THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL


By Watchman Nee


      For our final chapter we will take as our starting-point an incident in the Gospels that occurs under the very shadow of the Cross-an incident that, in its details, is at once historic and prophetic.

      ” And while he was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster cruse of ointment of spikenard very costly; and she brake the cruse, and poured it over his head . . . Jesus said . . . Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her ” (Mark 14. 3, 6, 9).

      Thus the Lord ordained that the story of Mary anointing Him with that costly ointment should always accompany the story of the Gospel; that what Mary has done should always be coupled with what the Lord has done. That is His own statement. What does He intend that we should understand by it?

      I think we all know the story of Mary’s action well. From the details given in John chapter 12, where the incident follows not long after her brother’s restoration to life, we may gather that the family was not a specially wealthy one. The sisters had to work in the house themselves, for we are told that at this feast ” Martha also served ” (John 12. 2 and compare Luke 10. 40). No doubt every penny mattered to them. Yet one of those sisters, Mary, having among her treasures an alabaster cruse containing three hundred pence’ worth of ointment, expended the whole thing on the Lord. Human reasoning said this was really too much; it was giving the Lord more than His due. That is why Judas took the lead, and the other disciples supported him, in voicing a general complaint that Mary’s action was a wasteful one.

      WASTE

      ” But there were some that had indignation among themselves, saying, To what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made? For this ointment might have been sold for above three hundred pence and given to the poor. And they murmured against her” (Mark 14. 4, 5). These words bring us to what I believe the Lord would have us consider finally together, namely, that which is signified by the little word ” waste “.

      What is waste? Waste means, among other things, giving more than is necessary. If a shilling will do and you give a pound, it is a waste. If two ounces will do and you give a kilogram, it is a waste. If three days will suffice to finish a task well enough and you lavish five days or a week on it, it is a waste. Waste means that you give something too much for something too little. If someone is receiving more than he is considered to be worth, then that is waste.

      The author here takes the fairly common view that the ” house of Simon the leper” was the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Simon presumably also being a relative of the two sisters.?ED.

      But remember, we are dealing here with something which the Lord said had to go out with the Gospel, wherever that Gospel should be carried. Why? Because He intends that the preaching of the Gospel should issue in something along the very lines of the action of Mary here, namely, that people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him. This is the result that He is seeking.

      We must look at this question of wasting on the Lord from two angles: that of Judas (John 12.4 – 6) and that of the other disciples (Matt. 26. 8, 9); and for our present purpose we will run together the parallel accounts. All the twelve thought it a waste. To Judas of course, who had never called Jesus ‘Lord’, everything that was poured out upon Him was waste. Not only was ointment waste; even water would have been waste. Here Judas stands for the world. In the world’s estimation the service of the Lord, and our giving ourselves to Him for such service, is sheer waste. He has never been loved, never had a place in the hearts of the world, so any giving to Him is a waste. Many say: ‘ Such-and-such a man could make good in the world if only he were not a Christian!’ Because a man has some natural talent or other asset in the world’s eyes, they count it a shame for him to be serving the Lord. They think such people are really too good for the Lord. ‘What waste of a useful life!’ they say.

   Let me give a personal instance. In 1929 I returned from Shanghai to my home town of Foochow. One day I was walking along the street with a stick, very weak and in broken health, and I met one of my old college professors. He took me into a teashop where we sat down. He looked at me from head to foot and from foot to head, and then he said: ‘Now look here; during your college days we thought a good deal of you and we had hopes that you would achieve something great. Do you mean to tell me that this is what you are?’ Looking at me with penetrating eyes, he asked that very pointed question. I must confess that, on hearing it, my first desire was to break down and weep. My career, my health, everything had gone, and here was my old professor who taught me law in the school, asking me: ‘ Are you still in this condition, with no success, no progress, nothing to show?’

      But the very next moment-and I have to admit that in all my life it was the first time I really knew what it meant to have the ” Spirit of glory ” resting upon me. The thought of being able to pour out my life for my Lord flooded my soul with glory. Nothing short of the Spirit of glory was on me then. I could look up and without a reservation say: ‘ Lord, I praise Thee ! This is the best thing possible; it is the right course that I have chosen!’ To my professor it seemed a total waste to serve the Lord; but that is what the Gospel is for-to bring us to a true estimate of His worth.

