Is Paul's Doctrine Ever of No Practical Value?

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The truths unfolded and warnings given in the Epistles of Paul, invaluable at all times, are of incalculable value at a day like the present. The seeds and first symptoms of all that which is now seen in well-developed character around us had their existence thus early in the history of the Church; and divine wisdom, foreseeing the results of them all, has not only foreseen but provided for the difficulties and exigencies of such an evil day. This is one of the blessed characters of the ever-living Word of God. It proves, as the difficulties arise and complicate themselves, how matchlessly full of divine and unerring wisdom it is. One is not surprised at anything that has arisen. Scripture has prepared us to expect that the evils would arise and the truth would be surrendered, and falsehood glossed over with an appearance of the truth, as we painfully discover around us. Still the unerring and unfailing manner in which it meets, and guides, and directs, the Christian who is subject to it, in every difficulty of his path, in a labyrinth of evil, and unfolds its varied and wondrous beauty and resources for the Church's need, elicits a note of praise, often silent, but deep, to Him who is its author, and whose perfect wisdom shines in that which is so worthy of Him!
One is struck with the wisdom and beauty of the style in which Paul, when writing to the Colossians, unfolds before their eyes the glories and magnificence of Christ, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell. (Chapter 1) The work of the Father for them and in them, in making them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; translating them into the kingdom of the Son of His love, the center of all His counsels. Their danger lay in "not holding the Head;" and thus they were allowing themselves to be deceived by the craft of Satan, under the pretense of humility and lowliness, and were turning ordinances into a means of gaining a standing before God, instead of using them as a memorial of their having been introduced into a standing, known and enjoyed, and possessed before Him.
Before one word of warning or upbraiding falls from his pen, he discloses the glories of the Son, the center of the Father's counsels; by whom, through sin-bearing, and death, and judgment, the fullness of the Godhead had cleared the ground for the reconciliation of "all things" in the new creation, of which He was the center, and through whom believers had been reconciled to God.
What a rebuke to the state of things which we find touched upon in the second chapter of the Epistle!-"philosophy," "vain deceit," "traditions of men," "elements of the world," "meats," "drinks," "keeping of holy-days," "new moons," "sabbaths" (which were shadows which had vanished into their nothingness, when the substance, Christ, had come), "voluntary humility," and such like. Things with which a natural mind could occupy itself, and which had a "show of wisdom" and worship devised by the human will, so gratifying to the flesh.
The Apostle ranges as it were through the region of creation, providence, redemption, and glory (chap. 1:15-22); as if he said, "There is not a spot in the wide universe of these things that I will not fill with Christ. I will so unfold and expand Him before your eyes, that I will only have to mention the follies of chapter ii. which have occupied your minds, to make you blush about them; and this is the very One in whom all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, and who dwells in you (chap. 1:27) and ye are complete (or "filled full") in Him (chap. 2:10). Foolish people, see what you have been doing. Is not that a more touching rebuke for you, than if I had charged you with the infantile follies of which I have heard?"
I desire to put before my readers a line of truth which has struck me much of late in chapter 1 of this Epistle, coupled with 2 Timothy 3; and to bring before their minds certain truths of great importance which the Apostle presses, when the seeds of the evil had begun to show themselves, and which in this day have grown up and ripened into such a harvest. It seems to me that he has them specially in his mind as the grand preservatives which would guard the faithful against all that was coming. This is the more remarkable when we find that he presses the very same things on the consciences of the faithful in the perilous times of the last days. So that whether in the beginning or the ending of the church's sojourn here, the truths which would preserve and gird the loins of God's people would be the same.
I gather from the general teaching of the Epistle that the Apostle, who had never seen the Colossians (chap. 2:1), had heard of them through Epaphras, whose ministry of the gospel had evidently been blessed to them. He had brought tidings of them to the Apostle (chap. 1:8), of their fruit-bearing reception of the gospel. The Apostle contemplates a double condition of soul: first, that of the knowledge of the glad tidings; and secondly, a condition produced by being filled with the knowledge of God's will, for which he prayed (ver. 9, 10); in order that, through it, they might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, and be fruitful in every good work, and thus grow through the knowledge of God. In a word, it is the knowledge of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
Consequently, he contemplates his own ministry under these two heads: first, that of the Gospel to every creature under heaven (ver. 23); and, secondly, that of the Church, which completed all the counsels of God (ver. 22-26). Revelation, up to the point of Paul's ministry, had embraced creation, the law, redemption, the Person of Christ, the ways of God, His government, etc. There was but one thing now, and that was the revelation of the mystery of the Church, which, when given, completed (or filled up) the Word of God.
