Our affections may be all right, and our mind more or less in confusion and in error; and by “our mind” now I speak of spiritual intelligence and real acquaintance with God’s mind in the word.
But when one in this state sets about to teach, he teaches confusion and error. It is not merely imperfection in statement, arising from the earthen vessel; which alas! is a pretty constant companion, though ever less, the humbler and the more distrustful of our own thoughts we are, seeking only to reproduce the thoughts of God, so graciously given in His word, and thus feeding His saints, as well as calling sinners.
But such teaching becomes a thought of our own to which the will attaches itself, which is turned to our own glory, nourishes subtilly self, and misleads others into the error accredited by the affections which may have been connected with it.
What has given occasion to these lines is a leaflet which has been sent to me from the North of England, professedly intended only for adepts, as on a large blank space is printed, “For private circulation only.”
I do not think the truth hides itself thus, or teaches an esoteric doctrine. That meat should be given in due season, that milk is for babes, and solid food for grown men, Scripture teaches, and no one would deny. But this is not a special private doctrine for the initiated, kept secret from all but adepts. This was charged upon those who were initiated into this system of doctrine, and strenuously denied. Perhaps some unwise females might have acted foolishly; but here it is recognised in print. It is one of the difficulties of teaching by printing that it does cast all indiscriminately broadcast.
But this is not choosing a tract or paper suited to the state of a soul, which every wise Christian would do individually, though he may cast the gospel more abroad; but this is to be confined to private circulation. But this by the bye. I take the question up on its merits, and affirm that the whole basis of the system is false and unscriptural, proving only that the propagators of it are ignorant of grace in its full real character, of what the flesh is, that is, of themselves; and that the whole ground of their system is unscriptural on the point they are so pretentious about. Our introduction into the Father’s eternal kingdom, the new creation, is never connected with death to anything. It is all an unscriptural delusion. That bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus enables us, through grace, to manifest His life here, is alike true and practically important; that we reckon ourselves dead as the starting-point, and that God reckons us dead with Christ, is equally true; and the last point makes it true liberty, and not legalism, as this doctrine tends to do. These principles will be found in inverse order, from what precedes, in Colossians 3, Romans 6:11, and 2 Corinthians 4:10. And it is of the utmost moment that we seek to have them as realities, and not mere recognised truth. The truth sanctifies, but it must be the truth as it is in Jesus; that is, in living power by the Holy Ghost. It is not some saying, “We are Philadelphians,” nor others treating these as poor blind Laodiceans, while they have the gold tried in the fire: neither will do. Put either into the fire, and I fear, if in this state, only a small remnant of gold would be found, and that Christ, and not themselves. We want realities, men of God who do bear about in their bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus. And he who does will be the one who will best know his worse-than-nothingness, and the excellency of Christ as He is in Himself.
But to come to the doctrine:—it is not with death to sin, or death to nature, or life out of death, or our being dead and risen, that sitting in heavenly places, or the new creation, is connected. The changes are rung on these without end, and we thus become in actuality the righteousness of God; and that, according to my leaflet, is perfection! All is false. Sitting in heavenly places and the new creation are connected in Scripture with being dead in sins, not to sin. It would not be a new creation if it were not so. (See Eph. 2.) And hence it is all simple grace and divine power, a creation when we were dead, and, as quickening, the power of God as wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him in heavenly places, and us, when dead in sins, He has taken and set in Him. Hence, it is twice said we are saved, the actual perfect fact (sesosmenous). The system would own, when there was intelligence, that this was true of all believers, but would realise it, etc. Realise what? God’s power in raising the dead, as Creator of the new creation! for nothing else is spoken of. It is, moreover, all a past thing which He wrought in Christ, and according to this power in us. And so ever in Scripture; 2 Cor. 5. All were dead—had died, if you please—and there was a new creation, where all things were new, and all things of God.