      Judas felt it a waste. ‘ We could manage better with the money by using it in some other way. There are plenty of poor people. Why not rather give it for charity, do some social service for their uplift, help the poor in some practical way? Why pour it out at the feet of Jesus?’ (See John 12. 4 – 6.) That is always the way the world reasons. ‘ Can you not find a better employment for your life? Can you not do something better with yourself than this? It is going a bit too far to give yourself altogether to the Lord!’

      But if the Lord is worthy, then how can it be a waste ? He is worthy to be so served. He is worthy for me to be His prisoner. He is worthy for me just to live for Him. He is worthy! What the world says about this does not matter. The Lord says: ‘ Do not trouble her ‘. So let us not be troubled. Men may say what they like, but we can stand on this ground, that the Lord said: ‘ It is a good work. Every true work is not done on the poor; every true work is done to Me.! When once our eyes have been opened to the real worth of our Lord Jesus, nothing is too good for Him.

      But I do not want to dwell too much on Judas. Let us go on to see what was the attitude of the other disciples, because their reaction affects us even more than does his. We do not greatly mind what the world is saying; we can stand that, but we do very much mind what other Christians are saying who ought to understand. And yet we find that they said the same thing as Judas; and they not only said it but they were very upset, very indignant about it. ” When the disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor ” (Matt. 26. 8, 9).

      Of course we know that the attitude of mind is all too common among Christians which says, ‘Get all you can for as little as possible’. That however is not what is in view here, but something deeper. Let me illustrate. Has someone been telling you that you are wasting your life by sitting still and not doing much? They say, ‘ Here are people who ought to get out into this or that kind of work. They could be used to help this or that group of people. Why are they not more active? – and in saying so, their whole idea is use. Everything ought to be used to the full in ways they understand.

      There are those who have been very concerned with some dear servants of the Lord on this very ground, that they are apparently not doing enough. They could do so much more, they think, if they could secure an entry somewhere and enjoy a greater acceptance and prominence in certain circles. They could then be used in a far greater way. I have spoken already of a sister whom I knew for a long time and who, I think, is the one by whom I have been helped most. She was used of the Lord in a very real way during those years when I was associated with her, though to some of us at the time this was not so apparent. The one concern in my heart was this: ‘She is not used!’ Constantly I said to myself, ‘Why does she not get out and take some meetings, go somewhere, do something? It is a waste for her to be living in that small village with nothing happening!’ Sometimes, when I went to see her, I almost shouted at her. I said, ‘No one knows the Lord as you do. You know the Book in a most living way. Do you not see the need around? Why don’t you do something? It is a waste of time, a waste of energy, a waste of money, a waste of everything, just sitting here and doing nothing!’

      But no, brethren, that is not the first thing with the Lord. He wants you and me to be used, certainly. God forbid that I should preach inactivity or seek to justify a complacent attitude to the world’s need. As Jesus Himself says here, ” the gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world”. But the question is one of emphasis. Looking back to-day, I realise how greatly the Lord was in fact using that dear sister to speak to a number of us who, as young men, were at that time in His training school for this very work of the Gospel. I cannot thank God enough for her.

      What, then, is the secret? Clearly it is this, that in approving Mary’s action at Bethany, the Lord Jesus was laying down one thing as a basis of all service: that you pour out all you have, your very self, unto Him; and if that should be all He allows you to do, that is enough. It is not first of all a question of whether ‘ the poor’ have been helped or not. The first question is: Has the Lord been satisfied?

      There is many a meeting we might address, many a convention at which we might minister, many a Gospel campaign in which we might have a share. It is not that we are unable to do it. We could labour and be used to the full; but the Lord is not so concerned about our ceaseless occupation in work for Him. That is not His first object. The service of the Lord is not to be measured by tangible results. No, my friends, the Lord’s first concern is with our position at His feet and our anointing of His head. Whatever we have as an ‘ alabaster box ‘: the most precious thing, the thing dearest in the world to us?yes, let me say it, the outflow from us of a life that is produced by the very Cross itself-we give that all up to the Lord. To some, even of those who should understand, it seems a waste; but that is what He seeks above all. Often enough the giving to Him will be in tireless service, but He reserves to Himself the right to suspend the service for a time in order to discover to us whether it is that or Himself that holds us.

