Occasional Reflections On The Scriptures.

John V.

Verse 14: “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”— Words applicable to a sinner recently brought to peace; or to the case of a restored believer. How profitable to review the causes that may have led to coldness, or deadness, or open evil, and to watch against the beginnings of sin in time to come. To this end we may often reflect upon what it is to be made whole? How much of untold blessing is contained under these terms? How we have been made whole? What richness of grace and wisdom has been expended on our salvation? To what end we have been made whole, even that we may yield ourselves up a sacrifice of willing and happy service unto Him. These words of Jesus, heard through circumcised ears, and entering into a circumcised heart, how full they are of direction to the happy child!

Verse 17: “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”—The charge against Jesus was that He had violated the Sabbath-rest both by performing the miracle and also by what He had told the man to do. Now the answer, or defence, which our Lord offers for His conduct, requires especial notice, because it is the foundation of all the discourse which follows.

When God created the world and formed man upon it, He rested on the seventh day from all His works: He rested and was refreshed, because He could look upon them all, and pronounce them all very good. But as soon as sin entered into the earth, the rest of God was broken; and ever since that time, by His providence and grace, He has been counter-working the design of Satan in the introduction of sin. The Sabbath of God will not be until the restitution of all things, when He shall once again be able to rejoice in the works of His hands. Now the Son, with the Father (as He was associated in creation), so has He been associated in all acts of providence and grace; and His reply to the charge of His accusers is that of a Divine person working with the Father in order to the ultimate reduction of the earth to a state of peace and righteousness. “My Sabbath is not yet come. The Sabbath of God has not yet been re-established, and therefore, in union with my Father, I have worked hitherto, and must continue to work, until all things be accomplished.”

Yerse 18: “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”—Truth not understood, nor received, will always tend to harden and exasperate the enmity of the natural heart. So it was in this case. The Jews understood so much of what Jesus said as to perceive that He claimed equality with God. In this their inference was correct. Had any mere creature used such language as that of Christ, it would have amounted to blasphemy, because a presumptuous arrogating the honour due only unto God. No created being could righteously urge the conduct of the Supreme God, in extenuation or apology for violating a divine law; else all rule of right for the creature might be superseded.

In verse 19, &c, our Lord goes on to illustrate His defence by the following considerations:—

(1) The inseparable union between the Father and Son is of such a character that the Son can do nothing separately from the Father. In this consists the very essence of His exalted dignity, that all He does is done in co-operation with the Father.

(2.) The power of the Son is equal to that of the Father; otherwise He would be unable to imitate exactly, and without failure, all that He sees the Father do. The Father has only to exemplify, and thereby approve of certain works, and the Son (even in union with our nature) does the same.

Verse 21, &c.—Our Lord next instances some of the acts common to Himself with the Father.

(1.) Raising and quickening the dead (according to His own will).

(2.) Judging every one of the human family. “What immensity of knowledge, what divine qualifications does this require. Omniscience, omnipresence, immensity, wisdom, holiness, justice, faithfulness—all these attributes must meet and manifest themselves in the Judge of the quick and dead.

In verse 23 our Lord gives one important reason for all judgment having been committed into His hands. I have been particularly asking of God that the power of this reason might be realized fully in my own soul.

1. What is it to honour the Son?

2. How does it appear that the refusal to honour the Son implies the dishonouring of the Father?

(a.) In order to apprehend aright what it is to honour the Son, we must consider what honour is due to Him. The same respect which we may shew to a magistrate would be dishonour, if shewn towards our sovereign; and therefore the honour sufficient for a fellow-creature, or even for an angel, would be insufficient for a being so exalted as the Lord of glory.

We are to honour the Son, by esteeming Him to be all that the Father hath revealed Him to be. He is set forth as the object of the adoration of angels, therefore we are to honour Him by worship, fear, love, service, &c. In fine,

(1.) By esteeming Him above every other object.

(2.) By yielding Him the homage of our supreme affection.