On the other hand, where being dead to sin is the point, dead with Christ and risen with Him, there is never found a word of new creation, nor sitting in heavenly places. Our affections are to be set on what is heavenly, where Christ is; in realising it we bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus; but it is manifestation of divine life here. The whole doctrine is an unscriptural delusion. The new creation and putting us in heavenly places is a work of God’s power as to those dead, not out of nature but dead in nature, and the dying and rising with Christ does not set us there at all, nor is it spoken of as new creation. Quickening even together with Christ, as in Colossians, is not life out of death, that is, death to sin; but in Colossians it is also when dead in our sins and in the uncircumcision of our flesh. The life-out-of-death-to-nature system, or to the flesh, is an utterly false view according to Scripture. Both (that is, new creation associated with sitting in heavenly places, and being dead and risen with Christ) are most important truths: one teaching us what sovereign grace and divine power has done for us; the other in connection with our experimental state down here.
To confound them is not blessed new light, but unscriptural darkness, and ignorance of the word and self.
I shall now take up the second point—being dead to nature. I fear I may subject myself to some contempt if I suggest that not one of them knows what they mean. What is the nature which the cross deals with? Not the flesh—that they speak of as a distinct thing. He sees the cross put an end to “his flesh.” “But far more intimately still the cross deals with his nature also.” Now, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God is very true, but not very new. That they neither marry nor are given in marriage in those blest scenes, we do not deny. If still Laodiceans, we are not Sadducees or Mormons. In this sense surely “full deliverance does not leave nature untouched”; and, more, we may have to hate our father and mother, if Christ be in question, even down here. With all this Christians are more or less familiar, and many practically so; and its realisation cannot be too earnestly pressed, and in connection with being dead and risen with Christ: only not unscripturally confounding it with “breathing the air of the new creation, to rise and rest with Christ in glory.”
This, we have seen, is unscriptural confusion—very ecstatic, only unhappily not true. But what is death to nature? Elsewhere they have told us it is to the good as well as the bad. Now, morally, there is no good thing in us. So that, either they must hold that there is something good in man (whereas the mind of the flesh is enmity against God), and be utterly astray as to foundation truth, or take nature in the sense of what is entirely out of the moral sphere. Now Scripture carefully guards nature in this sense from being touched or attacked, because it, as such, comes from the hand of God Himself.
The matter stands thus: God made man upright. Man fell into sin, and the will of man became enmity against God, and nature subject to corruption and the various corruptions that are in the world through lust. Grace through redemption brought in for us (all being not yet perfected) the glorious state of the second Man, and, speaking of our actual state down here, a new life, a perfect conscience, and a power wholly above, and not of, the brder of things in which we live as a fact, and which connects us with the heavenly Head, the second Adam, who is perfected. Now this power is entirely above the whole system in which nature lives—as I have said, is not of that order—does not belong to it. If a person lives wholly in the power of this, so that his mind never gets into the sphere of nature, he will still have to contend with, or be preserved from, the workings of an evil nature. But, as to his active life and service here, he will live out of the sphere of nature. So Paul knew no man after the flesh. His whole life was the fruit of the Spirit: to live was Christ. He lived wholly above it, and Scripture recognises such a state. But where this is spoken of, it has nothing to do with dying to a state here. It is a nature wholly new which cannot die, and belongs to a sphere which has nothing to die to. It is, as in Ephesians 2, a new creation (2 Cor. 5), a thing wholly apart, and supposes we were dead, not alive to die to anything; and so it applies to service in the love of Christ, not state, save as wholly of the new creation, without reference to any other. So, where the Lord alludes to it, it is for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.
When once we descend into any connection with the old, it is either sin in the flesh, or it is worse than deadly to die to it. Another thing has to be remarked, which, in connection with these new views, is of all importance, and shews the falseness of them where they are new. This state of abstraction to divine things is always connected with our being in Christ, not Christ in us, and hence with sovereign grace which has put us there, and is true of every Christian as to his real standing. Thus, in Ephesians 2, we are sitting in heavenly places in Christ, and it is to usward who believe. So, in 2 Corinthians 5, If any man be in Christ Jesus. Now in Colossians, which is their great battle-horse, it is Christ in us, and we are not sitting in heavenly places at all; it is a hope laid up for us in heaven, and all in conformity to this: Christ sits there at the right hand of God, and we are called to have our affections there.