      MINISTERING TO HIS PLEASURE

      ” Wheresoever the gospel shall be preached . . . that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of” (Mark 14. 9). Why did the Lord say this? Because the Gospel is meant to produce this. It is what the Gospel is for. The Gospel is not just to satisfy sinners. Praise the Lord, sinners will be satisfied! but their satisfaction is, we may say, a blessed by-product of the Gospel and not its primary aim. The Gospel is preached in the first place so that the Lord may be satisfied.

      I am afraid we lay too much emphasis on the good of sinners and we have not sufficiently appreciated what the Lord has in view as His goal. We have been thinking how the sinner will fare if there is no Gospel, but that is not the main consideration. Yes, Praise God! the sinner has his part. God meets his need and showers him with blessings; but that is not the most important thing. The first thing is this, that everything should be to the satisfaction of the Son of God. It is only when He is satisfied that we shall be satisfied and the sinner will be satisfied. I have never met a soul who has set out to satisfy the Lord and has not been satisfied himself. It is impossible. Our satisfaction comes unfailingly when we satisfy Him first.

      But we have to remember this, that He will never be satisfied without our ‘wasting’ ourselves upon Him. Have you ever given too much to the Lord? May I tell you something? One lesson some of us have come to learn is this, that in Divine service the principle of waste is the principle of power. The principle which determines usefulness is the very principle of scattering. Real usefulness in the hand of God is measured in terms of ‘waste’. The more you think you can do, and the more you employ your gifts up to the very limit (and some even go over the limit! ) in order to do it, the more you find that you are applying the principle of the world and not of the Lord. God’s ways with us are all designed to establish in us this other principle, namely, that our work for Him springs out of our ministering to Him. I do not mean that we are going to do nothing; but the first thing for us must be the Lord Himself, not His work.

      But we must come down to very practical issues. You say: ‘ I have given up a position; I have given up a ministry; I have foregone certain attractive possibilities of a bright future, in order to go on with the Lord in this way. Now I try to serve Him. Sometimes it seems that the Lord hears me, and sometimes He keeps me waiting for a definite answer. Sometimes He uses me, but sometimes it seems that He passes me by. Then, when this is so, I compare myself with that other fellow who is in a certain big system. He too had a bright future, but he has never given it up. He continues on and he serves the Lord. He sees souls saved and the Lord blesses his ministry. He is successful? I do not mean materially, but spiritually-and I sometimes think he looks more like a Christian than I do, so happy, so satisfied. After all, what do I get out of this? He has a good time; I have all the bad time. He has never gone this way, and yet he has much that Christians to-day regard as spiritual prosperity, while I have all sorts of complications coming to me. What is the meaning of it all? Am I wasting my life? Have I really given too much?’

      So there is your problem. You feel that were you to follow in that other brother’s steps-were you, shall we say, to consecrate yourself enough for the blessing but not enough for the trouble, enough for the Lord to use you but not enough for Him to shut you up-all would be perfectly all right. But would it? You know perfectly well that it would not.

      Take your eyes off that other man! Look at your Lord, and ask yourself again what it is that He values most highly. The principle of waste is the principle that He would have govern us. ‘ She is doing this for Me.’ Real satisfaction is brought to the heart of the Son of God only when we are really, as people would think, ‘wasting’ ourselves upon Him. It seems as though we are giving too much and getting nothing-and that is the secret of pleasing God.

      Oh, friends, what are we after? Are we after ‘ use ‘ as those disciples were? They wanted to make every penny of those three hundred pence go to its full length. The whole question was one of obvious ‘ usefulness ‘ to God in terms that could be measured and put on record. The Lord waits to hear us say: ‘Lord, I do not mind about that. If I can only please Thee, it is enough ‘.

      ANOINTING HIM BEFOREHAND

      ” Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor always with you, and whensoever ye will ye can do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she hath anointed my body aforehand for the burying ” (Mark 14. 6 – 8).

