Nothing seemed to be a greater burden on the heart of Paul than to keep the saints up to their privileges. The Hebrews saw that Christ had died for them, though this had not the power over them which it ought to have had; but they were risen with Him also. They were in Christ in heavenly places within the veil, and the question was, were they realising that?
There is great force in the expression he uses in chapter 5:12, “ye are become, such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.” “Are become” marks the process by which they had reached the state they were in.
Freshness of affection, and quickness of understanding go together. There is less spring, less apprehension, less clearness when our hearts are not happy. On the other hand, my judgment is clear when my affections are warm. Motives that acted before cease to be motives when my affections are warm. Freshness of affection being lost, the Hebrews were “dull of hearing”; and so were “become such as had need of milk, and not of strong meat.” And then the apostle explains that those who use “milk” are unskilful in the word of righteousness and are babes; while “strong meat” belongs to those, not who have made great progress, but who are of full age—men in the truth in opposition to being children or babes—and who have “their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
But how can I separate the “knowledge of good and evil” from the knowledge of Christ? If I were to try to separate between them of myself, shutting Christ out, how could I? He is my standard of good; and it is what I find in Him that gives me power to judge what is evil. How can I walk as He walked without Him? “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ for, the word of the beginning of Christ], let us go on to perfection.”
Instead of wasting your time with what has passed away, go on to the full revelation of Christ. Be at home there, and understanding what the will of the Lord is. For how can I walk as He walked without Him? I know not how to attempt it. The secret of everything is found in that truth, “Ye are complete in him.” As Christ Himself also has said, “At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in me.” But what is that? and where is Christ now? In heaven. Then I am there too, and my affections should be there also. My hope is to be thoroughly identified with Him. For the portion I have is what He has—life, glory, all that He has risen to—and all my associations are with Himself. There is the difference between “the principles of the doctrine of Christ” and the full perfection. Of Christ Himself it is said (chap. 5:9), “Being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him.”
Now He was not made perfect down here, but in being glorified in heaven. He went through the experience down here; as it is said, “He learned obedience by the things which he suffered,” and then went into heaven to be Priest, because our blessings and associations and hopes are all up there. He is “made perfect” as our High Priest in heaven and not down here. He had not reached that point in the counsels of God in glory, when He was down here. Now He is there He has associated me with Himself in that place. I can see that Christ has been through this world so as to be able to sympathise with me in all my sorrows and all my trials; and He has also borne my sins in His own body on the tree. But where is He now? He is in heaven; and I am there too in spirit, and He will soon bring me there in fact. Where He is, is His being “made perfect.” The work is done, and now He is shewing me the effect of its being done; and is teaching me the walk that belongs to the redemption He has wrought out. He has taken my heart and associated me with Himself, and He says that is the perfection I am to go on to.
Where did Paul see Christ? Not on earth; for long after He had left the earth Paul was a persecutor; but he saw Him, as we all know, in heavenly glory. His only knowledge of Christ at all was of a Christ in heaven. His course on earth he might learn; but the revelation of Christ that brought his soul into the presence of God in the power of an accomplished redemption, was the revelation of Christ in heaven and in glory. Hence he says, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” The Christ he wanted to “win” (as he says in Phil. 3) was a glorified Christ. It may cost me my life, but never mind. That is my object; after that I am reaching. I am alive from the dead, because Christ is; and I want to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. I am not in the flesh, but in Christ. I have the consciousness that this work of Christ has put me in a. new place (not yet glorified in body, but) in a new place as to my life and associations and home; and this is the perfection we are to go on to.
It was this that ruled the apostle’s affections, as he says, “that I may win Christ.” This was his object, to “bear the image of the heavenly.” His mind was full of it. The Holy Ghost has come down to bring all these things to our remembrance. Believers are united to Christ in glory. It is never said that Christ is united to man; but believers are united to Christ. Then the apostle was living by the power of the Holy Ghost; so that one may conceive what a trial it was to him to see these people going back to the first principles. They were all true, but if people stop there they stop short of a glorified Christ. To the Galatians he says, “who hath bewitched you?” speaking of himself he says, “I know a man in Christ.” “A man in Christ” is a man risen out of all that connects itself with the law and ordinances, as well as with sin and death, and all that is sorrowful or attractive in this present evil world. His spirit is broken to find the saints resting with things on earth about Christ. The Holy Ghost was come from heaven to make them partakers of a heavenly calling; to associate them in heart and mind with Christ, and to shew them things which would not only keep them from “the evil which is in the world,” but from the world itself.
The Hebrews had a temple standing when Paul wrote, where Christ Himself had been. Why, then, should they have left it, if Christ had not judged the flesh, and shewn that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God”? “The middle wall” had been put up by God Himself; how should they dare to break it down, if God had not done it? If God had not said that He would not have to do with flesh any more, how could they dare to leave the camp, and go outside? Christ glorified is the end of all the first principles, and we have to go through the world as strangers and pilgrims. The only thing God ever owned in religion was Jewish, which had to do with the flesh—with men here in the world—but that is gone by the cross. All is crucified; “the handwriting of ordinances” has been blotted out— “nailed to the cross”— and thus taken out of the way; and in a glorified Christ we see the end of all that is abolished. Henceforth our life, our home, our associations, are all in Christ.