(3.) By dealing with Him as with that Being who made and preserves us; who knoweth every thought and feeling of our hearts; who became our surety and sacrifice, and before whom we shall one day be fully manifested. He is to be honoured equally with the Father, as possessed of the same divine perfections, and as sustaining towards us the same characters of Creator, Preserver, and Judge. O, my soul, what a depth of mystery is here. Let me adore in unquestioning submission that into w7hich my finite powers cannot penetrate.

Do I so prefer Christ before all, that the habitual frame of my heart is a readiness to yield up friends, wife, children, life itself, that I may see and enjoy Him more fully than I do, amidst the darkness of my present state?

2. By not honouring the Son, how does it appear that we dishonour the Father? Because

(a.) We slight His wisdom. He esteems Christ’s above all, and we esteem something else more than Christ.

(5.) We slight His authority. He commands all to honour and submit to Christ. By not doing so we are rebels against the Supreme Lawgiver.

(c.) We slight His bounty. The great gift of His love we have not gratefully received, and therefore the grace of God is dishonoured. We trample on love as well as power.

Romans 8:17-23.

Verse 17: “And if children; then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together,” &c.—Having in the previous verses set forth the high privilege which belongs to every believer—even that of being a child of God—the apostle proceeds in this and the following verses to unfold the prospects to which this relationship warrants us to look forward. Throughout the Scriptures there are certain exceeding great and precious promises made unto Christ, and to all that are His seed; therefore, the fact of our being united with Christ, and in Him made the children of God, entitles us to expect our part in all the blessings promised by the Father to the Son. In Hebrews 1:3, it is declared that the Son has been appointed heir of all things, and into the self-same elevation His people are brought by faith, as it is said, he that overcometh shall inherit all things (Rev. 2). Our portion is therefore present rejection and future glory with Jesus our head. The Head passed through a state of humiliation, abasement, and sorrow, and then entered into His glory. So we, in like manner, are first to tread in the steps of the rejected sufferer, and then to participate in the triumph of the exalted King.

Verse 18: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”—The apostle is thus led to dwell a little upon the circumstantials of the promised glory, in order that our spirits may be sustained and refreshed by having the scene of our future blessedness definitely before us.

(1.) Had this declaration been made by one who had had little experience of what the sufferings of this present time are, it might have appeared the result of a very limited knowledge of the matter in hand; but, very few Christians ever drank so deeply of the cup of sorrow as did the man who came to this deliberate conclusion (see 1 Cor. 4., and 2 Cor. 4:11). He knew what present trial was; his whole apostolic history was a history of suffering; yet, in the faith of the coming glory, he considered all his present trials as nothing. In this particular I find myself sadly defective; and perhaps this is the case with most of us. Let us seek to imitate the faith of Paul. Let us aim after clearer, steadier, more adequate, and more influential apprehensions of the glory that is to be revealed in us (1 Cor. 2:9). As long as our expectations are according to the testimony of the word, they can never exceed the reality; and only a very large measure of the Spirit of Christ will produce in us anything approaching to an adequate perception of what lies before us in the bright vision of futurity.

Verse 19: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” Let us enquire

(1.) What is meant by the revelation of the sons of God?

(2.) What by the earnest expectation of the creation waiting for it?

With regard to the first of these points, John 3:&c, connected with Col. 3:1, 2, 3, and the immediate context of the verse itself, plainly refer us to the period of the revelation of Christ in glory as the period of our manifestation, and consequently as the period to which the creation is here represented as looking forward with earnest expectation.

(2.) By the creature, or creation, in this verse, we are evidently to understand the animate and inanimate creation—all that which, in consequence of the sin of Adam, fell into a condition of vanity and suffering. It does not imply that there is any knowledge of the approaching deliverance in the creatures that suffer, but is a strongly figurative expression suitable to the nature of the subject, and in accordance with the language of ancient prophecy—implying that the very irrational animals feel the consequences of that bondage to which they have been subjected; and did they know of the results that shall take place consequent upon the church being glorified, would be looking out for that event.

