Generally speaking Romans gives us entirely the responsibility of man: we get there no counsels of God before the world began. God did not begin with bringing out His counsels; He created the first man in responsibility, and He went on with that until the cross. Then we have the supplementary testimony of Stephen rejected, and then, the foundation having been laid in righteousness, the counsels of God that were before the world was came out. It is quite a distinct thing, these counsels of God and what He gives, from our responsibility: the history of the first man is the history of our responsibility as such. There is no reason why I should have the same glory as the Son of God; this has nothing to do with my responsibility. We get both through the cross— our responsibility met, and the foundation for the counsels of God laid (2 Tim. 1:95 Titus 1:2). A man’s debts may be all paid, and yet he may have nothing. This is not the way in which God has dealt with us; our debts are paid, and God gives us “to be conformed to the image of his Son “too.
“The scripture of the prophets,” in Romans 16:26, does not mean the Old Testament prophetic scriptures, but those of the New Testament. In Colossians we get the two parts of Paul’s service: he was the minister of the gospel to every creature, and also the minister of the church, to fulfil or complete the word of God; that is, the whole truth could come out then. When we speak of the mystery, it is not merely that individuals are predestinated to be saved. You always find that we are predestinated to something, “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son,” to be “holy and without blame before him in love.”
In Ephesians Jews and Gentiles are looked at as one, the middle wall of partition having been broken down. In Colossians Paul preaches entirely to the Gentiles. That side of the “mystery “is not our place with Christ, but Christ being in us. In Colossians there is a hope laid up for us in heaven.
The cross met our responsibility; there the first man, whether Gentile or Jew, came to the last pitch of wickedness. This closed all the history of responsibility. Now, when my mind is open through grace to look at my responsibility, it is not a question whether I can stand in the day of judgment; the gospel starts with the declaration that I am lost. I have lots of debts, and not a penny to pay: it is all over with me on that ground; but Christ “came to seek and to save that which was lost.” “Lost” was never said till man had rejected Christ, though it was true before. When the glorified Christ was preached by the apostles, the history of responsibility was closed. In that work on the cross Christ met our responsibility, and laid the foundation for all the counsels of God. This is summed up in Acts 7. “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” They had broken the law, killed the prophets, crucified Christ, and resisted the Holy Ghost. The Lord said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Then came the testimony of a glorified Christ; it was rejected, and that closed altogether—not responsibility, but the history of it. Then in the cross Christ has perfectly glorified God Himself in the place of sin, where He was “made sin.” He goes into God’s glory, which was the foundation for the counsels of God. Then the whole mystery of the church could come out.
The Epistle to the Romans never takes man out of the earth; you do not get him risen with Christ. In Romans here am I, a man walking in this world, justified, and having the life of Christ.
In Ephesians we are actually sitting in heavenly places. You do not get man’s responsibility at all there, because he is “created in Christ Jesus.” The way in which he is looked at is, not as alive in sins, but as dead in them. In Romans man is alive in sins. First the sins are dealt on, then the evil nature, when death comes in, and the believer is to reckon himself dead. In Ephesians man is dead towards God (alive enough in sins surely), and he is a new creation altogether: God does not want to justify what He has created. The same power that set Christ at God’s right hand took us up, and set us in Him. In Romans we see a man in Christ down here in this world. In Colossians he is risen. When I come to Ephesians, I have done with all that question of responsibility: man is looked at as dead in his sins, and he is “created in Christ Jesus.” Therefore the exhortations differ. In Romans we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices; in Ephesians we come out from God, and shew Christ’s life in this world. In Colossians you do not get a word about the Holy Ghost (except that the apostle speak of their “love in the Spirit”), but you get life. In Ephesians we have the power of the Holy Ghost, and the contrast of our place now with what we were, the thorough contrast of the old condition and the new.
In Philippians we get experimental life down here, but no doctrine: the latter is not in that category of epistles. It shews the practical power of the Christian; no sin or flesh is spoken of.
