Thoughts on 2 Corinthians 12: Part 2

2 Corinthians 12  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 5
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. This is what we got in chap. viii. He is looked at as in Christ; he has Christ as His life in the presence of God; he is no longer as in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Now he can say, I am in Christ. The second Adam, after having put away my sin 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. Then, I say, That is eternal life, the life of God; and it has been manifested to me. In the second chap., 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. That is the place in which we are set. Christ is my new life, and I am in Christ, in the presence of God.
In the case of Paul, when this truth was carried to the highest possible realization, he was in the third heaven. The body could have no part in such a place as that. There he was, not knowing whether he was in the body or out of it; and this is what he calls “a man in Christ.” He is a man that is living, and really having his life from Christ, and united to Him in the power of the Holy Ghost, joined to Him in one Spirit, and this not in his condition as a child of Adam, but as born of God; so that, when I look at Christ, as walking in this world, I can say that this is my life. I see this life in him in all its perfectness, and I say, ‘This is very precious.' I see that very eternal life, which was with the Father, and I say, ‘That is my life. I had a life in the first Adam, that brought in the bitter fruits of sin and corruption, but now I have got the life of Christ.’ But Paul could not stay in the third heaven; he had to walk in this world. But even as walking through the world, it must still be taking this blessed One as our life. When I see Christ walking in this world, was there anything inconsistent with this heavenly place? Never. He was the manifestation of the divine nature down here. Now this is what you ought to be. “He that sayeth he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.” I get, that is, not merely what man under the law, but what the divine nature is, expressed in a man on earth; and that is what a Christian ought to be. He is one who has become a heavenly man; who has got his place in the presence of God, sin forever put away, and the Holy Ghost uniting him to Christ, and in spirit and faith in the presence of God. And now he has to act so in the world, not as the flesh, but the flesh being there; and in trials and duties of all kinds that he has to go through, he is to abide with God. If he cannot abide with God in what he has got to do, he must give it up.
But Paul gets back to the world, and now comes trial. The flesh comes in. He had been in the third heaven; he had got this wonderful abundance of revelations, and the flesh says to him, There has not been a person in the third heaven but you. Now he is puffed up, and certainly this is not heavenly; it is the very contrary of it. And that is the way the flesh will use even being in the third heaven. He is not puffed up when he is there, because it is the presence of God, and nobody can be proud in the presence of God. Persons fancy that it makes people proud to be in the third heaven. Never! The danger is, when you get out of the third heaven, of the flesh being proud of having been there. We feel our nothingness in the presence of God. But now Paul finds that the flesh was just as bad and mischievous as ever. Wherever the flesh works, if it gets into the thought of the third heaven, it makes mischief, and if you could give a man the thought of a fourth heaven, it would only be worse. There is no mending it. And what does God send`? A thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him. There is grace, that Satan himself must be God's servant in the world, just as it was in Job's case. Who begins the business with Job? Was it Satan? No, it was God. God says to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Jab, that there is none like him in the earth,” &c. And then God allows Satan to bring Job to the very point where He wanted him-the discovery of what he was. Job said, “When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me. Because I delivered the poor that cried,” &c. And he had done it: that was his third heavens, and therefore the Lord allows Satan to break him down entirely. And what does he say then? “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” That is exactly what He wanted; Satan had been used as an instrument of God to bring Job into the condition of being made nothing of in his own eyes, and then God can bless him It is very disagreeable work to get to know ourselves, but very useful work. Peter is sifted, and has to learn that this confidence that he has in himself is the very occasion of his failure. In the end, the Lord not only restores his soul, but makes him the channel of blessing to others. When you know your own utter nothingness, then you can go and help others. Go and feed my sheep, the Lord says to Peter. It is very humbling and trying to be made nothing of, but very useful, because we are all disposed to think too good of ourselves.
Lest then Paul should be exalted above measure, a thorn in the flesh is given to him. We learn from the Epistle to the Galatians that it was something that made him contemptible in his preaching. It was something to keep Him from being puffed up, but that is not strength. We have got the blessedness of Paul, in the third heavens. We have got the man in Christ who can think and bless God for what we are made in Christ-who can say of all of us, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” But after this we have another thing, the flesh and its inclination to be puffed up. And then we find a third thing, the flesh made exceedingly disagreeable. But that is not strength-on the contrary, it is the emptying of strength. You cannot get God to help the flesh and to help self-will. He will break it down. He will humble you by it, but He will never help it. He breaks the vessel, that we may know that the power is not of man, but of God. So that he says here, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” When I am weak, I feel that I am weak. I know the truth about myself. Here the Apostle was preaching, and his manner of preaching was contemptible, and yet hundreds of people were converted through it. Well, that does not come from what is contemptible; it does not come from Paul, but from God. The Lord, then, when He had made him feel his weakness, says, “My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness.” If Paul had got strength, Christ need not have had so much for him; but if Paul had none, the strength that came from Christ was in him. The man had been brought into conscious weakness that the power of Christ might rest upon him Now there I have got, not the man in Christ, but Christ in the man, and that is what I want down here. If I think of the man in Christ, it is perfection. But when it is a question of walking down here, we want strength as well as sincerity——we want power. If the power be in myself, there is the old man set up, and that will not do. The old man must be set down, and then another power comes in. I have got Christ with me;-I am a dependent man. Christ said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” We see Him constantly dependent and always right. There is what is so difficult for us. We get into mischief just when we get into independence of God; and therefore it is that we so often see a Christian have a fall after a season of great joy. Why? Because his joy has taken him away from dependence upon God. When I am emptied of self, and am in distresses, and infirmities, and necessities for Christ's sake, then I can say, I will glory in them. Why? “That the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Now there is where there is blessing: to be made nothing of in one's own consciousness, but then to have the consciousness of the power of Christ resting on me. That is not the man in Christ, but the power of Christ resting on him as he walks down here =it is Christ in the man. Supposing I am emptied of self, and Christ is living in me, what shall I get? I shall not be always in the third heavens, but Christ is always there. I have got my security there, my life there, my righteousness there, everything there that I need. Christ is my title-I am in Christ and not in the first Adam.
