherwise he is lost. The gospel-Christianity-has given him this. God, who fills all things, who is the source of, in whom is centered, all blessing, all good-God, who is all love, who has all power, who embraces everything in His knowledge, because everything (except the forsaking of Himself) is but the fruit of His mind and will-God has revealed Himself in Christ to man, in order that his heart, occupied with Him, with perfect confidence in His goodness, may know Him, may enjoy His presence, and may reflect His character.
God’s Object-His Son; God’s immense grace displayed to those “in Christ”
The sin and misery of man have but lent occasion to an infinitely more complete development of what this God is, and of the perfection of His nature, in love, in wisdom and in power. But we are here considering only the fact that He has given Himself to man for an object. Nevertheless, although the misery of man has but given room for a much more admirable revelation of God, yet God Himself must have an object worthy of Himself to be the subject of His purposes, and in order to unfold all His affections. This object is the glory of His Son-His Son Himself. A being of an inferior nature could not have been this to Him, although God can glorify Himself in His grace to such a one. The object of the affections and the affections that are exercised with regard to it are necessarily correlative. Thus God has displayed His sovereign and immense grace with regard to that which was the most wretched, the most unworthy, the most necessitous; and He has displayed all the majesty of His being, all the excellence of His nature, in connection with an object in whom He could find all His delight and exhibit all that He is in the glory of His nature. But it is as man-marvelous truth in the eternal counsels of God!-that this object of God the Father’s delight has taken His place in this glorious revelation by which God makes Himself known to His creatures. God has ordained and prepared man for this. Thus the heart that is taught by the Spirit knows God as revealed in this immense grace, in the love that comes down from the throne of God to the ruin and misery of the sinner; he finds himself, in Christ, in the knowledge and in the enjoyment of the love which God has for the object of His eternal delight, who also is worthy of being so; of the communications by which He testifies that love (John 17:7-8); and, finally, of the glory which is its public demonstration before the universe. This latter part of our ineffable blessedness is the subject of Christ’s communications at the end of John’s Gospel (chapters 14, 16 and, in particular, 17).1
(1. Compare Proverbs 8:30-31 and Luke 2:14, where read, “Good pleasure in men.” It is beautiful to see the angels unjealously celebrating it. Love downwards in grace is great according to the misery and unworthiness of the object; upwards as the affection of the soul according to the worthiness; see both in Christ (Eph. 5:2). In both in Christ self is wholly given up. He gave, not sought, Himself. The law takes self as measure as to the neighbor and supposes him on the same footing. There is no love downwards.)
The immediate position and relationship of a child of God
From the moment that the sinner is converted and believes the gospel and (to complete his state, I must add) is sealed with the Holy Spirit, now that the blessed Lord has wrought redemption, he is introduced-as to the principle of his life-into this position, into these relationships with God. He is perhaps but a child; but the Father whom he knows, the love into which he has entered, the Saviour on whom his eyes are opened, are the same whom he will enjoy when he shall know as he is known. He is a Christian; he is turned from idols to God and to wait for His Son from heaven.
The character of life in its manifestation: the life of God and life from God
We may observe that the subject here is not the power which converts, nor the source of life. Of these other passages speak clearly. Here it is the character of the life in its manifestation. Now this depends on its objects. Life is exercised and unfolded in connection with its objects and thus characterizes itself. The source from which it flows makes it capable of enjoying it; but an intrinsic life which has no object on which it depends is not the life of a creature. Such life as that is the prerogative of God. This shows the folly of those who would have a subjective life, as they say, without its having a positively objective character; for this subjective state depends on the object with which it is occupied. It is the characteristic of God to be the source of His own thoughts without an object-to be, and to be self-sufficing (because He is perfection, and the center and source of everything), and to create objects unto Himself, if He would have any without Himself. In a word, although receiving a life from God which is capable of enjoying Him, the moral character of man cannot be formed in him without an object that imparts it to him.
God Himself our Object, manifested in Christ who reveals His grace as God and Father
Now God has given Himself to us for an object and has revealed Himself in Christ. If we occupy ourselves with God in Himself (supposing always that He had thus revealed Himself), the subject is too vast. It is an infinite joy; but in that which is simply infinite there is something wanting to a creature, although it is his highest prerogative to enjoy it. It is necessary to him, on the one hand, in order that he may be in his place and that God may have His place in regard to him, and, on the other hand, that which exalts him so admirably. It must be so; and it is the privilege given unto us, and given unto us in a priceless intimacy, for we are children, and we dwell in God, and God in us; but with this in itself there is a certain weight upon the heart in the sense of God alone. We read of “a far more exceeding and abundant weight1 of glory.” It must be so: His majesty must be maintained when we think of Him as God, His authority over the conscience. The heart-God has so formed it-needs something which will not lower its affections, but which may have the character of companion and friend, at least to which it has access in that character.
(1. Weight and glory are the same word in Hebrew-cabod.)
It is this which we have in Christ, our precious Saviour. He is an object near to us. He is not ashamed to call us brethren. He has called us friends; all that He has heard from His Father He has made known to us. Is He then a means of our eyes being turned away from God? On the contrary, it is in Him that God is manifested, in Him that even the angels see God. It is He who, being in the bosom of the Father, reveals to us His God and Father in this sweet relationship and as He knows Him Himself. And not only this, but He is in the Father, and the Father in Him, so that He who has seen Him has seen the Father. He reveals God to us, instead of turning us away from Him. In grace He has already revealed Him, and we wait for the revelation of glory in Him. Already also on the earth, from the moment that He was born, the angels celebrated the good pleasure of God in man, for the object of His eternal delight had become a man. And now He has accomplished the work which makes possible the introduction of others, of sinners, into the enjoyment with Himself of this favor of God. Once enemies, “we are reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
Reconciled to God to joyfully serve Him and wait for His Son from heaven
It is thus that God has reconciled us to Himself. By faith thus knowing God, we “turn from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” The living and true God is the object of our joyful service. His Son, whom we know, who knows us, who will have us to be where He is, who has identified us with His own glory and His glory with us, He who is a glorified man forever and firstborn among many brethren is the object of our expectation. We expect Him from heaven, for our hopes are there, and there the seat of our joy.
We have the infinity of a God of love, the intimacy and the glory of Him who has taken part in all our infirmities, and, without sin, has borne all our sins. What a portion is ours!
God’s judgment of evil imperative; consequent impending wrath; deliverance from it
But there was another side of the truth. Creatures are responsible; and, however great His love and His patience, God cannot allow evil nor contempt of His authority: if He did, all would be confusion and misery. God Himself would lose His place. There is a judgment; there is wrath to come. We were responsible; we have failed. How then shall we enjoy God and the Son in the way that I have spoken of ?
Here comes in the application of the third truth of which the Apostle speaks: “which delivered us from the wrath to come.” The work of Christ has perfectly sheltered us from this wrath; He took our place in responsibility on the cross to put away sin for us by the sacrifice of Himself.
The three great elements of Christian life
These then are the three great elements of Christian life. We serve the living and the true God, having forsaken our idols outward or inward. We expect Jesus for glory; for this sight of God makes us feel what this world is, and we know Jesus. As to our sins and our conscience, we are perfectly cleansed; we fear nothing. The life and walk of the Thessalonians was a testimony to these truths.

1 Thessalonians 2

The Apostle’s own walk and conduct
Having established these great principles, the Apostle, with an open and overflowing heart, appeals to his whole walk among them as a proof of his having walked in the same spirit as in their own case he was rejoicing in. It was not that he exhorted others, while availing himself of their affection, for his own advantage. It was not that he encouraged them to endure afflictions, without having courage himself to undergo the same. Ill-treated and insulted at Philippi, he was bold in God to renew his attacks on the kingdom of darkness at Thessalonica, and that with great energy. He had not used flattering words to win them; he had set the truth before them, as being himself the servant of God. He had worked with his own hands, that he might not be burdensome to them. All was before God in the light and by the energy of the Holy Spirit, and in a spirit of devotedness; even as he desired that they should walk as they knew he had walked among them, as holily, justly and unblamably; as also he had exhorted them, with all affection and tenderness, to walk worthy of God, who had called them unto His own kingdom and glory.
We see again in this expression the close relationship of the Christian, in his individual character, with God. He has his portion in God’s own kingdom and glory, and his conduct should become such a position. Here it is his own position in relationship with God, as before it was his relationship with God and the Lord Jesus.
The Word and work of God; the fruit of His servants’ labors, answering to the character of their work
The Apostle then speaks of the means by which this world of new thoughts was acquired by the Christian. It was that God had spoken to reveal Himself and His counsels. God had committed the gospel to Paul (ch. 2:4), and he had acted as being in the presence of God and responsible to Him.
The Thessalonians also, on their part, had received the word, not as the word of Paul, but as the word of God Himself addressed to them by the mouth of Paul. It is interesting, as for us also a serious thought, to observe that (with regard to the manifestation of the power of God down here), although the work is of God, the fruit of His servants’ labors answers to the character and depth of that labor itself. Thus the bonds of grace are established, and communion; there is mutual understanding. The work manifests the workman. The laborer rejoices in that which his heart had desired for the souls that are the fruit of his labor; and these know how to appreciate the walk and the work of the laborer, acknowledging the power of grace in him who was the means of bringing them into this position; and the one and the others, knowing God, rejoice in the fellowship of His grace.
Paul was very largely with God in his own soul and in his work. The Thessalonians had, in consequence, received the word in the same power; and they, with him, were thus in communion with God according to that power and that intimacy.
Jewish and Gentile Christians suffering from their own fellow-countrymen
We see here, in passing, the Jews deprived of this relationship with God, the remnant of that people received, and suffering from the enmity of the mass. The elect from among the Gentiles awakened, on their part, the hostility of their fellow-countrymen by the testimony which they bore against the prince of this world in their Christian walk and by their confession of a heavenly Christ-a Christ whom the world had rejected.
The Jews’ jealousy and refusal of God’s grace, transferring our hopes from earth to heaven
The religion of the Jews had become pure jealousy of others. The pretension to the exclusive possession of religious privileges- very precious when they enjoyed it with God as a testimony of His favor-was nothing but a spring of hatred, when God in the fullness of His sovereign grace chose to bless others who had a right to nothing. By this exclusive pretension they denied the rights of God, who had formerly chosen them as a people; they denied His grace, according to which He acted towards sinners, and which would have been the source of better blessings for themselves. But, meantime, their refusal to come in had transferred the scene of our hopes and our joys from earth to heaven, where we know the Lord, and where He will remain until He comes to assert His claims over the earth. Before He asserts them, He will take us to Himself.
The Jews set aside as a nation; better privileges than those forfeited granted to Christians
Meanwhile, the Word of God is the source of our confidence- the revelation of glory, of truth and of love. It is mighty in them that believe. The Jews are set aside. By their opposition to grace towards the Gentiles, they had taken the position of enmity against God in grace, and wrath was come upon them to the uttermost. It was not yet executed; but they had put themselves in this position. It was not only that they had broken the law, they had already killed their prophets who were sent to them in grace; they had already slain the Christ, Jesus the Lord. Sovereign grace alone could bring in a remedy. This they resisted; because, according to that grace, God was good to the Gentiles and granted to them, at the same time as to themselves, better privileges than those which they had forfeited. Wrath, therefore, was finally come upon them as a nation. Christians were now in the enjoyment of better privileges in place of the Jews.
The reception of the Word: what it reveals
It is not here the moment for explaining the future dealings of God with the remnant of that people. The Apostle speaks here of the people in order to show that the only ones in relation with God were Christians-those who had received the Word. It was the reception of the Word by faith, and nothing else, which brought souls really into relationship with God. Hereditary privileges were found to be, in their nature, opposition to grace and sovereignty, and thus to the character and rights of God Himself; for God is sovereign, and God is love.
The Word reveals grace; it is obeyed by believing it. And, brought into relationship with God, the Christian walks in His communion and in His ways and waits for the Son, in whom He has revealed Himself to men. This is the fruit of that which the Christian has received through believing-an efficacious principle of life and a light from God for the way.
Joys mingled with conflict
The Apostle blessed God that it was thus with the Thessalonians; and, having made this point clear, he returns to the joy of his communion with them in the positive blessing which the revelation of God in their hearts by the Word had brought them. He would gladly have seen them to enjoy this communion in fellowship with them face to face; but as long as it was by the Word only that the knowledge of God was obtained-in a word, by faith-as long as the Lord was absent, another result flowed from this fact; namely, that these joys were mingled with conflict-conflict, however, which, although to the eye of man interrupting enjoyment, made it more sweet, more real, preserved its heavenly character, and made the Lord Himself, from whom they could not be separated, the center, the common point in which hearts were united, with the consciousness that they were in the wilderness and that they were awaiting a scene and a time in which evil and the enemy’s power would no longer be, but where Christ would be all. Joyful hope, holy happiness, powerful link of the heart to Christ! When He shall be all, our joy will be complete, and all saints will possess it. Paul wished to have seen them again, and had so even twice, but Satan hindered it. The time should come when he would fully enjoy both them and his labor among them, by seeing them in full possession of glory at the coming of Christ.
True Christian life fully developed in love and holiness
In the Apostle himself, when at Thessalonica, Christian life was fully developed in love and in holiness. He had been among them in tenderness, as a mother cherishes her children; ready to impart not only the gospel to them but even his own life, so dear were they to him. He had been at the same time holy and without blame in all his conduct. What energy of life and love springing up by the power of God, regardless of all the consequences save the blessing of the elect and the glory of God! This is true Christian life. The heart, not filled with questionings through unbelief but strong in faith, counts on God in order to serve God. Thus love is free, beside oneself for God, prudent and full of consideration only for the good of others. And what bonds this creates! Persecution only hastens the work by compelling to go elsewhere, when perhaps the laborer would be tempted to enjoy the fruits of his labor in the society of those who had been blessed through him (compare chapter 2:2). Though absent, the Apostle’s heart was still bound to them; he remembered his beloved ones; he prayed for them; he blessed God for the grace bestowed on them; assuring himself with joy, when he thought of it, their portion in glory as the elect of God (ch. 1:3-4; 2:13).
Looking forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus
The bond remained firm; and, the way to present enjoyment of personal communion being obstructed by the devices of Satan (by permission of God), his heart rose higher and sought the full satisfaction of the want produced in it by love, in the moment when a Christ present in His power should have removed all obstacles and accomplished the purposes of God with respect to the saints; when His love should have borne all its precious fruits in them; and when Paul and his dear children in the faith should enjoy together all that grace and the power of the Spirit should have wrought in them. Unable for the moment to satisfy the desires of his heart by seeing them, it was to that hour that Paul looked. And observe that, if he does so, it is because his heart was already filled with it for himself. The power of the Spirit, acting in accordance with the truth, always leads the heart to that hour. It impels the heart to labor in love in the midst of this world, causes thus the opposition of the darkness of this world to the light (whether on the part of man or of the prince of darkness) to be realized, and makes us always feel the need of that day of light, when evil shall no longer be present to hinder the happiness of the new man in his enjoyment of that which is good, in his communion with those dear to God, and, above all, in the enjoyment of the presence of his glorified Saviour, who has loved him and who (for the exercise of his faith) is at present hidden from him.
The joyous coming of the Lord, filling the believer’s heart
It is He who is the source and object of all these affections, who sustains and nourishes them, who attracts them ever to Himself by His perfections and by His love, and, in the sorrows of the Christian life, carries the heart onward thus to the day of our being with Himself, to the day of His coming, when the heart will be free to occupy itself with all that binds us to Him without interruption. This thought of His presence has the mastery, when the heart is fresh in the divine joy of redemption. We find this here. We are converted to wait for Him (ch. 1); we shall enjoy the communion of saints and the fruit of our labors when He returns (ch. 2); that day gives its force and its measure to our thoughts respecting holiness (ch. 3); it destroys the anguish of heart which would otherwise accompany the death of the saints (ch. 4); it is for that day we are kept (ch. 5). The coming of the Lord, the presence of Jesus, fills, therefore, the believer’s heart, when life is springing up in its freshness-fills it with a joyous hope, the fulfillment of which shines bright before our eyes, there where all our desires will be accomplished.
Satan’s opposition turned into blessing
To return to the end of chapter 2, the link which Satan sought to break by interrupting its enjoyment was but the rather strengthened by being connected with the coming of the Lord. The current of the Spirit, against which he had been allowed to set up this dike, though turned from its natural bed, could not be stopped, for its waters ever flow; they gushed out in waves that enriched all around them, taking their course towards that sea which contained the fullness of those waters and fed the source from which they sprang.
The fruit of the Spirit’s work in us and by us to be crowned at Christ’s coming
It should be observed here that the special fruits of our labors are not lost; they are found again at the coming of Christ. Our chief personal joy is to see the Lord Himself and to be like Him. This is the portion of all saints; but there are particular fruits in connection with the work of the Spirit in us and by us. At Thessalonica the spiritual energy of the Apostle had brought a number of souls to God and to wait for Jesus, and into a close union in the truth with Himself. This energy would be crowned at the coming of Christ by the presence of these believers in the glory as the fruit of his labors. God would thus crown the Apostle’s work by bearing a striking testimony to its faithfulness in the presence of all these saints in glory; and the love which had wrought in Paul’s heart would be satisfied by seeing its object in glory and in the presence of Jesus. They would be his glory and joy. This thought drew yet closer the bonds that united them and comforted the Apostle in the midst of his toils and sufferings.

1 Thessalonians 3

The circumstances surrounding Paul’s forced removal from Thessalonica; his affection and care for the new converts there
Now this forced removal of the Apostle as the chief laborer, without weakening the bond between him and the disciples, formed other links which would consolidate and strengthen the assembly, knitting it together by that which every joint supplied. This is connected (all things are but the instruments of the power and wisdom of God) with the circumstances of which the Acts of the Apostles give us the principal details.
After the persecutions excited by the Jews, the Apostle made a short stay at Thessalonica and was then obliged to leave that city and go to Berea. Even there the Jews of Thessalonica followed him and influenced those of Berea, so that the Berean brethren had to provide for his safety. The person to whom they committed him brought him to Athens; Silas and Timotheus remained at Berea for the moment, but soon at his command rejoined him at Athens. Meantime, a violent persecution raged against the Christians at Thessalonica, a city of importance, in which, as it appears, the Jews had already exercised a considerable measure of influence over the heathen population-an influence that was undermined by the progress of Christianity, which the Jews in their blindness rejected.
The Apostle, learning this state of things from Silas and Timotheus, was concerned at the danger his new converts ran in being shaken in faith by the difficulties that beset their path while they were still young in the faith. His affection would not allow him to rest without putting himself in communication with them, and already from Athens he had sent Timotheus to inquire into their condition and to establish their hearts by reminding them that while yet with them he had told them these things would happen. During his absence Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, where Timotheus again comforted him by the good tidings he brought from Thessalonica, and the Apostle resumed his labors at Corinth with renewed energy and courage (see Acts 18:5).
The occasion of the letter; the laborer strengthened and encouraged; their happiness his greatest joy
On the arrival of Timotheus Paul wrote this letter. Timotheus had informed him of the good state of the Thessalonian Christians-that they held fast the faith, that they greatly desired to see the Apostle, and that they walked together in love. In the midst of his sorrows and of the opposition of men-in a word, of the afflictions of the gospel-the Apostle’s spirit is refreshed by these tidings. He is himself strengthened, for if the faith of the laborer is the means of blessing to souls, and in general the measure of the outward character of the work, the faith of the Christians who are the fruit of his labors, and who correspond to it, is in return a source of strength and encouragement to the laborer; even as their prayers are a great means of blessing to him.
Love finds in their spiritual welfare both its food and its joy; faith, that which sustains and strengthens it. The Word of God is felt in it. “I live,” says the Apostle, “if ye stand fast in the Lord. What thanks,” he adds, “can we render to God for you, for all the joy wherewith we rejoice for your sakes before God?” Beautiful and affecting picture of the effect of the operation of the Spirit of God, delivering souls from the corruption of the world and producing the purest affections, the greatest self-renunciation for the sake of others, the greatest joy in their happiness-divine joy, realized before God Himself, and the value of which was appreciated in His presence by the spiritual heart that abode in it, the heart which, on the part of that God of love, had been the means of its existence.
Paul as a laborer, not a master, dependent on God for his work
What a bond is the bond of the Spirit! How selfishness is forgotten and disappears in the joy of such affections! The Apostle, animated by this affection, which increased instead of growing weary by its exercise, and by the satisfaction it received in the happiness of others, desires so much the more, from the Thessalonians being thus sustained, to see them again; not now for the purpose of strengthening them, but to build upon that which was already so established, and to complete their spiritual instruction by imparting that which was yet lacking to their faith. But he is, and he ought to be, a laborer and not a master (God makes us feel this), and he depends entirely on God for his work and for the edification of others. In fact, years passed away before he saw the Thessalonians again. He remained a long time at Corinth, where the Lord had much people; he revisited Jerusalem, then all Asia Minor where he had labored earlier; thence he went to Ephesus, where he abode nearly three years; and after that he saw the Thessalonians again, when he left that city to go to Corinth, taking his journey by the way of Macedonia, in order not to visit Corinth before the restoration of the Christians there to order.
Paul’s submission to the will of God as his Father, and to Christ as the Son over God’s house
“God himself”-it is thus that the Apostle’s desire and his submission to the will of God expresses itself-“God himself direct our way unto you.” His desire is not vague. He refers to God as to his Father, the source of all these holy affections, Him who holds the place of Father to us and orders all things with a view to the good of His children, according to that perfect wisdom which embraces all things and all His children at once. “Our God and Father himself,” the Apostle says. But there is another consideration-not, assuredly, in opposition to this, for God is one, but which has another and less individual character: and he adds, “And our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ is Son over God’s house, and besides joy and blessing and individual affections, there was the progress, the welfare and the development of the whole assembly to be considered. These two parts of Christianity act assuredly upon each other.
The assembly’s well-being and the individual affections, dependent on the government of a Lord like Jesus and the love of a Father
Where the operation of the Spirit is full and unhindered, the well-being of the assembly and the individual affections are in harmony. If anything is lacking in the one, God uses the failure itself to act powerfully on the other. If the assembly as a whole is weak, individual faith is exercised in a special manner, and more immediately upon God Himself. There are no Elijahs and Elishas in the reign of Solomon. On the other hand, the watchful care of the assembly by those divinely engaged in it is the true energy of its spiritual organization, strengthens the life, and reawakens the spiritual affections of its slumbering members. But the two things are different. Therefore, the Apostle adds to “our God and Father...and our Lord Jesus Christ,” who, as we have said, according to Hebrews 3, is Son over His house. It is a blessing that our path depends on the love of a Father, who is God Himself, acting according to the tender affections expressed by that name; and, as to the well-being of the assembly, that it depends on the government of a Lord like Jesus, who loves it with a perfect love: and who, although He took such a place, is the God who created all things, the Man who has all power in heaven and on earth, to whom Christians are the objects of incessant and faithful care- care which He expends in order to bring the assembly finally unto Himself in glory according to the counsels of God.1
(1. It is well here to recall that, though Christ is Son over God’s house, as Lord He is not Lord over the assembly but over individuals. Besides this, He is in a general sense Lord of all. But His action towards individuals ministers to the well-being of the assembly.)
The power and exercise of love
Such then was the Apostle’s first wish, and such were they with regard to whom he formed it. Meanwhile, he must leave his beloved Thessalonians to the immediate care of the Lord on whom he depended (compare Acts 20:32). To that his heart turns. May God “direct my way to come to you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all.”
And his heart could present its affection for them, as the pattern of that which they ought to feel for others. This power of love maintains the heart in the presence of God and makes it find its joy in the light of His presence and earnestly desire that all saints may be in His presence, their hearts fitted for it and there. For God is love, and the exercise of love in the Christian’s heart (fruit of the presence and the operation of the Spirit) is, in fact, the effect of the presence of God; and at the same time it makes us feel His presence, so that it keeps us before Him and maintains sensible communion in the heart. Love may suffer and thereby prove its strength, but we are speaking of the spontaneous exercise of love towards the objects which God presents to it.
Love as the bond of perfectness, the true means of blessing; two great principles as to God and our Lord Jesus
Now, being thus the development of the divine nature in us and the sustainment of our hearts in communion with God Himself, love is the bond of perfectness, the true means of holiness, when it is real. The heart is kept, far away from the flesh and its thoughts, in the pure light of the presence of God, which the soul thus enjoys. For this reason the Apostle prays, while waiting to give them more light, that the Lord would increase love in them, in order to establish their hearts unblamable in holiness before God even our Father in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. Here we find again the two great principles of which I spoke at the end of chapter 1: God in the perfection of His nature; and the Lord Jesus in the intimacy of His connection with us-God, however, as Father, and Jesus as Lord. We are before God, and Jesus comes with His saints. He has brought them to perfection; they are with Him, and thus before God known in the relationship of Father.
The actual and present expectation of the Lord’s coming and the consummation of the work
Observe also that everything refers to this hope: it was an actual and present expectation. If they were converted, it was to serve God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Everything related to that wondrous moment when He should come. That which holiness was would be demonstrated when they should be before God, and the saints would be with their Head; moreover, manifested with Him in glory, even as then they should also fully enjoy the fruit of their labor and the reward of love in the joy of all those whom they had loved.1
(1. It is very striking how holiness here and manifestation in glory are brought together as one thing in Scripture, only the veil drawn aside when the glory is there. Even Christ was declared Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. We beholding the glory with unveiled face are changed into the same image from glory to glory. So here; we are to walk in love, to be unblamable in holiness. We should have said here; but no, the veil is drawn at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. In Ephesians 5 He washes us with the Word, to present us a glorious body without spot to Himself.)
The scene which would be the consummation of the work is presented here in all its moral bearing. We are before God, in His presence, where holiness is demonstrated in its true character; we are there for perfect communion with God in the light, where the connection of holiness with His nature and with the manifestation of Himself is apparent; even as this manifestation is in connection with the development of a nature in us, which by grace sets us in relationship with Him.
“Unblamable in holiness before God”
“Unblamable,” he says, “in holiness,” and in holiness “before God.” He is light. What immense joy, what power, through grace, in this thought, for the time present, to keep ourselves manifested before Him! But only love, known in Him, can do this.
A relationship of love giving the nature of God to His children
But also we add “our Father.” It is a known and real relationship, which has its own peculiar character, a relationship of love. It is not a thing to be acquired, and holiness is not the means of acquiring it. Holiness is the character of our relationship with God, inasmuch as we have received His nature as His children, and it is the revelation of the perfection of that nature in Him in love. Love itself has given us that nature and has placed us in that relationship; practical holiness is its exercise in communion with God, having fellowship with Him in His presence according to the love which we thus know, that is, God Himself as He has revealed Himself towards us.
The accomplishment of God’s ways as to those whom He has given to Jesus; the power and joy of love
But the heart is not alone: there is companionship in this joy and in this perfection; and above all it is with Jesus Himself. He will come, He will be present, and not only He who is the Head, but all the saints with Him will be there also. It will be the accomplishment of the ways of God respecting those whom He had given to Jesus. We shall see Him in His glory, the glory which He has taken in connection with His coming for us. We shall see all the saints in whom He will be admired, and see them in the perfection which our hearts desire for them now.
Observe also that love makes us rise above the difficulties, the persecutions, the fears, which the enemy seeks to produce. Occupied with God, happy in Him, this weight of affliction is not felt. The strength of God is in the heart; the walk is sensibly connected with the eternal happiness possessed with Him, and the affliction is felt to be but light and for a moment. Nor this only; we suffer for Christ’s sake: it is joy with Him, it is intimacy of communion, if we know how to appreciate it, and all is invested with the glory and salvation that are found at the end-“at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”
The Lord’s coming linked with practical, daily life
In reading this passage one cannot but observe the immediate and living way in which the Lord’s coming is linked with daily, practical life, so that the perfect light of that day is thrown upon the hourly path of the present time. By the exercise of love they were to be established in holiness before God at the coming of Christ. From one day to another, that day was looked for as the consummation and the only term they contemplated to the ordinary life of each day here below. How this brought the soul into the presence of God! Moreover, as I have already in part observed, they lived in a known relationship with God which gave room for this confidence. He was their Father; He is ours. The relationship of the saints to Jesus was equally known. The saints were “his saints.” They were all to come with Him. They were associated with His glory. There is nothing equivocal in the expression. Jesus, the Lord, coming with all His saints, allows us to think of no other event than His return in glory. Then also will He be glorified in His saints, who will already have rejoined Him to be forever with Him. It will be the day of their manifestation as of His.

1 Thessalonians 4

The dangers of former habits
The Apostle then turns to the dangers that beset the Thessalonians in consequence of their former habits (and which were still those of the persons that surrounded them), habits in direct contradiction to the holy and heavenly joy of which he spoke. He had already shown them how they were to walk and to please God. In this way he had himself walked among them (ch. 2:10). He would exhort them to a similar conduct with all the weight that his own walk gave him, even as he would desire their growth in love according to the affection he had for them (compare Acts 26:29). It is this which gives authority to the exhortation and to all the words of a servant of the Lord.
Purity: the new and high ground on which Christianity places us; despising God and His Spirit
The Apostle takes up especially the subject of purity, for the pagan morals were so corrupt that impurity was not even accounted to be sin. It appears strange to us that such an exhortation should have been needful to such lively Christians as the Thessalonians; but we do not make allowance enough for the power of those habits in which persons have been brought up, and which become, as it were, a part of our nature and of the current of our thoughts, and for the action of two distinct natures under the influence of these, though the allowance or cultivation of one soon deadens the other. But the motives given here show upon what entirely new ground, as regards the commonest morality, Christianity places us. The body was but as a vessel to be used at will for whatever service they chose. They were to possess this vessel, instead of allowing themselves to be carried away by the desires of the flesh; because they knew God. They were not to deceive their brethren in these things,1 for the Lord would take vengeance. God has called us to holiness: it is with Him that we have to do; and if anyone despised his brother, taking advantage of his feebleness of mind to encroach upon his rights in this respect, it would be to despise not man but God, who would Himself remember it, and who has given us His Spirit; and to act thus would be to despise that Spirit, both in one’s self and in one’s brother in whom He also dwells. He who was wronged in this way was not only the husband of a wife, he was the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit and ought to be respected as such. On what high ground Christianity places a man, and that in connection with our best affections!
(1. Εν τω πραγματι (en to pragmati) is a euphemism for “these things.”)
Brotherly love; glorifying the Lord in daily life
As touching brotherly love-that new mainspring of their life- it was not necessary to exhort them: God Himself had taught them, and they were an example of love to all. Only let them abound in it even more and more; walking quietly, working with their own hands, so as to be in no man’s debt, that in this respect also the Lord might be glorified.
A new revelation as to the Thessalonians’ hope: those who had died would equally have their part in the Lord’s coming; the distinction between Christ’s coming for His own and His day of judgment on the world
Such were the Apostle’s exhortations. That which follows is an absolutely new revelation for their encouragement and consolation.
We have seen that the Thessalonians were always expecting the Lord. It was their near and immediate hope in connection with their daily life. They were constantly expecting Him to take them to Himself. They had been converted to wait for the Son of God from heaven. Now (from want of instruction) it appeared to them that the saints who had recently died would not be with them to be caught up. The Apostle clears up this point and distinguishes between the coming of Christ to take up His own and His day, which was a day of judgment to the world. They were not to be troubled with regard to those who had died in Christ1 as those who had no hope were troubled. And the reason which he gives for this is a proof of the strict connection of their entire spiritual life with the expectation of Christ’s personal return to bring them into heavenly glory. The Apostle, in comforting them with regard to their brethren who had lately died, does not say a word of the survivors rejoining them in heaven. They are maintained in the thought that they were still to look for the Lord during their lifetime to transform them into His glorious image (compare 2 Corinthians 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). A special revelation was required to make them understand that those who had previously died would equally have their part in that event. Their part, so to speak, would resemble that of Christ. He has died, and He has risen again. And so will it be with them. And when He should return in glory, God would bring them-even as He would bring the others, that is, the living-with Him.
(1. It has been thought that the Apostle speaks here of those who had died for His name’s sake as martyrs. It may have been so in consequence of the persecutions, but δια του Ιησου (dia tou Jesou) would be a singular way of expressing it; δια (dia) with a genitive is used for a state of things, a condition that we are in, that characterizes us. Being in Christ, their removal was but falling asleep, not dying. They had this position by means of Jesus, not for His name’s sake. (Compare, however, 2 Corinthians 4:14.))
Express revelation as to details of the Lord’s coming: those who sleep in Jesus will be with Him when He appears; the dead in Christ shall rise first, and the living shall be caught up to meet the Lord
Upon this the Apostle gives some more detailed explanation of the Lord’s coming in the form of express revelation, showing how they would be with Him so as to come with Him when He appears. The living will not take precedence of those who sleep in Jesus. The Lord Himself will come as the Head of His heavenly army, dispersed for a time, to gather them to Himself. He gives the word. The voice of the archangel passes it on, and the trumpet of God is sounded. The dead in Christ will rise first, that is to say, before the living go up. Then we who shall be alive and remain shall go with them, all together, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. So shall we be forever with the Lord.
His people, like their Lord, to ascend in the clouds; the Christian’s heavenly association with Christ
It was thus that the Lord Himself ascended; for in all things we are to be like Him-an important circumstance here. Whether transformed or raised from the dead, we shall all go up in the clouds. It was in the clouds that He ascended, and thus we shall be ever with Him.
Caught up together; God’s power sealing the Christians’ life and His work and bringing them into the glory of Christ
In this part of the passage, where he explains the details of our ascension to the Lord in the air, nothing is said of His coming down to the earth; it is our going up (as He went up) to be with Him.1 Neither, as far as concerns us, does the Apostle go farther than our gathering together to be forever with Him. Nothing is said either of judgment or of manifestation; but only the fact of our heavenly association with Him in that we leave the earth precisely as He left it. This is very precious. There is this difference: He went up in His own full right, He ascended; as to us, His voice calls the dead, and they come forth from the grave, and, the living being changed, all are caught up together. It is a solemn act of God’s power, which seals the Christians’ life and the work of God, and brings the former into the glory of Christ as His heavenly companions. Glorious privilege! Precious grace! To lose sight of it destroys the proper character of our joy and of our hope.
(1. In order that we may all return-be brought back with Him-together.)
Other consequences follow, which are the result of His manifestation; but that is our portion, our hope. We leave the earth as He did; we shall forever be with Him.
Words of comfort if believers die
It is with these words that we are to comfort ourselves if believers die-fall asleep in Jesus. They shall return with Him when He shall be manifested; but, as regards their own portion, they will go away as He went, whether raised from the dead or transformed, to be forever with the Lord.
All the rest refers to His government of the earth: an important subject, a part of His glory; and we also take part in it. But it is not our own peculiar portion. This is, to be with Him, to be like Him, and even (when the time shall come) to quit in the same manner as Himself the world which rejected Him, and which has rejected us, and which is to be judged.
I repeat it: to lose sight of this is to lose our essential portion. All lies in the words, “So shall we ever be with the Lord.” The Apostle has here explained how this will take place.1 Remark here that verses 15-18 are a parenthesis, and that chapter 5:1 follows on chapter 4:14; chapter 5 showing what He will do when He brings the saints with Him according to chapter 4:14.
(1. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. We have already remarked as a fact that this passage is a new, distinct revelation. But the bearing of this fact appears here and proves that it has much importance. The Christian’s life is so connected with the day (that is to say, with the power of the life of light of which Christ lives), and Christ who is already in glory is so truly the believer’s life, that he has no other thought than to pass into it by this power of Christ’s, which will transform him. (See 2 Corinthians 5:4.) It required a new and accessory revelation to explain that which was wanting to the intelligence of the Thessalonians, how the dead saints should not lose their part in it. The same power would be applied to their dead bodies as to the mortal bodies of the living saints, and all would be caught up together. But the victory over death was already gained, and Christ, according to the power of resurrection, being already the believer’s life, it was but natural, according to that power, that he should pass without dying into the fullness of life with Christ. This was so much the natural thought of faith that it required an express and, as I have said, an accessory revelation to explain how the dead should have their part in it. To us now it presents no difficulty. It is the other side of this truth which we lack, which belongs to a much more lively faith and which realizes much more the power of the life of Christ and His victory over death. No doubt the Thessalonians should have considered that Christ had died and risen again, and not have allowed the abundant power of their joy in realizing their own portion in Christ to hide from them the certainty of the portion of those who slept in Him. But we see (and God allowed it that we might see) how the life which they possessed was connected with the position of the Head triumphant over death. The Apostle does not weaken this faith and hope, but he adds (that they may be comforted by the thought) that the triumph of Christ would have the same power over the sleeping as over the living saints; and that God would bring back the former as well as the latter with Jesus in glory, having caught them up together as their common portion to be forever with Him.
To us also God gives this truth, this revelation of His power. He has permitted thousands to fall asleep, because (blessed be His name!) He had other thousands to call in; but the life of Christ has not lost its power, nor the truth its certainty. We as living ones wait for Him because He is our life. We shall see Him in resurrection, if haply we die before He comes to seek us; and the time draws near.
Observe, also, that this revelation gives another direction to the hope of the Thessalonians, because it distinguishes with much precision between our departure hence to join the Lord in the air and our return to the earth with Him. Nor this only; but it shows the first to be the principal thing for Christians, while at the same time confirming and elucidating the other point. I question whether the Thessalonians would not better have understood this return with Christ than our departure hence all together to rejoin Him. Even at their conversion they had been brought to wait for Jesus from heaven. From the first the great and essential principle was established in their hearts-the Person of Christ was the object of their hearts’ expectation, and they were separated thereby from the world.
Perhaps they had some vague idea that they were to appear with Him in glory, but how it was to be accomplished they knew not. They were to be ready at any moment for His coming, and He and they were to be glorified together before the universe. This they knew. It is a summary of the truth.
Now the Apostle develops more than one point here in connection with this general truth. First, they would be with Christ at His coming. This, I think, is a happy application of a truth which they already possessed, giving a little more precision to one of its precious details. At the end of chapter 3 we have the truth plainly stated (although it was still indistinct in their hearts, since they thought the dead in Christ would be deprived of it) that all the saints should come with Jesus-an essential point as to the character of our relationship to Him. So that Jesus was expected-the saints should be together with Jesus at the time of His coming-all the saints should come with Him. This fixed and gave precision to their ideas on a point already more or less known. Second, that which follows is a new revelation on the occasion of their mistake with regard to those who slept. They thought indeed that the Christians who were ready should be glorified with Christ when He came back to this world; but the dead- were they ready? They were not present to share the glorious manifestation of Christ on the earth. For, I doubt not, the vague idea that possessed the mind of the Thessalonians was this: Jesus would return to this world, and they who were waiting for Him would share His glorious manifestation on the earth. Now the Apostle declares that the dead saints were in the same position as Jesus who had died. God had not left Him in the grave; nor would He those who had, like Him, been there. God would also bring them with Him when He should return in glory to this earth. But this was not all. The coming of Christ in glory to the earth was not the principal thing. The dead in Christ should be raised and then, with the living, should go to meet the Lord in the air, before His manifestation, and return with Him to the earth in glory; and thus should they be ever with the Lord. This was the principal thing, the Christian’s portion; namely, to dwell eternally with Christ and in heaven. The portion of the faithful was on high- was Christ Himself, although they would appear with Him in the glory. For this world it would then be the judgment.)
The Christian’s peculiar, essential portion: “ever with the Lord”; daily living in expectation of the Lord
In this important passage, then, we find the Christian living in an expectation of the Lord, which is connected with his daily life and which completes it. Death, then, is only an accessory which may take place, and which does not deprive the Christian of his portion when his Master shall return. The proper expectation of the Christian is entirely separated from all which follows the manifestation of Christ and which is in connection with the government of this world.
The Lord’s personal coming with full authority over death; the dead saint not losing his rights; all leaving the earth to be with Christ in heaven
The Lord comes in Person to receive us to Himself; He does not send. With full authority over death, which He has conquered, and with the trump of God, He calls together His own from the grave; and these, with the living (transformed), go to meet Him in the air. Our departure from the world exactly resembles His own: we leave the world, to which we do not belong, to go to heaven. Once there, we have attained our portion. We are like Christ, we are forever with Him, but He will bring His own with Him, when He shall appear. This then was the true comfort in the case of a Christian’s death, and by no means put aside the daily expectation of the Lord from heaven. On the contrary, this way of viewing the subject confirmed it. The dead saint did not lose his rights by dying-by sleeping in Jesus; he should be the first object of his Lord’s attention when He came to assemble His own. Nevertheless, the place from which they go forth to meet Him is the earth. The dead should be raised-this was the first thing-that they might be ready to go with the others; and then from this earth all would depart together to be with Christ in heaven. This point of view is all-important, in order to apprehend the true character of that moment when all our hopes will be consummated.

