Whatever brings out the perfectness of the blessed Lord’s work, and the way in which it is adapted to the whole moral condition of man, while glorifying God in respect of that condition, and thus bringing man into association with God’s glory—whatever shews the connection of the sacrifice of the cross with the entire development of God’s ways with man confirms the faith of the saint, and enables him to admire the wisdom of God with increased intelligence and a deeper spirit of adoration. I send you therefore a few, I trust, plain thoughts as to the way the cross bears on the previous history of man, the manner in which it is linked up with it all, in connection with some of the statements of Galatians 3 as to the order in which law and promise came.
In the first place, to say nothing of the eternal counsels of God or of the promise of eternal life given us in Christ Jesus before the world was (precious as the consideration of it is, as founding our hopes on the sure thoughts of God Himself), we have from the outset, when sin had entered, the blessing and the deliverance established in Christ, the second Adam, not in any promise to the first.
“The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” The Seed of the woman was the second Adam, and, as is evident, not the first. The first is quite passed by. Man, the first Adam, was neither righteous nor holy. He was innocent, which excludes both righteousness and holiness. He had not the knowledge of good and evil. Righteousness discriminates between good and evil in the relationship in which we stand towards others, whether God or the creature, and acts in the sense of responsibility, according to the claim which such relationships have on us. Holiness hates evil intrinsically in itself; delighting in purity, in God’s nature, it abhors all that is discordant with it. God is righteous, because He appreciates infinitely all that is due94 to every relationship in which any being stands to another, and, above all, all beings to Himself. The highest manifestation of righteousness, the absolute manifestation of it in perfection, was His receiving Christ to Himself. He is holy, because He perfectly knows good and evil, delights in good, and abhors evil. We should at once be morally shocked if one spoke of God’s being innocent (that is, ignorant of good and evil), and justly so. Now man was innocent. He enjoyed the goodness of God with thankfulness, alas! how short a time, and his ways towards others would have been the fruit of natural relationship where no evil was. Affection and loving care would have flowed out, without being cast on a sense of duty, because affection had ceased to prompt what the relationship in its perfection supposed.
But this was not to last; he soon fell into the knowledge of good and evil, and a bad conscience, which feared to meet God. He was no longer innocent. Conscience has a double character, which we do not always distinguish; the sense of responsibility to another; and the knowledge of good and evil in itself. The latter element was absent from Adam’s mind before his fall. The sense of responsibility was there, the debt of obedience; it was in the nature of his relationship with God; but distinguishing things as good and evil in themselves had no place in his mind. To have eaten of the tree was no evil whatever in itself: he would have eaten of it as innocently as of any other in itself. God had forbidden it, and all depended on that command. Adam innocent was formed to understand responsibility to obey. To avoid a thing, where there was no command because it was evil, was unknown to him. He was innocent, ignorant of evil to be avoided. In his mind nothing evil in itself existed to be avoided.
He got conscience by the fall, which made it a bad one. Henceforth he distinguished things as wrong in themselves. He was in many things a law to himself, his thoughts accusing and excusing one another. If he forgot God even—it is hard to forget Him altogether when passion is over, natural when passion acts; for passion is forgetfulness of Him and of duty— but if he forgot God, conscience was there to tell him of wrong done. Righteousness, however the maintenance of it might be dreaded, had now its place and claim in his mind; and holiness, however absent it might be from him, had a meaning and a name through his knowledge of the evil it abhorred, which made it terrible in God in whom it could not but be found. Such was fallen man, lost, ruined, by his perverse will. He had listened to Satan, and trusted and believed him rather than God, whose favour he had willingly sacrificed for the pleasure of eating an apple, and the presumptuous hope of being as God in His knowledge of good and evil. As a principle, he got that knowledge in subjection to the evil he knew, and with the loss of his sweet natural relationship in innocence to God and all around him.
He was fallen, sinful, disobedient, guilty, and under judgment. To such a sinful and rebellious being promise could not be, and was not, made. It would have been sanctioning evil with blessing.
But a blessed hope is set before him as the object of recovering faith. The second Adam is set up; to him the promise (if promise we should call it) is made. He is announced as the destroyer of the serpent’s power, as the first Adam had been the victim of its subtlety. The Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.
Thus, the first dealing with man after the fall was the setting up of the second Adam, the Lord Christ, as the destroyer of him who had subverted the first. The first was passed by. He was neither the vessel of promise, nor the heir of blessing. Individually he may have laid hold on the hope of the second Adam, but there was no restoring promise to himself. Another was set up in his place, to whom and for whom faith should look.
Such, then, was the position of man; sin, conscience in the sense of knowledge of good and evil, and (sin being there) a guilty and defiled conscience, and the revelation of a deliverer. The perverse will which had brought in the sin was not corrected by the conscience of evil, nor the revelation of a deliverer. It expanded itself with the expansion of humanity, and corruption and violence filled the earth.