The robe that was put upon the prodigal son when he came home, he had never had before. It was not a patching up of his old rags, but a new robe. The best robe was brought out and given. So what we had in Adam is lost, and never can be recovered; but we get a new and far higher thing, An innocent man is one who does not know good and evil; a holy man knows good, and loves it; It is not now mere innocence, but what Christ is worth in the presence of God that I have got. The robe that the father put upon the prodigal was a new robe out of the treasures of his own house, that he had never had before. God has given us Christ in heaven. I am not always in the third heavens, but Christ is there, and my place and title is to be there by faith, according to the working of the Spirit of God. If Christ is my life, there is nothing in that life inconsistent with the third heavens. The Christ that is in heaven, even when He was walking upon earth, could say, “The Son of man which is in heaven;” and all His life down here was the expression of that. Our union with, Him is a real, living union. I am in Christ above, and this Christ is in me below; and there I get the principle of all my walk, and the power of it too. I may be about my work and business; but in that work and business I have to live Christ-to walk in the spirit of Christ whatever circumstances I am in. Supposing I am doing that, the Spirit is not grieved, and I enjoy the third heaven -I have not been inconsistent with it. I have not been there; but I have walked consistently with it, because I have walked in the Christ that is there. He is both my life and the power of my life. I have been in the third heavens and come out of it to be engaged in service; I may go on with my affections the same spiritually and morally, and when I go back to it, I enjoy it all the more. Take a man working for his family all daylong. He may have to labor hard, and away from them; but when the work is done, he comes back and enjoys them all the more. So the Christian, besides being in the third heaven, has to walk through the world. But Christ is his righteousness—his title for being there; and therefore his place is in heaven, and walking in the power of that life he is back into the third heaven as happy and fresh as ever. We may fail in it, but that is what the power of Christ resting on us down here works in us. Mark how he speaks as regards our title to such a place. “I knew a man in Christ.... Of such an one will I glory.” In that we ought to glory. If I say I am in Christ, I glory in it. I say, What an astonishing place God has put me in! He has taken me out of the ditch and placed me with His Son. He takes a thief up on the cross and puts him in the same glory as the Son of God. He takes a Mary Magdalene, from when He casts out seven devils, and puts her in the same glory as the Son of God. I am to glory in that. And what is the effect down here.? That I shall be made a fool of. If you talk of a man in Christ—of such an one he says, I will glory; but if you talk of me, Paul, why I was going to be puffed up about him having been in the third heaven! There can be no good at all for me, unless I am emptied of self. When there, so little thought was there of self that he did not know whether he was in the body or out of it.
People may say all this is presumption. Allow me to say a word about that. Are you in Christ? If you are not in Christ you are lost. It is no good saying it is presumption. If you are not in Christ you are lost; if you are in Christ you are safe. What is the effect? Is not Christ your righteousness? Are you not going to glory in that, not in yourselves? We do not think badly enough of ourselves as sinners in the flesh. If I know what it is to be lost—without Christ—I shall not think it presumption to glory in being in Him I have no need to think of myself, because I am perfectly happy in the presence of God. He has made me happy by the grace that has brought me there, and by the present communion that I have with Himself in the place in which He has put me. We have to be taught practically, and therefore Paul had this thorn in the flesh. After he knew his own wretchedness and Christ his righteousness, there was the perfect learning of his own nothingness. This is the grand work which remains for us. We are in Christ as our righteousness; but if I have only a light thought that is not communion with God, though grace comes in, and there is intercession. The man in Christ has got his standing with God, and when he has this, his business is to manifest Christ before the world. There he wants power, and the power comes not merely from having been in the third heaven, nor merely from being made the righteousness of God Christ. He wants present power. To be sincere is not enough. You will meet with temptation; you will have your business, your trials of one kind and another; and you wont the power that gives Christ a preciousness to you that makes everything you meet with to be as nothing to you. It is Christ Himself that becomes your power—the power of Christ resting upon you. Now I ask you whether you can say, “When we were in the flesh?” It is an important thing; and the Apostle speaking of it says, “When we were in the flesh.” Have you learned that the ground upon which you stand before God is not the ground upon which the first Adam stood, but that God has put you upon a new ground, in the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. If so, I say you Are a man in Christ, and therefore you must walk as Christ walked. But if not, you have got t. lesson to learn, to have your souls realizing that we are lost without Christ.; and therefore if we are to have hope of anything, it must be in Christ. And God puts us in Christ; and then I say, oh, I am in Christ before God. He bore my sins and put them away—blotted them out forever. But though there is the power of the new life and the presence of the Holy Ghost, of myself I will not glory, save in what pulls this wretched flesh to pieces; but in Christ I will glory.
Do you desire to manifest Christ to the world? You will say you want power; but if so, you must be emptied of self, and find Him your righteousness before God; and His power you get in your weakness, as your power to walk through this world. Then our hearts can say, Come, Lord Jesus.
The Lord give you to know what it is to value Him now, first as poor sinners, knowing Him as meeting all our need, and then in the communion of His love, as One that is dear to our hearts, whom we long to know face to face, in all His fullness.
Newport, Monmouthshire, June 30, 1858.