1 Thessalonians 5

The Lord’s coming again into the world; the position of Christians and the unbelieving distinguished; light and its judgment of unbelievers
The Lord’s coming again into this world assumes, therefore, a very different character from that of a vague object of hope to a believer as a period of glory. In chapter 5 the Apostle speaks of it, but in order to distinguish between the position of Christians and that of the careless and unbelieving inhabitants of the earth. The Christian, alive and taught of the Lord, ever expects the Master. There are times and seasons; it is not needful to speak to him concerning them. But (and he knows it) the day of the Lord will come, and like a thief in the night, but not for him: he is of the day; he has part in the glory which will appear in order to execute judgment on the unbelieving world. Believers are the children of light; and this light, which is the judgment of unbelievers, is the expression of the glory of God-a glory which cannot endure evil, and which, when it shall appear, will banish it from the earth. The Christian is of the day that will judge and destroy the wicked and wickedness itself from off the face of the earth. Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, and the faithful will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
The fate of the world and the professing church
The world will say, “Peace and safety,” and in all security will believe in the continuance of its prosperity and the success of its designs, and the day will come suddenly upon them. (Compare 2 Peter 3:3.) The Lord Himself has often declared it (Matt. 24:36-44; Mark 13:33-36; Luke 12:40; 17:26; 21:35).
It is a very solemn thing to see that the professing church (Rev. 3:3) which says that it lives and is in the truth, which has not Thyatira’s character of corruption, is yet to be treated as the world-at least, unless it repents.
Security and fear both existing; the shadow of coming events
We may, perhaps, wonder to find the Lord saying of a time like this that men’s hearts will be failing them for fear and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth (Luke 21:26). But we see the two principles-both security and fear-already existing. Progress, success, the long continuance of a new development of human nature-this is the language of those who mock at the Lord’s coming; and yet beneath it all, what fears for the future are at the same time possessing and weighing down the heart! I use the word “principles,” because I do not believe that the moment of which the Lord speaks is yet come. But the shadow of coming events falls upon the heart. Blessed are they that belong to another world!
Children of the light, living in the day, exhorted; the three great principles of 1 Corinthians 13 to characterize the Christian’s courage and steadfastness
The Apostle applies this difference of position-namely, that we belong to the day, and that it cannot, therefore, come upon us as a thief-to the character and walk of the Christian. Being a child of the light, he is to walk as such. He lives in the day, though all is night and darkness around him. One does not sleep in the day.
They that sleep sleep in the night: they that are drunken are drunken in the night; these are the works of darkness. A Christian, the child of the day, must watch and be sober, clothing himself with all that constitutes the perfection of that mode of being which belongs to his position-namely, with faith and love and hope-principles which impart courage and give him confidence for pressing onwards. He has the breastplate of faith and love; he goes straight forward, therefore, against the enemy. He has the hope of this glorious salvation, which will bring him entire deliverance, as his helmet; so that he can lift up his head without fear in the midst of danger. We see that the Apostle here brings to mind the three great principles of 1 Corinthians 13 to characterize the courage and steadfastness of the Christian, as at the beginning he showed that they were the mainspring of daily walk.
Faith, hope and love exercised for our comfort and building up
Faith and love naturally connect us with God, revealed as He is in Jesus as the principle of communion; so that we walk with confidence in Him: His presence gives us strength. By faith He is the glorious object before our eyes. By love He dwells in us, and we realize what He is. Hope fixes our eyes especially on Christ, who is coming to bring us into the enjoyment of glory with Himself.
Consequently the Apostle speaks thus: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath” (love is understood by faith, that which God wills-His mind respecting us), “but to obtain salvation.” It is this which we hope for; and he speaks of salvation as the final deliverance “by our Lord Jesus Christ”: and he naturally adds, “Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep” (have died before His coming or be then alive), “we should live together with Him.” Death does not deprive us of this deliverance and glory; for Jesus died. Death became the means of obtaining them for us; and if we die, we shall equally live with Him. He died for us, in our stead, in order that, happen what may, we should live with Him. Everything that hindered it is put out of our way and has lost its power; and, more than lost its power, has become a guarantee of our unhindered enjoyment of the full life of Christ in glory; so that we may comfort ourselves-and more than that, we may build ourselves up-with these glorious truths, through which God meets all our wants and all our necessities. This (vs. 10) is the end of the special revelation with regard to those who sleep before the coming of the Lord Jesus, beginning with chapter 4:13.
The various ways in which the Apostle here speaks of the Lord’s coming
I would here call the reader’s attention to the way in which the Apostle speaks of the Lord’s coming in the different chapters of this epistle. It will be noticed that the Spirit does not present the church here as a body. Life is the subject-that of each Christian, therefore, individually: a very important point assuredly.
Chapter 1: The personal expectation of the Son of God, Jesus, the heart’s desire
In chapter 1 the expectation of the Lord is presented in a general way as characterizing the Christian. They are converted to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Here it is the object itself that is presented, the Person of the Lord. God’s own Son shall come and shall satisfy all the heart’s desire. This is neither His kingdom, nor the judgment, nor even rest; it is the Son of God; and this Son of God is Jesus, risen from among the dead, and who has delivered us from the wrath to come; for wrath is coming. Each believer, therefore, expects for himself the Son of God-expects Him from heaven.
Chapter 2: Love as regards others satisfied at His coming; association with the saints
In chapter 2 it is association with the saints, joy in the saints at the coming of Christ.
Chapter 3: Responsibility in liberty, joy and holiness; the Lord manifested with His saints
In chapter 3 responsibility is more the subject-responsibility in liberty and in joy; but still a position before God in connection with the Christian’s walk and life here below. The Lord’s appearing is the measure and test time of holiness. The testimony rendered by God to this life, by giving it its natural place, takes place when Christ is manifested with all His saints. It is not here His coming for us, but His coming with us. This distinction between the two events always exists. For Christians even and for the church, that which refers to responsibility is always found in connection with the appearing of the Lord; our joy, with His coming to take us to Himself.
Chapter 4: Victory over death; our common departure hence to be with Jesus
Thus far, then, we have the general expectation of the Lord in Person, His Son from heaven; love satisfied at His coming as regards others; holiness in its full value and full development. In chapter 4 it is not the connection of life with its full development in our being actually with Christ, but victory over death (which is no barrier to this); and, at the same time, the strengthening and establishment of hope in our common departure hence, similarly to that of Jesus, to be forever with Him.
The happy condition of the Thessalonians
The exhortations that conclude the epistle are brief; the mighty action of the life of God in these dear disciples made them comparatively little needed. Exhortation is always good. There was nothing among them to blame. Happy condition! They were perhaps not sufficiently instructed for a large development of doctrine (the Apostle hoped to see them for that purpose); but there was enough of life, a personal relationship with God sufficiently true and real, to build them up on that ground. To him that has shall more be given. The Apostle could rejoice with them and confirm their hope and add to it some details as a revelation from God. The assembly in all ages is profited by it.
Life in the Spirit as seen in Philippians and in Thessalonians
In the Epistle to the Philippians we see life in the Spirit rising above all circumstances as the fruit of long experience of the goodness and faithfulness of God; and thus showing its remarkable power when the help of the saints had failed, and the Apostle was in distress, his life in danger, after four years’ imprisonment, by a merciless tyrant. It is then that he decides his case by the interests of the assembly. It is then that he can proclaim that we ought always to rejoice in the Lord and that Christ is all things to him, to live is Christ, death a gain to him. It is then that he can do all things through Him who strengthens him. This he has learned. In Thessalonians we have the freshness of the fountain near to its source; the energy of the first spring of life in the believer’s soul, presenting all the beauty and purity and vigor of its first verdure under the influence of the sun that had risen upon them and made the sap of life rise, the first manifestations of which had not been deteriorated by contact with the world or by an enfeebled view of invisible things.
The work of God and His laborers to be known, appreciated and acknowledged
The Apostle desired that the disciples should acknowledge those who labored among them and guided them in grace and admonished them, and esteem them greatly for their work’s sake. The operation of God always attracts a soul that is moved by the Holy Spirit and commands its attention and its respect: on this foundation the Apostle builds his exhortation. It is not office which is in question here (if such existed), but the work which attracted and attached the heart. They ought to be known: spirituality acknowledged this operation of God. Love, devotedness, the answer to the need of souls, patience in dealing with them on the part of God- all this commended itself to the believer’s heart: and it blessed God for the care He bestowed upon His children. God acted in the laborer and in the hearts of the faithful. Blessed be God, it is an ever-existing principle and one that never grows weaker!
The same Spirit produced peace among themselves. This grace was of great value. If love appreciated the work of God in the laborer, it would esteem the brother as in the presence of God: self-will would not act.
Communion with God the power and His Word the guide to obey the Apostle’s exhortations as to others
Now this renunciation of self-will, and this practical sense of the operation and presence of God, gives power to warn the unruly, to comfort the fearful, to help the weak, and to be patient towards all. The Apostle exhorts them to it. Communion with God is the power and His Word the guide in so doing. In no case were they to render evil for evil, but to follow that which was good among themselves and towards all. All this conduct depends on communion with God, on His presence with us, which makes us superior to evil. He is this in love; and we can be so by walking with Him.
The Apostle’s brief exhortations giving a fine picture of Christian walk
Such were the Apostle’s exhortations to guide their walk with others. As regards their personal state, joy, prayer, thanksgiving in all things, these should be their characteristics. With respect to the public actings of the Spirit in their midst, the Apostle’s exhortations to these simple and happy Christians were equally brief. They were not to hinder the action of the Spirit in their midst (for this is the meaning of quenching the Spirit); nor to despise that which He might say to them, even by the mouth of the most simple, if He were pleased to use it. Being spiritual, they could judge all things. They were, therefore, not to receive everything that presented itself, even in the name of the Spirit, but to prove all things. They were to hold fast that which was good; those who by faith have received the truth of the Word do not waver. One is not ever learning the truth of that which one has learned from God. As to evil, they were to abstain from it in all its forms. Such were the Apostle’s brief exhortations to these Christians who indeed rejoiced his heart. And in truth it is a fine picture of Christian walk, which we find here so livingly portrayed in the Apostle’s communications.
The God of peace: peace enjoyed in His presence
He concludes his epistle by commending them to the God of peace, that they might be preserved blameless until the coming of the Lord Jesus.
After an epistle like this, his heart turned readily to the God of peace; for we enjoy peace in the presence of God-not only peace of conscience but peace of heart.
Perfect rest of heart: the reason of its absence
In the previous part we found the activity of love in the heart; that is to say, God present and acting in us, who are viewed as partaking, at the same time, of the divine nature, which is the spring of that holiness which will be manifested in all its perfection before God at the coming of Jesus with all His saints. Here it is the God of peace to whom the Apostle looks for the accomplishment of this work. There it was the activity of a divine principle in us-a principle connected with the presence of God and our communion with Him. Here it is the perfect rest of heart in which holiness develops itself. The absence of peace in the heart arises from the activity of the passions and the will, increased by the sense of powerlessness to satisfy or even to gratify them.
Finding our rest in God
But in God all is peace. He can be active in love; He can glorify Himself by creating what He will; He can act in judgment to cast out the evil that is before His eyes. But He rests ever in Himself, and both in good and in evil He knows the end from the beginning and is undisturbed. When He fills the heart, He imparts this rest to us: we cannot rest in ourselves; we cannot find rest of heart in the actings of our passions, either without an object or upon an object, nor in the rending and destructive energy of our own will. We find our rest in God-not the rest that implies weariness, but rest of heart in the possession of all that we desire, and of that which even forms our desires and fully satisfies them, in the possession of an object in which conscience has nothing to reproach us and has but to be silent, in the certainty that it is the supreme good which the heart is enjoying, the supreme and only authority to whose will it responds-and that will is love towards us. God bestows rest, peace. He is never called the God of joy. He gives us joy truly, and we ought to rejoice; but joy implies something surprising, unexpected, exceptional, at least in contrast with, and in consequence of, evil. The peace that we possess, that which satisfies us, has no element of this kind, nothing which is in contrast, nothing which disturbs. It is more deep, more perfect, than joy. It is more the satisfaction of a nature in that which perfectly answers to it, and in which it develops itself, without any contrast being necessary to enhance the satisfaction of a heart that has not all which it desires or of which it is capable.
God, as we have said, rests thus in Himself-is this rest for Himself. He gives us, and is for us, this entire peace. The conscience being perfect through the work of Christ who has made peace and reconciled us to God, the new nature-and, consequently, the heart-finds its perfect satisfaction in God, and the will is silent; moreover, it has nothing further to desire.
God glorifying Himself in Christians in reconciliation
It is not only that God meets the desires that we have: He is the source of new desires to the new man by the revelation of Himself in love.1 He is both the source of the nature and its infinite object; and that, in love. It is His part to be so. It is more than creation; it is reconciliation, which is more than creation, because there is in it more development of love, that is to say, of God: and it is thus that we know God. It is that which He is essentially in Christ.
(1. Hence, there is the opposite to weariness in the heavenly enjoyment of God; because He who is the infinite object of enjoyment is the infinite source and strength of capacity to enjoy, though we enjoy as recipient creatures.)
In the angels He glorifies Himself in creation: they excel us in strength. In Christians He glorifies Himself in reconciliation, to make them the firstfruits of His new creation, when He shall have reconciled all things in heaven and on earth by Christ. Therefore it is written, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children [sons] of God.” They have His nature and His character.
The God of peace sanctifying those who are the fruit of redemption and the objects of His love
It is in these relationships with God-or, rather, it is God in these relationships with us in peace, in His communion, who develops sanctification, our inward conformity of affection and intelligence (and, consequently, of outward conduct) with Him and His will. “The God of peace himself sanctify you wholly.” May there be nothing in us that does not yield to this benignant influence of peace which we enjoy in communion with God! May no power or force in us own anything but Himself! In all things may He be our all, so that He only may rule in our hearts!
He has brought us perfectly into this place of blessedness in Christ and by His work. There is nothing between us and God but the exercise of His love, the enjoyment of our happiness, and the worship of our hearts. We are the proof before Him, the testimony, the fruit, of the accomplishment of all that He holds most precious, of that which has perfectly glorified Him, of that in which He delights, and of the glory of the One who has accomplished it, namely, of Christ, and of His work. We are the fruit of the redemption that Christ has accomplished and the objects of the satisfaction which God must feel in the exercise of His love.
God in grace is the God of peace for us; for here divine righteousness finds its satisfaction, and love its perfect exercise.
Man-body, soul and spirit-in all the parts of his being consecrated to God
The Apostle now prays that, in this character, God may work in us to make everything respond to Himself thus revealed. Here only is this development of humanity given-“body, soul, and spirit.” The object is assuredly not metaphysical, but to express man in all the parts of his being; the vessel by which he expresses that which he is, the natural affections of his soul, the elevated workings of his mind, through which he is above the animals and in intelligent relationship with God. May God be found in each, as the mover, spring and guide!
In general the words “soul and spirit” are used without making any distinction between them, for the soul of man was formed very differently from that of animals in that God breathed into his nostrils the breath (spirit) of life, and it was thus that man became a living soul. Therefore, it suffices to say soul as to man, and the other is supposed. Or, in saying spirit, in this sense the elevated character of his soul is expressed. The animal has also its natural affections, has a living soul, attaches itself, knows the persons who do it good, devotes itself to its master, loves him, will even give its life for him; but it has not that which can be in relationship with God (alas! which can set itself at enmity against Him), which can occupy itself with things outside its own nature as the master of others.
The Spirit then wills that man, reconciled with God, should be consecrated, in every part of his being, to the God who has brought him into relationship with Himself by the revelation of His love and by the work of His grace, and that nothing in the man should admit an object beneath the divine nature of which he is partaker; so that he should thus be preserved blameless unto the coming of Christ.
God’s will in the various relationships in which He has placed us
Let us observe here that it is in no wise beneath the new nature in us to perform our duties faithfully in all the various relationships in which God has placed us; but quite the contrary. That which is required is to bring God into them, His authority, and the intelligence which that imparts. Therefore it is said to husbands to live with their wives “according to knowledge,” or intelligence; that is to say, not only with human and natural affections (which, as things are, do not by themselves even maintain their place), but as before God and conscious of His will. It may be that God may call us, in connection with the extraordinary work of His grace, to consecrate ourselves entirely to it; but otherwise the will of God is accomplished in the relationships in which He has placed us, and divine intelligence and obedience to God are developed in them. Finally, God has called us to this life of holiness with Himself; He is faithful, and He will accomplish it. May He enable us to cleave to Him, that we may realize it!
Blameless at the coming of our Lord
Observe again here how the coming of Christ is introduced, and the expectation of this coming, as an integral part of Christian life. “Blameless,” it says, “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The life which had developed itself in obedience and holiness meets the Lord at His coming. Death is not in question. The life which we have found is to be such when He appears. The man, in every part of his being, moved by this life, is found there blameless when Jesus comes. Death was overcome (not yet destroyed): a new life is ours. This life, and the man living of this life, are found, with their Head and source, in the glory. Then will the weakness disappear which is connected with his present condition. That which is mortal shall be swallowed up of life: that is all. We are Christ’s: He is our life. We wait for Him, that we may be with Him and that He may perfect all things in the glory.
The distinction between being perfectly sanctified in Christ as born again and practical sanctification
Let us also here examine a little into that which this passage teaches us with regard to sanctification. It is connected indeed with a nature, but it is linked with an object; and it depends for its realization on the operation of another, namely, of God Himself; and it is founded on a perfect work of reconciliation with God already accomplished. Inasmuch as it is founded on an accomplished reconciliation, into which we enter by the reception of a new nature, the Scriptures consider Christians as already perfectly sanctified in Christ. It is practically carried out by the operation of the Holy Spirit, who, in imparting this nature, separates us-as thus born again-entirely from the world. It is important to maintain this truth and to stand very clearly and distinctly on this ground: otherwise, practical sanctification soon becomes detached from a new nature received and is but the amelioration of the natural man and then it is quite legal, a return- after reconciliation-into doubt and uncertainty, because, though justified, the man is not accounted meet for heaven-this depends on progress so that justification does not give peace with God. Scripture says, “Giving thanks to the Father, who hath made us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” Progress there is, but it is not in Scripture connected with meetness. The thief was meet for paradise and went there. Such views are an enfeebling, not to say destructive, of the work of redemption, that is, of its appreciation in our hearts by faith.
Set apart for God personally and forever;
consequent justification; practical realization
and development of it through the Word
We are, then, sanctified (it is thus the Scripture most frequently speaks) by God the Father, by the blood and the offering of Christ, and by the Spirit-that is to say, we are set apart for God personally and forever. In this point of view justification is presented in the Word as consequent upon sanctification, a thing into which we enter through it. Taken up as sinners in the world, we are set apart by the Holy Spirit to enjoy all the efficacy of the work of Christ according to the counsels of the Father: set apart by the communication of a new life, no doubt, but placed by this setting apart in the enjoyment of all that Christ has gained for us. I say again, It is very important to hold fast this truth both for the glory of God and for our own peace: but the Spirit of God in this epistle does not speak of it in this point of view, but of the practical realization of the development of this life of separation from the world and from evil. He speaks of this divine development in the inner man, which makes sanctification a real and intelligent condition of soul, a state of practical communion with God, according to that nature and to the revelation of God with which it is connected.
In this respect we find indeed a principle of life which works in us-that which is called a subjective state: but it is impossible to separate this operation in us from an object (man would be God if it were so), nor, consequently, from a continual work of God in us that holds us in communion with that object, which is God Himself. Accordingly, it is through the truth by the Word, whether at first in the communication of life or in detail all along our path. “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”
The new man dependent on the love and strength of another
Man, we know, has degraded himself. He has enslaved himself to the lusts of the animal part of his being. But how? By departing from God. God does not sanctify man apart from the knowledge of Himself, leaving man still at a distance from Him; but, while giving him a new nature which is capable of it, by giving to this nature (which cannot even exist without it) an object-Himself, He does not make man independent, as he wished to be: the new man is the dependent man; it is his perfection-Jesus Christ exemplified this in His life. The new man is a man dependent in his affections, who desires to be so, who delights in, and cannot be happy without being so, and whose dependence is on love, while still obedient as a dependent being ought to be.
The new nature holy in its desires and tastes
Thus they who are sanctified possess a nature that is holy in its desires and its tastes. It is the divine nature in them, the life of Christ. But they do not cease to be men. They have God revealed in Christ for their object. Sanctification is developed in communion with God and in affections which go back to Christ and which wait for Him. But the new nature cannot reveal an object to itself; and still less could it have its object by setting God aside at its will. It is dependent on God for the revelation of Himself. His love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us; and the same Spirit takes of the things of Christ and communicates them to us. Thus we grow in the knowledge of God, being strengthened mightily by His Spirit in the inner man, that we may “comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge,” and be filled unto the fullness of God. Thus, “we all with open face beholding the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth.”
We see by these passages, which might be multiplied, that we are dependent on an object, and that we are dependent on the strength of another. Love acts in order to work in us according to this need.
Practical sanctification wrought in us by the Holy Spirit’s power
Our setting apart for God, which is complete (for it is by means of a nature that is purely of Himself, and in absolute responsibility to Him, for we are no longer our own, but are bought with a price, and sanctified by the blood of Christ according to the will of God, who will have us for His own), places us in a relationship, the development of which (by an increasing knowledge of God, who is the object of our new nature) is practical sanctification, wrought in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, the witness in us of the love of God. He attaches the heart to God, ever revealing Him more and more, and at the same time unfolding the glory of Christ and all the divine qualities that were displayed in Him in human nature, thus forming ours as born of God.
Love, the activity of the new nature, the means of sanctification
Therefore it is, as we have seen in this epistle, that love, working in us, is the means of sanctification (ch. 3:12-13). It is the activity of the new nature, of the divine nature in us; and that connected with the presence of God; for he that dwells in love dwells in God. And in this chapter 5 the saints are commended to God Himself, that He may work it in them; while we are always set in view of the glorious objects of our faith in order to accomplish it.
The sanctifying effect of communion and waiting for Christ
We may here more particularly call the reader’s attention to these objects. They are God Himself and the coming of Christ: on the one hand, communion with God; on the other, waiting for Christ. It is most evident that communion with God is the practical position of the highest sanctification. He who knows that we shall see Jesus as He now is and be like Him purifies himself even as He is pure. By our communion with the God of peace we are wholly sanctified. If God is practically our all, we are altogether holy. (We are not speaking of any change in the flesh, which can neither be subjected to God nor please Him.) The thought of Christ and His coming preserves us practically, and in detail, and intelligently, blameless. It is God Himself who thus preserves us, and who works in us to occupy our hearts and cause us continually to grow.
The joy of communion with God and with Christ; waiting with Christ as well as for Him
But this point deserves yet a few more words. The freshness of Christian life in the Thessalonians made it, as it were, more objective; so that these objects are prominent and very distinctly recognized by the heart. We have already said that they are God the Father and the Lord Jesus. With reference to the communion of love with the saints as his crown and glory, he speaks only of the Lord Jesus. This has a special character of reward, although a reward in which love reigns. Jesus Himself had the joy that was set before Him as sustainment in His sufferings, a joy which thus was personal to Himself. The Apostle also, as regarded his work and labor, waited with Christ for its fruit. Besides this case of the Apostle (ch. 2), we find God Himself and Jesus as the object before us, and the joy of communion with God-and this, in the relationship of Father-and with Christ, whose glory and position we share through grace.
The sphere of communion founded on relationship with God as Father
Thus it is only in the two epistles to the Thessalonians that we find the expression “to the church which is in God the Father.”1 The sphere of their communion is thus shown, founded on the relationship in which they found themselves with God Himself in the character of Father (1 Thess. 1:3,9-10; 3:13; 4:15-16; and here verse 23). It is important to remark that the more vigorous and living Christianity is, the more objective it is. It is but saying that God and the Lord Jesus have a greater place in our thoughts; and that we rest more really upon them. This Epistle to the Thessalonians is the part of Scripture which instructs on this point; and it is a means of judging many a fallacy in the heart and of giving a great simplicity to our Christianity.
(1. Perhaps, too, in connection with their recent deliverance from idols to the one true God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.)
The epistle to be read to all; the Apostle’s relationship maintained; the least of God’s saints not forgotten
The Apostle closes his epistle by asking for the prayers of the brethren, saluting them with the confidence of affection and adjuring them to have his epistle read to all the holy brethren. His heart forgot none of them. He would be in relationship with all according to this spiritual affection and personal bond. Apostle towards all of them, he would have them recognize those who labored among them, but he maintained withal his own relationship. His was a heart which embraced all the revealed counsels of God on the one hand and did not lose sight of the least of His saints on the other.
The manner of the Apostle’s instruction: precious known and possessed truths applied that the Thessalonians might be established and clear before he touched on their error and mistakes
It remains to take notice of one interesting circumstance as to the manner in which the Apostle instructs them. He takes, in the first chapter, the truths which were precious to their heart, but were still somewhat vaguely seized by their intelligence, and as to which they were indeed fallen into mistakes, and employs them (in the clearness in which he possessed them himself) in his practical instructions and applies them to known and experienced relationships, that their souls might be well established on positive truth and clear as to its use, before he touched on their error and the mistakes they had made. They waited for His Son from heaven. This they already possessed clearly in their hearts; but they would be in the presence of God when Jesus comes with all His saints. This was clearing up a very important point without directly touching the error. Their heart got straight as to the truth in its practical application to what the heart possessed. They understood what it was to be before God the Father. It was much more intimate and real than a manifestation of terrestrial and finite glory. Further, they would be before God when Jesus came with all His saints: a simple truth which demonstrated itself to the heart by the simple fact that Jesus could not have some only of His assembly. The heart seized this truth without an effort; yet in doing so it was established, as was the understanding also, in what made the whole truth clear, and that in view of the relationship of the Thessalonians to Christ and those that were His. The joy even of the Apostle in meeting them all (those who had died consequently, as well as the living) at the coming of Jesus placed the soul on an entirely different ground from that of being found here and blessed by the arrival of Jesus when they were here below.
Having a certain fixed basis of truth, they could set aside without difficulty an error not in accord with it
Thus enlightened, confirmed, established in the real bearing of the truth which they possessed already, by a development of it which connected itself with their best affections and with their most intimate spiritual knowledge, founded on their communion with God, they were ready with certain fixed basis of truth to enter on and set aside without difficulty an error which was not in accord with what they now knew how to appreciate at its just value, as forming part of their moral possessions. Special revelation made all clear as to details. This manner of proceeding is very instructive.

2 THESSALONIANS

The purpose of the epistle
In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle corrects some errors into which these disciples had fallen with regard to the day of the Lord through certain false teachers; as in part of the first epistle he had enlightened the ignorance of the believers themselves respecting the portion of the saints at the coming of Christ to take them to Himself-a point on which they were evidently but little instructed.
The Jewish influence explaining what the Apostle wrote in his two epistles
A measure of Jewish darkness was on their minds; and they were, in some points, still subjected to the influence of that unhappy nation, which was ever struggling to maintain a position lost through its unbelief.
This Jewish influence enables us to understand why the Apostle spoke as he did in chapter 2:15-16 of the first epistle. At that time this influence showed itself in the tendency of the Thessalonians to lose sight of the heavenly side of the Lord’s coming, to think that He would return to the earth and that they should then be glorified with Him-as a Jew might have believed-and that the dead saints would therefore not be present to share this glory. I do not say that this thought had assumed a definite form in the minds of the Thessalonians. To them the principal and living object was the Lord Himself, and they were awaiting His return with hearts full of joy and life; but the heavenly side of this expectation had not its place clearly marked in their minds, and they connected the coming too much with the manifestation, so that the earthly character predominated, and the dead seemed to be shut out from it.
When the second epistle was written, this Jewish influence had another character; and the false teachers were more directly concerned in it.

2 Thessalonians 1

Error as to “the day of the Lord”: false teaching that the day of judgment had already come, because of their dreadful persecution
The faithful at Thessalonica had learned to contemplate “the day of the Lord” as a day of judgment. The Old Testament had spoken much of this day of the Lord, a day of darkness and unparalleled judgment, a day of trial to men (compare Isaiah 13, Joel 2 and Amos 5:18). Now the Thessalonians were undergoing dreadful persecution. Perhaps their hope of an earthly intervention of the Lord, during their lifetime, was weakened. The Apostle at least rejoiced at the increase of their faith and the abundant exercise of their love, while he is silent with regard to their hope; and the joy of Christian life is not found here as it was manifested in the first epistle. Nevertheless, they were walking well, and the Apostle gloried in them1 in the churches of God. But the false teachers profited by their condition to mislead them by means of their sufferings, which weighed more heavily on their hearts from the joy of hope being a little weakened; and at the same time the remains of the influence of Judaizing thoughts, or of habits of mind formed through them, furnished occasion to the assaults of the enemy. The instrument of the subtle malice told them that the day of the Lord, that fearful time, was already come-the word (ch. 2:2) is not “at hand,” but “come,” “present”2-and all that the Thessalonians were suffering, and by which their hearts were shaken, appeared like a testimony to prove it and to confirm the words of the false teachers. Was it not written that it should be a day of trial and anguish?
(1. In the first epistle he says he needed not to speak of them, seeing that the world itself recounted everywhere the principles by which they were governed. We shall see a similar difference all through. It is no longer the same fresh energy of life.)
(2. See Romans 8:38 and 1 Corinthians 3:22, where it (ενεστωτα; enestota) is translated “present,” in contrast with “things to come.”)
Inspiration and the Apostle’s own name given as authority for the false teaching; Satan’s dominion of fear
The words of these teachers, moreover, had the pretension of being more than human reasoning; it was a word of the Lord, it was the Spirit who spoke, it was a letter from an inspired channel: and so bold and wicked were they in regard to this matter that they did not fear to adduce the Apostle’s own name as their authority for declaring that the day was come. Now the dominion of fear, which Satan can exercise over the mind, when it is not kept of God in peace and joy, is astonishing. “In nothing terrified by your adversaries” is the Apostle’s word to the Philippians, “which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.” In such a state of mind as this, everything is believed; or rather everything is feared, and nothing is believed. The heart gives itself up to this fear and is ready to believe anything; for it is in darkness and knows not what to believe. Thus the Apostle exhorts the Thessalonians (ch. 2) not to be soon shaken in mind so as to lose their stability in the truth, and not to be troubled.
The error dealt with by building on the knowledge already possessed and applied to the moment’s circumstances
The Apostle deals with the case in the same manner as in the first epistle. Before entering on the error, he treats the same subject in its true light, building upon the knowledge which the Thessalonians already possessed. Only he sets it forth with clearness in its application to the circumstances of the moment. By this means they were delivered from the influence of the error and from the disturbance of mind which it had caused; and were rendered capable of looking at the error, as being themselves outside it, and of judging it according to the instruction that the Apostle gave them.
Persecution: the seal of worthiness in the time when the wicked did their own will; the day of the Lord: the time to punish the wicked, when His people should be at rest and the wicked in distress
They were persecuted and were in distress and suffering, and the enemy took advantage of it. The Apostle puts that fact in its right place. He encourages them with the thought that it was a kind of seal upon them of their being worthy of the kingdom for which they were suffering. But more, the “day of the Lord” was the coming of the Lord in judgment; but it was not to make His own suffer that He was coming-it was to punish the wicked. Persecution, therefore, could not be the day of the Lord; for in persecution the wicked had the upper hand and did their own will and inflicted suffering on those whom the Lord loved. Could that be His day? The Apostle does not apply this argument to the question, but he puts the facts in their place; so that all the use which the enemy made of them fell of itself to the ground. The truth of the facts was there in its simplicity, giving them their evident and natural character. When God should take the thing in hand, He would recompense tribulation to those who troubled His children, and these should have rest-should be in peace. The moment of their entering into this rest is not at all the subject here, but the contrast between their actual condition and that which it would be if Jesus were come. It was not to persecute and harass His own that He was coming. In His day they should be at rest and the wicked in distress; for He was coming to punish the latter by driving them away forever from the glory of His presence. When we understand that the Thessalonians had been induced to believe that the day of the Lord was already come, the import of this first chapter is very plain.
God’s righteous judgment; the glorious manifestation of the Lord Jesus
Two principles are here established. First, the righteous judgment of God: it is righteous in His eyes, on the one hand, to reward those who suffer for His kingdom’s sake: and, on the other, to requite those who persecute His children. In the second place, the glorious manifestation of the Lord Jesus: His own should be in rest and happiness with Him when His power should be in exercise.
The two reasons for judgment
We see also here two reasons for judgment-they did not know God and they did not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. All being without excuse as to the testimony that God had ever given concerning Himself, some among them had added the rejection of the positive revelation of His grace in the gospel of Christ to their abuse of their natural relationship with God and their forgetfulness of His majesty.
The blessed result of the Lord’s manifestation in glory; what the Thessalonians’ persecution proved
Meanwhile, the Apostle presents the positive result in blessing of the manifestation of Jesus in glory. He will come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that have believed in Him, and therefore in the Thessalonians: a thorough proof, at least, that they were not to view their persecuted condition as a demonstration that the day was come. With regard to themselves, they were thus entirely delivered from the confusion by which the enemy sought to disquiet them; and the Apostle could treat the question of this error with hearts which, as to their own condition, were set free from it and at rest.
The Apostle’s prayer for them in their sufferings
These considerations characterized his prayers on their behalf. He sought from God that they might always be worthy of this vocation and that the Lord might be glorified in them by the power of faith, which would shine the brighter through their persecutions; and that afterwards they might be glorified in Him at the manifestation of His glory according to the grace of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2

Answering the error by truth
Now that the Apostle has placed their souls on the ground of truth, he enters upon the subject of the error, showing that which had occasioned his remarks. Of this we have already spoken.
In answering this error and in guarding them from the wily efforts of seducers, he puts everything in its place here by appealing to precious truths of which he had already spoken. Their gathering together unto Christ in the air was a demonstration of the impossibility of the day of the Lord being already come.
Two proofs that the day of the Lord had not come
Moreover, with regard to this last he presents two considerations: first, the day could not be already come, since Christians were not yet gathered to the Lord, and they were to come with Him; second, the wicked one who has then to be judged had not yet appeared, so that the judgment could not be executed.
The Apostle had already instructed the Thessalonians with regard to this wicked one, when at Thessalonica; and in the former epistle he had taught them concerning the rapture of the church. In order that the Lord should come in judgment, iniquity must have reached its height and open opposition to God have been manifested. But the truth had another and a more precious side: the saints were to be in the same position as Christ, to be gathered together unto Him, before He could manifest Himself in glory to those outside. But these truths require a more connected examination.
The rapture of the church must precede the Lord’s coming in manifestation
Their gathering together unto Christ before the manifestation was a truth known to the Thessalonians; it is not revealed here, it is used as an argument. The Lord Jesus was coming, but it was impossible that He should be without His church in the glory. The King would indeed punish His rebellious subjects; but, before doing so, He would bring to Himself those who had been faithful to Him amid the unfaithful, in order to bring them back with Him and publicly to honor them in the midst of the rebels. But the Apostle here speaks only of the rapture itself, and he adjures them only by that truth not to allow themselves to be shaken in mind as though the day were come. What an assured truth must this have been to Christians, since the Apostle could appeal to it as to a known point, on which the heart could rest! The relationship of the church to Christ, its being necessarily in the same position with Him, rendered the idea that the day was already come a mere folly.
The apostasy must previously take place and then the man of sin be revealed
In the second place, the already known fact is asserted that the apostasy must previously take place, and then the man of sin be revealed. Solemn truth! Everything takes its place. The forms and the name of Christianity have long been maintained; true Christians have been disowned; but now there should be a public renunciation of the faith-an apostasy. True Christians should have their true place in heaven. But, besides this, there should be a person who would fully realize in sin the character of man without God. He is the man of sin. He does his own will-it is but Adam fully developed; and, incited by the enemy, he opposes himself to God (it is open enmity against God), and he exalts himself above all that bears the name of God; he assumes the place of God in His temple. So that there is apostasy, that is, the open renunciation of Christianity in general, and an individual who concentrates in his own person (as to the principles of iniquity) the opposition that is made against God.
The religious character assumed by the wicked one: a god for the earth; sin characterizing a man who proclaims his independence of God
It will be noticed that the character of the wicked one is religious here, or rather antireligious. The Apostle does not speak of a secular power of the world, whatever its iniquity may be. The man of sin assumes a religious character. He exalts himself against the true God, but he shows himself as God1 in the temple of God. Observe here that the sphere is on earth. It is not a god for faith. He shows himself as a god for the earth. The profession of Christianity has been abandoned. Sin then characterizes an individual, a man, who fills up the measure of the apostasy of human nature, and, as a man, proclaims his independence of God. The principle of sin in man is his own will. He arises, as we have already seen, out of the rejection of Christianity. In this respect, also, evil is at its height.
(1. “As God” is to be left out before “sitteth,” in chapter 2:4.)
A man’s public self-exaltation and defiance of the God of Israel, arrogating to himself God’s place and honors
This man of sin exalts himself above God, and, sitting as God in the temple of God, he defies the God of Israel. This last feature gives his formal character. He is in conflict with God, as placing himself publicly in this position-showing himself as God in the temple of God. It is the God of Israel who will take vengeance on him.
Christianity, Judaism, natural religion, all are rejected. Man takes a place there on earth, exalting himself above it all, in opposition to God; and, in particular, arrogating to himself (for man needs a God, needs something to worship) the place and the honors of God, and of the God of Israel.1
(1. In 1 John 2 we find the double character of the Antichrist as regards Christianity and Judaism. He denies the Father and the Son, rejects Christianity; he denies that Jesus is the Christ, which is Jewish unbelief. His power is the working of Satan, as we find here. As man he sets up to be God. So that his impiousness is manifested in every way. As the question is more upon the earth, it is the God of the earth, the Man withal from heaven, who judges him.)
The first object of human ambition; Satan’s first suggestion
These verses present the wicked one in connection with the state of man, and with the different relationships in which man has stood towards God. In them all he shows himself as apostate, and then he assumes the place of God Himself-the first object of human ambition, as its attainment was the first suggestion of Satan.
Man, unrestrained and inspired by Satan, in opposition to God: man against the Man, the Lord Jesus
In that which follows, we see not the condition itself of apostasy with regard to the different positions in which God had placed man, but simply man unrestrained, and the work of Satan. The man is but the vessel of the enemy’s power.
Man in whom is the fullness of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus, and man filled with the energy of Satan are opposed to each other. Before, it was man forsaking God, wicked, and exalting himself. Here, it is opposition against God on the part of man, unrestrained, and inspired by Satan himself. Consequently, we have (not the wicked one, but) the lawless-the unbridled-one. The principle is the same, for sin is lawlessness (see 1 John 3:4, Greek). But in this first case man is viewed in his departure from God, and in his guiltiness; in the second, as acknowledging none but himself.
A barrier existing against the progress and manifestation of the man of sin; the character of the evil
To this condition in which all restraint will be removed, a barrier has yet existed.
The Apostle had already told them of the apostasy and of the manifestation of the man of sin. He now says that the Thessalonians ought to know the hindrance that existed to his progress and his manifestation before the appointed time. He does not say that he had told them, but they ought to know it. Knowing the character of the wicked one, the barrier revealed itself. The main point here is that it was a barrier. The principle of the evil was already at work: a barrier alone prevented its development. Its character, when developed, would be unbridled will which exalts and opposes itself.1
(1. Note this point. All was ready and complete in the Apostle’s time, only restrained. So Christ was ready to judge. Only the patience of God waits, in the accepted time.)
Evil bridled by the power of God acting in government here below; when the assembly is gone and the Holy Spirit no longer dwells here, the unbridled evil assumes definite shape in the man of sin
Unbridled self-will being the principle of the evil, that which bridles this will is the barrier. Now it exalts itself above all that bears the name of God, or to which homage is paid: that which hinders it, therefore, is the power of God acting in government here below as authorized by Him. The grossest abuse of power still bears this last character. Christ could say to Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above.” Wicked as he might be, his power is owned as coming from God. Thus, although men had rejected and crucified the Son of God, so that their iniquity appeared to be at its height, the hindrance still existed in full. Afterwards God, having sent His Spirit, gathers out the church, and, although the mystery of iniquity began immediately to work mingling the will of men with the worship of God in Spirit, God had always (He still has) the object of His loving care upon the earth. The Holy Spirit was here below; the assembly, be its condition what it might, was still on earth, and God maintained the barrier. And as the porter had opened the door to Jesus in spite of all obstacles, so He sustains everything, however great the energy and progress of evil. The evil is bridled: God is the source of authority on earth. There is one who hinders until he be taken out of the way. Now when the assembly (the assembly, that is, as composed of the true members of Christ) is gone, and consequently the Holy Spirit as the Comforter is no longer dwelling here below, then the apostasy takes place,1 the time to remove the hindrance is come, the evil is unbridled, and at length (without saying how much time it will take) the evil assumes a definite shape in him who is its head. The beast comes up from the abyss. Satan-not God-gives him his authority; and in the second beast all the energy of Satan is present. The man of sin is there. Here it is not outward and secular power that is spoken of, but the religious side of Satan’s energy.
(1. The principle of this may be widely at work individually, as in 1 John 2 it had begun, but the open, public manifestation was to come. Jude gives the creeping in to produce corruption; John, the going out which characterizes the Antichrist.)
The changing instruments who compose the barrier; evil at work; its full development prevented only by God’s hindrance
With regard to the individual instruments who compose the barrier, they may change every moment, and it was not the object of the Holy Spirit to name them. He who was the one of them that existed when this epistle was written would not be so at the present time; to have named him then would have been of no use to us in the present day. The object was to declare that the evil which should be judged was already working, that there was no remedy for it, that it was only a hindrance on God’s part which prevented its full development: a principle of the highest importance with regard to the history of Christianity.
The source of the “perdition”: rejection of goodness and direct enmity
Whatever form it might take, the apostasy of the men who would renounce grace would necessarily be more absolute than any other. It is opposition to the Lord. It has the character of an adversary. The other principle of human iniquity enters into it, but this is the source of the “perdition.” It is the rejection of goodness; it is direct enmity.
When the mystery of iniquity ceases to be a mystery: the Holy Spirit restraining evil, consequently the rapture of the church removes the hindrance
“That which hinders” is in general only an instrument, a means, which prevents the manifestation of the man of sin-the wicked one. So long as the assembly is on earth, the pretension to be God in His temple cannot take place or at least would have no influence. Satan has his sphere, and must needs have it, in the mystery of iniquity; but there is no longer a mystery when the place of God in His temple is openly taken. That which hinders is therefore still present. But there is a person active in maintaining this hindrance. Here I think indeed that it is God in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who, during the time called “the things that are,” restrains the evil and guards divine authority in the world. As long as that subsists, the unrestrained exaltation of wickedness cannot take place. Consequently, I do not doubt but that the rapture of the saints is the occasion of the hindrance being removed and all restraint loosed, although some of the ways of God are developed before the full manifestation of the evil.
Three points confirming the threefold barrier to the manifestation of the man of sin
This thought does not rest upon great principles only: the passage itself supplies elements which show the state of things when the power of evil develops itself. First, the apostasy has already taken place. This could hardly be said if the testimony of the assembly still subsisted, as it had in time past, or even yet more distinctly as being freed from all false and corrupting elements. Second, authority-as established of God, so far as exercising a restraint on man’s will in God’s name-has disappeared from the scene, for the wicked one exalts himself against all that is called God and to which homage is paid and presents himself as God in the temple of God. Compare Psalm 82, where God stands among the gods (the judges) to judge them before He inherits the nations. Before that solemn hour when God will judge the judges of the earth, this wicked one, despising all authority that comes from Him, sets himself up as God: and that on the earth, where the judgment will be manifested. And then, third, in place of the Holy Spirit and His power manifested on the earth, we find the power of Satan, and with precisely the same tokens that bore witness to the Person of Christ. So that the passage itself, whether as to man or as to the enemy, gives us (in the three points of which we have spoken) the full confirmation of that which we have ventured to set forth.
The assembly, the powers ordained by God upon the earth, the Holy Spirit present here as the Comforter in lieu of Christ, have all (as regards the manifestation of the government and the work of God) given place to the self-willed, unbridled man and to the power of the enemy. In saying this we speak of the sphere of this prophecy, which, moreover, embraces that of the public testimony of God on earth.
Man in rebellion against God displayed in the Jewish temple as the apostate manifestation of Satan’s power
Definitively then we have man here in his own nature-as it has displayed itself by forsaking God-in the full pursuit of his own will in rebellion against God; the willful man, developed as the result of apostasy from the position of grace in which the assembly stood, and in contempt of all the governmental authority of God on the earth. And since that authority had shown itself directly and properly in Judea, this contempt and the spirit of rebellion in man, who exalts himself above everything, but who cannot be heavenly (heaven, and all pretension to heaven, is given up by man, and lost by Satan), display themselves by man taking the place of God in His temple under the most advanced form of Jewish apostasy and blasphemy. At the same time Satan acts-God having loosed his bridle-with a power (a lying power indeed, but) which gives the same testimony before men as that which the works of Christ did to the Saviour; and also with all the skill that iniquity possesses to deceive. It is in the wicked, the lawless one, that Satan works these things. Our consideration of the development of the latter part of this solemn scene will come (God willing) in the Book of Revelation. We may add that there we have this wicked one as the false Messiah, and as prophet, in the form of his kingdom-two horns like a lamb. He had been cast down from heaven where he had been anti-priest, and now takes up Christ’s titles on earth of king and prophet. In Daniel 11 he is seen as king; here, as the unbridled man, and in particular as the result of the apostasy,1 and the manifestation of Satan’s power. In a word, instead of the assembly, the apostasy; instead of the Holy Spirit, Satan; and instead of the authority of God as a restraint upon evil, the unbridled man setting himself up as God on the earth.
(1. We may remark that the apostasy develops itself under the three forms in which man has been in relationship with God: nature-it is the man of sin, unrestrained, who exalts himself; Judaism-he sits as God in the temple of God; Christianity-it is to this that the term “apostasy” is directly applied in the passage before us.)
The wicked one presenting himself as Messiah; Satan making himself prophet and king in the man he inspires; counterfeiting God’s work to deceive men
Another circumstance, already mentioned, demands particular attention. I have said that he presents himself as the Messiah (that is to say, in His two characters as king and prophet, which are His earthly characters). In heaven Satan has then nothing more to do; he has been cast out from thence, so that there is no imitation of the Lord’s high priesthood. In that respect Satan had, in his own person, acted another part. He was previously in heaven the accuser of the brethren. But, at the time of which we are speaking, the assembly is on high, and the accuser of the brethren is cast out never to return there. In a man inspired by him he makes himself prophet and king. And in this character he does the same things (in falsehood) as those by which God had sanctioned the mission of Christ before men (compare Acts 2:22). In Greek the words are identical.1 I would also recall here another solemn fact in order to complete this picture. In the history of Elijah we find that the proof of the divinity of Baal or that of Jehovah is made to rest upon the fact of their respective servants bringing down fire from heaven. Now in Revelation 13 we learn that the second beast brings down fire from heaven in the sight of men. So that we find here the marvelous works that sanctioned the Lord’s mission, and there that which proved Jehovah to be the true and only God. And Satan performs both in order to deceive men.
(1. Only the word for “miracle” or “power” is plural in Acts 2.)
These things to take place in relation to the Jews in connection with the rejection of Christ and reception of Antichrist
This may give us an idea of the state in which they will be; and it indicates also that these things will take place in relation with the Jews, under the double aspect of their connection with Jehovah and their rejection of Christ and reception of Antichrist.
Those to whom God sends a lie in judgment
Thus, thank God, the truth is abundantly confirmed that these things do not relate to the assembly, but to those who, having had opportunity to profit by the truth, have rejected it and loved iniquity. Neither does it relate to the heathen, but only to those among whom the truth has been set forth.1 They refused it, and God sends a lie, and an efficacious lie, that they may believe it. He does this in judgment: He did the same thing with the nations (Rom. 1:24,26,28); He did it also with the Jews (Isa. 6:9-10); He does it here with nominal Christians. But it does relate to the Jews as a nation that rejected the truth-the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7)-but still more to Christians (in name); in short, to all those who will have had the truth presented to them.
(1. I only allude here to the connection between the renunciation of Christianity and the development of apostate Judaism, which are linked together in the rejection of the true Christ and the denial of the Father and the Son-features given in 1 John as characteristic of the Antichrist. But I am persuaded that the more we examine the Word, the more we shall see (perhaps with surprise) that this fact is confirmed. Moreover, the turning back to Judaism, and the tendency to idolatry by the introduction of other mediators and patrons, and the losing sight of our union with the Head, and thus of the perfection and deliverance from the law which are ours in Christ, have, at all times, characterized the mystery of iniquity and the principle of apostasy. The Apostle had incessantly to combat this. That of which we spoke above is but its full manifestation.)
With nominal Christians this has necessarily the character of apostasy, or at least it is connected with this apostasy, and is consequent upon it; as verse 3 teaches us, the apostasy takes place, and then the man of sin is revealed.
The characteristics of the false Christ, precisely the opposite of those of Christ
In connection with his character of the man of sin he presents himself without restraint in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.1 In relation to the lying power of Satan and his efficient work, he presents himself in the character of Christ-he is the Antichrist, assuming, consequently, a Jewish character. It is not only the pride of man exalting itself against God, but the power of Satan in man deceiving men, and the Jews in particular, by a false Christ; so that, if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived. We may remark that all these characters are precisely the opposite of Christ-falsehood instead of truth, iniquity instead of righteousness, perdition instead of salvation.
(1. This is the culminating point in his character as an apostate who has renounced grace. The ninth and following verses develop his positive and deceitful activity by which he seeks to win men. This explains the mixture (which, moreover, generally exists) of atheism in will, and superstition.)
The occasion of the evil and the scene in which it develops
It is to a power like this, of lies and destruction, that man- having forsaken Christianity and exalted himself in pride against God-will be given up. The apostasy (that is to say, the renunciation of Christianity) will be the occasion of this evil; Judea and the Jews, the scene in which it ripens and develops itself in a positive way.
The Antichrist allied with Jewish unbelief; Satan’s throne among the Gentiles strengthened; idolatry brought in
The Antichrist will deny the Father and the Son (that is, Christianity); he will deny that Jesus is the Christ (this is, Jewish unbelief). With the burden upon him of sin against Christianity, grace, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, he will ally himself with Jewish unbelief, in order that there may be not only the full expression of human pride, but also for a time the Satanic influence of a false Christ, who will strengthen the throne of Satan among the Gentiles occupied by the first beast to whom the authority of the dragon has been given. He will also set up his own subordinate throne over the Jews, as being the Messiah, whom their unbelief is expecting; while at the same time he will bring in idolatry, the unclean spirit long gone out who then returns to his house which is devoid of God.
The judgment of Antichrist and its means: the return of the Lord Jesus in glory
And now, with regard to his destruction (whom the Lord Jesus will consume with the spirit of His mouth and destroy with the manifestation of His presence, or of His coming), the first of these means characterizes the judgment; it is the Word of truth applied in judgment according to the power of God. In the Revelation, it says that the sword proceeds out of His mouth. Here He is not spoken of in the character of a man of war, as in Revelation 19. The spirit of His mouth is that inward and divine power which kindles and executes the judgment. It is not an instrument, it is the divine source of power which executes its purpose by a word (compare Isaiah 30:33). But there is another aspect of this judgment. The Lord, the man Jesus, will return. His return has two parts-the return into the air to take His assembly to Himself, and the public manifestation in glory of His return.
The Lord’s public manifestation in glory:
the obedient Man who humbled Himself
destroying the lawless one who exalted himself
In the first verse of our chapter we have read of His return and our gathering together unto Him. Here, verse 8, is the manifestation of His presence publicly in creation. At the time of this public manifestation of His coming He destroys the whole work and power of the wicked one. It is the Man formerly obedient and humbling Himself on the earth, exalted of God, and become Lord of all, who destroys the lawless man that has exalted himself above everything and made himself as God, instead of being obedient to God.
The taking away of the assembly and the apostasy necessary before Satan displays his power in the man of sin
This evil-on the side of Satan’s influence-was already working in the Apostle’s time; only it was bridled and kept back, until that which restrained it should no longer be on the scene. Then should the wicked one be revealed. To sum up, the taking away of the assembly and the apostasy were first necessary; and then this man should present himself as an unbelieving Jew,1 and the power of Satan would be displayed in him.
(1. I do not say that his first appearance will be the apostasy of Judaism; I do not think it will be. He will present himself to them as being the Christ, but according to the hopes and passions of the Jews. But afterwards it will be an apostasy even from Judaism, as had partially been the case in the days of the Maccabees-a fact which the Spirit uses in Daniel 11 as a figure precursive of the time of Antichrist. He is from his first appearance an unbeliever and the enemy of God, an apostate as to the assembly, and denying that Jesus is the Christ.
We are taught positively by John that the rejection of Christianity and Jewish unbelief are united in the Antichrist.
It appears that apostasy with regard to Christianity and Jewish unbelief are connected and go together; and afterwards Jewish apostasy and open rebellion against God, which, causing the cry of the remnant, brings in the Lord, and all is ended. Now the Apostle (ch. 2:3-4) presents the complete picture of man’s iniquity, developed when apostasy from the grace of the gospel had taken place (he exalts himself even to the making himself God), without touching the Jewish side or the manifested power of Satan. These verses show us the man of sin is the result of the apostasy which will break out in the midst of Christendom. Verse 9 begins to teach us, in addition, that the coming of this wicked one is also in immediate connection with a mighty display of the energy of Satan, who deceives by means of marvelous works and a strong delusion to which God gives men up and of which we have spoken in the text. It is man and Satan here, with enough to show its connection with Judaism in the last days (even as the mystery of iniquity was linked with Judaism in the days of the Apostle), although it is not the occasion of giving the details of the Jewish development of the evil. We must look for these details elsewhere, where they are in their place, as in Daniel. The Apocalypse and 1 John furnish us with the means of connecting them: we do but allude here to this connection.)
The far different future of the Thessalonian believers as companions of the Lord Himself
Now this Satanic influence was for those who had rejected the truth. Of the Thessalonians-to whom he had given these explanations respecting the day which they fancied was come-the Apostle thought very differently. God had chosen these “brethren beloved of the Lord” from the beginning for salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, to which He had called them by Paul’s gospel (and that of his companions), and to the obtaining of the glory of the Lord Jesus. How different was this from the visitations of the day of the Lord, and the circumstances of which the Apostle had spoken! They were numbered among those who should be the companions in that day of the Lord Jesus Himself.

2 Thessalonians 3

The Apostle’s exhortations and prayer
There is nothing very particular in the Apostle’s exhortations. His great concern was the explanation which we have been considering. He prays that God and the Lord Jesus Himself, who had given them the sure and everlasting consolations of the gospel, would comfort their hearts and establish them in every good word and work. He asks for their prayers that he may be preserved in his labors. He could not but expect to find men unreasonable and animated with enmity, for faith was not the portion of all. It was only a case for the protecting hand of God. With regard to them he counted for this end on the faithfulness of the Lord. He reckoned also on their obedience and prays God to direct their hearts towards these two points, of which we have spoken when studying the first epistle, the love of God and the patient waiting with which the Christ waited-the two points in which the whole of Christian life is summed up with regard to its objects, its moral springs. Christ Himself was waiting-sweet thought! They were to wait with Him, until the moment when His heart and the hearts of His own should rejoice together in their meeting.
It was this which they needed. On the one hand, they had believed that the dead saints would not be ready to go and meet the Lord; on the other, they had thought the day of the Lord already come. The enjoyment of the love of God, and peace of heart in waiting for Christ, was necessary for them.
Neglect of their ordinary labors and refusal to listen to his admonitions rebuked
This excitement into which they had been led had also betrayed itself in some among them by their neglect of their ordinary labors, “working not at all, but being busybodies,” intermeddling in the affairs of others. The Apostle had set them a very different example. He exhorts them to be firm and to withdraw from those who would not hearken to his admonitions, but continued to walk disorderly and in idleness; not, however, in such a manner as to treat them as enemies, but to admonish them as brethren.
Decline apparent, but Paul prays for them for peace always and by all means
It will be observed here that there is no longer the same expression of the energy of communion and of life as previously (compare chapter 3:16 with 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Nevertheless, the Lord was still the Lord of peace; but the beauty of that entire consecration to God, which would shine forth in the day of Christ, does not present itself to the Apostle’s mind and heart as in the first epistle. He prays for them, however, that they may have peace always and by all means.
The authenticity of Paul’s letters assured
The Apostle points out the method by which he assured the faithful of the authenticity of his letters. With the exception of that to the Galatians, he employed other persons to write them, but he attached his own signature in order to verify their contents to the church, adding the prayer or blessing.

1 TIMOTHY

The peculiar bearing and character of the epistles to Timothy and Titus
The epistles to Timothy and Titus have naturally a peculiar bearing and character, being addressed to persons deputed by the Apostle to act in his name or to care for the churches during his absence. Their application to us is none the less direct on this account, because they not only instruct us with regard to the state of the church, and the pastoral care which the Apostle bestowed on it, but the line of conduct in which Timothy is charged to lead the faithful is that which the faithful ought always themselves to follow. Nevertheless, to confound the directions given to Timothy and Titus with the words addressed immediately to the faithful would be to cast confusion upon ministry in its best sense.
The general contents of the First Epistle to Timothy
A great part of this First Epistle to Timothy requires but little development; not because it is without importance, but because it contains directions-so plain and simple that explanation would be superfluous-and practical exhortations which would only be obscured and their force and point taken away by attempting to enlarge upon them.
On the other hand, some general principles of great importance for the position of the assembly in general are contained in this epistle.
God’s character presented as a Saviour-God to the world, represented by His people as a God of love
God assumes here, in a peculiar way, the character of a Saviour-God with regard to the world: a principle of great importance in all that concerns our conversation in the world and our dealings with men. We represent in our religious character a God of love. This was not the case in Judaism. He was indeed the same God; but there He took the character of a lawgiver. All were indeed to come to His temple according to the declaration of the prophets, and His temple was open to them; but He did not characterize Himself as a Saviour-God for all. In Titus we find the same expression.
An outline of the contents of the epistle
In these confidential communications to his dear children in the faith and companions in the work, we can understand that the Apostle would clearly establish the great principles on which the administration committed to him rested. That all men were the objects of God’s dealings in grace was the general basis on which this administration was founded-that the character of God towards the world was that of a Saviour (compare 2 Corinthians 5). The law has its place and it still has it, as the Apostle shows-the conviction of unrighteous men.1 But the sovereign mercy of God was the starting point of all that the Apostle had to declare. This thought, this spirit, was to govern the worship even of believers. Details follow. Notwithstanding this love to the world, there was upon the earth an assembly of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth, and the witness to it on earth. The Person of Christ, and all that concerns Him, is the subject of its confession, the foundation of its existence, and the object of its faith. This faith would be assailed in the last days by the enemy, who, under the pretense of sanctity, would set himself up against God the creator and preserver of all men and of believers in particular. Directions for the walk of the assembly compose the remainder of the epistle. Conduct suitable to all is set before Timothy to make him, as well as ourselves, understand that which befits the assembly of God. We will now look more closely into the contents of this epistle.
(1. Not here, specially, that anyone is under it, or that it is a rule of life for a people of God, but a rule of right and wrong to demonstrate evil to any conscience. In verse 5 we have the end of the commission of the gospel on the other hand, partaking of the divine nature-love and holiness, acting up to responsibility, a good conscience and the heart fully devoted to God, receiving His Word and trusting Him.)