Hence His Spirit is not introduced, and, being looked at as still on the road, we read: “If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away,” and that in view of being presented holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight, as a future thing. I do not doubt the faithfulness of that blessed One to keep us, but in Colossians we have to be kept in the midst of evil and temptation. In Ephesians we have no “ifs,” but are actually sitting, not yet with, but in, Christ in heavenly places. Hence Christian life in us down here is developed in Colossians as nowhere else in Scripture. And remark that our being in Christ is sovereign grace, not a process, however blessed, in us. You have no development in Ephesians, but a place and state we are to shew out, in contrast with an old and sinful thing.
But further, when Christ in us is treated of, and death as connected with what we are down here, is spoken of, it is sin, not nature, we have done with. In a new creation we have done with nature in the first Adam, have put it off, are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us. But where, as in Colossians, it is Christ in us, it is death to sin and the world, not to nature. And in Romans 8, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin,” not because of nature. I am dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world. Indeed it is remarkable in Colossians how the heavenly state is passed over as a state, though suited affections are looked for down here; but it is Christ in us, the hope of glory; or, we appearing with Him when He appears, though in a subjective way affections ordered by it are looked for; and this is because death and resurrection with Christ are treated of, not a new creation. For even in that which goes farthest (chap. 2:13), and draws nearest to Ephesian truth, we have no introduction into heavenly places, unless in the new creation. And in the new creation death to the old man is never spoken of. The whole system is ignorance of Scripture, not new truth.
I might add that death to sin and resurrection are connected with testimony and service and spiritual state subjectively down here as to the effect, not with communion in heaven, as far as I am aware. As regards nature, as distinct from sinful nature, instead of having done with it, where it is taken into account—and if I die, it is taken into account—it is, in positive opposition to this teaching, carefully guarded and owned. Being without natural affection is one of the signs of the last days, the worst state of evil. As created of God, it is carefully owned. Relations which in nature still subsist were established before the fall. Everything in man is spoiled by that fall; but when nature is separated from its fallen condition, in which it is called flesh—and this separation is the essence of this doctrine—it is carefully maintained, not died to; sin is—at least the Christian is reckoned to be dead to it, not nature. So in speaking of divorce—that was the effect of sin; but in the beginning it was not so, says the Lord: “God made them male and female,” and maintains, and insists on maintaining, what God created—nature. So the apostle: forbidding to marry was a doctrine of demons, though, if a man could give himself up to Christ’s work, it was better.
When the Lord looked upon the young man, He loved him; but as to his moral state, sin, the lust of money, possessed the young man’s heart, and he preferred it to Christ, and left Him. In service, till His hour was come, the Lord had only for His mother, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” But when that was over, in that most solemn moment, He could say, Mother, behold thy son; Son, behold thy mother. It has been even said that the Lord, when returning from the temple at twelve years old, made Himself in grace, in going back with Joseph-and His mother, subject to the bondage of corruption! But this makes the law sin, for the law commands it. In competition with Christ, all yields. He created these relationships, and is Lord in and above them; but while a risen state and heavenly things, where they have no place at all, are recognised, they, as formed by God, are fully recognised; and there is no dying to nature spoken of in Scripture. The soul may be in a certain sense out of it, not think of it, as in a fresh sphere into which it has entered; but if one has to say to it, he is bound to own it as of God, though He be paramount to it; and, if it be set in opposition to Him, it is then sin.
And it is not only existing relationships which are maintained, but the absence of natural affections is a mark of the last degradation of human nature. As regards the relationships, they are surely to be held in the Lord. But nature, if taken apart from sin and flesh—as it is in this doctrine—we do not die to in Scripture. It is what God has made. In speaking of it, we have to abstract our thoughts from the state into which it is fallen, as this teaching assiduously does; but, so abstracted, it is what God made and owned and carefully maintained, though a power is brought in which is above it, and out of its sphere: dying to it is utterly unscriptural and false. It is what God owned, and God maintains and owns, as of Him, and asserts it, and even denounces as of Satan what does reject it as created by Him.
That all is corrupted, and that sin in the flesh is condemned in the cross, and that the Christian has died to sin—this is earnestly insisted on in Scripture.
