It is very striking to notice, when the eye is opened to see it, how the manner of Paul’s conversion brought out to his soul the entire contrast of all that was in man, and what was in Christ. Every principle on which man could rest was gone; conscience had failed to be a guide. Paul thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, so that his conscience led him, making him destroy Christ if he could; his righteousness, according to the law, wrought to the same thing. He could not have Christ, he was a Pharisee; his religiousness too made him bow to the authority of the chief priests. By conscience, law, and religiousness, he was against God. All the things which could act religiously upon the senses, which God had Himself appointed, and had been present Himself upon the earth to maintain, all had brought man to enmity against God. Paul had lived in it all, and found himself thereby only in activity against God. His religion as to the flesh was all smashed; it all went for nothing: of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law, a blameless Pharisee—all was gone! It had brought him into enmity against the Lord of glory. And, let me say here, that ritualism, by which in these days people are seeking to build up all this again, is the denial of Christ; before He came and wrought redemption it was only ignorance of Him.
When Paul by grace got hold, not of external morality, as to which he was blameless, but of the spirituality of the law, he found that by the law was the knowledge of sin. Very useful it now is in that way; but you cannot build up service to God upon that whose only true effect is to convict of sin, nor on the flesh that is not subject to God but is enmity against Him; that is quite clear. It is of the greatest moment for our understanding God’s ways, and for our having peace, that we should clearly see this. God bore with Judaising tendencies till Jerusalem was destroyed; but in Paul, for his deliverance, it was all smashed up at once. Blind outwardly, and his eye turned in, he found everything in him was enmity against God. He had been brought up in, what would be called in these days, a famous university; but now, instead of himself, he had got Christ, and all the rest was judged by this revelation of Christ.
But the philosophical wisdom of man is no better. It is never true, nor can it arrive at any true knowledge of God or of man. It is false in its basis. As legalism takes up sinful flesh to make out righteousness, so rationalism takes up man’s mind to know God, of which it is so incapable that what it is capable of cannot be God; for it must be master of the subject to know it rightly, which it cannot be of God. A God that reason is equal to is not God at all. God has chosen the foolish things, a gibbet, to glorify Himself by, so that no flesh should glory in His presence. What is all the wisdom of this world? Only that in which the flesh clothes itself. A conscience dealt with by God alone puts God in His place and ourselves in ours; the moment I get the moral system of the world, I find what is not of the Father, and it is all judged. Paul started there, with human righteousness and religious standing with God, razed to its foundations; all the more powerful as a testimony, that he was a blameless man personally. But our whole position is changed from that of being in the flesh (“Of God are we in Christ Jesus”); we do not want a system that builds it up in ceremonial righteousness or rationalistic pretensions, for we are of God.
The Greeks were spinning thoughts out of their own heads, which, like spiders’ webs, could catch flies and nothing else. Some said: God was too high to notice man. It sounded very grand, but then what was to become of man? Some would exalt man to an equality with God; Epicureanism and Stoicism are of all ages. God puts man in his place as a responsible person, not a reasoner. The world by wisdom knew not God. Why did the Athenians set up an altar to the “unknown God”? It was the only bit of truth Paul could pick up to use among them.
God chose all the foolish things, the weak things, to put down what was wise and strong in man’s sight—a parcel of fishermen; and to Paul he gave the thorn in the flesh, lest he should think it was by his own power the work was done. Nothing has gone over the world like Christianity. Even the unconverted have felt its effect: people do not do in the light what they do in the dark. So it has had an effect where there is no conversion.
But then He comes to— “of him are ye”; not only conscience and heart work, but the new life. Of God are ye: an immense and precious truth; we derive our own moral and spiritual existence from God Himself. It is not our puny reason, as we are, striving to fathom what, if it could be measured or known by it, would be proved not to be God at all, but subject to it.