1 Timothy 1

The Saviour-God and Paul’s commission
From its commencement the Apostle designates God as the Saviour-God. Paul is the apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour. The Lord Jesus Christ is the confidence and the hope of the soul.
The difference between the Apostle’s wish for an individual and that for an assembly
We observe also that the Apostle’s wish differs from that which he expresses when addressing an assembly: “Grace, mercy,” he says, “and peace.” He does not say “mercy” to the assemblies, which stand before God as such, in consequence of the mercy shown them, and which (however low their condition might be) are viewed as assemblies according to the nature in which they live by the Spirit, in which there is no question of mercy, because that nature is itself of God. Grace and peace are that which they are to enjoy on the part of God. But when an individual is in question, whatever his piety or faithfulness may be, he is both flesh and spirit, his career has yet in part at least to be provided for, having always need of mercy. Therefore, the Apostle wishes it to Timothy as well as to Titus.1 In the case of Philemon he adds “the church in thy house,” and his wish has, therefore, no longer the personal form. But with Timothy and Titus it is the Apostle’s intimacy with his beloved fellow-laborers. He knew how much they needed mercy. It was his own resource, that which he had experienced for the comfort of his own soul.
(1. There is, however, some question as to the reading in Titus.)
Timothy charged to watch over the doctrine taught; the twofold character of the evil introduced
The special object for which Paul had left Timothy at Ephesus, when he went into Macedonia, was that he might watch over the doctrine which was taught; but, being there, he gives him directions for the interior order of the assembly. The evil which the enemy sought to introduce, with regard to doctrine, had a twofold character: fables of human imagination and the introduction of the law into Christianity. As to the former, it was pure evil and edified no one. The Apostle does not here say much about it; he forewarned them of the evil; and the faith of the assembly at Ephesus was sound enough to allow him to treat the whole system as mere fables and genealogies. The Spirit gave warning that in later times it would have more disastrous consequences; but at present there was only need to guard the faithful from it as that which was worthless. Timothy was charged by the Apostle to attend to this.
Our service: a sure token for those guided by the Spirit
But that which is committed to us in Christianity, as service, is always, both in its object and its character, at the height of the eternal principles of God and belongs to the foundation of our moral relations with Him.
The object of Paul’s mandate is the love of a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned, and never the subtleties of argument or of human imagination. This is a sure token for souls that are sound in the faith and guided by the Spirit of God. Speculative questions do not act on the conscience, nor bring into the presence of God. Some had forsaken these great landmarks of Christianity, turning aside to vain discussions. And here we again find those same corrupters of Christianity, who, after having rejected the Saviour, sowed the Apostle’s path with thorns-Judaizing teachers. They desired to inculcate the law. The human mind is adequate to this.
Judaizing teachers; the law and its use contrasted with the gospel of the glory
Now we see here the way in which one who is at the height of the truth of God can put everything in its true place. Paul treats the produce of human imagination as mere fables, but the law was of God and could be made useful if rightly employed. It was of great service to condemn, to judge evil, to slay-to show the judgment of God against every wrong thing forbidden by the gospel which revealed the glory of the blessed God-a glory which tolerated no evil and which had been committed to the Apostle. It could be used to act upon the conscience in this way, but it did not build up the righteous; and, if any were under the law, they were under the curse. As a sword for the conscience, it may be used. But grace alone is the source of our preaching and the stay of our souls.
These two systems and their respective places are presented in verses 5-17, which form a kind of parenthesis, the Apostle resuming his address to Timothy in verse 18. The use of the law is explained in verses 8-13. The Apostle, in a certain sense, lowers it here, while acknowledging its utility in its place, as the weapon of righteousness for condemnation, and contrasts it with the gospel which is connected with the glory of God Himself which this gospel proclaims, as the law is connected with the wickedness which it condemns.
God’s grace to the chief of sinners making him the most powerful of witnesses to His grace and Christ’s work
Having spoken of the gospel of the glory which had been committed to him, the Apostle turns to the sovereign grace that brought him into the knowledge of this glory which is the testimony to the accomplishment of the work of grace.
“I give thanks,” he says, “to Jesus Christ our Lord, who hath counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, who was before a blasphemer and persecutor and injurious.” This indeed was grace.
The Apostle speaks of two things in his conversion: the one, how God could have compassion on him in such a state-he was in ignorance; the other, the purpose of God that the Apostle should be a pattern of grace to all. That he was in ignorance and unbelief, although a condition which made mercy possible (for had he been an enemy, knowing and willing it, while acquainted with the grace of the gospel, it would have been impossible), yet that condition was no excuse for his sin; he puts pure and perfect grace forward, as having abounded in his case-he was the chief of sinners. This indeed was true. The high priests had resisted the Holy Spirit to the uttermost. Paul had joined them in it: but he was not satisfied with that. He desired to be the active enemy of the faith wherever it existed and to destroy the name of Jesus. He had done much at Jerusalem, but he wished to satiate his hatred even in foreign cities. We know his history in the Acts. The living expression of Jewish resistance to grace, he was also among men the expression of the most active human enmity to Him whom God would glorify. Grace was greater than the sin, the patience of God more perfect than the perseverance of man’s hostility. The latter was limited by man’s importance, the former has no limit in the nature of God but that of His own sovereign will. Guilty as man may be, his sin cannot so reach God as to disturb the independent action of His nature or change His purposes. He was pleased to show forth in Paul a pattern of the sovereignty of that grace and perfect goodness-to the Jews hereafter, who as a nation will be in Saul’s condition-to all men as the enemies of God and by nature children of wrath. The chief, the most active, the most inveterate of enemies was the best and most powerful of witnesses that the grace of God abounded over sin and that the work of Christ was perfect to put it away.
Paul’s ascription of praise: its foundation
“Unto God”-being such in His nature, and having the development of all the ages in His counsels-“unto the only God, invisible, incorruptible,” he ascribes all praise and all glory. Such was the foundation of Paul’s ministry in contrast with the law. It was founded on the revelation of grace; but it was a revelation connected with the experience of its application to his own case. Peter, guilty of denying a living Saviour, could speak to the Jews of grace that met their case, which was his own; Paul, formerly the enemy of a glorified Saviour and the resister of the Holy Spirit, could proclaim grace that rose above even that state of sinfulness, above all that could flow from human nature-grace that opened the door to the Gentiles according to God’s own counsels, when the Jews had rejected everything, substituting the heavenly assembly for them-grace that sufficed for the future admission of that guilty nation to better privileges than those which they had forfeited.
Such was the call of this apostle, such his ministry. Having shown the opposition between that which was committed to him and the law (while affirming the usefulness of the latter, not as a rule to the righteous or a guide to God’s people, but as judging wrong), he resumes his address to Timothy in that which refers to the details of his mission among the Ephesians.
The commission entrusted to Timothy with authority based on divine testimony; the faith as the truth
At the end of chapter 1 he commits the charge to him-sends him his mandate. The term he employs relates to verses 3 and 5. He had left Timothy at Ephesus in order to command some persons there not to teach other doctrines than the truths of the gospel. Now the end of the command, of this evangelical commission, was love flowing from a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned. For the gospel, while revealing the marvelous counsels of God, maintains the great eternal principles of His nature. It is this which distinguishes truth from the lofty pretensions of heretical imaginations; it requires that man should be in relationship with God really in heart and in truth according to those principles. And this commission the Apostle now entrusted to Timothy, his own son in the faith. He was to maintain it with an authority that had its basis in divine testimony, but which he held formally from the Apostle who appointed him to it; not merely of his own accord, but according to prophecies which had pointed him out for this purpose and which were a means of strength to him in the conflict he was thus brought into. The conditions of victory were in accordance with the nature of the commission. He was to keep the faith and a good conscience. Now faith here is the doctrine of Christianity; yet not merely as doctrine, but as that which the soul held between itself and God as coming from Him. He had to maintain the truth, the Christian doctrine, but to hold it as so revealed by God Himself to the soul that it should be the truth. The light should possess, with well-defined outlines, the authority of God.
The faith and a good conscience: its loss and the consequences
It was the faith, that which God had revealed, received with certainty as such-as the truth.
But, to be in communion with God, the conscience must be good, must be pure; and if we are not in communion with God, we cannot have the strength that would maintain us in the faith, that would enable us to persevere in the profession of the truth, as God gives it to us. Satan has then a hold upon us, and if the intellect of one in this state is active, he falls into heresy. The loss of a good conscience opens the door to Satan, because it deprives us of communion with God; and the active mind, under Satan’s influence, invents ideas instead of confessing the truth of God. The Apostle treats the fruit of this state as “blasphemies”; the will of man is at work, and the higher the subject, the more an unbridled will, possessed by the enemy, goes astray and exalts itself against God and against the subjection of the whole mind to the obedience of Christ, to the authority of the revelation of God.
Delivered unto Satan: an apostolic act of power for eventual good
The Apostle had delivered up two persons of this character to Satan-that is to say, outwardly. Though already deceived by him, they were not under his dominion as having power to torment and make them suffer. For in the assembly (when in its normal state) Satan has no power of that kind. It is guarded from it, being the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit and protected by God and by the power of Christ. Satan can tempt us individually; but he has no right over the members of the assembly as such. They are within, and, weak as they may be, Satan cannot enter there. They may be delivered to him for their good. This may take place at all times-witness the history of Job. But the assembly ought to have the knowledge and be the guardian and instrument of the accomplishment of the dealings of God with His own. Within the assembly is the Holy Spirit; God dwells in it as His house by the Spirit. Without is the world of which Satan is the prince. The Apostle (by the power bestowed on him,1 for it is an act of positive power) delivered these two men into the power of the enemy-deprived them of the shelter they had enjoyed. They had listened to the enemy-had been his instruments. It was not in the assembly, with members of Christ, that this should have taken place. They must be made to feel what he was to whom they had given ear. God thus made use of Satan himself as a rod for the good of His rebellious children. Satan should instruct them, through the pains he would make them suffer, of whatever kind it might be, whether anguish of soul or of body, and the latter is the immediate effect, in order that their will might be broken and brought into subjection to God. Solemn discipline! Marvelous power in the hands of man, but a proof that the love of God can order all things for the purpose of delivering a soul and bringing it to Himself.
(1. We must not confound this act of power with discipline, which is the act of the assembly and its formal duty. In 1 Corinthians 5 the Apostle joins the assembly to himself in this act of power, but he delivered with the power of Christ. The duty of the assembly is stated there in verse 13. As to the saints’ or assembly’s part, when God has exercised discipline, see 1 John 5:16 and James 5:14-15.)

1 Timothy 2

The dealings of the Saviour-God with men under the gospel; one mediator the distinctive truth of Christianity
The Apostle proceeds to give instructions, founded on the great principles which he had established-on grace. The Jewish spirit might look on Gentile kings as enemies, and on Gentiles in general as unworthy of divine favor. The persecution of which Christians were the object gave the flesh occasion to nourish these dispositions and to enter into the spirit of the law. Grace rises above all these thoughts-all these feelings of the heart. It teaches us to think of all men with love. We belong to a Saviour-God, who acts in the gospel towards all men with love. Especially were they to pray for kings and those who had places in the world, that God would dispose their hearts to allow us to live in peace and quietness in all honesty. This was well-pleasing to a Saviour-God, who was willing that all men should be saved and be brought to know the truth. The subject here is not the counsels of God, but His dealings with men under the gospel. He acts in grace. It is the acceptable time-the day of salvation. He opens the door through the blood of Christ and proclaims peace and a sure reception to all who come. The work is done; His character fully glorified with regard to sin. If they refuse to come, that is the will of man. That God will fulfill His counsels after all makes no change in His dealings, nor in the responsibility of men. We have love to proclaim to all-in the spirit of love in our ways towards them. The distinction between Jew and Gentile totally disappears here. There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, a Man, Christ Jesus. These are the two great truths which form the basis of all true religion. Judaism had already been the revelation and testimony in the world of the first: there was one only God. This remains eternally true but did not suffice to bring men into relationship with God. With regard to men He abode within the veil in the darkness which shrouded His majesty. Christianity, while fully revealing the one God, presents the second truth: there is one mediator between God and men. There is one, and there is but one. It is as true that there is but one mediator as that there is but one God. This is the great and distinctive truth of Christianity.
One mediator a man, who gave Himself a ransom for all; the sinner’s need
Two things here characterize the mediator. He is a man; He gave Himself a ransom for all. The time for this testimony was ordered of God.
Precious truth! We are in weakness, we are guilty, we could not bring ourselves near to God. We needed a mediator who, while maintaining the glory of God, should put us into such a position that He could present us to God in righteousness according to that glory. Christ gave Himself as a ransom. But He must be a man in order to suffer for men and to represent men. And this He was. But this is not all. We are weak-here, where we are to receive the revelation of God; and weak, with regard to the use of our resources in God and our communion with Him-even when our guilt is blotted out. And, in our weakness to receive the revelation of God, Christ has revealed God, and all that He is in His own Person, in all the circumstances wherein man could have need either in body or in soul. He came down into the lowest depths in order that there should be none, even of the most wretched, who could not feel that God in His goodness was near him and was entirely accessible to him-come down to him-His love finding its occasion in misery; and that there was no need to which He was not present, which He could not meet.
The Man Christ Jesus still the same for us on high
It is thus that He made Himself known on earth; and, now that He is on high, He is still the same. He does not forget His human experiences: they are perpetuated by His divine power in the sympathizing feelings of His humanity, according to the energy of that divine love which was their source and their motive power. He is still a man in glory and in divine perfection. His divinity imparts the strength of its love to His humanity, but does not set aside the latter. Nothing could resemble such a mediator as this; nothing could equal the tenderness, the knowledge of the human heart, the sympathy, the experience of need. In the measure which divinity could give to what He did, and in the strength of its love, He came down, took part in all the sorrows of humanity, and entered into all the circumstances in which the human heart could be, and was wounded, oppressed and discouraged, bowing down under the evil. No tenderness, no power of sympathy, no humanity, like His; no human heart that can so understand, so feel with us, whatever the burden may be that oppresses the heart of man. It is the Man, the Christ Jesus, who is our mediator; none so near, none who has come down so low and entered with divine power into the need, and all the need, of man. The conscience is purified by His work, the heart relieved by that which He was and which He is forever.
Christ pointed out as the one and only mediator
There is but One: to think of another would be to snatch from Him His glory, and from us our perfect consolation. His coming from on high, His divine nature, His death, His life as man in heaven, all point Him out as the one and only mediator.
The mediator between God and all men in their need
But there is another aspect of this truth, and of the fact that He is a man. It is, that He is not merely a mediator as a priest upon His throne, between Israel and the Lord; not simply the Messiah, in order to place Israel in relationship with their God, but a man between God and men. It is according to the eternal nature of God Himself and to the need of men in His presence. It was of these truths, eternal and of universal bearing, that Paul was the herald and the apostle.
The due time of the revelation of worldwide, eternal facts to Gentiles and Jews
Possessing a character that belongs to all ages and that goes beyond them, all these facts had their time to be revealed.
All means dependent on man’s use of them had been tried with men-and in vain, as to recalling him to God; and now the necessary foundations of their relationship with God had to be set forth, laid by God Himself, and the Gentiles were to hear the testimony of grace. And such was the Apostle’s testimony, “a teacher of the Gentiles in the faith and in the truth.”
Suited conduct to God’s grace; Eve’s sin and its judgment; the first Adam contrasted with Christ
Paul has plainly now laid the foundations, and he proceeds, therefore, to details. Men were to pray everywhere, lifting up pure hands, without wrath and without vain human reasonings. Women were to walk in modesty, adorned with good works, and to learn in silence. A woman was forbidden to teach or to exercise authority over men; she was to abide in quietness and silence. The reason given for this is remarkable, and shows how, in our relations with God, everything depends on the original starting point. In innocence Adam had the first place; in sin, Eve. It was Eve who, being deceived, brought in transgression. Adam was not deceived, guilty as he was of disobeying God. United to his wife, he followed her, not deceived by the enemy but weak through his affection. Without the weakness, it was this which the second Adam did in grace; He followed His deceived and guilty bride, but in order to redeem and deliver her by taking her faults upon Himself. Eve suffered on earth the penalty of her fault in a way which is a mark of the judgment of God; but walking in modesty, with faith and love and holiness, she shall be delivered in the hour of her trial; and that which bears the stamp of judgment shall be an occasion of the mercy and succor of God.

1 Timothy 3

The qualities necessary for a bishop or a deacon, and the wife of the latter
The Apostle next points out to Timothy the qualities necessary for a bishop or a deacon, as well as for the wife of the latter.1 He supposes here that there were some who desired to undertake this work. It was a good work. To care for souls and have a vigilant eye upon the walk of believers; to watch over them in order that the members of Christ should answer to His love and lose no Christian privilege; to do this by maintaining that happy order and that precious unity which were realized at that time, and to protect the flock of the Lord against the ravaging wolves that were seeking to invade it: this indeed was valuable work, and he on whose heart the Lord had thus laid the souls of His people might well desire to undertake it. The Apostle felt this: it was a true and faithful saying; but certain qualities were needed to make anyone fit for such a charge. Gifts are not included among them, unless the being “apt to teach” might be so considered; but even this is presented as a quality-the man must have aptness2 for it-not as a gift. Power to use such truth with others was very useful in fulfilling his charge, without saying at all that he taught publicly in the assembly. The essential thing was that which gave moral weight.
1. So it would read in English; but I see no reason why γυναικας (gunaikas) should not apply to the elders’ wives. It runs really thus: “In like manner [the] deacons. . . . In like manner [the] wives.” See, however, remarks on page 132.
(1. Some translate this word “ready to learn.”)
Timothy was not left at Ephesus to appoint elders; but these were the qualities necessary to a bishop, and Paul exhorts him to be watchful on this point.
It is not needful to enter into the details of these qualities; they are plain enough, as well as those required for a deacon.
“The condemnation of the devil” and “the snare of the devil” distinguished
We see what was the subject of “the condemnation of the devil”: he exalted himself at the thought of his own importance (compare Ezekiel 28). “The snare of the devil” is another thing. If a man is not of good report, he will yield somewhere to the enemy, because he will not dare to withstand him boldly.
The wives of deacons: the scope of women’s work
It will be noticed that the Apostle speaks of the wives of deacons, and not those of bishops1 (except to say that these must be the husbands of one wife only). Bishops had a charge, in which they were occupied with souls and exercised authority in the church, in which women were not to act. Deacons were necessarily occupied with family details and circumstances. In these women might well be concerned and often very useful. In the spiritual cares of elders they had nothing to do. It was requisite, therefore, that the wives of deacons should possess qualities which would cause their husbands to be respected, and at the same time guard themselves from becoming busybodies and talebearers.
(1. But see note, page 131.)
The importance of the deacons’ service
Faithfulness in the charge of a deacon-the exercise of which, in fact, is a matter of the greatest delicacy and requires much Christian love and patience-was a means of acquiring strength in the work of God. Stephen and Philip are examples of this: their spiritual powers soon carried them beyond their services as deacons.
The early, happy condition of the assembly
What was the assembly in those happy days? That which surely it always is in the sight of God; but then, in fact, when love displayed itself in an order maintained by the energy of the Holy Spirit and when the oneness of the entire body developed itself in the action of all its members, it was the house of God. Thank God, it is so always; yet what a difference since then in its practical condition!
The assembly on earth as the house of God below
But let us here examine the character which the Apostle gives to the assembly on earth. He wrote hoping soon to come, but in order that, in case he might tarry long, Timothy should know how to conduct himself. He then tells us what the assembly is.
In the first place it is the house of God. God dwells in it upon the earth (compare Ephesians 2:22). We understand that it is here viewed as on the earth, because the Apostle is speaking of how to behave in it. But this truth is important. It gives a character to the assembly of the highest importance for us with regard to our responsibility. It is not a vague thing, composed of the dead, of the living-a thing which we know not where to find, because one part of it is alive on the earth and another part consists of souls in heaven. It is the house of God here below, in which we have to behave (whatever other position we may hold) in a manner that becomes the house of God. God dwells in the assembly upon earth. We cannot too earnestly remember this fact. Whatever would bring confusion into the presentation of the truth, through the idea that some are dead and that the whole assembly is not here, comes from the enemy and is in opposition to the Word. The assembly, viewed as subsisting on earth, is the house of God.
The assembly of the living God
In the second place it is the assembly of the living God. God, in whom is the power of life, in contrast with men and with dead idols, has an assembly not of the world, having set it apart for Himself. It is not a nation like Israel. That people were the assembly of God in the wilderness. The assembly is now the assembly of the living God.
The pillar and support of the truth, maintaining it on earth
In the third place it is the pillar and support of the truth. Christ on earth was the truth. (He is so always, but He was so on the earth.) He is now hidden in God. The assembly is not the truth: the Word of God is the truth. His Word is truth. Truth exists before the assembly; it is faith in the truth which gathers the assembly together. But the assembly is that which maintains the truth on earth.1 When the assembly is gone, men will be given up to a strong delusion.
(1. But the assembly does not teach. Teachers teach the assembly, but by faithfulness in holding fast the truth taught, it sustains it in the world.)
It may be that there is only a little remnant of those that call themselves Christians who maintain the Word of truth; but it is not the less true that the assembly-as long as it remains here below-is the only witness for the truth upon the earth. It is God’s witness to present the truth before men. At the end, that which God owns as such will be the feeble flock at Philadelphia; and then that which is in the responsible position of being the assembly (Laodicea) will be spued out of the mouth of Christ, who Himself takes the character of Amen, the faithful and true Witness. But the assembly as planted by God on the earth is the pillar and support of the truth. Authority is not the question here, but the maintenance and presentation of the truth. That which does not maintain and present the truth is not the assembly as God understands it.
The characteristics of the house of God
The presence, then, of the living God and the profession of the truth are the characteristics of the house of God. Wherever this assembly of the living God is, wherever the truth is, there is His house.2
(2. Thus, in order to judge what the assembly is, we must know and be able to distinguish the truth and the living God. It is this which the Apostle says with regard to the individual, “The Spirit is truth.” These are the cardinal points with regard to unbelief and faith, the truth and the Spirit; and the Word of God is the truth.)
The mystery of piety, the living center of what is essential to the relations between God and men
The mystery of piety, which lies at the very center of what the assembly maintains before the world, is great and relates essentially to the Person of Christ. The Apostle naturally does not here develop all the different parts of the truth, but that which is the living center of the whole-that which is essential to the relations between God and men.
God Himself manifested in the flesh in the revelation of the Person of Christ
God had been manifested in the flesh; marvelous truth, in fact! There, where all is confusion and sin, in the nature of him in whom all this sin and all this confusion are introduced, the center of all blessing, He who is light itself, He who as the light puts everything morally in its place, and who by the fact of His presence shows that love is above everything, God who is love, has been manifest in the flesh. Where sin was, there was love above the sin. Man, who is the slave of evil, sees here in his own nature the source and the power of all good. In the center of evil and of weakness, in human nature, God Himself has been manifested. Was there then evil in Him who was such? Did He undergo the lot of the common bondage? By no means. Truly in the same circumstances, in the same nature, He proved superior to all evil, perfect in all respects. The absence of all sin was made evident by the power of the Holy Spirit during His whole life (if men had been able to discern it; and, in fact, it was manifest to the conscience of every man, for He was pure light shining upon all), and with power by the resurrection (compare Romans 1:4).
Thus God was made visible to the angels, was preached to the Gentiles (not merely the God of the Jews), became the object of faith in the world (it was not the manifestation of visible power, claiming His rights and His glory), and at last took a place on high in the glory whence He had descended. It is thus that God is known in the assembly according to the truth. There is no truth outside the maintenance of this revelation of the Person of Christ.
The viewpoint of the epistle: Christians not spoken of as God’s family but as the house of God, His witness towards men
It is worthy of notice that in this epistle, and even in the second, the Apostle speaks nowhere of the relationship of Christians with God as His children, of the privileges of children, or of that which is known within in the intimacy of the family. He speaks of truths that are essential as testimony before the world; that which the assembly is externally, that which it is as witness of God towards men. It is the house of God, the assembly of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth: that which it is as responsible in the world, and in order that all should learn what God is. The mystery of piety, of which the assembly is the vessel for testimony, answers to this. It is the grand, essential truth on which all relation between God and men is founded, by means of which God has to do with men. Therefore also he says previously, “There is but one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”
We have not here the privileges of children, nor the heavenly bride of Christ, but the foundation of God’s relations with all men. Thus the Father is not named, nor even the Spirit, except here in connection with the Lord’s Person, as the justification of His testimony. It is God, the mediator, and man, and the assembly as the vessel and depositary of this truth of the testimony of God; or else evil spirits turning men away from the faith. This deserves all attention.
The assembly, as maintaining the rights of the Creator and Saviour-God, must itself be maintained in moral order
Not only, as we have seen elsewhere, the testimony of the grace of the gospel maintains the great eternal principles of the nature and glory of God, and His relations according to that glory with men; but even in the pains the Apostle takes that the assembly may be cared for and guarded, during his absence, from the assaults of the enemy and from disorder and improprieties within; it is not of its internal privileges that he speaks. God is set before us, and the Lord Jesus Christ. God, in the majesty of His immutable truth, in His relations with men as such, and in the revelation of Himself in the flesh-God was in Christ, reconciling the world; dwelling in the assembly, in order that it should present and maintain the truth before the world-the truth (as we have seen) with regard to Christ, of the revelation of God in Him. God desires to be in relation with men: it is thus that He accomplishes it. The assembly maintains the rights of the Creator and Saviour-God on the earth. The assembly itself must be maintained in moral order, that it may confront the enemy who is in the world and be able to sustain this testimony.

1 Timothy 4

Apostates bringing in doctrines of demons, exalting themselves against God’s authority and denying His revelation
But there would be some who departed from the faith, from this knowledge of the one Creator and Saviour-God-Him who was manifested in the flesh. They would attack precisely these points which we have named. It might be that they would pretend to carry the idea of Christian privileges farther than all others had done, as well as that of profound knowledge of God; but they would sin against first principles, against the faith which connected the Saviour-God revealed in Christianity with the one only Creator-God. According to Christianity, the eternal God had not only created the world but had revealed Himself in Christ. These apostates, bringing in doctrines of demons, would seek to deny that it was this one and only God of nature who had manifested Himself in grace. Seduced by demons and their conscience being seared, they forbade that which God had established in creation, that which He had given to man in full right after the flood: as though the superior holiness which they preached and relationship with a more exalted God were not consistent with such customs. Forsaking the real and practical holiness of communion with God and of His commandments by Christ, they created a false sanctity for themselves, which denied that which God had ordained from the beginning, and thus exalted themselves against the authority of Him who had ordained it, as though He was an imperfect or perhaps evil being.
The faithful put on guard; the incontestable right of the one God maintained
Thus the restraint of the fear of God was lost, and the door opened to licence and dissoluteness. The Spirit of God warned the assembly of this, and the faithful Apostle communicates it to Timothy and through him puts the faithful on their guard. He does not, therefore, speak of privilege. Faithful to the glory of God, he returns to the first principles of His glory and maintains the incontestable rights of the one and only God; faithful to God, not making boast of his knowledge, but seeking in love to guard the assembly from all departure from God.
Those who forsake the faith here not to be confounded with the general apostasy spoken of in 2 Thessalonians
We must not confound the few here who forsake the faith with the general apostasy of 2 Thessalonians. Here a few depart from the truth, seduced by demons; and the assembly still subsists to be guarded from the invasion of these hurtful principles. Quite another thing is the general apostasy and the manifestation of the man of sin, which is not mentioned here at all.
Error distinguished from the general apostasy; the remedy: God’s gifts sanctified by the Word and prayer
Here we have the faithfulness which repels error by truth, reminding the brethren of the latter, in order that they may not be seduced. There it is the manifestation of the one who sits in the temple of God and who is destroyed by the brightness of the Lord’s presence. Here all that had to be done was to recall in simplicity the goodness of the Creator, and that His gifts, received with thanksgiving, were always good, and not to be refused: assuredly not that they were to use them for the gratification of their lusts, but as sanctified by the Word of God, which brought them to us as God’s gifts, and by prayer, which connects us with God in using them. They were to be received as from Him, as the gift of His hand; and they were sanctified, as is the case with everything that comes from Him and bears the stamp of His will and His goodness. Man had forfeited everything in forsaking God: what he had he had not now with God, would eat merely as an animal, and worse as having left God. The Word of God replaced the relationship in grace, and prayer used it on this footing. Here (although in other circumstances it has gone much further) the monastic principle, in the heart and in form, is fully judged; however sincere any individual may be who seeks to follow it in order to honor God. God does not withdraw the gifts on which man, so to speak, has seized by his will; but his use of them, instead of being the gratification of his will and lusts, is now as received from God by His will in thankfulness, and owning Him.
Timothy encouraged to be a good servant of Christ and warned against the idle speculation of the human mind
This, in fact, the Apostle shows in that which follows. By teaching thus, Timothy would be a good servant of Jesus Christ, nourished in the truth: bodily exercise profited little, but godliness much-both here below and for eternity; warning him again against the idle and profitless speculation of the human mind, to the danger of which he continually recurs. It is for this doctrine of God-true and worthy of all acceptation-that the Apostle labored and suffered reproach; because he had faith in the living God, who, by His providence and by His supreme power,1 governed, preserved and took care of all men, and especially of those that believed. It was this same only God, Creator and Saviour, in whom he trusted while laboring for the Lord. Timothy was to teach this and enforce it with authority.
(1. Compare Matthew 10:29.)
Timothy’s own service and God-given authority strengthened; encouragement to take continual heed to what he taught and to himself personally
Afterwards, in connection with this authoritative instruction, the Apostle speaks of the person and position of Timothy himself. He was young, but he was to maintain his place, and gain by his conduct that weight which years did not yet give him. He was to be an example to the believers and occupy himself, till Paul came, with reading, exhortation and instruction. Moreover, in his case God had given a special preparation for his work; he was not to forget or neglect it. A gift had been imparted to him: God had pointed him out to this end by prophecy; and this immediate testimony from God, to which the operation of His power was united, had been accompanied by the seal of testimony from man, that is, that of the elders among the Christians (compare Acts 13:1-3).
Thus all things concurred to strengthen Timothy in his service and in the authority that he exercised at that moment in place of the Apostle. He should always present the weight of an irreproachable conduct, which would have its influence over hearts and consciences; but he was inwardly strengthened by the consciousness of having been formally set apart by God for the work; the gift of God had been imparted to him, and the sanction of all that had weight in the assembly had been laid, as a seal, upon him. Thus strengthened, he was to devote himself to the things of the Lord in such a manner that his progress should be evident to all men-a demonstration of his communion with the Lord. At the same time, he was to take heed to himself and to the doctrine, and that continually, which should be the means of salvation both to himself and to those who heard him.

1 Timothy 5

Outward order: what is suitable to an upright walk
and seemly for individuals in their testimony here
Having thus considered the laborer, the Apostle returns to the details of the work, in which Timothy was to display his diligence and watchful care. Everywhere here the subject is that which is suitable outwardly to an upright walk, that which is seemly, whether with regard to the position of individuals or with respect to the world. The Apostle speaks of elders; of widows, of that which is becoming for younger widows; of the honor due to faithful elders, those among them especially who were teachers also. There is nothing inward, nothing of the soul’s relationships to God; but everything refers to the public testimony which suited the position of men in this world before God. It is important to remark this, that although our joy lies in our heavenly privileges, in our communion, yet we can never with impunity neglect ordinary duties or moral proprieties; we must take knowledge of the practical dangers that would beset us, owing to that which the flesh is.
We may notice that provision was made for all widows who had no relatives able to maintain them; and also that there were elders who did not teach.
Against an elder, Timothy was not to receive an accusation, unless there were two or three witnesses.
Timothy exhorted not to hastily sanction anyone who did not show he deserved it
All this bears testimony to the fact that the Apostle gives these directions with a view to outward order; for the maintenance of that which is respectable in the eyes of all, and of respect for all that ought to be respected. At the same time, Timothy was to be careful not to give, by the laying on of hands, his sanction to anyone who did not offer moral guarantees that, in the position he had taken, he deserved this mark of respect from others. It would be, on Timothy’s part, to become a partaker in the sins of which such a one might be guilty. He was not to lay hands hastily on anyone.
Some men’s sins were open and proclaimed beforehand the judgment that awaited them. The sins of others were hidden: they would find them again at the great day. But this was a reason why he should do nothing in his charge with precipitation; he was also to keep himself pure.
Timothy’s habitual temperance shown and Paul’s respect and heartfelt tenderness to his fellow-laborer
Timothy’s habitual temperance is here seen: weak in body, the Apostle recommends him to use his liberty by taking a little wine-a pleasing instance of grace. We have here a proof of the habits of this faithful servant. The Spirit shows us how carefully he kept himself from exciting or satisfying his passions in the least thing (at the same time that there is perfect liberty to use everything that is good when there is a true reason for it), and also the Apostle’s tender interest in his fellow-laborer in the gospel. It is a little parenthesis attached to the expression, “Be not a partaker of other men’s sins,” but it has great beauty. This affectionate watchfulness became the Apostle; he desired holiness in his representative, but he well knew how to respect Timothy and to maintain the decorum which he had enjoined and to exhibit his heartfelt tenderness. Verse 24 is connected with verse 22.

1 Timothy 6

Directions to Christian servants and masters: the need and reason for them
The Apostle then goes equally into detail with regard to servants, that is, slaves. They were to respect their masters in order that the doctrine of the Lord should not be blasphemed.
When the masters were believers, there was naturally more familiarity, for they were one in Christ, and thence the danger (for the flesh is crafty) that the servants might not treat their masters with the respect due to them. The Apostle guards against this abuse of Christian love, and of the just intimacy and confidence which ought to exist between brethren; but which, on the contrary, was a motive for the servant to render all honor to his master, by treating him with more love and with the same respect.
As representing God in this world, Timothy exhorted to show the character of a man of God, turning away from evil and showing contentment and godliness
It was necessary that the Apostle should be firm. All other instruction-all refusal to receive the wholesome words of Christian doctrine, the words of Christ and the doctrine which is according to practical godliness-proceeded from the flesh, from human pride in those who wished to take advantage of godliness, and make it a means of gain. From such persons Timothy was to turn away. Godliness was indeed gain, if they were contented with what they had; and the Christian, who does not belong to this world, if he has food and raiment, ought to be content therewith. He brought nothing into this world and will certainly carry nothing out of it. And the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. Seduced by this covetousness, some had wandered away from Christian faith and had pierced their hearts with sorrow. The desire to be rich was the path of snares and temptation, of foolish and hurtful lusts. Timothy was to flee these things, as a man of God. This is always the thought here: he was in the world on the part of God; he represented Him for his part in the work. He was, therefore, to follow after other things than earthly riches-the character of a man of God- righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness: these were the things which, in man, presented God to the world and glorified Him.
Warfare: the energy of faith necessary; Timothy’s good confession remembered
Meanwhile, there was conflict: he must fight the good fight of faith. If anyone represents God in the world, there must be warfare, because the enemy is there. The energy of faith was also necessary in order to lay hold of eternal life in the midst of the seduction and difficulties which the “things that are seen” presented. God, moreover, had called Timothy to this, and he had made a good confession before many witnesses.
The Apostle’s solemn charge
Finally, the Apostle charges him most solemnly in the presence of God, the source of life for all things, and of Christ Jesus who had Himself borne witness without wavering before the powers of this world, placing him under the responsibility of keeping the commandment without spot, unrebukable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The assembly’s responsibility; its manifestation and rewards for faithfulness
It will be noticed here that, as Paul had not spoken in the epistle of the privileges of the assembly, but of its responsibility, so neither does he here speak of its being caught up but of its manifestation, when the fruits of faithfulness (or of failure in it) will be gathered, and everyone be in his place in the visible glory according to his work. All are like Christ, all enter into His joy; but to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom is the portion of those for whom it is prepared by His Father, who bestows it according to the work which He has granted each to perform, giving him power to accomplish it, although in grace He reckons it as our own.
Christ’s faithfulness; His open manifestation in glory
Christ Himself is here viewed as the faithful man (vs. 13), whom God will manifest in glory before all creatures at the time ordained in His counsels.
Responsibility before the world; glory as its result
All here is responsibility before the world, or glory as the result of that responsibility. The supreme, invisible God is maintained in His majesty; and He presents the Lord Jesus Christ in the creation as its center, and repository of His glory-He who dwells in light inaccessible, whom, in His divine essence, man has not seen and cannot see.
The remarkable character of the epistle in its unique presentation of the inaccessible majesty of God
This character of the epistle is very remarkable. Nowhere else is the inaccessible majesty of God, as God, thus presented. His character is often the subject of instruction and manifestation. Here He alone has essential immortality. He dwells in inaccessible light. He is ever invisible to the eyes of men. He alone has power. He has dominion over all who reign. It is God in the abstraction of His essence, in the proper immutability of His being, in the rights of His majesty, veiled to all men.
Christ as the center of the visible glory; displaying it as Man; manifested by God here that all should acknowledge Him
Now Christ will be the center of the visible glory. Having part in the divine glory before the world was, He displays, in the human nature in which He took part, this glory, which is rendered visible in Him, causing His own to participate in His joy and in all that He has in this character; but here, He is manifested by God, and in order that all should acknowledge Him.1 And it is our responsibility, faithfulness to which will be manifested in that day, which is here set before us. However small may be our share of responsibility, it is of such a God as this that we are the representatives on earth. Such is the God before whom we are to walk, and whose majesty we are to respect immediately in our conduct, and also in our relations to all that He has made.
(1. In Revelation 19 He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Here He who is so manifests Him. So in Daniel 7. The Son of Man is brought to the Ancient of Days, but in the same chapter the Ancient of Days comes.)
Timothy told to warn the rich not to trust in their riches but in God, and to be rich in good works; he himself again exhorted to hold fast the truth and avoid profane and vain babblings and oppositions of human science
The Apostle concludes his exhortation to Timothy by engaging him to warn the rich not to rest on the uncertainty of riches, but on the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy. It is still the supreme and Creator-God who is before our eyes. Moreover, they were to be rich in good works and ready to give; to be rich in those dispositions which would be of value, which would lay up a store (this is but a figure) against the time to come; and to lay hold of that which really is life. The Apostle repeats his urgent exhortation to Timothy to keep that which had been committed to him, to avoid profane and vain babblings, holding fast the sound and sanctifying truth, and to have nothing to do with oppositions of human science, which pretended to penetrate into divine things as though they were subject to its knowledge. This was the origin of the fall of many with regard to Christian faith.
Souls maintained by the majesty of God in the practical sobriety in which peace dwells
I do not doubt that, in the manner in which the Apostle here sets God before us, he refers to the foolish imaginations to which, under the influence of the enemy, men were abandoning themselves. Thus he speaks of these with relation to the majesty of His being as the one only God in whom is all fullness, and with regard to the sobriety of practical morality, which keeps the heart under the influence of that truth, and apart from the false and vain speculations in which the pride of man indulged itself. He maintained souls by the majesty of the only God in the practical sobriety in which peace dwells.
Soon will the veil be drawn aside by the appearing of Jesus, whom the Almighty God will display to the world.

2 TIMOTHY

The peculiar character of the epistle as the expressions of Paul’s heart in sight of the church’s failure and departure
The Second Epistle to Timothy has a very peculiar character. It is the expression of his heart, who outside Palestine had, under God, founded and built the assembly of God on earth, and it was written in sight of its failure and its departure from the principles on which he had established it. God remained faithful; His foundation was sure and immovable; but the work committed into the hands of men was already enfeebled and decaying. The consciousness of this state of things, which, moreover, betrayed itself in the way in which the Apostle himself was then forsaken, oppressed his heart; and he pours it out into the bosom of his faithful Timothy. By this means, the Spirit instructs us in the solemn truth that the church has not kept its first estate and sets before us the ways of safety for those who seek God and desire to please Him in such a state of things as this.
The Apostle John’s witness
The Apostle John gives the history of the fall of the assembly here below, and of its judgment, and that of the world likewise. He also sets before us a life which, apart from all questions of the assembly’s condition, abides ever the same, which renders us capable of enjoying God and makes us resemble Him in His nature and character.
Paul’s painful experience that of all the servants of God; man’s failure; the sure foundation
As a witness, John was to remain until the Lord came: but Paul sees for himself the ruin of that which he had built and watched over so faithfully. He had spent himself for the assembly, accomplishing that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ; and he had to see that which he had so much loved (which he had cared for even as a mother cherishes her nursling which he had planted as God’s plant on the earth) grow feeble as to its condition and testimony in the world, depart from the source of strength, and become corrupt. What a painful experience! But it is that of the servant of God in all ages and in all dispensations. He sees indeed the power of God acting to plant the testimony on earth, but he sees that men soon fail in it. The house inhabited by the Holy Spirit becomes dilapidated and in disorder. Nevertheless (and we love to repeat it with the Apostle), the sure foundation of the Lord abides forever. Whatever may be the condition of the whole company, the individual is always to depart from all iniquity and to maintain, by himself if need be, the true testimony of the name of the Lord. This can never fail the faithful soul.
The Apostle’s comfort when afflicted and forsaken
In view of the mixture and confusion which began to show itself in the assembly, the Apostle’s comfort was founded on these two principles, while remembering and joyfully availing himself of the communion and faithfulness of some precious souls. He had such as Timothy and Onesiphorus, amid the afflictions of the gospel and the sorrow of being forsaken by so many who were seals to his testimony before the Lord.

