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CHAPTER - SLEEPY SAINTS What an anomaly! Drowsing on the verge of eternity! A Christian is one who, in contrast to the unregenerate, has been awakened from the sleep of death in trespasses and sins, made to realize the unspeakable awfulness of endless misery in hell and the ineffable joy of everlasting bliss in heaven, and thereby brought to recognize the seriousness and solemnity of life. A Christian is one who has been taught experientially the worthlessness of all mundane things and the preciousness of Divine things. He has turned his back on Vanity Fair and has started out on his journey to the Celestial City.
He has been quickened into newness of life and supplied with the most powerful incentives to press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Nevertheless, it is sadly possible for him to suffer a relapse, for his zeal to abate, his graces to languish, for him to leave his first love, and become weary of well-doing. Yea, unless he be very much on his guard, drowsiness will steal over him, and he will fall asleep. Corruptions still indwell in him, and sin has a stupefying effect. He is yet in this evil world, and it exerts an enervating influence. Satan seeks to devour him, and unless resisted steadfastly will hypnotize him. Thus, the menace of this spiritual “sleeping sickness” is very real.
Slumbering saints! What an incongruity! Taking their ease while threatened by danger. Lazing instead of fighting the good fight of faith. Trifling away opportunities to glorify their Saviour, instead of redeeming the time: rusting, instead of wearing Out in His service. We speak with wonderment and horror of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, but far more startling and reprehensible is a careless Christian who has departed from God, bewitched by a world which is doomed to eternal destruction. Such a travesty and tragedy is far from being exceptional. Both observation and the teaching of Scripture prove it to be a common occurrence. Such passages as the following make it only too evident that the people of God are thus overcome. “It is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” ( Romans 13:11). “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” ( 1 Corinthians 15:34). “Awake thou that sleepest” ( Ephesians 5:14).
Each of those clamant calls is made to the saints. So, too, is that exhortation addressed to them, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:5,6).
We do not propose to give an exposition of those verses, still less waste time on canvassing the conflicting theorizing of men thereon. Instead of indulging in useless speculations upon what has been termed the “prophetic” applications of that passage, we intend to dwell upon what is of far more practical importance and profit to the Christian’s walk.
First , let it be duly noted that this parable of the Virgins was delivered by Christ not to a promiscuous multitude, but to His own disciples: it was to them that He said, “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (verse 13). Therein He exhorted His followers to maintain an attitude of the utmost alertness and diligence, to be on their guard against a sudden surprisal, to see to it that they were in a constant state of readiness to welcome and entertain Him at His appearing.
In that thirteenth verse Christ clearly indicated the principal design of this parable, namely, to enforce the Christian duty of watchfulness, particularly against the tendency and danger of moral drowsiness and spiritual apathy in the performance of our duties.
Second , we would here earnestly warn the reader against placing any restrictions on the words of Holy Writ. In the light of the Analogy of Faith, that is the general tenor of Scripture, it is quite unwarrantable for us to limit the words “wherein the Son of man cometh” to His ultimate appearing at the end of this age or world. It is our duty to make use of the Concordance and carefully observe the different senses in which the “coming” of Christ is referred to in the Word, and distinguish between them. For example, the communications of grace to God’s people in the administration of His Word and ordinances is spoken of thus, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth” ( Psalm 72:6, and cf. Deuteronomy 32:2).
Again, there was a judicial coming of the Lord in the destruction of Jerusalem, when He made good the threat, “What shall the Lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others” ( Mark 12:9) —He came not literally in Person, but instrumentally by the Romans! Then there is also a “coming” of Christ to His people in the renewed manifestations of His love: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him” John 14:23).
Christ has come to His people vicariously: as He declared unto the apostles, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” ( John 14:18), where according to the preceding verses the principal reference is plainly to the public descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Again, Christ often visits His people in the chariot of His providence: sometimes favorably, at others adversely, as in “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick” ( Revelation 2:5, and cf. verse 16).
Again, He “comes” instrumentally by the ministry of the Gospel: “And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby, and came and preached peace to you which were afar off” ( Ephesians 2:16,17, and cf. Luke 10:16).
Again, He comes spiritually to those who yearn for and seek after fellowship with Him: “I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me” ( Revelation 3:20). Finally, He will come literally and visibly ( Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7). Thus it is a serious mistake to jumble together the communicative, judicial, manifestative, vicarious, providential, instrumental, and spiritual “comings” of Christ; as it also is to restrict to His second advent every verse where it speaks of His “coming” or appearing.
In like manner, it is equally wrong for us to limit our Lord’s “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” to a “looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Most of the other seven things mentioned above are not to be excluded therefrom. We are to be on the qui vive (or alert) for His approaches to us in the means of grace, attentive to His appearings before us in providence, recognize Him in the ministry of the Gospel, and expectantly wait His visits of intimate fellowship. The Christian’s continuance in this world is the period of both his “watching” and his “waiting” for removal therefrom; and since he knows not whether that will be by death or by his being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, he is to be prepared for either event—if he be so for the former, he will be for the latter. This call for him to “watch” signifies that he is to “keep his heart with all diligence” ( Proverbs 4:23), “Keep himself from idols” ( 1 John 5:2 1), “Keep himself in the love of God” (Jude 21). It bids us “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation, knowing that [though] the spirit be willing, the flesh is weak” ( Matthew 26:41).
In a word, that exhortation requires us to attend to the interests of our souls with unremitting diligence and circumspection. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the Bridegroom” ( Matthew 25:1).
This is not said to be a similitude of the attitude of “the Bride” toward her Bridegroom, for the scope of it is wider, taking in the whole sphere of Christian profession. Hence in what follows the “Virgins” are divided into two groups—the regenerate and the unregenerate. Thus it would have been inaccurate to designate the whole of them “the Bride”! It is therefore a discriminating parable, like that of the wheat and tares, and that of the good and bad fish in Matthew 13. If it be asked, Why should Christ address such a parable unto the apostles, the answer is, Because there was a Judas among them! It is outside our present scope to consider the “foolish” virgins: suffice it to say that externally they differed not from the “wise” ones. They represent not the irreligious and immoral, but unsaved church members, those who have “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the [not “their”!] Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” ( 2 Peter 2:20), but who have never experienced a miracle of grace in their hearts.
Though having lamps in their hands, they had no oil “in their vessels” (verses 3 and 4)—no grace in their souls! This calls for writer and reader to make honest and careful examination of themselves, to “give diligence to make his calling and election sure” ( 2 Peter 1:10). “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins.” Many and varied are the figures used to describe the disciples of Christ. They are spoken of as salt, as lights, as sheep, as living stones, as kings and priests.
When complete, and in its corporeal capacity, the Church is referred to as the Lamb’s “Wife,” but individually they are termed “the virgins, her companions” ( Psalm 45:14, and cf. Song of Solomon 8:13; Revelation 1:9) They are called “virgins” for the purity of their faith: for none—no matter how pleasing is his personality or irreproachable his outward conduct—who is fundamentally unsound is to be regarded as a Christian. Thus the apostle, when expostulating with a local church for giving a hearing to false teachers, told them, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have [ministerially] espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 11:2).
Again; they are called “virgins” for the purity of their worship. God is a jealous God and will not brook any rival, and therefore we find, all through Scripture, that idolatry is expressed as harlotry, hence the vile and corrupt Papacy is designated “The mother of harlots” ( Revelation 17:5). Once more: they are called “virgins” for the purity of their walk, refusing friendship and fellowship with the adulterous world, cleaving to Christ “they are virgins: these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” ( Revelation 14:4).
The saints are expressly bidden to go forth to meet the Bridegroom. “Go forth, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals” ( Song of Solomon 3:11) —an exceedingly interesting and blessed verse which we must not dwell upon. It is the antitypical Solomon, the prince of peace, who is here in view. His “mother” is the natural Israel, from whom according to the flesh He sprang—a figure of the spiritual Israel, in whose hearts He is “formed” ( Galatians 4:19). The “day of his espousals” was when Israel entered into a solemn covenant with the Lord ( Jeremiah 2:2, and see Ex.. 24:3- 8, for the historical reference), adumbrating our marital union with Christ, when we “gave our own selves to Him” ( 2 Corinthians 8:5) and were “joined unto the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 6:17), crowning Him the King of our hearts and lives. Here the “daughters of Jerusalem”—the same as the “virgins”—are bidden to “behold” their majestic and glorious King: to attentively consider the excellency of His person, to be engaged with His perfections, to admire and adore the One who is “Altogether Lovely.” But in order thereto there must be active effort on their part. Not to the dilatory does Christ reveal Himself ( Song of Solomon 3:1). “Which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the Bridegroom.” The taking of their lamps signifies making an open profession of their faith.
They were not secret disciples, hiding their light under a bushel, but those who were unashamed to be known as the followers of Christ. Luke 12:35, serves to explain this force of the figure: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps [more literally] burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord.” Of His forerunner Christ said, “He was a burning and shining lamp” ( John 5:35). But other thoughts are suggested and things implied by these virgins taking their lamps. It tells us they availed themselves of suitable means, making provision against the darkness which they would encounter. The principal means for the Christian is the Word, which is “a lamp [same Greek word as in Luke 12:35, and John 5:35] that shineth in a dark place” ( 2 Peter 1:19). It also shows they had no intention of going to sleep, but purposed to remain vigilant; which renders more searching what follows. It also intimates they were sensible of the difficulty of their task. Only one who, after a full day’s work, has sat out the night by a sick bed knows how hard it is to keep alert throughout the long hours of darkness.
It needs to be clearly realized by the believer that the Word is supplied him not only as “bread” to feed upon, a “sword” for him to employ in repulsing the attacks of his enemies, but also as an illuminator: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet” ( <19B9105> Psalm 119:105), revealing those paths in which I must walk if I would meet with the eternal Lover of my soul. “And went forth to meet the Bridegroom.” That must ever be our object in the use of means and attendance upon the administration of the Divine ordinances. That going forth to meet the Lord is to be understood as expressing both external and internal action. Externally, it signifies separation from the world, especially its pleasures, for Christ will not be met with while we waste our time engaging in them. “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers... come out from among them” ( 2 Corinthians 6:14-17) must be heeded if we would “meet the Bridegroom.” More particularly, their going forth denoted a turning of their backs upon the apostate ecclesiastical system: Christ had informed His disciples that he had abandoned a Judaism which had rejected Him ( Matthew 23:37,38), so if they would meet with Him, they too must “go forth unto Him outside the camp” ( Hebrews 13:15). The same is true now.
If the Christian would meet with and have blessed fellowship with Christ, he must not only walk in separation from all intimacy with the profane world, but turn his back on every section of the religious world which gives not Christ the pre-eminence. That calls for the denying of self and “bearing His reproach.” Our readiness so to do will depend upon how highly we esteem Him. Internally, it signified the activity of their affections. It imports their delight in Him, that He was the Object of their desires and expectations. It connotes the exercise of their graces upon Christ, an outgoing of the whole soul after Him; such a going out after Him as David had: “One thing [supremely] have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord [the place of communion] all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” ( Psalm 27:4).
There can be no soul-satisfying beholding of His excellency unless there be deep longing for and earnest seeking after Him, which is what is purported by the “went forth to meet the Bridegroom!” “Went forth to meet the Bridegroom” denotes a craving for fellowship with and a definite seeking after Him, and where they be absent it is vain to think we are among those who “love His appearing.” Those words refer to the exercise of the believer’s graces, so that he can say “My soul followeth hard after Thee” ( Psalm 63:8). Of faith, acted upon its Object, viewing Him as His person and perfections are portrayed in the Word. Of hope, expecting to meet with Him, for Him to “manifest Himself unto us” ( John 14:21), as well as being for ever with Him. Of love, which desires its Beloved and cannot be content away from Him. It is for the affections to be set upon things above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, resulting in a stranger and pilgrim character on earth. It is a going out of self, absorbed with the One who loves us and gave Himself for us. Only so can He be experientially encountered, beheld with delight, fellowshipped.
That “went forth to meet the Bridegroom” is such a going forth of the affections and exercise of our graces upon Him as made Paul to say, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ: yea doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” ( Philippians 3:8,9). “While the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” ( Matthew 25:6).
How pathetic! How searching and solemn! The season of His tarrying was the time of their failing. They did not continue as they began. Their graces were not kept in healthy exercise. They ceased to attend unto the great business assigned them. They grew weary of well-doing. Instead of occupying our heads with the “prophetic” fulfillment of the verse, we need to bare our hearts and suffer them to be searched by it. Instead of saying, Those words now accurately describe the present condition of Christendom as a whole, we need to inquire how far they pertain to each of us individually. Far more to the point is it to ask myself, Am I a slumbering and sleeping Christian? Nor is that question to be answered hurriedly. If on the one hand I need to beware of thinking more highly of myself than I ought, or pretend all is well with me when such is not the case; on the other, God does not require me to act the part of a hypocrite, and in order to acquire a reputation for humility claim to be worse than I am. Peter was not uttering a presumptuous boast when he said unto Christ “Thou knowest that I love Thee.” But Judas was an impostor when he greeted Him with a kiss.
