The character and qualifications for the local charges of bishops and deacons are next laid down. Timothy, though not an apostle, had a position superior even to the higher of the two, and he is here instructed in that which was desirable for each office. The prohibition of women from the exercise of authority naturally led the way, when their case was fully disposed of, to the due requisites for such as might desire the good and weighty work of overseeing the house of God. It is a question of government here, rather than of gifts, whatever the importance of gifts for the right discharge of the office. Women were excluded: but all Christian men were not therefore eligible. Certain weighty qualifications, and circumstances morally clear, were to be sought in such as desired to do this excellent work.
Hence one sees the mistake such as Calvin make when they talk of “ordaining pastors.” For “pastors and teachers” the apostle treats in Eph. 4:11 as Christ’s gift for the perfecting of the saints. Ordination there was where either government or even service in external things was the object, and the only lawful authority descended from Christ through the apostles whom He chose (or apostolic delegates, such as Timothy or Titus, specially commissioned to act for an apostle in this respect) to appoint the bishops or elders and the deacons.
No doubt apostles hold an unique place. They stand the first in point of gifts (
χαρίσματα, 1 Cor. 12;
δόματα, Eph. 4); but they were also the chief of appointed authorities with title to appoint subordinate authorities in the Lord’s name. Hence they, and they only, are seen in scripture appointing presbyters and deacons, either directly or through an authorized deputy in a given sphere like Titus. Never is such a fact heard of as a presbyter ordaining a presbyter or a deacon. It destroys the whole principle of authority descending from above as stated in scripture; but, whatever else may or must go, scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35).
If we are familiar with scripture, we shall soon learn that evangelists and pastors and teachers are simply Christ’s gifts, without question of ordination any more than prophets, whom none (but fanatics that neglect scripture for their own quasi-divine communications) would think of ordaining. They are all alike bound to exercise their gift in immediate responsibility to Him Who gave and sent them for ministerial work, for edifying the body of the Christ.
Ye men who call for order in this matter, why do you not heed the order of the Lord, alone recognised in holy writ? Is it that you are so prejudiced as to see nothing but the traditional order of your own sect? Beware of giving up all principle, and if you know your own order to be scripturally valueless, of being content with any order, provided it be human and contrary to God’s word. I am grieved deeply for you, my brethren, if the only order you decry is that which is solely founded on and formed by obedience to scripture, alike in what is done or not done. Search and see where you are as to this good work; search the scriptures whether these things are so. God caused His word to be written that it might be understood and obeyed.
The Catholic error is the confusion of ministry and rule with priesthood, and this error is fundamental. It flows from ignorance of the gospel, and is of either Jewish or heathen extraction; where the living relationship of children reconciled to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is unknown. All Christians are priests (Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). Nor is it a question of words or title only, but of fact. They are brought nigh to God by Christ’s blood. Having a great High-priest they are exhorted now to come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), yea, into the holies by the blood of Jesus, by the way which He dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil. None but a priest of the highest dignity of old did so, tremblingly and once a year; whereas “brethren” as such are now free to do so habitually (Heb. 10:19-22). But all Christians are not ministers in the word, only those to whom the Lord by the Spirit has given the gift: “Having gifts then differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy . . .” (Rom. 12:6-8).
The Protestant mistake is the confusion of gifts with offices or charges.14 The gifts were in association with the body of Christ, as we see wherever they are spoken of. Local charges are never found mixed up with gifts, though individuals might have both. It was when Christ ascended on high that He gave gifts, some beyond controversy to lay the foundation, as the apostles and prophets; others, as evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to carry out the work in its more ordinary shape. Such is the true source and character of ministry in the word. For ministry is serving Christ the Lord in the exercise of whatever gift may have been given for any purpose of His love. Hence, even in its humblest form, it is essentially in the unity of His body, and not limited to this or that locality: whereas local charge, which has government for its aim, is based on the possession of qualities chiefly moral (with or without specific gift in the word) which would give weight in dealing with conscience, or righteous aptitude in the discharge of external duty.