2 Timothy 1

The Apostle’s standpoint of grace and individual life outside church privileges
The Apostle begins by taking the ground of grace and of individual life-which never changes in essential character-outside church privileges. Not that these had changed; but he could no longer connect them with the general body on earth. He calls himself here an Apostle according to the promise of eternal life which is in Christ Jesus. It is not merely the Messiah, it is not the head of the body, it is the promise of life which is in Him.
Paul’s desire to see Timothy expressed in the confidence of a friend
Paul addresses his dearly beloved son Timothy, whose affection he remembers. He desired greatly to see him, being mindful of his tears, shed probably at the time when Paul was made prisoner, or when he was separated from him on that occasion, or when he heard of it. It is the confidence of a friend that is speaking to one whose heart he knew. We see something of this, but in the perfection that was peculiar to Himself, in Jesus on the cross, in that which He said to John and to His mother. A similar form would have been unsuitable in Paul. The affections of men show themselves in and by their wants, the wants of their hearts; those of the Lord by His condescension. With Him all is in itself perfect. With us it is only by grace that all is in its right place. But when separation to service in power, which knows but that, is over, nature according to God has its right place. In the consecrated meat offering that was to be made with fire, honey had no place.
Paul’s personal position; the character of his ancestors in God’s service; the personal, unfeigned faith of those of Timothy
Verse 3. The Apostle does not speak any longer of the high character of his work, but of his personal position rightly felt according to the Spirit. He had served God, following in the steps of his forefathers, with a pure conscience. In every way he was a vessel made unto honor. For more than one generation his ancestors were distinguished for a good conscience; and personal piety, founded on the truth, showed itself in the service of God. Paul was not here expressing a judgment as to the inward condition of each generation: it was their character. He calls to mind a similar fact with regard to Timothy, in whose case, however, personal faith is referred to, known to Paul himself, so that the bond, though of personal feeling, was Christian.1 Judaism, as to its outward obligations, is totally absent; for the father of Timothy was a Greek, and the marriage of his Jewish mother was unclean according to the law, and would have rendered Timothy also unclean and deprived him of Jewish rights; and, in fact, he had not been circumcised when an infant. Paul did it, which was also not according to the law, unless Timothy had become a proselyte. Both heathens and their children were excluded, as we read in Nehemiah. Paul’s act was above the law. Here he takes no notice of it; he leaves the Gentile father out of sight and speaks only of the personal, unfeigned faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother, and that of his beloved disciple himself.
(1. It is indeed the basis of the exhortation of verse 6. When the faith of so many is giving way, he turns to the personal confidence which his heart had in Timothy, nourished up through grace by the atmosphere he had lived in.)
Multiplied difficulties and unfaithfulness only occasions for the exercise of faith; the special gift of the Spirit conferred on Timothy
The state of the assembly was only an additional occasion for the exercise of his faith and for his zealous activity of heart and courage. Difficulties and dangers multiplied on every hand; the unfaithfulness of Christians was added to all the rest. But God is nonetheless with His people. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind, so that the Lord’s laborer, the man of God, he who kept himself in communion with God in order to represent Him on the earth, was to stir up the gift that was in him, and (as the Apostle expresses it with admirable and touching force and clearness) to endure the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. Here, in the case of Timothy, the Apostle could make mention of a special gift of the Spirit, which had been conferred upon Timothy, through the laying on of hands. In the first epistle he had spoken of the prophecy which had called him or pointed him out for the possession of this gift, and told us that it had been accompanied by the laying on of the hands of the elders; here he tells us that the laying on of his own hands was the means of bestowing it upon him.
When and how to persevere in God’s work, maintain courage, and have necessary strength and grace
The Apostle reminds him of this proof of power and reality in his ministry (and in that of Paul himself), in view of this period when its exercise was more difficult. When all is prosperous and the progress of the gospel is remarkable, so that even the world is struck with it, the work is found to be easy, in spite of difficulties and opposition; and-such is man-even in consequence of this opposition one is bold and persevering. But when others, Christians even, forsake the laborer, when evil and the deceptions of the enemy come in, when love has grown cold, and, because one is faithful, prudence takes alarm and desires a less forward walk, to stand firm in circumstances like these, to persevere in the work and maintain one’s courage, is not an easy thing. We must possess Christianity with God, so that we know why we stand fast: we must be ourselves in communion with Him, in order to have the strength necessary to continue laboring in His name, and the sustainment of His grace at all times.
Timothy’s gift and the inheritance of every Christian; the affections of the gospel; God’s purpose and work; what the enemy’s efforts show
God then has given us the Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind; the Apostle had received such a position from God that he had been able to bestow on Timothy the gift needed for his service; but the state of spirit and soul which could use it was part of the inheritance of every Christian who leaned really on God. Nor was he to be ashamed either of the testimony, which was losing outwardly its onward current in the world, nor of Paul who was now a prisoner. How precious to possess that which is eternal, that which is founded on the power and on the work of God Himself! There were indeed the afflictions of the gospel, but he should take part in them and not shrink, enduring according to the power of God. God has saved us, has called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, as though anything depended on man, but according to His own purpose and His grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. This is the sure and immovable foundation, a rock for our souls, against which the waves of difficulty break in vain, showing a strength which we could not resist for a moment, but showing also their total powerlessness against the purpose and work of God. The efforts of the enemy only prove that he is without strength, in the presence of that which God is and of that which He has done for us. And the Apostle identifies his ministry with this and the sufferings he was undergoing. But he knew whom he had believed and his happiness was safe laid up with Him.
Seeking the power of the Spirit and abiding on God’s immutable foundation
That which we have to seek is the power of the Spirit, in order that we may realize this gift of God by faith and that we may abide, as to our hearts, as to our practical faith, in the sense of our union with Christ, upon this immutable foundation, which is nothing less than the immutability and the glory of God Himself. For His purpose has been manifested; that purpose, which gave us a place and a portion in Christ Himself, was now manifested through the appearance of that very Christ.
God’s purpose, before the world existed, to manifest a people united with His Son in glory; this purpose was life-eternal life and incorruptibility
It is no longer a nation chosen in the world to display in it the principles of the government of God and of His ways in righteousness, in patience, in kindness, and in power on the earth (however unchangeable His counsels, however sure His calling), as manifested in His dealings with regard to the people whom He called.
It is a counsel of God, formed and established in Christ before the world existed, which has its place in the ways of God, outside and above the world, in union with the Person of His Son, and in order to manifest a people united with Him in glory. Thus is it a grace which was given us in Him, before the world was. Hidden in the counsels of God, this purpose of God was manifested with the manifestation of Him in whom it had its accomplishment. It was not merely blessings and dealings of God with regard to men-it was life, eternal life in the soul, and incorruptibility in the body. Thus Paul was apostle according to the promise of life.
Death annulled by Christ in His resurrection; life and incorruptibility brought to light by the gospel to all men
While Christ Himself was alive, although life was in Him, this purpose of God was not accomplished with respect to us. The power of life, divine power in life, was to manifest itself in the destruction of the power of death brought in by sin and in which Satan reigned over sinners. Christ then in His resurrection has annulled death, and by the gospel has brought to light both life and incorruptibility, that is to say, that condition of eternal life which puts the soul and the body beyond death and its power. Thus the glad tidings of this work were addressed to all men. Founded in the eternal counsels of God, established in the Person of Christ, the work necessary for its fulfillment being accomplished by Him, possessing a character altogether outside Judaism, and the mere government of God in the earth, Paul’s gospel was unto all men. Being the manifestation of the eternal counsels and power of God, having to do with man as lying under the power of death, and with the accomplishment of a victory that placed man beyond that power, and in an entirely new condition which depended on the power of God and His purposes, it addressed itself to man, to all men, Jews or Gentiles without distinction. Knowing Adam dead by sin and Christ alive in the power of divine life, he announced this good news to man-deliverance, and a totally new state of things.
Paul not ashamed to suffer for the gospel because of the power of Him in whom he believed; life in Christ untouched by the death of the body, but brought to light only in Christ and His resurrection
It was to proclaim this gospel that the Apostle had been called as a herald. It was for this he suffered and, in the sense of what had caused it, was not ashamed to suffer. For he knew whom he had believed; he knew His power. He believed in the gospel that he preached, and therefore in the victorious power of Him in whom he believed. He could die with regard to the life that he had received from the first Adam, he could be dishonored and put to shame in the world and by the world: life in Christ, the power by which Christ had won a place for man outside the condition of the first Adam, life as Christ now possesses it was not touched thereby. Not that life had not been there before, but death and he that had the power of death were not overcome, and all was dark beyond the closing tomb: a lightning flash might pass across the gloom, adequate ground be laid for the just conclusion of the Pharisee, but life and incorruptibility were not brought to light but in Christ and His resurrection.
Confidence in the Person of Christ; the power of the truth linked with the love which applies and maintains it
But this is not all which is here expressed. The Apostle does not say, “In what I have believed,” but “whom”: an important difference, which places us (as to our confidence) in connection with the Person of Christ Himself. The Apostle had spoken of the truth, but truth is allied to the Person of Christ. He is the truth; and in Him truth has life, has power, is linked with the love which applies it, which maintains it in the heart and the heart by it. “I know,” says the Apostle, “whom I have believed.” He had committed his happiness to Christ. In Him was that life in which the Apostle participated; in Him, the power that sustained it and that preserved in heaven the inheritance of glory which was his portion where this life was developed.
Paul’s sure expectation in the coming day
Encouraged by this hope and committing himself to Jesus, he had endured all things for Him and for those who were His; he had accepted all suffering here, he was ready to die daily. His happiness, in the glory of that new life, he had committed to Jesus; he labored, meanwhile, in affliction, sure of finding again, without being deceived, that which he had committed to the Lord, in the day when he should see Him and all his sorrows ended. It was in the expectation of that day, in order to find it again at that day, that he had committed to Him his happiness and his joy.
The Apostle’s career soon to be finished; Timothy exhorted to hold fast the truth in its power and value
Moreover, his own career would soon be finished; his eyes, therefore, turn towards Timothy for the welfare of the assembly here below. He exhorts him to be steadfast, to hold fast the truth, as he had taught it to him (it was the testimony of the Lord), but the truth in its realization by faith in Christ, and according to the power of love that is found in communion with Him. It is this which, as we have seen, the Apostle had realized. The truth, and living grace in Jesus, in faith and in love, which gave it its power and its value-these are, as it were, the pivots of strength and faithfulness at all times, and especially for the man of God, when the assembly in general is unfaithful.
Truth as the inspired expression of what God was pleased to reveal
Truth as it was taught by the apostles and expressed by them, the manner in which they presented the truth, “the form of sound words,” is the inspired expression of that which God was pleased to reveal; and that, in all the relationships in which the truth is linked together, in all its different parts, according to the living nature and power of God, who is necessarily its center as He is its source. Nothing except revelation could be this expression. God expresses everything as it is, and in a living way; and by His word all exists. He is the source and the center of all things. All flow from Him-are in relation with a living Person, namely Himself, who is their source, from whom all hold their existence. This existence only subsists in connection with Him; and the relationship of all things to Him, and between themselves, is found in the expression of His mind-in that measure, at least, in which He puts Himself in relation with man in all these things. If evil comes in, as regards will or its consequences in judgment, it is because this relationship is broken; and the relationship that is broken is the measure of the evil.
The immense importance of the Word of God, the expression of the relationships of all things to God; its analogy to the living Word
Thus we see the immense importance of the Word of God. It is the expression of the relationship of all things to God; whether as regards their existence-that is, creation-or with respect to His counsels; or even as to His own nature, and the relationship of man with Him, and the communication of life received from Him, and the maintenance of His true character. It comes from heaven as did the living Word, reveals what is there; but adapts itself, as the living Word did, to man here, directs him where there is faith here, but leads him up there where the living Word is gone as man.
The more we consider the Word, the more we shall see its importance. Analogously to Christ the living Word, it has its source on high, and reveals what is there, and is perfectly adapted to man down here, giving a perfect rule according to what is up there, and, if we are spiritual, leading us up there: our conversation is in heaven. We must distinguish between the relationship in which man stood as child of Adam, and as child of God. The law is the perfect expression of the requirements of the former, the rule of life to him; it is found to be to death. Once we are sons of God, the life of the Son of God as man down here becomes our rule of life. “Be ye imitators of God as dear children, and walk in love as Christ hath loved us.”
The Word made flesh; Christ is the truth
In His nature, as the author of all existence, and the center of all authority and subsistence outside Himself, God is the center of all, and the upholder of all. As to His counsels, Christ is the center, and here man has a peculiar place; wisdom’s good pleasure was eternally in Him, and all is to be under His feet. In order that the nature and the counsels of God should not be separated (which indeed is impossible, but what was in His counsels in order that it might not be), God became man. Christ is God made manifest in flesh, the Word made flesh. Thus the divine nature, the expression of that nature, is found in that which is the object of His counsels, that which forms their center. Thus Christ is the truth-is the center of all existing relationships: all have reference to Him. We are, through Him, for Him, or we are against Him: all subsist by Him. If we are judged, it is as His enemies. He is the life (spiritually) of all that enjoy the communication of the divine nature; even as He sustains all that exists. His manifestation brings to light the true position of all things. Thus He is the truth. All that He says, being the words of God, are spirit and life; quickening, acting according to grace, judging with regard to the responsibility of His creatures.
Christ as the revelation of love and truth, of all that God is; faith and love find their existence in the revelation of God as a Saviour in Christ
But there is yet more than this. He is the revelation of love. God is love, and in Jesus love is in action and is known by the heart that knows Him. The heart that knows Him lives in love, and knows love in God. But He is also the object in whom God is revealed to us and has become the object of entire reliance. Faith is born by His manifestation. It existed indeed through partial revelation of this same object, by means of which God made Himself known; but these were only partial anticipations of that which has been fully accomplished in the manifestation of Christ, of the Son of God. The object is the same: formerly, the subject of promise and prophecy; now, the personal revelation of all that God is, the image of the invisible God, the One in whom the Father also is known.
Thus faith and love have their birth, their source, in the object which by grace has created them in the soul: the object in which it has learned what love is, and with regard to which faith is exercised. By Him we believe in God. No one has ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him.
Truth is thus revealed, for Jesus is the truth, the expression of that which God is, so as to put all things perfectly in their place, in their true relationships with God and with each other. Faith and love find the occasion of their existence in the revelation of the Son of God, of God as a Saviour in Christ.
The communication of truth and of the knowledge of God; the Holy Spirit’s work in creation and on the creature
But there is another aspect of the accomplishment of the work and of the counsels of God, which we have not yet spoken of: that is, the communication of the truth and of the knowledge of God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, in which the truth and the life are united, for we are begotten by the Word. It is divine energy in the Deity, acting in all that connects God with the creature or the creature with God. Acting in divine perfection as God, in union with the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit reveals the counsels of which we have spoken and makes them effectual in the heart, according to the purpose of the Father, and by the revelation of the Person and work of the Son. I have said “divine energy,” not as a theological definition-which is not my object here-but as a practical truth, for, while attributing all that regards the creature to the Father (except judgment, which is entirely committed to the Son, because He is the Son of Man) and to the Son, the immediate action in creation and on the creature, wherever it takes place, is attributed to the Spirit.
The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters when this earth was formed; by His Spirit the heavens were garnished; we are born of the Spirit; sealed with the Spirit; holy men of God spake by the Spirit; gifts were the operation of the Spirit distributing to whom He would; He bears witness with our spirits; He groans in us; we pray by the Holy Spirit, if that grace is bestowed upon us. The Lord Himself, born as man in this world, was conceived by the Holy Spirit; by the Spirit of God He cast out devils. The Spirit bears witness of all things, that is to say, of all truth in the Word: the love of the Father, the nature and the glory of God Himself, His character, the Person and glory and love of the Son, His work, form the substance of His testimony, with all that relates to man in connection with these truths.
The Word communicated by the means of men in a form adapted to men, but its source is divine; the effects of its reception
The Spirit’s witness to these things is the Word, and-produced by means of men-takes the shape of the truth formally set forth by revelation. Christ is the truth, as we have seen, the center of all the ways of God; but what we are now speaking of is the divine communication of this truth; and in this way it can be said that the Word is the truth.1 But, although communicated by means of men, so that it takes a form adapted to man, its source is divine; and He who has communicated it is divine: He of whom it is said, “He shall not speak of himself” (that is to say, from Himself- apart from the Father and the Son). Consequently, the revelation of the truth has all the depth, the universality of relationship, the inseparable connection with God (without which it would not be truth, for all that is separate from God is falsehood), which truth itself possesses-necessarily possesses-because it is the expression of the relationships which all things have to God in Christ; that is to say, of God’s own thoughts, of which all these relationships are but the expression. It is true that this revelation also judges all that is not in accordance with these relationships, and judges according to the value of the relationship that is broken with regard to God Himself, and the place which this relationship has in His mind.2 When this word is received through the quickening work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, it is efficacious; there is faith, the soul is in real, living, practical relationship with God according to that which is expressed in the revelation it has received. The truth-which speaks of the love of God, of holiness, of cleansing from all sin, of eternal life, of the relationship of children-being received into the heart places us in real, present, living relationship with God, according to the force of all these truths, as God conceives them and as He has revealed them to the soul. Thus they are vital and efficacious by the Holy Spirit; and the consciousness of this revelation of the truth, and of the truth of that which is revealed, and of really hearing the voice of God in His Word, is faith.
(1. Hence also it is said (1 John 5), “The Spirit is truth.”)
(2. This is true as regards guilt. But God, being perfectly revealed, and that in grace as the Father and the Son, our apprehension of the ruin in which we are goes deeper far than the sense of guilt as the breach of previously existing relationships. We were guilty according to our place as men. But we were αθεοι (atheoi), without God in the world, and (when God is known) this is awful. The beginning of Romans treats the question of guilt; Ephesians 2, the state we were in; John 5:24 briefly resumes grace as to both. The relationship now is an entirely new one, founded on purpose, redemption and our being children of God.)
Truth inherent in the revealed Word: the divine expression of what is infinite to the finite
But all this is true in the revealed Word before I believe in it, and in order that I may believe in it-may believe in the truth- although the Holy Spirit alone makes us hear the voice of God in it, and so produces faith. And that which is revealed in it is the divine expression of that which belongs to the infinite on the one side and is expressed in the finite on the other; of that which has the profoundness of the nature of God, from whom all proceeds, with whom and with whose rights all is in relationship, but which is developed-since it is outside God-in creation and in the finite.
The union of God and man in the Person of Christ is the center-we may say (now that we know it) the necessary center-of all this, as we have seen. And the inspired Word is its expression according to the perfection of God, and (we bless God for it, as the Saviour is the grand subject of the Scriptures, “for,” said He, “they testify of me”) in human forms.
The Word is the divine and only expression
of the divine nature, persons, and counsels
adapted to finite man: one whole
But this Word, being divine, being inspired, is the divine expression of the divine nature, persons and counsels. Nothing that is not inspired in this way can have this place-for none but God can perfectly express or reveal what God is-hence, infinite in what flows in it; because it is the expression of, and connected with, the depths of the divine nature, and so in its connection infinite, though expressed in a finite sense, and so far finite in expression, and thus adapted to finite man. Nothing else is the divine expression of the divine mind and truth, or is in direct union with the unmixed source, even though it sprang from the same source. The immediate connection is broken; that which is said is no longer divine. It may contain many truths, but the living derivation, the infinite, the union with God, the immediate and uninterrupted derivation from God, are wanting. The infinite is no longer there. The tree grows from its root and forms one whole; the energy of life pervades it-the sap which flows from the root. We may consider one part, as God has set it there, as a part of the tree; we may see the importance of the trunk; the beauty of the development in its smallest details, the stateliness of the whole, in which the vital energy combines liberty and harmony of form. We see that it is a whole, united in one by the same life that produced it. The leaves, the flowers, the fruit, all tell us of the warmth of that divine Sun which developed them, of the gushing, inexhaustible stream which nourishes them. But we cannot separate one part, be it ever so beautiful, from the tree, without depriving it of the energy of life and its relationship with the whole.
Theology: man’s mind apprehending truth and seeking to give it a new form
When the power of the Spirit of God produces the truth, it develops itself in union with its source, whether in revelation or even in the life and in the service of the individual; although in the two latter cases there is a mixture of other elements, owing to the weakness of the man. When a man’s mind apprehends the truth and he seeks to give it a form, he does it according to the capacity of man, which is not its source; the truth as he expresses it, even were it pure, is separated in him from its source and its totality; but, besides this, the shape that a man gives it always bears the stamp of the man’s weakness. He has only apprehended it partially, and he only produces a part of it. Accordingly, it is no longer the truth. Moreover, when he separates it from the whole circle of truth in which God has placed it, he must necessarily clothe it in a new form, in a garment which proceeds from man: at once error mixes with it. Thus it is no longer a vital part of the whole, it is partial, and thereby not the truth; and it is, in fact, mixed with error. That is theology.
The truth expressed by God in a perfect form in words of certainty
In the truth there is, when God expresses it, love, holiness, authority, as they are in Him the expression of His own relationships with man and of the glory of His being. When man gives it a shape, all this is wanting and cannot be in it, because it is man who shapes it. It is no longer God speaking. God gives it a perfect form; that is to say, He expresses the truth in words of certainty. If man gives it a form, it is no longer the truth given of God. Therefore, to hold fast the truth in the form God has given it, the type, the shape in which He has expressed it, is of all importance: we are in relationship with God in it according to the certainty of that which He has revealed. This is the sure resource of the soul, when the assembly has lost its power and its energy, and is no longer a sustainment to feeble souls; and that which bears its name no longer answers to the character given it, in the first epistle, “the pillar and support of the truth.”1
(1. The doctrines or dogmas of Scripture have their importance and their adaptation to the simplest soul in this, that they are facts, and so objects of faith, not notions. Thus Christ is God, Christ is man, the Holy Spirit is a person, and the like are facts for faith realized in the simplest soul.)
What is to be held fast
The truth, clear and positive truth, given as a revelation from God in the words-clothed with His authority-by which He has given the truth a form, communicating the facts and the divine thoughts which are necessary for the salvation of men and for their participation in divine life-this it is which we are to hold fast.
The form of sound words
We are only sure of the truth when we retain the very language of God which contains it. By grace I may speak of the truth in all liberty, I may seek to explain it, to communicate it, to urge it on the conscience, according to the measure of light and spiritual power bestowed upon me; I may endeavor to demonstrate its beauty and the connection between its various parts. Every Christian, and especially those who have a gift from God for the purpose, may do this. But the truth which I explain and propose is the truth as God has given it, and in His own words in the revelation He has made. I hold fast the form of sound words, which I have received from a divine source and authority: it gives me certainty in the truth.
The assembly’s duty in regard to the truth as subject to it and guided by it
And here it is important to remark the assembly’s part when faithful. She receives, she maintains the truth in her own faith; she guards it, she is faithful to it, she is subject to it, as a truth, a revelation, which comes from God Himself. She is not the source of the truth. As an assembly she does not propagate it-does not teach it. She says, “I believe,” not, “Believe.” This last is the function of ministry, in which man is always individually in relationship with God by means of a gift which he holds from God, and for the exercise of which he is responsible to God. This is all-important. Those who possess these gifts are members of the body. The assembly exercises her discipline with regard to all that is of the flesh in them, in the exercise or apparent exercise of a gift, as in all else. She preserves her own purity without respect of persons as to their outward appearance, being guided therein by the Word (for this is her responsibility); but she does not teach, she does not preach.
The assembly as the fruit of the Word and not its source
The Word goes before the assembly, for she has been gathered together by the Word. The apostles, a Paul, those who were scattered abroad by the persecution, a thousand faithful souls, have proclaimed the Word, and thus the assembly has been gathered out. It has been said that the assembly was before the Scriptures. As regards the written contents of the New Testament, this is true; but the preached Word was before the assembly. The assembly is its fruit, but is never its source. The edification even of the assembly, when it has been gathered together, comes direct from God, through the gifts which He has bestowed; the Holy Spirit distributing to each according to His will.
The preservation of the truth through the Scriptures; the possibility of error in preaching to be tried and judged by the Scriptures
The Scriptures are the means which God has used to preserve the truth, to give us certainty in it; seeing the fallibility of the instruments by whom it is propagated, since revelation has ceased.
If at the beginning He filled certain persons with His Spirit in such a way that error was excluded from their preaching, if besides this He then gave revelations in which there was nothing but His own word, yet as a general rule preaching is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the heart, and its spirituality is only in measure, and there is the possibility of error. Here, whatever may be the power of the Spirit’s work, we have to judge (see Acts 17:11; 1 Corinthians 14:29). Farther on we shall see that in forming this judgment, it is the Scriptures which assure those who are led of God.
Ministry, the assembly, and the written Word
We have thus in the ways of God respecting this subject three things closely united, yet different: ministry, the assembly, and the Word of God, that is, the written Word; when it is not written, it belongs to the order of ministry.
Ministry-as regards the Word, for this is not the only service- preaches to the world, and teaches or exhorts the members of the assembly.
The assembly enjoys communion with God, is fed, and grows by means of that with which its different members supply it. It preserves, and, in its confession, bears witness to the truth. It maintains holiness, and, by the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, enjoys mutual communion; and, in love, cares for the temporal need of all its members.
The written Word is the rule which God has given, containing all that He has revealed. It is complete (Col. 1:25). It can, because it is the truth, be the means of communicating the truth to a soul: the Holy Spirit can use it as a means; but at all events it is the perfect rule, the authoritative communication of the will and the mind of God, for the assembly.
Faithful obedience to mark the assembly, the minister and the individual
The assembly is subject, is to be faithful, to have no will. It does not reveal, it maintains by its confession, it watches over that which it has, it does not communicate; it has received and is faithfully to keep. The man directs, that is, Christ: the woman obeys and is faithful to her husband’s thoughts-at least ought to be so (1 Cor. 2): this is the assembly. The oracles of God are committed to her. She does not give them; she obeys them.
The minister is bound individually to the same faithfulness. This we understand; and in our epistle we have especially to do with this individual responsibility. That which the assembly is in this respect is revealed in the first epistle (ch. 3:15). Here it is the individual who is to hold fast this form of sound words which he has received from a divine source, for such the Apostle was, in his apostolic function, as an instrument. Neither Timothy nor the assembly could frame such a form of sound words; their part was to hold it fast, having received it.
And here, as we have said, however unfaithful the assembly may be, the individual is bound to be faithful and always to be so.
The inspired Word to be held fast in the form in which it has been expressed by divine authority in the Holy Spirit’s power; unfaithfulness contemplated
This, therefore, is what we have to do: the truth which is set before us in the inspired Word we are (and I am) to hold fast, in the form in which it is presented to us. I am to hold it fast, not merely as a proposition, but in union with the Head, in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus. Strength to fulfill comes from above. For here another point is brought before us. The Holy Spirit has been given indeed to the assembly; but a period of unfaithfulness is here contemplated (vs. 15). He has been given to the man of God, to each Christian, and to each servant with reference to the service appointed him. By the Holy Spirit we are to keep the good thing that has been committed to us. In days like those, this was the duty of the man of God; and in our day, things have gone much further. Possessing the promise of life, and forsaken by the mass of Christians, he is to hold fast the truth in the words in which it has been expressed by divine authority (this is what we have in the Word, and not merely doctrine: people may say that they have the doctrine of Peter and Paul, but they cannot say that they have their words, the form of the truth as Paul and Peter gave it, elsewhere than in their writings); and he is to hold it fast in faith and love, which are in Christ. Moreover, he is to keep, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the substance of the truth, that which has been given us as a treasure-the deposit of divine truth and riches, which has been given us as our portion here below.
The Apostle forsaken; the sentiments that should animate the man of God at such a time
In verses 15-18 we find that the mass had quite turned away from the Apostle, so that the affection and faithfulness of one became very precious to him. What a change already since the beginning of the gospel! Compare the Thessalonians, the Ephesians: they were the same people (for Ephesus was the capital of what is here called Asia) among whom Paul had preached, so that all Asia had heard the gospel; and see how they had all now forsaken him!
We must not, however, suppose that they had all abandoned the profession of Christianity; but their faith had become weak, and they did not like to identify themselves with a man who was in disgrace with the authorities, who was despised and persecuted, a prisoner-a man whose energy brought reproach and personal difficulties upon himself. They withdrew from him, and left him to answer alone for himself. Sad result of spiritual decline!

2 Timothy 2

Sentiments that should animate the man of God
But what sentiments should animate the man of God at such a moment? He must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Christ was not changed, whatever the case might be with men; and he who suffered from their desertion could, without being discouraged, exhort his beloved Timothy to persevere steadily in the Word. Nor do we find anywhere the man of God called to more full and unhesitating courage than in this epistle, which is the testimony of the failure and ruin of the assembly.
The truth to be kept, propagated and communicated to other faithful men
The truth was the special treasure committed to him; and he was not only to keep it, as we have seen, but to take care that it was propagated and communicated to others after him, and perhaps still further. That which he had heard from Paul in the presence of many witnesses (who could confirm Timothy in his convictions respecting the truth, and certify others that it was indeed what he had received from Paul) he was to communicate to faithful men, who were capable of teaching others. This was the ordinary means. It is not the Spirit in the assembly, so that the assembly was an authority; it is no longer revelation. Timothy, well instructed in the doctrine preached by the Apostle, and confirmed in his views by many other witnesses who had likewise learned of Paul, so that it was common to all as known, received truth, was to take care that it should be communicated to other faithful men. Neither had this anything to do with giving them authority, with consecrating them, as has been said. It is the communication to them of the truth which he had received from Paul.
This procedure shuts out the idea of the assembly as the propagator of the truth. It was the business of the faithful son in the faith of the Apostle, of the ministry.
Timothy himself not an authority but a communicator of known, revealed truth
Timothy himself was not an authority either. He was an instrument for the communication of the truth and was to enable others to be so likewise: a very different thing from being the rule of the truth. That which he had heard-and the other witnesses served as a guarantee against the introduction of anything false, or even of his own opinions, if he had been inclined to entertain them- that he was to communicate.
It is thus that, in the ordinary sense, ministry is continued; care is taken by competent persons for the communication, not of authority, but of the truth, to other faithful persons. God can raise up anyone whom He chooses and give him the energy of His Spirit; and where this is found, there is power and an effectual work: but the passage we are considering supposes the careful communication of the truth to persons fit for this work. Both principles equally shut out the idea of the communication of official authority, and the idea of the assembly being either an authority with regard to the faith or the propagator of the truth. If God raised up whom He pleased, in whatever way He pleased, the means which He employed (when there was no special operation on His part) was to cause the truth to be communicated to individuals capable of propagating it. This is a widely different thing from bestowing authority, or the exclusive or official right to preach. And it was known, revealed truth he was to communicate, that had the direct authority of revelation-what Paul’s writings can alone furnish us now, or, of course, other inspired writings.
The practical conditions of divine service
The Apostle goes on to show the qualities that Timothy ought to possess in order to carry on the work amid the circumstances that surrounded him, and in which the assembly itself was found. He must know how to endure hardships, vexations, difficulties, sorrows, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; he must beware of entangling himself with the affairs of life. A soldier, when in service, could not do so, but must be free from every hindrance, that he may please the one who had called him to arms. So also, as in the lists, he must fight according to rule, according to that which became the Lord’s servant and was conformable to the Lord’s will. And he must labor first, that he may have a right to enjoy the fruit of his labor. These are the practical conditions of divine service for whosoever engages in it. He must endure, be unentangled in the world, fight lawfully, and labor on first1 before he looked for fruits.
(1. Read “laboring first.”)
The fundamental principle of truth and the sufferings of ministry
The Apostle returns to the elementary but fundamental principles of the truth and to the sufferings of ministry, which, more
over, were in nowise a hindrance to the operations of the Spirit of God in extending the sphere in which the truth was propagated and the Word of God made known. Nothing could restrain the power of that instrument of the work of God.
The two pivots of the truth: God’s faithfulness and His power in resurrection
The truth of the gospel (dogma is not the subject here) was divided into two parts, of which the Apostle speaks also in the Epistle to the Romans: the fulfillment of the promises and the power of God in resurrection. “Jesus Christ, of the seed of David; raised from the dead.” These, in fact, are, as it were, the two pivots of the truth. God faithful to His promises (shown especially in connection with the Jews); and God mighty to produce an entirely new thing by His creative and quickening power, as manifested in the resurrection, which also put the seal of God upon the Person and the work of Christ.
Participation in the sufferings of Christ: its privileges and encouragements
The afflictions found in the path of service in the gospel assume here a high and peculiar character in the mind of the suffering and blessed Apostle. It is participation in the sufferings of Christ, and, in the case of Paul, to a very remarkable degree. The expressions he uses are such as might be employed in speaking of Christ Himself as regards His love. As to the propitiation, naturally no other could take part in that: but in devotedness and in suffering for love and for righteousness, we have the privilege of suffering with Him. And here what part had the Apostle with these sufferings? “I endure,” he says, “all things for the elect’s sakes.” This is truly what the Lord did. The Apostle trod closely on His footsteps and with the same purpose of love-“that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” Here, of course, the Apostle has to add, “Which is in Christ Jesus”; still, the language is marvelous in the lips of any other person than the Lord Himself. For it is what Christ did.
Observe also here that the greater the sufferings are (how small are ours on this account!) as the fruits of this love for the objects of the counsels of God, the greater is our privilege, the more do we participate in that which was the glory of Christ here below.
This thought sustains the soul in affliction of this kind: one has the same object as the Lord Himself. The energy of love in preaching the gospel addresses itself to the whole world. Perseverance, in the midst of affliction and difficulties and desertion, is sustained by the feeling that one is laboring for the accomplishment of God’s counsels. One endures all things for the elect, for God’s elect, in order that they may have salvation and eternal glory. This feeling was in Paul’s heart. He knew the love of God, and he sought-at the cost of whatever suffering it might be in the tumultuous sea of this world-that they who were the objects of the same love should enjoy the salvation and the glory which God bestowed. This was a faithful saying, that is, that which he had just declared; for if we should die with Christ, we should also live with Him; if we should suffer, we should also reign with Him. If any denied Him, He would also deny them; the consequences of such an act remained in all their force, they were linked with the immutability of His nature and His being, and were displayed in the authority of His judgment; He could not deny Himself because others were unfaithful.
Timothy strengthened and directed; the soul’s immutable refuge and its seal with two sides
Timothy was strengthened to maintain these great principles, which belonged to the moral nature of the Lord, and not allow himself to be drawn aside by speculations which only subverted souls and corrupted the faith. He was to show himself a workman approved of God, one who, being filled with the truth, and knowing how to unfold it in its various parts, according to the mind and purpose of God, would not be ashamed of his work in the presence of those who might judge it. The profane and useless thoughts of human speculation he was to avoid. They could not but go on to produce ungodliness. They might have a great show of depth and height (as in the case of the assertion that the resurrection had already taken place, which in a fleshly way went beyond all bounds with regard to our position in Christ)- these doctrines which eat like a canker. Those of whom the Apostle spoke had already overthrown the faith of some, that is, their conviction as to the truth and profession of the truth. But here the soul of the Apostle found its refuge in that which is immutable, be the failure of the assembly or man’s unfaithfulness ever so great. The sure foundation of God remained. It had this seal: the Lord knew them that were His. This was God’s side, which nothing could touch.1 The other was man’s: he who professed the name of the Lord was to depart from all iniquity. This was man’s responsibility, but it characterized the work and fruit of grace wherever that work was genuine and the true fruit borne.
(1. This, while a profound source of comfort, is a proof of decline; for men ought to know who are the Lord’s too. It is not, “The Lord added daily to the assembly such as should be saved.”)
The outward assembly assuming the character of a great house; individual faithfulness to purge oneself from what is evil established and set above all other considerations
But here we have distinct evidence of the state of things which this epistle contemplates: namely, that the outward assembly had taken quite a new character, very different from that which it had at the beginning; and that now the individual was thrown upon his personal faithfulness as a resource and as a means of escape from the general corruption. The sure foundation of God remained-His divine knowledge of those that are His; and individual separation from all evil; but the outward assembly assumes, in the eyes of the Apostle, the character of a great house. All kinds of things are found in it, vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor, precious and vile. The man of God was to purge himself from the latter, to stand apart and not defile himself with that which was false and corrupt. This is a principle of all-importance, which the Lord has given us in His Word. He allowed the evil to display itself in apostolic times, so far as to give occasion for the establishment of this principle by revelation, as that which was to govern the Christian. The unity of the assembly is so precious, it has such authority over the heart of man, that there was danger, when failure had set in, lest the desire for outward unity should induce even the faithful to accept evil and walk in fellowship with it, rather than break this unity. The principle, therefore, of individual faithfulness, of individual responsibility to God, is established and set above all other considerations; for it has to do with the nature of God Himself, and His own authority over the conscience of the individual. God knows them that are His: here is the ground of confidence. I do not say who are. And let those that name the name of Jesus separate themselves from all evil. Here I get what I can recognize. To maintain in practice the possibility of union between that name and evil is to blaspheme it.
The rule of Christian faithfulness for the vessel unto honor fit for the Master’s use
The whole of that which calls itself Christian is looked at here as a great house. The Christian is of it outwardly, in spite of himself; for he calls himself a Christian, and the great house is all that calls itself Christian. But he cleanses himself personally from every vessel which is not to the Lord’s honor. This is the rule of Christian faithfulness; and thus personally cleansed from fellowship with evil, he shall be a vessel unto honor fit for the Master’s use. Whatsoever is contrary to the honor of Christ, in those who bear His name, is that from which he is to separate himself.
Discipline for individual faults is not the subject here, nor the restoration of souls in an assembly that has in part lost its spirituality; but a line of conduct for the individual Christian in respect of that which dishonors the Lord in any way.
These instructions are solemn and important. That which makes them needful is sorrowful in its nature; but it all helps to exhibit the faithfulness and grace of God. The direction is plain and precious when we find ourselves in similar circumstances. Individual responsibility can never cease.
Individual responsibility to God and His will can never cease nor diminish, even when Christendom fails
When the Holy Spirit acts energetically and triumphs over the power of the enemy, these individuals who are gathered together in the assembly develop their life in it according to God and His presence, and the spiritual power which exists in the whole body acts upon the conscience, if needed, and guides the heart of the believer: so that the individual and the assembly flow on together under the same influence. The Holy Spirit, who is present in the assembly, sustains the individual at the height of God’s own presence. Strangers even are obliged to confess that God is there. Love and holiness reign. When the effect of this power is no longer found in the assembly, and by degrees Christendom no longer answers to the character of the assembly as God formed it, yet the responsibility of the individual to God has not ceased on that account. It can never either cease or diminish, for the authority and the rights of God Himself over the soul are at stake.
The character of individual responsibility
But in a case like this, that which calls itself Christian is no longer a guide, and the individual is bound to conform himself to the will of God, by the power of the Spirit, according to the light he has from God.
God may gather the faithful together. It is grace on His part; it is also His mind. But individual responsibility remains-responsibility not to break the unity, feeble as it may be, wherever it is possible according to God: but responsibility to preserve the divine character of Christianity in our walk and to respond to the revelation we have received of His nature and of His will.
Separation unto Christ and from evil
By purging himself from all those who are unto dishonor, the servant of God shall be unto honor, sanctified and prepared for every good work. For this separation from evil is not merely negative; it is the effect of the realization of the Word of God in the heart. I then understand what the holiness of God is, His rights over my heart, the incompatibility of His nature with evil. I feel that I dwell in Him and He in me; that Christ must be honored at all costs; that that which is like Him alone honors Him; that His nature and His rights over me are the only rule of my life. That which thus separates me unto Him, and according to what He is, separates me thereby from evil. One cannot walk with those who dishonor Him, and, at the same time, honor Him in one’s own walk.
The sanctifying character of the exhortation; the rule to distinguish and associate with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart
That which follows shows the sanctifying character of this exhortation. The Apostle says, “Flee also youthful lusts; but seek righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” This is to breathe the pure atmosphere which is found in the Lord’s presence; in which the soul enjoys health and strength. All that corrupts is far away. And, further, we find, what is so often contested, that we can and are to distinguish those who call on the name of the Lord out of a pure heart. We do not decide who are the Lord’s: He knows them. But we are to associate ourselves with those who manifest themselves, such as call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Those I am to know, own and walk with. The statement that I cannot know who these are is in defiance of an express rule of Scripture, applicable to a state where, through corruption, many who may possess Christianity are not so manifested.
The avoidance of vain questions
As we find throughout these epistles, the Apostle exhorts to avoid vain questions, in which there is no divine instruction. They only produce barren discussions and strife; and the servant of the Lord is not to strive. He comes, on God’s part, to bring the truth in peace and love. He is to maintain this character in the expectation that God, in His grace, will give repentance to those who oppose (for it is the heart and conscience that are in question), that they may acknowledge the truth.
The truth of God addressed to the heart and conscience; Satan’s error occupying the mind
The truth of God is not a thing of human understanding; it is the revelation of that which God is, and of His counsels. Now we cannot have to do with God without the heart and conscience being engaged. It is not the revelation to us of God, if this is not the case. Christians are brought into connection with the divine being Himself, and in acts which ought to have the most powerful effect on the heart and conscience; if they do not, both the one and the other are in a bad state and hardened. The Spirit of God, no doubt, acts on the understanding and by it; but the truth lodged in it is addressed to the conscience and to the heart, and if these are not reached by the truth, nothing is done. Nor indeed is anything really understood till they are. For in divine truth things are understood before words, as “born again” (compare John 8:43). On the other hand, by means of error, by occupying the mind with the error, Satan shuts God out of it and leads the whole man captive, so that he does the will of that enemy to the soul.

2 Timothy 3

Perilous days; the enemy’s influence and work in Christendom
Now this evil influence would too surely be exercised. The power of the holy truth of God would be lost in the assembly and among Christians; and those who bore this name would become (under the influence of the enemy) the expression of the will and passions of man, while still maintaining the forms of godliness; a peculiar condition, which betrays in a remarkable way the influence and the work of the enemy. This was to be expected; and they would be perilous days.
The enemy deceiving souls by a form of godliness; the activity of this evil; God’s exposure and judgment of its teachers
The open opposition of the enemy is doubtless a painful thing, but he deceives souls by the specious appearances of which the Apostle here speaks-that which bears the name of Christianity, that which before men has the character of godliness, and which the flesh will accept as such much more readily than that which, because it is true godliness, is contrary to the flesh. Nevertheless, all the worst features of the human heart are linked with the name of Christianity. What then does the testimony become? It is, so to speak, an individual prophecy, clothed in sackcloth.
There is activity in this perilous evil of the last days: these deceivers would creep into houses and gain the ear of feeble souls, who, governed by their passions, are ever learning yet never learn. Teachers like these resist the truth, they are men of corrupt minds, reprobate as to the faith; but they shall proceed no further. God will make manifest their folly and their falseness by means even of their own pretensions, which they can no longer maintain.
The man of God is to turn away from such men, while they are yet deceiving and exercising their influence. God will expose them in due time. All will then judge them and condemn their pretensions; the spiritual man does so while they are deceiving the others in security.
Heathen degradation reproduced under Christianity, accompanied by hypocrisy; departure from and corruption of the true doctrine of the mediator
We may remark here that which evidences the sad and dangerous character of the days of which the Apostle is speaking. If we compare the lists of sins and abominations which Paul gives at the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans as characterizing heathen life and the moral degradation of men during those times of darkness and demon worship with the catalog of sins that characterize those who have the form of godliness, we shall find that it is nearly the same, and morally quite the same; only that some of the open sins which mark the man who has no outward restraint are wanting here, the form of godliness precluding them and taking their place.
It is a solemn thought that the same degradation which existed among heathens is reproduced under Christianity, covering itself with that name, and even assuming the form of godliness. But, in fact, it is the same nature, the same passions, the same power of the enemy, with but the addition of hypocrisy. It is only the departure from and corruption of the true doctrine of the mediator; as paganism was that of the true doctrine of the only God.
The conduct of the man of God with regard to the vessels unto dishonor
Different directions are given for the conduct of the man of God, with regard to the vessels unto dishonor, and the men who act in the spirit of the last days. From the former he is to purge himself: he is to think of faithfulness in his own walk; and by cleansing himself from those vessels which do not honor the name of Christ, which (although in the great house) do not bear the stamp of a pure desire for His glory, he shall be a vessel unto honor, fit for the Master’s use. By keeping apart from such vessels, he is sheltered from the influences that impoverish and degrade the testimony he has to render to Christ, he is pure from that which deteriorates and falsifies that testimony.
His conduct and testimony to the corrupt opposers of the truth
In the other case-that of the men who gave the character of “perilous” to the last days, the corrupt opposers of the truth, bearing the name of godliness-with regard to these his testimony is to be distinct and plain. Here he is not merely to cleanse himself; he testifies his moral abhorrence, his loathing, of those who, being the instruments of the enemy, bear this character of formal piety. He turns away from them and leaves them to the judgment of God.
Timothy’s pattern
Timothy had the walk and spirit of the Apostle for his pattern. He had been much with him; he had seen, in times of trial, his patience and his sufferings, the persecutions he had endured; but the Lord had delivered him out of all. It would be the same with all who sought to live according to godliness, which is in Christ Jesus:1 they should endure persecution. Evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse, deceiving others, and being, at the same time, deceived themselves.
(1. We get the difference of the state of things in this case also. It is not all Christians who will be persecuted, but all who will live godly in Christ Jesus.)
The character of the last days and the twofold progress of evil
The character of the last days is strongly marked here and gives no hope for Christianity as a whole. The progress of evil is described as developing itself in two distinct characters, to which we have already alluded. The great house-Christendom as a whole-in which there are vessels to dishonor, from which we are to purge ourselves, and the positive activity of corruption, and of the instruments who propagate it and resist the truth, although they who corrupt themselves assume the form of godliness. Under this last aspect the wicked will go on growing worse and worse; nevertheless, the hand of God in power will demonstrate their folly.
The character of the seducers and of the mass seduced
We may distinguish, in this second category, the general character of pride and corruptness in all who submit to this malignant influence, and those who themselves labor to extend it. Of the latter of this class, the Apostle says, are they who creep into houses. The character is that of the mass who are seduced; but there are seducers. These resist the truth, and their folly shall be manifested. It may be that God may demonstrate it, wherever there is faithfulness, in order to save His own from it; but, in general, their evil work will go on, and the seduction grow worse and worse, until the end, when God will make manifest the folly of those who have departed from Him, and given themselves up to the errors of the human mind, and labored to maintain and propagate them.
Timothy’s safeguard-the truth received as a divine communication through individuals such as the apostles
The Apostle then tells Timothy of the safeguard on which he may rely to preserve himself, through grace, steadfast in the truth, and in the enjoyment of the salvation of God. Security rests upon the certainty of the immediate origin of the doctrine which he had received; and upon the scriptures received, as authentic and inspired documents, which announced the will, the acts, the counsels, and even the nature of God. We abide in that which we have learned, because we know from whom we have learned it. The principle is simple and very important. We advance in divine knowledge, but (so far as we are taught of God) we never give up, for new opinions, that which we have learned from an immediately divine source, knowing that it is so. By a source immediately divine, I mean, a person to whom God Himself has communicated the truth by revelation with authority to promulgate it. In this case I receive what he says (when I know him to be such) as a divine communication. It is true that the Scriptures always remain as a counter proof, but when-as in the case of the apostles-a man is proved to be the minister of God, gifted by Him for the purpose of communicating His mind, I receive what he says in the exercise of his ministry as coming from God. It is not the assembly that is in view in this case. It cannot be the vessel of divine truth directly communicated to it from God. Individuals are always that. We have seen that its part is to confess the truth when communicated, not to communicate it. But we here speak of a person to whom and by whom God immediately reveals the truth-such as the apostles and prophets. God has communicated to them, as elect vessels for this purpose, that which He desired to communicate to the world, and they have so communicated. None could do it who had not received it himself from God as a revelation: if this is not the case, the man himself has some part in it. I could not then say, “I know of whom I have learned it,” as knowing that it came immediately from God and by divine revelation.
When God had something to communicate to the assembly itself, He did it by means of such persons as Paul and Peter. The assembly is composed of individuals; it cannot receive a divine revelation in a mass, as the assembly, except it be by hearing in common a divine voice, which is not God’s way. The Holy Spirit distributes to everyone, severally as He will. There are prophets, and the Spirit says, “Separate unto me Barnabas and Paul.” Christ has given gifts to men, some apostles, some prophets, etc. Accordingly, the Apostle says here, not “where,” but “of whom” thou hast learned these things.
Divine truth directly made known by inspiration to such men as Paul with authority to impart it
Here, then, is the first foundation of certainty, strength and assurance for the man of God with regard to divine truth. It has not been revealed to him immediately. It was Paul and other instruments, whom God chose for this special favor. But he knows of whom he has learned it; even of one (here it was Paul) to whom it had been directly made known by inspiration, and who has authority from God to impart; so that they who learn of him know that it is divine truth, exactly as God communicated it (compare 1 Corinthians 2), and in the form in which He was pleased to communicate it.
The Holy Scriptures, the written Word, a permanent authority and revelation, contrasted with the unrecorded prophecies which were not necessary for nor applicable to God’s people at all times
There is another means, which has a character of its own; the Scriptures, which are as such the foundation of faith to the man of God, and which direct him in all his ways. The Lord Jesus Himself said (speaking of Moses), “If ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” His words were the words of God; He does not contrast the authority of what He said with that of the written word, but the means of communication. God has been pleased to employ that means as a permanent authority. Peter says, “No prophecy of scripture . . .” There have been many prophecies which are not written; they had the authority of God for those persons to whom they were addressed. For the Word speaks more than once of prophets-who must therefore have prophesied-without communicating their prophecies to us. They were instruments for making known the will of God, at the moment, in order to guide His people in their actual circumstances, without its being a revelation necessary to the people of God at all times, or applicable either to the world, to Israel, or to the assembly in all ages. It was not a general and permanent revelation from God for the instruction of the soul at all periods.
A multitude of things, spoken by Jesus Himself, are not reproduced in the Scriptures; so that it is not only a question of from whom we have heard a truth, but also of the character of that which has been communicated. When it is for the permanent profit of the people or the assembly of God, God caused it to be written in the Scriptures, and it abides for the instruction and the food of His children in all ages.
The apostles as teachers authorized by the Lord; the entire Holy Scripture having authority as making known God’s will and truth
The expression, “Knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” establishes us on personal, apostolic authority, viewing the apostles as teachers authorized by the Lord. John says, “They who are of God hear us.” It is not necessary that Scripture should be written by apostles; God has made known therein His will and the truth, and has committed the sacred deposit to His people for the profit of all ages. The Scriptures have authority as such. And it is not that which, as a spiritual man, one may receive from them, that by which we have profited (as to application to one’s soul that is indeed all); but it is the entire Holy Scripture, such as we possess it, which has this authority.
The Scriptures as divine authority to guard against error and
give instruction; faith in Christ requisite to use them aright
From his childhood Timothy had read the Holy Scriptures; and these writings, such as he had read them as a child, guarded him-as divine authority-against error, and furnished him with the divine truths needful for his instruction. To use them aright, faith in Christ was requisite: but that which he used was the scripture known from his youth. The important thing to observe here is that the Apostle is speaking of the Scriptures, as they are in themselves, such as a child reads them; not even of that which a converted or spiritual man finds in them, but simply the holy writings themselves.
The Old and New Testaments having the same character and authority
It may perhaps be said that Timothy as a child possessed only the Old Testament. Agreed: but what we have here is the character of all that has a right to be called Holy Scripture. As Peter says as to the writings of Paul, these “they wrest, as they do also THE OTHER SCRIPTURES.”1 From the moment that we acknowledge the New Testament as having a title to that name, its writings possess the same character and have the same authority as the Old Testament.
(1. This, too, is the real sense of Romans 16:26, where we should read, “By prophetic writings.”)
What the Scriptures are; their inspiration
The Scriptures are the permanent expression of the mind and will of God furnished as such with His authority. They are His expression of His own thoughts. They edify, they are profitable: but this is not all-they are inspired. It is not only that the truth is given in them by inspiration. It is not this which is here stated. They are inspired.
The double source of authority of the greater part of the New Testament
The greater part of the New Testament is comprised in the first source of authority, “knowing of whom thou hast learned them,” namely, all that which the apostles have written; because, in learning the truth therein, I can say I know from whom I have learned it-I have learned it from Paul or from John or from Peter. But, besides this, being received as scriptures, they have the authority of divine writings, to which, as a form of communication, God has given the preference above the spoken word. They are the permanent rule by which every spoken word is to be judged.
The object and power of the inspired Scriptures
In a word, the Scriptures are inspired. They teach, they judge the heart, they correct, they discipline according to righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, that is, thoroughly instructed in the will of God, his mind formed after that will and completely furnished for every good work. The power for performing these comes from the actings of the Spirit. Safeguard from error, wisdom unto salvation, flow from the Scriptures; they are capable of supplying them. We are to abide in that which we have learned from the apostles and to be governed by the writings of God.
The Scriptures the foundation and warrant of the ministry of the Word, silencing all opposition in the believer
Does this perfect and supreme authority of the Scriptures set aside ministry? By no means; it is the foundation of the ministry of the Word. One is a minister of the Word; one proclaims the Word-resting on the written Word-which is authority for all, and the warrant for all that a minister says, and imparting to his words the authority of God over the conscience of those whom he teaches or exhorts. There is, in addition to this, the activity of love in the heart of him who exercises this ministry (if it be real), and the powerful action of the Spirit, if he be filled with the Holy Spirit. But that which the Word says silences all opposition in the heart or mind of the believer.
It was thus that the Lord answered Satan, and Satan himself was reduced to silence.
The Scriptures as the rule given of God; the action of the Spirit is in ministry; the Word of God our authority since the subjects of revelation were completed by Paul
He who does not submit to the words of God thereby shows himself to be a rebel against God. The rule given of God is in the Scriptures; the energetic action of His Spirit is in ministry, although God can equally act upon the heart immediately by the Word itself. Nevertheless, ministry, since the revelations of God were completed, could not be an authority, or there would be two authorities; and if two, one must be a needless repetition of the other, or else, if they differed, no authority at all.
If the revelations were not complete, no doubt there might be more. The Old Testament left untold the history of Christ, the mission of the Holy Spirit, the formation of the assembly; because these facts not being yet accomplished could not be the subject of its historical and doctrinal instructions, and the assembly was not even the subject of prophecy. But all is now complete, as Paul tells us that he was a minister of the assembly to complete the Word of God (Col. 1:25). The subjects of revelation were then completed.

2 Timothy 4

Timothy solemnly exhorted to more energetically devote himself to ministry because of the assembly’s decline and its worse future condition
Observe that the Apostle insists, as a matter of responsibility, that Timothy should devote himself to his ministry with so much the more energy that the assembly was declining, and self-will in Christians was gaining the ascendancy; not that he throws any doubt upon its being a constant duty to do so at all times, whether happy or unhappy. The Apostle, as we have seen, has two different periods in view; the decline of the assembly, which had already begun, and the still worse condition that was yet future. The special application of the exhortation here is to the first period, “Be instant,” he says, “in season, out of season . . . for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine . . . and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
In how positive and distinct a way the Apostle sets the fall of the assembly before us! Its impaired condition in his day was to him but a point of progress (according to his judgment in the Spirit) towards a yet more entire fall; when, although still calling itself Christian, the mass of those who assumed the name of Christ would no longer endure the sound doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But, come what might, laboring with patience and diligence and energy as long as they would hearken, he was to be watchful, to endure afflictions, to seek after souls still unconverted (a great proof of faith when the heart is burdened with the unfaithfulness of those within), and fully to exercise his ministry; with this additional motive, that apostolic energy was disappearing from the scene (ch. 4:6).
The appearing of the Lord in connection with responsibility: individuals and Christendom judged
But there is yet something to notice at the beginning of this chapter. Fullness of grace, it is apparent, does not here characterize the epistle. His exhortation to Timothy is “before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the quick and dead at his appearing and his kingdom.” We have already spoken of this: the appearing of Jesus is in connection with responsibility; His coming is with the object of calling us to Himself in connection with our privileges. Here it is the first of these two cases; not the assembly or the Father’s house, but God, the appearing and the kingdom. All that is in relation to responsibility, government, judgment, is gathered together in one point of view. The Apostle, however, is not speaking of the assembly, nor does he throughout the epistle. The assembly, moreover, as such, is not judged; she is the bride of the Lamb. Individuals are judged. Christendom, which bears its name and responsibility, and necessarily so while the Holy Spirit is here below, is judged. We are warned of it in Ephesus (Rev. 2). Nay, judgment begins there. This is the assembly viewed as the house, not the body.
Grace and not judgment as the portion of the assembly
The portion of the assembly, and even of its members as such, is grace and not judgment. She goes to meet the Lord before His appearing. Here the Apostle speaks of His appearing and His kingdom. It is as appearing in glory and clothed with the authority of the kingdom that He exercises judgment. The presentation of the assembly to Himself completes the work of grace with regard to that assembly. When the Lord appears, we shall appear with Him in glory; but it will be the glory of the kingdom (as we see in the transfiguration), and He will judge the living.
The authority of the kingdom of Christ; judgment to be exercised
He will maintain the authority of His kingdom, as a new order of things, for a long period; and judgment will be exercised, if the occasion for it arises, during its whole continuance, for a king shall reign in righteousness; judgment and righteousness will be united. Before giving back this kingdom to God the Father, He judges the dead, for all judgment is committed to the Son. So that the kingdom is a new order of things founded on His appearing, in which judgment is exercised. The kingdom is founded by the exclusion of Satan from heaven. It is established and its authority put in exercise at the appearing of the Lord.
The consciousness that this judgment is going to be exercised gives an impulse to love in the carrying out of ministry, gives it earnestness, and strengthens the hands by the sense of union with Him who will exercise it and also by the sense of personal responsibility.
The Apostle’s near departure making the duty of a man of God more urgent
The Apostle uses his near departure as a fresh motive to exhort Timothy to the full exercise of his ministry. His own heart expands at the thought of that departure.
The absence, therefore, of apostolic ministry, so serious a fact with regard to the assembly’s position, makes the duty of the man of God the more urgent. As Paul’s absence is a motive for working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, so is it also a motive for him who is engaged in the work of the gospel to devote himself more than ever to his ministry, in order to supply as far as possible the lack of apostolic service by earnest care for souls, and by instructing them in the truth that he has learned.
Building upon the one foundation already laid
We cannot be apostles or lay the foundation of the assembly. This is already done. But we may build upon that foundation by the truth which we have received from the Apostle, by the Scriptures which God has given us, by an unwearied love in the truth for souls. The foundation is not to be laid a second time. We give its value to the foundation, we give it its place, by building upon it, and by caring for the souls and the assembly, to which apostleship has given an ever-abiding place and foundation before God. This is what we have to do in the absence of the gift that lays the foundation.
The character that God appointed has already been stamped on the work: the one foundation has been laid. The assembly has its one and sole place according to the counsels of God. The rule given of God is in the Word. We have but to act as the Apostle leads according to the impulse already given by the Spirit. We cannot have apostolic authority: no one is an apostle in any such sense. This could not be, because we do not lay the foundation; it would be to deny that which has already been done. The foundation has been laid. We can labor according to the measure of our gift; and so much the more devotedly, in proportion as we love the work which the Apostle wrought and because he is no longer here to sustain it.
The Apostle’s work; the reward for his labor and faithfulness
As to the Apostle, he had finished his work; if others were unfaithful, he had been faithful. In the good fight of the gospel of God he had fought to the end and successfully resisted all the attacks of the enemy. He had finished his course: it only remained for him to be crowned. He had kept the faith committed to him. The crown of righteousness, that is to say, the one bestowed by the righteous Judge who acknowledged his faithfulness, was laid up and kept for him. It was not till the day of retribution that he would receive it. We see plainly that it is reward for labor and for faithfulness that is here meant. This—or its opposite—characterizes the whole epistle, and not the privileges of grace.
Each one rewarded according to his own labor and our common portion in grace; what the Lord’s appearing will effect; love for the One who will appear
The work of the Spirit through us is rewarded by the crown of righteousness, and everyone will have a reward according to his labor. Christ brings us all according to the grace of God into the enjoyment of His own glory to be with Him and like Him. This is our common portion according to the eternal counsels of God; but a place is prepared by the Father and given by the Son according to the work wrought by the power of the Spirit in each believer in his particular position. It is not Paul only who will receive this crown from the righteous Judge; all who love the Lord’s appearing will appear with Him in the glory that is personally destined to each, and that is adjudged to him when the Lord appears. Detached from this world, sensible that it is a perverse and rebellious one, feeling how much the dominion of Satan burdens the heart, the faithful long for the appearance of Him who will put an end to that dominion, to rebellion, oppression and misery, by bringing in—in His goodness, although by judgment—deliverance, peace, and freedom of heart, on the earth.
The Christian will share the Lord’s glory when He shall appear: but this world also will be delivered.
We see here, too, that the privileges of the assembly as such are not the subject, but the public retribution manifested when Jesus shall appear to all; and the public establishment of His glory. The heart loves His appearing; not only the removal of evil, but the appearance of Him who removes it.
The progress of evil; Paul isolated and alone, forsaken by Demas from purely worldly motives
In that which follows we see what progress the evil had already made, and how the Apostle counts upon the individual affection of his dear son in the faith. Probably there were good reasons for the departure of many, certainly for that of some; nevertheless, it is true that the first thing that presents itself to the Apostle’s mind is the departure of Demas from purely worldly motives. The Apostle felt himself isolated. Not only had the mass of Christians abandoned him, but his companions in labor had gone away. In the providence of God he was to be alone. He begs Timothy to come soon. Demas had forsaken him. The rest, from various motives, had quitted him; some he had sent away in connection with the work. It is not said that Demas had ceased to be a Christian-had publicly renounced the Lord; but it was not in his heart to bear the cross with the Apostle.
Mark, who once had failed, now faithful and useful; Paul’s opportunity to study and write
In the midst of these sorrows a ray of grace and light shines through the darkness. The presence of Mark-whose service Paul had formerly refused, because he had shrunk from the perils of laboring among the Gentiles and had turned back to Jerusalem-is now desired by him, because he was useful for the ministry. It is most interesting to see, and a touching proof of the grace of God, that the afflictions of the Apostle and the work of grace in Mark combine to set before us, as faithful and useful to Paul, the one who once had failed, and with whom the Apostle would then have nothing to do. We also see the affections and confidence displayed in the smallest details of life. Full of power by the Spirit of God, the Apostle is gentle, intimate and confiding with those who are upright and devoted. We see too that at the close of his life, devoted as he was, the occasion had presented itself for study (in connection assuredly with his work) and for writing that which he wished carefully to preserve-possibly his epistles.
This has an important place in scriptural instruction with regard to the life of the Apostle. Paul was lost, so to speak, for the greater part, in the power of the Spirit; but when alone, with sober mind, he occupies himself intelligently and carefully about the things of God.
Timothy warned as to an enemy whose reward will be a righteous one; God overruling all; Paul’s strong and simple confidence
He warns Timothy with regard to a man who had shown his enmity, and puts him on his guard against him.
We see here also that the epistle bears the character of righteousness, grace having had its course. “The Lord,” he says, “reward him according to his deeds.” As for those who had not courage to stand by him, when he had to answer as a prisoner, he only prays for them. He had not been discouraged. His heart, broken by the unfaithfulness of the assembly, was strong in confessing the Lord before the world, and he can testify that, if forsaken by men, the Lord Himself stood with him and strengthened him. That he had to answer before the authorities was but an occasion to proclaim again in public that for which he was made a prisoner. Glorious power of the gospel where faith is in exercise! All that the enemy can do becomes a testimony, in order that the great, kings, those who were otherwise inaccessible, should hear the word of truth, the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The faithful witness was also delivered out of the lion’s mouth. His strong and simple confidence counted on the Lord to the end. He would preserve him from every evil work unto His heavenly kingdom.
The time of his departure was at hand but it was to be with his Lord and have a place in the heavenly kingdom
If the time of his departure was at hand, if he had to fall asleep instead of being changed, he had not ceased to be among those who looked for the Lord’s appearing. Meanwhile, he was going to be with Him, to have a place in the heavenly kingdom.
No miraculous power granted to the apostles for their private interests
He salutes the brethren with whom Timothy was connected and begs him to come before the winter. We also learn here that the miraculous power granted to the apostles was exercised in the Lord’s service, and not for their private interests, nor as their personal affection might suggest; for Paul had left Trophimus sick at Miletus.
The sorrowful circumstances under which the epistle was written; Paul’s testimony and courage
It is evident that this epistle was written when the Apostle thought his departure near at hand and when the faith of Christians had grievously declined, which was proved by their having forsaken the Apostle. His faith was sustained by grace. He did not hide from himself that all was going wrong: his heart felt it-was broken by it; he saw that it would grow worse and worse. But his own testimony stood firm; he was strong for the Lord through grace. The strength of the Lord was with him to confess Christ and to exhort Timothy to so much the more diligent and devoted an exercise of his ministry, because the days were evil.
Love to the Lord makes us sensible of the ruin
of the assembly but gives confidence in Him
as never-failing in faithfulness amid the ruin
This is very important. If we love the Lord, if we feel what He is to the assembly, we feel that in the latter all is in ruin. Personal courage is not weakened, for the Lord remains ever the same, faithful, and using His power for us: if not in the assembly which rejects it, it is in those who stand fast that He will exercise His power according to the individual need created by this state of things.
May we remember this. Insensibility to the state of the assembly is not a proof that we are near the Lord, or that we have confidence in Him; but in the consciousness of this ruin, faith, the sense of what Christ is, will give confidence in Him amid the ruin which we mourn. Nevertheless, it will be observed that the Apostle speaks here of the individual, of righteousness, of judgment, and not of the assembly. If the latter is spoken of outwardly as the great house, it contains vessels to dishonor, from which we are to purge ourselves. Yet the Apostle foresaw a still worse state of things-which has now set in. But the Lord can never fail in His faithfulness.
The directions given in 1 Timothy and those of 2 Timothy
The first of Timothy gives directions for the order of the assembly; the second, for the path of the servant of God when it is in disorder and failure.