But before we can truthfully answer the question, Am I spiritually asleep? we must first ascertain what are the marks of one who is so. Let us then, in order to assist the honest inquirer, describe some of the characteristics of sleep. And since we arc not making any effort to impress the learned, we will be as simple as possible. The things which characterize the body when it is asleep will help us to determine when the soul is so. When the body is asleep it is in a state of inactivity, all its members being in repose. It is also a state of unconsciousness, when the normal exercises of the mind are suspended. It is therefore a state of insensibility to danger, of complete helplessness. Spiritual sleep is that condition wherein the faculties of the believer’s soul are inoperative and when his graces no longer perform their several offices. When the mind ceases to engage itself with Divine things, and the graces be not kept in healthy exercise, a state of slothfulness and inertia ensures. When the grand truths of Scripture regarding God and Christ, sin and grace, heaven and hell, exert not a lively and effectual influence upon us, we quickly become drowsy and neglectful.
A slumbering faith is an inactive one. It is not exercised upon its appointed Objects nor performing its assigned tasks. It is neither drawing upon that fullness of grace which is available in Christ for His people, nor is it acting on the precepts and promises of the Word. Though there still be a mental assent to the Truth, yet the heart is no longer suitably affected by that which concerns practical godliness. Where such be the case a Christian will be governed more by tradition, sentiment, and fancy, rather than by gratitude, the fear of the Lord, and care to please Him. So too when his hope becomes sluggish, he s6on lapses into a spiritual torpor. Hope is a desirous and earnest expectation of blessedness to come. It looks away from self and this present scene and is enthralled by “the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” As it eyes the goal and the prize, it is enabled to run with patience the race set before us. But when hope slumbers he becomes absorbed with the objects of time and sense, and allured and stupefied with present and perishing things. Likewise when love to God be not vigorous, there is no living to His glory; self-love and self-pity actuating us. When the love of Christ ceases to constrain us to self-denial and a following the example He has left us, the soul has gone to sleep.
Where those cardinal graces be not in healthy exercise, the Christian loses his relish for the means of grace, and if he attempts to use them it is but perfunctorily. The Bible is read more from habit or to satisfy conscience than with eager delight, and then no impression is left on the heart, nor is there any sweet meditation thereon afterwards. Prayer is performed mechanically, without any conscious approach unto God or communing with Him. So in attending public worship and the hearing of the Word: the duty is performed formally and without profit. When the body sleeps it neither eats nor drinks: so it is with the soul. Faith is the hand which receives, hope the saliva which aids digestion, love the masticator and assimilator of what is partaken. But when they cease to function the soul is starved, and it becomes weak and languid. The more undernourished be the body the less strength and ability has it for its tasks. In like manner, a neglected soul is unfit for holy duties, and the most sacred exercises become burdensome. Thus, when a saint finds his use of the means of grace wearisome and the discharge of spiritual privileges irksome, he may know that his soul is slumbering Godwards.
In the parable itself four causes of spiritual sleep are indicated. 1. Failure to remain watchful. In its wider sense “watching” signifies an earnest taking heed unto ourselves and our ways, realizing how prone we are to “turn again to folly” ( Psalm 85:8). So long as the saint be left in this world, he is in constant danger of bringing reproach upon the holy Name he bears, and becoming a stumbling-block to his brethren. Watchfulness (the opposite of carelessness) is exercising a diligent concern and care for our souls, avoiding all occasions to sin, resisting temptation ( Matthew 26:41). It is to “stand fast in the faith, quit you like men” ( 1 Corinthians 16:13)—be regular in our duties. When we be lax in serving the Lord, in mortifying our lusts, and less fervent and frequent in prayer, then slumber has begun to steal over us. Ultimately, it respects “looking for that blessed hope,” which is a very different thing from awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy or the accomplishing of an item in God’s “dispensational program.” It is far more than expecting an important event, namely, the second advent of Christ Himself, and that implies delight in Him, yearning after Him, practical readiness for His appearing: Luke 12:35,36. 2. The Bridegroom’s delay resulted in lack of perseverance on their part.
Since we know not how soon or how long deferred will be our call to depart from this world, we need to be unremitting in duty, in a state of constant readiness. Not only a desirous expectation but a “patient waiting for Christ” ( 2 Thessalonians 3:5) is required of us. “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching... If he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. And this know, that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not have suffered his house to be broken through” ( Luke 12:37,38).
It was because Moses tarried so long in the mount that Israel grew weary of waiting and gave way to their lusts—a warning to us not to relax our vigilance. How long had the Old Testament saints to wait for His first advent! “Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth and hath long patience for it... be ye also patient: stablish your hearts” ( James 5:7,8), exercising faith and hope. See Luke 21:36. 3. Intimacy with graceless professors. The wise virgins failed because they were in too close contact and fellowship with the foolish ones. That is confirmed by the Divine warning “Be not deceived: evil companionships [the verbal form of that Greek word is rendered “communed with” in Acts 24:26] corrupt good manners,” which is immediately followed by “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” ( 1 Corinthians 15:33,34), showing us that intimacy with the Christless produces lethargy. “We are more susceptible of evil than good: we catch a disease from one another, but we do not get health from one another. The conversations of the wicked have more power to corrupt than the good to excite virtue. A man that would keep himself awake unto God, and mind the saving of his soul, must shake off evil company” (Manton).
See <19B9115> Psalm 119:115. It is not the openly profane, but the loose and careless professor who is the greatest menace to the Christian. Hence “having a form of godliness but denying [inaction] the power thereof, from such turn away” ( 2 Timothy 3:5). 4. Inattention to the initial danger: they “slumbered” (a lighter form) before they slept! How that shows the need for taking solemn and earnest heed to the beginnings of spiritual decline! If we yield to a spirit of languor we shall soon lapse into a sound sleep. One degree of slackness and carelessness leads to another: “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep” ( Proverbs 19:15), Once our zeal abates and our love cools, we become remiss and heedless. If we do not fight against a cold formality when engaged in sacred exercises, we shall ultimately cease them entirely. All backsliding begins in the heart! Sin stupefies before it hardens. If we cease to heed the gentle strivings of the Spirit, conscience will become calloused. “David, when he fell into adultery and blood, he was like one in a swoon... We have need to stand always upon our watch. Great mischiefs would not ensue if we took notice of the beginnings of those distempers which afterwards settle upon us” (Manton).
Other causes of spiritual sleepiness which are not directly indicated in this parable are specified in or may be deduced from other passages. For example: “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; quicken Thou me in Thy way” ( <19B937> Psalm 119:37).
The apposition of those two petitions clearly connotes that an undue occupation with worldly things has a deadening effect upon the heart.
Nothing has a more enervating influence on the affections of a believer than for him to allow himself an inordinate liberty in carnal vanities. Again, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life; and so that day come upon you unawares... Watch ye therefore, and pray always” ( Luke 21:34,36).
Gluttony not only dulls the senses of the body but renders the mind sluggash too, and thereby the whole man is unfitted for the discharge of spiritual duties, which call for the engaging and putting forth of “all that is within us” ( <19A301> Psalm 103:1); equally so do carking ( burdened ) cares which engross the attention and stupefy the understanding and render the affections torpid. Yet more searching is it to observe that “be sober” precedes “be vigilant” in 1 Peter 5:8. Sobriety is freedom from excesses, particularly a sparing use made of the lawful comforts of this life.
The consequences of spiritual sloth are inevitable and obvious. Space allows us to do little more than name some of the chief ones. (1) Grace becomes inoperative. When faith be not exercised upon Christ, it nods and ceases to produce good works. When hope languishes and becomes inactive, the heart is no longer lifted above the things of time and sense by a desirous expectation of good things to come. Then love declines and is no longer engaged in pleasing and glorifying God. Zeal slumbers and instead of fervour there is heartless formality in the use of means and performance of duties. (2) We are deprived of spiritual discernment, and no longer able to experientially perceive the vanity of earthly things and value of heavenly, and the need of pressing forward unto them. (3) A drowsy inattention to God’s providences. Eyes closed in sleep take no notice of His dealings with us, weigh not the things which befall us. Mercies are received as a matter of course, and signs of God’s displeasure are disregarded ( Isaiah 42:25). (4) Unconcernedness in the commission of sin, so that we cease mortifying our lusts and resisting the Devil. Spiritual stupidity makes us insensible to our danger. It was while David was taking his ease that he yielded to the Devil ( 2 Samuel 11:1,2). (5) The Holy Spirit is grieved and His gracious operations are suspended and His comforts withheld. (6) So far from us overcoming the world, when our spiritual senses be dulled, we are absorbed with its attractions or weighted down by its cares. (7) We are robbed by our enemies ( Luke 12:39)—of God’s providential smile, of our peace and joy. (8) Fruitlessness: see Proverbs 24:30,31. (9) Carnal complacency: peace and joy being derived from pleasant circumstances and earthly possessions, rather than Christ and our heritage in Him. (10) Spiritual poverty: see Proverbs 24:33,34. (11) Indifference to the cause and interests of Christ: it was while men slept Satan sowed his tares, and abuses creep into the church. (12) A practical unpreparedness for Christ’s coming: Luke 21:36; Revelation 16:15.
Let us now point out some of the correctives. 1. Spiritual sleepiness is best prevented by our faith being engaged with the person and perfections of Christ; it is not monastic retirement, nor the relinquishment of our lawful connection with the world, but the fixing of our minds and affections upon the transcendent excellency of the Saviour, which will most effectually preserve us from being hypnotized by the baits of Satan. A believing and adoring view of Him who is “Fairer than the children of men” will dim the luster of the most attractive objects in this world. When the One who is “altogether lovely” is beheld by anointed eyes the flowery paths of this scene become a dreary wilderness, and the soul is quickened to press forward unto Him, until it sees the King in his beauty face to face. 2. Especially will a keeping fresh in our hearts the unspeakable sufferings of the Saviour draw us away from threatened rivals, and inspire grateful obedience to Him. “For the love of Christ [particularly His dying love] constraineth us” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14). 3. By praying daily for God to quicken and revive us. 4. By being doubly on our guard when things are going smoothly and easily. 5. By maintaining a lively expectation of Christ’s appearing ( Hebrews 9:28). 6. By attending to such exhortations as Hebrews 12:2,3, allowing no abatement of our vigor. 7. By putting on the whole armor of God ( Ephesians 6:13-18).
CHAPTER - THE CHRISTIAN’S ARMOUR Ephesians 6:10-18 In the passage which is to be before us the apostle gathers up the whole previous subject of the epistle into an urgent reminder of the solemn conditions under which the Christian’s life is lived. By a graphic figure he shows that the Christian’s life is lived on the battlefield, for we are not only pilgrims but soldiers; we are not only in a foreign country, but in the enemy’s land. Though the redemption which Christ has purchased for His people be free and full, yet, between the beginning of its application to us and the final consummation of it, there is a terrible and protracted conflict through which we have to pass. This is not merely a figure of speech, but a grim reality. Though salvation is free, yet it is not obtained without great effort. The fight to which God’s children are called in this life is one in which Christians themselves receive many sore wounds, and thousands of professors are slain. Now, as we shall see in the verses which follow, the apostle warns us that the conflict has to do with more than human foes; the enemies we have to meet are superhuman ones, and therefore in order to fight successfully against them we need supernatural strength.
We must remember that the Christian belongs to the spiritual realm as well as the natural, and so he has spiritual as well as natural foes; hence he needs spiritual strength as well as physical. Therefore the apostle begins here by saying, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (verse 10). The word “finally” denotes that the apostle had reached his closing exhortation, and the words “be strong” link up with what immediately precedes as well as with what now follows.
Some of you will remember that the whole of the fifth chapter and the opening verses of the sixth chapter are filled with exhortations, and in order for the Christian to obey them he needs to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” “Finally, my brethren [after all the Christian duties I have set before you in the previous verses], “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” The words “be strong” mean to muster strength for the conflict, and be strong “in the Lord” signifies that we must seek strength from the only source from which we can obtain it. Note carefully, it is not “be strong from the Lord,” nor is it “be strengthened by the Lord.” No, it is “be strong in the Lord.” Perhaps you will get the thought if I use this analogy: just as a thumb that is amputated is useless, and just as a branch cut off from the vine withers, so a Christian whose fellowship with the Lord has been broken is in a strengthless, fruitless, useless state. Thus, “be strong in the Lord” means, first of all, see to it that you maintain a live practical relationship to and remain in constant communion with the Lord. It is deeply important that we should, ere we proceed farther, grasp the exhortation found in verse 10; otherwise there will be no strength for the conflict. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” At first sight there seems to be a needless repetition there; but it is not so. A soldier not only needs strength of body; he also needs courage, and that is what is in view in verse 10—the last clause brings in the thought of boldness. “Be strong”: in faith, in hope, in wisdom, in patience, in fortitude, in every Christian grace. To be strong in grace is to be weak in sin. It is vitally essential to remember that we need to have our strength and courage renewed daily.
Be strong in the Lord: seek His strength at the beginning of each day. God does not impart strength to us wholesale: He will not give us strength on Monday morning to last through the week. No, there has to be the renewing of our strength and that strength has to be drawn from the Lord by the actings of faith, appropriating from His “fulness.” “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (verse 11).
Our first need is to stir up ourselves to resist temptation by a believing reliance upon God’s all-sufficient grace, that is obtaining from Him the strength which will enable us to go forth and fight against the foe. Our second greatest need is to be well armed for the conflict into which we must daily enter. This is the relation between verses 10 and 11: “Be strong in the Lord” and “Put on the whole armor of God”: first, stir up yourselves to resist temptation, seeking strength at the beginning of the day for the conflict; then see to it that you take unto yourselves, put on, the whole armor of God.