Half a century ago a sentence of Cicero’s shewed me there could be no knowledge of God by reason. The words are these: “Quocirca huic, quasi materia quam tractet et in qua versetur subiecta est veritas.” (De Officiis I. v. 16 ed. Orell. iv. 317.) That could not be God. I saw that faith only could put God in His place, and me in mine; not an attempt to satisfy God as Judge, with what sinful flesh can do, quieting our conscience for a time with what never purges it. “We are of God.” But another truth connects itself with this, through what the law did do in the conscience: “I, through the law, am dead to the law.” But, if only killed and condemned, that would not do of course; so he adds, “I am crucified with Christ.” He found Christ had taken the curse which the law pronounced, and death to sin was ours through Him, and Christ was living in him: “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Then there is also the object of this life by which it lives: “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
But that we are of God thus is only one side; what we are ourselves of God in Christ Jesus. Besides that, we get what Christ is for us on the part of God. We are of God in Christ, a completely new thing; and He is “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” We have all these things of and from God now. The passage gives us the character and quality of the things as of and from God. It is not righteousness, nor is it sanctification according to the law. In Philippians Paul (for he does not here contrast it with sins) says: “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is of God”—another kind. He had given up all thoughts of righteousness as a man; he was not ashamed of the gospel, for therein was the righteousness of God revealed. There are fruits of righteousness, of course, but this is entirely of grace.
We have these four things: wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption (there are many more, fellowship with the Father and the like); but we get these four things as the basis of all.
It is not of man. Christ is divine “wisdom” for us: God has made foolish the wisdom of this world, but “we speak wisdom among them that are perfect.” He has “abounded towards us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” (See Eph. 1:8-10.) The divine revelation of all God’s thoughts and intentions is in Christ; “the wisdom of God in a mystery,” which word means what only the initiated understand: as in Freemasonry, I do not know anything about it because I am not initiated.
God’s delight was with the sons of men, before the foundation of the world; Prov. 8. Angels were there already when the world was created, but they were not the objects of God’s delight and purpose; they were the testimony that God could make a glorious creature and keep him. But we are the testimony that He can make an inferior creature, and, when he has fallen into sin, He can redeem him. All the display of what God is in redemption is unfolded in and through man. We are lower than the angels as creatures; so Christ became lower than the angels for the suffering of death. But all the result of that wondrous dealing of God we get; we have peace with God, redemption through the blood of Christ, “in whom also we have obtained an inheritance.”
Some have thought that, as Christ is made these things to us, the passage speaks of imputation. It does not, however. Imputed wisdom, or imputed redemption, has no sense; other passages do shew that imputation is true in the case of righteousness. But here the thought is not found; it is, that Christ gives the true character and reality of these things on the part of God.
Christ is “made wisdom.” All the mind of God is revealed, which never was till the cross; this mystery, of connecting persons with Him by the power of the Holy Ghost, was never revealed before. “Who hath saved us and called us … according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest.” (2 Tim. 1:9, 10; also Titus 1:2, 3.) The cross having laid the foundation of righteousness which was consistent with God—and more than consistent, for it glorified Him— those things are revealed which eye had not seen, nor ear heard. He gives us spiritual occupation in that way.
Then we get “righteousness” —the righteousness of God revealed on the principle of faith, so that we have no part in its accomplishment at all. Supposing you kept the law to a tittle, this would be man’s righteousness, not God’s. God’s righteousness is revealed in His setting Christ at His right hand, as in John 16 the Spirit convinces the world “of righteousness, because I go to my Father.” Christ having perfectly glorified God, it was due to Him on the part of God, to set Him in the glory, as He says: “He will straightway glorify him,” John 13:31, 32. “Sit thou at my right hand.” There was righteousness! but it was done for us; and, because this work of redemption was done for us, we get the result of it all. God is “just, and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus”; not “just and yet the justifier,” but just in justifying.
And it is a different kind of righteousness in which we stand. Man’s righteousness is the measure of the judgment; but the righteousness of God is the measure of my place before Him. What a poor sinner needs is that his sins should be met; and, thank God, they are met. But Christ has done more; He has glorified God. Where has God’s love been manifested? In the cross. Supposing He had cut off Adam and Eve, there would have been no love in it, though just. If He had passed over all sins simply, we should have called it love; it is what man calls mercy; but then it were no matter about righteousness. But, in Christ dying on the cross, I get all that is in God perfectly glorified; and therefore He puts the Man who did it into the divine glory.