TITUS

The object of the epistle to Titus and those to Timothy
The Epistle to Titus is occupied with the maintenance of order in the churches of God.
The special object of those written to Timothy was the maintenance of sound doctrine, although speaking of other things with regard to which the Apostle gives directions for the conduct of Timothy. This the Apostle himself tells us. In the First Epistle to Timothy we see that Paul had left his beloved son in the faith at Ephesus, in order to watch that no other doctrine was preached there; the assembly is the pillar and support of the truth. In the second epistle we find the means by which Christians are to be strengthened in the truth when the mass have departed from it.

Titus 1

The subject of the book: its character and tone
Here, in Titus, the Apostle says expressly that he had left him in Crete to set in order things that were yet wanting and to establish elders in every city. Although more or less the same dangers presented themselves to the mind of Paul as when writing to Timothy, yet we find that the Apostle enters at once upon his subject, with a calmness which shows that his mind was not preoccupied in the same way with those dangers, and that the Spirit could engage him more entirely with the ordinary walk of the assembly; so that this epistle is much more simple in its character. The walk that becomes Christians, with regard to the maintenance of order in their relationships to each other, and the great principles on which this walk is founded, form the subject of the book. The state of the assembly comes but little before us. Truths that flow more entirely from the Christian revelation, and that characterize it, have more place in this epistle than in those addressed to Timothy. On the other hand, prophecies concerning the future condition of Christianity and the development of the decline that had already commenced are not repeated here. While stating in a remarkable way certain truths with respect to Christianity, the tone of the epistle is more calm, more ordinary.
The promise of life and the revelation of God as the Father distinguishing Christianity from Judaism
The promise of life is particularly spoken of here as well as in Timothy. Moreover, this promise distinguishes Christianity, and the revelation of God (as the Father) in Christ, from Judaism.
The great boundaries of Christianity set forth as characterizing Paul’s apostleship and the subject of his ministry
But in this epistle the great boundaries of Christianity are set forth at the outset. The faith of the elect, the truth which is according to godliness, the promise before the world began of eternal life, and the manifestation of the Word of God through preaching are the subjects of the introduction. The title of “Saviour” is here, as in Timothy, added to the name of God as well as to that of Christ.
The revelation of a life subsisting before the world was; the faith of the elect
This introduction is not without importance. That which it contains is presented to Titus by the Apostle as characterizing his apostleship, and as the special subject of his ministry. It was not a development of Judaism, but the revelation of a life and of a promise of life which subsisted (that is, in Christ, the object of the divine counsels) before the world was. Accordingly, faith was found, not in the confession of the Jews, but in the elect brought by grace to the knowledge of the truth. It was the faith of the elect: this is an important truth, and that which characterizes faith in the world. Others may indeed adopt it as a system; but faith is in itself the faith of the elect.
Among the Jews this was not the case. The public confession of their doctrine, and confidence in the promises of God, belonged to everyone who was born an Israelite. Others may pretend to the Christian faith; but it is the faith of the elect. Its character is such that human nature neither embraces it nor conceives it, but finds it to be a stumbling-stone. It discloses a relationship with God, which to nature is inconceivable and at the same time presumptuous and insupportable. To the elect it is the joy of their soul, the light of their understanding, and the sustainment of their heart. It places them in a relationship with God which is all that their heart can desire, but which depends entirely on that which God is; and this the believer desires. It is a personal relationship with God Himself; therefore, it is the faith of God’s elect. Hence, also, it is for all the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
Faith in the heart and confession of the truth before men
This faith of God’s elect has an intimate character in relation to God Himself. It rests on Him, it knows the secret of His eternal counsels-that love which made the elect the object of His counsels. But there is another character connected with it, namely, confession before men. There is the revealed truth by which God makes Himself known and claims the submission of man’s mind and the homage of his heart. This truth places the soul in a true relationship with God. It is truth according to godliness.
The confession of the truth, therefore, is an important character of Christianity and of the Christian. There is in the heart the faith of the elect, personal faith in God and in the secret of His love; and there is confession of the truth.
The hope of faith-eternal life having its source in God
Now that which formed the hope of this faith was not earthly prosperity, a numerous posterity, the earthly blessing of a people whom God acknowledged as His own. It was life eternal, promised of God in Christ before the world was, outside the world and the divine government of the world and the development of the character of Jehovah in that government.
It was eternal life. It is in connection with the nature and with the character of God Himself; and, having its source in Him, proceeding from Him, it was the thought of His grace, and declared to be such in Christ, before a world existed into which the first man was introduced in responsibility (his failure in which is his history up to Christ, the second Man, and the cross in which He bore its consequences for us, and obtained that eternal life for us in its full glory with Himself) and which was the sphere of the development of God’s government over that which was subject to Him-a very different thing from the communion of a life by which one participates in His nature, and which is its reflection. This is the hope of the gospel (for we are not speaking of the assembly here), the secret treasure of the faith of the elect, of which the revealed Word assures us.
Life eternal promised before the world began
“Promised before the world began” is a remarkable and important expression. One is admitted into the thoughts of God before the existence of this changing and mingled scene, which bears witness of the frailty and sin of the creature-of the patience of God, and His ways in grace and in government. Eternal life is connected with the unchangeable nature of God; with counsels which are as abiding as His nature, with His promises, in which He cannot deceive us, and to which He cannot be unfaithful. Our portion in life existed before the foundation of the world, not only in the counsels of God, not only in the Person of the Son, but in the promises made to the Son as our portion in Him. It was the subject of those communications from the Father to the Son, of which we were the objects, the Son being their depositary.1 Marvelous knowledge which has been given us of the heavenly communication of which the Son was the object, in order that we might understand the interest which we have in the thoughts of God, of which we were the objects in Christ before all the ages!
(1. Compare Proverbs 8:30-31, and Luke 2:14, and Psalm 40:6-8, “hast thou opened” being really, “thou hast dug ears for me”-that is, prepared a body, the place of obedience, or a servant (Phil. 2); so translated by LXX and accepted in Hebrews as just.)
The Word as the communication of God’s eternal thoughts in Christ, the revelation on which faith is founded
That which the Word is becomes also more clear to us through this passage. The Word is the communication, in time, of the eternal thoughts of God Himself in Christ. It finds man under the power of sin and reveals peace and deliverance, and it shows how he can have part in the result of God’s thoughts. But these thoughts themselves are nothing else than the plan, the eternal purpose, of His grace in Christ, to bestow on us everlasting life in Christ-a life which existed in God before the world was. The Word is preached, manifested (that is, the revelation of the thoughts of God in Christ). Now those thoughts gave us eternal life in Christ; and this was promised before the ages. The elect, believing, know it and possess the life itself. They have the witness in themselves; but the Word is the public revelation on which faith is founded and which has universal authority over the consciences of men, whether they receive it or not. Just as in 2 Timothy 1:9-10, it is presented as salvation, but then made manifest.
Faith in a personally held, known truth: the varied
presentation of the gospel by Peter, Paul and John
It will be observed that faith here is faith in a personally held, known truth; a faith which only the elect can have, who possess the truth as God teaches it. “The faith” is used also for Christianity as a system in contrast with Judaism. Here it is the secret of God in contrast with a law promulgated to an outward people. This promise, which dated from before the revealed ages and which was sovereign in its application, was especially committed to the Apostle Paul that he might announce it by preaching. To Peter the gospel was committed more as the fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers, which Paul also recognizes, with the evangelical events that confirmed and developed them by the power of God manifested in the resurrection of Jesus, the witness of the power of this life.
John presents life more in the Person of Christ and then imparted to us, the characteristic fruits of which he sets forth.
Paul’s greater intimacy of confidence in Timothy; why Titus was left in Crete, invested with authority and instructed to render him competent
We shall find that the Apostle has not the same intimacy of confidence in Titus as in Timothy. He does not open his heart to him in the same way. Titus is a beloved and faithful servant of God and also the Apostle’s son in the faith; but Paul does not open his heart to him in the same manner-does not communicate to him his anxieties, his complainings-does not pour out his soul to him-as he did to Timothy. To tell of all one sees that is heartbreaking and disquieting in the work one is engaged in- that is the proof of confidence. One has confidence with regard to the work, and one speaks of it with regard to oneself, with regard to all, and there is no restraint, no measuring how far one ought to speak of oneself, of what one feels, of all things. This the Apostle does with Timothy, and the Holy Spirit has been pleased to portray it for us. In writing to Timothy doctrine above all occupied the Apostle’s mind: by its means the enemy wrought and endeavored to ruin the assembly. Bishops only come into mind as an accessory thing. Here they have a primary place. Paul had left Titus in Crete to set in order the things that were yet wanting, and to ordain elders in every city, as he had already commanded him. It is not here a question of the desire anyone might have to become a bishop, nor (in that view) of describing the character suitable to this charge, but of appointing them; and for this task Titus was furnished with authority on the Apostle’s part. The necessary qualifications are made known to him, in order that he might be able to decide according to apostolic wisdom. So that, on the one hand, he was invested by the Apostle with authority to appoint them, and, on the other hand, instructed by him with respect to the requisite qualifications. Apostolic authority and wisdom concurred to render him competent to perform this grave and important work.
Apostolic care; Titus’s approved fidelity furnished with
Paul’s own authority; authority in the assembly of God
We see also that this apostolic delegate was authorized to set in order that which was necessary to the welfare of the assemblies in Crete. Already founded, they yet needed directions with regard to many details of their walk; and apostolic care was requisite to give them these, as well as for the establishment of functionaries in the assemblies. This task the Apostle had committed to the approved fidelity of Titus, furnished with his own authority by word of mouth and here in writing; so that to reject Titus was to reject the Apostle and, consequently, the Lord who had sent him. Authority in the assembly of God is a serious thing-a thing that proceeds from God Himself. It can be exercised through influence by the gift of God; by functionaries, when God establishes them by instruments whom He has chosen and sent for this purpose.
The qualifications of a bishop
It is not necessary here to enter upon the detail of qualifications that were needed to fill the office of bishop suitably. They are, in the main, the same as those mentioned in the epistle to Timothy. They are qualities, not gifts; qualities-outward, moral and circumstantial-that proved the fitness of the individual for the charge of watching over others. It may perhaps occasion surprise that the absence of gross misconduct should have a place here; but the assemblies were more simple than people think, and the persons of whom they were composed had but recently come out from the most deplorable habits; and therefore a previous conduct that commanded the respect of others was necessary to give weight to the exercise of the office of superintendence. It was also needful that he who was invested with this charge should be able to convince gainsayers. For they would have to do with such, especially among the Jews, who were always and everywhere active in opposition to the truth, and subtle in perverting the mind.
The character of the Cretans
The character of the Cretans occasioned other difficulties and required the exercise of peremptory authority; Judaism mingled itself with the effect of this national character. It was needful to be firm and to act with authority, that they might continue sound in the faith.
Ordinances and traditions; talk of knowing God but denying Him in their works
Moreover, he had still to speak concerning ordinances and traditions, those evil plagues in the church of God which provoke Him to jealousy, and which, by exalting man, are opposed to His grace. One thing was not pure, another was forbidden by an ordinance. God claims the heart. To the pure all things are pure; for him whose heart is defiled it needs not to go out of himself to find that which is impure; but convenient, in order to be able to forget what is within. The mind and conscience are already corrupt. They talk of knowing God, but in their works they deny Him, being unprofitable and reprobate as regards every work really good.

Titus 2

Titus charged to see that everyone walked in agreement with moral and relative propriety; the danger of forgetfulness of grace and holy order among Christians
Titus, who was not only to appoint others for the purpose, but, being there clothed with authority, was himself to watch over the order and moral walk of the Christians, was charged (as is the case throughout these three epistles) to see that everyone, according to his position, walked in agreement with moral and relative propriety-an important thing, and which shelters from the attacks of Satan, and from confusion in the assembly. True liberty reigns in the assembly; moral order secures this; and the enemy finds no better occasion to dishonor the Lord and ruin the testimony and throw all into disorder, thus giving the world occasion to blaspheme, than the forgetfulness of grace and holy order among Christians. Let us not deceive ourselves: if these proprieties are not maintained (and they are beautiful and precious), then the liberty (and it is beautiful and precious, and unknown to the world, who are ignorant of what grace is), the excellent liberty of the Christian life, gives room for disorder which dishonors the Lord and throws moral confusion into everything.
Men destroying Christian liberty where there is disorder; the true remedy; the Spirit recognizing every relationship which God has formed; Christians to act suitably to the relationship
Often, in perceiving that the weakness of man has given occasion to disorder where Christian liberty reigns, instead of seeking the true remedy, men have destroyed the liberty; they banish the power and operation of the Spirit-for where the Spirit is, there is liberty in every sense-the joy of the new relationships in which all are one. But, while severing every bond for the Lord’s sake when necessary, the Spirit recognizes every relationship which God has formed; even when we break them-as death does-through the exigency of the call of Christ, which is superior to them all. But while we are in them (the call of Christ apart), we are to act suitably to the relationship. Age and youth, husband and wife, child and parent, slave and master, all have their own proprieties to maintain towards each other, a behavior in accordance with the position in which we stand.
Sound doctrine maintaining all the moral properties; the foundation of the saints’ conduct
“Sound doctrine” takes account of all this, and, in its warnings and exhortations, maintains all these proprieties. This is the instruction which the Apostle here gives to Titus, with regard to aged men, aged women, young women (relatively to their husbands, their children and their whole life, which should be domestic and modest); young men, to whom Titus was to be always a pattern; slaves, with their masters; and then the duties of all towards magistrates, and indeed towards all men. But, before taking up this last point, he establishes the great principles which are the foundation of the conduct of the saints among themselves in this world. Their conduct towards magistrates and the world has a different motive.
The basis and motive for Christian conduct in the assembly; the motive for the character of their walk in the world
The conduct of Christians, as such, in the assembly has for its basis and motive the special doctrines of Christianity. We find these doctrines and motives in chapter 2:11-15, which speaks of that conduct.
The particular motive for the character of their walk, with regard to the world, we find in the third and following verses of chapter 3.
A summary of Christianity as a practical reality for men: God’s grace bringing salvation
Chapter 2:11-15 contains a remarkable summary of Christianity, not exactly of its dogmas, but as a practical reality for men. Grace has appeared. It has appeared, not limited to a particular people, but to all men; not charged with temporal promises and blessings but bringing salvation. It comes from God to men with salvation. It does not expect righteousness from men; it brings salvation to those that need it. Precious and simple truth, which makes us know God, which puts us in our place, but according to the grace which has overleaped every barrier in order to address itself, in the sovereign goodness of God, to every man on the earth!
Perfect instruction with regard to our walk in this world
Having brought this salvation, it instructs us perfectly with regard to our walk in this world; and that in relation to ourselves, and to other men, and to God. Renouncing all ungodliness, and all lusts that find their gratification in this world, we are to bridle the will of the flesh in every respect and to live soberly; we are to acknowledge the claims of others and to live righteously; we are to own the rights of God over our hearts and to exercise godliness.
Our future enlightened by grace
But our future also is enlightened by grace. It teaches us to wait for the blessed hope, and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
What grace does; what Christ has done
Grace has appeared. It teaches us how to walk here below and to expect the appearing of the glory in the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. And our hope is well founded. Christ is justly precious to us. We can have full confidence of heart in thinking of His appearing in glory, as well as the most powerful motive for a life devoted to His glory. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for Himself a people who should belong to Him in His own right and be zealous-according to His will and His nature- of good works.
Christianity as the work of the grace of God
This is what Christianity is. It has provided for all, the past, the present and the future, according to God. It delivers us from this world, making of us a people set apart for Christ Himself, according to the love in which He gave Himself for us. It is purification, but a purification which consecrates us to Christ. We belong to Him as His peculiar portion, His possession in the world; animated with the love that is in Him, in order to do good to others and bear testimony to His grace. This is a precious testimony to that which Christianity is, in its practical reality, as the work of the grace of God.

Titus 3

The effect of grace on the conduct of Christians towards the world
With respect to the conduct of Christians towards the world, grace has banished violence, and the spirit of rebellion and resistance which agitates the heart of those who believe not, and which has its source in the self-will that strives to maintain its own rights relatively to others.
The Christian has his portion, his inheritance, elsewhere; he is tranquil and submissive here and ready to do good. Even when others are violent and unjust towards him, he bears it in remembrance that once it was no otherwise with himself: a difficult lesson, for violence and injustice stir up the heart; but the thought that it is sin, and that we also were formerly its slaves, produces patience and piety. Grace alone has made the difference, and according to that grace are we to act towards others.
Man after the flesh; the kindness of a Saviour-God; the sense of what we were and the way God has acted combine to govern our conduct towards others
The Apostle gives a grievous summary of the characteristics of man after the flesh-that which we once were. Sin was foolishness-was disobedience; the sinner was deceived-was the slave of lusts, filled with malice and envy, hateful, and hating others. Such is man characterized by sin. But the kindness of God, of a Saviour-God, His goodwill and charity towards men (sweet and precious character of God!)1 has appeared. The character that He has assumed is that of Saviour, a name especially given Him in these three epistles, in order that we should bear its stamp in our walk, that it should pervade our spirit. Our walk in the world and our conduct towards others depend on the principles of our relationships with God. That which has made us different from others is not some merit in ourselves, some personal superiority: we were sometime even as they. It is the tender love and grace of the God of mercy. He has been kind and merciful to us: we have known what it is, and are so to others. It is true that in cleansing and renewing us this mercy has wrought by a principle, and in a sphere of a life, that are entirely new, so that we cannot walk with the world as we did before; but we act towards others who are still in the mire of this world, as God has acted towards us to bring us out of it, that we might enjoy those things which, according to the same principle of grace, we desire that others also should enjoy. The sense of what we once were and of the way in which God has acted towards us combine to govern our conduct towards others.
(1. In Greek it is the word philanthropy, which in Scripture is only used in speaking of God; and which, moreover, has much greater force than the English word, because phil is a special affection for anything, a friendship.)
The double character of God’s work in us
Now when the kindness of a Saviour-God appeared, it was not something vague and uncertain; He has saved us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy by washing and renewing us. This is the double character of the work in us, the same two points which we find in John 3 in the Lord’s discourse with Nicodemus; except that here is added that which has now its place because of the work of Christ, namely, that the Holy Spirit is also shed on us abundantly to be the strength of that new life of which He is the source. The man is washed, cleansed. He is washed from his former habits, thoughts, desires, in the practical sense. We wash a thing that exists. The man was morally bad and defiled in his inward and outward life. God has saved us by purifying us; He could not do it otherwise. To be in relationship with Himself there must be practical purity.
Purification by means of regeneration:
a new life, new thoughts, new creation
But this purification was thorough. It was not the outside of the vessel. It was purification by means of regeneration; identified with the communication of a new life, no doubt, which is the source of new thoughts, in connection with God’s new creation, and capable of enjoying His presence and in the light of His countenance, but which in itself is a passage from the state we were in into a wholly new one, from flesh by death into the status of a risen Christ.
The power acting in and accompanying the new life; an energy imparting and producing what is new
But there was a power which acted in this new life and accompanies it in the Christian. It is not merely a subjective change, as they say. There is an active, divine Agent who imparts something new, of which He is Himself the source-the Holy Spirit Himself. It is God acting in the creature (for it is by the Spirit that God always acts immediately on the creature); and it is in the character of the Holy Spirit that He acts in this work of renewal. It is a new source of thoughts in relationship with God; not only a vital capacity, but an energy which produces that which is new in us.
The Holy Spirit, as shed on us, continues to maintain by His power the enjoyment of relationship
It has been a question, When does this renewal by the Holy Spirit take place? Is it at the commencement, or is it after the regeneration1 of which the Apostle speaks? I think that the Apostle speaks of it according to the character of the work; and adds “shed on us” (that which characterizes the grace of this present period) to show that there is an additional truth, namely, that the Holy Spirit, as “shed on us,” continues in order to maintain by His power the enjoyment of the relationship into which He has brought us. The man is cleansed in connection with the new order of things; but the Holy Spirit is a source of an entirely new life, entirely new thoughts; not only of a new moral being, but of the communication of all that in which this new being develops itself. We cannot separate the nature from the objects with regard to which the nature develops itself, and which form the sphere of its existence and characterize it.
(1. Παλιγγενεσια (paliggenesia), the word here used, is not being born again (αναγενναω; anagennao). It is used, besides this passage, only in the end of Matthew 19 for the millennium. The renewing of the Holy Spirit is a distinct thing from the regeneration. This last is a change of one state of things to another.)
The Spirit the source of the thoughts and whole moral being of the new man; we are not only born of Him but He works in us
It is the Holy Spirit who gives the thoughts, who creates and forms the whole moral being of the new man. The thought and that which thinks cannot be separated, morally, when the heart is occupied with it. The Holy Spirit is the source of all in the saved man: he is ultimately saved, because this is the case with him.
The Holy Spirit does not only give a new nature; He gives it us in connection with an entirely new order of things (“a new creation”), and fills us as to our thoughts with the things that are in this new creation. This is the reason that, although we are placed in it once for all, this work-as to the operation of the Holy Spirit-continues; because He ever communicates to us more and more of the things of this new world into which He has brought us. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us; and all that the Father has is Christ’s. I think that the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” embraces all this; because He says, “Which he has shed on us abundantly.” So that it is not only that we are born of Him, but that He works in us, communicating to us all that is ours in Christ.
Jesus Christ the means; the fullness of enjoyment by the power of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is shed on us abundantly by means of Jesus Christ our Saviour, in order that, having been justified by the grace of this Saviour, we should be heirs according to the hope of eternal life. I think that the antecedent of “that,” verse 7, is “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”; and that the sentence, “which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour,” is an accessory parenthesis introduced to show us that we have the fullness of the enjoyment of these things by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Justified by the grace of Christ which gives eternal life; heirs according to the hope of eternal life
Thus He has saved us by this renewing that we may be heirs according to the hope of eternal life. It is nothing outward, earthly, or corporeal. Grace has given us eternal life. In order to this, we have been justified by the grace of Christ.1 Thus there is energy, power, hope, through the rich gift of the Holy Spirit. In order to our participating in it, we have been justified by His grace, and our inheritance is in the incorruptible joy of eternal life.
(1. It is because “Christ” is in the parenthesis, and not in the principal sentence, that we read εκεινου (ekeinou).)
God’s mercy and the riches of His grace
God has saved us, not by works-nor by means of1 anything that we are, but by His mercy. But then He has acted towards us according to the riches of His own grace, according to the thoughts of His own heart.
(1. Here, as everywhere, the responsibility of man and God’s saving grace, by which purpose also is accomplished, are clearly distinguished.)
Brought with thanksgiving to God to feel what our eternal portion is before Him; the conscience acted upon to respect all that He has established
With these things the Apostle desires that Titus should be occupied-with that which brings us with thanksgiving into practical connection with God Himself and makes us feel what our portion is, our eternal portion, before Him. This acts upon the conscience, fills us with love and good works, makes us respect all the relationships of which God Himself is the center. We are in relationship with God according to His rights; we are before God, who causes everything that He has Himself established to be respected by the conscience.
Gnostic Judaism, setting itself up against the gospel, to be avoided
Idle questions and disputes on the law Titus was to avoid, together with everything that would destroy the simplicity of our relationship with God according to the immediate revelation of Himself and of His will in Jesus Christ. It is still the Gnostic Judaism setting itself up against the simplicity of the gospel; it is the law and human righteousness, and that which, by means of intermediate beings, destroys the simplicity and the immediate character of our relationship with the God of grace.
Directions to reject, after repeated admonition, one who tries to set up his own opinions and thus form parties in the assembly; his self-condemnation
When a man tried to set up his own opinions, and by that means to form parties in the assembly, after having admonished him once and a second time, he was to be rejected; his faith was subverted. He sins, he is judged of himself. He is not satisfied with the assembly of God, with the truth of God: he wants to make a truth of his own. Why is he a Christian, if Christianity, as God has given it, does not suffice him? By making a party for his own opinions he condemns himself.
The Christian activity produced by the love of God; pains taken that the flock should enjoy all the help supplied
We have, at the end of the epistle, a little glimpse of the Christian activity which the love of God produces, the pains taken that the flock should enjoy all the help with which God supplies the assembly. Paul wished that Titus should come to him: but the Cretans needed his services; and the Apostle makes the arrival of Artemas or Tychicus (the latter well-known by the services he had rendered to Paul) the condition of the departure of Titus from the field in which he was laboring. We find too that Zenas, a lawyer, and Apollos, who had also displayed his active zeal at Ephesus and Corinth, were disposed to occupy themselves in Crete with the work of the Lord.
Two kinds of laborers; the Apostle’s freedom from jealousy; counsel to Christians to learn to do useful work
Observe also that we have the two kinds of laborers: those who were in personal connection with the Apostle as fellow-laborers, who accompanied him, and whom he sent elsewhere to continue the work he had begun, when he could no longer carry it on himself; and those who labored freely and independently of him. But there was no jealousy of this double activity. He did not neglect the flock that were dear to him. He was glad that any who were sound in the faith should water the plants which he himself had planted. He encourages Titus to show them all affection and to provide whatever they needed in their journey. This thought suggests to him the counsel that follows; namely, that it would be well for Christians to learn how to do useful work in order to supply the wants of others as well as their own.
Special affections and relationships in the assembly of God
The Apostle ends his epistle with the salutations that Christian love always produces; but, as we saw at the beginning, there is not here the same expansion of heart that we find in Paul’s communications to Timothy. Grace is the same everywhere; but there are special affections and relationships in the assembly of God.

PHILEMON

The purpose of the epistle: love awakening sentiments which circumstances tended to extinguish in Philemon’s heart
The very beautiful and interesting Epistle to Philemon does not require much comment; it is an expression of the love which works by the Spirit within the assembly of God in all the circumstances of individual life.
Written for the purpose of awakening in Philemon sentiments which certain events had a tendency to extinguish in his heart, this epistle is suited to produce those feelings in the reader more than to be the object of explanation.
The tenderness and strength of God’s love; the development of tender and delicate considerations with a dignity and delicacy of application
It is a fine picture of the way in which the tenderness and the strength of the love of God, working in the heart, occupies itself with every detail wherein that love might be wounded, or that might be an occasion for its growth and manifestation. In this point of view the epistle is as important as beautiful; for this development of tender and delicate consideration in the midst of the Apostle’s gigantic labors, and of the immense truths that formed the basis of relationship between all creatures and God in Christ, gives a very peculiar character to Christianity and shows its divine nature; since He who reveals the most profound truths, and puts them in their right place in the circle of divine thought, does so as speaking of a known thing, as communicating His own thoughts; and can (being the Spirit of the God of love) fill the heart with considerations which love only can suggest, with a dignity which manifests their source, and with a delicacy of application which shows that, whatever be the grandeur of His thoughts, He is at liberty to consider everything.
The human mind and God’s thoughts; the revelations, communication and demonstration of God’s character of love
When the human mind is occupied with elevated subjects, it feels their weight and bends under the load; it is absorbed; it has to abstract itself, to fix its attention. God reveals His own thoughts; and, vast as they may be to the human mind, they flow with the clearness and connectedness that is natural to them, when He communicates them by His chosen instruments. The latter are free to love; for the God who employs them and inspires them is love. It is a more essential part of their task to present Him thus than even to speak of the deep things. Accordingly, when they are moved by that love, the character of Him who sends them is demonstrated as that of the God who is the source of love, by a perfect consideration for others, and the most delicate attention to those things which their hearts would feel.
Christian affections bearing the stamp of their origin
Moreover, this love develops itself in relationships formed by the Holy Spirit Himself, between the members of the body of Christ, that is to say, between men. Springing from a divine source and always fed by it, Christian affections assume the form of human regard, which, by exhibiting love and the opposite of selfishness, bear the stamp of their origin. Love, free from self, can and does think of all that concerns others and understands what will affect them.
Onesimus, Philemon and Archippus
Onesimus, a fugitive slave, had been converted by means of Paul in his bonds. Philemon, a rich man or at least one of easy fortune, received the assembly in his house (his wife being also converted), and in his measure labored himself in the Lord’s work. Archippus was a servant of the Lord, who ministered in the assembly, perhaps an evangelist; at any rate, he took part in the conflicts of the gospel and was thus associated with Philemon and the assembly.
The fugitive slave sent back; the whole assembly addressed; Paul’s appeal to Philemon
The Apostle, in sending Onesimus back, addresses the whole assembly. This is the reason that we have here “grace and peace” without the addition of “mercy,” as when individuals only are addressed by the apostles. His appeal on behalf of Onesimus is to Philemon; but the whole assembly is to interest itself in this beloved slave, who was become a child of God. Their Christian hearts would be a support and a guarantee for the conduct of Philemon; although the Apostle expects pardon and kindness for Onesimus from the love of Philemon himself as a servant of God.
The Apostle’s right to command abandoned
that Onesimus’s pardon might be
Philemon’s own spontaneous act
Paul (as was his custom) recognizes all the good that was in Philemon and uses it as a motive to Philemon himself, that he might let the feelings of grace flow out freely, in spite of anything that the return of Onesimus might excite in the flesh or any displeasure that Satan might try to reawaken in him. The Apostle would have that which he desired for Onesimus to be Philemon’s own act. The enfranchisement of his former slave, or even his kind reception as a brother, would have quite a different bearing in that case, than if it had arisen from a command on the Apostle’s part; for Christian affection and the bonds of love were in question. He gives due weight to the right he had to command, but only in order to abandon it and to give more force to his request; and at the same time he suggests that the communion of Philemon’s faith with the whole assembly of God and with the Apostle-that is, the way in which his faith connected him, in the activities of Christian love, with the assembly of God and those appointed by him to labor in it, and with the Lord Himself-which had already shown itself so honorably in Philemon, would have its full development in the acknowledgement of all the Apostle’s rights over his heart.
In verse 6 we must read, “Every good thing which is in us.
Paul taking everything upon himself for his dear child in the faith; the unfaithful, valueless servant becoming profitable
It is beautiful to see the mixture of affection for Onesimus- which shows itself in an anxiety that makes him plead every motive which could act on the heart of Philemon-with the Christian feeling that inspired him with full confidence in the kindly affections of this faithful and excellent brother. The return of his fugitive slave was indeed likely to stir up something in his natural heart; the Apostle interposes his letter on behalf of his dear child in the faith, born in the time of his captivity. God had interposed the work of His grace, which ought to act on the heart of Philemon, producing altogether new relationships with Onesimus. The Apostle beseeches him to receive his former slave as a brother, but it is evident (vs. 12), although Paul wished it to be the spontaneous act of the master whom Onesimus had wronged, that the Apostle expected the affranchisement of the latter. Be that as it may, he takes everything upon himself for his dear son. According to grace Onesimus was more profitable to Philemon, as well as to Paul, than formerly, when the flesh had made him an unfaithful and valueless servant; and this he should rejoice in (vs. 11). Paul alludes to the name of “Onesimus,” which means “profitable.” Finally, he reminds Philemon that he was indebted to him for his own salvation-for his life as a Christian.
The reason God brought Onesimus to Rome
Paul at this moment was a prisoner at Rome. God had brought Onesimus there (whither all resorted) to lead him to salvation and the knowledge of the Lord, in order that we should be instructed and that Onesimus should have a new position in the Christian assembly.1 It was apparently towards the end of the Apostle’s imprisonment. He hopes at least soon to be released and tells Philemon to prepare him a lodging.
(1. It seems to me, from the way in which the Apostle speaks, that he even thought Onesimus would be an instrument of God in the assembly, useful in the Lord’s service. He would have retained him to minister to himself in the bonds of the gospel; but he respects his connection with Philemon. It was also much better for the soul of Onesimus that he should submit himself where he had done wrong; and if he was to be free, that he should receive his freedom from the love of Philemon.)
Onesimus probably of Colosse; Paul’s loving care for this new convert
We find the names again in the Epistle to the Colossians. There the Apostle says, “Onesimus, who is one of you”; so that, if it be the same, he was of Colosse. It seems likely, because there is Archippus also, who is exhorted to take heed to his ministry. If it be so, the fact that he speaks thus of Onesimus to the Christians at Colosse is another proof of his loving care for this new convert. He lays him thus upon the hearts of the assembly, sending his letter by him and Tychicus. In the Epistle to the Ephesians there are no salutations; but the same Tychicus is its bearer. Timothy is joined with Paul in the address of the Epistle to the Colossians, as well as in this to Philemon. It was not so in the Epistle to the Ephesians; but in that to the Philippians, to whom the Apostle hoped to send Timothy ere long, their two names are again united.
I do not draw any conclusions from these last details; but they furnish ground for inquiry into details. Each of the four epistles was written during the Apostle’s captivity at Rome, and when he was expecting to be delivered from that captivity.
Love reigning and bearing fruit in all the details of life
with the recognition of every existing right and feeling
Finally, that which we have especially to remark in the Epistle to Philemon is the love which, in the intimate center of this circle (guarded all around by an unparalleled development of doctrine), reigned and bore fruit, and bound the members of Christ together, and spread the savor of grace over all the relationships in which men could stand towards each other, occupying itself about all the details of life with a perfect propriety and with the recognition of every right that can exist among men and of all that the human heart can feel.

HEBREWS

The distinct place of the epistle showing us Christ in heaven while His people are in feebleness on the earth
The important nature of the Epistle to the Hebrews demands that we should examine it with peculiar care. It has its own, very distinct place. It is not the presentation of Christian position in itself, viewed as the fruit of sovereign grace, and of the work and the resurrection of Christ, or as the result of the union of Christians with Christ, the members of the body with the Head-a union which gives them the enjoyment of every privilege in Him. It is an epistle in which one who has apprehended indeed the whole scope of Christianity, considered as placing the Christian in Christ before God, whether individually or as a member of the body, looks, nevertheless, at the Lord from here below; and presents His Person and His offices as between us and God in heaven, while we are in feebleness on earth, for the purpose of detaching us (as walking on earth) from all that would attach us in a religious way to the earth; even when-as was the case among the Jews-the bond had been ordained by God Himself.
This epistle shows us Christ in heaven, and, consequently, that our religious bonds with God are heavenly, although we are not yet personally in heaven ourselves nor viewed as united to Christ there. Every bond with the earth is broken, even while we are walking on the earth.
The epistle addressed to the Jews; their religious relationships, solemnly appointed by God Himself, to be acknowledged and abandoned because Christ in heaven takes their place
These instructions naturally are given in an epistle addressed to the Jews, because their religious relationships had been earthly and, at the same time, solemnly appointed by God Himself.
The heathen, as to their religions, had no formal relationships except with demons.
In the case of the Jews, this rupture with the earth was in its nature so much the more solemn, the more absolute and conclusive, from the relationship having been divine. This relationship was to be fully acknowledged and entirely abandoned, not here because the believer is dead and risen again in Christ, but because Christ in heaven takes the place of all earthly figures and ordinances. God Himself, who had instituted the ordinances of the law, now established other bonds, different indeed in character; but it was still the same God.
God’s relationships with Israel to be resumed in future blessing on earth; the standpoints of the Roman and Ephesian epistles: their object
This fact gives occasion for His relationships with Israel being resumed by Him hereafter, when the nation shall be reestablished and in the enjoyment of the promises. Not that this epistle views them as actually on that ground; on the contrary, it insists on what is heavenly, and walking by faith as Abraham and others who had not the promises, but it lays down principles which can apply to that position, and in one or two passages it leaves (and ought to leave) a place for this ultimate blessing of the nation. The Epistle to the Romans, in the direct instruction which it furnishes, cannot leave this place for the blessings proper to the Jewish people. In its point of view all are alike sinners, and all in Christ are justified together before God in heaven. Still less in the Epistle to the Ephesians, with the object which it has in view, could there be room for speaking of the future blessing of God’s people on the earth. It only contemplates Christians as united to their heavenly Head, as His body; or as the habitation of God on earth by the Holy Spirit. The Epistle to the Romans, in the passage that shows the compatibility of this salvation (which, because it was of God, was for all without distinction) with the faithfulness of God to His promises made to the nation, touches the chord of which we speak even more distinctly than the Epistle to the Hebrews; and shows us that Israel will—although in a different way from before—resume their place in the line peculiar to their heirs of promise; a place which, through their sin, was partially left vacant for a time to allow the bringing in of the Gentiles on the principle of faith into this blessed succession. We find this in Romans 11. But the object in both epistles is to separate the faithful entirely from earth, and to bring them into relationship religiously with heaven; the one (that to the Romans) as regards their personal presentation to God by means of forgiveness and divine righteousness; the other, with respect to the means that God has established, in order that the believer, in his walk here below, may find his present relationships with heaven maintained and his daily connection with God preserved in its integrity.
I have said preserved, because this is the subject of the epistle;1 but it must be added that these relationships are established on this ground by divine revelations, which communicate the will of God and the conditions under which He is pleased to connect Himself with His people.
(1. It will be found, I think, that in Hebrews the exercise of the heavenly priesthood is not applied to the case of a fall into sin. It is for mercy and grace to help in time of need. Its subject is access to God, having the High Priest on high; and this we always have. The conscience is always perfect (ch. 9-10) as to imputation and thus going to God. In 1 John, where communion is spoken of, which is interrupted by sin, we have an advocate with the Father if any man sin-this also founded on perfect righteousness and propitiation in Him. The priesthood of Christ reconciles a perfect heavenly standing with God, with a weak condition on earth ever liable to failure-gives comfort and dependence in the path through the desert.)
The epistle addressed to Hebrews on the ground of a relationship which still existed, though its force was retained only as they acknowledged the Messiah; its first words
We should also remark that in the Epistle to the Hebrews, although the relationship of the people with God is established on a new ground, being founded on the heavenly position of the mediator, they are considered as already existing. God treats with a people already known to Him. He addresses persons in relationship with Himself and who for a long period have held the position of a people whom God had taken out from the world unto Himself. It is not, as in Romans, sinners without law or transgressors of the law, between whom there is no difference, because all have alike come entirely short of the glory of God, all alike are the children of wrath, or, as in Ephesians, an entirely new creation unknown before. They were in need of some better thing; but those here addressed were in that need because they were in relationship with God, and the condition of their relationship with Him brought nothing to perfection. That which they possessed was, in fact, nothing but signs and figures; still, the people were, I again say, a people in relationship with God. Many of them might refuse the new method of blessing and grace, and consequently would be lost; but the link between the people and God is accounted to subsist: only that, Messiah having been revealed, a place among that people could not be had but in the recognition of Messiah.
It is very important for the understanding of this epistle to apprehend this point, namely, that it is addressed to Hebrews on the ground of a relationship which still existed,1 although it only retained its force insofar as they acknowledged the Messiah, who was its cornerstone. Hence, the first words connect their present state with previous revelations, instead of breaking off all connection and introducing a new thing as yet unrevealed.
(1. He sanctifies the people with His own blood. They count the blood of the covenant wherewith they were sanctified an unholy thing. There is no inward sanctifying operation of the Spirit spoken of in Hebrews, though there are exhortations to the pursuit of holiness.)
The reason the epistle does not contain the name of its author; God’s communications by the Messiah begun when Jesus was on earth
Some remarks on the form of the epistle will help us to understand it better.
It does not contain the name of its author. The reason of this is touching and remarkable. It is that the Lord Himself, according to this epistle, was the Apostle of Israel. The apostles whom He sent were only employed to confirm His words by transmitting them to others, God Himself confirming their testimony by miraculous gifts. This also makes us understand that, although as Priest the Lord is in heaven for the exercise of His priesthood there, and in order to establish on new ground the relationship of the people with God, yet the communications of God with His people by means of the Messiah had begun when Jesus was on earth living in their midst. Consequently, the character of their relationship was not union with Him in heaven; it was relationship with God on the ground of divine communications and of the service of a mediator with God.
The epistle, a discourse from a teacher
Moreover, this epistle is a discourse, a treatise, rather than a letter addressed in the exercise of apostolic functions to saints with whom the writer was personally in connection. The author takes the place of a teacher rather than of an apostle. He speaks, doubtless, from the height of the heavenly calling, but in connection with the actual position of the Jewish people; nevertheless, it was for the purpose of making believers at length understand that they must abandon that position.
The time for the nation’s judgment drawing nigh
The time for judgment on the nation was drawing near; and with regard to this the destruction of Jerusalem had great significance, because it definitely broke off all outward relationship between God and the Jewish people. There was no longer an altar or sacrifice, priest or sanctuary. Every link was then broken by judgment and remains broken until it shall be formed again under the new covenant according to grace.
More contrast in the epistle than comparison
Further, it will be found that there is more contrast than comparison. The veil is compared, but then, closing the entrance to the sanctuary, now, a new and living way into it; a sacrifice, but then repeated, so as to say sins were still there, now once for all so that there is no remembrance of sins; and so of every important particular.
The Jewish system about to be destroyed by God; believers
exhorted to come forth from it and bear the Lord’s reproach
The author of this epistle (Paul, I doubt not, but this is of little importance) employed other motives than that of the approaching judgment to induce the believing Jews to abandon their Judaic relationships. It is this last step, however, which he engages them to take; and the judgment was at hand. Until now they had linked Christianity with Judaism; there had been thousands of Christians who were very zealous for the law. But God was about to destroy that system altogether-already, in fact, judged by the Jews’ rejection of Christ and by their resistance to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Our epistle engages believers to come forth entirely from that system and to bear the Lord’s reproach, setting before them a new foundation for their relationship with God in a High Priest who is in the heavens. At the same time, it links all that it says with the testimony of God by the prophets through the intermedium of Christ, the Son of God, speaking during His life on earth, though now speaking from heaven.
The continuity of the new position with the former; the revelation of a heavenly Christ; Paul’s position and teaching
Thus the new position is plainly set forth, but continuity with the former is also established; and we have a glimpse, by means of the new covenant, of continuity also with that which is to come-a thread by which another state of things, the millennial state, is connected with the whole of God’s dealings with the nation, although that which is taught and developed in the epistle is the position of believers (of the people), formed by the revelation of a heavenly Christ on whom depended all their connection with God. They were to come forth from the camp; but it was because Jesus, in order to sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. For here there is no continuing city: we seek one that is to come. The writer places himself among the remnant of the people as one of them. He teaches with the full light of the Holy Spirit, but not those to whom he had been sent as an apostle, with the apostolic authority which such a mission would have given him over them. It will be understood that in saying this we speak of the relationship of the writer, not of the inspiration of the writing.
Messiah’s glorious Person; sympathies and heavenly glory first made prominent that they might follow Him and bear His reproach
While developing the sympathies of Christ and His sufferings, in order to show that He is able to compassionate the suffering and the tried, the epistle does not bring forward His humiliation nor the reproach of the cross, till quite at the end when-His glory having been set forth-the author engages the Jew to follow Him and to share His reproach.
The glory of the Messiah’s Person, His sympathies, His heavenly glory are made prominent in order to strengthen the faltering faith of the Jewish Christians and to fortify them in their Christian position, that they might view the latter in its true character; and that they themselves, being connected with heaven and established in their heavenly calling, might learn to bear the cross and to separate themselves from the religion of the flesh, and not draw back to a Judaism just ready to pass away.
What marks the epistle as addressed to Hebrews
We must look, then, in this epistle for the character of relationships with God, formed upon the revelation of the Messiah in the position which He had taken on high, and not for the doctrine of a new nature; approach to God in the holiest, impossible in Judaism, but no revelation of the Father, nor union with Christ on high.
He is speaking to persons who were familiar with the privileges of the fathers.
God who had spoken by the prophets now had spoken in the Person of His Son: the connection of this revelation with the former words
God had spoken to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways; and now, at the end of those days, that is to say, at the end of the days of the Israelite dispensation, in which the law ought to have been in vigor, at the end of the times during which God maintained relationship with Israel (sustaining them with a disobedient people by means of the prophets)-at the end, then, of those days God had spoken in the Person of the Son. There is no breach to begin a wholly new system. The God who had spoken before by the prophets now went on to speak in Christ.
It was not only by inspiring holy men (as He had done before), that they might recall Israel to the law and announce the coming of the Messiah. Himself had spoken as the Son-in [His] Son. We see at once that the writer connects the revelation made by Jesus1 of the thoughts of God with the former words addressed to Israel by the prophets. God has spoken, he says, identifying himself with His people, to us, as He spake to our fathers by the prophets.
(1. We shall see that, while showing at the outset that the subject of his discourse had seated Himself at the right hand of God, he speaks also of the communications of the Lord when on earth. But even here it is in contrast with Moses and the angels as far more excellent. All has in view the deliverance of the believing Jews from Judaism.)
Messiah having spoken, the glory of His Person and position laid open
The Messiah had spoken, the Son of whom the Scriptures had already testified. This gives occasion to lay open, according to the Scriptures, the glory of this Messiah, of Jesus, with regard to His Person, and to the position He has taken.
And here we must always remember that it is the Messiah of whom he is speaking-He who once spoke on the earth. He declares indeed His divine glory; but it is the glory of Him who has spoken which he declares, the glory of that Son who had appeared according to the promises made to Israel.
The twofold glory of Christ as Son of God and Son of Man; the solemn authority of His Word
This glory is twofold, and in connection with the twofold office of Christ. It is the divine glory of the Person of the Messiah, the Son of God. The solemn authority of His Word is connected with this glory. And then there is the glory with which His humanity is invested according to the counsels of God-the glory of the Son of Man; a glory connected with His sufferings during His sojourn here below, which fitted Him for the exercise of a priesthood both merciful and intelligent with regard to the necessities and the trials of His people.
Summary of chapters 1-2 as the foundation of the doctrine of the epistle
These two chapters are the foundation of all the doctrine of the epistle. In chapter 1 we find the divine glory of the Messiah’s Person; in chapter 2:1-4 (which continues the subject), the authority of His Word; and in verses 5-18 His glorious humanity. As man, all things are put in subjection under Him; nevertheless, before being glorified, He took part in all the sufferings and in all the temptations to which the saints, whose nature He had assumed, are subjected. With this glory His priesthood is connected: He is able to succor them that are tempted, in that He Himself has suffered being tempted. Thus He is the Apostle and the High Priest of the “called” people.
Chapters 3:7-4:13: Christ’s accessory glory as Head over God’s house; consequent exhortations
To this twofold glory is joined an accessory glory: He is Head, as Son, over God’s house, possessing this authority as the One who created all things, even as Moses had authority as a servant in the house of God on earth. Now the believers, whom the inspired writer was addressing, were this house, if at least they held fast their confession of His name unto the end. For the danger of the Hebrew converts was that of losing their confidence, because there was nothing before their eyes as the fulfillment of the promises. Consequently, exhortations follow (ch. 3:7-4:13) which refer to the voice of the Lord, as carrying the Word of God into the midst of the people, in order that they might not harden their hearts.
Chapters 4:14-12:2: The priesthood and sacrifice of Christ; exhortations founded thereon
From chapter 4:14 the subject of the priesthood is treated, leading to the value of the sacrifice of Christ, but introducing also the two covenants in passing, and insisting on the change of the law necessarily consequent upon the change of priesthood. Then comes the value of the sacrifice very fully in contrast with the figures that accompanied the old; and on which, and on the blood which was shed in them, the covenant itself was founded. This instruction on the priesthood continues to the end of verse 18 in chapter 10. The exhortations founded thereon introduce the principle of the endurance of faith, which leads to chapter 11, in which the cloud of witnesses is reviewed, crowning them with the example of Christ Himself, who completed the whole career of faith in spite of every obstacle, and who shows us where this painful but glorious path terminates (ch. 12:2).
Chapters 12:3-13:25: Trials in the path of faith; warning and encouragement; the Christian position under the cross; separation from Judaism
From chapter 12:3 he enters more closely into the trials found in the path of faith and gives the most solemn warning with regard to the danger of those who draw back, and the most precious encouragements to those who persevere in it, setting forth the relationship into which we are brought by grace: and finally in chapter 13 he exhorts the faithful Hebrews on several points of detail, and in particular on that of unreservedly taking the Christian position under the cross, laying stress on the fact that Christians alone had the true worship of God, and that they who chose to persevere in Judaism had no right to take part in it. In a word, he would have them to separate themselves definitely from a Judaism which was already judged and to lay hold of the heavenly calling, bearing the cross here below. It was now a heavenly calling, and the path a path of faith.
Such is the summary of our epistle. We return now to the study of its chapters in detail.