The Christian is engaged in a warfare. There is a fight before him, hence armor is urgently needed. It is impossible for us to stand against the wiles of the Devil unless we avail ourselves of the provision which God has made for enabling us to stand. Observe that it is called the “armor of God ”: just as the strength we need comes not from ourselves, but must be supplied by the Lord, so our means of defence lie not in our own powers and faculties, but only as they are quickened by God. It is called the “armor of God” because He both provides and bestows it, for we have none of our own; and yet, while this armor is of God’s providing and bestowing, we have to put it on! God does not fit it on us; He places it before us; and it is our responsibility, duty, task, to put on the whole armor of God.
Now it is very important that we should recognize that this term “armor” is a figurative one, a metaphor, and refers not to something which is material or carnal. It is a figurative expression denoting the Christian’s graces, and when we are told to “put on” the armor it simply means we are to call into exercise and action our graces. Those who wish to approve themselves of being in possession of grace must see to it that they have all the graces of a saint. “Put on the whole armor of God, that [in order that] ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” There is no standing against him if we are not armored. On the other hand, there is no failing and falling before him if our graces are healthy and active. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (verse. 12).
The opening “for” has the force of “because”: the apostle is advancing a reason, which virtually amounts to an argument, so as to enforce the exhortation just given. Because we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, not against puny human enemies no stronger than ourselves, but against the powers and rulers of the darkness of this world, the panoply of God is essential. That is brought in to emphasize the terribleness of the conflict before us. It is no imaginary one, and no ordinary foes we have to meet; but spiritual, superhuman, invisible ones.
Those enemies seek to destroy faith and produce doubt. They seek to destroy hope and produce despair. They seek to destroy humility and produce pride. They seek to destroy peace and produce bitterness and malice. They seek to prevent our enjoyment of heavenly things by getting us unduly occupied with earthly things. Their attack is not upon the body, but upon the soul. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (verse 13).
The opening “wherefore” means that, in view of the fact that we wrestle against these powerful, superhuman, invisible foes, who hate us with a deadly hatred and are seeking to destroy us, therefore appropriate and use the provision which God has made, so that we may stand and withstand.
The first clause of verse 13 explains the opening words of verse 11. Verse 11 says “put on,” make use of all proper weapons for repulsing the attacks, and verse 13 says “take unto you the whole armor of God”; we “put on” by taking it “unto us,” that is, by appropriation, by making it our own. “That ye may be able to withstand”: to withstand is the opposite of yielding, of being tripped up, thrown down, by the Devil’s temptations; it means that we stand our ground, resist the Devil. “That ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”: the “stand” is the opposite of a slothful sleep, or a cowardly flight.
I want you to notice that we are not told to advance. We are only ordered to “stand.” God has not called His people to an aggressive war upon Satan, to invade his territory, and seek to wrest from him what is his; He has told us to occupy the ground which He has allotted us. I want you to see what would have been implied had this verse said, “Take unto you the whole armor of God, and advance upon the devil, storm his strongholds, liberate his prisoners.” But not so; the Lord has given no charge or commission to the rank and file of His people to engage in what is now called “personal work,” “soul winning,” rescuing the perishing.” All such feverish activities of the flesh as we now behold in the religious world find no place in this Divine exhortation. This is the third time in these verses that the Spirit of God has repeated that word “stand”—not advance, not rush hither and thither, like a crazy person. “Stand therefore” is all God has told us to do in our conflict with the Devil. “Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.” Now that brings before us the first of the seven pieces of the Christian’s armor mentioned in this passage. First, let me warn you against the canalization of this word, thinking of something that is external, visible, or tangible. The figure of the “girdle” is taken from a well-known custom in oriental countries, where the people all wear long, flowing outer garments reaching to the feet, which would impede the actions when walking, working or fighting. The first thing a person does there when about to be active is to gird up around his waist that outer garment which tails to the ground. When the garment is not girded and hangs down, it indicates that the person is at rest. To “gird up” is therefore the opposite of sloth and ease. Be girdled about with a girdle of truth: I believe there is a double reference or meaning here in the word “truth.” But first of all I want to take up what it is that we need to “gird.”
The breastplate is for the heart, the helmet for the head; what, then, is the “girdle” for? In that form from which the figure is borrowed, the reference is to the waist or loins. But what does that metaphor denote? Plainly the center or mainspring of all our activities. And what is that? Obviously the mind is the mainspring of action: first the thought, and then the carrying out of it. 1 Peter 1:13, helps us here: “gird up the loins of your mind. ” “Let your loins be girt about with truth”: it is not so much our embracing the truth as the truth embracing us. Thus, the spiritual reference is to the holiness in and regulation of the thoughts of the mind. The mind “girded up” means a mind which is disciplined; the opposite of one where the thoughts are allowed to run loose and wild. Again, the “loins” are the place of strength, so is the mind. If we allow our thoughts and imaginations to run wild, we will have no communion with God, and no power against Satan. “Having your loins girt about with truth.” I think the word “truth” has reference, in the first place, to the Word of God: “Thy word is truth” ( John 17:17). That is what must regulate the mind, control the thoughts, subdue the imaginations: there must be a knowledge of, faith in, love for, subjection to, God’s Word. “Stand, therefore, having your loins [your mind] girt about with truth.” Now that suggests to us the characteristic quality of the adversary against whom we are called upon to arm. Satan is a liar, and we can only meet him with the Truth. Satan prevails over ignorance by means of guile or deceit; but he has no power over those whose minds are regulated by the Truth of God.
I think the word “truth” here has a second meaning. Take for example Psalm 51:6, God ‘‘desireth truth in the inward parts”: “truth’’ there signifies reality, sincerity. Truth is the opposite of hypocrisy, pretence, unreality. That is why the girdle of truth comes first, because it being lacking, everything else is vain and useless. The strength of every grace lies in the sincerity of it. In 1 Timothy 1:5, we read “faith unfeigned,” which means true, genuine, real faith; in contrast with a faith which is only theoretical, notional, lifeless, inoperative—a faith which utterly withers before the fires of testing.
The girdle of truth (corresponding to the military belt of the warrior) signifies, then, the mind being regulated by real sincerity; and this alone will protect us against Satan’s temptations unto slackness and guile and hypocrisy. Only as this is “put on” by us shall we be able to “stand against the wiles of the devil”: to “stand” is to “resist” that he does not throw us down.
The second part or piece of the Christian’s armor is mentioned in verse 14: “and having on the breastplate of righteousness.” First of all, notice the connecting “and,” which intimates that there is a very close relation between the mind being girded with truth and the heart protected with the breastplate of righteousness. All of these seven pieces of armor are not so connected, but the “and” here between the first two denotes that they are inseparably united. Now, obviously, the breastplate of righteousness is that protection which we need for the heart. This verse is closely parallel to Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thine heart with all diligence,” understanding by the “heart” the affections and conscience.
As there was a double reference in the word “truth,” first to the Word of God and second to the sincerity of spirit, so I believe there is a double reference here in the breastplate of righteousness.” I think it refers both to that righteousness which Christ wrought out for us and that righteousness which the Spirit works in us—both the righteousness which is imputed and the righteousness which is imparted—which is what we need if we are to withstand the attacks of Satan. We might compare 1 Thessalonians 5:8: “Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love.”
I have been quite impressed of late in noting how frequently that word “sober” occurs in the Epistles, either in its substantive or verbal form.
Soberness is that which should characterize and identify the people of God.
It is the opposite of that superficial flightiness which is one of the outstanding marks of worldlings today. It is the opposite of levity, and also of that feverish restlessness of the flesh by which so many are intoxicated religiously and every other way.
This second piece of armor, as I have said, is inseparably connected with the girdle of truth, for sincerity of mind and holiness of heart must go together. To put on the breastplate of righteousness means to maintain the power of holiness over our affections and conscience. A verse that helps us to understand this is Acts 24:16, “Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and men.”
There you have an illustration of a man taking unto himself, putting on, the “breastplate of righteousness.”
We pass on to the third piece of armor. “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (verse 15). This is perhaps the most difficult of the seven pieces of armor to understand and define; and yet, if we hold fast the first thought, that the Holy Spirit is using a figure of speech here, that the reference is to that which is internal rather than external, spiritual rather than material, and also that He is following a logical order, there should not be much difficulty in ascertaining what is meant by the sandals of peace. Just as the girdle of truth has to do with the mind, the breastplate of righteousness with the heart, so the shoes for the feet area figure of that which concerns the will. At first sight that may sound far-fetched, and yet if we will think for a moment it should be obvious that what the feet are to the body the will is to the soul. The feet carry the body from place to place, and the will is that which directs the activities of the soul; what the will decides, that is what we do.
Now the will is to be regulated by the peace of the Gospel. What is meant by that? This: in becoming reconciled to God and in having good will to our fellows the Gospel is the means or instrument that God uses. We are told in <19B003> Psalm 110:3, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power”: that means far more than that they shall be ready to hearken to and believe the glad tidings of the Gospel. There is brought over into the Gospel substantially everything which was contained in both the moral and ceremonial Law. The Gospel is not only a message of good news, but a Divine commandment and rule of conduct: “For the time is come that judgment must [not “shall”—now, not in the future] begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end of them be that obey not the gospel of God?” ( 1 Peter 4:17).
The Gospel requires us to deny ourselves, take up the cross daily, and follow Christ in the path of unreserved obedience to God. “Your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” signifies that you must with alacrity and readiness respond to God’s revealed will. The peace of “the gospel” comes from walking in subjection to its terms and by fulfilling the duties which it prescribes. Just so far as we are obedient to it we experimentally enjoy its peace. Thus, this third piece of armor is for fortifying the will against Satan’s temptations unto self-will and disobedience, and this by subjection to the Gospel. Just as the feet are the members which convey the body from place to place, so the will directs the soul; and just as the feet must be adequately shod if we are to walk properly and comfortably, so the will must be brought into subjection unto the revealed will of God if we are to enjoy His peace. Let there be that complete surrender daily, the dedicating of ourselves to God, and then we will be impervious unto Satan’s attacks and temptations to disobedience.
You will take notice when we come to the fourth piece of armor that the “and” is lacking. The first three were joined together, for that which is denoted by those figurative terms is inseparably linked together—the mind, the heart, the will: there you have the complete inner man. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (verse 16).
I think the words “above all” have a double force. First, literally, understanding them as a preposition of place, meaning over all, shielding as a canopy, protecting the mind, the heart and the will. There must be faith in exercise if those three parts of our inner being are to be guarded. Second, “above all” may be taken adverbially, signifying chiefly, pre-eminently, supremely. It is an essential thing that you should take the shield of faith, for Hebrews 11:6, tells us, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Yes, even if there were sincerity, love, and a pliable will, yet without faith we could not please Him. Therefore, “above all” take unto you the shield of faith.
Faith is all in all in resisting temptation. We must be fully persuaded of the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures if we are to be awed by their precepts and cheered by their encouragements; we will never heed properly the Divine warnings or consolations unless we have explicit confidence in their Divine authorship. The whole victory is here ascribed to faith “above all”; it is not by the breastplate, helmet or sword, but by the shield of faith that we are enabled to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. It seems to be a general principle in the Spirit’s arrangement of things in Scripture to put the most vital one in the center; we have seven pieces of armor, and the shield of faith is the fourth. So in Hebrews 6:4-6, we have five things mentioned, and in the middle is “made partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
Faith is the life of all the graces. If faith be not in exercise, love, hope, patience cannot be. Here we find faith intended for the defence of the whole man. The shield of the soldier is something he grips, and raises or lowers as it is needed. It is for the protection of his entire person. Now the figure which the Holy Spirit uses here in connection with Satan’s attacks is taken from one of the devices of the ancients in their warfare, namely the use of darts which had been dipped in tar and set on fire, in order to blind their foes: that is what lies behind the metaphor of “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked”; it has in view Satan’s efforts to prevent our looking upward! When these darts were in the air the soldiers had to bow their heads to avoid them, holding their shields above. And Satan is constantly. seeking to prevent our looking upward.
The attacks of the Devil are likened to “fiery darts,” first, because of the wrath with which he shoots them. There is intense hatred in Satan against the child of God. Again, the very essence of his temptations is to inflame the. passions and distress the conscience. He aims to kindle covetousness, to excite worldly ambition, to ignite our lusts. In James 3:6, we read, “the tongue is set on fire of hell”—that means the Devil’s “fiery darts” have affected it. Thirdly, his temptations are likened unto “fiery darts” because of the end to which they lead if not quenched; should Satan’s temptations be followed out to the end they would land us in the lake of fire. The figure of “darts” denotes that his temptations are swift, noiseless, dangerous.
Now taking the shield of faith means appropriating the Word and acting on it. The shield is to protect the whole person, wherever the attack be made, whether on spirit, or soul, or body; and there is that in the Word which is exactly suited unto each, but faith must lay hold of and employ it. Now in order to use the shield of faith effectually the Word of Christ needs to dwell in us “richly” ( Colossians 3:16). We must have right to hand a word which is pertinent for the particular temptation presented. For example, if tempted unto covetousness, we must use “Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth”; when solicited by evil companions, “If sinners entice thee, consent thou not”; if tempted to harshness, “Be kindly affectioned one to another.” It is because the details of Scripture have so little place in our meditations that Satan trips us so frequently.