The importance of this distinction is great because men quite ignore the real permanence and universal character of gifts, and merge all in the local charges, which have come to be regarded as inalienable and exclusive fixtures, one of them the minister, the other (singular or plural) being a subordinate office, and in some places the noviciate to the higher grade. The truth seen in scripture is that where the assemblies had time to grow up a little, the apostles used to choose elders or presbyters for the disciples (never the disciples for themselves); which as clearly shows that there were assemblies which as yet had them not, and might, as some, never in fact have them, for want of apostolic authority (direct or indirect) to appoint them: a comforting consideration for those who cleave to scriptural order and shrink from make-shift, believing that the Lord Who so ordered things is worthy of all trust, without inventions of our own in default of that order.
“Faithful [is] the word: if anyone is eager for oversight, he is desirous of a good work. The overseer [or bishop] therefore must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, temperate, sober, orderly, hospitable, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker,15 but gentle, not contentious, not fond of money, one that ruleth well his own house, having children in subjection with all gravity, (but if one knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he care for God’s assembly”), not a novice lest being puffed up he fall into the devil’s charge [or judgment]. But he must also have good testimony from those without, lest he fall into reproach and a snare of the devil” (vers. 1-7).
“Bishopric,” or “office of a bishop,” misleads here; because the modern office, with which most are familiar, so greatly differs from the primitive reality. For. there were in each assembly several, with co-ordinate governmental duties of a circumscribed nature, however valuable and to be honoured in their place. Hence it appears best and wisest, as well as most consistent, to call the function “oversight” and the functionary “overseer,” in accordance with the Authorized Version of Acts 20:28, where the elders of the Ephesian assembly (ver. 17), who met the apostle at Miletus, are so designated. There it will be observed that it is not episcopal rulers of many dioceses or of separate assemblies, still less the several chiefs! that are styled and called presbyters, because they must have been of the lower grade to attain the higher. But the elders, or presbyters, are called “overseers” or bishops; and this of the single assembly in Ephesus.
What honest man of intelligence can deny that this passage is incompatible with either Episcopacy, or Presbyterianism, or yet Congregationalism, the three distinctive claimants of Christendom? For it is death to “the” minister of the latter two no less than to the “prelate” of the former. They are, all of them, manifest inventions since apostolic times, in collision irreconcilable with the plain facts and the all-important principles of the days when the divine word regulated those who called on the name of the Lord. And wherein is antiquity to be accounted of, if it be human? What are they but shades of contending earthenware, a pretender higher than any of these, the Papacy, being by far the weakest and the worst of all spiritually, Other scriptures as Acts 14:23; Acts 15; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1 might readily be enforced in confirmation; but to an upright soul I feel it enough to stand on the footing of a single passage of God’s word, and so no more is added now. “The scripture,” we repeat, “cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
The formula, “Faithful is the word”, with which the apostle here opens recurs in this Epistle, though found but once respectively in the Second to Timothy and in that to Titus. Here it appears three times; on the first (1:15) and third (4:9) occasions with the suited addition, “and worthy of all acceptation,” which could not properly be in the case before us, any more than in the Second Epistle (2:11), or in that to Titus (3:8).
It is a question of government in the assembly; and faithful is the saying: whoever is eager for oversight desires a good or honourable work. Moral qualities, not gifts, are the requisite; and also personal or relative circumstances of good report. Hence to be husband of one wife was sought as well as a character free from reproach. How many evangelists God has deigned to bless, who had once been shameless sinners in violence or in corruption! Not such could the overseer be. Again, if a man had more than one wife, he was (not to be then refused fellowship; for many a Jew or Gentile so situated might believe the gospel; but) ineligible to be a holy guardian of order according to God among the saints. Self-restraint and moderation and modesty or good order were sought in one set over the rest: else the appeal to others must be undermined by his own shortcomings. It was also of moment that active love should be proved in hospitality, as well as intelligence or aptitude to teach, if one were not necessarily a teacher. Yet sitting over wine, and the quarrelsome character it breeds, could not be tolerated for this work, but a gentle uncontentious spirit, free from the love of money, and used to rule well his household, with children subject in all gravity. For there too practical inconsistency would be fatal; and so much the more, as God’s assembly needs far more care than one’s own house.