Another grave error, ruinous to the truth, is connected with the system: our being in Christ and Christ in us being confounded—truths which go together, but are quite distinct in their nature and bearing. Divine righteousness loses its whole nature, place, and bearing. Sovereign grace has placed us in Christ before God, and Christ is made unto us righteousness; we are made the righteousness of God in Him. He having perfectly glorified God, when He was made sin for us, and bore our sins, God’s righteousness has set Him as Man at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; and part of the righteousness of God is that He should see the fruit of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied: He must have us, therefore, in the glory with Him, and like Himself. Wondrous counsels of God! Wondrous efficacy of the work of Christ! Yet a necessary part of His glory. What would a Redeemer be without redeemed? Yet to us all grace, the exceeding riches of grace. But it is no work in us which is the basis of this, but Christ’s work for us, when absolutely alone and made sin for us. He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him—not He in us. It is quite true that we must have the life to have the righteousness; but that does not make of the life in us our divine righteousness as they do. They make of our being in Christ and Christ in us, not that Christ is both our righteousness and life in power in us, but that thus that life is our divine righteousness, we are it in the power of that life, the fulness being in us; and on the other hand, that, as Christ who is our life is in God, our life is in God. The righteousness of God, which, Scripture says, we are made in Him, they make out He is made in us: it is our state, not God’s righteousness.
“We behold the righteousness of God subsist in a living person for our hearts.” “Righteousness is dwelling in life of new creation.” “The Son of God in the power of divine righteousness is the new source of the race whom He leads onward through the desert. There is an energy below which is suitable to the fountain of life eternal above. As truly and really as we were constituted sinners, so are we truly and really constituted righteousness as in Him who has become in resurrection the power of God to us. Christ Himself, risen in victor strength, is to be known in the saint (chap. 8:10) as really as he felt the power of evil in his Adam state. There is actual positive righteousness, not only justification by faith. It is established in the cross, and in virtue of the work done there; it flows down with glory in its train, and lifts him out of death” (“Voice to the Faithful” —Pauline Epistles— Romans); and much more that follows.
Now, is this being “constituted righteous” according to Romans 5, or the righteousness of God in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5? So again, in Ephesians. “Justification of life—the power of righteousness actually known in the vessel on earth.” “But where the living power of him who subsists in divine righteousness comes in, the natural man must wholly retire.” “Righteousness as in power and place in God to sustain us in light and glory where he is.” “Thus we see our side of the new man as a throne of grace, and God’s side the fountain of life and righteousness”; so “we rise higher and higher in the power of God’s righteousness.” “The whole energy of hidden life in God is now acting in the power of righteousness in glory.” I might add much more; but this is enough to shew that divine righteousness for this system is Christ in us, bringing glory in its train; we go up to Him, being dead to nature and to all here, but to find the “power “of righteousness in glory. Hence, in the tract, “All Things are Ours,” we read, “And finally as the full result of salvation, made the righteousness of God in Christ.”
This is a result obtained by dying to nature, an experimental condition. In the passage, it is Christ made sin which is the ground of it; in this system, it is our having died to nature, and so having actual righteousness (in express contrast with justification by faith) according to the power of righteousness in glory. And what is the effect? The simple sovereign grace which took us when dead in sins, and set us in heavenly places in Christ, is practically lost, and those under the influence of the system filled with what they call Christ in them—but really as is ever the case, with themselves—and Christ in Himself is practically lost to them. It is, we are told, “escaped from the scene below, to look around in that effulgent light with not a mist of earth to intervene.” We are to suppose this is the experience of the writer. Nor have I found one who came under the system who was not occupied with himself. But John, in writing of fathers in Christ, has nothing to say of them but “They have known him that is from the beginning.”