Like most of the other terms used, “faith” here also has a double signification. The faith which is to be our “shield” is both an objective and a subjective one. It has reference, first, to the Word of God without, the authority of which is ever binding upon us. It points, secondly, to our confidence in that Word, the heart going out in trustful expectation to the Author of it, and counting upon its efficacy to repulse the Devil. “And take the helmet of salvation” (verse 17). This is the fifth piece of the Christian’s armor. First of all we may note the link between the fourth and fifth pieces as denoted by the word “and,” for this helps us to define what the “helmet of salvation” is; it is linked with faith! Hebrews 11:1, tells us, “faith is the substance of things hoped for,” and if we compare Thessalonians 5:8, we get a confirmation of that thought: “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet the hope of salvation.” Here in Thessalonians, then, we have “hope” directly connected with “the helmet.” Incidentally, this verse is one of many in the New Testament which puts salvation in the future rather than in the past! Hope always looks forward, having to do with things to come; as Romans 8:25, tells us, “If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Now faith and hope are inseparable: they are one in birth, and one in growth; and, we may add, one in decay. If faith languish, hope is listless.
By the helmet of salvation, then, I understand the heart’s expectation of the good things promised, a well-grounded assurance that God will make good to His people those things which His Word presents for future accomplishment. We might link up with this 1 John 3:3—scriptural hope purifies. It delivers from discontent and despair, it comforts the heart in the interval of waiting. Satan is unable to get a Christian to commit many of the grosser sins which are common in the world, so he attacks along other lines. Often he seeks to cast a cloud of gloom over the soul, or produce anxiety about the future. Despondency is one of his favorite weapons, for he knows well that “the joy of the Lord” is our strength” ( Nehemiah 8:10), hence his frequent efforts to dampen our spirits. To repulse these, we are to “take the helmet of salvation”: that is, we are to exercise hope—anticipate the blissful future, look forward unto the eternal rest awaiting us; look away from earth to heaven! “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (verse 17).
God has provided His people with an offensive weapon as well as defensive ones. At first sight that may seem to clash with what we said about Christians not being called upon to be aggressive against Satan, seeking to invade his territory and wrest it from him. But this verse does not clash to the slightest degree. 2 Corinthians 7:1, gives us the thought: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit”: that is the active, aggressive side of the Christian’s warfare. We are not only to resist our lusts but to subdue and overcome them.
It is significant to note how late the “sword of the Spirit” is mentioned in this list. Some have thought that it should have come first, but it is not mentioned until the sixth. Why? I believe there is a twofold reason. First, because all the other graces that have been mentioned are necessary to make a right use of the Word. If there is not a sincere mind and a holy heart we shall only handle the Word dishonestly. If there is not practical righteousness, then we shall only be handling the Word theoretically. If there is not faith and hope we shall only misuse it. All the Christian graces that are figuratively contemplated under the other pieces of armor must be in exercise before we can profitably handle the Word of God. Second, it teaches us that even when the Christian has attained unto the highest point possible in this life he still needs the Word. Even when he has upon him the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, his feet shod with the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace, and has taken unto himself the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, he still needs the Word!
The last piece of armor is given in verse 18: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” Prayer is that which alone gives us the necessary strength to use the other pieces of armor! After the Christian has taken unto himself those six pieces, before he is thoroughly furnished to go forth unto the battle and fitted for victory, he needs the help of his General.
For this, the apostle bids us pray “always” with all supplication in the Spirit. We are to fight upon our knees! Only prayer can keep alive the different spiritual graces which are figured by the various pieces of armor. “Praying always”: in every season—in times of joy as well as sorrow, in days of adversity as well as prosperity. Not only so, but “watching thereunto with all perseverance”: that is one of the essential elements in prevailing prayer—persistence. Watch yourself that you do not let up, become slack or discouraged. Keep on! The eighteenth verse is as though the apostle said, “Forget not to seek unto the God of this ‘armor’ and make humble supplication for His assistance; for only He who has given us these arms can enable us to make a successful use of them.” Some have called it the “all verse.” “Praying always with all prayer... with all perseverance, and supplication for all saints ”—think not only of yourself, but also of your fellow soldiers who are engaged in the same conflict!
CHAPTER - THE DOCTRINE OF MORTIFICATION 1. INTRODUCTION It is the studied judgment of this writer, and he is by no means alone therein, that doctrinal preaching is the most pressing need of the churches today. During the past fifty years a lot has been said about and much prayer has been made for a God-sent revival, but it is to be feared that that term is often used very loosely and unintelligently. Unless we are mistaken, if the question were put, A “revival” of what? a considerable variety of answers would be given. Personally, we would say a revival of old-fashioned piety, of practical godliness, of fuller conformity to the holy image of Christ. The “revival” we need is a deliverance from that spiritual apathy and laxity which now characterizes the average Christian, a return to self-denial and closer walking with God, a quickening of our graces, and the becoming more fruitful in the bringing forth of good works. Whether or not Scripture predicts such a revival we know not. Two things we are sure of:
First that whatever the future may hold for this world, God will maintain a testimony unto Himself ( <19E504> Psalm 145:4; Matthew 28:20) and preserve a godly seed on earth, until the end of human history ( Psalm 72:5; Isaiah 27:3; Matthew 16:18).
Second , that there must be a return to doctrinal preaching before there will be any improvement in practice.
Both the teaching of God’s Word and the testimony of ecclesiastical history testify clearly to the deep importance and great value of doctrinal instruction, and the lamentable consequences of a prolonged absence of the same. Doctrinal preaching is designed to enlighten the understanding, to instruct the mind, to inform the judgment. It is that which supplies motives to gratitude and furnishes incentives unto good works. There can be no soundness in the Faith if the fundamental articles of the Faith be not known and, in some measure at least, understood. Those fundamental articles are denominated “the first principles of the oracles of God” ( Hebrews 5:12) or basic truths of Scripture, and are absolutely necessary unto salvation.
The Divine inspiration and authority of the Holy Scriptures, the ever- blessed Trinity in unity ( John 17:3), the two natures united in the one person of the Lord Jesus Christ ( 1 John 2:22, and 4:3), His finished work and all-sufficient sacrifice ( Hebrews 5:14), the fall, resulting in our lost condition ( Luke 19:10), regeneration ( John 3:3), gratuitous justification ( Galatians 5:4)—these are some of the principal pillars which support the temple of Truth, and without which it cannot stand. Of old God complained, “My people are destroyed [cut off] for lack of knowledge” ( Hosea 4:6), and declared, “Therefore My people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst” ( Isaiah 5:13).
When He promised “I will give you pastors according to Mine heart,” He described the same as those “which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” ( Jeremiah 3:15), and that knowledge is communicated first and foremost by a setting forth of the glorious doctrines of Divine revelation. Doctrinal Christianity is both the ground and the motive of practical Christianity, for it is principle and not emotion or impulse which is the dynamic of the spiritual life. It is by the Truth that men are illuminated and directed: “O send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacles” ( Psalm 43:3).
We are saved by a knowledge of the Truth ( John 17:3; 1 Timothy 2:4), and by faith therein ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13). We are made free by the Truth ( John 8:32). We are sanctified by the Truth ( John 17:17).
Our growth in grace is determined by our growth in the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ ( 2 Peter 1:2 and 3:18). It is mercy and truth that preserve us ( Psalm 61:7 Proverbs 21:28)—”understanding shall keep thee” ( Proverbs 2:11).
Pertinently is the inquiry made, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” ( Psalm 11:3). The Hebrew word for “foundations” occurs only once more in the Old Testament, namely in Isaiah 19:10, where it is rendered “and they shall be broken in the purposes thereof.” As it is from our purposes that our plans and actions proceed, so it is from the “first principles” of the Word that its secondary truths are derived; and upon them both, precepts are based. “The principles of religion are the foundations on which the faith and hope of the righteous are built” (Matthew Henry).
While those foundations cannot be totally and finally removed, yet God may suffer them to be so relatively and temporarily. In such case the righteous should not give way to despair, but instead betake themselves unto prayer. “Some thing the righteous ones may do, and should do, when men are attempting to undermine and sap the foundation articles of religion: they should go to the throne of grace, to God in His holy temple, who knows what is doing, and plead with Him to put a stop to the designs and attempts of such subverters of foundations; and they should endeavour to build one another up on their most holy faith” (J. Gill).
During the past century there was an increasingly marked departure from doctrinal preaching. Creeds and confessions of faith were disparaged and regarded as obsolete. The study of theology was largely displaced by engaging the mind with science, psychology and sociology. The cry was raised, “Give us Christ, and not Christianity,” and many superficial minds concluded that such a demand was both a spiritual and a pertinent one. In reality it was an absurdity, an imaginary distinction without any vital difference. A scriptural concept of Christ in His theanthropic person, His mediatorial character, His official relations to God’s elect, His redemptive work for them, can be formed only as He is contemplated in His essential Godhead, His unique humanity, His covenant headship, and as the Prophet, Priest and King of His Church. Sufficient attention has not been given to that repeated expression “the doctrine of Christ” (2 John, 9), which comprehends the whole teaching of Scripture concerning His wondrous person and His so-great salvation. Nor has due weight been given to those words “the mystery of Christ” ( Colossians 4:3), which refer to the deep things revealed of Him in the Word of Truth.
The most conclusive evidences for the Divine origin of Christianity, as well as the chief glory, appear in its doctrines, for they cannot be of human invention. The ineffable and incomprehensible Trinity in unity, the incarnation of the Son of God, the death of the Prince of life, that His obedience and sufferings satisfied Divine justice and expiated our offences, the Holy Spirit making the believer His temple, and our union with Christ, are sublime and lofty truths, holy and mysterious, which far surpass the highest flight of finite reason. There is perfect harmony in all the parts of the doctrine of Christ. Therein a full discovery is made of the manifold wisdom of God, the duties required of us, the motives which prompt thereto. It is in perceiving the distinct parts and aspects of Truth, their relation to one another, their furtherance of a common cause, their magnifying of the Lord of glory, that the excellence and beauty of the whole are apparent. It is because many apprehend only detached fragments of the same that some things in it appear to be inconsistent to them. What is so much needed is a view and grasp of the whole—acquired only by diligent and persevering application.
There is much preaching, but sadly little teaching. It is the task of the teacher to declare all the counsel of God, to show the relation of one part of it to another, to present the whole range of Truth: thereby will the hearer’s mental horizon be widened, his sense of proportion promoted, and the beautiful harmony of the whole be demonstrated. It is his business not only to avow but to evince, not simply to affirm but to establish what he affirms. Of the apostle we read that he “reasoned with them Out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead” ( Acts 17:2,3).
He was eminently qualified for such a task both by nature and by grace. He was not only a man of God, but a man of genius and learning. He made considerable use of his reasoning faculty. He did not ask his hearers to believe anything that he averred without evidence, but furnished proof of what he taught. He usually preached on the basic and essential doctrines of the Gospel, which he felt ought to be verified by plain and conclusive reasoning. “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” ( Acts 18:4,19).
Because such reasoning may be abused, it does not follow that it should have no place in the pulpit. To reason fairly is to draw correct consequences from right principles, or to adduce clear and convincing arguments in support thereof. In order to reason lucidly and effectively upon the truth of a proposition, it is usually necessary to explain it, then to produce arguments in support of it, and finally to answer objections against it. That is the plan Paul generally follows, as is evident from both the Acts and his Epistles. When he preached upon the existence of God, the first and fundamental truth of all religion, he reasoned simply yet impressively: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” ( Acts 17:29); “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen” ( Romans 1:20).
When he enforced the doctrine of human depravity, he proved it first by a lengthy description of the character and conduct of the whole heathen world, and then by quotations from the Old Testament, and concluded “we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” ( Romans 3:19).
It is the teacher’s task to explain, to prove, and then to apply, for hearts are reached through the understanding and conscience. When he appeared before Felix, the apostle “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” so powerfully that the Roman governor “trembled” ( Acts 24:25). But alas, solid reasoning, exposition of Scripture, doctrinal preaching, are now largely things of the past. Many were (and still are) all for what they term experience, rather than a knowledge of doctrine. And today we behold the deplorable effects of the same, for our generation lacks even a theoretical knowledge of the Truth. That which was termed experimental and practical preaching displaced theological instruction, and thus the grand fundamentals of the Gospel were brought into contempt. No wonder that popery has made such headway in the countries once Protestant. It may be that that satanic system may yet prevail more awfully. If it does, none will be able to overthrow it by any experiences of their own. Nothing but sound doctrinal preaching will be of any use.
No wonder, either, that practical godliness is also at such a low ebb, for the root which produces it has not been watered and has withered. “Where there is not the doctrine of Faith, the obedience of Faith cannot be expected... On the other hand, doctrine without practice, or a mere theoretical and speculative knowledge of things, unless reduced to practice, is of no avail... Doctrine and practice should go together, and in order both to know and to do the will of God, instruction in Doctrine and practice is necessary; and the one bringing first light will lead to the other” (J. Gill).
So too he enjoined Titus, “This is a faithful saying, and these things [namely the doctrines of verses 3-7] 1 will that thou affirm constantly, that [in order that] they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” ( 3:8).