Further, one newly come to the faith, “a novice,” was objectionable (not of course for the exercise of any gift confided by the Lord, but) for this delicate position in dealing with others, “lest being puffed up he fall into the devil’s charge (or judgment,
κρῖμα). “Condemnation” is too strong an expression and not the sense intended. The allusion appears to be to the remarkable passage in Ezekiel 28:11-19, where the king of Tyrus is set forth in terms which seem to reflect a still more exalted creature’s fall through self-complacency and self-importance.
The whole is wound up by the demand that he should also have good testimony from those that are without “lest he fall into reproach and a snare of the devil.” This of course has nothing to do with creature vanity or pride, occupied with its own position as compared with that of others. It points to the danger from an ill reputation; for if not kept in the presence of God, and how hard is this in having much to do with others! what advantage the consciousness of that would give to the enemy, both to calumniate and to entangle! For one in so public and responsible a place, if the report be not good, Satan knows how to cover him with shame in his desire to avoid hypocrisy, or to lead into at least the semblance of hypocrisy, if he shrink from shame.
It is not an ordinary saint who suits the serious and honourable work of overseeing; nor can one be surprised, unless vitiated by ecclesiastical tradition or by the pride of man unjudged, that an apostle, or a specially qualified apostolic man, is the only one seen in scripture competent to nominate presbyters. Never was the assembly, whatever the piety or intelligence of those who made it up, entrusted with a choice so difficult to discharge. Such are the facts of God’s word; which entirely fall in with the principle that authority does not come from below, whatever may be the theories of men ancient or modern, but from above. It is from Christ the Lord, Who not only gives gifts as Head of the church, but is also the source and channel of all true authority, as has been already noticed.
It is generally assumed that “deacons” or “ministers” (as some prefer to translate, in order to guard from confounding them with the lower or earlier grade of clergy, so familiar in modern times) answer to “the seven” (Acts 6:3; Acts 21:8) who served tables in the daily ministration at Jerusalem. It is true that “the seven” are not so styled; and that elsewhere there is no thought of “seven” deacons. It is also true that in Jerusalem at the first there prevailed a state of having all things common wholly peculiar to that place and time, which created the necessity for the apostles to appoint the same, both to allay murmuring of others, and to allow themselves leisure for continuing steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word. Admitting however all due to the early form and order in Jerusalem, I agree with others that substantially the same office is in view. “The seven” served as deacons in the circumstances proper to that day; as others served elsewhere in a more ordinary way. In Jerusalem at least they were chosen by the disciples, and the apostles laid their hands on them with prayer.
“Deacons likewise [must be] grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of base gain, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also be first proved, then let them serve as deacons, being blameless. Women likewise [must be] grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of one wife, conducting (ruling) [their] children and their houses well, for those who have served well as deacons gain for themselves a good degree, and great boldness in faith that is in Christ Jesus” (vers. 8-13).
Manifestly the requirements for the deacons are not so high as those for bishops or overseers, though there be somewhat in common. Their duties are of a lower character. Gravity was sought as well as the absence of deceit. These would naturally be required even in the commonest intercourse of life; and failure in them would bring contempt upon such an office. For if every Christian is called to walk after Christ, surely not less is a deacon to reflect His light even in the commonest things he has to do. Again, he must not be given to much wine, nor be greedy of base gain: either would be ruinous to the due fulfilment of his functions, and to the confidence which he ought to inspire in others. Far fuller we have seen to be the demand for the bishop, who must be without reproach, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach: which are not said of the deacon save so far as gravity may approach. In this they do strongly meet — that as the bishop was not to be long (or quarrelsome) over wine, so the deacon was to be “not given to much wine.” And as the deacon was not to be greedy of base gain, so the bishop was to be no lover of money. There is no question of aptness to teach for the deacon as for the bishop; but even deacons must hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. So indeed is it binding on every saint; but if laxity were allowed in office-bearers, what could more stumble the world, grieve the saints, and dishonour the Lord?
