Suffering in the Flesh

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The will of the flesh is the practical principle of all sin. Will is not obedience to God, and hence is sin in its very principle, but being the will of the flesh shows itself in the flesh's lusts. It does not turn towards God, but the contrary, and does turn towards what the flesh desires. It is the acting of the nature at enmity with God's. Suffering in the flesh is the opposite of this will, or acting of the nature. This is applied both to Christ and to us; but in the case of Christ it is applied to His death. (See 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).) Rather than be disobedient in anything, and perfect in obedience, from the divine surrender of all will in Psa. 40 to take the place of obedience, He goes on to death, as man's weakness, Satan's power, God's wrath, and was obedient through all these, and in the former passed through both the latter rather than not obey. He was perfect in obedience, not sparing the flesh in anything, and died to sin once; that is, He went on to death in its fullest forms, rather than withdraw from doing God's will, or have one of His own. His died rather than He would have a will or aught but God's will. Thus sin found no inlet or place. An apple served to lead Adam into sin; nothing could lead Christ into it. Not only He had never any sin, but He went through everything that could induce will, and all failed to lead Him into it. He suffered in the flesh. Sin was baffled forever, and totally-the whole proof gone through, and nothing served to introduce it; all possible trial is over, for He has gone through it in weakness, as to His human nature. He has thus rested from all further question of sin, He has a divine and eternal sabbath as to it. How blessed! On the earth He had not. He had always victory over it-never let anything but obedience in His heart-proved He had a nature contrary to it, on purpose to obey, and nothing else. This was perfection, and the rather because He was tempted; but it was not a sabbath or rest. Between Him and His Father, in the exercise of love in obeying, He had joy, but till He died, (οὐ πέπαυται,) He had not rest from it. This has, as a great principle, its application to us. " He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin," is an abstract principle. When the will of my flesh works, I have not ceased from sin; but when, by the power of the Holy Ghost, I act entirely and feel entirely in the new nature, and the flesh has no will allowed, nor a thought belonging to it has entrance, because I am full of what the Spirit gives me, and obey in the delight of obedience, though suffering as regards man, in that I have ceased from sin. As sin is in the flesh, it may be in us a question of degree. It is partial, temporary, perhaps, in its realization; but the principle remains ever true, and suffering (that is as far as suffering) in the flesh, sin has no place in me, my thoughts, mind, and moral being. The flesh is not changed; but if I only suffer in it, it in me then has no operation as to will. It is important that scripture truth- perfect moral truth-should be given us unmodified in its own truth and nature; because then we can see what it is, and judge the comparative degree of attainment. Besides the spirit is refreshed by the thing itself. We have the same thing in John's epistle, who never introduces the modifications resulting from the adverse action of the flesh or any hindrance. The difficulty of the passage in Peter is its abstract nature. The point important to hold clear is that it is Christ's death that is spoken of in His case, though, of course, all His life was consistent with it.
1 Peter 4:66For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6) refers to verse 5. Christ is ready to judge the quick and the dead. Good news of promise were addressed to those now dead, that they might be thus judged; but not for that only, but that through grace they might live in the Spirit. In respect of their human position in flesh, they were to be judged for the deeds done in the body, but, if they received the message, live spiritually to God. Their being judged shows clearly, I think, that it is no preaching to spirits, that they might be judged for that. Read, it has been preached. It was preached to those now dead. It must be remembered that Peter is writing to the strangers of the dispersion or scattered Jews. Christ has suffered. They are suffering among the ungodly, no longer doing the will of the Gentiles as other Jews were. Now Christ, being exalted, is ready to judge. The Church has only to be complete and caught up for Him to do it. He is exalted and ready; and if He comes and judges the quick among whom they were suffering, His authority to judge extended to the dead also who had received promises (compare Heb. 4:22For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Hebrews 4:2)) that, if they did not live in the Spirit to God, as the believing Jews had to do now without a rest or present Messiah according to promise, they might be judged as responsible men in flesh.