He is “made unto us righteousness.” It is of faith that it might be by grace. A man may believe me when I tell him I have paid his debt, but his belief does not add one farthing to the payment. All the good comes to us, but all the glory comes to Him, and He is worthy of it.
Then there is “redemption.” He is “made unto us redemption,” which is the full accomplishment, in full deliverance, of all God’s plans and counsels as to us; all these are in Christ.
And now we come to sanctification; He is “made unto us sanctification.” People sometimes say this is imputed; but we have seen that you cannot impute wisdom or redemption, though it maybe true as to righteousness. But Christ is the whole thing. Whatever wisdom I have is only the wisdom of God in Christ; it is God’s wisdom revealed in Christ; so God’s righteousness, and so redemption—He changes our vile bodies. It is what these things are in Christ Himself in every part. What is this wisdom? God’s in Christ; He gathers together all things in Him. What is this righteousness? Christ. What redemption? Christ. And so with sanctification; Christ still.
I desire to open out a little what is this sanctification. We must remember that God is perfectly revealed in Christ. We walk in the light as God is in the light; this is our place as Christians; no veil now. The Jews had to be holy, but they had no idea of this. God’s presence being there, they had to walk in a way suited to that presence in the tabernacle; but it went no farther. The way into the holiest was not then made manifest; but now it is, through the work of Christ. But then also I am set apart for God; the veil is rent; we have boldness to enter into the holiest; we have to do with God in the light.
It is no question of what man ought to be, but whether he is fit for that presence. If God is revealed, where do I get the revelation of God to bring me to Himself? In the rending of the veil. If I am not fit to be with God there, I am not fit at all. What is the vital measure of this? Christ, as gone into the holiest, the One who answered in everything to His Father’s mind. He said of Him: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But I cannot be thus down here, because in Him was no sin, and, if I say I have no sin, I deceive myself. But I am sanctified to God by the death of Christ; He offered Himself without spot to God; nothing was kept back; no suffering stopped Him; not one thought or feeling that the blessed Lord reserved, but all was to God, and now “In that he liveth, he liveth unto God.” He has set Himself apart as Man in glory, that we also might be sanctified through the truth. Nothing short of what Christ is, as set apart in glory, is sanctification.
You find it attributed to the Father in the First to the Thessalonians 5:23. He has taken us up to be for Himself; we are sanctified to something, and that is to God; a great principle.
I get Christ, who perfectly satisfied God all His life long, manifested in His resurrection. All His life through there had been nothing but what was positive fruit according to the Spirit of holiness. This was as Man here. But now “the holy place,” where God sets man, is up there; as the Father raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, even so we also should walk in newness of life. It is a totally new thing, “That he might sanctify the people with his own blood,” Heb. 13:12. “By the which will we are sanctified,” Heb. 10:10. What puts an end to everything of flesh, and of the world, is the cross. I am occupied with Christ—a rejected Christ as regards the world.
The whole Trinity is occupied in this work. The Father sanctifies, as we have seen; we are set apart through the blood; but, in the appreciation of it in our souls, in the effectuation of it in us, it is the Spirit who operates and applies it. All immediate action from creation onwards is by the Spirit; but we do not get the full value of what sanctification is, if we do not see the Father, as setting us apart for Himself; and, if we leave the cross out, we do not get its value. We are sanctified by God’s will, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, set apart to God according to the value of His precious blood, and lastly as effectuated in power by the Spirit: “He hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,” 2 Thess. 2:13.
It is a complete setting apart for God, according to the revelation He has given of Himself in Christ; in the light as God is in the light, according to the value of the cross, which has judged the world, written death on the flesh, and rent the veil. It is by a new life and nature: “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” As born of God he “cannot sin”; not “ought not.” He is of the nature of that which he is born of; so born of God by the power of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and this by the word, the revelation of His mind and thoughts, quickening and forming us. There are fathers, young men, babes; but the nature is there, and it is a holy nature.
He has opened to us all the treasure-house of His glory in Christ as an object, and He has given us the divine nature that we may delight in it.