Hebrews 1

The believing remnant addressed; the true glory of Messiah, the object of faith only
We have said that in chapter 1 we find the glory of the Person of the Messiah, the Son of God, by whom God has spoken to the people. When I say “to the people,” it is evident that we understand the epistle to be addressed to the believing remnant, partakers, it is said, of the heavenly calling, but considered as alone holding the true place of the people.
It is a distinction given to the remnant, in view of the position which the Messiah took in connection with His people, to whom in the first instance He came. The tried and despised remnant, viewed as alone really having their place, are encouraged, and their faith is sustained by the true glory of their Messiah, hidden from their natural eyes, and the object of faith only.
The Son should have been expected by the Jews; what did not suit their carnal hearts
“God” (says the inspired writer, placing himself among the believers of the beloved nation), “has spoken to us in the person of his Son.” Psalm 2 should have led the Jews to expect the Son, and they ought to have formed a high idea of His glory from Isaiah 9 and other scriptures, which, in fact, were applied to the Messiah by their teachers, as the rabbinical writings still prove. But that He should be in heaven and not have raised His people to the possession of earthly glory-this did not suit the carnal state of their hearts.
The heavenly glory and position of Messiah; His people’s heavenly position; Christ’s perfect sympathy as Man to maintain their communion with heaven
Now it is heavenly glory, this true position of the Messiah and His people, in connection with His divine right to their attention and to the worship of the angels themselves, which is so admirably presented here, where the Spirit of God brings out, in so infinitely precious a manner, the divine glory of Christ, for the purpose of exhorting His people to belief in a heavenly position; at the same time setting forth in what follows His perfect sympathy with us, as man, in order to maintain their communion with heaven in spite of the difficulties of their path on earth.
The assembly not found in Hebrews, but its Saviour presented in His Person, work and priesthood; the heavenly calling
Thus, although the assembly is not found in the Epistle to the Hebrews, save in an allusion to all comprised in the millennial glory in chapter 12, the Saviour of the assembly is there presented in His Person, His work and His priesthood, most richly to our hearts and to our spiritual intelligence; and the heavenly calling is in itself very particularly developed.
The Saviour’s work a part of the manifestation of His divine glory
It is also most interesting to see the way in which the work of our Saviour, accomplished for us, forms a part of the manifestation of His divine glory.
The Son as the Creator
“God has spoken in the Son,” says the inspired author of our epistle. He is then this Son. First, He is declared Heir of all things. It is He who is to possess gloriously as Son everything that exists. Such are the decrees of God. Moreover, it is by Him that God created the worlds.1 All the vast system of this universe, those unknown worlds that trace their paths in the vast regions of space in divine order to manifest the glory of a Creator-God, are the work of His hand who has spoken to us, of the divine Christ.
(1. A particular interpretation has, by some, been given to the word αιωνας (aionas) translated “worlds”; but it is certain that the word is used by the LXX (that is, in the Hellenistic or scriptural Greek) for the physical worlds. )
The personal glory of Christ in full; the Messiah who has taken His place in the heavens; whoever believed in it would be brought out of Judaism
In Him has shone forth the glory of God: He is the perfect impress of His being. We see God in Him, in all that He said, in all that He did, in His Person. Moreover, by the power of His word He upholds all that exists. He is, then, the Creator. God is revealed in His Person. He sustains all things by His word, which has thus a divine power. But this is not all (for we are still speaking of the Christ); there is another part of His glory, divine indeed, yet manifested in human nature. He who was all this which we have just seen, when He had by Himself (accomplishing His own glory,1 and for His glory) wrought the purification of our sins, seated Himself at the right hand of the majesty on high. Here is in full the personal glory of Christ. He is, in fact, the Creator, the revelation of God, the upholder of all things by His word, He is the Redeemer. He has by Himself purged our sins; has seated Himself at the right hand of the majesty on high. It is the Messiah who is all this. He is the Creator-God, but He is a Messiah who has taken His place in the heavens at the right hand of majesty, having accomplished the purification of our sins. We perceive how this exhibition of the glory of Christ, the Messiah, whether personal or that of position, would bring whoever believed in it out of Judaism, while linking itself with the Jewish promises and hopes. He is God, He has come down from heaven, He has gone up thither again.
(1. The Greek verb has here a peculiar form, which gives it a reflective sense, causing the thing done to return into the doer, throwing back the glory of the thing done upon the one who did it.)
Christ’s position much higher than that of angels; proved by the Scriptures; the glory of Christianity so much above that of the law
Now those who attached themselves to Him found themselves, in another respect also, above the Jewish system. That system was ordained in connection with angels; but Christ has taken a position much higher than that of angels, because He has for His own proper inheritance a name (that is, a revelation of what He is) which is much more excellent than that of angels. Upon this the author of this epistle quotes several passages from the Old Testament which speak of the Messiah, in order to show that which He is in contrast with the nature and the relative position of angels. The significance of these passages to a converted Jew is evident, and we readily perceive the adaptation of the argument to such, for the Jewish economy was under the administration of angels, according to their own belief-a belief fully grounded on the Word.1 And, at the same time, it was their own scriptures which proved that the Messiah was to have a position much more excellent and exalted than that of angels, according to the rights that belonged to Him by virtue of His nature, and according to the counsels and the revelation of God: so that they who united themselves to Him were brought into connection with that which entirely eclipsed the law and all that related to it, and to the Jewish economy which could not be separated from it, and whose glory was angelic in character. The glory of Christianity- and he speaks to those who acknowledged Jesus to be the Christ-was so much above the glory of the law, that the two could not be really united.
(1. See Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19.)
The title of “My Son” applied to Messiah born on earth: His relationship in time with God; its use in Psalm 2 and in Hebrews 1:5
The quotations begin by that from Psalm 2. God, it is written, has never said to any of the angels, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” It is this character of Sonship, proper to the Messiah, which, as a real relationship, distinguishes Him. He was from eternity the Son of the Father; but it is not precisely in this point of view that He is here considered. The name expresses the same relationship, but it is to the Messiah born on earth that this title is here applied. For Psalm 2, as establishing Him as King in Zion, announces the decree which proclaims His title. “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” is His relationship in time, with God. It depends, I doubt not, on His glorious nature; but this position for man was acquired by the miraculous birth of Jesus here below and demonstrated as true and determined in its true import by His resurrection. In Psalm 2 the testimony borne to this relationship is in connection with His kingship in Zion, but it declares the personal glories of the King acknowledged of God. By virtue of the rights connected with this title, all kings are summoned to submit themselves to Him. This psalm, then, is speaking of the government of the world, when God establishes the Messiah as King of Zion, and not of the gospel. But in the passage quoted (Heb. 1:5), it is the relationship of glory in which He subsists with God, the foundation of His rights, which is set forth, and not the royal rights themselves.
The Son in His relationship with God and not His eternal relationship with the Father
This is likewise the case in the next quotation: “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.” Here we plainly see that it is the relationship in which He is with God, in which God accepts and owns Him, and not His eternal relationship with the Father: “I will be to him a Father.” Thus it is still the Messiah, the King of Zion, the Son of David, for these words are applied in the first place to Solomon, as the son of David (2 Sam. 7:14 and 1 Chron. 17:13). In this second passage the application of the expression to the true son of David is more distinct. A relationship so intimate (expressed, one may say, with so much affection) was not the portion of angels. The Son of God, acknowledged to be so by God Him-self-this is the portion of the Messiah in connection with God. The Messiah then is the Son of God in an altogether peculiar way, which could not be applied to angels.
Angels called to worship the Firstborn, the Heir, having universal preeminence
But still more-when God introduces the Firstborn into the world, all the angels are called to worship Him. God presents Him to the world; but the highest of created beings must then cast themselves at His feet. The angels of God Himself-the creatures that are nearest to Him-must do homage to the Firstborn. This last expression also is remarkable. The Firstborn is the Heir, the beginning of the manifestation of the glory and power of God. It is in this sense that the word is used. It is said of the Son of David, “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Psa. 89:27). Thus the Messiah is introduced into the world as holding this place with regard to God Himself. He is the Firstborn-the immediate expression of the rights and the glory of God. He has universal preeminence.
Messiah’s positional glory
Such is, so to speak, the positional glory of the Messiah. Not only Head of the people on earth, as Son of David, nor even only the acknowledged Son of God on the earth, according to Psalm 2, but the universal Firstborn; so that the chief and most exalted of creatures, those nearest to God, the angels of God, the instruments of His power and government, must do homage to the Son in this His position.
Messiah’s proper and personal glory
Yet this is far from being all; and this homage itself would be out of place if His glory were not proper to Himself and personal, if it were not connected with His nature. Nevertheless, that which we have before us in this chapter is still the Messiah as owned of God. God tells us what He is. Of the angels He says, “He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” He does not make His Son anything: He recognizes that which He is, saying, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The Messiah may have an earthly throne (which also is not taken from Him, but which ceases by His taking possession of an eternal throne), but He has a throne which is forever and ever.
The Lord’s divinity and eternal throne; companions for the faithful Man whose place is so far above them
The scepter of His throne, as Messiah, is a scepter of righteousness. Also He has, when here below, personally loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God has anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows. These companions are the believing remnant of Israel, whom He has made by grace His fellows, although (perfectly well-pleasing to God by His love of righteousness-and that, at all costs) He is exalted above them all. This is a remarkable passage, because, while, on the one hand, the divinity of the Lord is fully established as well as His eternal throne, on the other hand, the passage comes down to His character as the faithful man on earth, where He made pious men-the little remnant of Israel who waited for redemption- His companions; at the same time it gives Him (and it could not be otherwise) a place above them.
The humbled Man recognized as Jehovah’s fellow and the poor remnant owned as fellows of the divine Saviour
The text then returns to the glory given Him as Man, having the preeminence here as in all things.
I have already remarked elsewhere that while, as we read in Zechariah, Jehovah recognizes as His fellow the humbled man, against whom His sword awakes to smite; here, where the divinity of Jesus is set forth, the same Jehovah owns the poor remnant of believers as the fellows of the divine Saviour. Marvelous links between God and His people!
Possessing the eternal throne of righteousness, Christ is recognized by God and glorified above all others
Already then in these remarkable testimonies He has the eternal throne and the scepter of righteousness: He is recognized as God although a Man, and glorified above all others as the reward of righteousness.
The Saviour cut off in the midst of His days was the Creator Himself
But the declaration of His divinity, the divinity of the Messiah, must be more precise. And the testimony is of the greatest beauty. The psalm that contains it is one of the most complete expressions we find in Scripture of the sense which Jesus had of His humiliation on earth, of His dependence on Jehovah, and that, having been raised up as Messiah from among men, He was cast down and His days shortened. If Zion were rebuilt (and the psalm speaks prophetically of the time when it shall take place), where would He be, Messiah as He was, if, weakened and humbled, He was cut off in the midst of His days (as was the case)? In a word, it is the prophetic expression of the Saviour’s heart in the prospect of that which happened to Him as a man on the earth, the utterance of His heart to Jehovah, in those days of humiliation, in presence of the renewed affection of the remnant for the dust of Zion-an affection which the Lord had produced in their hearts, and which was therefore a token of His goodwill and His purpose to reestablish it. But how could a Saviour who was cut off have part in it (a searching question for a believing Jew, tempted on that side)? The words here quoted are the answer to this question. Humbled as He might be, He was the Creator Himself. He was ever the same;1 His years could never fail. It was He who had founded the heavens: He would fold them up as a garment, but He Himself would never change.
(1. The words translated, “Thou art the same” (Atta Hu), are by many learned Hebraists taken-at least Hu-as a name of God. At any rate, as unchangeably the same, it amounts to it. The not failing years are endless duration when become a man.)
The testimony rendered to the Messiah by the scriptures of the Jews
Such then is the testimony rendered to the Messiah by the scriptures of the Jews themselves-the glory of His position above the angels who administered the dispensation of the law; His eternal throne of righteousness; His unchangeable divinity as Creator of all things.
The present place of Christ is His own place
One thing remained to complete this chain of glory-that is, the place occupied at present by Christ, in contrast still with the angels (a place that depends, on the one hand, upon the divine glory of His Person; on the other, upon the accomplishment of His work). And this place is at the right hand of God, who called Him to sit there until He had made His enemies His footstool. Not only in His Person glorious and divine, not only does He hold the first place with regard to all creatures in the universe (we have spoken of this, which will take place when He is introduced into the world), but He has His own place at the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. To which of the angels has God ever said this? They are servants on God’s part to the heirs of salvation.

Hebrews 2

The exhortation to believing Jews as to the word spoken, the word of salvation
This is the reason why it is so much the more needful to hearken to the word spoken, in order that they should not let it pass away from life and memory.
God had maintained the authority of the word that was communicated by means of angels, punishing disobedience to it, for it was a law. How then shall we escape if we neglect a salvation which the Lord Himself has announced? Thus the service of the Lord among the Jews was a word of salvation, which the apostles confirmed and which the mighty testimony of the Holy Spirit established.
Such is the exhortation addressed to the believing Jews, founded on the glory of the Messiah, whether with regard to His position or His Person, calling them away from what was Jewish to higher thoughts of Christ.
The Lord’s testimony to Israel: its confirmation
We have already remarked that the testimony, of which this epistle treats is attributed to the Lord Himself. Therefore, we must not expect to find in it the assembly (as such), of which the Lord had only spoken prophetically; but His testimony in relation to Israel, among whom He sojourned on the earth, to whatever extent that testimony reached. That which was spoken by the apostles is only treated here as a confirmation of the Lord’s own word, God having added His testimony to it by the miraculous manifestations of the Spirit, who distributed His gifts to each according to His will.
The Lord’s glory as Son of Man, in connection with the world to come, excluding angels altogether
The glory of which we have been speaking is the personal glory of the Messiah, the Son of David; and His glory in the time present, during which God has called Him to sit at His right hand. He is the Son of God, He is even the Creator; but there is also His glory in connection with the world to come, as Son of Man. Of this chapter 2 speaks, comparing Him still with the angels; but here to exclude them altogether. In the previous chapter they had their place: the law was given by angels; they are servants, on God’s part, of the heirs of salvation. In chapter 2 they have no place, they do not reign; the world to come is not made subject to them-that is, this habitable earth, directed and governed as it will be when God shall have accomplished that which He has spoken of by the prophets.
All things put under the feet of the Son of Man
The order of the world, placed in relationship with Jehovah under the law, or “lying in darkness,” has been interrupted by the rejection of the Messiah, who has taken His place at the right hand of God on high, His enemies being not yet given into His hand for judgment, because God is carrying on His work of grace and gathering out the assembly. But He will yet establish a new order of things on the earth; this will be “the world to come.” Now that world is not made subject to angels. The testimony given in the Old Testament with regard to this is as follows: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him; or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honor; thou hast set him over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Thus all things without exception (save He who has made them subject to Him) are, according to the purpose of God, put under the feet of man, and in particular of the Son of Man.
The testimony of Psalms 1, 2 and 8 to Christ made lower than the angels as Man, rejected and exalted
When studying the Book of Psalms, we saw that which I recall here, namely, that this testimony in Psalm 8 is, with regard to the position and dominion of Christ as man, an advance upon Psalm 2. Psalm 1 sets before us the righteous man, accepted of God, the godly remnant with which Christ connected Himself; Psalm 2, the counsels of God respecting His Messiah, in spite of the efforts made by the kings and governors of the earth. God establishes Him as King in Zion and summons all the kings to do homage to Him whom He proclaimed to be His Son on the earth. Afterwards we see that being rejected the remnant suffers, and this Psalm 2 is what Peter quotes to prove the rising up of the powers of the earth, Jewish and Gentile, against Messiah (Acts 4:25-26). But Psalm 8 shows that all this only served to enlarge the sphere of His glory. Christ takes the position of man and the title of Son of Man, and enjoys His rights according to the counsels of God; and, made lower than the angels, He is crowned with glory and honor. And not only are the kings of the earth made subject to Him, but all things, without exception, are put under His feet.1 It is this which the Apostle quotes here. The Christ had already been rejected and His being established as King in Zion put off to be accomplished at a later period. He had been exalted to the right hand of God, as we have seen; and the wider title had accrued to Him, although the result was not yet accomplished.
(1. Compare the answer of Christ to Nathanael at the end of John 1; also Matthew 17 and Luke 9, where the disciples are forbidden to announce Him as the Christ, and He declares He is about to suffer as Son of Man, but shows them the coming glory.)
The partial fulfillment of Psalm 8 a guarantee of its completion; why Christ was made lower than angels; crowned with glory and honor
To this the epistle here calls our attention. We see not yet the accomplishment of all that this psalm announces, namely, that all things should be put under His feet; but a part is already fulfilled, a guarantee to the heart of the fulfillment of the whole. Made a little lower than the angels in order to suffer death, He is crowned with glory and honor. He has suffered death, and He is crowned in reward for His work, by which He perfectly glorified God in the place where He had been dishonored, and saved man (those who believe in Him) where man was lost. For He was made lower than the angels, in order that, by the grace of God, He should taste death for all things. It appears to me that the words “for the suffering of death” and “a little lower than the angels” go together; and “so that by the grace of God” is a general phrase connected with the whole truth stated.
Entering into the circumstances where men were and undergoing the consequences; made perfect through sufferings; we taste death because of sin, He, because of grace for sin
This passage then, which is thus applied to the Lord, presents Him as exalted to heaven when He had undergone the death which gave Him a right to all in a new way while waiting till all is put under His feet. But there is another truth connected with this. He had undertaken the cause of the sons whom God is bringing to glory, and therefore He must enter into the circumstances in which they were found, suffer the consequences thereof, and be treated according to the work He had undertaken. It was a reality; and it was fitting that God should vindicate the rights of His glory, and should maintain it with reference to those who had dishonored Him, and that He should treat the One who had taken their cause in hand, and who stood before Him in their name, as representing them in that respect. God would bring the captain of their salvation to perfection through sufferings. He was to undergo the consequences of the situation into which He had come. His work was to be a reality, according to the measure of the responsibility which He had taken upon Himself, and it involved the glory of God where sin was. He must therefore suffer; He must taste death. It is by the grace of God that He did so-we, because of sin; He, because of grace for sin.
Christ and the sanctified ones as all one company; not ashamed to call these His brethren
This shows us the Christ standing in the midst of those who are saved, whom God brings to glory, although at their head. It is this which our epistle sets before us-He who sanctifies (the Christ) and they who are sanctified (the remnant set apart for God by the Spirit) are all of one: an expression, the force of which is easily apprehended, but difficult to express, when one abandons the abstract nature of the phrase itself. Observe that it is only of sanctified persons that this is said. Christ and the sanctified ones are all one company, men together in the same position before God. But the idea goes a little further.
It is not of one and the same Father; had it been so, it could not have been said, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” He could not then do otherwise than call them brethren.
If we say “of the same mass,” the expression may be pushed too far, as though He and the others were of the same nature as children of Adam, sinners together. In this case He would have to call every man His brother; whereas it is only the children whom God has given Him, “sanctified” ones, that He so calls. But He and the sanctified ones are all as men in the same nature and position together before God. When I say “the same,” it is not in the same state of sin, but the contrary, for they are the Sanctifier and the sanctified, but in the same truth of human position as it is before God as sanctified to Him; the same as far forth as man when He, as the sanctified one, is before God. On this account He is not ashamed to call the sanctified His brethren.
The children given Him called His brethren only when His work was finished
This position is entirely gained by resurrection; for although, in principle, the children were given to Him before, yet He only called them His brethren when He had finished the work which enabled Him to present them with Himself before God. He said indeed “mother, sister, brother”; but He did not use the term “my brethren” until He said to Mary of Magdala, “Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.” Also in Psalm 22 it is when He had been heard from the horns of the unicorn that He declared the name of a Deliverer-God to His brethren, and that He praised God in the midst of the assembly.
The disciples’ link with the Father not formed until after Christ’s resurrection
He spoke to them of the Father’s name while on earth, but the link itself could not be formed; He could not introduce them to the Father, until the grain of wheat, falling into the ground, had died; until then He remained alone, whatever might be the revelations that He made to them; and, in fact, He declared the name of His Father to those whom He had given Him. Still He had actually taken the human position, and He Himself was in this relationship with God. He kept them in the Father’s name, they were not yet united to Him in this position; but He was as man in the relationship with God in which they also should be, when brought in by redemption into association with Himself. That which He does in the latter part of the Gospel by John is to place His disciples- in the explanations He gave of the condition in which He left them-in the position which He, in fact, had held in relationship with His Father on earth, and in testimony to the world, the glory of His Person as representing and revealing His Father being necessarily distinct. And, in seeking to associate with them, He associated them with Himself and Himself with them when He ascended to heaven, although no longer corporeally subject to the trials of their position.1
(1. This, however, in relationship with God. They did not represent nor make known the Father as He did. Also, while we are brought into the same glory with Christ and the same relationship with the Father, the personal glory of Christ as Son is always carefully secured. It has been justly remarked to the same purpose by another that He never says “our” Father with the disciples. He tells them to say “our,” but says “my and your,” and it is much more precious.)
Christ calling His people “brethren” only when risen; associating godly men, the remnant, with Himself
He was not ashamed then to call them brethren, saying, though risen, yea, only when risen, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, I will praise thee in the midst of the assembly.” And speaking of the remnant separated from Israel, He says, “Behold I and the children whom God hath given me are for signs unto the two houses of Israel”; and again, “I will put my trust in him”-another quotation from Isaiah 8. So in the Psalms, especially in Psalm 16, He declares that He does not take His place as God- “my goodness extendeth not to thee,” but that He identifies Himself with the excellent of the earth-that all His delight is in them. This is again the remnant of Israel called by grace.
Christ associates these sanctified men, godly men on earth, with Himself. In the passage quoted it is still His place on earth: His sufferings, His exaltation, future glory, divinity are, as we have seen, added here.
Christ conforming Himself to the children’s position, taking part in flesh and blood; the reason: Satan conquered
Having taken this place as of, but at the head of, the chosen band-their servant in all things, He must conform Himself to their position. And this He did: the children being partakers of flesh and blood, He took part in the same; and this, in order that by death He might put an end to the dominion of him who had the power of death and deliver those who, through fear of death, had been subjected all their life to the yoke of bondage.
Here also (the Apostle seeking always to display the glorious and efficacious side, even of that which was most humbling, in order to accustom the weak heart of the Jews to that portion of the gospel) we find that the Lord’s work goes far beyond the limits of a presentation of the Messiah to His people. Not only is He glorious in heaven, but He has conquered Satan in the very place where he exercised his sad dominion over man and where the judgment of God lay heavily upon man.
The motive and means of man’s deliverance; the seed of Abraham
Moved by a profound love for man, the Son-become the Son of Man-enters in heart and in fact into all the need, and submits to all the circumstances, of man in order to deliver him. He takes (for He was not in it before) flesh and blood, in order to die, because man was subjected to death; and (in order to destroy him who exercised his dominion over man through death, and made him tremble all his lifetime in the expectation of that terrible moment, which testified of the judgment of God, and the inability of man to escape the consequences of sin) the condition into which disobedience to God had plunged him. For verily the Lord did not undertake the cause of angels, but that of the seed of Abraham, and in order to proclaim the work that was necessary for them, and to represent them efficaciously and really before God, He must needs put Himself into the position and the circumstances in which that seed were found, though not the state they were personally in.
It will be remarked here that it is still a family owned of God, which is before our eyes, as the object of the Saviour’s affection and care-the children whom God had given Him, children of Abraham after the flesh, if in that condition they answered to the designation of “seed of Abraham” (this is the question of John 8:37-39), or his children according to the Spirit, if grace gives it them.
Christ the priest able to sympathize with His own in all their conflicts and difficulties
These truths introduce priesthood. As Son of Man, He had been made a little less than the angels, and, crowned already with glory and honor, was hereafter to have all things put under His feet. This we do not yet see. But He took this place of humiliation in order to taste death for the whole system that was afar from God and to gain the full rights of the second Man, by glorifying God there, where the creature had failed through weakness, and where also the enemy, having deceived man by his subtlety, had dominion over him (according to the righteous judgment of God) in power and malice. At the same time, he tasted death for the special purpose of delivering the children whom God would bring to glory, taking their nature and gathering them together as sanctified ones around Himself, He not being ashamed to call them brethren. But it was thus that He was to present them now before God, according to the efficacy of the work which He had accomplished for them; He would become a priest, being able through His life of humiliation and trial here below to sympathize with His own in all their conflicts and difficulties.
Suffering or yielding; the flesh does not suffer, but enjoys; the new man’s need of succor against the flesh
He suffered-never yielded. We do not suffer when we yield to temptation: the flesh takes pleasure in the things by which it is tempted. Jesus suffered, being tempted, and He is able to succor them that are tempted. It is important to observe that the flesh, when acted upon by its desires, does not suffer. Being tempted, it, alas! enjoys. But when, according to the light of the Holy Spirit and the fidelity of obedience, the Spirit resists the attacks of the enemy, whether subtle or persecuting, then one suffers. This the Lord did, and this we have to do. That which needs succor is the new man, the faithful heart, and not the flesh. I need succor against the flesh, and in order to mortify all the members of the old man.
Needed help given by the One who has suffered being
tempted; Jesus’ faithfulness and love equally perfect
Here the needed help refers to the difficulties of the faithful saint in fulfilling all the will of God. This is where he suffers, this is where the Lord-who has suffered-can succor him. He trod this path, He learned in it that which can be suffered there from the enemy and from men. A human heart feels it, and Jesus had a human heart. Besides, the more faithful the heart is, the more full of love to God, and the less it has of that hardness which is the result of interaction with the world, the more will it suffer. Now there was no hardness in Jesus. His faithfulness and His love were equally perfect. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief and weariness. He suffered being tempted.1
(1. Four distinct grounds may be noticed in the chapter for the humiliation of Jesus: it became God-there was His glory; the destruction of Satan’s power; reconciliation or really propitiation by death; and capacity for sympathy in priesthood.)

Hebrews 3

The Lord as the Apostle and High Priest of believers among the Jews
Thus the Lord is set before us as the Apostle and High Priest of believers from among the Jews, the true people. I say, “From among the Jews,” not that He is not our priest, but that here the sacred writer places himself among the believing Jews, saying “our”; and, instead of speaking of himself as an apostle, he points out Jesus as the Apostle; which He was in Person among the Jews. In principle, it is true of all believers. That which He has said is the Lord’s word, and He is able to succor us when we are tempted. We are His house.
Moses, the faithful servant in the house, contrasted with Christ, the Son over His house
For we have here a third character of Christ. He is a “Son over his house.” Moses was faithful in all the house of God as a servant, in testimony to the things that were afterwards to be proclaimed. But Christ is over God’s house; but it is not as a servant but as a Son. He has built the house. He is God.
Moses identified himself with the house, faithful therein in all things. But Christ is more excellent; even as he who builds the house is more excellent than the house. But He who builds all things is God. And this is what Christ did. For, in fact, the house (that is, the tabernacle in the wilderness) was a figure of the universe; and Christ passed through the heavens, as the high priest passed into the sanctuary. All was cleansed with blood, even as God will reconcile all things by Christ in the heavens and on the earth. In a certain sense, this universe is the house of God. He deigns to inhabit it. Christ created it all. But there is a house which is more properly His own. We are His house, taking it for granted that we persevere to the end.
The danger of the Hebrew Christians of forsaking a Christianity and an unseen Christ for visible things
The Hebrew Christians were in danger-being attracted by their former habits, and by a law and ceremonies which God Himself had established-of forsaking a Christianity, in which Christ was not visible, for things that were visible and palpable. The Christ of Christians, far from being a crown of glory to the people, was only an object of faith, so that, if faith failed, He was deprived of all importance to them. A religion that made itself seen (the “old wine”) naturally attracted those that had been accustomed to it.
The Builder and the house
But, in fact, Christ was much more excellent than Moses; as he who has built the house had more honor than the house. Now this house was the figure of all things, and He who had built them was God. The passage gives us this view of Christ and of the house, and also says that we are this house. And Christ is not the servant here; He is the Son over God’s house.
The assembly as the body of Christ and its proper privileges not found in this epistle
We must always remember that which has been already remarked, namely, that in this epistle we have not the assembly as the body of Christ in union with Himself; nor even the Father either, except as a comparison in chapter 12. It is God, a heavenly Christ (who is the Son of God), and a people, the Messiah being a heavenly mediator between the people and God. Therefore, the proper privileges of the assembly are not found in this epistle- they flow from our union with Christ; and here Christ is a Person apart, who is between us and God, on high while we are here.
There are still a few remarks which we may add here in order to throw light on this point and to assist the reader in understanding the first two chapters, as well as the principle of the instructions throughout the epistle.
The work of Christ as presented in chapter 1
In chapter 1 Christ accomplishes by Himself as a part of His divine glory the purification of sins and seats Himself at the right hand of God. This work, observe, is done by Himself. We have nothing to do with it, save to believe in and enjoy it. It is a divine work which this divine Person has accomplished by Himself; so that it has all the absolute perfection, all the force, of a work done by Him, without any mixture of our weakness, of our efforts, or of our experiences. He performed it by Himself, and it is accomplished. Thereupon He takes His seat. He is not placed there-He seats Himself upon the throne on high.
The present state of the glorified Man; looking forward to future, full blessing in the Son of Man
In chapter 2 we see another point which characterizes the epistle-the present state of the glorified Man. He is crowned with glory and honor; but it is with a view to an order of things which is not yet accomplished. It is the Person of the Man Christ which is presented, not the assembly in union with Him, even when He is beheld as glorified in the heavens. This glory is viewed as a partial accomplishment of that which belongs to Him, according to the counsels of God, as the Son of Man. Hereafter, this glory will be complete in all its parts by the subjugation of all things.
The present glory, therefore, of Christ makes us look forward to an order of things yet future, which will be full rest, full blessing. In a word, besides the perfection of His work, the epistle sets before us the sequel of that which belongs to the Christ in Person, the Son of Man, not the perfection of the assembly in Him. And this embraces the present time, the character of which, to the believer, depends on Christ’s being now glorified in heaven while waiting for a future state, in which all things will be subjected to Him.
Christ crowned as Son of Man; Christ glorified, once dead on account of man
In this chapter 2 we see also that He is crowned. He is not seen sitting there as in His own original right, though He had that glory before the world was, but, having been made a little less than the angels, God crowns Him. We also plainly see that although the believing Hebrews are especially in view, and even all Christians are classed under the title of Abraham’s seed on the earth, yet that Christ is viewed, nevertheless, as the Son of Man, and not as the Son of David; and the question is put, “What is man?” The answer (the precious answer for us) is, Christ glorified, once dead on account of man’s condition. In Him we see the mind of God with regard to man.
Christians viewed as Abraham’s seed, as forming part of the chain of the heirs of promise on earth, and not as the assembly
The fact that Christians themselves are viewed as the seed of Abraham plainly shows the way in which they are considered as forming part of the chain of the heirs of promise on earth (as in Romans 11), and not as the assembly united to Christ as His body in heaven.
The earthly and heavenly parts of God’s counsels foreseen
in connection with the present position of the Son of Man;
the blessing of the remnant; the force of “us” in the epistle
The work is perfect; it is the work of God. He has by Himself made purification of sins. The full result of the counsels of God with regard to the Son of Man is not yet come. Thus the earthly part can be brought in, as a thing foreseen, as well as the heavenly part, although the persons to whom the epistle is addressed had part in the heavenly glory-participated in the heavenly calling- in connection with the present position of the Son of Man.
The remnant of the Jews, as we have said, are considered as continuing the chain of the people blessed on earth, whatever heavenly privileges they may also possess or whatever their special state may be in connection with the Messiah’s exaltation to heaven. We have been grafted into the good olive tree, so that we share all the advantages here spoken of. Our highest position, and the privileges belonging to it, are not here in view. Accordingly, as writing to Hebrews and as one among them, he addresses them, that is to say, Christians and believing Israelites. This is the force of the word “us” in the epistle; we must bear it in mind, and that the Hebrew believers always form the word “us,” of which the writer is also a part.
As I have said, we rightly appropriate it to ourselves in principle; but to have a clear view of his meaning, we must put ourselves at the point of view which the Spirit of God has taken.
Hardening the heart; consequences of departure from what was acknowledged to be true; the danger of forsaking the living God; the word “today” expressing the patient activity of God’s grace and long-suffering
No one ought to harden his heart; but this word is especially addressed to Israel, and that until the day when Christ shall appear. In speaking of it, the author returns to the word that had formerly been addressed to Israel; not now in order to warn them of the danger they would incur by neglecting it, but of the consequences of departing from that which they had acknowledged to be true. Israel, when delivered out of Egypt, had provoked God in the wilderness (it was indeed the case also of Christians in this world), because they were not at once, and without difficulty, in Canaan. Those to whom he wrote were in danger of forsaking the living God in the same way; that is, the danger was there before their eyes. They should rather exhort each other, while it was still called today, in order that they might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This word “today” is the expression of the patient activity of God’s grace towards Israel even unto the end. The people were unbelieving; they have hardened their hearts; they have done so, and will alas! do so to the end, until judgment come in the Person of the Messiah-Jehovah, whom they have despised. But until then God loves to reiterate, “Today, if ye will hear my voice.” It may be that only a few will hearken; it may be that the nation is judicially hardened, in order to admit the Gentiles; but the word “today” still resounds for everyone among them who has ears to hear, until the Lord shall appear in judgment. It is addressed to the people according to the long-suffering of God. For the remnant who had believed it was a special warning not to walk in the ways of the hardened people who had refused to hearken-not to turn back to them, forsaking their own confidence in the word which had called them, as Israel did in the wilderness.
Practical danger: unbelief through sin and God’s faithfulness
As long as the “today” of the call of grace should continue, they were to exhort one another, lest unbelief should glide into their hearts through the subtlety of sin. It is thus that the living God is forsaken. We speak thus practically, not with reference to the faithfulness of God, who certainly will not allow any of His own to perish, but with regard to practical danger, and to that which would draw us away-as to our responsibility-from God, and forever, if God did not intervene, acting in the life which He has given us, and which never perishes.
Sin’s effects: the warning against it arrests the living,
the dead despise it and perish; Israel in the wilderness
Sin separates us from God in our thoughts; we have no longer the same sense either of His love, His power or His interest in us. Confidence is lost. Hope, and the value of unseen things, diminish; while the value of things that are seen proportionately increases. The conscience is bad; one is not at ease with God. The path is hard and difficult; the will strengthens itself against Him. We no longer live by faith; visible things come in between us and God, and take possession of the heart. Where there is life, God warns by His Spirit (as in this epistle), He chastises and restores. Where it was only an outward influence, a faith devoid of life, and the conscience not reached, it is abandoned.
It is the warning against so doing that arrests the living. The dead-they whose consciences are not engaged, who do not say, “To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life”-despise the warning and perish. This was the case with Israel in the wilderness, and God sware unto them that they should not enter into His rest (Num. 14:21-23). And why? They had given up their confidence in Him. Their unbelief-when the beauty and excellence of the land had been reported to them-deprived them of the promised rest.
Israel deprived of the promised rest through unbelief; the position of believers in connection with better promises
The position of the believers to whom this epistle is addressed was the same as this, although in connection with better promises. The beauty and excellence of the heavenly Canaan had been proclaimed to them. They had, by the Spirit, seen and tasted its fruits; they were in the wilderness; they had to persevere to maintain their confidence unto the end.
Doubting Christians not here contemplated; the exhortation given to preserve the Christian in confidence; the use of the epistle to sanction doubts a device of the enemy; a good conscience
Observe here-for Satan, and our own conscience when it has not been set free, often make use of this epistle-that doubting Christians are not here contemplated, or persons who have not yet gained entire confidence in God: to those who are in this condition its exhortations and warnings have no application. These exhortations are to preserve the Christian in a confidence which he has, and to persevere, not to tranquilize fears and doubts. This use of the epistle to sanction such doubts is but a device of the enemy. Only I would add here that, although the full knowledge of grace (which in such a case the soul has assuredly not yet attained) is the only thing that can deliver and set it free from its fears, yet it is very important in this case practically to maintain a good conscience, in order not to furnish the enemy with a special means of attack.

Hebrews 4

Israel’s failure through unbelief to enter into rest; the rest yet to come; believers enter into it
The Apostle goes on to apply this part of Israel’s history to those whom he was addressing, laying stress on two points: first, that Israel had failed of entering into rest through unbelief; second, that the rest was yet to come, and that believers (those who were not seeking rest here, but who accepted the wilderness for the time being) should enter into it.
He begins by saying, “Let us fear lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any should seem to come short of it,” not attain to it. For we have been the objects of the proclamation of glad tidings, as they were in times past. But the word addressed to them remained fruitless, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it: for we which have believed do enter into rest. The rest itself is yet to come, and it is believers who enter into it. For a rest of God there is, and there are some who enter into it: inasmuch as it is written, “They,” that is, those (pointing out a certain class who are to be excluded) “shall not enter into my rest.”
God’s rest in the first creation: some were to enter into it, but Israel did not because of unbelief
God had wrought in creation, and then rested from His works when He had finished them. Thus, from the foundation of the world, He has shown that He had a rest, as in the passage already quoted, “If they shall enter into my rest”; but this, showing that the entering in was yet in question, showed that into God’s rest in the first creation man had not entered. Two things then are evident-some were to enter in, and the Israel to whom it was first proposed did not enter in because of their unbelief. Therefore He again fixes a day, saying, in David, long after the entrance into Canaan, “Today-as it is written-today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The rest of God was not the rest of entering into Canaan but is yet to come, assured by God’s Word
Here a natural objection occurs to which the passage gives a complete answer, without speaking of the objection itself. The Israelites had indeed fallen in the wilderness, but Joshua had brought the people into Canaan which the unbelievers never reached; the Jews were there, so that they did enter into the rest as to which the others failed. The answer is evident. It was long after this that God said by David, “I sware in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest.” If Joshua had given rest to Israel, David could not afterwards have spoken of another day. There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God. It is yet to come; but it is assured by the Word of God-a truth, the bearing of which is immediately seen with regard to the connection of the believing Jews with the nation, in the midst of which they were tempted to seek a rest that, for the moment, faith did not afford them, and being enfeebled saw but dimly before it. To have God’s rest one must persevere in faith. Present, apparent rest was not the true rest. God’s rest was still to be waited for. Faith alone acknowledged this and sought for none in the wilderness, trusting to the promise. God still said, “Today.”
The state of the people was worse than the rest that Joshua gave them; which, as their own psalms prove, was no rest at all.
What the exhortation to enter that rest shows
As to the order of the verses, the exhortation in verse 11 depends on the whole course of what precedes, the argument having been completed by the testimony of David coming after Joshua. After the creation God indeed rested; but He said after that, “If they shall enter into my rest,” so that men had not entered into that rest. Joshua entered into the land; but the word by David, coming long after, proves that the rest of God was not yet attained. Nevertheless, this same testimony, which forbade the entrance into rest because of unbelief, showed that some are to enter in: otherwise there was no need of declaring the exclusion of others for a special cause, nor warning men that they might escape what hindered their entering in. No parenthesis is needed.
The exhortation
Now, as long as anyone had not ceased from his works, he had not entered into rest; he who has entered into it has ceased from work, even as God ceased from His own works when He entered into His rest. “Let us therefore use all diligence” is the exhortation of the faithful witness of God, “that we may enter into that rest”- the rest of God-in order that we may not fall after the same example of unbelief.
The rest of God; the Christian’s future rest from all his works; the blessed rest that remains
We should especially observe here that it is the rest of God which is spoken of. This enables us to understand the happiness and perfection of the rest. God must rest in that which satisfies His heart. This was the case even in creation-all was very good. And now it must be in a perfect blessing that perfect love can be satisfied with, with regard to us, who will possess a heavenly portion in the blessing which we shall have in His own presence, in perfect holiness and perfect light. Accordingly, all the toilsome work of faith, the exercise of faith in the wilderness, the warfare (although there are many joys), the good works practiced there, labor of every kind will cease. It is not only that we shall be delivered from the power of indwelling sin; all the efforts and all the troubles of the new man will cease. We are already set free from the law of sin; then our spiritual exercise for God will cease. We shall rest from our works-not evil ones. We have already rested from our works with regard to justification, and therefore in that sense we have now rest in our consciences, but that is not the subject here-it is the Christian’s rest from all his works. God rested from His works-assuredly good ones-and so shall we also then with Him.
We are now in the wilderness; we also wrestle with wicked spirits in heavenly places. A blessed rest remains for us, in which our hearts will repose in the presence of God, where nothing will trouble the perfection of our rest, where God will rest in the perfection of the blessing He has bestowed on His people.
The believer not to expect that rest here; an earthly rest for the earthly people and a heavenly one for the partakers of the heavenly calling
The great thought of the passage is that there remains a rest (that is to say, that the believer is not to expect it here) without saying where it is. And it does not speak in detail of the character of the rest, because it leaves the door open to an earthly rest for the earthly people on the ground of the promises, although to Christian partakers of the heavenly calling God’s rest is evidently a heavenly one.
The instrument God uses to judge unbelief; the Word of God: its power, character, work, effects and consequences
The Apostle then sets before us the instrument which God employs to judge the unbelief and all the workings of the heart which tend, as we have seen, to lead the believer into departure from the position of faith and to hide God from him by inducing him to satisfy his flesh and to seek for rest in the wilderness.
To the believer who is upright in heart this judgment is of great value, as that which enables him to discern all that has a tendency to hinder his progress or make him slacken his steps. It is the Word of God, which-being the revelation of God, the expression of what He is, and of all that surrounds Him, and of what His will is in all the circumstances that surround us-judges everything in the heart which is not of Him. It is more penetrating than a two-edged sword. Living and energetic, it separates all that is most intimately linked together in our hearts and minds. Whenever nature-the “soul” and its feelings- mingles with that which is spiritual, it brings the edge of the sword of the living truth of God between the two, and judges the hidden movements of the heart respecting them. It discerns all the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But it has another character, coming from God (being, as it were, His eye upon the conscience), it brings us into His presence; and all that it forces us to discover, it sets in our conscience before the eye of God Himself. Nothing is hidden, all is naked and manifested to the eye of Him with whom we have to do.1
(1. The connection between the Word addressed to man and God Himself is very remarkable here. )
Such is the true help, the mighty instrument of God to judge everything in us that would hinder us from pursuing our course through the wilderness with joy and with a buoyant heart strengthened by faith and confidence in Him. Precious instrument of a faithful God, solemn and serious in its operation; but of priceless and infinite blessing in its effects, in its consequences.
It is an instrument which, in its operations, does not allow “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” liberty to act; which does not permit the heart to deceive itself; but which procures us strength and places us without any consciousness of evil in the presence of God, to pursue our course with joy and spiritual energy. Here the exhortation, founded on the power of the Word, concludes.
Another succor-the priesthood: the great High Priest, Jesus the Son of David
But there is another succor, one of a different character, to aid us in our passage through the wilderness; and that is priesthood-a subject which the epistle here begins and carries on through several chapters. We have a high priest who has passed through the heavens-as Aaron through the successive parts of the tabernacle-Jesus, the Son of David.
The ability of Jesus to sympathize with weakness and difficulties: now beyond the reach of pain and trial, He can provide, care and sympathize in it
He has, in all things, been tempted like ourselves, sin apart; so that He can sympathize with our infirmities. The Word brings to light the intents of the heart, judges the will, and all that has not God for its object and its source. Then, as far as weakness is concerned, we have His sympathy. Christ, of course, had no evil desires: He was tempted in every way, apart from sin. Sin had no part in it at all. But I do not wish for sympathy with the sin that is in me; I detest it, I wish it to be mortified-judged unsparingly. This the Word does. For my weakness and my difficulties I seek sympathy; and I find it in the priesthood of Jesus. It is not necessary, in order to sympathize with me, that a person should feel at the same moment that which I am feeling-rather the contrary. If I am suffering pain, I am not in a condition to think as much of another’s pain. But in order to sympathize with him I must have a nature capable of appreciating his pain.
Thus it is with Jesus, when exercising His priesthood. He is in every sense beyond the reach of pain and trial, but He is man; and not only has He the human nature which in time suffered grief, but He experienced the trials a saint has to go through more fully than any of ourselves; and His heart, free and full of love, can entirely sympathize with us, according to His experience of ill, and according to the glorious liberty which He now has, to provide and care for it. This encourages us to hold fast our profession in spite of the difficulties that beset our path; for Jesus concerns Himself about them, according to His own knowledge and experience of what they are, and according to the power of His grace.
The throne of grace; what we find there
Therefore, our High Priest being there, we can go with all boldness to the throne of grace, to find mercy and the grace suited to us in all times of need: mercy, because we are weak and wavering; needful grace, because we are engaged in a warfare which God owns.
Observe, it is not that we go to the High Priest. It is often done, and God may have compassion; but it is a proof that we do not fully understand grace. The Priest, the Lord Jesus, occupies Himself about us-sympathizes with us, on the one hand; and on the other, we go directly to the throne of grace.

Hebrews 5

The purpose of the exhortation to go boldly to the throne of grace
The Spirit does not here speak positively of falls; we find that in 1 John 2. There also it is in connection with communion with His Father, here with access to God. His purpose here is to strengthen us, to encourage us to persevere in the way, conscious of the sympathies which we possess in heaven, and that the throne is always open to us.
The Lord’s priesthood compared with that of Aaron
The epistle then develops the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, comparing it with that of Aaron; but, as we shall see, with a view to bring out the difference rather than the resemblance between them, although there is a general analogy, and the one was a shadow of the other.
This comparison is made in chapter 5:1-10. The line of argument is then interrupted, though the ground of argument is enlarged and developed, till the end of chapter 7, where the comparison with Melchisedec is pursued; and the change of law, consequent on the change of priesthood, is stated, which introduces the covenants and all that relates to the circumstances of the Jews.
The duties, shortcomings and honors of the Aaronic priesthood
A priest, then, as taken from among men (he is not here speaking of Christ, but of that with which he compares Him), is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; he is able to feel the miseries of others, because he is himself compassed with infirmity, and offers, therefore, for himself as well as for the people. Moreover, no one takes this honor to himself, but receives it, as Aaron did, being called of God. The epistle will speak further on of the sacrifice-here of the person of the priest, and of the order of the priesthood.
The personal and official glory of Christ as high priest
So the Christ glorified not Himself to become a high priest. The glory of His Person, manifested as man on the earth, and that of His function are both of them plainly declared of God: the first, when He said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Psa. 2); the second, in these words, “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Psa. 110). Such, then, in both personal and official glory is the High Priest, the expected Messiah, Christ.
What brought the glorious One near to the miseries of men
But His glory (although it gives Him His place in honor before God, and consequent on redemption, so that He can undertake the people’s cause before God according to His will) does not bring Him near to the miseries of men. It is His history on earth which makes us feel how truly able He is to take part in them. “In the days of his flesh,” that is, here below, He went into all the anguish of death in dependence on God, making His request to Him who was able to save Him from it. For, being here in order to obey and to suffer, He did not save Himself. He submitted to everything, obeyed in everything, and depended on God for everything.
The Lord’s fear was His piety; feeling the whole weight of death and sin; His perfect obedience
He was heard because of His fear. It was proper that He who took death on Himself, as answering for others, should feel its whole weight upon His soul. He would neither escape the consequences of that which He had undertaken (compare chapter 2), nor fail in the just sense of what it was thus to be under the hand of God in judgment. His fear was His piety, the right estimation of the position in which sinful man was found, and what must come from God because of it. For Him, however, to suffer the consequences of this position was obedience. And this obedience was to be perfect, and to be tried to the utmost.
The glorious Son of God perfected; the cause of eternal salvation; saluted by God as “high priest after the order of Melchisedec”
He was the Son, the glorious Son of God. But though this was so, He was to learn obedience (and to Him it was a new thing), what it was in the world, by all that He suffered. And, having deserved all glory, He was to take His place as the glorified Man-to be perfected; and in that position to become the cause of eternal salvation (not merely temporal deliverances) to them that obey Him; a salvation which should be connected with the position that He had taken in consequence of His work of obedience, saluted by God as “high priest after the order of Melchisedec.”
The condition of those to whom the epistle was addressed, requiring milk instead of meat
That which follows to the end of chapter 6 is a parenthesis which refers to the condition of those to whom the epistle is addressed. They are blamed for the dullness of their spiritual intelligence and encouraged at the same time by the promises of God; the whole with reference to their position as Jewish believers. Afterwards, the line of instruction with regard to Melchisedec is resumed.
For the time, they ought to have been able to teach: nevertheless, they needed that someone should teach them the elements of the oracles of God-requiring milk instead of meat.
The hindrance in traditional religion and ordinances
We may observe that there is no greater hindrance to progress in spiritual life and intelligence than attachment to an ancient form of religion, which, being traditional and not simply personal faith in the truth, consists always in ordinances and is consequently carnal and earthly. Without this, people may be unbelievers; but under the influence of such a system piety itself-expended in forms-makes a barrier between the soul and the light of God: and these forms which surround, preoccupy and hold the affections captive prevent them from enlarging and becoming enlightened by means of divine revelation. Morally (as the Apostle here expresses it) the senses are not exercised to discern both good and evil.
But the Holy Spirit will not limit Himself to the narrow circle and the weak and futile sentiments of human tradition, nor even to those truths which, in a state like this, one is able to receive. In such a case Christ has not His true place. And this our epistle here develops.
Milk and solid food: infancy and manhood
Milk belongs to babes, solid food to those who are of full age. This infancy was the soul’s condition under the ordinances and requirements of the law (compare Galatians 4:1-7). But there was a revelation of the Messiah in connection with these two states-of infancy and of manhood. And the development of the word of righteousness, of the true, practical relationships of the soul to God according to His character and ways, was in proportion to the revelation of Christ, who is the manifestation of that character, and the center of all those ways. Therefore it is that, in chapter 5:12-13, the epistle speaks of the elements, the beginning, of the oracles of God, and of the word of righteousness; in chapter 6:1, of the word of the beginning, or of the first principles, of Christ.

Hebrews 6

The full revelation of Christ’s glory; the doctrine belonging to infancy in contrast with the strength and savor of Christian revelation; what Christ Himself is
Now the Spirit will not stop at this point with Christians, but will go on to that full revelation of His glory which belongs to them that are of full age and indeed forms us for that state.
We easily perceive that the inspired writer tries to make the Hebrews feel that he was placing them on higher and more excellent ground, by connecting them with a heavenly and invisible Christ; and that Judaism kept them back in the position of children. This, moreover, characterizes the whole epistle.
Nevertheless, we shall find two things here: on the one hand, the elements and the character of doctrine that belonged to infancy, to “the beginning of the word of Christ,” in contrast with the strength and heavenly savor that accompanied the Christian revelation; and, on the other hand, what the revelation of Christ Himself is in connection with this last spiritual and Christian system.
Why the Christian system is distinguished from the doctrine of the Person of Christ
But the epistle distinguishes between this system and the doctrine of the Person of Christ, even looked at as man,1 although the present position of Christ gives its character to the Christian system. The distinction is made-not that the condition of souls does not depend on the measure of the revelation of Christ and of the position He has taken, but-because the doctrine of His Person and glory goes much farther than the present state of our relationship with God.
(1. The Sonship of Christ, however, here below, cannot be separated from His eternal Sonship, for this lends its character to the relationship in which He stands as Son on earth in time. The passage in the text refers to verses 5 and 8, compared with verses 6 and 10 of chapter 5. Compare also the beginning of John 17.)
The elementary doctrines of the times when Christ was not manifested and Christian privileges enjoyed in virtue of the Messiah’s work and glorification
The things spoken of in chapter 6:1-2 had their place, because the Messiah was then yet to come: all was in a state of infancy. The things spoken of in verses 4-5 are the privileges that Christians enjoyed in virtue of the work and the glorification of the Messiah. But they are not in themselves the “perfection” mentioned in verse 1, and which relates rather to the knowledge of the Person of Christ Himself. The privileges in question were the effect of the glorious position of His Person in heaven.
It is important to attend to this, in order to understand these passages. In the infancy spoken of in verses 1-2, the obscurity of the revelations of the Messiah, announced at most by promises and prophecies, left worshippers under the yoke of ceremonies and figures, although in possession of some fundamental truths. His exaltation made way for the power of the Holy Spirit here below: and on this the responsibility of souls which had tasted it depended.
The epistle’s full revelation to prevent Jews from forsaking Christian privileges to return to the former things
The doctrine of the Person and the glory of Jesus forms the subject of revelation in the epistle, and was the means of deliverance for the Jews from the whole system which had been such a heavy burden on their hearts; it should prevent their forsaking the state described in verses 4 and 5, in order to return into the weakness and (Christ having come) the carnal state of verses 1 and 2.
The epistle then does not desire to establish again the true but elementary doctrines which belonged to the times when Christ was not manifested, but to go forward to the full revelation of His glory and position according to the counsels of God revealed in the Word.
New things in connection with Messiah’s heavenly glory characterized by the Spirit’s power
The Holy Spirit would not go back again to these former things, because new things had been brought in in connection with the heavenly glory of the Messiah, namely, Christianity characterized by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The former things of Judaism left behind and Christianity’s new things abandoned, nothing was left
But if anyone who had been brought under that power, who had known it, should afterwards abandon it, he could not be renewed again to repentance. The former things of Judaism must be, and were, left behind by that into which he had entered. Christians could not deal with souls by them; and, as for the new things, he had given them up. All God’s means had been employed for him and had produced nothing.
The Hebrew who had once acknowledged the national sin of the crucifixion of Messiah and then retracted it was personally guilty of the crime, knowingly and of his own will
Such a one-of his own will-crucified for himself the Son of God. Associated with the people who had done so, he had acknowledged the sin which his people had committed and owned Jesus to be the Messiah. But now he committed the crime,1 knowingly and of his own will.
(1. I do not think “afresh” ought to be inserted: the emphasis is on doing it for himself.)
Miracles as testifying of the Messiah’s glorification, a partial anticipation of full deliverance, the “powers of the world to come”
The judgment, the resurrection of the dead, repentance from dead works had been taught. Under that order of things the nation had crucified their Messiah. Now power had come; which testified of the glorification of the crucified Messiah, the Son of God, in heaven; and which by miracles destroyed (at least in detail) the power of the enemy who was still reigning over the world. These miracles were a partial anticipation of the full and glorious deliverance which should take place in the world to come, when the triumphant Messiah, the Son of God, should entirely destroy all the power of the enemy. Hence, they are called the “powers of the world to come.”
The Spirit’s power exercised in anticipation of deliverance and the word of grace preached
The power of the Holy Spirit, the miracles wrought in the bosom of Christianity were testimonies that the power which was to accomplish that deliverance-although still hidden in heaven-existed, nevertheless, in the glorious Person of the Son of God. The power did not yet accomplish the deliverance of this world oppressed by Satan, because another thing was being done meanwhile. The light of God was shining, the good word of grace was being preached, the heavenly gift (a better thing than the deliverance of the world) was being tasted; and the sensible power of the Holy Spirit made itself known, while waiting for the return in glory of the Messiah to bind Satan, and thus accomplish the deliverance of the world under His dominion.
Speaking generally, the power of the Holy Spirit, the consequence of the Messiah’s being glorified above, was exercised on earth as a present manifestation and anticipation of the great deliverance to come. The revelation of grace, the good Word of God, was preached; and the Christian lived in the sphere where these things displayed themselves, and was subjected to the influence exercised in it. This made itself to be felt by those who were brought in among Christians. Even where there was no spiritual life, these influences were felt.
The full revelation of grace and power known and rejected, a return to Judaism impossible: Christ forsaken, there was no other means to lead the soul to repentance
But, after having been the subject of this influence of the presence of the Holy Spirit, after having tasted the revelation thus made of the goodness of God, and experienced the proofs of His power, if anyone then forsook Christ, there remained no other means for restoring the soul, for leading it to repentance. The heavenly treasures were already expended: he had given them up as worthless; he had rejected the full revelation of grace and power, after having known it. What means could now be used? To return to Judaism, and the first principles of the doctrine of Christ in it, when the truth had been revealed, was impossible: and the new light had been known and rejected. In a case like this there was only the flesh; there was no new life. Thorns and briars were being produced as before. There was no real change in the man’s state.
Comparison of the power of Christianity with Judaism; the Holy Spirit’s power; tasting the good Word
When once we have understood that this passage is a comparison of the power of the spiritual system with Judaism, and that it speaks of giving up the former, after having known it, its difficulty disappears. The possession of life is not supposed, nor is that question touched. The passage speaks, not of life, but of the Holy Spirit as a power present in Christianity. To “taste the good word” is to have understood how precious that Word is; and not the having been quickened by its means.1 Hence, in speaking to the Jewish Christians he hopes better things, and things which accompany salvation, so that all these things could be there and yet no salvation. Fruit there could not be. That supposes life.
(1. So in Matthew 13 some with joy receive it, but there was no root.)
Encouragement to those who had shown proofs of life
The Apostle does not, however, apply what he says to the Hebrew Christians: for, however low their state might be, there had been fruits, proofs of life, which in itself no mere power is; and he continues his discourse by giving them encouragement, and motives for perseverance.
The state and privileges of professors before and after Christ was glorified
It will be observed, then, that this passage is a comparison between that which was possessed before and after Christ was glorified-the state and privileges of professors, at these two periods, without any question as to personal conversion. When the power of the Holy Spirit was present, and there was the full revelation of grace, if any forsook the assembly, fell away from Christ, and turned back again, there was no means of renewing them to repentance. The inspired writer, therefore, would not again lay the foundation of former things with regard to Christ-things already grown old-but would go on, for the profit of those who remained steadfast in the faith.
The future earthly state, the millennial world
We may also remark how the epistle, in speaking of Christian privileges, does not lose sight of the future earthly state, the glory and the privileges of the millennial world. The miracles are the miracles of the world to come; they belong to that period. The deliverance and the destruction of Satan’s power should then be complete; those miracles were deliverances, samples of that power. We saw this point brought into notice (ch. 2:5) at the beginning of the doctrine of the epistle; and in chapter 4 the rest of God left vague in its character, in order to embrace both the heavenly part and the earthly part of our Lord’s millennial reign. Here the present power of the Holy Spirit characterizes the ways of God, Christianity; but the miracles are a foretaste of the coming age, in which the whole world will be blessed.
God’s promises confirmed by His oath and the personal guarantee of the heavenly mediator; the heavenly character of the hope; the double character of blessing
In the encouragements that it gives them, the epistle already calls to mind the principles by which the father of the faithful and of the Jewish nation had walked, and the way in which God had strengthened him in his faith. Abraham had to rest on promises, without possessing that which was promised; and this, with regard to rest and glory, was the state in which the Hebrew Christians then were. But at the same time, in order to give full assurance to the heart, God had confirmed His word by an oath, in order that they who build upon this hope of promised glory might have strong and satisfying consolation. And this assurance has received a still greater confirmation. It entered into that within the veil, it found its sanction in the sanctuary itself, whither a forerunner had entered, giving not only a word, an oath, but a personal guarantee for the fulfillment of these promises, and the sanctuary of God as a refuge for the heart; thus giving, for those who had spiritual understanding, a heavenly character to the hope which they cherished; while showing, by the character of Him who had entered into heaven, the certain fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, in connection with a heavenly mediator, who, by His position, assured that fulfillment; establishing the earthly blessing upon the firm foundation of heaven itself, and giving at the same time a higher and more excellent character to that blessing by uniting it to heaven, and making it flow from thence.
We have thus the double character of blessing which this book again presents to our mind, in connection with the Person of the Messiah, and the whole linked by faith with Jesus.
The Aaronic order set aside; Christ’s heavenly Melchisedec
priesthood, pointing out a future royalty not yet manifested
Jesus has entered into heaven as a forerunner. He is there. We belong to that heaven. He is there as high priest. During the present time, therefore, His priesthood has a heavenly character; nevertheless, He is priest, personally, after the order of Melchisedec. It sets aside, then, the whole Aaronic order, though the priesthood be exercised now after the analogy of Aaron’s, but, by its nature, points out in the future a royalty which is not yet manifested. Now the very fact that this future royalty was connected with the Person of Him who was seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, according to Psalm 110, fixed the attention of the Hebrew Christian, when tempted to turn back, on Him who was in the heavens, and made him understand the priesthood which the Lord is now exercising; it delivered him from Judaism, and strengthened him in the heavenly character of the Christianity which he had embraced.

