On 1 Timothy 3:16

1 Timothy 3:16
The assembly, or church, of God then is in no way the truth, but its responsible witness and support on the earth before all men. Not the church but Christ is the standard and expression of what God is, and of man and all else, as revealed in Holy Writ, the one daily and perfect rule of faith, the word that abides forever. So far from being before the word, so as to formulate the truth, it was the word making known Christ which the Spirit of God used to quicken and fashion those who compose the church. Thus to the truth the church in God's grace owes its being; without the truth, or rather abandoning it (for, to be the church, the truth must have been possessed and maintained), the faithless church becomes not null only but the special object of divine judgment. Its privileges furnish the measure of its guilt; nor has anything more helped on its ruin than the fond assumption (in the teeth of Rom. 11, 2 Thessalonians and of many other warnings) that the ancient people were broken-off branches, that the now favored Gentile might be grafted in never to fail or be cut off, as rebellious Israel has been.
Hence the propriety of the striking summary which follows as the conclusion of the chapter: not the heavenly relationship of the church, but the fundamental truth set forth in the person of Christ, and graven, not only on the hearts of Christians as such, but on the assembly for its public confession, its habitual praise, and the practice of every day.
“And confessedly great is the mystery of godliness: He who1 was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit, appeared unto angels, was preached among Gentiles, was believed on in [the] world, was received up in glory” (ver. 16).
The introductory clause is most instructive as well as impressive. “Mystery” means a truth fully divulged, never a sacrament, (though important in its place and for the purpose intended of the Lord). The secret (now revealed) of piety or godliness is the truth of Christ. He is the source, power and pattern of what is practically acceptable to God—His person as now made known. True life is living by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. To look on Him, or for Him as a Jew once might in faith, is not enough. Here He stands revealed in the great essential lineaments of the truth. The church lives, moves, and has its being in presenting Him thus to every eye and heart. Men may disbelieve or gainsay to their own destruction but to present the truth of Christ is, we may say, the reason of the church's existence, rather than the admirably good results which flow both for each saint within and for those without who come to believe unto their own eternal blessing.
Some doubtless will cry out as if “He who,” as in the Revised Version, grievously displaces “God,” as in the Authorized Version which follows editions formed on the more modern copies. But weigh well the better attested reading, and you may soon happily learn how much more exact is the relative in this connection, as it also really supposes the self-same truth in the background. For where would be even the sense of saying that Adam or Abraham, that David, Isaiah, or Daniel, or that any other human being, “was manifested in flesh” An angelic creature so manifested would be revolting for the end in view, and could no more avail than a man. If only a man, no other way than “flesh” was open to him: the mightiest “hunter before the Lord,” the subtlest wit, the most consummate orator or poet or warrior or statesman, “he also is flesh,” no less than the least one born of woman. Not so the one Mediator between God and men; for though He deigned to become man, He was intrinsically and eternally divine. But for the counsels and ways of grace, He might conceivably have come as He pleased, in His own glory, or in His Father's, or in that of the holy angels, without emptying and humbling Himself to incarnation and atonement. Here the opening and immeasurable wonder of the truth is the glory of Him who was born of the virgin and thus manifested in flesh. So in the kindred passage of John 1 it is written, “The Word became flesh,” where it had been carefully laid down before that “The Word was God,” as well as “with God,” in the beginning before He made anything in the universe made by Him.
1. Not only is it a truth to test every conscience: what an appeal to the heart! what infinite love to ruined and guilty sinners, for whose sake He was thus manifested to the glory of God! He came to make known, as only He could, God as light and love, Himself the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man, Himself the Son of man that came not to be ministered to but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many Herein is love, not that we loved God (as we ought according to the law, but we did not, yea we hated both Father and Son without a cause), but that He loved us and gave His Son a propitiation for our sins. And herein was laid the new and everlasting ground of God's righteousness, where man was proved hopelessly unrighteous, in the cross and blood of Christ, that God might be just and the Justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Here however it is not the work done in infinite love that God might righteously do His will in sanctifying us through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; it is His person in that state in which alone that work could avail, the Son incarnate, “He who was manifested in flesh.”