But the doctrine of the beginning of Christ was not that.
What do we find as long as Christ was upon earth? Why, the testimony of the law and the prophets, which talight righteousness and called the nation to repentance and faith. Christ Himself also speaks of a judgment to come, which they believed. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. Baptisms or washings, and the laying on of hands, they had them. They constituted the elements of a worldly religion, and were sanctioned by God until the cross. The Messiah coming on earth is the “doctrine of the beginning of Christ”; but now I leave that and go on to perfection. I do not deny these things, but I go on to the fuller revelation of Christ. These first principles are all true, but then I have other and far better things.
Saul might have been the brightest saint living under the old order of things, but not knowing Christ. But supposing a person got into the heavenly things and was “enlightened” and had “tasted the heavenly gift, and was made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and had tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” and then gave it up—what could he do then? What else was there to present to such an one? There might have been a going on from faith in an humbled Christ to a glorified Christ, but there is nothing beyond. For it should be observed there is nothing of life signified here. The expressions do not go beyond the indication of truth that might be received by the natural mind, and the demonstrative power of the Holy Ghost, which persons might partake of, as scripture shews, without being participators in eternal life.
There may be light in a sense without the smallest trace of life, of which Balaam is an example. Of the stony ground hearers also it is said concerning the word that “anon with joy they received it”—they “tasted the good word of God.” Moreover, Judas could cast out devils as well as the rest: he was a partaker of these “miracles of the coming age.” And Christ had said (Matt. 7:22), “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works?” Still they are disowned of Christ as “workers of iniquity.”
But there is this farther in the case supposed: “They had crucified the Son of God afresh,” by turning back again from these heavenly things, and therefore could not be renewed to repentance. The nation had indeed crucified Christ, but they did not know what they were doing. This could not be said of those of whom the apostle is speaking. This was not ignorance, but will.
There is a great difference in what is expressed by “anon with joy they received it,” and the word ploughing up the soul, giving the sense of sin and bringing into subjection to God’s redemption. The result of life is seen in fruit, not in power. In the parable of the sower the seed received into good ground “brought forth fruit.” In the other cases there was no “fruit brought to perfection.” If there is any fruit, the tree is not dead. Hence the apostle says, “We are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.” These were not power merely nor joy; for these might exist and there be no life. Judas could cast out devils as well as the rest; but Jesus said, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” The connection of your heart with Christ—the consciousness of God having written your name in heaven is the blessed thing. The fruit which the apostle takes notice of in verse 10 is love to the brethren. This was there, and shewed itself in the active ministering to the saints, out of love to the Lord’s name; while full assurance of hope to the end was to be desired. There might be working of miracles without knowing or being known of God; but fruit-bearing in grace is the token of being branches of the true vine.
In the example of Abraham, the apostle presents an encouragement to their faith, which needed to be strengthened. Abraham had the promise of God, and he believed it; he had His oath, and he trusted it: but we have more. It is not to us that God presents a promise of future blessings, and adds an oath to assure us of their accomplishment; but He has performed all that He calls us to believe. We have a redemption now in the presence of God. Christ, having wrought the work, is sitting down in the presence of God, and in spirit has brought us there. But we have more than that; for, in hope, we are partakers of all the glory which belongs to that redemption. We have life, redemption, the Holy Ghost as the seal, and more. The forerunner is gone in, and the Holy Ghost gives us the consciousness of our union with Him, and not merely that our sins are put away through the blood-shedding of Christ. We have the Spirit in virtue of Christ’s redemption, and He is come to tell us that we are in that Christ, who wrought the redemption, and is now in the power of an endless life within the veil.
But what is the practical consequence of all this? Why, if the glory He has is mine, and I am going on after Him, then all the world is but dross and dung in my esteem. This will be faith’s estimate of everything in the world, when Christ is filling the heart’s affections, and when the soul is pressing on after Him, in the certain hope of being for ever with Him. One moment’s real apprehension of Christ in the glory is sufficient to dim the brightness and glitter of every earthly thing; but the soul must be occupied alone with Christ for this.
If our affections and desires are lingering on earth, or stopping short of a glorified Christ in heaven, as the one in whom our life is hid, and to whom we are presently to be conformed in glory, and that in the glory where He is, we shall find soon that earthly things are something more than dross and dung. Leave a stone on the ground for a time and you will find that it will gradually sink into it. And our hearts, if they are not practically in heaven with Christ, will soon become attached to earthly things.
There is a constant tendency in earthly things to press down the affections. Duties are more apt to lead away the soul from God than open sin. Many a Christian has been ensnared by duties, whose heart would have shrunk from open sin. But we have only one duty in all the varying circumstances of life—to serve Christ. And we should remember that if things on earth are dark and the heart is tested in journeying through the world, all on the side of God is bright. “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.”