Hebrews 7

The personal dignity of Melchisedec and the importance of his priesthood: the only thing testified of him
The epistle, returning to the subject of Melchisedec, reviews, therefore, the dignity of his person and the importance of his priesthood. For on priesthood, as a means of drawing nigh to God, the whole system connected with it depended.
Melchisedec then (a typical and characteristic person, as the use of his name in Psalm 110 proves) was king of Salem, that is, king of peace, and, by name, king of righteousness. Righteousness and peace characterize his reign. But above all he was priest of the Most High God. This is the name of God as supreme Governor of all things-Possessor, as is added in Genesis, of heaven and earth. It is thus that Nebuchadnezzar, the humbled earthly potentate, acknowledged Him. It was thus He revealed Himself to Abraham, when Melchisedec blessed the patriarch after he had conquered his enemies. In connection with his walk of faith, the name of God for Abraham was “The Almighty.” Here Abraham, victorious over the kings of the earth, is blessed by Melchisedec, by the king of righteousness, in connection with God as Possessor of heaven and earth, the Most High. This looks onward to the royalty of Christ, a priest upon His throne, when by the will and the power of God He shall have triumphed over all His enemies-a time not yet arrived-first fulfilled in the millennium, as it is commonly expressed, though this rather refers to the earthly part. Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec. His royalty was not all, for Psalm 110 is very clear in describing Melchisedec as priest, and as possessing a lasting and uninterrupted priesthood. He had no sacerdotal parentage from whom he derived his priesthood. As a priest, he had neither father nor mother; unlike the sons of Aaron, he had no genealogy (compare Ezra 2:62); he had no limits assigned to the term of his priestly service, as was the case with the sons of Aaron (Num. 4:3). He was made a priest, like-in his priestly character-to the Son of God; but, as yet, the latter is in heaven.
The fact that he received tithes from Abraham, and that he blessed Abraham, showed the high and preeminent dignity of this otherwise unknown and mysterious personage. The only thing that is testified of him-without naming father or mother, commencement of life, or death that may have taken place-is that he lived.
The dignity of his person was beyond that of Abraham, the depositary of the promises; that of his priesthood was above Aaron’s, who in Abraham paid the tithes which Levi himself received from his brethren. The priesthood then is changed, and with it the whole system that depended on it.
Proofs that the priesthood and its whole system were changed
Psalm 110 interpreted by faith in Christ-for the epistle, we need not say, speaks always to Christians-is still the point on which its argument is founded. The first proof, then, that the whole was changed is that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah (a priest after the order of Melchisedec), did not spring evidently from the sacerdotal tribe, but from another, namely, that of Judah. For that Jesus was the Messiah, they believed. But, according to the Jewish scriptures, the Messiah was such as He is here presented; and in that case the priesthood was changed, and with it the whole system. And this was not only a consequence that must be drawn from the fact that the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah, although a priest; but it was requisite that another priest than the priest of Aaron’s family should arise, and one after the similitude of Melchisedec, who should not be after the law of a commandment which had no more power than the flesh to which it was applied, but who should be according to the power of a never-ending life. The testimony of the psalm to this was positive: “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”
The bringing in of a better hope; the law and God’s grace
For there is, in fact, a disannulling of the commandment that existed previously, because it was unprofitable (for the law brought nothing to perfection); and there is the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God.
Precious difference! A commandment to man, sinful and afar from God, replaced by a hope, a confidence, founded on grace and on divine promise, through which we can come even into God’s presence.
The law, doubtless, was good; but separation still subsisted between man and God. The law made nothing perfect. God was ever perfect, and human perfection was required; all must be according to what divine perfection required of man. But sin was there, and the law was consequently without power (save to condemn); its ceremonies and ordinances were but figures, and a heavy yoke. Even that which temporarily relieved the conscience brought sin to mind and never made the conscience perfect towards God. They were still at a distance from Him. Grace brings the soul to God, who is known in love and in a righteousness which is for us.
The superiority of the new priesthood and its covenant; Jesus’ priesthood compared with that of Aaron
The character of the new priesthood bore the stamp, in all its features, of its superiority to that which existed under the order of the law and with which the whole system of the law either stood or fell.
The covenant connected with the new priesthood answered likewise to the superiority of the latter over the former priesthood.
The priesthood of Jesus was established by oath; that of Aaron was not. The priesthood of Aaron passed from one person to another, because death put an end to its exercise by the individuals who were invested with it. But Jesus abides the same forever; He has a priesthood that is not transmitted to others. Thus He saves completely, and to the end, those that come unto God by Him, seeing that He ever lives to intercede for them.
The Christian’s position; our need met by the One whom heaven’s purity and glory required; a completed work
Accordingly, “such a high priest became us.” Glorious thought! Called to be in the presence of God, to be in relationship with Him in the heavenly glory, to draw near to Him on high, where nothing that defiles can enter, we needed a high priest in the place to which access was given us (as the Jews in the earthly temple), and such a One as the glory and purity of heaven required. What a demonstration that we belong to heaven, and of the exalted nature of our relationship with God! Such a priest became us: “Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, exalted above the heavens”-for so are we, as to our position, having to do with God there-a priest who needs not to renew the sacrifices, as though any work to put away sin still remained to be done, or their sins could still be imputed to believers; for then it would be impossible to stay in the heavenly sanctuary. As having once for all completed His work for the putting away of sin, our priest offered His sacrifice once for all when He offered up Himself.
The high priests under the law
contrasted with the Son of God
For the law made high priests who had the infirmities of men, for they were men themselves; the oath of God, which came after the law, establishes the Son, when He is perfected forever, consecrated in heaven unto God.
We see here that, although there was an analogy and the figures of heavenly things, there is more of contrast than of comparison in this epistle. The legal priests had the same infirmities as other men; Jesus has a glorified priesthood according to the power of an endless life.

Hebrews 8

The new priesthood implying a change in the sacrifices and the covenant
The introduction of this new priesthood, exercised in heaven, implies a change in the sacrifices and in the covenant. This the inspired writer develops here, setting forth the value of the sacrifice of Christ, and the long-promised new covenant. The direct connection is with the sacrifices; but he turns aside for a moment to the two covenants, a so wide-embracing and all-weighty consideration for the Christian Jew who had been under the first.
Chapter 8 in this respect is simple and clear; the last verses only give room for a few remarks.
The sum of the doctrine presented
The sum of the doctrine we have been considering is that we have a high priest who is seated on the throne of the majesty in the heavens, a minister of the heavenly sanctuary which is not made with hands. As such, He must have an offering to present there. Jesus, were He on earth, would not be a priest; there were priests on earth according to the law, in which all things were but figures of the heavenly things; as Moses was told to make all according to the pattern that was shown him in the mount. But the ministry of Jesus is more excellent, because He is the mediator of a better covenant, spoken of in Jeremiah 31, which is here quoted; a clear and simple proof that the first covenant was not to continue.
The two covenants
We again find here that particular development of the truth which was called for by the character of the persons to whom this letter was addressed.
The first covenant was made with Israel; the second must be so likewise, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah. The epistle, however, in this passage only makes use of the fact that there was to be a second covenant, in order to demonstrate that the first was to last no longer. It had grown old and was to vanish away. He recites the terms of the new covenant. We shall find that he makes use of it afterwards. In that which follows, he contrasts the services that belonged to the first with the perfect work on which Christianity is founded. Thus, the extent and the value of the work of Christ are introduced.
Although there is no difficulty here, it is important to have light with regard to these two covenants, because some have very vague ideas on this point, and many souls, putting themselves under covenants-that is, in relationship with God under conditions in which He has not placed them-lose their simplicity, and do not hold fast grace and the fullness of the work of Christ, and the position He has acquired for them in heaven.
A covenant defined; the old and the new
A covenant is a principle of relationship with God on the earth-conditions established by God under which man is to live with Him. The word may, perhaps, be used figuratively, or by accommodation. It is applied to details of the relationship of God with Israel, and so to Abraham (Gen. 15), and like cases; but, strictly speaking, there are but two covenants, in which God has dealt with man on earth, or will-the old and the new. The old was established at Sinai. The new covenant is made also with the two houses of Israel.1
(1. We have also, at the end of the epistle, the expression, “The blood of the everlasting covenant.” “Covenant” he uses, I doubt not (as the word “law” also is used), because it was commonly employed as the condition of relationship with God, and “eternal” is characteristic of the Hebrews. There have been, and will be, covenants in time and for the earth; but we have eternal conditions of relationship with God, of which the blood of Christ is the expression and security, founded in everlasting grace, and righteousness as well as grace, by that precious blood, in which all the character and all the purpose of God have been made good and glorified, as well as our sins been put away.)
The gospel is not a covenant, but the revelation of the salvation of God. It proclaims the great salvation. We enjoy, indeed, all the essential privileges of the new covenant, its foundation being laid on God’s part in the blood of Christ, but we do so in spirit, not according to the letter.
The new covenant will be established formally with Israel in the millennium. Meanwhile, the old covenant is judged by the fact that there is a new one.

Hebrews 9

Characteristics of the first covenant
The epistle, recounting some particular circumstances which characterized the first covenant, shows that neither were sins put away, nor was the conscience purged by its means, nor the entrance into the holiest granted to the worshippers. The veil concealed God. The high priest went in once a year to make reconciliation-no one else. The way to God in holiness was barred. Perfect, as pertaining to the conscience, they could not be through the blood of bulls and of goats. These were but provisionary and figurative ordinances, until God took up the real work itself, in order to accomplish it fully and forever.
The value and extent of the sacrifice of Christ
But this brings us to the focus of the light which God gives us by the Holy Spirit in this epistle. Before proving by the scriptures of the Old Testament the doctrine that he announced, and the discontinuance of the legal sacrifices-of all sacrifice for sin-the writer, with a heart full of the truth and of the importance of that truth, teaches the value and the extent of the sacrifice of Christ (still in contrast with the former offerings, but a contrast that rests on the intrinsic value of the offering of Christ). These three results are presented: first, the opened way into the sanctuary was manifested, that is, access to God Himself, where He is; second, the purification of the conscience; third, an eternal redemption (I may add the promise of an eternal inheritance).
The opened way into the sanctuary: access to God Himself
One feels the immense importance, the inestimable value, of the first. The believer is admitted into God’s own presence by a new and living way which He has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; has constant access to God, immediate access to the place where He is, in the light. What complete salvation, what blessedness, what security! For how could we have access to God in the light, if everything that would separate us from Him were not entirely taken away through Him who was once offered to bear the sins of many? But here it is the precious and perfect result, in this respect, which is revealed to us, and formally proved in chapter 10, as a right that we possess, that access to God Himself is entirely and freely open to us. We are not indeed told in this passage that we are seated there, for it is not our union with Christ that is the subject of this epistle, but our access to God in the sanctuary. And it is important to note this last, and it is as precious in its place as the other. We are viewed as on earth, and being on earth we have free and full access to God in the sanctuary. We go in perfect liberty to God, where His holiness dwells, and where nothing that is contrary to Him can be admitted. What happiness! What perfect grace! What a glorious result, supreme and complete! Could anything better be desired, remembering too that it is our dwelling-place? This is our position in the presence of God through the entrance of Christ into the sanctuary.
The purification not only of sins but of the conscience
The second result shows us the personal state we are brought into, in order to the enjoyment of our position; that we may, on our part, enter in freely. It is that our Saviour has rendered our conscience perfect, so that we can go into the sanctuary without an idea of fear, without one question as to sin arising in our minds. A perfect conscience is not an innocent conscience which, happy in its unconsciousness, does not know evil and does not know God revealed in holiness. A perfect conscience knows God; it is cleansed, and, having the knowledge of good and evil according to the light of God Himself, it knows that it is purified from all evil according to His purity. Now the blood of bulls and goats, and the washings repeated under the law, could never make the conscience perfect. They could sanctify carnally, so as to enable the worshipper to approach God outwardly, yet only afar off, with the veil still unrent. But a real purification from sin and sins, so that the soul can be in the presence of God Himself in the light without spot, with the consciousness of being so, the offerings under the law could never produce. They were but figures. But, thanks be to God, Christ has accomplished the work; and, present for us now in the heavenly and eternal sanctuary, He is the witness there that our sins are put away; so that all conscience of sin before God is destroyed, because we know that He who bore our sins is in the presence of God, after having accomplished the work of expiation. Thus we have the consciousness of being in the light without spot. We have the purification not only of sins but of the conscience, so that we can use this access to God in full liberty and joy, presenting ourselves before Him who has so loved us.
Christ abiding in heaven: an eternal redemption
The third result, which seals and characterizes the two others, is that Christ, having once entered in, abides in heaven. He has gone into the heavenly sanctuary to remain there by virtue of an eternal redemption, of blood that has everlasting validity. The work is completely done and can never change in value. If our sins are effectually put away, God glorified, and righteousness complete, that which once availed to effect this can never not avail. The blood shed once for all is ever efficacious.
Our high priest is in the sanctuary, not with the blood of sacrifices, which are but figures of the true. The work has been done which puts sin away. This redemption is neither temporal nor transitory. It is the redemption of the soul, and for eternity, according to the moral efficacy of that which has been done.
Here then are the three aspects of the result of the work of Christ: immediate access to God; a purged conscience; an eternal redemption.
The high priest of good things to come; Messiah’s reign on earth; the Christian’s present relationship
Three points remain to be noticed before entering on the subject of the covenants, which is here resumed.
First, Christ is a high priest of good things to come. In saying “things to come,” the starting point is Israel under the law before the advent of our Lord. Nevertheless, if these good things were now acquired, if it could be said, “We have them,” because Christianity was their fulfillment, it could hardly be still said-when Christianity was established-“good things to come.” They are yet to come. These “good things” consist of all that the Messiah will enjoy when He reigns. This also is the reason that the earthly things have their place. But our present relationship with Him is only and altogether heavenly. He acts as priest in a tabernacle which is not of this creation: it is heavenly, in the presence of God, not made with hands. Our place is in heaven.
Christ’s precious offering up of Himself as man to God, and by the eternal Spirit
In the second place, “Christ offered himself, by the eternal Spirit,1 without spot, to God.” Here the precious offering up of Christ is viewed as an act that He performed as man, though in the perfection and value of His Person. He offered Himself to God-but as moved by the power and according to the perfection of the eternal Spirit. All the motives that governed this action, and the accomplishment of the fact according to those motives, were purely and perfectly those of the Holy Spirit; that is, absolutely divine in their perfection, but of the Holy Spirit acting in a man (a man without sin who, born and living ever by the power of the Holy Spirit, had never known sin; who, being exempt from it by birth, never allowed it to enter into Him); so that it is the Man Christ who offers Himself. This was requisite.
(1. The reader will remark how anxiously, so to speak, the epistle here attaches the epithet “eternal” to everything. It was not a temporary or earthly ground of relationship with God, but an eternal one; so of redemption; so of inheritance. Corresponding to this, as to the work on earth, it is once for all. It is not unimportant to notice this as to the nature of the work. Hence, the epithet attached even to the Spirit.)
The perfection, purity and eternal value of the offering
Thus the offering was in itself perfect and pure, without defilement; and the act of offering was perfect, whether in love or in obedience, or in the desire to glorify God, or to accomplish the purpose of God. Nothing mingled itself with the perfection of His intent in offering Himself.
Moreover, it was not a temporary offering, which applied to one sin with which the conscience was burdened and which went no farther than that one, an offering which could not, by its nature, have the perfection spoken of, because it was not the Person offering up Himself, nor was it absolutely for God, because there was in it neither the perfection of will nor of obedience. But the offering of Christ was one which, being perfect in its moral nature, being in itself perfect in the eyes of God, was necessarily eternal in its value. For this value was as enduring as the nature of God who was glorified in it.
The freewill offering of obedience: its results for us
It was made, not of necessity, but of free will, and in obedience. It was made by a man for the glory of God, but through the eternal Spirit, ever the same in its nature and value.
All being thus perfectly fulfilled for the glory of God, the conscience of everyone that comes to Him by this offering is purged; dead works are blotted out and set aside; we stand before God on the ground of that which Christ has done.
Christian position; serving the living God in love contrasted with Judaism
And here the third point comes in. Being perfectly cleansed in conscience from all that man in his sinful nature produces, and having to do with God in light and in love, there being no question of conscience with Him, we are in a position to serve the living God. Precious liberty! in which, happy and without question before God according to His nature in light, we can serve Him according to the activity of His nature in love. Judaism knew no more of this than it did of perfection in conscience. Obligation towards God that system indeed maintained; and it offered a certain provision for that which was needed for outward failure. But to have a perfect conscience, and then to serve God in love, according to His will-of this it knew nothing.
This is Christian position: the conscience perfect by Christ,1 according to the nature of God Himself; the service of God in liberty, according to His nature of love acting towards others.
(1. For in Christ we are the righteousness of God. His blood cleanses us on God’s part. Jesus wrought out the purification of sins by Himself, and glorified God in so doing.)
The Jewish system characterized by the holy place
For the Jewish system, in its utmost advantages, was characterized by the holy place. There were duties and obligations to be fulfilled in order to draw near, sacrifices to cleanse outwardly him who drew near outwardly. Meanwhile, God was always concealed. No one entered into “the holy place”: it is implied that the “most holy” was inaccessible. No sacrifice had yet been offered which gave free access, and at all times. God was concealed: that He was so characterized the position. They could not stand before Him. Neither did He manifest Himself. They served Him out of His presence without going in.
It is important to notice this truth, that the whole system in its highest and nearest access to God was characterized by the holy place, in order to understand the passage before us.
Judaism identified with the first part of the tabernacle, the figure showing there was no access to God; God only approached by a priesthood; heaven then spoken of
Now the first tabernacle-Judaism as a system-is identified with the first part of the tabernacle, and that open only to the priestly part of the nation, the second part (that is, the sanctuary) only showing, by the circumstances connected with it, that there was no access to God. When the author of the epistle goes on to the present position of Christ, he leaves the earthly tabernacle-it is heaven itself he then speaks of, a tabernacle not made with hands, nor of this creation, into which he introduces us.
The first tent or part of the tabernacle gave the character of the relationship of the people with God, and that only by a priesthood. They could not reach God. When we approach God Himself, it is in heaven; and the entire first system disappears. Everything was offered as a figure in the first system, and even as a figure showed that the conscience was not yet set free, nor the presence of God accessible to man. The remembrance of sins was continually renewed (the annual sacrifice was a memorial of sins, and God was not manifested, nor the way to Him opened).
The two opposite systems: the typical things and heaven, the true sanctuary
Christ comes, accomplishes the sacrifice, makes the conscience perfect, goes into heaven itself; and we draw nigh to God in the light. To mingle the service of the first tabernacle or holy place with Christian service is to deny the latter; for the meaning of the first was that the way to God was not yet open; the meaning of the second, that it is open.
God may have patience with the weakness of man. Till the destruction of Jerusalem He bore with the Jews; but the two systems can never really go on together, namely, a system which said that one cannot draw nigh to God, and another system which gives access to Him.
Christ is come, the high priest of a new system, of “good things,” which, under the old system, were yet “to come”; but He did not enter into the earthly most holy place, leaving the holy place to subsist without a true meaning. He is come by the (not a) more excellent and more perfect tabernacle. I repeat it, for it is essential here: the holy place, or the first tent, is the figure of the relationship of men with God under the first tabernacle (taken as a whole); so that we may say, “the first tabernacle,” applying it to the first part of the tabernacle, and pass on to the first tabernacle as a whole, and as a recognized period having the same meaning. This the epistle does here. To come out of this position, we must leave typical things and pass into heaven, the true sanctuary where Christ ever lives, and where no veil bars our entrance.
The guarantee for every promise-Christ in heaven
Now it is not said that we have “the good things to come.” Christ has gone into heaven itself, the high priest of those good things, securing their possession to them that trust in Him. But we have access to1 God in the light by virtue of Christ’s presence there. That presence is the proof of righteousness fully established; the blood, an evidence that our sins are put away forever; and our conscience is made perfect. Christ in heaven is the guarantee for the fulfillment of every promise. He has opened an access for us, even now, to God in the light; having cleansed our consciences once for all-for He dwells on high continuously- that we may enter in, and that we may serve God here below.
(1. It is all important thoroughly to understand that it is into the presence of God that we enter; and that, at all times, and by virtue of a sacrifice and blood which never lose their value. The worshipper, under the former tabernacle, did not come into the presence of God; he stayed outside the unrent veil. He sinned-a sacrifice was offered: he sinned again-a sacrifice was offered. Now the veil is rent. We are always in the presence of God without a veil. Happen what may, He always sees us-sees us in His presence-according to the efficacy of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. We are there now, by virtue of a perfect sacrifice, offered for the putting away of sin, according to the divine glory, and which has perfectly accomplished the purification of sins. I should not be in the presence of God in the sanctuary, if I had not been purified according to the purity of God, and by God. It was this which brought me there. And this sacrifice and this blood can never lose their value. Through them I am, therefore, perfect forever in the presence of God; I was brought into it by them.)
The new covenant founded on the blood of Christ; the eternal inheritance
All this is already established and secured; but there is more. The new covenant, of which He is mediator, is founded on His blood.
The way in which the Apostle always avoids the direct application of the new covenant is very striking.
The transgressions that were imputed under the first covenant, and which the sacrifices it offered could not expiate, are by the blood of the new covenant entirely blotted out. Thus they which are called—observe the expression (vs. 15)—can receive the promise of the eternal inheritance; that is to say, the foundation is laid for the accomplishment of the blessings of the covenant. He says, “The eternal inheritance,” because, as we have seen, the reconciliation was complete, our sins borne and cancelled, and the work by which sin is finally put away out of God’s sight accomplished, according to the nature and character of God Himself. This is the main point of all this part of the epistle.
The necessity that sin and sins be entirely put away; the mediator of the new covenant who has paid the ransom
It is because of the necessity there was for this sacrifice-the necessity that sins, and finally sin, should be entirely put away,1 in order to the enjoyment of the eternal promises (for God could not bless, as an eternal principle and definitively, while sin was before His eyes), that Christ, the Son of God, Man on earth, became the mediator of the new covenant, in order that by death He might make a way for the permanent enjoyment of that which had been promised. The new covenant, in itself, did not speak of a mediator. God would write His laws on the hearts of His people and would remember sins no more.
(1. The work in virtue of which all sin is finally put away out of God’s sight-abolished-is accomplished, the question of good and evil is come to a final issue on the cross, and God perfectly glorified when sin was before Him; the result will not be finally accomplished till the new heavens and the new earth. But our sins having been borne by Christ on the cross, He rises, atonement being made, an eternal testimony that they are gone forever, and that by faith we are now justified and have peace. We must not confound these two things, our sins being put away, and the perfectly glorifying God in respect of sin, when Christ was made sin, the results of which are not yet accomplished. As regards the sinful nature, it is still in us; but Christ having died, its condemnation took place then, but, that being in death, we reckon ourselves dead to it, and no condemnation for us.)
The covenant is not yet made with Israel and Judah. But meanwhile, God has established and revealed the mediator, who has accomplished the work on which the fulfillment of the promises can be founded in a way that is durable in principle, eternal, because connected with the nature of God Himself. This is done by means of death, the wages of sin, and by which sin is left behind; and expiation for sins being made according to the righteousness of God, an altogether new position is taken outside and beyond sin. The mediator has paid the ransom. Sin has no more right over us.
The implication of a “testament”: death necessary before men could be in relationship with God
Verses 16-17 are a parenthesis, in which the idea of a “testament” (it is the same word as “covenant” in the Greek, a disposition on the part of one who has the right of disposal) is introduced, to make us understand that death must have taken place before the rights acquired under the testament can be enjoyed.1
(1. Some think that these two verses are not a parenthesis speaking of a testament, but a continuation of the argument on the covenant, taking the word διαθεμενου (diathemenou) to mean, not the testator, but the sacrifice, which put a seal, more solemn than an oath, on the obligation of observing the covenant. It is a very delicate Greek question, on which I do not here enter. But I cannot say they have convinced me.)
This necessity of the covenant being founded on the blood of a victim was not forgotten in the case of the first covenant. Everything was sprinkled with blood. Only, in this case, it was the solemn sanction of death attached to the obligation of the covenant. The types always spoke of the necessity of death intervening before men could be in relationship with God. Sin had brought in death and judgment. We must either undergo the judgment ourselves, or see our sins blotted out through it having been undergone by another for us.
Three applications of the blood: the requisite foundation in atonement, purification from sin’s defilement, remission of sins by the blood shed
Three applications of the blood are presented here. The covenant is founded on the blood. Defilement is washed away by its means. Guilt is removed by the remission obtained through the blood that has been shed.
These are, in fact, the three things necessary. First, the ways of God in bestowing blessing according to His promises are connected with His righteousness, the sins of those blessed being atoned for, the requisite foundation of the covenant, Christ having withal glorified God in respect of sin, when made sin on the cross.
Second, the purification of the sin by which we were defiled (by which all things, that could not be guilty, were, nevertheless, defiled) is accomplished. Here there were cases in which water was typically used: this is moral and practical cleansing. It flows from death; the water that purifies proceeded from the side of the holy Victim already dead. It is the application of the Word- which judges all evil and reveals all good-to the conscience and the heart.
Third, as regards remission. In no case can this be obtained without the shedding of blood. Observe that it does not here say “application.” It is the accomplishment of the work of true propitiation, which is here spoken of. Without shedding of blood there is no remission. All-important truth! For a work of remission, death and blood-shedding must take place.
Two consequences of atonement and reconciliation to God-the necessity of a better sacrifice and the single, perfect offering
Two consequences flow from these views of atonement and reconciliation to God.
First, it was necessary that there should be a better sacrifice, a more excellent victim, than those which were offered under the old covenant, because it was the heavenly things themselves, and not their figures, that were to be purified. For it is into the presence of God in heaven itself that Christ has entered.
Second, Christ was not to offer Himself often, as the high priest went in every year with the blood of others. For He offered up Himself. Hence, if all that was available in the sacrifice was not brought to perfection by a single offering once made, He must have suffered often since the foundation of the world.1
(1. And He must have repeatedly suffered, for there must be reality in putting away sin.)
Why God allowed ages to pass before accomplishing His work of grace
This remark leads to the clear and simple declaration of the ways of God on this point-a declaration of priceless value. God allowed ages to pass (the different distinct periods in which man has in divers ways been put to the test, and in which he has had time to show what he is) without yet accomplishing His work of grace. This trial of man has served to show that he is bad in nature and in will. The multiplication of means only made it more evident that he was essentially bad at heart, for he availed himself of none of them to draw near to God. On the contrary, his enmity against God was fully manifested.
When God had made this plain, before the law, under the law, by promises, by the coming and presence of His Son, then the work of God takes the place, for our salvation and God’s glory, of man’s responsibility-on the ground of which faith knows man is entirely lost. This explains the expression (vs. 26) “in the consummation of the ages.”
The measure of man’s sin filled up by the rejection of Jesus: the consummation of the ages
Now this work is perfect, and perfectly accomplished. Sin had dishonored God, and separated man from Him. All that God had done to give him the means of return only ended in affording him opportunity to fill up the measure of his sin by the rejection of Jesus. But in this the eternal counsels of God were fulfilled, at least the moral basis laid, and that in infinite perfection, for their actual accomplishment in their results. All now in fact, as in purpose always, rested on the second Adam, and on what God had done, not on man’s responsibility, while that was fully met for God’s glory (compare 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 1:1-2). The Christ, whom man rejected, had appeared in order to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Thus it was morally the consummation of the ages.
Sin will be entirely blotted out as the result of God’s work and power; to faith this is already realized
The result of the work and power of God are not yet manifested. A new creation will develop them. But man, as the child of Adam, has run his whole career in his relationship with God: he is enmity against God. Christ, fulfilling the will of God, has come in the consummation of ages, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and His work to this end is accomplished. This is the moral power of His act,1 of His sacrifice before God; in result, sin will be entirely blotted out of the heavens and the earth. To faith this result, namely, the putting away of sin, is already realized in the conscience,2 because Christ who was made sin for us has died and died to sin, and now is risen and glorified, sin (even as made it for us) left behind.
(1. The more we examine the cross from God’s side of it, the more we shall see this: man’s enmity against God, and against God come in goodness, was absolutely displayed; Satan’s power in evil over man too; man’s perfectness in love to the Father and obedience to Him; God’s majesty and righteousness against sin, and love to sinners, all He is; all good and evil perfectly brought to an issue, and that in the place of sin, that is, in Christ made sin for us. When sin was as such before His face in the sinless One where it was needed and God perfectly glorified, and indeed the Son of Man too, morally the whole thing was settled, and we know it: the actual results are not yet produced.)
(2. The judgment, which will fall upon the wicked, is not sin. Much more also is involved in the work and position of Christ, even heavenly glory with God: but it is not our subject here.)
The result announced: the believer’s own sins blotted out since they were laid on Christ on the cross at His first coming; His second appearance not for judgment but unto salvation
Moreover, this result is announced to the believer-to those who are looking for the Lord’s return. Death and judgment are the lot of men as children of Adam. Christ has been offered once to bear the sins of many; and “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation,” not to judgment.
For them, as to their standing before God, sin is even now put away: as Christ is, so are they; their own sins are all blotted out. Christ appeared the first time in order to be made sin for us, and to bear our sins; they were laid upon Him on the cross. And, with regard to those who wait for Him, those sins are entirely put away. When He returns, Christ has nothing to do with sin, as far as they are concerned. It was fully dealt with at His first coming. He appears the second time to deliver them from all the results of sin, from all bondage. He will appear, not for judgment, but unto salvation. The putting away of sin on their behalf before God has been so complete, the sins of believers so entirely blotted out, that, when He appears the second time, He has, as to them, nothing to do with sin. He appears apart from sin, not only without sin in His blessed Person-this was the case at His first coming-but (as to those who look for Him) outside all question of sin, for their final deliverance.
The character of the Lord’s second coming; seen not by the world but by those who look for Him; the time of their deliverance
“Without sin” is in contrast with “to bear the sins of many.”1 But it will be remarked that the taking up of the assembly is not mentioned here. It is well to notice the language. The character of His second coming is the subject. He has been manifested once. Now He is seen by those who look for Him. The expression may apply to the deliverance of the Jews who wait for Him in the last days. He will appear for their deliverance. But we expect the Lord for this deliverance, and we shall see Him when He accomplishes it even for us. The Apostle does not touch the question of the difference between this and our being caught up, and does not use the word which serves to announce His public manifestation.2 He will appear to those who expect Him. He is not seen by all the world, nor is it consequently the judgment, although that may follow. The Holy Spirit speaks only of them that look for the Lord. To them He will appear. By them He will be seen, and it will be the time of their deliverance; so that it is true for us, and also applicable to the Jewish remnant in the last days.
(1. It is of moment to see the difference between verses 26 and 28. Sin had to be put away abstractedly out of God’s sight, and hence He had to be perfectly glorified in respect of it, in that place where sin was before Him. Christ was made sin, appeared to abolish it out of God’s sight, εις αθετησιν της αμαρτιας (eis athetesin tes hamartias). Besides this, our sins (guilt) were in question, and Christ bore them in His own body on the tree. The sins are borne, and Christ has them no more. They are gone as guilt before God forever. The work for the abolition of sin in God’s sight is done, and God owns it as done, having glorified Jesus who has glorified Him as to it when made sin. So that for God the thing is settled, and faith recognizes this, but the result is not produced. The work is before God in all its value, but the sin still exists in the believer and in the world. Faith owns both, knows that in God’s sight it is done, and rests as God does in it, but the believer knows that sin is still, de facto, there and in him: only he has a title to reckon himself dead to it-that sin in the flesh is condemned, but in the sacrifice for sin, so that there is none for him. The αθετησις (athetesis) is not accomplished, but what does it is; so that God recognizes it, and so does faith, and stands perfectly clear before God as to sin and sins. He that is dead (and we are, as having died with Christ) is justified from sin. Our sins have all been borne. The difficulty partly arises from “sin” being used for a particular act, and also abstractedly. In the word “sins” there is no such ambiguity. A sacrifice for sin may apply to a particular fault. Sin entered into the world is another idea. This ambiguity has produced the confusion. )
(1. Οφθησεται (ophthesetai), φανερωθησεται (phanerothesetai), or επιφανεια (epiphaneia).)
Thus the Christian position and the hope of the world to come, founded on the blood and on the mediator of the new covenant, are both given here. The one is the present portion of the believer, the other is secured as the hope of Israel.
How wonderful is the grace which we are now considering!
Christ’s grace and goodness; the efficacy of His accomplished work; in God’s presence as white as snow
There are two things that present themselves to us in Christ- the attractions to our heart of His grace and goodness, and His work which brings our souls into the presence of God. It is with the latter that the Holy Spirit here occupies us. There is not only the piety which grace produces; there is the efficacy of the work itself. What is this efficacy? What is the result for us of His work? Access to God in the light without a veil, ourselves entirely clear of all sin before Him, as white as snow in the light which only shows it. Marvelous position for us! We have not to wait for a day of judgment (assuredly coming as it is), nor to seek for means of approach to God. We are in His presence. Christ appears in the presence of God for us; and not only this: He remains there ever; our position, therefore, never changes. It is true that we are called to walk according to that position. But this does not touch the fact that such is the position. And how came we into it? and in what condition? Our sins entirely put away, perfectly put away, and once for all, and the whole question of sin settled forever before God, we are there because Christ has finished the work which abolished it, and without it in God’s sight. So that there are the two things-this work accomplished, and this position ours in the presence of God.
The contrast between Christianity and Judaism
We see the force of the contrast between this and Judaism. According to the latter, divine service, as we have seen, was performed outside the veil. The worshippers did not reach the presence of God. Thus they had always to begin again. The propitiatory sacrifice was renewed from year to year-a continually repeated testimony that sin still was there. Individually they obtained a temporary pardon for particular acts. It had constantly to be renewed. The conscience was never made perfect, the soul was not in the presence of God, this great question was never settled. (How many souls are even now in this condition!) The entrance of the high priest once a year did but furnish a proof that the way was still barred, that God could not be approached, but that sin was still remembered.
But now the guilt of believers is gone, their sins washed away by a work done once for all; the conscience is made perfect; nor is there any condemnation for them. Sin in the flesh has been condemned in Christ when a sacrifice for sin, and Christ appears ever in the presence of God for us. The High Priest remains there. Thus, instead of having a memorial of sin reiterated from year to year, perfect righteousness subsists ever for us in the presence of God. The position is entirely changed.
Man’s lot now dependent on Christ, not on Adam
The lot of man (for this perfect work takes us out of Judaism) is death and judgment. But now our lot depends on Christ, not on Adam. Christ was offered to bear the sins of many1-the work is complete, the sins blotted out, and to those who look for Him He will appear without having anything to do with sin, that question having been entirely settled at His first coming. In the death of Jesus, God dealt with the sins of those who look for Him; and He will appear, not to judge, but unto salvation-to deliver them finally from the position into which sin had brought them. This will have its application to the Jewish remnant according to the circumstances of their position; but in an absolute way it applies to the Christian, who has heaven for his portion.
(1. The word “many” has a double bearing here, negative and positive. It could not be said “all,” or all would be saved. On the other hand, the word “many” generalizes the work, so that it is not the Jews only who are its object.)