I have only Laodicea to speak of, a solemn subject, which in itself would require more time and development than I can give to it here. I can only speak of it in connection with our present subject. And my remarks may be very short, as what is said is merely the fruit of human imagination, the gold something extra-extraordinary, this divine righteousness in power in us, as breathed into us in John 20, not union, but more: we receive the positive power of divine righteousness, “not a mist,” having left the earthly scenes and nature in a life out of death, identified with the new Man (Christ) in God. Now, reveries of interpretation I should leave where they were; but this is connected with the whole system. Laodicea, I doubt not, is the state to which the professing church is come (outside the gross evils of Thyatira, which also goes down to the end, and is the ecclesiastical form of Christendom into which Puseyism seeks to bring us back), which Christ will finally spue out of His mouth. Still, some who have ears to hear may remain in it, and Christ never deserts His own. And He is there to knock and arouse, not owning the state of things, as in Jerusalem of old, but still dealing with souls in it, and pressing on them the having the divine reality of Christianity—the fine gold of divine righteousness, the white raiment with which all true saints are clothed, and spiritual discernment to know divinely the truth. Nor is supping with Christ, blessed as all such associations are, anything extraordinary. Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. But this is no special privilege; and reigning with Him, as it is the privilege of all that suffer with Him, is really the lower part of the glory, and what belongs to the government of God; not intimacy of communion, but publicity of glory, what is manifested on earth; as in the transfiguration, not inside the cloud, but manifested to men on earth.
It is Colossians, which never sets us in heavenly places, but makes us appear when Christ appears. We have only to read Revelation 19 to get both these things. Wonderful it is that poor creatures such as we are should have such a place. Still, it is the governmental glory, not the Father’s house, not “to be ever with the Lord.” Though with many it is a mere volatile imagination which runs after these things, I have no doubt that there is in many the true desire to live in fuller communion in that which is above, as new creatures, as dead and risen with Christ. God forbid that I should quench this: I believe it to be very much needed; I crave it from the Lord for myself; I would not damp such a desire. All I desire is that it be not mixed up with false doctrines and idle self-winged imaginations.
What some have found is merely the liberty which belongs to every Christian. I speak of a system which I believe to be unscriptural. For my own part, I do not doubt of the true desire of him who is looked up to by many as its author for more living association with Christ in glory. There is a want of patient weighing of Scripture statements, and I dare say, as is usual, disciples have gone beyond their master. Still the unscriptural system is there.
I add a few words, that my opposition to what I consider error may not be mistaken for opposition to the blessed truth that error clouds. I hold the cross to be the end of man’s moral history— “now is the judgment of this world” —now “they have both seen and hated both me and my Father”; and that we are livingly associated with a glorified Christ through the Holy Ghost, and that by His power we enter into the enjoyment of that we are called to. Our conversation is in heaven. Not only that we are forgiven and justified as regards our human responsibility in connection with the first Adam, but introduced in spirit into all that Christ is entered into, and are associated with His place as Man and Son, as we were with Adam’s. It is the difference of what Scripture calls the perfect (full-grown) Christian. It is because I more and more believe, and I hope more and more realise, this blessed place, that I would clear it of the errors with which imagination and man’s mind have surrounded it. I would more than ever earnestly press our place being Christ’s place. Only that Scripture carefully guards the individual glory of His Person. Still, He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause He is not ashamed to call us brethren.
I am the rather disposed to make this plain, because it has been sought to identify me with this system. I have received this day a tract entitled, in large letters, “There must be Death upon Nature.” I must beg leave to decline any responsibility for tracts not put out by myself. I am told this is mine. But in running over this leaflet I see nothing but what is right; the word ‘nature’ is used, and there are some incorrect things not very important. What I think of dying to nature will be found in the foregoing pages, written when I had not seen the leaflet I now refer to. Of course we have to have done with our present state of human nature, and, in the measure in which it has lost its power over us as connecting us with all around, we shall be able to act for God in the world, always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus. But we are purposely left in it here, having to take up our cross and follow Him. I have no doubt that nothing that is of nature in thought can do God’s work here, or enter into His presence above. Our bodies are to be “a living sacrifice.” But this is not what they mean by nature, nor the effect of being dead to it. Nature on the leaflet attributed to me is being dead to everything which would hinder our following Christ—hinder His being all. If people are settled in peace, this cannot be too strongly pressed; for, even if men have wives, they must be as those who have none. I am more than ever anxious to press Christ being everything, and ourselves dead to everything that would dim our seeing the heavenly glory. But because I would press this, I would clear that doctrine from what would falsify and cloud it.