It may be worth while to remark that “mystery,” as it never means what is unintelligible, so it is never applied to an institution or sacrament. “Stewards of the mysteries of God” means those called and responsible for bringing out the special truths of Christianity. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are never so described; and the term cannot be with propriety predicated of them as rites but at most only of the truths represented by them. Deacons, however, are not called “stewards” of the mysteries of God, though they must hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, that is, the distinctive truth of Christianity. Of course the Old Testament abides of divine authority for every conscience and of exceeding value for every Christian. But we have further revelation in the New Testament, and that of truth wholly unknown to saints before Christ. “The mystery of the faith” expresses the truth which had never been revealed before, the general system of that which is commonly called Christianity beyond what was known of old, though of course confirming it in the most interesting manner and in the highest degree. That truth deals with the conscience in the closest way and purges it.
But it is also possible that high truth might be held with habitually low practice. This could not be in a deacon as it is unworthy of any Christian. He was called to hold the mystery of the faith “in a pure conscience.” Others might not be able to judge directly of the state of his conscience, but an irregular walk is the clearest proof that a man’s conscience cannot be pure. Where that was evident, it was permitted, yea incumbent, to judge this.
Even here there was to be care in the gradual introduction of deacons to their duties: “and let these also first be proved, then let them serve as deacons, being blameless.” Proving them first might bring out their unfitness for the work; for there are many saints even, who cannot bear a little brief authority, and that which outwardly raises such soon exposes to moral degradation. To walk blamelessly in the least of such new duties was no small testimony of their fitness to serve in all.
Women in the nearest relationship with them are not forgotten. They in like manner “must be grave, not slanderers, sober (temperate), faithful in all things.” The duties of their husbands would give them opportunities of knowing much of a delicate nature; they were therefore to be both grave and not evil-speakers, sober or temperate, faithful in all things. None but such could help their husbands aright; those who were otherwise would not only hinder but lead to constant difficulty and scandal.
Nor was it only that the bishop must be husband of one wife, deacons must be the same. Polygamy was thus being dealt a death-wound. No matter what might be the qualities and competency of a Christian, he could not even be a deacon if he had, like many in those days, more than one wife. This was strictly ruled for all who held office in the assembly, whatever might be the forbearance of grace whilst “the powers that be” tolerated things otherwise.
Further, like the bishops, deacons must rule their children and their houses well. It was not allowable in those that served even in outward things that disorder should reign among their children or in their households. The assembly of God is set in this world, till the Lord come, to manifest His will and to please Him.
But deacons, like the seven, were not tied only to that service which they were appointed to fulfil; for those who have served well as deacons gain for themselves a good degree and great boldness in faith which is in Christ Jesus. So we see in both Stephen and Philip who were of the seven: the one being greatly honoured of God as a teacher of the truth; the other being largely used to spread the gospel where it had never yet penetrated. This,was to gain for themselves a good standing, and no one who reads the Holy Spirit’s account of their testimony and its effects can doubt their great boldness in faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The presence of an apostle was an incalculable boon both for founding and for building up the assembly in any place. But what do we not owe also to his absence? Therefore he wrote, as here to Timothy, so at other times to this or that assembly, and thus he gave us in a permanent form the mind of the Spirit as applied to the instructive wants, difficulties, and dangers of the saints here below.
“These things write I to thee, hoping to come unto thee rather quickly; but if I should tarry, that thou mayest know how we ought to behave in God’s house, seeing it is a living God’s assembly, pillar and ground-work of the truth” (vers. 14, 15). Thus the loss of the apostle’s presence is turned to profit, not of Timothy only but of us also. From detailed duties we are now in presence of the great truth that God has a house on earth where each Christian has to conduct himself aright. Our relationships are always the measure and mould as well as the ground of our duty. How solemn, yet how precious it is to know that God has His dwelling-place on earth with which every believer has to do in faith and practice!