Hebrews 10

Christ offered Himself once for all
The essential point established in the doctrine of the death of Christ is that He offered Himself once for all. We must bear this in mind, to understand the full import of all that is here said. The tenth chapter is the development and application of this. In it the author recapitulates his doctrine on this point and applies it to souls, confirming it by Scripture, and by considerations which are evident to every enlightened conscience.
The sacrifice of the law the shadow of things to come and not their true image
The law, with its sacrifices, did not make the worshippers perfect; for, if they had been brought to perfection, the sacrifices would not have been offered afresh. If they were offered again, it was because the worshippers were not perfect. On the contrary, the repetition of the sacrifice was a memorial of sins; it reminded the people that sin was still there, and that it was still before God. In effect the law, although it was the shadow of things to come, was not their true image. There were sacrifices; but they were repeated, instead of there being one only sacrifice of eternal efficacy. There was a high priest, but he was mortal, and the priesthood transmissible. He went into the holiest, but only once a year, the veil which concealed God being unrent, and the high priest unable to remain in His presence, the work being not perfect. Thus there were indeed elements which plainly indicated the constituent parts, so to speak, of the priesthood of the good things to come; but the state of the worshippers was in the one case quite the opposite of that which it was in the other. In the first, every act showed that the work of reconciliation was not done; in the second, the position of the high priest and of the worshipper is a testimony that this work has been accomplished, and that the latter are perfected forever in the presence of God.
The repetition of sacrifices; Christ’s one sacrifice the demonstration of its eternal efficacy
In chapter 10 this principle is applied to the sacrifice. Its repetition proved that sin was there. That the sacrifice of Christ was only offered once was the demonstration of its eternal efficacy. Had the Jewish sacrifices rendered the worshippers really perfect before God, they would have ceased to be offered. The Apostle is speaking (although the principle is general) of the yearly sacrifice on the day of atonement. For if, through the efficacy of the sacrifice, they had been permanently made perfect, they would have had no more conscience of sins and could not have had the thought of renewing the sacrifice.
Drawing nigh; Christ’s work excluding all other and all repetition of the same
Observe, here, that which is very important, that the conscience is cleansed, our sins being expiated, the worshipper drawing nigh by virtue of the sacrifice. The meaning of the Jewish service was that guilt was still there; that of the Christian, that it is gone. As to the former, precious as the type is, the reason is evident: the blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sin. Therefore, those sacrifices have been abolished, and a work of another character (although still a sacrifice) has been accomplished-a work which excludes all other, and all the repetition of the same, because it consists of nothing less than the self-devotedness of the Son of God to accomplish the will of God, and the completion of that to which He was devoted: an act impossible to be repeated, for all His will cannot be accomplished twice, and, were it possible, it would be a testimony of the inadequacy of the first, and so of both.
The Son of God taking the place of submission and obedience, the duty of fulfilling all God’s will
This is what the Son of God says in this most solemn passage (vss. 5-9), in which we are admitted to know, according to the grace of God, that which passed between God the Father and Himself, when He undertook the fulfillment of the will of God-that which He said, and the eternal counsels of God which He carried into execution. He takes the place of submission and of obedience, of performing the will of another. God would no longer accept the sacrifices that were offered under the law (the four classes of which are here pointed out), He had no pleasure in them. In their stead He had prepared a body for His Son; vast and important truth! For the place of man is obedience. Thus, in taking this place, the Son of God put Himself into the position to obey perfectly. In fact, He undertakes the duty of fulfilling all the will of God, be it what it may-a will which is ever “good, acceptable, and perfect.”
Taking the form of a servant
The psalm says, in the Hebrew, “Thou hast digged1 ears for me,” translated in the Septuagint, “Thou hast prepared me a body”; words which, as they give the true meaning, are used by the Holy Spirit. For “the ear” is always employed as a sign of the reception of commandments, and the principle of obligation to obey, or the disposition to do so. “He hath opened mine ear morning by morning” (Isa. 50), that is, has made me listen to His will, be obedient to His commands. The ear was bored, or fastened with an awl to the door, in order to express that the Israelite was attached to the house as a slave, to obey, forever. Now in taking a body, the Lord took the form of a servant (Phil. 2). Ears were digged for Him. That is to say, He placed Himself in a position in which He had to obey all His Master’s will, whatever it might be. But it is the Lord Himself2 who speaks in the passage before us: “Thou,” He says, “hast prepared me a body.”
(1. It is not the same word as to “bore,” or thrust through, in Exodus 21 nor as “open” in Isaiah 50. The one (digged) is to prepare for obedience, the other would be to bind to it forever, and to subject to the obedience when due. Exodus 21 intimates the blessed truth that, when He had fulfilled His personal service on earth, He would not abandon either His assembly or His people. He is ever God, but ever man, the humbled man, the glorified and reigning man, the subject man, in the joy of eternal perfection.)
(2. As throughout the epistle, the Messiah is the subject. In the psalm it is the Messiah who speaks, that is, the Anointed here below. He expresses His patience and faithfulness in the position which He had taken, addressing Jehovah as His God; and He tells us that He took this place willingly, according to the eternal counsels respecting His own Person. For the Person is not changed. But He speaks in the psalm according to the position of obedience which He had taken, saying always, I and me, in speaking of what took place before His incarnation.)
The veil lifted from what took place in heaven between God and the Word who undertook to do His will
Entering more into detail, He specifies burnt offerings and offerings for sin, sacrifices which had less of the character of communion, and thus had a deeper meaning; but God had no pleasure in them. In a word, the Jewish service was already declared by the Spirit to be unacceptable to God. It was all to cease, it was fruitless; no offering that formed part of it was acceptable. No; the counsels of God unfold themselves, but first of all in the heart of the Word, the Son of God, who offers Himself to accomplish the will of God. “Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God.” Nothing can be more solemn than thus to lift the veil from that which takes place in heaven between God and the Word who undertook to do His will. Observe that, before He was in the position of obedience, He offers Himself in order to accomplish the will of God, that is to say, of free love for the glory of God, of free will; as One who had the power, He offers Himself. He undertakes obedience, He undertakes to do whatsoever God wills. This is indeed to sacrifice all His own will, but freely and as the effect of His own purpose, although on the occasion of the will of His Father. He must needs be God in order to do this, and to undertake the fulfillment of all that God could will.
Why the great mystery of divine interaction is communicated to us; the Lord’s complete submission
We have here the great mystery of this divine communication, which remains ever surrounded with its solemn majesty, although it is communicated to us that we may know it. And we ought to know it; for it is thus that we understand the infinite grace and the glory of this work. Before He became man, in the place where only divinity is known, and its eternal counsels and thoughts are communicated between the divine persons, the Word-as He has
declared it to us, in time, by the prophetic Spirit-such being the will of God contained in the book of the eternal counsels, He who was able to do it offered Himself freely to accomplish that will. Submissive to this counsel already arranged for Him, He yet offers Himself in perfect freedom to fulfill it. But in offering He submits, yet at the same time undertakes to do all that God, as God, willed. But also in undertaking to do the will of God, it was in the way of obedience, of submission and of devotedness. For I might undertake to do the will of another, as free and competent, because I willed the thing; but if I say, “To do thy will,” this in itself is absolute and complete submission. And this it is which the Lord, the Word, did. He did it also, declaring that He came in order to do it. He took a position of obedience by accepting the body prepared for Him. He came to do the will of God.
Jesus’ life on earth the expression of what He was in heaven as revealed to us
That of which we have been speaking is continually manifested in the life of Jesus on earth. God shines through His position in the human body; for He was necessarily God in the act itself of His humiliation; and none but God could have undertaken and been found in it; yet He was always, and entirely and perfectly, obedient and dependent on God. That which revealed itself in His existence on earth was the expression of that which was accomplished in the eternal abode, in His own nature. That is to say (and of this Psalm 40 speaks), that which He declares and that which He was here below are the same thing; the one in reality in heaven, the other bodily on earth. That which He was here below was but the expression, the living, real, bodily manifestation of what is contained in those divine communications which have been revealed to us, and which were the reality of the position that He assumed.
And it is very important to see these things in the free offer made by divine competency, and not only in their fulfillment in death. It gives quite a different character to the bodily work here below.
The revelation in Psalm 40 requisite to explain how the Lord became a servant of His own free will
In reality, from chapter 1 of this epistle, the Holy Spirit always presents Christ in this way. But this revelation in the psalm was requisite to explain how He became a servant, what the Messiah really was; and to us it opens an immense view of the ways of God, a view, the depths of which-clearly as it is revealed, and through the very clearness of the revelation-display to us things so divine and glorious that we bow the head and veil our faces, as having had part, as it were, in such communications, on account of the majesty of the persons whose acts and whose intimate relationships are revealed. It is not here the glory that dazzles us. But even in this poor world there is nothing to which we are greater strangers than the intimacy of those who are, in their modes of life, much above ourselves. What then, when it is that of God! Blessed be His name! There is grace that brings us into it, and that has drawn nigh to us in our weakness. We are then admitted to know this precious truth, that the Lord Jesus undertook of His own free will the accomplishment of all the will of God, and that He was pleased to take the body prepared for Him in order to accomplish it. The love, the devotedness to the glory of God, and the way in which He undertook to obey are fully set forth. And this-the fruit of God’s eternal counsels- displaces (by its very nature) every provisional sign: and contains, in itself alone, the condition of all relationship with God, and the means by which He glorifies Himself.1
(1. Remark, also, here not only the substitution of the reality for the ceremonial figures of the law, but the difference of principle. The law required for righteousness that man should do the will of God, and rightly. That was human righteousness. Here Christ undertakes to do it, and has accomplished it in the offering up of Himself. His so doing the will of God is the basis of our relationship with God, and it is done, and we are accepted. As born of God our delight is to do God’s will, but it is in love and newness of nature, not in order to be accepted.)
The effect of Christ’s sacrifice in regard to sanctification
The Word then assumes a body, in order to offer Himself as a sacrifice. Besides the revelation of this devotedness of the Word to accomplish the will of God, the effect of His sacrifice according to the will of God is also set before us.
He came to do the will of Jehovah. Now faith understands that it is by this will of God (that is, by His will who, according to His eternal wisdom, prepared a body for His Son) that those whom He has called unto Himself for salvation are set apart to God, in other words, are sanctified. It is by the will of God that we are set apart for Him (not by our own will), and that by means of the sacrifice offered to God.
We shall observe that the epistle does not here speak of the communication of life, or of a practical sanctification wrought by the Holy Spirit:1 the subject is the Person of Christ ascended on high, and the efficacy of His work. And this is important with regard to sanctification, because it shows that sanctification is a complete setting apart to God, as belonging to Him at the price of the offering of Jesus, a consecration to Him by means of that offering. God took the unclean Jews from among men and set them apart-consecrated them to Himself; so now the called ones, from that nation, and, thank God ourselves also, by means of the offering of Jesus.
(1. It speaks of this last in the exhortations, chapter 12:14. But in the doctrine of the epistle, “sanctification” is not used in the practical sense of what is wrought in us.)
Christ’s offering is once for all; His session at God’s right hand demonstrating the state He has brought us into
But there is another element, already pointed out, in this offering, the force of which the epistle here applies to believers, namely, that the offering is “once for all.” It admits of no repetition. If we enjoy the effect of this offering, our sanctification is eternal in its nature. It does not fail. It is never repeated. We belong to God forever according to the efficacy of this offering. Thus our sanctification, our being set apart to God, has-with regard to the work that accomplished it-all the stability of the will of God, and all the grace from which it sprang; it has, too, in its nature, the perfection of the work itself, by which it was accomplished, and the duration and the constant force of the efficacy of that work. But the effect of this offering is not limited to this setting apart for God. The point already treated contains our consecration by God Himself through the perfectly efficacious offering of Christ fulfilling His will. And now the position which Christ has taken, in consequence of His offering up of Himself, is employed in order clearly to demonstrate the state it has brought us into before God.
The priests among the Jews-for this contrast is still carried on-stood before the altar continually to repeat the same sacrifices which could never take away sins. But this Man, when He had offered one sacrifice for sins, sat down forever1 at the right hand of God. There-having finished for His own all that regards their presentation without spot to God-He awaits the moment when His enemies shall be made His footstool, according to Psalm 110: “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And the Spirit gives us the important reason so infinitely precious to us: “For he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”
(1. The word translated here “forever” is not the same word that is used for eternally. It has the sense of continually, without interruption, εις το διηνεκες (eis to dienekes). He does not rise up or stand. He is ever seated, His work being finished. He will indeed rise up at the end to come and fetch us, and to judge the world, even as this same passage tells us.)
The force of the word translated “forever”
Here (vs. 14) as in verse 12, on which the latter depends, the word “forever” has the force of permanence-uninterrupted continuity. He is ever seated, we are ever perfected, by virtue of His work and according to the perfect righteousness in which, and conformably to which, He sits at the right hand of God upon His throne, according to that which He is personally there, His acceptance on God’s part being proved by His session at His right hand. And He is there for us.
The righteousness of the throne; the origin and foundation of our position; divine testimony to it and its application; sins remembered no more
It is a righteousness suited to the throne of God, yea, the righteousness of the throne. It neither varies nor fails. He is seated there forever. If then we are sanctified-set apart to God-by this offering according to the will of God Himself, we are also made perfect for God by the same offering, as presented to Him in the Person of Jesus.
We have seen that this position has its origin in the will, the goodwill of God (a will which combines the grace and the purpose of God), and that it has its foundation and present certainty in the accomplishment of the work of Christ, the perfection of which is demonstrated by the session at the right hand of God of Him who accomplished it. But the testimony-for to enjoy this grace we must know it with divine certainty, and the greater it is, the more would our hearts be led to doubt it-the testimony upon which we believe it must be divine. And this it is. The Holy Spirit bears witness to us of it. The will of God is the source of the work; Christ, the Son of God, accomplished it; the Holy Spirit bears witness to us of it. And here the application to the people, called by grace and spared, is in consequence fully set forth, not merely the fulfillment of the work. The Holy Spirit bears us witness. “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”
Blessed position! The certainty that God will never remember our sins and iniquities is founded on the steadfast will of God, on the perfect offering of Christ, now consequently seated at the right hand of God, and on the sure testimony of the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of faith that God will never remember our sins.
The epistle addressed to Hebrews; the covenant alluded to
We may remark here the way in which the covenant is introduced; for although, as writing to “the holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,” he says, “a witness to us,” the form of his address is always that of an epistle to the Hebrews (believers, of course, but Hebrews, still bearing the character of God’s people). He does not speak of the covenant in a direct way, as a privilege in which Christians had a direct part. The Holy Spirit, he says, declares, “I will remember no more.” It is this which he quotes. He only alludes to the new covenant, leaving it aside, consequently, as to all present application. For after having said, “This is the covenant,” the testimony is cited as that of the Holy Spirit, to prove the capital point which he was treating, that is, that God remembers our sins no more. But he alludes to the covenant (already known to the Jews as declared before of God) which gave the authority of the Scriptures to this testimony, that God remembered no more the sins of His people who are sanctified and admitted into His favor, and which, at the same time, presented these two thoughts; first, that this complete pardon did not exist under the first covenant: and, second, that the door is left open for the blessing of the nation when the new covenant shall be formally established.
Sins being remitted, there is no more oblation for sin; in Christ: liberty to enter into the holy place; represented by the great high priest
Another practical consequence is drawn: sins being remitted, there is no more oblation for sin. The one sacrifice having obtained remission, no others can be offered in order to obtain it. Remembrance of this one sacrifice there may indeed be, whatever its character; but a sacrifice to take away the sins which are already taken away, there cannot be. We are, therefore, in reality on entirely new ground-on that of the fact that by the sacrifice of Christ our sins are altogether put away, and that for us, who are sanctified and partakers of the heavenly calling, a perfect and everlasting permanent cleansing has been made, remission granted, eternal redemption obtained. So that we are, in the eyes of God, without sin, on the ground of the perfection of the work of Christ, who is seated at His right hand, who has entered into the true holiest, into heaven itself, to sit there because His work is accomplished.
Thus all liberty is ours to enter into the holy place (all boldness) by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, that is His flesh, to admit us without spot into the presence of God Himself, who is there revealed. For us the veil is rent, and that which rent the veil in order to admit us has likewise put away the sin which shut us out.
We have also a great high priest over the house of God, as we have seen, who represents us in the holy place.
Perfect righteousness and the priesthood: full liberty to enter into the holiest
On these truths are founded the exhortations that follow. One word before we enter on them, as to the relation that exists between perfect righteousness and the priesthood. There are many souls who use the priesthood as the means of obtaining pardon when they have failed. They go to Christ as a priest, that He may intercede for them and obtain the pardon which they desire, but for which they dare not ask God in a direct way. These souls-sincere as they are-have not liberty to enter into the holy place. They take refuge with Christ that they may afresh be brought into the presence of God. Their condition practically is that in which a pious Jew stood. They have lost, or rather they have never had by faith, the real consciousness of their position before God in virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. I do not speak here of all the privileges of the assembly: we have seen that the epistle does not speak of them. The position it makes for believers is this: those whom it addresses are not viewed as placed in heaven, although partakers of the heavenly calling; but a perfect redemption is accomplished, all guilt entirely put away for the people of God, who remembers their sins no more. The conscience is made perfect- they have no more conscience of sins-by virtue of the work accomplished once for all. There is no more question of sin, that is, of its imputation, of its being upon them before God, between them and God. There cannot be, because of the work accomplished upon the cross. The conscience therefore is perfect; their representative and high priest is in heaven, a witness there to the work already accomplished for them.
Thus, although the epistle does not present them as in the holiest, as sitting there-like in the Epistle to the Ephesians-they have full liberty, entire boldness, to enter into it. The question of imputation no longer exists. Their sins have been imputed to Christ. But He is now in heaven-a proof that the sins are blotted out forever. Believers, therefore, enter with entire liberty into the presence of God Himself, and that always-having no more forever any conscience of sins.
Sins interrupting communion but making no change in our position; the twofold effect of Christ’s presence at God’s right hand; our Advocate
For what purpose then is priesthood? What is to be done with respect to the sins we commit? They interrupt our communion; but they make no change in our position before God, nor in the testimony rendered by the presence of Christ at the right hand of God. Nor do they raise any question as to imputation. They are sins against that position, or against God, measured by the relationship we are in to God, as in it. For sin is measured by the conscience according to our position. The perpetual presence of Christ at God’s right hand has this twofold effect for us: first, perfected forever we have no more conscience of sins before God, we are accepted; second, as priest He obtains grace to help in time of need, that we may not sin. But the present exercise of priesthood by Christ does not refer to sins: we have through His work no more conscience of sins, are perfected forever. There is another truth connected with this, found in 1 John 2: we have an Advocate1 with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. On this our communion with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is founded and secured. Our sins are not imputed, for the propitiation is in all its value before God. But by sin communion is interrupted; our righteousness is not altered-for that is Christ Himself at God’s right hand in virtue of His work; nor is grace changed, and “he is the propitiation for our sins”; but the heart has got away from God, communion is interrupted. But grace acts in virtue of perfect righteousness, and by the advocacy of Christ, on behalf of him who has failed; and his soul is restored to communion. Nor is it that we go to Jesus for this; He goes, even if we sin, to God for us. His presence there is the witness of an unchangeable righteousness which is ours; His intercession maintains us in the path we have to walk in, or as our Advocate He restores the communion which is founded on that righteousness. Our access to God is always open. Sin interrupts our enjoyment of it, the heart is not in communion; the advocacy of Jesus is the means of rousing the conscience by the action of the Spirit and the Word, and we return (humbling ourselves) into the presence of God Himself. The priesthood and advocacy of Christ refer to the condition of an imperfect and feeble, or failing, creature upon earth, reconciling it with the perfectness of the place and glory in which divine righteousness sets us. The soul is maintained steadfast or restored.
(1. There is a difference in detail here; but it does not affect my present subject. The High Priest has to do with our access to God; the Advocate with our communion with the Father and His government of us as children. The Epistle to the Hebrews treats of the ground of access and shows us to be perfected forever; and the priestly intercession does not apply to sins in that respect. It brings mercy and grace to help in time of need here, but we are perfected forever before God. But communion is necessarily interrupted by the least sin or idle thought-yea, really had been, practically if not judicially, before the idle thought was there. Here the advocacy of John comes in: “If any man sin,” and the soul is restored. But there is never imputation to the believer.)
Exhortation to draw near in faith’s full assurance
Exhortations follow. Having the right thus to approach God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith. This is the only thing that honors the efficacy of Christ’s work, and the love which has thus brought us to enjoy God. In the words that follow, allusion is made to the consecration of the priests-a natural allusion, as drawing near to God in the holiest is the subject. They were sprinkled with blood and washed with water, and then they drew nigh to serve God. Still, although I doubt not of the allusion to the priests, it is quite natural that baptism should have given rise to it. The anointing is not spoken of here-it is the power or privilege of the moral right to draw nigh.
Again, we may notice that, as to the foundation of the truth, this is the ground on which Israel will stand in the last days. In Christ in heaven will not be their place, nor the possession of the Holy Spirit as uniting the believer to Christ in heaven; but the blessing will be founded on water and on blood. God will remember their sins no more; and they will be washed in the clean water of the Word.
Perseverance in a full confession of Christ and considering one another; no other sacrifice for sin if the one Sacrifice were deliberately abandoned to walk in sin
The second exhortation is to persevere in the profession of the hope without wavering. He who made the promises is faithful.
Not only should we have this confidence in God for ourselves, but we are also to consider one another for mutual encouragement; and, at the same time, not to fail in the public and common profession of faith, pretending to maintain it, while avoiding the open identification of oneself with the Lord’s people in the difficulties connected with the profession of this faith before the world. Besides, this public confession had a fresh motive in that the day drew nigh. We see that it is the judgment which is here presented as the thing looked for-in order that it may act on the conscience and guard Christians from turning back to the world, and from the influence of the fear of man-rather than the Lord’s coming to take up His own people. Verse 26 is connected with the preceding paragraph (vss. 23-25), the last words of which suggest the warning of verse 26; which is founded, moreover, on the doctrine of these two chapters (ch. 9-10), with regard to the sacrifice. He insists on perseverance in a full confession of Christ, for His one sacrifice once offered was the only one. If any who had professed to know its value abandoned it, there was no other sacrifice to which he could have recourse, neither could it be ever repeated.
There remained no more sacrifice for sin. All sins were pardoned by the efficacy of this sacrifice: but if, after having known the truth, they were to choose sin instead, there was no other sacrifice by virtue even of the perfection of that of Christ. Nothing but judgment remained. Such a professor, having had the knowledge of the truth and having abandoned it, would assume the character of an adversary.
The case, then, here supposed is the renunciation of the con-fession of Christ, deliberately preferring-after having known the truth-to walk according to one’s own will in sin. This is evident, both from that which precedes and from verse 29.
Christianity’s two great privileges; warning if these means of salvation were renounced, nothing remained but judgment
Thus we have (chapters 6 and 10) the two great privileges of Christianity, what distinguishes it from Judaism, presented in order to warn those who made profession of the former, that the renunciation of the truth, after enjoying these advantages, was fatal; for if these means of salvation were renounced, there was no other. These privileges were the manifested presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and the offering which, by its intrinsic and absolute value, left no place for any other. Both of these possessed a mighty efficacy, which, while it gave divine spring and force, and the manifestation of the presence of God on the one hand, made known, on the other hand, the eternal redemption and the perfection of the worshipper; leaving no means for repentance, if anyone abandoned the manifested and known power of that presence; no place for another sacrifice (which, moreover, would have denied the efficacy of the first), after the perfect work of God in salvation, perfect whether with regard to redemption or to the presence of God by the Spirit in the midst of His own. Nothing remained but judgment.
The result of contempt of God’s grace and of what He has done
They who despised the law of Moses died without mercy. What then would not those deserve at the hand of God who trod under foot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant, by which they had been sanctified, as a common thing, and did despite to the Spirit of grace? It was not simple disobedience, however evil that might be; it was contempt of the grace of God, and of that which He had done, in the Person of Jesus, in order to deliver us from the consequences of disobedience. On the one hand, what was there left, if with the knowledge of what it was, they renounced this? On the other hand, how could they escape judgment? For they know a God who had said that vengeance belonged unto Him, and that He would recompense; and, again, the Lord would judge His people.
Sanctification attributed to the blood
Observe here the way in which sanctification is attributed to the blood; and, also, that professors are treated as belonging to the people. The blood, received by faith, consecrates the soul to God; but it is here viewed also as an outward means for setting apart the people as a people. Every individual who had owned Jesus to be the Messiah, and the blood to be the seal and foundation of an everlasting covenant available for eternal cleansing and redemption on the part of God, acknowledging himself to be set apart for God, by this means, as one of the people-every such individual would, if he renounced it, renounce it as such; and there was no other way of sanctifying him. The former system had evidently lost its power for him, and the true one he had abandoned. This is the reason why it is said, “Having received the knowledge of the truth.”
Better things hoped for in the Hebrew Christians; a life of patience and perseverance characterized by faith, the strength of it
Nevertheless, he hopes better things, for fruit, the sign of life, was there. He reminds them how much they had suffered for the truth, and that they had even received joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had a better and an abiding portion in heaven. They were not to cast away this confidence, the reward of which would be great. For in truth they needed patience, in order that, after having done the will of God, they might receive the effect of the promise. And He who is to come will come soon.
It is to this life of patience and perseverance that the chapter applies. But there is a principle which is the strength of this life and which characterizes it. In the midst of the difficulties of the Christian walk, the just shall live by faith; and if anyone draws back, God will have no pleasure in him. “But,” says the author, placing himself as ever in the midst of the believers, “we are not of them who draw back, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul.” Thereupon he describes the action of this faith, encouraging believers by the example of the elders who had acquired their renown by walking according to the same principle as that by which the faithful were now called to walk.

Hebrews 11

Faith: its powers and action; the order of its examples
It is not a definition of this principle that the epistle gives us at the commencement of chapter 11, but a declaration of its powers and action. Faith realizes (gives substance to) that which we hope for and is a demonstration to the soul of that which we do not see.
There is much more order than is generally thought in the series given here of examples of the action of faith, although this order is not the principal object. I will point out its leading features.
Faith with regard to creation by the word of God
First with regard to creation. Lost in reasonings and not knowing God, the human mind sought out endless solutions of existence. Those who have read the cosmogonies of the ancients know how many different systems, each more absurd than the other, have been invented for that which the introduction of God, by faith, renders perfectly simple. Modern science, with a less active and more practical mind, stops at second causes; and it is but little occupied with God. Geology has taken the place of the cosmogony of the Hindus, Egyptians, Orientals and philosophers. To the believer the thought is clear and simple; his mind is assured and intelligent by faith. God, by His word, called all things into existence. The universe is not a producing cause; it is itself a creature acting by a law imposed upon it. It is One having authority who has spoken; His word has divine efficacy. He speaks, and the thing is. We feel that this is worthy of God; for, when once God is brought in, all is simple. Shut Him out, and man is lost in the efforts of his own imagination, which can neither create nor arrive at the knowledge of a Creator, because it only works with the power of a creature. Before, therefore, the details of the present form of creation are entered upon, the Word simply says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Whatever may have taken place between that and chaos forms no part of revelation. It is distinct from the special action of the deluge, which is made known to us. The beginning of Genesis does not give a history of the details of creation itself, nor the history of the universe. It gives the fact that in the beginning God created; and afterwards, the things that regard man on the earth. The angels even are not there. Of the stars it is only said, “He made the stars also”; when, we are not told.
By faith, then, we believe that the worlds were created by the word of God.
Sin and the sacrifice; Abel drawing near by faith; testimony made to his offering
But sin has come in, and righteousness has to be found for fallen man, in order that he may stand before God. God has given a Lamb for the sacrifice. But here we have set before us, not the gift on God’s part, but the soul drawing near to Him by faith.
By faith, then, Abel offers to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain-a sacrifice which (founded on the revelation already made by God) was offered in the intelligence which a conscience taught of God possessed, with regard to the position in which he who offered was standing. Death and judgment had come in by sin, to man insupportable, although he must undergo them. He must go, therefore, to God, confessing this; but he must go with a substitute which grace has given. He must go with blood, the witness at the same time both of the judgment and of the perfect grace of God. Doing this, he was in the truth, and this truth was righteousness and grace. He approaches God and puts the sacrifice between himself and God. He receives the testimony that he is righteous- righteous according to the righteous judgment of God. For the sacrifice was in connection with the righteousness that had condemned man, and owned too the perfect value of that which was done in it. The testimony is to his offering; but Abel is righteous before God. Nothing can be more clear, more precious on this point. It is not only the sacrifice which is accepted, but Abel who comes with the sacrifice. He receives from God this testimony, that he is righteous. Sweet and blessed consolation! But the testimony is made to his gifts, so that he possessed all the certainty of acceptance according to the value of the sacrifice offered. In going to God by the sacrifice of Jesus, not only am I righteous (I receive the testimony that I am righteous), but this testimony is made to my offering; and therefore my righteousness has the value and the perfection of the offering, that is, of Christ offering Himself to God. The fact that we receive testimony on God’s part that we are righteous, and at the same time that the testimony is made to the gift which we offer (not to the condition in which we are), is of infinite value to us. We are now before God according to the perfection of Christ’s work. We walk with God thus.
The power and rights of death destroyed shown by Enoch’s exemption from the common lot of humanity
By faith, death having been the means of my acceptance before God, all that belongs to the old man is abolished for faith; the power and the rights of death are entirely destroyed-Christ has undergone them. Thus, if it please God, we go to heaven without even passing through death (compare 2 Corinthians 5:1-4). God did this for Enoch, for Elijah, as a testimony. Not only are sins put away and righteousness established by the work of Christ, but the rights and power of him who has the power of death are entirely destroyed. Death may happen to us-we are by nature liable to it; but we possess a life which is outside its jurisdiction. Death, if it come, is but gain to us; and although nothing but the power of God Himself can raise or transform the body, this power has been manifested in Jesus, and has already wrought in us by quickening us (compare Ephesians 1:19); and it works in us now in the power of deliverance from sin, from the law and from the flesh. Death, as a power of the enemy, is conquered; it is become a “gain” to faith, instead of being a judgment on nature. Life, the power of God in life, works in holiness and in obedience here below and declares itself in the resurrection or in the transformation of the body. It is a witness of power with regard to Christ in Romans 1:4.
The testimony that Enoch received of pleasing God and that which he bore to the world’s judgment; his translation a figure of the position of the assembly
But there is another very sweet consideration to be noticed here. Enoch received testimony that he pleased God, before he was translated. This is very important and very precious. If we walk with God, we have the testimony that we please Him; we have the sweetness of communion with God, the testimony of His Spirit, His fellowship with us in the sense of His presence, the consciousness of walking according to His Word, which we know to be approved by Him-in a word, a life which, spent with Him and before Him by faith, is spent in the light of His countenance and in the enjoyment of the communications of His grace and of a sure testimony, coming from Himself, that we are pleasing to Him. A child who walks with a kind father and converses with him, his conscience reproaching him with nothing-does he not enjoy the sense of his parent’s favor?
In figure Enoch here represents the position of the saints who compose the assembly. He is taken up to heaven by virtue of a complete victory over death. By the exercise of sovereign grace he is outside the government and the ordinary deliverance of God. He bears testimony by the Spirit to the judgment of the world, but he does not go through it (Jude 14-15). A walk like that of Enoch has God for its object; His existence is realized-the great business of life, which in the world is spent as if man did everything-and the fact that He is interested in the walk of men, that He takes account of it, in order to reward those who diligently seek Him.
Accepting God’s testimony as to coming judgment and His means of escape, Noah preserved for a future world
Noah is found in the scene of the government of this world. He does not warn others of the coming judgments as one who is outside them, although he is a preacher of righteousness. He is warned himself and for himself; he is in the circumstances to which the warning relates. It is the spirit of prophecy. He is moved by fear, and he builds an ark to the saving of his house. He thus condemned the world. Enoch had not to build an ark in order to pass safely through the flood. He was not in it: God translated him-exceptionally. Noah is preserved (heir of the righteousness which is by faith) for a future world. There is a general principle which accepts the testimony of God respecting the judgment that will fall upon men, and the means provided by God for escaping it: this belongs to every believer.
The world condemned by Noah’s ark; passing through judgment, Noah represents the Jewish remnant
But there is something more precise. Abel has the testimony that he is righteous; Enoch walks with God, pleases God, and is exempted from the common lot of humanity, proclaiming as from above the fate that awaits men, and the coming of Him who will execute the judgment. He goes forward to the accomplishment of the counsels of God. But neither Abel nor Enoch, thus viewed, condemned the world as that in the midst of which they were journeying, receiving themselves the warning addressed to those who were dwellers therein. This was Noah’s case: the prophet, although delivered, is in the midst of the judged people. The assembly is outside them. Noah’s ark condemned the world; the testimony of God was enough for faith, and he inherits a world that had been destroyed, and (what belongs to all believers) righteousness by faith, on which the new world too is founded. This is the case of the Jewish remnant in the last days. They pass through the judgments, out of which we, as not belonging to the world, have been taken. Warned themselves of God’s way of government in the earth, they will be witnesses to the world of the coming judgments, and will be heirs of the righteousness which is by faith, and witnesses to it in a new world, wherein righteousness will be accomplished in judgment by Him who is come, and whose throne will uphold the world in which Noah himself failed. The words, “heir of the righteousness which is by faith” point out, I think, that this faith which had governed a few was summed up in his person, and that the whole unbelieving world was condemned. The witness of this faith before judgment, Noah passes through it: and when the world is renewed, he is a public witness to the blessing of God that rests on faith, although outwardly all is changed. Thus Enoch represents the saints of the present time; Noah, the Jewish remnant.1
(1. Indeed all that are spared for the world to come. Their state is expressed in the end of Revelation 7, as that of the Jews in the first verses of chapter 14.)
Examples of the divine life in detail; the patience of hope which trusts God and waits, taking the place of strangership here because something better is desired; its effect
The Spirit, after establishing the great fundamental principles of faith in action, goes on (vs. 8) to produce examples of the divine life in detail, always in connection with Jewish knowledge, with that which the heart of a Hebrew could not fail to own; and, at the same time, in connection with the object of the epistle and with the wants of Christians among the Hebrews.
In the previous case we have seen a faith which, after owning a Creator-God, recognizes the great principles of the relations of man with God, and that onwards to the end upon earth.
In that which follows, we have first the patience of faith when it does not possess, but trusts God and waits, assured of fulfillment. This is in verses 8-22. We may subdivide it thus-first, the faith which takes the place of strangership on earth, and maintains it, because something better is desired; and which, in spite of weakness, finds the strength that is requisite in order to the fulfillment of the promises. This is in verses 8-16. Its effect is entrance into the joy of a heavenly hope. Strangers in the land of promise, and not enjoying the fulfillment of promises here below, they wait for more excellent things-things which God prepares on high for those who love Him. For such He has prepared a city. In unison with God in His own thoughts, their desires (through grace) answering to the things in which He takes delight, they are the objects of His peculiar regard. He is not ashamed to be called their God. Abraham not only followed God into a land that He showed him, but, a stranger there, and not possessing the land of promise, he is, by the mighty grace of God, exalted to the sphere of His thoughts; and, enjoying communion with God and the communications of His grace, he rests upon God for the time present, accepts his position of strangership on earth, and, as the portion of his faith, waits for the heavenly city of which God is the builder and the founder. There was not, so to speak, an open revelation of what was the subject of this hope, as was the case with that by which Abraham was called of God; but walking closely enough with God to know that which was enjoyed in His presence, and being conscious that he had not received the fulfillment of the promise, he lays hold of the better things, and waits for them, although only seeing them afar off, and remains a stranger upon earth, unmindful of the country whence he came out.
The special application of these first principles of faith to the case of the Christian Hebrews is evident. They are the normal life of faith for all.
Entire confidence in the fulfillment of the promises in spite of weakness
The second character of faith presented in this part is entire confidence in the fulfillment of the promises-a confidence maintained in spite of all that might tend to destroy it. This is in verses 17-22.
Faith making its way through all difficulties; reposing on God as to the use of the means He sets before us; faith’s energy; the sufferings which characterize its walk
We next find, the second great division, that faith makes its way through all the difficulties that oppose its progress (vss. 23-27). And in verses 28-31 faith displays itself in a trust that reposes on God with regard to the use of the means which He sets before us, and of which nature cannot avail itself. Finally, there is the energy in general, of which faith is the source, and the sufferings that characterize the walk of faith.1
(1. In general we may say that verses 8-22 are faith resting assured on the promise, the patience of faith: verse 23 to the end, faith resting on God for the activities and difficulties faith leads to, the energy of faith.)
The general character of the examples of faith
This general character belongs to all the examples mentioned, namely, that they who have exercised faith have not received the fulfillment of the promise; the application of which to the state of the Hebrew Christians is evident. Further, these illustrious heroes of faith, however honored they might be among the Jews, did not enjoy the privileges that Christians possessed. God in His counsels had reserved something better for us.
Abraham’s faith; his renunciation, a type of Christ in death and resurrection
Let us notice some details. Abraham’s faith shows itself by a thorough trust in God. Called to leave his own people, breaking the ties of nature, he obeys. He knows not whither he is going: enough for him that God would show him the place. God, having brought him thither, gives him nothing. He dwells there content, in perfect reliance on God. He was a gainer by it. He waited for a city that had foundations. He openly confesses that he is a stranger and a pilgrim on earth (Gen. 23:4). Thus, in spirit, he draws nearer to God. Although he possesses nothing, his affections are engaged. He desires a better country and attaches himself to God more immediately and entirely. He has no desire to return into his own country; he seeks a country. Such is the Christian. In offering up Isaac there was that absolute confidence in God which, at His command, can renounce even God’s own promises as possessed after the flesh, sure that God would restore them through the exercise of His power, overcoming death and every obstacle.
It is thus that Christ renounced His rights as Messiah, and went even into death, committing Himself to the will of God and trusting in Him; and received everything in resurrection. And this the Hebrew Christians had to do, with respect to the Messiah and the promises made to Israel. But, if there is simplicity of faith, for us the Jordan is dry, nor could we indeed have passed it if the Lord had not passed on before.
Observe here that, when trusting in God and giving up all for Him, we always gain, and we learn something more of the ways of His power: for in renouncing according to His will anything already received, we ought to expect from the power of God that He will bestow something else. Abraham renounces the promise after the flesh. He sees the city which has foundations; he can desire a heavenly country. He gives up Isaac, in whom were the promises: he learns resurrection, for God is infallibly faithful. The promises were in Isaac: therefore, God must restore him to Abraham, and by resurrection, if he offered him in sacrifice.
Expressions of faith in the future fulfillment of God’s promise; Israel’s future return to their own land shown in Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
In Isaac faith distinguishes between the portion of God’s people according to His election and that of man having birthrights according to nature. This is the knowledge of the ways of God in blessing and in judgment.
By faith Jacob, a stranger and feeble, having nothing but the staff with which he had crossed the Jordan, worships God and announces the double portion of the heir of Israel, of the one whom his brethren rejected-a type of the Lord, the heir of all things. This lays the ground of worship.
By faith Joseph, a stranger, the representative here of Israel far from his own country, reckons on the fulfillment of the earthly promises.1
(1. Observe that in these cases we find the rights of Christ in resurrection; the judgment of nature, and the blessing of faith, through grace; the inheritance of all things heavenly and earthly by Christ; and Israel’s future return to their own land.)
Faith which surmounts every difficulty shown in Moses
These are the expressions of faith in the faithfulness of God, in the future fulfillment of His promise. In that which follows we have the faith which surmounts every difficulty that arises in the path of the man of God, in the way that God marks out for him as he journeys on towards the enjoyment of the promises.
The faith of the parents of Moses makes them disregard the king’s cruel command, and they conceal their infant; whom God, in answer to their faith, preserved by extraordinary means when there was no other way to save it. Faith does not reason; it acts from its own point of view, and leaves the result to God.
But the means which God used for the preservation of Moses placed him within a little of the highest position in the kingdom. He there came to be possessed of all the acquirements which that period could bestow on a man distinguished alike by his energy and his character. But faith does its work and inspires divine affections which do not look to surrounding circumstances for a guide of action, even when those circumstances may have owned their origin to the most remarkable providences.
Faith and not providence as a rule and motive
Faith has its own objects, supplied by God Himself, and governs the heart with a view to those objects. It gives us a place and relationships which rule the whole life, and leave no room for other motives and other spheres of affection which would divide the heart; for the motives and affections which govern faith are given by God, and given by Him in order to form and govern the heart.
Verses 24-26 develop this point. It is a very important principle; for we often hear providence alleged as a reason for not walking by faith. Never was there a more remarkable providence than that which placed Moses in the court of Pharaoh; and it gained its object. It would not have done so if Moses had not abandoned the position into which that providence had brought him. But it was faith (that is to say, the divine affections which God had created in his heart), and not providence as a rule and motive, which produced the effect for which providence had preserved and prepared him. Providence (thanks be to God!) governs circumstances; faith governs the heart and the conduct.
God’s promised reward sustaining and encouraging the heart, but not the motive power
The reward which God has promised comes in here as an avowed object in the sphere of faith. It is not the motive power; but it sustains and encourages the heart that is acting by faith, in view of the object which God presents to our affections. It thus takes the heart away from the present, from the influence of the things that surround us (whether they are things that attract or that tend to intimidate us), and elevates the heart and character of him who walks by faith, and confirms him in a path of devotedness which will lead him to the end at which he aims.
A motive outside that which is present to us is the secret of stability and of true greatness. We may have an object with regard to which we act; but we need a motive outside that object-a divine motive-to enable us to act in a godly way respecting it.
God’s intervention realized; the provided means of safety;
the efficacy of the blood trusted; acknowledgment of guilt
Faith realizes also (vs. 27) the intervention of God without seeing Him; and thus delivers from all fear of the power of man-the enemy of His people. But the thought of God’s intervention brings the heart into a greater difficulty than even the fear of man. If His people are to be delivered, God must intervene, and that in judgment. But they, as well as their enemies, are sinners; and the consciousness of sin and of deserving judgment necessarily destroys confidence in Him who is the Judge. Dare they see Him come to manifest His power in judgment (for this it is, in fact, which must take place for the deliverance of His people)? Is God for us-the heart asks-this God who is coming in judgment? But God has provided the means of securing safety in the presence of judgment (vs. 28); a means apparently contemptible and useless, yet which in reality is the only one that, by glorifying Him with regard to the evil of which we are guilty, has power to afford shelter from the judgment which He executes.
Faith recognized the testimony of God by trusting to the efficacy of the blood sprinkled on the door, and could, in all security, let God come in judgment-God who, seeing the blood, would pass over His believing people. By faith Moses kept the Passover. Observe here that, by the act of putting the blood on the door, the people acknowledged that they were as much the objects of the just judgment of God as the Egyptians. God had given them that which preserved them from it; but it was because they were guilty and deserved it. No one can stand before God.
God’s judgment and deliverance: its earthly antitype
Verse 29. But the power of God is manifested, and manifested in judgment. Nature, the enemies of God’s people, think to pass through this judgment dry-shod, like those who are sheltered by redeeming power from the righteous vengeance of God. But the judgment swallows them up in the very same place in which the people find deliverance-a principle of marvelous import. There, where the judgment of God is, even there is the deliverance. Believers have truly experienced this in Christ. The cross is death and judgment, the two terrible consequences of sin, the lot of sinful man. To us they are the deliverance provided of God. By and in them we are delivered, and (in Christ) we pass through and are out of their reach. Christ died and is risen; and faith brings us, by means of that which should have been our eternal ruin, into a place where death and judgment are left behind, and where our enemies can no longer reach us. We go through without their touching us. Death and judgment shield us from the enemy. They are our security. But we enter into a new sphere, we live by the effect not only of Christ’s death, but of His resurrection.
Those who, in the mere power of nature, think to pass through (they who speak of death and judgment and Christ, taking the Christian position, and thinking to pass through, although the power of God in redemption is not with them) are swallowed up.
With respect to the Jews, this event will have an earthly anti-type; for, in fact, the day of God’s judgment on earth will be the deliverance of Israel, who will have been brought to repentance.
The Red Sea deliverance and what it spoke of: God for the people
This deliverance at the Red Sea goes beyond the protection of the blood in Egypt. There God coming in the expression of His holiness, executing judgment upon evil, what they needed was to be sheltered from that judgment-to be protected from the righteous judgment of God Himself. And, by the blood, God, thus coming to execute judgment, was shut out, and the people were placed in safety before the Judge. This judgment had the character of the eternal judgment. And God had the character of a Judge.
At the Red Sea it was not merely deliverance from judgment hanging over them; God was for the people, active in love and in power for them.1 The deliverance was an actual deliverance: they came out of that condition in which they had been enslaved, God’s own power bringing them unhurt through that which otherwise must have been their destruction. Thus, in our case, it is Christ’s death and resurrection, in which we participate, the redemption which He therein accomplished,2 which introduces us into an entirely new condition altogether outside that of nature. We are no longer in the flesh.
(1. Stand still, says Moses, and see the salvation of Jehovah.)
(2. Crossing the Jordan represents the believer being set at liberty, and intelligently entering by faith into the heavenlies; it is conscious death and resurrection with Christ. The Red Sea is the power of redemption by Christ.)
In principle the earthly deliverance of the Jewish nation (the Jewish remnant) will be the same. Founded on the power of the risen Christ, and on the propitiation wrought out by His death, that deliverance will be accomplished by God, who will intervene on behalf of those that turn to Him by faith: at the same time that His adversaries (who are those also of His people) shall be destroyed by the very judgment which is the safeguard of the people whom they have oppressed.
Difficulties disappearing before God: the walls of Jericho
Verse 30. Yet all difficulties were not overcome because redemption was accomplished, deliverance effected. But the God of deliverance was with them; difficulties disappear before Him. That which is a difficulty to man is none to Him. Faith trusts in Him, and uses means which only serve to express that trust. The walls of Jericho fall down at the sound of trumpets made of rams’ horns, after Israel had compassed the city seven days, sounding these trumpets seven times.
Rahab’s escape from judgment
Rahab, in presence of all the as yet unimpaired strength of the enemies of God and His people, identifies herself with the latter before they had gained one victory, because she felt that God was with them. A stranger to them (as to the flesh), she by faith escaped the judgment which God executed upon her people.
Faith under various characters and energy of patience, sustaining under all kinds of sufferings
Verse 32. Details are now no longer entered into. Israel (although individuals had still to act by faith), being established in the land of promise, furnished less occasion to develop examples of the principles on which faith acted. The Spirit speaks in a general way of these examples in which faith reappeared under various characters and energy of patience, and sustained souls under all kinds of suffering. Their glory was with God, the world was not worthy of them. Nevertheless, they had received nothing of the fulfillment of the promises; they had to live by faith, as well as the Hebrews, to whom the epistle was addressed. The latter, however, had privileges which were in nowise possessed by believers of former days. Neither the one nor the other was brought to perfection, that is, to the heavenly glory, unto which God has called us, and in which they are to participate. Abraham and others waited for this glory; they never possessed it: God would not give it them without us. But He has not called us by the same revelations only as those which He made to them. For the days of the rejected Messiah He had reserved some better thing. Heavenly things have become things of the present time, things fully revealed and actually possessed in spirit, by the union of the saints with Christ, and present access into the holiest through the blood of Christ.
The Christian’s present portion: the better thing reserved
We have not to do with a promise and a distinct view of a place approached from without, entrance to which was not yet granted, so that relationship with God would not be founded on entrance within the veil-entrance into His own presence. We now go in with boldness. We belong to heaven; our citizenship is there; we are at home there. Heavenly glory is our present portion, Christ having gone in as our forerunner. We have in heaven a Christ who is man glorified. This Abraham had not. He walked on earth with a heavenly mind, waiting for a city, feeling that nothing else would satisfy the desires which God had awakened in his heart; but he could not be connected with heaven by means of a Christ actually sitting there in glory. This is our present portion. We can even say that we are united to Him there. The Christian’s position is quite different from that of Abraham. God had reserved some better thing for us.
The Spirit does not here develop the whole extent of this “better thing,” because the assembly is not His subject. He presents the general thought to the Hebrews to encourage them, that believers of the present day have special privileges, which they enjoy by faith, but which did not belong even to the faith of believers in former days.
We shall be perfected, that is to say, glorified together in resurrection; but there is a special portion which belongs to the saints now, and which did not belong to the patriarchs. The fact that Christ, as man, is in heaven after having accomplished redemption, and that the Holy Spirit, by whom we are united to Christ, is on earth, made this superiority granted to Christians easily understood. Accordingly, even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest of those who preceded it.

Hebrews 12

Practical exhortations flowing from doctrinal instruction as to dangers; running the race set before us
The epistle now enters on the practical exhortations that flow from its doctrinal instruction, with reference to the dangers peculiar to the Hebrew Christians-instruction suited throughout to inspire them with courage. Surrounded with a cloud of witnesses like these of chapter 11, who all declared the advantages of a life of faith in promises still unfulfilled, they ought to feel themselves impelled to follow their steps, running with patience the race set before them, and above all looking away from every difficulty1 to Jesus, who had run the whole career of faith, sustained by the joy that was set before Him, and, having reached the goal, had taken His seat in glory at the right hand of God.
(1. It is not insensibility to them, but, when they are felt to be there, looking from them to Christ. This is the secret of faith. “Be careful for nothing” need not have been said, if nothing had been there calculated to awaken care. Abraham considered not his body now dead.)
The Lord’s example as having run the whole career of faith
This passage presents the Lord, not as He who bestows faith, but as He who has Himself run the whole career of faith. Others had traveled a part of the road, had surmounted some difficulties; the obedience and the perseverance of the Lord had been subjected to every trial of which human nature is susceptible. Men, the adversary, the being forsaken of God, everything was against Him. His disciples flee when He is in danger, His intimate friend betrays Him; He looks for someone to have compassion on Him and finds no one. The fathers (of whom we read in the previous chapter) trusted in God and were delivered, but as for Jesus, He was a worm, and no man; His throat was dry with crying. His love for us, His obedience to His Father, surmounted all. He carries off the victory by submission, and takes His seat in a glory exalted in proportion to the greatness of His abasement and obedience, the only just reward for having perfectly glorified God where He had been dishonored by sin. The joy and the rewards that are set before us are never the motives of the walk of faith-we know this well with regard to Christ, but it is not the less true in our own case-they are the encouragement of those who walk in it.
Jesus, then, who has attained the glory due to Him, becomes an example to us in the sufferings through which He passed in attaining it; therefore, we are neither to lose courage nor to grow weary. We have not yet, like Him, lost our lives in order to glorify God and to serve Him. The way in which the Apostle engages them to disentangle themselves from every hindrance, whether sin or difficulty, is remarkable; as though they had nothing to do but to cast them off as useless weights. And, in fact, when we look at Jesus, nothing is easier; when we are not looking at Him, nothing more impossible.
What is to be cast off: the way and power to do it
There are two things to be cast off: every weight, and the sin that would entangle our feet (for he speaks of one who is running in the race). The flesh, the human heart, is occupied with cares and difficulties; and the more we think of them, the more we are burdened by them. It is enticed by the object of its desires, it does not free itself from them. The conflict is with a heart that loves the thing against which we strive; we do not separate ourselves from it in thought. When looking at Jesus, the new man is active; there is a new object, which unburdens and detaches us from every other by means of a new affection which has its place in a new nature: and in Jesus Himself, to whom we look, there is a positive power which sets us free.
It is by casting it all off in an absolute way that the thing is easy-by looking at that which fills the heart with other things, and occupies it in a different sphere, where a new object and a new nature act upon each other; and in that object there is a positive power which absorbs the heart and shuts out all objects that act merely on the old nature. What is felt to be a weight is easily cast off. Everything is judged of by its bearing on the object we aim at. If I run in a race and all my thought is the prize, a bag of gold is readily cast away. It is a weight. But we must look to Jesus. Only in Him can we cast off every hindrance easily and without reservation. We cannot combat sin by the flesh.
Trials that must be borne; God’s chastisement neither to be despised nor to be discouraged by it; its purpose
But there is another class of trials that come from without: they are not to be cast off, they must be borne. Christ, as we have seen, went through them. We have not like Him resisted even to the shedding of our blood rather than fail in faithfulness and obedience. Now God acts in these trials as a father. He chastises us. They come perhaps, as in the case of Job, from the enemy, but the hand and the wisdom of God are in them. He chastises those whom He loves. We must, therefore, neither despise the chastisement nor be discouraged by it. We must not despise it, for He does not chastise without a motive or a cause (moreover, it is God who does it); nor must we be discouraged, for He does it in love.
If we lose our life for the testimony of the Lord and in resisting sin, the warfare is ended; and this is not chastisement, but the glory of suffering with Christ. Death in this case is the negation of sin. He who has died is free from sin; he who has suffered in the flesh has done with sin. But up to that point, the flesh in practice (for we have a right to reckon ourselves dead) is not yet destroyed; and God knows how to unite the manifestation of the faithfulness of the new man who suffers for the Lord, with the discipline by which the flesh is mortified. For example, Paul’s thorn in the flesh united these two things. It was painful to him in the exercise of his ministry, for it was something that tended to make him contemptible when preaching (and this he endured for the Lord’s sake), but at the same time it kept his flesh in check.
God’s purposes of holiness: the fruits of soul exercise
Verse 9. Now we are subject to our natural parents, who discipline us after their own will: how much more then to the Father of spirits,1 who makes us partakers of His own holiness! Observe here the grace that is appealed to. We have seen how much the Hebrews needed warning-their tendency was to fail in the career of faith. The means of preventing this is doubtless not to spare warning, but yet to bring the soul fully into connection with grace. This alone can give strength and courage through confidence in God.
(1. “Father of spirits” is simply in contrast with “fathers of our flesh.”)
We are not come to Mount Sinai, to the law which makes demands on us, but to Sion, where God manifested His power in reestablishing Israel by His grace in the person of the elect king, when, as to the responsibility of the people, all was entirely lost, all relationship with God impossible on that footing, for the ark was lost; there was no longer a mercy-seat, no longer a throne of God among the people. Ichabod was written on Israel.
Therefore in speaking of holiness he says, God is active in love towards you, even in your very sufferings. It is He who has not only given free access to Himself, by the blood and by the presence of Christ in heaven for us, but who is continually occupied with all the details of your life; whose hand is in all your trials, who thinks unceasingly about you, in order to make you partakers of His holiness. This is not to require holiness on our part-necessary as it must ever be-it is in order to make us partakers of His own holiness. What immense and perfect grace! What a means! It is the means by which to enjoy God Himself perfectly.
Verse 11. God does not expect us to find these exercises of soul pleasant at the moment (they would not produce their effect if they were so): but afterwards, the will being broken, they produce the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The pride of man is brought down when he is obliged to submit to that which is contrary to his will. God also takes a larger (ever precious) place in his thoughts and in his life.
Grace the motive for the path of faith and godliness
Verse 12. On the principle then of grace, the Hebrews are exhorted to encourage themselves in the path of faith, and to watch against the buddings of sin among them, whether in yielding to the desires of the flesh, or in giving up Christian privileges for something of the world. They were to walk so courageously that their evident joy and blessing (which is always a distinct testimony and one that triumphs over the enemy) should make the weak feel that it was their own assured portion also; and thus strength and healing would be administered to them instead of discouragement. The path of godliness as to circumstances was to be made easy, a beaten path to weak and lame souls; and they would feel more than stronger souls the comfort and value of such a path.
Grace, we have already said, is the motive given for this walk; but grace is here presented in a form that requires to be considered a little in detail.
Mount Sinai contrasted with Mount Sion
We are not come, it says, to Mount Sinai. There the terrors of the majesty of God kept man at a distance. No one was to approach Him. Even Moses feared and trembled at the presence of Jehovah. This is not where the Christian is brought. But, in contrast with such relationships as these with God, the whole millennial state in all its parts is developed; according, however, to the way in which these different parts are now known as things hoped for. We belong to it all; but evidently these things are not yet established. Let us name them: Sion; the heavenly Jerusalem; the angels and general assembly; the church of the firstborn, whose names are inscribed in heaven; God the Judge of all; the spirits of the just made perfect; Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant; and, finally, the blood of sprinkling which speaks better things than that of Abel.
Sion we have spoken of as a principle. It is the intervention of sovereign grace (in the king) after the ruin, and in the midst of the ruin, of Israel, reestablishing the people according to the counsels of God in glory, and their relationships with God Himself. It is the rest of God on the earth, the seat of the Messiah’s royal power. But, as we know, the extent of the earth is far from being the limits of the Lord’s inheritance. Sion on earth is Jehovah’s rest; it is not the city of the living God-the heavenly Jerusalem is that, the heavenly capital, so to speak, of His kingdom, the city that has foundations, whose founder and builder is God Himself.
The assembly of the firstborn in heaven: their portion; God the Judge of all and those owned as His before the heavenly assembly was revealed
Having named Sion below, the author turns naturally to Jerusalem above; but this carries him into heaven, and he finds himself with all the people of God, in the midst of a multitude of angels, the great, universal assembly1 of the invisible world. There is, however, one peculiar object on which his eye rests in this marvelous and heavenly scene. It is the assembly of the firstborn whose names are inscribed in heaven. They were not born there, not indigenous like the angels, whom God preserved from falling. They are the objects of the counsels of God. It is not merely that they reach heaven: they are the glorious heirs and firstborn of God, according to His eternal counsels, in accordance with which they are registered in heaven. The assembly composed of the objects of grace, now called in Christ, belongs to heaven by grace. They are not the objects of the promises, who, not having received the fulfillment of the promises on earth, do not fail to enjoy them in heaven. They have the anticipation of no other country or citizenship than heaven. The promises were not addressed to them. They have no place on earth. Heaven is prepared for them by God Himself. Their names are inscribed there by Him. It is the highest place in heaven above the dealings of God in government, promise and law on the earth. This leads the picture of glory on to God Himself. But (having reached the highest point, that which is most excellent in grace) He is seen under another character, namely, as the Judge of all, as looking down from on high to judge all that is below. This introduces another class of these blessed inhabitants of the heavenly glory: those whom the righteous Judge owned as His before the heavenly assembly was revealed, the spirits of the just arrived at perfection. They had finished their course, they had overcome in conflict, they were waiting only for glory. They had been connected with the dealings of God on the earth, but-faithful before the time for its blessing was come-they had their rest and their portion in heaven.
(1. The word here translated “assembly” was that of all the states of Greece; that of the “firstborn” is the word for the assembly of citizens of any particular state.)
The new covenant and its mediator; the shed blood of Christ crying for pardon and peace
It was the purpose of God, nevertheless, to bless the earth. He could not do so according to man’s responsibility: His people even were but as grass. He would therefore establish a new covenant with Israel, a covenant of pardon, and according to which He would write the law in the hearts of His people. The mediator of this covenant had already appeared and had done all that was required for its establishment. The saints among the Hebrews were come to the mediator of the new covenant: blessing was thus prepared for the earth and secured to it.
Finally, the blood of Christ had been shed on earth, as that of Abel by Cain; but, instead of crying from the earth for vengeance, so that Cain became a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth (a striking type of the Jew, guilty of the death of Christ), it is grace that speaks; and the shed blood cries to obtain pardon and peace for those who shed it.
The present condition before earthly blessing comes; the shaking of all things announced; Christ’s kingdom immovable; the character of our God; consequent fitting service
It will be observed that, although speaking of the different parts of millennial blessing, with its foundations, all is given according to the present condition of things, before the coming of that time of blessing from God. We are in it as to our relationships; but the spirits of the just men of the Old Testament only are here spoken of, and only the mediator of this new covenant: the covenant itself is not established. The blood cries, but the answer in earthly blessing has not yet come. This is easily understood. It is exactly according to the existing state of things, and even throws considerable light on the position of the Hebrew Christians and on the doctrine of the epistle. The important thing for them was that they should not turn away from Him who spoke from heaven. It was with Him they had to do. We have seen them connected with all that went before, with the Lord’s testimony on earth; but, in fact, they had to do at that time with the Lord Himself as speaking from heaven. His voice then shook the earth; but now, speaking with the authority of grace and from heaven, He announced the dissolution of everything which the flesh could lean upon, or on which the creature could rest its hopes.
All that could be shaken should be dissolved. How much more fatal to turn away from Him that speaks now, than from the commandments even of Sinai! This shaking of all things (whether here or in the analogous passage in 2 Peter) evidently goes beyond Judaism, but has a peculiar application to it. Judaism was the system and the frame of the relationships of God with men on earth according to the principle of responsibility on their part. All this was of the first creation, but its springs were poisoned; heaven, the seat of the enemy’s power, perverted and corrupted; the heart of man on earth was corrupt and rebellious. God will shake and change all things. The result will be a new creation in which righteousness shall dwell.
Meanwhile, the firstfruits of this new creation were being formed; and in Christianity God was forming the heavenly part of the kingdom that cannot be moved; and Judaism-the center of the earthly system and of human responsibility-was passing away. The Apostle therefore announces the shaking of all things- that everything which exists as the present creation shall be set aside. With regard to the present fact he says only, “We receive a kingdom that cannot be moved”; and calls us to serve God with true piety, because our God is a consuming fire; not-as people say-God out of Christ, but our God. This is His character in holy majesty and in righteous judgment of evil.

Hebrews 13

Exhortations relating to the Christian’s path here and with the Hebrews in connection with the approaching demolition and judgment of Judaism
In this next chapter there is more than one truth important to notice. The exhortations are as simple as they are weighty, and require but few remarks. They rest in the sphere in which the whole of the epistle does: what relates to the Christian’s path as walking here, not what flows from union with Christ in heavenly places. Brotherly love, hospitality, care for those in bonds, the strict maintenance of the marriage tie and personal purity, the avoiding of covetousness: such are the subjects of exhortation, all important and connected with the gracious walk of a Christian, but not drawn from the higher and more heavenly sources and principles of the Christian life as we see in Ephesians and Colossians. Nor, even though there be more analogy-for the Epistle to the Romans rests, in general, in life in Christ in this world, presenting Christ’s resurrection, without going on to His ascension1-are the exhortations such as in this latter epistle. Those which follow connect themselves with the circumstances in which the Hebrews found themselves, and rest on the approaching abolition and judgment of Judaism, from which they had now definitely to separate themselves.
(1. It is only spoken of in chapter 8:34, and an allusion in chapter 10:6.)
In exhorting them (vs. 7) to remember those who have guided the flock, he speaks of those already departed in contrast with those still living (vs. 17). The issue of their faith might well encourage others to follow their steps, to walk by those principles of faith which had led them to so noble a result.
The unchanging Christ
Moreover, Christ never changed; He was the same yesterday, today and forever. Let them abide in the simplicity and integrity of faith. Nothing is a plainer proof that the heart is not practically in possession of that which gives rest in Christ, that it does not realize what Christ is, than the restless search after something new-“divers and strange doctrines.” To grow in the knowledge of Christ is our life and our privilege. The search after novelties which are foreign to Him is a proof of not being satisfied with Him. But he who is not satisfied with Jesus does not know Him, or, at least, has forgotten Him. It is impossible to enjoy Him, and not to feel that He is everything, that is to say, that He satisfies us, and that by the nature of what He is, He shuts out everything else.
Jewish earthly worship ended; Christ’s portion- in heaven, accepted; on earth, cast out and despised
Now with regard to Judaism, in which the Hebrews were naturally inclined to seek satisfaction for the flesh, the Apostle goes further. They we