He had made a previous statement to the same purport in respect of those who were in the time of Noah. The Christian Jews were now a little flock; so were the spared in Noah's time. They had Christ only in spirit (a trial and reproach for a Jew who spoke of Messiah's being come); and so had Noah. (Compare chap. 1: 11.) But what was the effect of their rejection of Noah's preaching? Their spirits were now in prison, a proof that the Lord knew, as he says elsewhere, to deliver the godly out of temptation, and reserve the unjust to the day of judgment to be punished. So the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks, in contrast, of the spirits of just men made perfect. It would be a strange thing, if those of whom it was said, " My Spirit shall not always strive with man, but his days shall be one hundred and twenty years," should be the only ones selected to be preached to afterward. But this by the by.
I find nothing in scripture which speaks of manifestation to brethren. The question is apt to connect itself very closely with the state of the conscience. It presses on it when there is anything from which it is not entirely purged before God. There may be a conviction that God will not impute without the conscience being de facto pure or purged. When purged before God or practically pure in walk (though this, as the apostle says, does not justify), the soul is not anxious about being manifested at the judgment-seat, because it is manifested to God now. This is of great practical importance.
The passages on the subject are these. They will be seen to be of two classes.
Rom. 14:1212So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12). So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God, connected with verse 10, We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. So 2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10). For we must all be manifested (appear) before the judgment-seat of Christ to receive the things done in the body.
1 Cor. 4:4, 54For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Corinthians 4:4‑5). For I know nothing by myself (no evil of myself); yet am I not hereby justified: he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and shall make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
Rom. 2:1616In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16). In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel.
This is one class of texts. The other here follows:-
Matt. 10:2626Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. (Matthew 10:26). Fear them not, therefore, for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known.
Mark 4:2121And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? (Mark 4:21). Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel or under a bed, and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested, neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
Luke 8:16-1816No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. 17For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. 18Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. (Luke 8:16‑18). No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel or putteth it under a bed, but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed, therefore, how ye hear, etc.
Chapter 12:1, 2. Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known.
Three great principles are here presented. First, the great general truth, that man can keep nothing secret, though it may seem so, and can conceal nothing: all must be in light; God must have the upper hand, and light shall prevail. Secondly, that we are to give an account of ourselves to God. And thirdly, that we are not to fear the secret machinations of men, but to fear God and bear witness according to the light given to us. When I say man can conceal nothing, it is scarcely absolute enough. There is nothing secret but that it should be manifested.
This is a very important principle. It maintains the authority of God as light. For could anything be withdrawn from this, it would escape His power and judgment, and evil be maintained independent of Him. It maintains also integrity of conscience.
In the second point, our personal responsibility to God is maintained in everything. Each one shall give an account of himself We may be helped by every vessel of grace and light in the Church, but man cannot meddle with our individual responsibility to God. Each one shall give an account of himself.
The third point maintains confidence in God, in presence of what might seem otherwise a wickedness which was of a depth with which it was impossible to deal, and for which Christian truthfulness was no match.
All this is to maintain the conscience in the light before God. Where there is anxiety as to manifestation before the brethren, shame before men has still power over the heart and will. Self-love and character govern the mind. We are not in the light before God, nor has sin its right character in our eyes, because self has yet its power and place.
All is to be brought into the light, all thought of concealment rooted out and destroyed in the heart; but God will not maintain the influence of men and reputation by presenting a manifestation to them in the word, which is exactly what falsifies the moral judgment; and He does not. If the heart is comforting itself with the thought it will not be known, He breaks through the heart's deceit relentlessly, and says it will be known: everything hidden shall come to light. He does not neutralize His own authority and destroy the purity of moral principle, in saying it will be known before your brethren in that day.
Everything will be in the light: thank God; it is for the blessing, and for the joy too, of every upright soul.
It is not necessarily simply in the day of judgment that this takes place: the Lord may deal with it now. " Thou didst it secretly," says God by Nathan to David; " but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun."
Thus the bringing of sin to light and judgment may be here from the hand of God. Men are chastened of the Lord that they may not be condemned with the world. 1 Cor. 11.
One passage remains, demanding more particular notice- 2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)-" For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of the Christ, that each may receive the things done by the body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad."