And here I must distinguish, without enlarging upon it, between God’s government of the earth and the result of sin as to relationship with Himself, and the salvation and deliverance which is the remedy for it. As regards government (that is, present effects upon earth—the ways of God), man, instead of paradise, finds an earth of toil and pain, and woman sorrow and grief of spirit in that which was natural joy to her. As regards the full effect of sin, both are alike driven out from God’s presence, and the way of the tree of life closed to them.
They themselves dread the God who should have been the spring of joy to them. The deluge which closed the scene of antediluvian wickedness was the judgment of the earth, the display of God’s government of it. Eternal salvation and glory is quite another thing, as is everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. All, it is true, will be in Christ’s hands. He will judge and govern, and He is the eternal Saviour; but the two things are quite distinct, though brought into connection in His Person, and so in the saints when the glory comes. The just distinction of the two will clear the mind on many points.
But God pursued the development of His ways in grace for the instruction and blessing of man.
Having called Abraham, and led him out from his country, kindred, and father’s house, and appropriated him to Himself as His own, so to speak, in the world, as taken out of it, He gives him the promise. He becomes the father of the faithful, and the root of the olive-tree of God. The chosen and called one becomes the depositary and stock of promise.
Here positive promise begins, not merely the revelation of a deliverer who should destroy the works of the devil on the one hand, and a conscience knowing the evil in which it walked on the other, but a positive promise to a given object, “in thee”; so that the grace which called him out of the world singled him out also as its heir, and the vessel of the blessing of God in it.
The promise was unconditional and absolute. God gives it as the revelation of a purpose He will accomplish, and addresses it to Abraham, so as to fix the person in whom it was to have its accomplishment. God interferes in blessing, reveals His intention to confer it dependent on His own faithfulness alone. He blesses because He is pleased to bless, and blesses him whom He calls out to enjoy it. The promise extends out too, remark, to the whole world as to the sphere of its application. “In thee shall all nations be blessed.” It is universal in the sphere of its application, absolute in its character, and its accomplishment dependent on the sole faithfulness of God.
In figure there was a development of this, which casts fresh light on the ways of God. Isaac is offered up, a remarkable type of the offering of Jesus, of the Father’s not sparing His Son. He is received again from the dead in a figure, and presents a risen Christ after the accomplishment of His sacrifice. Thereupon the promise is confirmed to him. The promise of the blessing of the nations was not given to Abraham and his seed. It was made to Abram alone in Genesis 12; and so in Galatians 3 we read in the original, “And to Abram were the promises made, and to his seed.” So again, the promise which was confirmed before of God to Christ (not in Christ). Hence it is the apostle insists upon its being one, for the promises to Abraham, as father of the Jews, were made in common to him and to his seed together; and it was promised that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable. Whereas the promise of the blessing of the nations was given to Abram first, and then confirmed to the one seed, Isaac, figure of Christ sacrificed and risen again, with no mixture of anyone else, nor mention of a numerous posterity.
But to return. The promise was absolute and unconditional, the announcement of the accomplishment of blessing on God’s part through the one promised Seed, an accomplishment dependent on His own faithfulness alone. The question of righteousness in those who were to enjoy it was not raised. God’s grace in blessing was revealed, and, we may say with the apostle, in Christ; but the sin of those who should enjoy it was untouched, conscience left without resource, or without raising a question indeed about it. The revelation of a deliverer and the promise of God were now brought together, but the state of him who was to be blessed was not entered on in any way. Such was the force of the unconditional promise made to Abraham. It made the blessing of the nations certain: the question of righteousness was not raised. God had promised to Abraham, and confirmed it to the one Seed. His faithfulness would perform it.
After this came the law, redemption having been prefigured in the exodus and the passage of the Red Sea. The law raised the question of righteousness—it claimed it on the part of God. The promise was addressed to those under it on condition of obedience. “If you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people, for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation… And all the people answered together, and said, All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do.”
Here then the blessing was made dependent on the obedience of man. The mediator was not of one, but between two parties; and the covenant rested not simply on the infallibility of one who promised, but upon the obedience of another party also. For God is one: a mediator implies two parties; and here the accomplishment of the blessing rests on the condition of the obedience of the human party. The law then raised the question of righteousness which the promise had not at all. But on man’s part there was utter failure as to it, and the law worked wrath and brought men under a curse.
Thus, up to Christ, we have conscience, promise, and law— law coming in by the bye (pareiselthe), after the certain and infallible promise to the Seed, to raise the question of righteousness on God’s part with man, stating the rule of it if man was to accomplish it for God, what creature-righteousness (if such there were) ought to, and must be. It came in between the promise and its fulfilment for the necessary and important object, an object which could not be passed by, of righteousness before God being laid down as needed, to make good God’s claim of it against man, but against man already a sinner.