Christ-the Son of David and heir of his throne-rejected by the Jews and by the world; crucified and slain; raised up again by the power of God, and by the glory of the Father; seated in the heavens in the righteousness of God, having answered God's righteous judgment against sin, death, judgment, wrath, the curse of a broken law-all borne and passed through to the glory of God; sin put away, sins borne; the "old man" judicially dealt with, and set aside forever; a Man-the Second Man-the last Adam-in heaven in divine righteousness!
The Holy Ghost personally on earth witnesses to the righteousness of God, and to the justification of the believer according to its full display. Eternal life by and in the Spirit, and its conscious possession, communicated to the believer by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost acting as the power of this life in his walk, guiding, directing, controlling, and rebuking him. The believer sealed with the Spirit, uniting him to Christ-a Man in glory, his body a temple for His indwelling; and thus the bond of union between all those who are His, one with another, and with Christ. His presence and baptism constituting "one Body," composed of such, here in this world. God dwelling amongst His saints here, as a habitation, in Spirit, not in flesh.
The Holy Ghost, the power for the exercise of the gifts that Christ, when He arose and ascended up on high, received as man, and bestowed on men-members of His body-thus "dividing to every man severally as He will;" reproducing, too, "Christ," the "life of Jesus," in the mortal bodies of the saints. The power also of worship, and of communion, joy, love, rejoicing, and prayer. Teaching them to await the hope of righteousness by faith, even the glory itself. Leading them to wait for Christ and producing the longing "Come" in the "Bride" (and inviting "him that heareth" to say so, too), while her Lord still continues, the object of her hope, as the "Bright and Morning Star." Meanwhile transforming them into Christ's image of unfolding, in the liberty of grace, the glories of Him in whose face shines all the glory of God!
Such are some of the features of the "doctrine" of Paul.
We find then a condition of soul in the Colossians for which the Apostle can give thanks (ver. 3-6). They had received the gospel, and it was bringing forth fruit in them since the day they knew the grace of God in truth. But he well knew that the mere knowledge of the gospel, blessed even as it is, would not enable them to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." It needed something more than the mere acceptance of the glad tidings to guide the steps of the Lord's people in a walk worthy of Him; and hence, while he can give thanks for the first condition of soul produced by the glad tidings, he ceased not to pray for them that they might have the second.
How many of the Lord's people there are in the first state in the present day who are rejoicing in the grace of the gospel, and yet who have never attained to the second; nay, who even think that anything beyond the mere knowledge of the gospel is but speculation, or opinions of men, without power or value for the practical walk of the saints! I think I am warranted in saying, that after Epaphras saw Paul, and learned the deep and, paramount importance of that knowledge, for which Paul prayed that they might know, that Epaphras was fully convinced of the value and importance of their learning the second character of the, apostle's ministry, that he, likewise, labored earnestly in prayer for them that they might "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God." (Compare Paul's prayer in chap. 1:9, 10, with Epaphras' prayer in chap. 4:12.)
We see, therefore, three prominent and important matters which the Apostle presses in Chapter 1.
First, the importance that the saints should be instructed in the second character of the ministry, of the Church-the Body of Christ, its Head. So that, understanding the deep responsibility which flowed from membership of such, they might hold fast the Head, and walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.
Secondly. That the Scriptures were now filled up, or completed, by the revelation of this mystery. No room was left consequently for tradition or development of any kind. It was the grand summing up of all the revealed counsels and purposes of God the Father, for the glory of the Son. They had, up to this, embraced and treated of creation, law, government, the kingdom, the Person of Christ-the Son, redemption, etc. There might be, and doubtless was, a further development of the details of these subjects, as by John in the Apocalypse, etc., but still it would only be the unfolding, and the summing up of the details of what had been the subject of inspiration. Paul's ministry it was then, revealing the mystery concerning Christ and the Church, which completed the Word of God (chap. 1:25).
Thirdly. The glory of the Person of the Son, who is the image of the invisible God. No man had seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, had declared Him (John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)). He had created all things. By Him all things were upheld. He was the first-begotten from among the dead, and as such the Head of His Body, the Church.