In Colossians we are risen with Christ. It is very precious to get the different parts—to know that I am alive. Christ is my life, and I have the Holy Ghost too, so there is power. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Those who believe are alive, but alive with the power of the Holy Ghost. “God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” The old man is a condemned thing; where it was condemned, it died—not that Christ had it, but He was “made sin “for us, and I am to reckon myself dead.
Romans does not go beyond our responsibility, and it does not bring in the counsels of God, except in the one sentence, “For whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (chap. 8:29); and this is a link with the other epistles.
There is an analogy between Ephesians and Colossians. In Ephesians we read, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”; and in Colossians, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” My mind is alive in Christ. “The truth as it is in Jesus” is the having put off the old man, and having put on the new. In Colossians it is not an abstract idea as in Ephesians, but a matter of fact. Ephesians 4:22 is past, and verse 24 also; verse 23 is the present tense. There are two senses in which we use the word ‘new’ in English: we speak of a ‘new fashion,’ and of a ‘new coat.’ “Renewed in knowledge” in Colossians 3:10 is a perfectly new thing, like a new fashion: “renewed in the spirit of your mind,” in Ephesians 4:23, is like a new coat, constantly renewed by the grace and Spirit of God.
Men are judged according to their works: in the beginning of Romans that is fully gone through: in the second part of Romans he takes up the nature; therefore I am to reckon myself dead. We all know, if we know anything, the difference between past sins (or present) and the evil nature, the fruit and the tree. If it is asked, Is a man condemned for both? I should say that he is “lost” rather than condemned for one. You never get forgiveness of a nature; but where it was condemned, it died: so condemnation is past, and the flesh is gone under it for faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” There I get another point— the object. “I through the law am dead to the law”: if only the law, it would be condemnation as well as death, but “I am crucified with Christ.” Life in us must have an object. The life of Christ in me looks out at Christ for me.
You see three steps: the truth in Colossians 3, “Ye are dead”; next I get faith taking it up in Romans, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin”: then, when I come to 2 Corinthians 4, we have carrying it out in practice, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” Realising you may take as owning the truth in your own soul, or you may take it as carrying it out in practice. I have been crucified with Christ, but I have to bear “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” It is a great thing to say honestly that we are dead: a dead man cares for nothing. I must begin by faith that I am dead. “Ye are dead,” “Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth,” Col. 3:5. It is never said in scripture that we have to die to sin. “Mortify, therefore”—there is power. Suppose that I hold my flesh always as dead, just as if hanging on the cross, then God comes and puts it to the test: “We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.” The Lord put Paul through these circumstances, delivered him to death.
Paul, in Ephesians, does not own any apostles except through the power of the Holy Ghost come down. He did not know Christ in connection with this world or the Jews; he started from glory. Peter was the first person that ever confessed Jesus to be the Son of God, but he never preached Him as Son of God: Paul at once preached Him as Son of God. Ephesians 3 speaks of his ministration of the mystery: chapter 1 speaks of God’s counsels.
In Romans we get the two parts of our liberty. When I know my sins are all forgiven, then comes the question of being free from the law of sin and death.
I do not believe you ever get out of Romans 7 till you get into it; Perfectionists say you can jump over it. The fact is, you cannot get into justification till you find there is no hope for you. There is no forgiveness for an evil nature: God condemned “sin in the flesh” on the cross. If I have got to the real conviction that “in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing”—just as a man in my house may be a rogue, and perhaps I do not distrust him, but once I know he is a thorough rogue, I lock everything up; so once I have got to know what my flesh is, the trusting it is over: I may be careless, but I am not under the power of it.
Conformity to Christ, as down here, is a simple and absolute impossibility, for He had no sin; and conformity to Christ is always conformity to Christ in glory. There is no conformity to Christ at all for the Christian except in glory: he is called on to walk like Him. The only Christ a Christian is called on to be conformed to is Christ in glory. It sounds very nice to speak of conformity to Christ as He was, but it is frightful in many cases the way the standard is lowered by taking this up.