In order to understand this, it is needful to recall the facts connected with the history of the fall. All things were made very good; but as soon as sin entered into our world, misery and death followed close upon it. Not man only inherited the consequences of his departure from God, but the earth itself was cursed, because of man’s sin. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea—all came into a condition of bondage because of man. Fear and enmity, suffering and death came upon the tribes of animated being. They have continued in this state ever since, but they are destined to a happy deliverance at the revelation of the sons of God.

Verses 20, 21: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”— Creation was subjected to vanity not willingly, &c.— that is, every creature is naturally the unwilling slave of corruption. In every creature, and in man as a creature, there is a restless dissatisfaction with present things, because of the first man who subjected it, or rather, because of the Lord’s doing so in consequence of the first Adam’s sin; but when Jehovah did subject man to death, and the creatures to suffering, and the earth to the curse, it was in hope of a time when the seed of the woman should restore all things. This passage, then, looks back to Paradise lost, and onward to Paradise restored. This is one chief theme of that sure word of prophecy whereunto we do well that we take heed (Acts 3 ad fin.; Psalm 8; Isaiah 11).

When the children of God are brought into their glory, the creation, animate and inanimate, shall have its suited glory also. The Lord shall rejoice in His works, and the period will at length arrive at which the Lord shall once more look upon all that He hath made, and pronounce them to be very good.

Verse 22: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”— The misery and anguish which these words express just suit the state of our world ever since the fall. How multiplied, how diversified, how all-pervading are the sources of human wretchedness! Nor (v. 23) are the saints themselves, in their present state, free from that which is the inheritance of every descendant of Adam. We, too, are subject to pain of body—to depression of spirits—to the misery of departing from our God. It is well to have it a settled thing that there is no complete deliverance to be expected but by our receiving the adoption, viz., the redemption of our body. How the thought that we shall then be eternally free from sin, as well as from suffering, should endear to us that brightest of all prospects. Our full salvation is not yet a matter of experience, but only of hope. Let us, then, earnestly look forward to the brightest and the surest of all prospects. Let no cessation of sorrow, nor weight of trial, nor urgency of occupation keep us from uniting our longing desires with the groanings of the enslaved creation; and let the burden of our cry be, Come, Lord Jesus! come quickly.

Philippians 1.

Verses 12-19: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the. brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”—In speaking of the previous verses of this chapter, I remarked that the character of the epistle was that of a holy, godly cheerfulness. The Apostle throughout looks at the bright side of everything, and the contrast was noticed between the language of Solomon in the Ecclesiastes and this of Paul in the Philippians. Solomon’s experience of every thing the world can give is that it is vanity; but Paul in prison, destitute, deprived of that liberty which is naturally so sweet to everyone, is yet full of joy, because he writes as one whose connection with the first Adam was snapt asunder.

In exact correspondency with the character of the whole epistle is Paul’s view of his sufferings as given in this 12th verse, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” He had been preaching the Gospel, and many had been converted to Christ; but in the midst of this success, he is hindered and put into prison. Now looking at this naturally, we should say, what a pity, surely this is a great hindrance and much to be lamented! and there appears much reason for saying this; but Paul says of his sufferings, (for no doubt sufferings are implied though not mentioned) “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” This one instance in Paul’s experience is only a specimen of God’s dealings with all His children. Our tendency is ever to look at the trials, condition, and circumstances of ourselves and others, and at everything in the light of sense, and not by faith upon God’s Word; and there is not a day in which we are not engaged in this struggle of endeavouring to look at these things in the light of faith. In looking at things naturally our spirits are cast down; and it is only by looking at them by faith we can be supported. If any of you have laid aside the Word for some time, you find yourselves looking at things just as unconverted people do; from the habit of using different language, you may not talk about them just as they do, but your thoughts will be much the same as theirs. Sometimes one thing, then another, then a third thing comes, and our feeling naturally is, we shall be overcome, we cannot bear it; but the way in which Scripture helps us is by showing us how God, in the general, over-rules everything, and also how He works in particular cases; but one requires much more faith than the other. We want to know how in spiritual instances “all things work together for good,” &c.; and here we have one of these instances before us. We may ask how came Paul’s imprisonment to work out good; and in like manner we may ask how comes sickness, trial, weakness of body to work good; and if we can make out how one does this, we have to apply the principle to the others. Well then,