All fullness was pleased to dwell in Him, and to reconcile all things to Himself; and He had reconciled the saints, who before had been aliens, and enemies in their minds by wicked works, in the body of His flesh through death. Thus the regions of creation, providence, redemption, and glory, are ranged through by the Apostle, and Christ unfolded as filling all things. It is the glory of the Person of the Son!
To repeat them, that the mind may recall them simply, they are three, viz.: 1St, The doctrine of Paul; secondly, The Scriptures, which had been now completed by his ministry; and thirdly, The Person of Christ.
These were the truths on which so much hung and flowed from, which would be the safeguards for the faithful in an evil day.
I do not here enter into more detail, but notice them as those truths to which he directs special attention to meet the dangers he foresaw in the beginning of the history of the Church.
I now turn to the instruction which he gives in the Second Epistle to Timothy, which would afford an unerring guide to the faithful at the closing of the history of the Church in the last days. The mournful heart of the Apostle un-bosoms itself to one whom he loved, and to whom he could communicate his thoughts freely; he unfolds to him the irreparable ruin into which the Church was fast drifting in her outward, responsible condition. He does not look for any restoration-not even the ability on the part of the faithful to leave the outward professing mass. He does not in the Epistles to Timothy speak of the inward graces and Christian affections, which are to be the more cultivated than ever in such a state of things, as he does in the Epistle to the Philippians. He does not speak in them of the Church as the Body of Christ or Bride, nor of the relationships of Father and children, as elsewhere. What he treats of is the outward thing before the world, in the character (as in 1 Tim. 3:14-1614These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:14‑16)) of what it had been set in the world to be for God.
It was His house, the Assembly of the living God, the pillar and support of the Truth, the vessel in which the Truth was to be displayed; and the mystery of Godliness-the manifestation of God in Christ, and the surrounding truths-was to be her testimony in the world. She was a light-bearer to reflect Him as His epistle, and respond to God's purpose in this place. In the second Epistle the Apostle sees that all was now hopelessly and irrevocably gone. The house of God had become a great house in which iniquity was rife, and vessels to dishonor had found a lodgment and were at home in it. Paul had been "turned away from" by all in Asia. He is here, I doubt not, a representative man, one through whom the Holy Ghost can say, "Be ye followers together of me" (Phil. 3); and one who walked in the power of his own doctrine.
He marks out in a clear line the pathway of the faithful in such a state of things: they were to depart from iniquity-"Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord (Kuriou) depart from iniquity." (Chap. 2:19.) Everyone who owned Him as Lord. Whatever form it would take, the simple and primary step should be to depart from iniquity. From vessels, which were not honoring Christ in their walk, one was to purge oneself, and thus that one might become a vessel unto honor, fitted and meet for the Master's use. Fleeing from youthful lusts (i.e., having inward personal holiness) was to be the character of one's walk. And then (all before this being negative) the positive following of righteousness. faith, love, and peace with those who were calling on the Lord out of a purged heart. (See Chapter 2:19-22.)
But the question now comes, When the saints had done this, when they had departed from iniquity, purged themselves from the vessels to dishonor, were walking in holiness and following these things together, is there anything provided for them, when corruption surrounds them on all sides, to keep them together after a divine fashion in the midst of it all? Would they not be open to the admission of evil amongst them again, and thus find that separation from it was of no avail? In the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul had shown an Epaphras the necessity of having the saints instructed in the second part of his ministry when they had been established in the first-that is, when they had received the grace of the Gospel, that they might know the full counsels of God in the doctrine of Paul, in order to walk worthily of the Lord. Yea, that he ceased not in all earnestness and in the Holy Ghost, to pray that they might be thus instructed.
Would this now be that to which he would again point them? Here then comes the grand truth, he recalls the very same three things as those which at the beginning he had pressed upon the Colossians as the safeguards for the faithful in the perilous times-times when the profession of Christianity is described in words so nearly like those by which he had described the corruptions of the heathen world, when sunk down into the lowest ebb of degradation and departure from God.
