The Mystery of Godliness: 3

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BUT it is not the attendant angels who are spoken of here. Our Lord, after being justified in Spirit, is presented next where the angels are what we may call indigenous inhabitants, and where men have no natural place. Earth is given to the children of men, but heaven is filled with myriads of angels; there too is the risen Lord gone. He has passed out of this world and entered on a condition suited to heaven, where He is “seen of angels.” Men who had the far nearer interest no longer see Him, angels do. This was a fact outside the expectation of Israel as to the Messiah. They ought to have known that the Son of man would come with the clouds of heaven, and be invested with everlasting dominion over all peoples, nations, and languages. But there was no intimation that the Lord would be rejected by the Jew while the church was being formed in union with Him on earth. Besides, and in order to this, the Lord has a body now, just as much as when upon earth. Thus the resurrection and ascension are capital truths of Christianity.
Is there not anything going on meanwhile with regard to the world? There is a very admirable work of God. “Preached amongst Gentiles.” Never could be conceived a fact more repulsive to the Jews as they were. Even Peter was exceedingly astonished, although the Lord before He left the earth had prepared them all for it. The communications in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are plain enough to all now. Yet Peter did all he could to avoid going; and afterward behaved ill about it at Antioch. Here then we find that instead of the Lord Jesus, Jehovah of hosts, reigning in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before the ancients gloriously (which was what Isaiah and the other prophets taught to look for), He was preached amongst Gentiles. It was a new and unexpected work “till the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:2525For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (Romans 11:25)), while blindness in part is happened to Israel (for there is ever a remnant). It is Christianity, flowing from Christ as now made known in the mystery of godliness, “preached amongst Gentiles.” Can anything be of deeper interest and moment to us who are not Jews but Gentiles? For God now makes such as we are His express object of appeal. The rejected but glorified Christ is now preached among Gentiles. How great is our debt to His grace revealed in the mystery of godliness! Nor have we heard in vain. We have received Christ and are already brought into relationship with God Himself. There is no other way.
Consequently the next statement is beautifully in place, as indeed all are. They are in regular sequence, so that you could not put one of them out of its place without damaging the order of the truth. Hence, after saying that He was preached amongst Gentiles, there follows, “believed on in the world.” Nor can any assertion be more accurate. It is not the reign of the Messiah in Palestine or “King over all the earth “; still less does it mean that there is going to be a reign of the gospel, though there is the gospel of the reign. The Lord will come to reign by-and-by in power and glory, as none can mistake when His day arrives. He is now occupied with His heavenly work. Soon He will ask and have the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. And He will inaugurate His kingdom by ruling them, rebellious as they are, with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces like a potter's vessel. It is His kingdom over the earth; and that is the truth, and a truth that the earthly indeed like not, because they prefer something pleasant for themselves, instead of suffering with Christ now and reigning with Him in that day. But the first duty of the Christian now is to follow Him as He walked, and not to be above his Master, but to be perfected as He.
Our prime business is unequivocally to accept His rejection here, the very reverse of seeking earthly ease or glory. The Corinthians saints got a severe rebuke from the apostle (1 Cor. 4), when that error began in their midst. “Already ye are filled, already ye are become rich, ye have reigned without us.” They were taking their ease, reigning as kings without us, &c. “And I would that ye reigned, that we also might reign with you,” that is, at Christ's appearing. Instead of that, God set forth the apostles, not in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day, but last of all, as they were first in spiritual power and authority, as. men doomed to death, a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. Ponder vers. 10-13; see how in ch. 11. he exhorts the saints to be his imitators, even as he also was of Christ. Christendom alas! has followed the erring Corinthians, not the blessed apostle. Nor need any doubt that the Christian is strengthened so as to endure with joy the afflictions of Christ for His body's sake as also of the gospel. Read Col. 1.
Certainly in these sufferings the apostle rejoiced and set the pattern for all who would be faithful. Glory now to suffer with Christ. It is the snare of the enemy, that we should count or allow the world. We are set in express contrast with Gentiles who know not God and seek present honor; whereas our true object of hope is the coming of the Lord Jesus, for which we wait. Christ's work makes us meet for glory. The very gospel says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and, thy house.” And those who believe will in due time join the Lord on high, conformed to His image: not some choice saints, but every one of them. Beware of the newfangled idea of superior Christians, who alone are to be caught up. Such preachers always give themselves credit for that superiority. When the Lord comes, He will translate the entire church, His body. In His body there are differing members, some “more feeble” as the apostle says (1 Cor. 12), some “less honorable.” But the grace of God tempers the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. In the face of such a principle, how sad to indulge in reveries so fantastical! which leave room for personal vanity and slighting of one's betters! There is not the least room for doubt that “they that are Christ's” will be translated to meet the Lord at His coming. Such is the positive teaching in 1 Cor. 15:2323But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:23), and such is the plain force of 1 Thess. 4:14, 16, 1714For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17)
. Nor does any other scripture qualify either. There is no ground for such a delusion in all the Bible.
Lastly comes the clause “received up into (rather, in) glory.” It marks Christ's permanent condition on high-received up in glory. There He abides: why is that last? It seems arranged in this order, to present a contrast between Christ and what “demons” and deceiving spirits were to do in latter times, as says the next chapter. Christ “received up in glory” puts shame on the efforts of men that give heed to evil spirits at work in the hypocrisy of legend-mongers that despise marriage, and cry up abstinence from meats which God created to be received with thankfulness by those that believe and know the truth.
You may ask for any other instance in the word of God of a special departure from order. Take the first chapter of the Revelation, vers. 4, 5. Every one knows that the usual order is, as we find in the apostolic commission (Matt. 28:1919Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:19)), Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But in the benediction or prayer of 2 Cor. 13:1414The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. <<The second epistle to the Corinthians was written from Philippi, a city of Macedonia, by Titus and Lucas.>> (2 Corinthians 13:14) the apostle for good reason begins with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Rev. 1:4, 54John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, (Revelation 1:4‑5), with equally good reason the order is reversed, and the Lord Jesus is given the last place. “John to the seven churches which are in Asia. Grace be unto you and peace from Him which is and which was and which is to come.” Next we have “and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne.” Lastly, we have “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This again is clearly a departure from putting the Lord in the second place. But the reason is not far to seek. The Lord Jesus is presented in His earthly glories only; and so as to be followed immediately by a parenthetical strain of praise from the saints; and then by the testimony of His coming judgment of the earth. This would have been frustrated if “the seven Spirits” had occupied the third place. In every instance contextual grounds account for the special order.
So it is here. Christ “received up in glory” would historically have followed His being justified in Spirit; but had it been put in there, contrast would have failed with the power of Satan in helping on departure from the faith. For “believed on in the world” would then stand against that departure. But the true contrast being found in “received up in glory” explains the order required. In Him thus regarded is the delivering object. These seducing spirits and false-teaching demons energize men who are the instruments of leading away from the faith, fair spoken but false and hypocritical and undermining the truth. Religious lies and pious frauds are but the worse work of the enemy. In this case they deny the creation rights of God through the pretension of superior sanctity.
But Christ “received up in glory” refuted them. Those that gave heed to the evil spirits were misled through the hypocrisy of men speaking lies, branded in their own conscience, forbidding, &c. And this sense is right; because demons have not a conscience to be thus cauterized, whereas their lying agents have. Otherwise one must, if adopting the ordinary version identify the liars and the spirits, as is beyond doubt found elsewhere in the N. T. account of demoniacal possession.
How singular that the claim of holiness superior to that of the gospel should go with and depend upon despising the creatures of God, and therefore impeaching His glory as Creator and Sustainer of all! But so it was: the early germ of Gnosticism led later on to the bolder speculation of Manicheism, that is, the imaginative impiety of an evil God of creation and a good One of the N. T. Hence the dream of matter as essentially evil, of food (animal at least) as immoral, of marriage as degrading to the spiritual.
Hence the denial of all lawful use of the law and contempt of the O. T. and of the elders who obtained witness of pleasing God. “He Who was manifested in flesh received up in glory “dissipates the entire system as a lie of Satan. As there is but one God, so but one Mediator of God and men, a man Christ Jesus, yet never more manifestly God than when He deigned to become man to glorify God and save men. And He Who came down in love to a depth unfathomable as a ransom for all, is the same Who was justified in spirit by resurrection; He received up in glory, is as truly man as when He was born or when He died. Thus the Creator God is the Savior God, and the Man that suffered on the cross is the glorified Man on high. And the believer called to have part with Him now will he conformed to His image at His coming. To disdain what God sanctioned from the beginning, and what He gave for man's use since the deluge, is to prove oneself His enemy and Satan's slave; and all the worse, if one claim also a sanctity superior to the gospel of Christ.
So it is with all schemes of higher life, superior sanctification, or perfection in the flesh. They are not of God but of the enemy, and offend against the gospel, and destroy real holiness. The fuller, the full, truth of God, now enjoyed in the church, is meant to deepen reverence for God's authority in the world as well as in the earthly relations of this life, which Satan seeks first to dissolve under the pretense of higher principles, in order later to overthrow Christ's person as well as the church, all real privilege, and all truth itself.
For, as this scripture remarkably illustrates, it is in Christ's person that the truth is centered; it is He that no less secures all godliness; not alone as come down in love, but as glorified in God's righteousness. It is the One Who counted it not robbery, no object to be seized, to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself and took on Himself the form of a bondman and was made in likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, yea death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him. Thus the personal glory of Christ, the Son of God, gave occasion to His moral glory when incarnate, going down to the uttermost in love, obedience, and suffering for sin to God's glory at all cost. Now He has heavenly and indeed universal glory conferred on Him by God as Man “received up in glory.” It is the exercise of a new righteousness, God's righteousness, as His answer to Christ's infinite merits; as it is also the ground of blessing and glory for all that believe on Him.
So in John 13:3131Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. (John 13:31) the Lord Himself says, when Judas went out to betray Him, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God also shall glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him.
And such is the scope of this wonderful summary, as we have already seen, in perfect accord with the other scriptures just referred to, each of which has its own special object and character in harmony with the design of the book in which it occurs. For such is the invariable stamp and proof of divine inspiration. Some have called it the apostle's creed; others have conjectured that he has here incorporated a formulary more or less generally so used. But such guesses are as unfounded as unnecessary. It is a requisite and essential part of this epistle to Timothy and of no other; it expresses the writer's special line of doctrine, and of no other apostle, though it also display the inspiring power of the Holy Spirit, as every and all scripture does.
W. K.
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