Yet there can be no better furniture for the spiritual mind than right and clear apprehensions thereof. Our preservation from error lies therein; our spiritual fruitfulness depends thereon. Doctrine is the mould into which the mind is cast ( Romans 6:17), from which it receives its impressions. As the nature of the seed sown determines what will be the harvest, so the substance of what is preached is seen in the lives of those who sit regularly under it. Where are the purity, the piety, the zeal, that close walking with God and uprightness before men, which were so pronounced in Christendom during the sixteenth and seventeen centuries? Yet the preaching of the Reformers and Puritans was principally doctrinal, and, under God, it produced such a love of the Truth that thousands willingly suffered persecution and great privations, and hazarded their lives, rather than repudiate the doctrines and ordinances of Christ. To say it matters not what a man believes so long as his practice is good is utterly erroneous.
It also requires to be pointed out that those men whose ministry was most owned and used of God during last century were those who followed in the steps of the Puritans. C. H. Spurgeon, Caesar Malan, Robert Murray MeCheyne, and the great leaders of the Scottish Free Church disruption, gave a prominent place to doctrinal instruction in all of their preaching. An observant eye will soon perceive that there is a distinct spirit which attends different types of preaching, manifesting itself more or less plainly in the regular attenders thereof. There is a solidity and soberness, a stability and godly fear seen in real Calvinists, which are not found among Arminians.
There is an uprightness of character in those who espouse the Truth which is lacking in those who imbibe error. Where the sovereignty of God is denied there will be no holy awe of Him. Where the total depravity of man is not insisted upon, pride and self-sufficiency will obtain. Where the impotence of the natural man is not stressed there will be no dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Where the holy demands of God be not maintained there will be the absence of its effects on the heart and life.
Thus may we judge and determine the Truth of preaching: “Whatsoever doctrine both depress and humble man and advance the glory of God, is true. It answers the design of the Gospel, which all centers in this: that man is to be laid low, and God to be exalted as the chief cause. It pulls man down from his own bottom, and transfers all the glory man would challenge into the hands of God: it lays man in the dust at God’s footstool. That doctrine which crosses the main design of the Gospel, and encourages pride in man, is not a spark from heaven. No flesh must glory in God’s presence ( 1 Corinthians 1:29). The doctrine of justification by works is thrown down by the apostle with this very argument as a thunderbolt: ‘Where is boasting then? It is excluded...by the law of faith’ ( Romans 3:27), that is by the doctrine of the Gospel.
Boasting would be introduced by ascribing regeneration to nature, as much as it is excluded by denying justification by works. The doctrine of the Gospel would contradict itself to usher in boasting with one hand whilst it thrust it out with the other. Our Saviour gave this rule long ago, that the glorifying of God is the evidence of truth in persons: ‘he that seeketh His glory that sent him, the same is true’ ( John 7:18). By the same reason also in things and doctrines” (Charnock, 1660).
Turning from the general to the particular. In taking up our present subject (D.V.) we shall endeavour to make good a half-promise given by us seventeen years ago, for we stated at that time that if we were spared we hoped to devote a series of articles to this important truth. Some of our readers may be inclined to challenge the accuracy of our present title, considering that the duty of mortification pertains far more to the practical side of things than to the doctrinal. The objection would be well taken if the popular distinction were valid, but like so many of the expressions now in vogue this one will not stand the test of Scripture. The term “doctrine” has a much wider meaning in the Word of God than is usually accorded it today. It includes very much more than the “five points” of Calvinism.
Thus we read of “the doctrine which is according to godliness ” ( Timothy 6:3), which is very much more than a species of intellectual proposition intended for the instructing of our brains, namely the enunciation of spiritual facts and holy principles, for the warming of the heart and the regulating of our lives. “The doctrine which is according to godliness” at once defines the nature of Divine doctrine, intimating as it does that its design or end is to inculcate a right temper of mind and deportment of life Godwards: it is pure and purifying. The objects which are revealed to faith are not bare abstractions which are to be accepted as true, nor even sublime and lofty concepts to be admired: they are to have a powerful effect upon our daily walk. There is no doctrine revealed in Scripture for a merely speculative knowledge, but all is to exert a powerful influence upon conduct. God’s design in all that He has revealed to us is to the purifying of our affections and the transforming of our characters. The doctrine of grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world ( Titus 2:11,12). By far the greater part of the doctrine ( John 7:16) taught by Christ consisted not of the explication of mysteries, but rather that which corrected men’s lusts and reformed their lives. Everything in Scripture has in view the promotion of holiness.
If it be an absurdity to affirm that it matters not what a man believes so long as he does that which is right, equally erroneous is it to conclude that if my creed be sound it matters little how I act. “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” ( 1 Timothy 5:8), for he shows himself to be devoid of natural affection. Thus it is possible to deny the Faith by conduct as well as by words. A neglect of performing our duty is as real a repudiation of the Truth as is an open renunciation of it, for the Gospel, equally with the Law, requires children to honour their parents. Observe how that awful list of reprehensible characters mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:9,10, are said to be “contrary to sound doctrine”— opposed to its salutary nature and spiritual tendency: i.e. that conduct which the standard of God enjoins. Observe too how that the spirit of covetousness or love of money is designated an erring “from the faith” ( 1 Timothy 6:10): it is a species of heresy, a departure from the doctrine which is according to godliness—an awful example of which we have in the case of Judas. Mortification, then, is clearly one of the practical doctrines of Holy Writ, as we hope to show abundantly in what follows. 2. AN OUTLINE Romans 8:13 supplies the most comprehensive description of our subject to be found in any single verse of the Bible, setting forth as it does the greatest number of its principal features: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” This is a most solemn and searching verse, and one which has little place in modern ministry, be it oral or written. If Arminians have sadly wrested it, many Calvinists have refused to face its plain affirmations and implications. Five things in it claim our best attention.
First , the persons addressed.
Second , the awful warning here set before them.
Third , the duty enjoined upon them.
Fourth , the effectual Helper provided.
Fifth , the promise made to them. The better to focus our minds, and to enable us to grapple with the difficulties which not a few have found in the verse, ere seeking to fill in our outline we will ask a number of pertinent questions.
What is the relation between our text and the context? Why are both of its members in the hypothetical form—”if”? Does the “ye” in each half of the verse have reference to the same persons, or are there two entirely different classes in view? If the latter be the case, then by what valid principle of exegesis can we account for such? Why not change one of them to “any” or ‘ ‘they”? What is meant by “live after the flesh”? Is it possible for a real Christian to do so? If not, and it is unregenerate persons who are mentioned, then why say they “shall die,” seeing that they are dead already spiritually? Are the terms “die” and “live” here used figuratively and relatively, or literally and absolutely? What is imported by “mortify” and why “the deeds of the body” rather than “the lusts of the flesh”? If the “ye” perform that task, then how “through the Spirit”? If He be the prime Worker, then why is the mortifying predicated of them? If there be conjoint action, then how are the two factors to be adjusted? In what manner will the promise “ye shall live” be made good, seeing they already be alive spiritually? We know of no commentator who has made any real attempt to grapple with these problems.
The whole context makes it quite evident what particular classes of people are here addressed.
First , it is those who are in Christ Jesus, upon whom there is now no condemnation (verse 1).
Second , it is those who have been made free from the law of sin and death, and had the righteousness of Christ imputed to them (verses 2-4).
Third , it is those who give proof that they are the beneficiaries of Christ, by walking not after the flesh, but after the spirit (verse 4). In what immediately follows a description is given of two radically different classes: they who are after the flesh, carnally minded; they whose legal standing is not in the flesh, but in the spirit, who are spiritually minded because indwelt by the Spirit of God (verses 5-11).
Fourth , concerning the latter—“we” as opposed to the “they” of verse 8— the apostle draws a plain and practical conclusion: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (verse 12)—the endearing appellation there used by Paul leaves us in no doubt as to the particular type of characters he was addressing. Manton had a most able sermon on this verse, and we will, mostly in our own language, epitomize his exposition.
Man would fain be at his own disposal. The language of his heart is “our lips are our own: who is lord over us?” ( Psalm 12:4). He affects supremacy and claims the right of dominion over his own actions. But his claim is invalid, He was made by Another and for Another, and therefore he is a “debtor.” Negatively, not to the flesh, which is mentioned because that corrupt principle is ever demanding subjection to it. Positively, he is debtor to the One who gave him being. Christians are debtors both as creatures and as new creatures, being entirely dependent upon God alike for their being and their well-being, for their existence and preservation. As our Maker, God is our Owner, and being our Owner He is therefore our Governor, and by consequence our Judge. He has an absolute propriety in us, an unchallengeable power over us, to command and dispose of us as He pleases. We have nothing but what we receive from Him. We are accountable to Him for our time and our talents. Every benefit we receive increases our obligation to Him. We have no right to please ourselves in anything. This debt is indissoluble: as long as we are dependent upon God for being and support, so long as we are bound to Him. Sin has in no wise cancelled our obligation, for though fallen man has lost his power to obey, the Lord has not lost His power to command.
By virtue of his spiritual being, the saint is still more a debtor to God.
First , because of his redemption by Christ, for he is not his own, but bought with a price ( 1 Corinthians 6:9). The state from which he was redeemed was one of woeful bondage, for he was a slave of Satan. Now when a captive was ransomed he became the absolute property of the purchaser ( Leviticus 25:45,46). The end which Christ had in view proves the same thing: He has “redeemed us to God” ( Revelation 5:9).
Second , because of his regeneration. The new nature then received inclines to God: we are created in Christ Jesus unto good works ( Ephesians 2:10). Having brought us from death unto life, renewed us in His image, bestowed upon us the status and privileges of sonship, we owe ourselves, our strength and our service unto God as His beneficiaries. The new creature is diverted from its proper use if we live after the flesh.
Third , because of our own dedication ( Romans 12:1). A genuine conversion involves the renunciation of the world, the flesh and the devil, and the giving up of ourselves unto the Lord ( 2 Corinthians 8:5). Since our obedience to God is a debt, there can be no merit in it ( Luke 17:10); but if we pay it not, we incur the debt of punishment ( Matthew 6:12,15). Since the flesh has no right to command, the gratification of it is the yielding to a tyrannous usurper ( Romans 6:12,14). When solicited by the flesh, the believer should reply, “I am the Lord’s.” “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” Here are two sharply contrasted propositions, each one being expressed conditionally. Two eventualities are plainly set forth. Two suppositions are mentioned, and the inevitable outcome of each clearly stated. Both parts of the verse affirm that if a certain course of conduct be steadily followed (for it is far from being isolated actions which are referred to) a certain result would inevitably follow. This hypothetical form of presenting the Truth is quite a common one in the Scriptures. Servants of Christ are informed that “If any man’s [literally “any one’s,” i.e. of the “ministers” of verse 5, the “laborers” of verse 9] work abide which he hath built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s [“one’s,” “minister’s”] work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss” ( 1 Corinthians 3:14,15). Other well-known examples are, “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ,” and “For if I build again the things which I destroyed [renounced], I make myself a transgressor” ( Galatians 1:10; 2:18). “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” ( Hebrews 2:3, and cf. 10:26). Our text, then, is parallel with, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting” ( Galatians 6:8).
There are two things which the people of God are ever in need of: faithful warnings, kindly encouragement—the one to curb their sinful propensities, the other to animate their spiritual graces to the performing of duty, especially when they be cast down by the difficulties of the way or are mourning over their failures. Here too a balance needs to be carefully preserved. Inexperienced believers have little realization of the difficulties and perils before them, and the hearts of older ones are so deceitful that each alike needs to be plainly and frequently corrected, and exhorted to pay attention to the danger-signals which God has set up along our way. It is both striking and solemn to note how often the Saviour sounded the note of warning, not only unto the wicked, but more especially unto His disciples. He bade them, “Take heed what ye hear” ( Mark 4:24); “Beware of false prophets” ( Matthew 7:15); “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” ( Luke 11:35); “Remember Lot’s wife” ( Luke 17:32); “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life” ( Luke 21:34). To one He had healed, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” ( John 5:14).
The word “flesh” is used in Scripture in a number of senses, but throughout Romans 8 it signifies that corrupt and depraved nature which is in us when we enter this world. That evil nature or principle is variously designated. It is termed sin ( Romans 7:8), “warring against the law of my mind” (verse 23). In James 4:5, “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy,” to indicate that it is not a tangible or material entity. But more commonly it is called “the flesh” ( John 3:6; Romans 7:25; Galatians 5:17). It is so termed because it is transmitted from parent to child as the body is, because it is propagated by natural generation, because it is strengthened and drawn forth by carnal objects, because of its base character and degeneracy. It was not in man when he left the hand of his Creator and was pronounced by Him “very good.” Rather was it something that he acquired by the fall. The principle of sin as a foreign element, as a thing ab extra, as an invading agent, entered into him, vitiating the whole of his natural being—as frost enters into and ruins vegetables, and as blight seizes and mars fruit.
The “flesh” is the open, implacable, inveterate, irreconcilable enemy of holiness, yea, it is “enmity against God” ( Romans 8:7)—an “enemy” may be reconciled, not so “enmity” itself. Then what an evil and abominable thing is the flesh: at variance with the Holy One, a rebel against His Law! It is therefore our enemy, yea, it is far and away the worst one the believer has. The Devil and the world without do all their mischief to the souls of men by the flesh within them. “The flesh is the womb where all sin is conceived and formed, the anvil upon which all is wrought, the false Judas that betrays us, the secret enemy within that is ready on all occasions to open the gates to the besiegers” (Thomas Jacomb, 1622-87).