If the closing verses of Rom. 1 are compared with the first four verses of 2nd Timothy 3, this will at once be seen. In describing the various manifestations of evil in these verses, three prominent features will be found in them, viz.: 1St, Self-predominating (Christianity is the denial of self); 2nd, A form of godliness, while the power would be denied; and 3rd, Active opposition to the truth by the most subtle device of the enemy-that of imitation-the device of Satan in Egypt by the magicians, by copying Moses' miracles performed by the power of God, and thus Satan's power practically nullifying that of God. To counterbalance those characteristic features and keep the faithful after a divine fashion, the Apostle names the same things as before we noticed to the Colossians: 1St, "My doctrine;" 2nd, The "Scriptures;" and 3rd, The Person of Christ as an object of faith. These he unfolds in the remaining portion of the chapter. (Ver. 10-17.)
The doctrine of Paul (see also the manner of life which flowed from it) is that which is to keep divinely together those who would call on the Lord out of a pure heart. It embraces all the principles and truths connected with it, as when first revealed. Ruin and failure could not affect it, nor hinder the practice flowing from it. Nor would it ever be impracticable for the faithful few to exercise the godly discipline and exclusion of evil from their midst, inculcated by him. (See, 1St Cor.) Outward unity, seen, to such a beautiful degree at the first (Acts 2;4), might be gone forever. The unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ would never fail, and this the Christian was exhorted to endeavor to keep. (Eph. 4;3.) Come what would, there never would be a time while the Church would sojourn here, when Paul's doctrine would be a nullity or impracticable to the veriest handful of the faithful who sought to call on the Lord out of a pure heart, and live godly in Christ Jesus.
Such is then the prominent and first-named point in the chapter. "But thou hast fully known my doctrine," etc. The resource-the safeguard -the ground or principle of action of the saints in an evil day. Without Paul's doctrine, they had nothing stable to preserve them and keep them together on divine ground in the midst of corruption; with it, they would find that under their feet which would never fail.
Have we then Paul's doctrine? We may boast, as all do, that we have the Scriptures-surely it is well. We may have confidence that an ever faithful Lord will never leave nor forsake His people, and that He knows them that are His, and will keep them unto the end. But can we say that we have Paul's doctrine of the Church-the Body of Christ on earth formed by the presence and baptism of the Holy Ghost? Having it, can we say that we are as living members, acting upon the truth of it through the never-failing supply of grace He gives? Or, do we come under the character of those who are described as "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth-those whose mind and intellect the truth has reached, but without faith, and hence without practical value in our lives?" Of the truth we can say as of faith: "What profit, my brethren, if a man say he have the truth?" if he have not shown that he has faith in it, and thus has learned to act upon it as something in which he believes?
It is always a sign that a man has faith in the truth which he knows, when it has had its corresponding effect upon his life-when it has been acted upon in practice. No man has ever had the joy and power of a divine truth till he has accepted it, and walked therein. Many are thus ever learning and never able to come to a divinely confirmed knowledge of it, because the practice is wanting. It is learned in the intellect;- the natural mind is touched, perhaps, with the beauty and divine excellence of it; it cannot be denied, but there is no faith in it. It has not been learned in the conscience and in the soul; and when tribulation or persecution arises because of it, he is offended-deems it non-essential perhaps-and surrenders that to which he has never come to a divinely-given knowledge.
If ever there was a day when there was such a thing as "salt which had lost its savor," it is the present. The most touching -the very highest truths of God have become the topic of the world's conversation. They are held by many saints after a fashion in which the edge and power of them are lost. A worldly talk and conversation are coupled with the intellectual knowledge of the highest truths of God; and like salt that has lost its saltiness, one can but ask of it, "Wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but (even) men cast it out." (Luke 14:34,3534Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:34‑35).)
"But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But continue thou in the things that thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them." (2 Tim. 3:10-1410But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; (2 Timothy 3:10‑14).)
May the Lord open the understanding of His beloved people, and in the midst of the confusion and corruption of such an evil day-when men are saying, "What is truth?" and yet not caring for the reply, they may find there are such principles in the Word of God as no amount of man's failure can ever touch, and which are ever practicable to those who desire humbly to walk with God, and to keep the word of the patience of Jesus, till He comes. May they learn to walk together in unity, and peace, and love in the truth, for His name's sake.-Amen.
F. G. P.
"We can only be, in truth, a testimony to the complete failure of the Church of God. But, to be such, we must be as true in principle as the thing that has failed. And, as long as we are a testimony to failure, we shall never fail" (Words of Truth, New Series).