I may add, before speaking of Christ’s death, that He came as a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the fathers (for circumcision was not of Moses, but of the fathers); that is, He presented Himself as the accomplishment of the promises made to them in connection with men living in the flesh; so that, if received (that is, if man had not been utterly and wholly alienated from God), the blessing was there, both for Israel and all nations to be blessed also in the promised Seed—the gathering of the peoples to Shiloh come in Israel—the staves of beauty and bands would not have been broken. But the truth was, man was an utter sinner, his carnal mind enmity against God; and Christ, whatever grace He came in, could not but be God manifested in flesh, and light in the world. Without law man was lawless, under law a law-breaker; and when light and grace came, yea, God Himself, in loving-kindness and truth, he was the rejecter of all in which blessing was.
Thus, however, promise also was rejected by the Jew who had it, and all was utterly lost for man; there remained no link between him and God; or rather the proof was now afforded that there was, and could be, none between God and man in the flesh. This—for He was perfect love—was, I doubt not, the sense of what was expressed by Jesus in the words, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” The love was there, full, perfect, active in His heart. He shewed it in all that He did, in all it could be shewn in; but as to the proper effect of its power, its true object—the reconciling man to Himself, it was, so to speak, driven back into Himself; blessed be God! unweakened, but driven back, finding no response in man’s heart, nothing to which it could attach itself there, in the selfish enmity which reigned there. For His love He had hatred.
But the death of Jesus opened the full flood-gates to reveal all God’s love, and accomplish all God’s purposes. He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. He glorifies God about sin there, and accomplishes righteousness in the highest and divine sense; that is, He meets the fullest claims, and secures and makes good the perfect display of the divine nature and character, and this in respect of sin. So that grace reigns through righteousness, and not merely to present blessing but to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And now see how the death and present position of Christ95 meets the whole previous unfolding of the grounds on which man stood with God. Sin is put away by the sacrifice of Himself; conscience is perfectly purged according to God’s own knowledge of good and evil; righteousness is established before God, the accomplishment of the promise is established in His Person. Man had no righteousness for God, but Christ, dead and risen again, is of God made unto us righteousness.
The true heir of promise is there, and can take all the promises up in righteousness, which gives us also a title to enter into them, His position answering to Isaac’s when the promise was confirmed to him after his being offered up in figure. All the promises of God are Yea and Amen in Him, and we are in Him. God having established us in Him who has taken His place in the power of a new life, as the Head of a new race belonging to Him by faith, righteous in Him, as we were sinners in the first Adam. And this reaches out (according to His promise) to sinners of the Gentiles as to the Jews, through the putting away of sin, and the communication of a life as new to one as to the other. There was no link between God and the old man, nor union between a sinless Christ and sinful flesh, though Christ was a true man come in the likeness of it. But there is a link between a believer and Jesus risen, in a new life given to the believer, in which, by the Holy Ghost, he is united to Him who in righteousness is before God in heavenly places. Christ’s death writes death on all, absolute death—all are dead. There is nothing in man, as he is in himself, in common with divine life in Him (hence the apostle knew Christ no more in that way, present in the world, alive in the midst of men in the flesh, the Messiah of promise alive here below); but in that same death there is the answer to the whole condition of man in the flesh as a sinner; and, in taking the new position of life in accomplished righteousness in resurrection, Christ lays the ground of righteousness in a new way (God’s righteousness, not man’s, though wrought out in Him who was, and is, a man, and recognized by setting that man at God’s right hand), so that grace can go out according to it to the glory of God by us.
Thus sin is put away, conscience purged, the curse of the law gone for them who were under it, righteousness wrought out, that the blessing and the promise might come in all fulness on believers through Jesus Christ. All that was brought out in need before on man’s part, or promised on God’s, was such, on the one hand, and finds its accomplishment, on the other, in Christ; and all the moral elements, on the ground of which God had dealt with man, are brought out, and established in grace in Christ—promises which man could not take up in righteousness, nor God righteously confer on him, yet which He surely must fulfil, as His own promises now run freely in all their fulness, on the ground of an everlasting and divine righteousness, and flow forth from divine love to believers, found as sinners among Jews or Gentiles, according to the import which is given to these promises by the death and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. The order is: sin96—conscience (death and separation from God)—promise— law, raising the question of man’s righteousness (law broken, and promise despised)—Christ’s death (sin put away, the law’s curse removed, conscience purged, righteousness divinely wrought out), and then He risen, as the head of a new race, in the power of the Spirit and eternal life—the promises enjoyed according to the divine counsels and divine righteousness; Christ being Himself the heir, after the pattern of the offered and risen Isaac, and believers in Him cleansed from sin and divinely righteous by that which was wrought before they were graffed in Him, after the power of a new life, and in the energy of the Holy Ghost.
[end of doctrinal vol. 6]
94 Hence, in sparing Mary in her supposed fault, it is said, “Joseph, being a just man.” For righteousness estimates the claim another may have on us, the weakness of another, of ourselves, the feelings of a good towards a fallen man, so that summum jus summa injuria. Cruelty, or hardness of feeling, is not righteousness more than die allowance of evil would be.
95 Of course the believer alone has an actual portion in it j I speak of the value of the work in itself.
96 Here Christ is already announced, and Adam passed by, looked at as head of the race.