We must distinguish sharply between being in the flesh and living after the flesh. Thus, “For when we were in the flesh” ( Romans 7:5) has reference to Christians in their unregenerate condition, as “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” speaks of the unsaved; whereas “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit” (8:8,9) is predicated of believers. “In the flesh” imports a person’s standing and state before God; living after the flesh describes his course and conversation. The one inevitably follows and corresponds to the other: a person’s character and conduct agree with his condition and case.
The flesh is radically and wholly evil: as Romans 7:18, declares, there is “no good thing” in it. It is beyond reclamation, being incapable of any improvement. It may indeed put on a religious garb, as did the Pharisees, but beneath is nothing but rottenness. Fire may as soon be struck Out of ice as holy dispositions and motions be produced by indwelling sin. As the “flesh” continually opposes that which is good, so it ever disposes the soul unto what is evil. To “walk after” or to “live after the flesh” (both terms have the same force) is for a person to conduct himself as do all the unregenerate, who are dominated, motivated and actuated by nothing but their fallen nature. To “live after the flesh” refers not to a single act, nor even to a habit or a series of acts in one direction; but rather to the whole man being governed and guided by this vile principle. That is the case with all who are out of Christ: their desires, thoughts, speech and deeds all proceed from this corrupt fount. It is by the flesh that the whole of their souls are set in motion and their entire course steered. All is directed by some fleshly consideration. They act from self, or base principle; they act for self, or base end. The glory of God is nothing to them, the flesh is all in all.
The flesh is a dynamical, active, ambitious principle, and therefore it is spoken of as a lusting thing. Thus we read of “the lusts of the flesh,” yea, of “the wills of the flesh” ( Ephesians 2:3—margin) for its desires are vehement and imperious. “But [indwelling] sin, taking occasion [being aggravated] by the commandment [“thou shalt not covet”], wrought in me all manner of concupiscence” [or “lust”] ( Romans 7:8). Education and culture may result in a refined exterior; family training and other influences may lead to an espousal of religion, as is the case with the great majority of the heathen; selfish considerations may even issue in voluntarily undergoing great austerities and deprivations, as the Buddhist to attain unto Nirvana, the Mohammedan to gain paradise, the Romanist to merit heaven—but the love of God prompts none of them, nor is His glory their aim. Though the Christian be “not in the flesh” as to his status and state, yet the flesh as an evil principle (unchanged) is still in him, and it “lusteth against the spirit” ( Galatians 5:17) or new nature, and therefore are we exhorted, “Let not sin [i.e. the flesh] therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” ( Romans 6:12).
The first breaks forth into open and bodily lusts and acts, such as gluttony, drunkenness, moral uncleanness: this is “the filthiness of the flesh.” The second is when the flesh exerts itself in internal heart lusts, which are more or less concealed from our fellows, which lie smouldering and festering within our soul, such as pride, unbelief, self-love, envy, covetousness; this is the filthiness “of the spirit” ( 2 Corinthians 7:1). In Galatians 5:18,19, the apostle gives a catalogue of the lustings of the flesh in both of these respects. He does so to expose a common fallacy. It is generally assumed that walking or living “according to the flesh” is limited to the first form mentioned, and the second one is little considered or regarded.
So long as men abstain from gross intemperance, open profanity, brutish sensuality, they think that all is well with them, whereas they may be quite free from all gross practices and still be guilty of living after the flesh. Yea, such is the case with all in whose hearts there are inordinate affections after the world, a spirit of self-exaltation, covetousness, malice, hatred, uncharitableness, and many other reprehensible lusts.
Our text makes crystal clear to us the fundamental and vital importance of the duty here enjoined, for our performance or non-performance thereof is literally a matter of life and death. Mortification is not optional, but imperative. The solemn alternatives are plainly stated: neglect ensures everlasting misery, compliance therewith is assured eternal felicity. The whole verse is manifestly addressed unto saints, and they are faithfully warned, “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die”: that is, die eternally, for as in 5:12, 21; 7:23; 8:6, “death” includes all the penal consequences of sin both here and hereafter; so in our text “die” manifestly signifies “shall suffer the second death,” which is “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” ( Revelation 21:8). The express reason is here advanced why Christians should not live after the flesh: they are not debtors to it to do so (verse 12): if they surrender to its dominion, the wages of sin will most certainly be paid them. “The flesh belongs to the world, and the man who is yielding to its promptings is in the world, living like the world, and must perish with the world” (J. Stifler).
It was by yielding to the lusts of the flesh that Adam brought death upon himself and all his posterity. And if I live after the flesh, that is, am governed and guided by my old nature, acting habitually according to its inclinations—for it is a persistent and continuous course of conduct which is here mentioned—then, no matter what be my profession, I shall perish in my sin. It is the gratifying and serving of the flesh, instead of the will of God, which eternally ruins souls. “It may be asked whether one who has received the grace of God in truth can live after the flesh. To live in a continued course of sin is contrary to the grace of God; but flesh may prevail and greatly influence the life and conversation for a while. How long this may be the case of a true believer under backsliding, through the power of corruptions and temptations, cannot be known; but certain it is that it shall not be always thus with him” (John Gill).
The whole of our verse pertains to professing Christians, and at the present moment. The Apostle did not simply say, “If ye have lived after the flesh,” for that is the case with every unregenerate soul. But if ye now live after the flesh, “ye shall die”—in the full meaning of that word. It is a general statement of a universal truth. We fully agree with the explanation furnished by B.W. Newton, who was a decided Calvinist. “An expression of this kind is addressed to us for two reasons. First, because in the professing church the apostle knew there were and would be false professors. So whenever collective bodies are addressed, he always uses words implying uncertainty and doubt, for tares will be among the wheat.
And second, true believers themselves (though grace can preserve them) have now nevertheless always a tendency in them to the same paths.
Therefore descriptions like this, which are true to the full of those who merely profess, may yet be rightly applied to all who are wandering into those paths.” Examples of the one are found in such passages as Galatians 4:20, and 6:8; Ephesians 5:5-7; Colossians 3:5,6. Of the second it must be borne in mind that a backsliding Christian had turned aside from the narrow way of denying self, and that if he follows the course of self-pleasing to the bitter end, destruction awaits him.”
See here the faithfulness of God in so plainly warning of the terrible doom awaiting all who live after the flesh. Instead of thinking hardly of God for His threatenings, we should be grateful for them. See the justice of God.
To be pleasing self is to continue in the apostasy of mankind, and therefore the original sentence ( Genesis 2:17) is in force against them. It is contempt of God, and the heinousness of the sin is measured by the greatness of Him who is affronted ( 1 Samuel 2:25). Moreover, they refuse the remedy, and therefore are doubly guilty. See here the wisdom of God in appointing the greater punishment to curb the greatness of the temptation. The pleasures of sin are but for a season, but the paths of sin are for evermore: if the latter were soundly believed and seriously considered, the former would not so easily prevail with us. Behold the holiness of God: a unmortified soul is unfit for His presence. Vessels of glory must first be seasoned with grace. Conformity to Christ fits for heaven, and where that be lacking there can be no entrance. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” ( Romans 8:13).
The whole of this verse pertains and belongs to believers, who are “debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (verse 12); but, instead, debtors to Christ who redeemed them, and therefore to live unto His glory; debtors to the Holy Spirit who regenerated and indwells them, and therefore to live in subjection to His absolute control.
On this occasion we will state very briefly what is signified by “mortify,” leaving till later a fuller explanation of the precise nature of this duty. First, from its being here placed in apposition with “live after the flesh,” its negative sense is more or less obvious. To “live after the flesh” is to be completely controlled by indwelling sin, to be thoroughly under the dominion of our inbred corruptions. Hence, mortification consists in a course of conduct which is just the reverse. It imports: Comply not with the demands of your old nature, but rather subdue them. Serve not, cherish not your lusts, but starve them: “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” ( Romans 13:14). The natural desires and appetites of the physical body require to be disciplined, so that they are our servants and not our masters; it is our responsibility to moderate, regulate and subordinate them unto the higher parts of our being. But the cravings of the body of sin are to be promptly refused and sternly denied. The spiritual life is retarded just in proportion as we yield subservience to our evil passions.
The imperative necessity for this work of mortification arises from the continued presence of the evil nature in the Christian. Upon his believing in Christ unto salvation he was at once delivered from the condemnation of the Divine law, and freed from the reigning power of sin; but “the flesh” was not eradicated from his being, nor were its vile propensities purged or even modified. That fount of filthiness still remains unchanged unto the end of his earthly career. Not only so, but it is ever active in its hostility to God and holiness: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit [or new nature] , and the Spirit against the flesh” ( Galatians 5:17).
Thus there is a ceaseless conflict in the saint between indwelling sin and inherent grace. Consequently there is a perpetual need for him to mortify or put to death not only the actings of indwelling corruption but also the principle itself. He is called upon to engage in ceaseless warfare and not suffer temptation to bring him into captivity to his lusts. The Divine prohibition is “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness [enter into no truce, form no alliance with], but rather reprove them” ( Ephesians 5:11). Say with Ephraim of old, “What have I to do any more with idols?” ( Hosea 14:8).
No real communion with God is possible while sinful lusts remain unmortified. Allowed evil draws the heart away from God, and tangles the affections, discomposes the soul, and provokes the Holy One to close His ears against our prayers: “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?” ( Ezekiel 14:3).
God cannot in any wise delight in an unmortified soul: for Him to do so would be denying Himself or acting contrary to His own nature. He has no pleasure in wickedness, and cannot look with the slightest approval on evil.
Sin is a mire, and the more miry we are the less fit for His eyes ( Psalm 40:2). Sin is leprosy ( Isaiah 1:6), and the more it spreads the less converse will the Lord have with us. Deliberately to keep sin alive is to defend it against the will of God, and to challenge combat with the Most High. Unmortified sin is against the whole design of the Gospel—as though Christ’s sacrifice was intended to indulge us in sin, rather than redeem us from it. The very end of Christ’s dying was the death of sin: rather than sin should not die, He laid down His life.
Though risen with Christ, their life hid with Him in God, and they certain to appear with Christ in glory, the saints are nevertheless exhorted to mortify their members which are upon the earth ( Colossians 3:1-5). It may appear strange when we note what particular members the apostle specified. It was not vain thoughts, coldness of heart, unwary walking, but the visible and most repulsive members of the old man: “fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence”; and in verse 8 he bids them again, “put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication” and lying. Startling and solemn it is to find that believers require calling upon to mortify such gross and foul sins as those: yet it is no more than is necessary. The best Christians on earth have so much corruption within them, which habitually disposes them unto these iniquities (great and heinous as they are), and the Devil will so suit his temptations as will certainly draw their corruptions into open acts, unless they keep a tight hand and close watch over themselves in the constant exercise of mortification. None but the Holy One of God could truthfully aver, “the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” ( John 14:30) which could be enkindled by his fiery darts.
As the servants of God urge upon the wicked that they slight not any sin because in their judgment it is but a trivial matter, saying, “Is it not a little one? and my soul shall live” ( Genesis 19:20); so the faithful minister will press it upon all of God’s people that they must not disregard any sin because it is great and grievous, and say within themselves, “Is it not a great one? and my soul shall never commit it.” As we presume upon the pardoning mercy of God in the preserve us from the committing of great and crying sins. It is because of their self-confidence and carelessness that sometimes the most gracious and experienced suddenly find themselves surprised by the most awful lapses. When the preacher bids his hearers beware that they murder not, blaspheme not, turn not apostates from their profession of the faith, none but the self-righteous will say with Hazael, “But what, is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” ( 2 Kings 8:13).
But why “mortify the deeds of the body ”? In view of the studied balancing of the several clauses in this antithetical sentence, we had expected it to read “mortify the flesh.” In the seventh chapter and the opening verses of the eighth the apostle had treated of indwelling sin as the fount of all evil actions; and here he insists on the mortifying of both the root and the branches of corruption, referring to the duty under the name of the fruits it bears. The “deeds of the body” must not be restricted to mere outward works, but be understood as including also the springs from which they issue. As Owen rightly said, “The axe must be laid to the root of the tree.”
In our judgment “the body” here has a twofold reference.
First , to the evil nature or indwelling sin, which in Romans 6:6, and 7:24, is likened unto a body, namely “the body of the sins of the flesh” ( Colossians 2:11). It is a body of corruption which compasses the soul: hence we read of “your members which are upon the earth” ( Colossians 3:5). The “deeds of the body” are the works which corrupt nature produces, namely our sins. Thus the “body” is here used objectively of “the flesh.”
Second , the “body” here includes the house in which the soul now dwells. It is specified to denote the degrading malignity which there is in sin, reducing its slaves to live as though they had no souls. It is mentioned to import the tendency of indwelling sin, namely to please and pamper the baser part of our being, the soul being made the drudge of the outward man. The body is here referred to for the purpose of informing us that though the soul be the original abode of “the flesh” the physical frame is the main instrument of its actions. Our corruptions are principally manifested in our external members: it is there that indwelling sin is chiefly found and felt. Sins are denominated “the deeds of the body” not only because they are what the lusts of the flesh tend to produce, but also because they are executed by the body ( Romans 6:12). Our task then is not to transform and transmute “the flesh,” but to slay it: to refuse its impulses, to deny its aspirations, to put to death its appetites.