No doubt this was meant to act on Timothy’s soul; but the form of the phrase indicates that it was not limited to Timothy; it is so expressed as to take in any and every saint in his own position. It is no longer now an overseer, or a deacon, or their wives. All is on the broadest ground, yet what could act more powerfully on conscience than to find oneself called to behave suitably to God’s house? All the English versions from Wiclif to the Authorized refer the call to Timothy only and his personal duty. I cannot but agree with the Revisers that the application is purposely left more general. Perhaps however “how men ought to behave themselves” is hardly so happy as “how one ought to behave oneself.” It seems too vague, even as preceding English Versions are rather too limited.
In the Old Testament God had His house on earth. It was not so always. In the earlier dealings of God with man He had no such dwelling-place here below. There was none when man was unfallen in the brief sojourn of Eden; still less was there during the long sorrowful years of fallen man’s history till the flood. Nor was it a privilege vouchsafed to Noah when God established His covenant and “set His bow in the cloud for a token between Him and the earth.” Not even the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had it yet vouchsafed to them, though Jacob did say in his fear, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven!” More correctly did he add “This stone which I have set up for a pillar shall be God’s house.” As yet, God had not actually any house which He could own on earth, though faith might anticipate it.
On what then is God’s house based? On redemption. Hence as Exodus is pre-eminently the book of redemption, it is precisely that book of the Old Testament which first and most fully treats of God’s house. For the second book of Moses naturally divides into three parts: first, the evidence of the people’s need of redemption; secondly, the accomplishment of redemption in all its fulness; thirdly, the great consequence of redemption in the founding and ordering of God’s house or tabernacle with all its appurtenances, and the surpassing glory of His presence filling that in which He was then pleased to dwell.
But, in accordance with the general character of the Jewish economy, the dwelling of God was but typical, manifesting itself after an external sort. And as the law was the ground-work of God’s government of His people, so the glory that dwelt in the sanctuary had a judicial character, whatever the long-suffering that bore with a stiff-necked and guilty people from generation to generation. When patience with the idolatry in the people, the priests, the kings, even of David’s house, must be, if continued longer, the sanction of their apostasy and of His own dishonour, that very glory judges them by the power of Babylon (mother of idols) and is seen slowly departing from their midst, though not for ever, but assuredly till He come Whose right it is to restore this and all things. Compare Ezekiel 1-11; Ezekiel 40-48.
Meanwhile Christ has come; but the people would not have their King, the Anointed of God. For the time they have forfeited all, having both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and driven out the apostles, “pleasing not God and are contrary to all men, forbidding the Gentiles to be spoken to that they might be saved, filling up their sins always, so that wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:15, 16). But their greatest evil is the occasion of God’s greatest good to man. Israel’s rejection of the Messiah has brought about the redemption that is in Christ Jesus through His cross, blood-shedding, and resurrection.
And now God deigns to dwell not merely in the midst of a people externally, but most really and intimately in His own and with them for ever by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. “Ye are God’s building,” says Paul to the Corinthian assembly. . . . “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:9-16. Compare also 2 Cor. 6:16). The same truth applies also individually, as we have seen it collectively: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own, for ye were bought with a price; glorify God therefore in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). In both cases God’s dwelling-place is maintained by the presence of His Spirit, not by a mere outward display. “Ye also are builded together for God’s habitation in virtue of the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22), the reality and permanence of which indwelling is measured by Christ’s having obtained an eternal redemption. What a call to holiness, not only in personal walk but in our joint responsibilities! Those who truly believe and appreciate this incomparable favour are of all others under the deepest obligation to behave accordingly.
But the apostle adds “which” (or “seeing that it”) “is a living God’s assembly.” This description gives great force to God’s house, placing it in direct contrast with that of a dead idol, the boast and shame of all Gentiles everywhere. Form without life is valueless under the gospel; though life acts and shows itself in forms for which scripture is the only adequate authority, for it is God’s word and not man’s. And “wherein is he to be accounted of?” Nor does a dead assembly suit a living God. But the point above all remains — not what they are, but what He is. It is His assembly: let those there never forget it.