I would first say, to remove what obscures the passage, that I am satisfied that the passage is general, and embraces all men. I cannot conceive how the context can leave a shadow of doubt on this point in any mind. It ought not. It is not a question of the time of appearing, but of the fact. Secondly, it is very important to remark that as regards the saints there is no calling in question their righteousness. The manner of their arrival before the judgment-seat, and their state in arriving, clearly show this, as well as the declaration of the Lord (John 5) that they shall not come into judgment. But how do they arrive on high? " I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am there ye may be also." Christ comes Himself to complete His work of perfect grace in bringing us there. In that state we " wait for the Lord Jesus Christ [as] Savior, who shall change our vile body and fashion it like his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things to himself." (Phil. 3:2020For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Philippians 3:20).) We shall be already like Christ, conformed to the image of God's Son, bearing the image of the heavenly. He who sits to judge according to His righteousness, according to what He is, is our righteousness.
The judgment of the saints begins when righteousness and glory are complete, when we are the same as Christ-Christ in them by grace.
What immense gain will our manifestation now be to ourselves! We shall know as we are known. If now, when perfect peace is possessed before God in a purged conscience, the Christian looks back at all his past life before and since his conversion, what a lesson of grace, patience, holy government for his good, that he may be partaker of His holiness-of care against unseen dangers, of instruction and of love, will his new history afford the Christian! How much more, when, freed from the very nature which produced the evil in him, he knows as he is known, and can trace now perfectly God's ways with him! It will immensely increase and enhance his apprehension of what God has been for him, and of His patient perfect grace and purpose of love. It is surely a solemn thing, but of immense price and value to us. It is all wrought out in the conscience, as we learn from Rom. 14:1212So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12). Here it is the fact.
Remark the true effect on a right state of mind as here described by the apostle. First, not a thought of judgment as to righteousness has any place whatever. The judgment-seat only awakens that love which thinks of those still exposed to it. " Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." Secondly, it is realized so as to put him who realized it responsibly in the presence of God. Now " we are manifested to God." Oh, what a healthful and blessed thing this is for the soul! The rest is a mere effect readily hoped for-" I trust that we are manifested in your consciences." The other considerations produced a conduct proper to have this effect; but if a man was before God it was of link matter, it did not affect the soul, save in the desire of others' good and Christ's glory. This double effect will certainly be produced in any such manifestation before others, and we then shall as certainly desire nothing else.
The shame of a nature we have left will not be there then; the just judgment of evil will. I say this, however, in respect of the present condition of the soul. Anxiety on this point is a proof that the soul is not wholly in the sight of God. There it disappears because we are wholly there. Scripture never brings in the thought of brethren as concerned in this manifestation, and could not; but it does maintain, in the fullest way, manifestation in the light, so that if the heart reserves anything- has not brought it wholly out before God, it should be ill at ease. We certainly are perfectly manifested to the Lord, consciously I mean (for we always are so), and to ourselves. If it be for His glory that anything should be known to the saints also, we shall not regret it then; but our proper full manifestation is certainly to God, and in our own souls. All that is needed to verify the government of God will, I doubt not, be made manifest. All that has been through evil sought to be hidden, so that the heart was false-the counsel of the heart evil, will be brought to light; but where men have walked in the light, the counsels of the heart, however man may have judged them, will be made plain; for in that day God will judge the secrets of men's hearts. His grace and His government may have wrought all this in this world, and some men's sins and good works go before to judgment, but those that are otherwise cannot be hid.
My answer then is, that the brethren are never, and can never be those, manifestation to or before whom can be the subject of the revelation of scripture-everything being brought into light is. God is light, and the light manifests everything; He will bring every secret work into judgment. Further, as to responsibility, our thoughts are directed to God and to the judgment-seat of Christ. But all that is needed to display God's ways and government, and His approval of His saints, will surely be brought out, as the passages quoted clearly prove. The saint loves the light, as he loves and blesses God for the grace which enables him to stand in it, and makes him meet to be partaker of the inheritance of the saints in it. This, though doubtless imperfect, is, I believe, the true scriptural answer to the question. Where the thought of shame is introduced, it is referred entirely to the presence of Christ, and regards the service and work done for Him. (1 John 2:2828And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28).)