But who is sufficient for such a task—a task which is not a work of nature but wholly a spiritual one? It is far beyond the unaided powers of the believer. Means and ordinances cannot of themselves effect it. It is beyond the province and ability of the preacher: omnipotence must have the main share in the work. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify,” that is “the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ” of Romans 8:9—the Holy Spirit; for He is not only the Spirit of holiness in His nature, but in His operations too. He is the principal efficient cause of mortification. Let us marvel at and adore the Divine grace which has provided such a Helper for us! Let us recognize and realize that we are as truly indebted to and dependent upon the Spirit’s operations as we are upon the Father’s electing and the Son’s redeeming us. Though grace be wrought in the hearts of the regenerate, yet it lies not in their power to act it. He who imparted the grace must renew, excite, and direct it.
Believers may employ the aids of inward discipline and rigor, and practice outward moderation and abstinence, and while they may for a time check and suppress their evil habits, unless the Spirit puts forth His power in them there will be no true mortification. And how does He operate in this particular work? In many different ways. First, at the new birth He gives us a new nature. Then by nourishing and preserving that nature. In strengthening us with His might in the inner man. In granting fresh supplies of grace from day to day. By working in us a loathing of sin, a mourning over it, a turning from it. By pressing upon us the claims of Christ, making us willing to take up our cross and follow Him. By bringing some precept or warning to our mind. By sealing a promise upon the heart. By moving us to pray.
Yet let it be carefully noted that our text does not say, “If the Spirit do mortify,” or even “If the Spirit through you do mortify,” but, instead, “If ye through the Spirit”: the believer is not passive in this work, but active. It must not be supposed that the Spirit will help us without our concurrence, as well while we are asleep as waking, whether or not we maintain a close watch over our thoughts and works, and exercise nothing but a slight wish or sluggish prayer for the mortification of our sins. Believers are required to set themselves seriously to the task. If on the one hand we cannot discharge this duty without the Spirit’s enablement, on the other hand He will not assist if we be too indolent to put forth earnest endeavors. Then let not the lazy Christian imagine he will ever get the victory over his lusts.
The Spirit’s grace and power afford no license to idleness, but rather call upon us to the diligent use of means and looking to Him for His blessing upon the same. We are expressly exhorted, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” ( 2 Corinthians 7:1), and that makes it plain that the believer is not a cipher in this work. The gracious operations of the Spirit were never designed to be a substitute for the Christian’s discharge of duty. Though His help be indispensable, yet it releases us not from our obligations. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” ( John 5:21) emphasizes our accountability and evinces that God requires much more than our waiting upon Him to stir us unto action. Our hearts are terribly deceitful, and we need to be much upon our guard against cloaking a spirit of apathy under an apparent jealous regard for the glory of the Spirit. Is no self-effort required to escape the snares of Satan by refusing to walk in those paths which God has prohibited? Is no selfeffort called for in separating ourselves from the companionship of the wicked?
Mortification is a task to which every Christian must apply himself with prayerful diligence and resolute earnestness. The regenerate have a spiritual nature within that fits them for holy action, otherwise there would be no difference between them and the unregenerate. They are required to improve the death of Christ, to embitter sin to them by His sufferings. They are to use the grace received in bringing forth the fruits of righteousness.
Nevertheless, it is a task which far transcends our feeble powers. It is only “through the Spirit” that any of us can acceptably or effectually (in any degree) “mortify the deeds of the body.” He it is who presses upon us the claims of Christ: reminding us that inasmuch as He died for sin, we must spare no efforts in dying to sin—striving against it ( Hebrews 11:4), confessing it ( 1 John 1:9), forsaking it ( Proverbs 28:13). He it is who preserves us from giving way to despair, and encourages us to renew the conflict. He it is who deepens our longings after holiness, and moves us to cry, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” ( Psalm 51:10). “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body.” Mark, my reader, the lovely balance of truth which is here so carefully preserved: while the Christian’s responsibility is strictly enforced, the honour of the Spirit is as definitely maintained and Divine grace is magnified. Believers are the agents in this work, yet they perform it by the strength of Another.
The duty is theirs, but the success and the glory are His. The Spirit’s operations are carried on in accordance with the constitution which God has given us, working within and upon us as moral agents. The same work is, in one point of view, God’s; and in another ours. He illumines the understanding, and makes us more sensible of indwelling sin. He makes the conscience more sensitive. He deepens our yearnings after purity. He works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. Our business is to heed His convictions, to respond to His holy impulses, to implore His aid, to count upon His grace. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. ” Here is the encouraging promise set before the sorely tried contestant. God will be no man’s debtor: yea, He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him ( Hebrews 11:6). If then, by grace, we concur with the Spirit, denying the flesh, striving after holiness, richly shall we be recompensed.
The promise unto this duty is opposed unto the death threatened in the clause foregoing: as “die” there includes all the penal consequences of sin, so “shall live” comprehends all the spiritual blessings of grace. If by the Spirit’s enablement and our diligent use of the Divinely appointed means we sincerely and constantly oppose and refuse the solicitations of indwelling sin, then—but only then—we shall live a life of grace and comfort here, and a life of eternal glory and bliss hereafter. We have shown elsewhere that “eternal life” ( 1 John 2:25) is the believer’s present possession ( John 3:36; 10:28) and also his future goal ( Mark 10:30; Galatians 6:8; Titus 1:2). He now has a title and right to it; he has it by faith, and in hope; he has the seed of it in his new nature. But he has it not yet in full possession and fruition. “The promises of the Gospel are not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker not for his work, but according to his work, for the sake of Christ’s work. The promise of life, then, is not made to the work of mortification, but to him that mortifies his flesh; and that not for his mortification, but because he is in Christ, of which this mortification is the evidence. That they who mortify the flesh shall live is quite consistent with the truth that eternal life is the free gift of God; and in the giving of it, there is no respect to the merit of the receiver. This describes the character of all who receive eternal life; and it is of great importance. It takes away all ground of hope from those who profess to know God and in works deny Him” (Robert Haldane).
The conditionality of the promise, then, is neither that of causation nor uncertainty, but of coherence and connection. A life of glory proceeds not from mortification as the effect from the cause, but follows merely upon it as the end does the use of means. The highway of holiness is the only path which leads to heaven.
CHAPTER - THE WORK OF THE LORD Our present design is twofold: to censure a misuse, and to explain the meaning of the following verse: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” ( 1 Corinthians 15:58).
In the heedless hurry of this slipshod age not a few have taken those words as though they read, “Work for the Lord,” and have used them as a slogan for what is now styled “Christian service,” most of which is quite unscriptural—the energy of the flesh finding an outlet in certain forms of religious activities. In this day of pride and presumption it has been quite general to speak of engaging in work for the Lord, and to entertain the idea that He is beholden to such people for the same, that were their labours to cease, His cause would not prosper. To such an extent has this conceit been fostered that it is now a common thing to hear and read of our being “co-workers with God” and “co-operators” with Him. It is but another manifestation of the self-complacent and egotistical spirit of Laodicea ( Revelation 3:17) and which has become so rife.
But it is likely to be asked, Does not Scripture itself speak of the saints, or at least ministers of the Gospel, being “co-workers with God”? The emphatic answer is No, certainly not. Two passages have been appealed to in support of this carnal and blatant notion, but neither of them when rightly rendered teach any such thing. The first is 1 Corinthians 3:9, which in the Authorized Version is strangely translated “For we are laborers together with God.” Literally the Greek reads, “For God’s we are: fellow-workers; God’s husbandry, God’s building, ye are.” The apostle had just rebuked the Corinthians ( <460301> 3:1-3), particularly for exalting some of the servants of God above others (verse 4). He reminded them, first, that the apostles were but ministers or “servants,” mere instruments who were nothings unless God blessed their labours and “gave the increase” (verses 6, 7). Then, he pointed out that one instrument ought not to be esteemed above another, for “he that planteth” and “he that watereth are one (verse 8) and shall each “receive his own reward.” While in verse 9 he sums up by saying those instruments are “God’s”—of His appointing and equipping; “fellow-workers,” partners in the Gospel field.
The second passage appealed to lends still less color to the conceit we are here rebutting: “We then as workers together with Him beseech you” ( 2 Corinthians 6:1), for the words “with Him” are in italics, which means they are not contained in the original, but have been supplied by the translators. This verse simply means that the instruments God employed in the ministry of the Gospel were joint-laborers in beseeching sinners not to receive His grace in vain.
There is no thought whatever of “co-operating” with God. Why should there be? What assistance does the Almighty need! Nor does He ever voluntarily receive any ( Job 22:2,3; Luke 17:10). What an absurdity to suppose the finite could be of any help to the Infinite! At most, we can but concur with His appointments, and humbly present ourselves before Him as empty vessels to be filled by Him. It is wondrous condescension on His part if He designs to employ us as His agents; the honour is ours, we confer no favour on Him. The Lord is the sole Operator; His servants the channels through which He often—though by no means always—operates.
Ministers are not coordinates with God, but subordinates to Him.
There is something particularly repulsive to a spiritual mind in the concept of worms of the earth “cooperating” with the Most High, for it is a virtual deifying of the creature, a placing of him on a par with the Creator. Surely it is enough simply to point out that fact for all humble and Spirit-taught souls to reject with abhorrence such a grotesque fiction. Different far was the spirit which possessed the chief of the apostles. Said he “I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” ( 1 Corinthians 15:10).
When the Twelve responded to their Master’s commission we are told that “they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them” ( Mark 16:20) —otherwise their labours had yielded naught. Paul placed the honour where it rightfully belonged when he declared “I will not dare to speak of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me” ( Romans 15:18).
How different was that from regarding himself as a “co-operator” with Him! It is just such creature boasting which has driven the Lord outside the churches.
In view of what has been pointed out above, it is scarcely surprising that those possessed of more zeal than knowledge should eagerly lay hold of a clause in 1 Corinthians 15:58, and adopt it as their motto. Such activities as holding Gospel services in the streets, engaging in what is called “personal work,” taking part in meetings where young people are led to believe they are “giving their testimony for Christ,” and other enterprises for which there is no warrant whatever in the Epistles (where church members are more directly instructed and exhorted), are termed “working for the Lord” or “serving Christ.” Very different indeed is the task which He has assigned His followers: a task far more difficult to perform, and one which is much less palatable to the flesh. Namely to keep their hearts with all diligence: mortifying their lusts, and developing their graces ( Colossians 3:5,12), to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit and perfect holiness in the fear of God ( 2 Corinthians 7:1), to witness for Christ by their lives, “showing forth His praises” ( Peter 2:9).
There is therefore a real need for the inquiry, Exactly what is meant by “the work of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 15:58? It should at once be apparent that we do not have to go outside the verse itself for proof that the popular understanding which now obtains of it is thoroughly unwarrantable.
Second , the work of the Lord which it enjoins calls for us to be “steadfast and immovable,” which are scarcely the qualities to be associated with what the churches term “Christian service”—had that been in view such adjectives as “zealous and untiring” had been far more pertinent.
Grammatically “the work of the Lord” may import either that work which He performs, or that which He requires from His people. The fact that it is one unto which He calls them, obliges us to understand it in the second sense. When Christ was asked “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” John 6:28) it should be obvious that they meant, What are those works which God requires of us? Our Lord answered: “This is the work of God: that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent”: that is what He has commanded ( 1 John 3:23) and that is what will be acceptable unto Him. The same inquiry should proceed from the Christian: What is the all-inclusive work which God has assigned us? The summarized answer is given in 1 Corinthians 15:58: the “work of the Lord,” in which the saints are to be always abounding, is a general designation of the whole of Christian duty. As “the way of the Lord” ( Genesis 18:19) signifies the path of conduct which He has marked out for us, so “the work of the Lord” connotes that task He has prescribed us.
As is generally the case with erroneous interpretations, our moderns have taken this verse Out of its setting and ignored its controlling context, paying no attention to its opening “Therefore.” 1 Corinthians 15 is the great resurrection chapter, and may be outlined thus.
First , the resurrection of Christ Himself (verses 1-1 1).
Second , His rising from the dead secures the “resurrection of life” to all His people (verses 20-28).
Third , the nature of their resurrection bodies (verses 42-54). In between those divisions, denials of the resurrection are refuted and objections thereto answered. Further indication is this, that to terminate the chapter with an injunction to engage in what is termed “Christian service would be totally foreign to what precedes. Instead, the apostle closes his teaching on resurrection with a triumphant thanksgiving (verses 55-57) and an ethical inference drawn from the same. Therein is illustrated a fundamental characteristic of the Scriptures: that doctrinal declaration and moral exhortation are never to be severed, the former being the ground upon which the latter is based: first a statement of the Christian’s privileges, and then pointing out the corresponding obligation.
In the context the Holy Spirit has set before us something of the glorious future awaiting the redeemed of Christ: in verses 55-58 He makes practical application of the whole to the immediate present. Doctrine and duty are never to be divorced. Neither in the promise nor the precept is “the life that now is” separated from “that which is to come.” All truth is designed to have a sanctifying effect upon our daily walk. Something more than a mere head belief of the contents of Scripture is required of us, namely an incorporating of them in the character and conduct. Truth so blessed as that set forth in verses 42-54 should fill the hearts of believers with joy (verses 55-57), and move them to the utmost diligence and endeavour to please and glorify the Lord (verse 58). The “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57) is the language of faith, for faith gives a present subsistence to things which are yet future. The final verse announces the transforming effect which such a revelation and a hope so elevating should have upon us; or, stating it in other words, this injunction makes known the corresponding obligation which such a prospect entails. What that transforming effect should be, what that obligation consists of, we shall now seek to state. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” An analysis of this verse shows that it consists of two things: an exhortation and motives to enforce the same. The exhortation includes a threefold task: to be “steadfast” in the faith, in our convictions of the Truth; to be “unmovable” in our affections, in our expectations of the things promised; to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord,” in doing His will, in performing those good works which He has foreordained we should walk in. The “work of the Lord” may be regarded first as a general expression, comprehending all that He requires from us in the way of duty: in the exercise of every grace and the practice of every virtue. “Always abounding in the work of the Lord” signifies ever engaged in obeying His Word, seeking His glory, aiming at the advance of His kingdom. More specifically, it imports that lifelong task which He has set before us, and which may be summed up in two words—mortification and sanctification: the denying of self and putting to death of our lusts; the developing of our graces and bringing forth the fruits of holiness.
Strictly speaking, it is “the work of the Lord” to which we are here called, and the steadfastness and immovability are prerequisites to our “always abounding” therein. But we shall consider them as separate duties.
Be firmly fixed in your convictions: having bought the Truth, sell it not. “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” That by no means precludes further progress of attainment, for we are to press forward unto those things which are still before; yet in order thereto there must be stability and resolution, a “holding fast the faithful Word” ( Titus 1:9), an eschewing of all false doctrine.
Second , “unmovable,” which is a word implying testing and opposition.
Suffer not the allurements of the world nor the baits of Satan to unsettle you. Be not shaken by the trials of this life. Be patient and persevering whatever your lot. Seek grace to say of all troubles and afflictions, what Paul said of bonds and imprisonments—”none of these things move me.”
And why should they? None of them impugn God’s faithfulness.
Moreover, they work for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory while we look not at the things which are seen.” Then be unwavering in your expectations and “be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel,” no matter what opposition you encounter. Notwithstanding your discouraging failures, the backslidings of fellow Christians, the hypocrisy of graceless professors, “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” ( Hebrews 3:6).
Third , “always abounding in the work of the Lord”: constantly occupied in doing those good works which honour God. More specifically: “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:31). “Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love; for if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ... for if ye do these things ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” ( 2 Peter 1:5-11). That is “the work of the Lord,” that the task assigned us. Then let not the difficulty of such duties nor the imperfections of your performances dishearten you; suffer not the hatred of your enemies nor the severity of their opposition to deter you. “Let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” ( Galatians 6:9). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” ( 1 Corinthians 15:58).
In the first portion of this discourse we did little more than give a topical treatment of this verse: let us now furnish a contextual exposition of it. In verses 55 and 56 the apostle asked, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” to which he replied, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” Then he exultantly cried: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 57).
The tense of the verb should be closely observed: it is not “hath given” nor “will give,” but “giveth us the victory.” It is also to be carefully noted that the “victory” here referred to is one over death and the grave viewed in connection with sin and the Law, and that it is shared by all saints and is not some peculiar experience which only a few fully consecrated souls enter into. Obviously, that victory will only be fully and historically realized on the resurrection morning; yet even now it is apprehended by faith and enjoyed by hope, and, in proportion as it really is so, will the believer know practically something of “the power of Christ’s resurrection.” “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” is the language of joyful faith, in response to the revelation given in the previous fifty-six verses. Christ’s triumph over death as the wages of sin and the penalty of the Law ensures the resurrection of all His sleeping saints, for it was as their federal Head (verses 20-22) that He suffered for their sins and bore the Law’s curse, as it was that as “the last Adam” (verse 45) He was victorious over the tomb. As faith lays hold of that blessed truth and its possessor appropriates a personal interest therein, he realizes that he himself has (judicially) passed from death to life, that sin cannot slay nor the Law curse him, that he is justified by God “from all things” ( Acts 13:39). Such a realization cannot but move him to exclaim “Thanks be to God.” By virtue of his union with Christ, for him death’s sting has been extracted, and therefore it has been robbed of all terror. It is sin which gives power and horror to death, but since Christ has made full atonement for the believer’s sin and obtained remission for him, death can no more harm him than could a wasp whose venomous sting had been removed—though it might still buzz and hiss and attempt to disturb him. “The strength of sin is the Law”: its power to condemn was supplied by the transgressing of it. But since Christ was made a curse for us we are released therefrom. The entire threatening and penalty of the Law was executed upon the Surety, and therefore those in whose stead He bore it are exempted from the same. But more: because in Eden sin violated the holy commandment of the Lawgiver, the Law received a commanding power over the sinner, making sin to rage and reign in him, compelling him to serve it as a slave. That was but just. Since man preferred the exercise of self-will to submission to the authority of his Maker, the Law was given both a condemning and commanding power over him. In other words, the enthralling power or strength which sin exerts over its subjects is an intrinsic part of the Law’s curse. The Law commands holiness, but by reason of man’s depravity its very precepts exasperate his corruptions—as the sun shining on a dung-heap stirs up its filthy vapors. God punishes sin with sin: since the commission of sin was man’s choice, the strength of sin shall be his doom. But Christ has not only delivered His people from the penalty of sin, but from its reigning power too, so that His promise is “Sin shall not have dominion over you” ( Romans 6:14). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”: let that be your response to mercies so great. Manifestly, the apostle is here drawing a conclusion from all that precedes, particularly from what is said in verses 56 and 57. Divine grace, through the death and resurrection of Christ, has judicially delivered the believer from both the guilt and dominion of sin, and from the whole curse of the Law. How then shall he answer to such blessings? Why, by seeing to it that those mercies are now made good by him in a practical way. And how is he to set about the same?
First , by complying with Romans 6:11: “Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to have died indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord”; which in the light of the previous verse signifies: By the exercise of faith in what the Word declares, regard yourselves as having legally passed from death to life in the person of your Surety.
Second , by heeding Romans 6:12: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof”; which means: Suffer not indwelling sin to lord it over you. Since you be absolved from all you did in the past, yield obedience to God and not to your corruptions.
We cannot rightly interpret 1 Corinthians 15:58, unless its connection with verses 56 and 57 be duly noted. Its opening “Therefore” is as logical and necessary as the one in Romans 6:12, and what follows that passage enables us to understand our present one. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God”: that is, conduct yourselves practically in harmony with what is true of you (in Christ) legally. Another parallel passage is, “Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” ( 1 Peter 4:1), where the doctrinal fact is first stated, and then the practical duty enjoined.
Legally, “victory” is ours now, as our justification by God demonstrates.
Experientially, we have been freed from the dominion of sin, and are delivered, in measure, from its enticing power, for there is now that in us which hates and opposes it. At death, sin is completely eradicated from the soul; and at resurrection its last trace will have disappeared from the body.
In view of our participation in Christ’s victory, we are here informed of the particular duty which is incumbent upon us, namely to strive against sin, resist temptation, overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and bring forth the fruits of holiness to Him. But, in order thereto, we must be “steadfast” in the conviction of our oneness with Christ in His death and resurrection, and “unmovable” in our love and gratitude to Him. The Greek for “always abounding in the work of the Lord” conveys the idea of quality more than quantity, progressive improvement rather than multiplicity of works—”continually making advance in true piety” (Matthew Henry). Excel in it is the thought: rest not satisfied with present progress and attainments, but each fresh day endeavour to perform your duty better than on the previous one. This lifelong task of mortification and sanctification is called “the work of the Lord” because it is the one which He has assigned us, because it can be performed only in His strength, and because it is that which is peculiarly well pleasing in His sight.
That duty can only be discharged in a right spirit as faith apprehends the Christian’s union with Christ, and then thankfully acts accordingly. There cannot be any Gospel holiness without such a realization. There can be no evangelical obedience until the heart is really assured that Christ has removed death’s “sting” for us and has taken away from the Law the “strength of sin. Only then can the believer serve God in “newness of spirit”: that is, in loving gratitude, and not from dread or to earn something. Only then will he truly realize that as in the Lord he has “righteousness” for his justification, so in Him he has “strength” ( Isaiah 45:22) for his walk and warfare. Thus the opening “Therefore” of our verse not only draws a conclusion which states the obligation entailed by the inestimable blessings enumerated in the context, but also supplies a power motive for the performance of that obligation—a performance which is to be regarded as a great privilege. Since “Christ died for our sins (verse 3), since He be “risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” (verse 20), since we shall be “raised in glory” and “bear the image of the heavenly,” let our gratitude be expressed in a life of practical holiness.
A second motive to inspire the performance of this duty is contained in the closing clause of our verse: “forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” He will be no man’s Debtor: every sincere effort of gratitude—however faulty its execution—is valued by Him and shall be recompensed. “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which ye have showed toward His name” ( Hebrews 6:10).
The Christian should be fully assured that a genuine endeavour to do God’s will and promote His glory will receive His smile, produce peace of conscience and joy of heart here, and His “well done” hereafter. “In the keeping of His commandments there is great reward.” This was the motive which animated Moses in his great renunciation ( Hebrews 11:24-26): “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” “Forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” “Labour” is a stronger word than “work,” signifying effort to the point of fatigue. “In the Lord” means in union with and dependence upon Him.
Such labour shall not be strength spent for naught. Yet that is exactly what it appears to be to the Christian. To him it seems his efforts to mortify his lusts and develop his graces are utterly futile. He feels that his best endeavors to resist sin and bring forth the fruits of holiness are a total failure. That is because he judges by sight and sense! God, who looks at the heart and accepts the sincere will for the deed, reckons otherwise. “Ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”: such an assurance is ours in exact proportion to the measure of faith. The more confident our hope of reward, the more determined will be our efforts to mortify sin and practice holiness—the only “labour” God has assured us “is not in vain”!
CHAPTER - THE SUPREMACY OF GOD In one of his letters to Erasmus, Luther said, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” Probably that renowned scholar resented such a rebuke, the more so since it proceeded from a miner’s son; nevertheless, it was thoroughly deserved. We, too, though having no standing among the religious leaders of this degenerate age, prefer the same charge against the vast majority of the preachers of our day, and against those who, instead of searching the Scriptures for themselves, lazily accept their teachings. The most dishonoring and degrading conceptions of the rule and reign of the Almighty are now held almost everywhere. To countless thousands, even among those professing to be Christians, the God of Scripture is quite unknown.
Of old, God complained to an apostate Israel, “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself” ( Psalm 50:21). Such must now be His indictment against the apostate Christendom. Men imagine that the Most High is moved by sentiment, rather than actuated by principle. They suppose that His omnipotency is such an idle fiction that Satan is thwarting His designs on every side. They think that if He has formed any plan or purpose at all, then it must be like theirs, constantly subject to change. They openly declare that whatever power He possesses must be restricted, lest He invade the citadel of man’s “free will” and reduce him to a “machine.”
They lower the all-efficacious Atonement, which has actually redeemed everyone for whom it was made, to a mere “remedy,” which sin-sick souls may use if they feel disposed to; and then enervate the invincible work of the Holy Spirit to an “offer” of the Gospel which sinners may accept or reject as they please.
The supremacy of the true and living God might well be argued from the infinite distance which separates the mightiest creatures from the almighty Creator. He is the Potter, they are but the clay in His hands, to be molded into vessels of honour, or to be dashed into pieces ( Psalm 2:9) as He pleases. Were all the denizens of heaven and all the inhabitants of earth to combine in open revolt against Him, it would occasion Him no uneasiness, and would have less effect upon His eternal and unassailable throne than has the spray of the Mediterranean’s waves upon the towering rock of Gibraltar. So peurile (?) and powerless is the creature to affect the Most High that Scripture itself tells us that when the Gentile heads unite with apostate Israel to defy Jehovah and His Christ “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh “( Psalm 2:4).
The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures. “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above all... and Thou reignest over all” ( 1 Chronicles 29:11,12) —note “reignest” now, not “will do so in the millennium.” “O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none [not even the Devil himself] is able to withstand Thee?” ( 2 Chronicles 20:6).
Ah, my reader, the God of Scripture is no make-believe monarch, no mere imaginary sovereign, but King of kings, and Lord of lords. “I know that Thou canst do every thing, and that no thought of Thine can be hindered” ( Job 42:2, margin), or, as another translator, “no purpose of Thine can be frustrated.” All that He has designed He does. All that He has decreed He perfects. All that He has promised He performs. “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” ( <19B503> Psalm 115:3).
And why has He? Because “there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord” ( Proverbs 21:30).
God’s supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Maker’s bidding. At His pleasure, the Red Sea divided and its waters stood up as walls (Exodus 14); the earth opened her mouth, and guilty rebels went down alive into the pit (Numbers 14). When He so ordered, the sun stood still (Joshua 10); and on another occasion went backward ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz ( Isaiah 38:8). To exemplify His supremacy, He made ravens carry food to Elijah (1 Kings 17), iron to swim on top of the waters ( 2 Kings 6:5), lions to be tame when Daniel was cast into their den, fire to burn not when the three Hebrews were flung into its flames. Thus “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” ( <19D506> Psalm 135:6).
The absolute and universal supremacy of God is affirmed with equal plainness and positiveness in the New Testament. There we are told that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” ( Ephesians 1:11) —the Greek for “worketh” means “to work effectually.” For this reason we read, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” ( Romans 11:36).
Men may boast that they are free agents, with wills of their own, and are at liberty to do as they please, but Scripture says to those who boast, “We will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell... Ye ought to say, if the Lord will” ( James 4:13,15)!
Here then is a sure resting-place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity, and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. Not a hair of our heads can be touched without His permission. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” ( Proverbs 16:9).