Further, the assembly is characterized as “pillar” and as “groundwork,” or support, of the truth. Christ is the truth, and so is the written word, as well as the Spirit. They all are the truth, either objectively, or in power. But the assembly is the pillar on which the truth is inscribed and upheld before the world which believes not in Christ, receives not the word, and neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit. The truth is not in faithless Judaism; nor is it in Mohammedan imposture; if possible yet less in the abominable vanities of heathendom. The church is the responsible witness and support of the truth on the earth. There only might men see the truth (compare 2 Cor. 3:2, 3), if they could not read a letter of the scriptures. Alas! how great the ruin of the pillar, if we judge the privilege and the responsibility of the church by the word as it bears on its actual state. He who so weighs before God all the failure will never take things lightly, but will search the same word in order to find how grace provides for the path of the faithful in such circumstances; so that one may neither acquiesce in evil nor give way to unbelieving despair, but may judge oneself as well as the departure of Christendom in order to do God’s will in faith.
There is not a single good reason to sever the last clause from the assembly, and to connect it with “the mystery of godliness,” as is done chiefly by Germans of the 17th and 18th centuries (including even Bengel). Not only do I agree with Alford and Ellicott in their rejection of a dislocation so abrupt and artificial, but I maintain that it would strip the assembly of its essential place which is here defined, and that it would detract from, instead of adding to, the true dignity of “the mystery of godliness.” It is a construction therefore burdened with almost every conceivable objection, without one genuine merit, and in my judgment the offspring of not ignorance only but deplorably low and wrong views of the church’s place and duty here below. Scarcely better is the reference to Timothy as made by some ancients and moderns. To the assembly alone is the true application.
The assembly, or church, of God then is in no way the truth, but is its responsible witness and its support on the earth before all men. Not the church but Christ is the standard and expression of what God is and of man and all else, as revealed in Holy Writ, the one daily and perfect rule of faith, the word that abides for ever. So far from being before the word, so as to formulate the truth, it was the word making known Christ which the Spirit of God used to quicken and fashion those who compose the church. Thus to the truth the church in God’s grace owes its being; without the truth, or rather by abandoning it (for, to be the church, the truth must have been possessed and maintained), the faithless church becomes not null only but the special object of divine judgment. Its privileges furnish the measure of its guilt; nor has anything more helped on its ruin than the fond assumption (in the teeth of Rom. 11, 2 Thess. 2, and of many other warnings) that the ancient people were broken-off branches that the now favoured Gentile might be grafted in never to fail or to be cut off, as rebellious Israel has been!
Hence the propriety of the striking summary which follows as the conclusion of the chapter: not the heavenly relationship of the church, but the fundamental truth set forth in the person of Christ, and graven, not only on the hearts of Christians as such, but on the assembly for its public confession, its habitual praise, and its practice every day.
“And confessedly great is the mystery of godliness: He Who16 was manifested in flesh, was justified in Spirit, appeared unto angels, was preached among Gentiles, was believed on in [the] world, was received up in glory” (ver. 16).
The introductory clause is most instructive as well as impressive. “Mystery” means a truth once secret but now fully divulged, never a sacrament, (though important in its place and for the purpose intended of the Lord). The secret (now revealed) of piety or godliness is the truth of Christ. He is the source, power, and pattern of what is practically acceptable to God-His person as now made known. True life is living by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20). To look on Him or for Him as a Jew once might in faith is not enough. Here He stands revealed in the great essential lineaments of the truth. The church lives, moves, and has its being in presenting Him thus to every eye and heart. Men may disbelieve or gainsay to their own destruction; but to present the truth of Christ is, we may say, the reason of the church’s existence, rather than the admirably good results which flow both for each saint within and for those without who come to believe unto their own eternal blessing.
Some doubtless will cry out as if “He Who,” as in the Revised Version, grievously displaces “God”, as in the Authorized Version which follows editions formed on the more modern copies. But weigh well the better attested reading, and soon you may happily learn how much more exact is the relative in this connection, as it also really supposes the self-same truth in the background. For where would be even the sense of saying that Adam or Abraham, that David, Isaiah, or Daniel, or that any other human being, “was manifested in flesh”? An angelic creature so manifested would be revolting for the end in view, and could no more avail than a man. If only a man, no other way than “flesh” was open to him: the mightiest “hunter before the Lord,” the subtlest wit, the most consummate orator or poet or warrior or statesman, “he also is flesh,” no less than the least one born of woman.