The measure and character of this sanctification is Christ in glory; Christ up there. Is not that a Man set apart for God? —Surely He is! He never had anything of the Spirit of the world at any time; our flesh ever has, and this is the difference. In Him there was no sin; if we say we have none, we deceive ourselves. What He was is not a model of what we can be. The flesh is in us, an unchanged evil nature though we may not allow it to act; not in Him; but then we ought not to walk after the flesh, we ought to walk even as He walked. “The life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,” my mind entirely occupied with Christ. “Beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image.” The Spirit takes the things of Christ and shews them to us.
“We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him,” and “he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” The believer has got the consciousness and certainty that he is going to be like Christ when He appears; and, having that before his soul, he runs after it. And the more our eye gets opened to see the blessedness of Christ, the more capable we become of doing so. But each step introduces us into more light, so that we are able to detect other things not of Him, which were before unnoticed by us; because we purify ourselves ever onward, as He is pure. As to my person, I am sanctified once for all; but, if I come to my heart practically, it is following after holiness, never attained here, because the thing that acts is the glory, and every revelation of the glory purifies and judges us, so that we can see more.
Paul says, “I count not myself to have apprehended … but I press towards the mark.” We go into the holiest, in the light as God is in the light, not only forgiven, but divine favour resting on us as upon Christ; and all that is there may be realised by us here. There is the divine excellency that is there, and the word communicates what is of Christ, and all the affections of the heart are linked up with it. “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height”—of all the glory into which you are brought; and then he returns to that with which we are intimate— “and to know the love of Christ.”
We have these two great principles: the new nature, holy and without blame before Him in love. Christ was holy and blameless, and always before the Father in love; He is our life, and that is what we are called to. I have a title in perfect boldness to enter the holiest; and, besides that, I have a divine nature which has its delight there, and also the Holy Ghost, which is the power of apprehension to us.
What is the character and measure of that holiness? Christ—Christ Himself now in glory. Christ crucified is the end of the flesh, and of the world. What is there positively, if negatively I am crucified with Christ? I am alive unto God by the faith of Him, in Jesus Christ our Lord, and I live. And what else? Nothing! We fail, I know, all do fail sadly; but that is what God’s thought is. We have a new start in Christ; not of the world as He is not of the world; the measure of our sanctification is Christ in glory, and to be conformed to Him there. I have to learn what Christ is. As a person set apart, I am sanctified for ever; but, when I come to the Holy Ghost’s work, I have to learn every day, to judge every day. We are to follow after as Paul pressed towards the mark. If there is negligence, God will chasten us; He is very jealous over us in His love; but, when things are going on right, there is activity of soul—going on after Him.
Christ then is made all these four things to us. And when I say: What is all this? God’s wisdom? It is all yours; “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” Christ is our righteousness, He is our sanctification. Christ in glory, that is what God has set before me as the true measure of it. I wait for redemption, and look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change this vile body and fashion it like unto His glorious body. We get deliverance from sorrow, and the like, when we go to be with the Lord; but, what we wait for, is the redemption of the body.
It is not that a man will think about what is wrought in him, whatever his progress; as has been said of Moses, his face shone, and he was the only person who did not know it. Being occupied with Christ produces its effect in our walk and ways with others, but our hearts enjoy Himself.
We are always sanctified to something; you cannot be sanctified without having an object: “Changed into the same image from glory to glory.” Fruit unto holiness there will be, if I walk in obedience; fruit here in separation of heart to God. Babes know the Father; even babes have the Spirit of adoption, but the fathers know Christ—get their hearts enlarged (after all they are narrow enough).
And then we wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.
I shall not have, save actual glory, a source of joy in heaven that I have not got here. The Holy Ghost is the power of joy there, and I have Him here. Christ’s perfect love?—I am the object of it now. The Father’s love?—He loves us now. Eternal life?—that I have. The blood that gives me a title there is effectual now. Here, no doubt, we see through a glass darkly; I may see obscurely through a haze on the window, but I see the same objects as if there were no haze. If walking practically in fellowship with the Father, we should see a great deal more.
The Lord give us to know His strength made perfect in weakness; but, at the same time, to know we shall never attain here, because the only object is Christ, made perfect in glory.