Verse 13 makes it out in the case of St. Paul, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” True it is that if he had not been imprisoned, many would, perhaps, have been converted; but his imprisonment caused an inquiry why he was there, and into the doctrine which he had preached. This inquiry stirred up the stagnancy of the heathen mind to look into the matter; just as it is now, if any man suffer imprisonment, for the spreading of any principle, it excites inquiry: so here as the Gospel is the power of God to salvation, the more people are stirred up to inquire about it the better, for God, in His wonder-working grace, often turns men hereby to the acknowledgment of the truth; and in this case the inquiry had reached the royal palace, or Caesar’s court. Thus the first effect of Paul’s imprisonment was, that the truth was brought before many who otherwise would not have heard of it; and the second effect we have in

Verse 14: “Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” There were many true-hearted brethren who loved to preach the word, but they were not so full of faith as Paul was; and the effect of Paul’s sufferings for Christ was not to stagger them, but seeing how Paul was sustained, they might well say, “we need not be so much afraid of suffering for Christ’s sake, for God will comfort us as He has Paul;” and so Paul’s experience of God’s help in the prison had the effect of leading the other brethren to speak the word without fear, regardless of the suffering it might bring upon them. “Waxing confident by my bonds;” at first sight, the question arises, how could the bonds have this effect? but this is evidently a figure, meaning that Paul’s conduct under sufferings was fitted to teach them.

Verses 15, 16: “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.” We may perhaps have wondered, that at that early age, when persecution was sure to follow upon preaching Christ, that yet some would even preach Christ of envy and strife. It shows us that none can judge surely but God; for these men were doing a good, a most important, work in preaching Christ; it was not a false doctrine: in Galatians, Paul speaks with abhorrence of preaching a different gospel; but these must have preached the same Gospel as Paul did, and yet he says they did it of envy and strife, “of contention, and not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds.” What a Satanic motive! I know not in Scripture such another instance showing the excellence of the work and at the same time the abomination of the motive! proving to us that we can never judge of the real character of a work by its outward appearance.

Verses 17, 18: “But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the Gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” This testimony of Paul’s experience ought to correct our judgment of those who go forth to preach Christ; for if we knew they did it from false motives, yet if really they preached Christ, it is matter for rejoicing. It shows us, too, that God is not bound. There is such a thing as the vessel not being meet for the use that is made of it. In general, there is a connection between the effect the truth makes, and the channel through which that truth is communicated; just as water partakes of the character of the course through which it flows, so the word preached partakes of the character of him who preaches it. But God acts as a Sovereign in this, as well as in all His matters; and we may say, let Christ be preached, if even it be from malicious motives; if it were not for this passage, we might question if ever the preaching of the word from bad motives were to be rejoiced in.

Verse 19: “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” What is the meaning of salvation here? Because, as salvation is generally taken in its spiritual application, meaning deliverance from the power and condemnation of sin, a difficulty is thereby presented. But, in reply, it will be found that the word is not confined to this sense; for instance, in Acts 7:25 the same term is rendered “deliver;” again in Acts 27:34, it is rendered “health;” in other words, Paul advises the famished shipmen to take meat, because it would be for their safety, deliverance, or profit. Thus the word salvation is made applicable to temporal as well as spiritual deliverance; and here it may be rendered, “I know that this shall turn to my profit.” I prefer this term to deliverance, because this latter would give the appearance of Paul being only concerned about getting free from his imprisonment. But it might even have turned to his release from prison: how? God might have converted souls even through those who preached Christ of envy and strife, and they might have been added to those before converted in praying to God on his behalf; and thus Paul, in conscious dignity of fellowship with God, could say, “I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer” &c. “O Lord,” David says, “I pray Thee turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”