Not so the one Mediator between God and men; for though He deigned to become man, He was intrinsically and eternally divine. But for the counsels and ways of grace, He might conceivably have come as He pleased, in His own glory, or in His Father’s, or in that of the holy angels, without emptying and humbling Himself to incarnation and atonement. Here the opening and immeasurable wonder of the truth is the glory of Him Who was born of the virgin and thus manifested in flesh. So in the kindred passage of John 1 it is written (John 1:14), “The Word became flesh,” where it had been carefully laid down before (John 1:1) that “The Word was God,” as well as “with God,” in the beginning before He made anything in the universe created by Him.
1. “Manifested in flesh”; not only is this a truth to test every conscience: what an appeal to the heart! what infinite love to ruined and guilty sinners, for whose sake He was thus manifested to the glory of God! He came to make known, as only He could, God as light and love, Himself the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man, Himself the Son of man that came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. Herein is love, not that we loved God (as we ought according to the law, but we did not, yea, we hated both Father and Son without a cause), but that He loved us and gave His Son a propitiation for our sins. And herein was laid the new and everlasting ground of God’s righteousness, where man was proved hopelessly unrighteous, in the cross and blood of Christ, that God might be just and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. Here however it is not the work done in infinite love that God might righteously do His will in sanctifying us through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all; it is His person in the state in which alone that work could avail — the Son incarnate, “He Who was manifested in flesh.”
2. Next, we are told, He “was justified in Spirit.”17 He was as truly man as any; but His state was, as that of no other, characterized absolutely by the Spirit of God, from the beginning right through life and death, in uninterrupted energy of holiness and incorruption till He rose from the dead and took His seat on the right hand of the Majesty on high. His unvarying life was to do God’s will, the only Man Who never once did His own will. He felt, spoke, acted, uniformly in the Spirit: as He was conceived in the virgin’s womb, so He was in due time anointed, and finally marked out Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection (cp. Rom. 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18). It was His perfection as Man in the midst of an evil and ruined world to do, not miracles only but, everything in the Spirit’s power; where we who believe have to follow in His steps, endowed with the same Spirit now given to us in His grace; but we, with our old man, which He had not to save, but to die for it on the cross, and which therefore was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin, having died to it (Rom. 6:6).
3. He “appeared to angels.” The Son of God was made visible to angels, not only on marked occasions as specified in scripture from His birth of woman till He ascended on high, but generally we may say through His incarnation. But is this all that the clause implies? May it not also describe, what appears more characteristic, that, when He ceased to be seen among men on earth, not even the chosen witnesses beholding Him conversant with them more, He was an object of sight to angels? The earthly scene closed, He certainly has to do most expressly with all the angels of God, seeing they worship Him. Nor can any condition be more outside the ordinary way in which a Jew thinks of the Messiah, even when glory dawns on Immanuel’s land. However this may be, I should not be too bold as to it.
4. “He was preached among Gentiles.” Here the sphere of preaching is not merely beyond habitual Jewish expectations but in contrast with it. They looked for Him to reign in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His ancients gloriously, and no doubt to have the nations for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, but still set as Jehovah’s King upon His holy hill of Zion, Israel the centre of that wide circle of blessing and glory here below. Such is to be the display of the kingdom when He comes again and shall have cleared away the apostate and rebellious despisers. But here it is the secret which the Christian knows now — Christ “preached among Gentiles,” instead of reigning over Israel. This indeed is the evident truth, and would be plain and simple enough to us, if Gentile boasting did not darken it by claiming Israel’s place as now indefeasibly the portion of Christendom, to the denial of the ancient people’s hopes, as well as to the destruction of all right perception of our own, incomparably brighter, even as the heavens are higher than the earth.
5. So again, He “was believed on in [the] world” exactly describes the essential difference in this sphere from that which prophecy held out and which God will make good in the age to come. Then every eye shall see the Son of man, and a dominion will be given Him, and glory, so that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; and this dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away (as the old empires did), and His kingdom shall not be destroyed (as the last or Roman Empire must, though it be revived by the power of the pit, in order to meet the peculiar judgment of God on its surpassing lawlessness and self-exaltation in the last days). Christ now is an object of faith only, not yet reigning in power over the world, as Rev. 11:15 announces.
6. He “was received up in glory.” Such is the suited and worthy close of this concise but comprehensive form of sound words, so as to leave fresh on all souls that read it the bright impress of Christ in glory. For if He came down in love, as has another admirably remarked, He went up in righteousness. The work given Him to do He accomplished at infinite cost to Himself and perfectly to God’s glory, even where all might have seemed hopeless — as to sin, and a world of sin. The adequate answer to the cross of the suffering Son of man (Who had thus glorified God) was that God should glorify Him in Himself and this straightway (John 13:31, 32).
And such accordingly is the righteousness of which the Spirit when come at Pentecost afforded evidence to the world. The world had proved its unrighteous hatred in rejecting Him Whom God raised from the dead and set at His own right hand. This exaltation is the righteousness which the presence of the Spirit sent down from heaven demonstrates: the crucified Son of man sits on the throne of God. And here we have the same glorious fact which completes the circle of the truth embraced by the Spirit of God in “the mystery of piety”. How wonderful to find it all in a few facts of our Lord Jesus! But the wonder melts into worship, as we bear in mind that if He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also Who ascended up far above all heavens that He might fill up all things (Eph. 4:9, 10). He that emptied Himself to become a servant was in Himself God and Lord. The pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand, as Isaiah (Isa. 53:10) foretold.
14 Some try to eke out the error by the argument that “presbyter” is priest writ large. Very likely the English word is etymologically due to that Anglicized exotic. But in fact of usage they are wholly distinct, and “priest” in every version, save the corrupt Rhemish, represents not its ancestor which really means “elder,” but the sacrificial officer
15 Text. Rec. has here the clause,
μὴ αἰσχροκερδῆ, “not seeking gain basely,” taken apparently from ver. 8 where it is all right, yet more probably from Titus 1:7.
16 Dr. Scrivener, though with hesitation from his own first impression with that of others in the past, no longer (second Ed. 552-6) denies A to have read
ὅς (with C F G. etc. and almost all the ancient Vv.), rather than
Θεός, “God,” as in most copies followed by the Text. Rec.
17 It is well known that some have thought that
ἐν πν. (in Spirit) here does not refer to the Holy Spirit but to the spiritual principle in our Lord as a man. Now admitting that there was this spirit in Him and that
σάρξ (“flesh”) does not express it, anyone subject to scripture may soon satisfy himself that the phrase here employed is not proper to convey any such thought, which would require the article, as in Matt. 5:3, Matt. 26:41; Matt. 27:50; Mark 2:8; Mark 8:12, Mark 14:38, Luke 10:21 (in the true text) John 11:33; John 13:21; John 19:30, Acts (18:5), Acts 19:21, Acts 20:22, et al. These may suffice to prove that where one’s own spirit is meant, the article is the correct form of expression. On the other hand, proof is no less abundant that
πν., with or without such prepositions as
ἐκ, ἐν, διά, κατά, does express as regularly the state or power of the Holy Spirit characterizing men, in contrast with mere nature, often of course with
ἁγ. which I do not cite, but also without, as Matt. 22:28, Matt. 12:43, John 3:5, John 4:23, 24; Rom. 8:4, 9, 13; 1 Cor. 2:4, 13; 1 Cor. 7:40; 1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 3:3; Gal. 4:29, Gal. 5:5, 16, 18, 25 (twice); et al. The real difficulty might rather be when the intent is to present the Spirit objectively, which requires the insertion of the article, as in Matt. 4:1, Matt. 12:31, Mark 1:10, 12, Luke 2:27 where grammatically Simeon’s spirit only might be meant, but we know from the context, as in the other cases very clearly, that the Holy Spirit is the thought.