2. Next, we are told, He “was justified in Spirit."2 He was as truly man as any; but His state was, as that of no other, characterized absolutely by the Spirit of God, from the beginning right through life and death, in uninterrupted energy of holiness and incorruption till He rose from the dead and took His seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high. His unvarying life was to do God's will, the only Man who never once did His own will. He felt, spoke, acted, uniformly in the Spirit: as He was conceived in the virgin's womb, so He was in due time anointed, and finally marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. Compare Rom. 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4), 1 Peter 3:1818For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (1 Peter 3:18). It was His perfection as man in the midst of an evil ruined world to do, not miracles only, but everything in the Spirit's power; where we who believe have to follow in His steps, endowed with that same Spirit now given to us in His grace; but we, with our old man, which He had not save to die for it on the cross, and which therefore was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin, having died to it.
3. He “appeared to angels.” The Son of God was made visible to angels, not only on marked occasions as specified in scripture from His birth of woman till He ascended on high, but generally we may say through His incarnation. But is this all that the clause implies? May it not describe, what appears more characteristic, that, when He ceased to be seen among men on earth, not even the chosen witnesses beholding Him conversant with them more, He was an object of sight to. angels? The earthly scene closed, He certainly has to do most expressly with all the angels of God, seeing they worship Him. Nor can any condition be more outside the ordinary way in which a Jew thinks of the Messiah, even when glory dawns on Immanuel's land. However this may be, as to which I should not be too bold.
4. “He was preached among Gentiles.” Here it is not merely beyond habitual Jewish expectations but in contrast with it. They looked for Him to reign in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His ancients gloriously, no doubt to have the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, but still set as Jehovah's King upon His holy hill of Zion, Israel the center of that wide circle of blessing and glory here below. Such is to be the display of the kingdom when He comes again and shall have cleared away the apostate and rebellious despisers. But here it is the secret which the Christian knows now— “preached among Gentiles,” instead of reigning over Israel. This indeed is the evident truth, and would be plain and simple enough to us, if Gentile boasting did not darken it by claiming Israel's place as now indefeasibly the portion of Christendom, to the denial of the ancient people's hopes, as well as the destruction of all right perception of our own, incomparably brighter, even as the heavens are higher than the earth.
5. So again He “was believed on in [the] world,” exactly describing the essential difference in this sphere from that which prophecy held out and God will make good in the age to come, when every eye shall see the Son of man, and a dominion be given Him, and glory, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: and this dominion an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away (as the old empires did), and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (as the last or Roman Empire must, though it be revived by the power of the pit, in order to meet the peculiar judgment of God on its surpassing lawlessness and self-exaltation in the last days). Christ now is an object of faith only, not yet reigning in power over the world, as Rev. 11:1515And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15) announces.
6. He “was received up in glory.” Such is the suited and worthy close of this concise but comprehensive form of sound words, so as to leave fresh on all souls that read it the bright impress of Christ in glory. For if He came down in love, as another admirably remarked, He went up in righteousness. The work given Him to do He had accomplished at infinite cost to Himself and perfectly to God's glory, even where all might have seemed hopeless—as to sin, and a world of sin; that the adequate answer to the cross of the suffering Son of man (who had thus glorified God) was that God should glorify Him in Himself, and that straightway. John 13 And this accordingly is the righteousness of which the Spirit when come at Pentecost afforded evidence to the world. The world had proved its unrighteous hatred in rejecting Him whom God raised from the dead and set at His own right hand. This is the righteousness which the presence of the Spirit sent down from heaven demonstrates: the crucified. Son of man sits on the throne of God. And here we have the same glorious fact which completes the circle of the truth embraced by the Spirit of God in the mystery of piety. How wonderful to find it all in a few facts of our Lord Jesus! But the wonder melts into worship, as we bear in mind that if He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill up all things. He that emptied Himself to become a servant was in Himself God and Lord. The pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand.