The Way of a Christian's Power: Part 1

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2 Corinthians 12
This chapter presents to us, in a remarkable manner, the way in which the power comes whereby a Christian can walk through this world. It is not merely now a path in which he can walk, but the way by which he may have strength to walk in it, and what the perfect work of God is, in order to his walking in this path. Here we see the two extremes of what a Christian can rise to and into what he can fall.
In the beginning of the chapter a man was caught up to the third heaven; he was in the highest extreme of spiritual blessedness. Such blessedness indeed he had been conscious of, that it was not suited to speak of when he got back into his natural state. No doubt his faith was strengthened by it for his work, but he could not speak of such things. Now there is the highest state of spirituality which you can suppose, and yet it is that which is true for us all. No doubt it was brought home to the apostle in a special manner, but the thing he so realized is true of us. Then, at the close of the chapter, is seen the other extreme, namely, the terrible state into which a saint can get. We read of envyings, wraths, strifes, uncleanness, fornication, etc. So bad indeed was their state that the apostle could not even go to Corinth. It was such a corrupt place that it had even passed into a proverb among the ancients; and it was found true even of the saints there, that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” Hence the apostle says, “I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not.” At first he would not go back to them, but now his first letter had wrought upon the minds of the Corinthians, and they had put out the man who had committed the dreadful evil. Titus too had been to them, and had come back and had told him of their repentance and mourning and their fervent desire towards him, so that his heart was comforted.
Still they were in a very difficult position, and great snares were around them, for he says here, “I fear lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes,” etc. There had even been such fornication among them as was not so much as named among the Gentiles. True they had received the apostle's reproof, and the man was put out; but they were so used to it, to see evil everywhere around them, that they did not feel it. It is different with us; for we have been brought up to feel and judge everything by a sort of moral light that has been in the world since Christianity has been professed. But they had been always accustomed to uncleanness; they had corrected things in the main; but still the apostle was trembling about them. “I fear lest when I come... I shall be found unto you such as ye would not.” I shall be found very severe with you: I may come with a rod. He trembled lest he should be forced to exercise this kind of severity towards those who had not repented.
We get, then, the extreme in the beginning of the chapter, to which a Christian can go in spirituality, and in the end of it the extreme to which he can go in the flesh. Such is the awfulness of the evil that remains in us even as Christians, and, on the other hand, the blessedness to which, a man can be carried in spiritual enjoyment. Of course, it is not every one goes up into the third heaven, but, on the one band, all have the blessedness of a man in Christ, and, on the other, the incorrigible wickedness of the flesh—I do not say of a man in the flesh, for this is not a Christian state at all. We see what the place of a Christian is, looked at in his privileges, and then what he is, looked at in his path down here; and how it is that a person, with the possibility of all this infirmity if he is not walking watchfully—how it is that he can walk according to his privileges. Because here we are in a world of temptation and evil, and we have got the flesh, which the devil is always seeking to draw us aside by. And how is a person, walking in the midst of temptation, with the flesh there and the devil too, to walk according to this heavenly condition in which he has been put?
The first thing is to know what the privilege is. The apostle was made to enjoy it in an extraordinary manner; but the place which he gives to himself is one which, in principle, belongs to every Christian. The title that took Paul to the third heaven takes all there. We do not realize it now to the extent that he did; but still that title gives us our place there. We are come to God in glory now; that is the place that is given to us. And therefore he says, I do not talk about Paul— “I know a man in Christ.” I do not get a man in the flesh, but a man in Christ. That is where the Spirit of God sets a Christian. It is the place of every believer. They may have great exercises of heart before getting there; but where He sets them is not in the flesh but in Christ. This is not the flesh, it is the glory at the right hand, of God. A man in the flesh cannot be there.
Where the apostle says, “When we were in the flesh,” he means that we are so no longer; it is a past thing. If I say, When I was in Bristol I did so and so, it means that I am not there now. In that way it is he says, “When we were in the flesh.” He had had the commandment, and might assent to it that it was good, but he could not get power through it. It was not with him then, rejoicing in the Lord always and saying, “Of such an one will I glory.” But there was his very being, his nature, his walk, all opposed to God; and the consciousness he had of himself and his flesh was this, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” That is what he got the consciousness of before God.
Supposing the man was desiring to do the right thing, but did not do it—rather did what was the contrary—he had the consciousness that this was what he was before God. In Rom. 7 he was walking in sin and death in the first Adam, and he had to answer for it. In chapter 8 he says another thing, “Ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” There we have the man in Christ, and, “There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” There is the not walking after the flesh, but after the Spirit, that will be seen. But where is now the power for it? “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Mark, that where he is under the law, and has got these holy desires, that which the new nature always must desire, he sees that the law is right, he consents to the law that it is good, but he also finds another law in his members, bringing him into captivity to the law of sin. He sees that it is of no use. How can I stand before God? I wish the right thing and do the wrong thing. Am I not answerable to God? And how can I answer to Him if I am always doing the thing that is wrong?
All through this part of Rom. 7, mark, he does not speak of Christ but of a man in the flesh. It was not that there were not new desires, but he did not do them; and there he was, a responsible man, having to answer for his own condition before God; and he says, My condition is all wrong, “O wretched man that I am” etc. This was true, but what was he speaking of, all the time? The law. “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” It was not merely that the law judged any gross misconduct, but it required from him what he ought to be, quickening his desire and wish to be it, and yet he was not it. “I consent to the law that it is good.” He has got to do with law.
Again, what does he delight in? “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” I have got a desire after what is right, but I have not got a Savior. I have got a law, and what does the law say? You must love God with all your heart. But I do not do that. Then you are lost—it requires from me what I ought to be, but what I am not. It requires from a man that he should not covet; that he should love God with all his heart, and soul, and might, and his neighbor as himself.
But who is the man from whom that is required? Why, it is a man, in the flesh, with all the lusts of the flesh constantly dragging him into evil. The law requires from a man that is a sinner that he should not be a sinner. It is just that. If I then, as a responsible being am under law, what can it do? Why, condemn me—righteously condemn me. It could not do anything else but condemn me. It comes and requires from me when I am a sinner to be what, as a sinner, I cannot be; and therefore a man in the flesh, if the law of God comes, is condemned. It must condemn him because the heart is so thoroughly corrupt and bad, that the very fact of a command being given only brings out the evil that is there. We know it by experience in our own hearts. If there were anything upon this table, and I were to say, Nobody is to know what is there, at once everybody would be longing to know what it was. This is just human nature; it is not the fault of the law at all.
Supposing you have children: they may have no particular desire to go out of the house, but if you tell them not to go and put a barrier to hinder them, then comes a child that wants to go out, and if it finds the barrier there, it will push all the harder against it to get out. The law says I must have obedience; but I have a disobedient will. The law says, I must not have a lust; but the lust is there, and therefore the law says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” and the law of God is righteous of course in saying that. But in all this I do not got a word about Christ. I get the claims of God over man, looked at as responsible, as a child of Adam, when he is in his sins, and calling upon him for no sins.
The effect of this is altogether condemning—I cannot get rid of it. It is not merely that I give way to certain evil things again and again; but the tree is bad—the will is wrong. Now, this is just the contrast of what we find in Christ, When Christ comes, He says, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” And so it is with the saint in his measure. But the law being there, and the lust being there, the effect of a claim upon him is morally to bring the consciousness that, looked at in the flesh, he is a sinner in the sight of God. It shows him his real condition, but does not take him out of it, and therefore he cries out, “O wretched man that I am!” etc. He had been striving to be better, and the only result was, that he gets this experience of himself by God giving him the law, which is the standard of what he ought to be.
Then he says another thing, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” He is looking now, not at how he, as in the flesh should be better, but that another should come and take the matter up for him and go through it all. This is where the soul is brought when it is converted—when it discovers itself to be not merely a sinner but without strength. I now get the consciousness of the weakness that sin has produced in my flesh, and I say somebody must take up the work for me; I cannot do it myself. I have the consciousness of what sin has made me in the presence of God, and I cannot get rid of that condition. “Who shall deliver me?”
Mark the answer. He says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is all settled.
He is thanking God already. Why so? Because “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh” (the law was all right; but “what the law could not do") “God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” There I get God doing the whole thing. What the law could not do, because of this principle of sin that is in me God sending His Son has done. Supposing I were to say to my child, You love me, and if you do not, I will whip you. Do you think it would make my child love me? Certainly not. I should not get a bit of love from him. So with the law. The law says, Love God, but this never produces love. Commandment never produces love, or changes the nature that does not love. What then can do it? “We love Him because He first loved us.”
The law tells me that God is a righteous Judge. It tells me what I ought to be; but what does it tell me that God is, except that He will not have unrighteousness? It tells me that I am to love God, but does it tell me what the God Is that I am to love? It says nothing about it. It says you are to love Him, and if you do not you will be punished. But it tells me nothing of what He is, that I must love Him,
But what does the gospel tell me? It tells me, You have not loved God, but God has been loving you all the time. Now, that is the starting-point for the soul. God has loved me when I did not love Him. It is true that we get new thoughts and desires; but when I am simple, the effect is, that my conscience, getting into the light, sees and judges all my sins in the light; but I find that this love of God, having sent Christ, and Christ coming in the same love, God does not say, I will help you to love Me, but He says I will love you; you cannot get rid of that sin in the flesh, but I will love you. “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son... for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Where did He condemn it? In the cross. Now, then, I am pardoned. Now I am free. I see the love of God, that when I had got into this terrible condition of death in sin, in the flesh, Christ has been there and has condemned it.
The sentence of God has been put upon it, and it is done. And that is why, looking at Christ, he can say, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ.” When he has seen what a man is, looked at as responsible to God under the law, he says, “O wretched man that I am” But then he sees that Christ has been here, and done it all for him, and he can say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The man now is not standing as himself, a sinner responsible to God, because he has owned himself entirely lost in that state: and now what he has learned is this, that God has sent His Son, and has condemned sin in the flesh. Therefore there is no condemnation. God has condemned it already, and thus he comes to be—not a man in the flesh, but—a man in Christ. That is what we get in chapter 8. He is looked at as in Christ; he has got Christ as his life in the presence of God; no longer as in the flesh but in the Spirit. Now he can say, I am in Christ.
The second man, the last Adam, after having put away my sins on the cross, and having risen again, communicates this life to me. It is the eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us. I have seen this life; I have looked at Christ walking through this world, and there I see what love, what blessing was in all His ways; what tenderness, what patience with His disciples. There I say, that is eternal life, the life of God, and it has been manifested to me. In chapter 2 of his Epistle, John says, “Which thing is true in Him and in you.” And now my standing in the presence of God is not in the old wretched flesh, but I am a man in Christ, because Christ is my life. This is the place in which we are set. Christ is my new life, and I am in Christ in the presence of God. [J.N.D.]
(To be continued)