      In these verses the Lord Jesus introduces a time-factor with the word ‘ beforehand’, and this is something of which we can have a new application to-day, for it is as important to us now as it was to her then. We all know that in the age to come we shall be called to a greater work-not to inactivity. ” Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord ” (Matthew 25.21; and compare Matthew 24.47 and Luke 19.17). Yes, there will be a greater work; for the work of God’s house will go on, just as in the story the care of the poor went on. The poor would always be with them, but they could not always have Him. There was something, represented by this pouring out of the ointment, which Mary had to do beforehand or she would have no later opportunity. I believe that in that day we shall all love Him as we have never done now, but yet that it will be most blessed for those who have poured out their all upon the Lord to-day. When we see Him face to face I trust that we shall all break and pour out everything for Him. But to-day-what are we doing to-day?

      Several days after Mary broke the alabaster box and poured the ointment on Jesus’ head, there were some women who went early in the morning to anoint the body of the Lord. Did they do it? Did they succeed in their purpose on that first day of the week? No, there was only one soul who succeeded in anointing the Lord, and it was Mary, who anointed Him beforehand. The others never did it, for He had risen. Now I suggest that in just such a way the matter of time may be important to us also, and that the whole question for us is: What am I doing to the Lord to-day?

      Have our eyes been opened to see the preciousness of the One whom we are serving? Have we come to see that nothing less than the dearest, the costliest, the most precious, is fit for Him? Have we come to see that working for the poor, working for the benefit of the world, working for the souls of men and for the eternal good of the sinner? all these so necessary and valuable things? are right only if they are in their place? In themselves, as things apart, they are as nothing compared with work that is done to the Lord.

      The Lord has to open our eyes to His worth. If there is in the world some precious art treasure, and I pay the high price asked for it, be it one thousand, ten thousand, or even a million pounds, dare anyone say it is a waste ? The idea of waste only comes into our Christianity when we underestimate the worth of our Lord. The whole question is: How precious is He to us now? If we do not think much of Him, then of course to give Him anything at all, however small, will seem to us a wicked waste. But when He is really precious to our souls, nothing will be too good, nothing too costly for Him; everything we have, our dearest, our most priceless treasure, we shall pour out upon Him, and we shall not count it a shame to have done so.

      Of Mary the Lord said: ” She hath done what she could”. What does that mean? It means that she had given up her all. She had kept nothing in reserve for a future day. She had lavished on Him all she had; and yet on the resurrection morning she had no reason to regret her extravagance. And the Lord will not be satisfied with anything less from us than that we too should have done ‘what we could’. By this, remember, I do not mean the expenditure of our effort and energy in trying to do something for Him, for that is not the point here. What the Lord Jesus looks for in us is a life laid at His feet-and that in view of His death and burial and of a future day. His burial was already in view that day in the home in Bethany. To-day it is His crowning that is in view-when He shall be acclaimed in glory as the Anointed One, the Christ of God. Yes, then we shall pour out our all upon Him! But it is a precious thing? indeed it is a far more precious thing to Him-that we should anoint Him now, not with any material oil but with something costly, something from our hearts.

      That which is merely external and superficial has no place here. It has already been dealt with by the Cross, and we have given our consent to God’s judgment upon it and learnt to know in experience its cutting off. What God is demanding of us now is represented by that flask of alabaster: something mined from the depths, something turned and chased and wrought upon, something that, because it is so truly of the Lord, we cherish as Mary cherished that flask-and we would not, we dare not break it. It comes now from the heart, from the very depth of our being; and we come to the Lord with that, and we break it and pour it out and say: ‘ Lord, here it is. It is all Yours, because You are worthy! ‘?and the Lord has got what He desired. May He receive such an anointing from us to-day.

      FRAGRANCE

      ” And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12. 3). By the breaking of that flask and the anointing of the Lord Jesus, the house was pervaded with the sweetest fragrance. Everyone could smell it and none could be unaware of it. What is the significance of this?

      Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered ?someone who has gone through experiences with the Lord that have brought limitation, and who, instead of trying to break free in order to be ‘used’, has been willing to be imprisoned by Him and has thus learned to find satisfaction in the Lord and nowhere else-then immediately you become aware of something. Immediately your spiritual senses detect a sweet savour of Christ. Something has been crushed, something has been broken in that life, and so you smell the odour. The odour that filled the house that day in Bethany still fills the Church to-day; Mary’s fragrance never passes. It needed but one stroke to break the flask for the Lord, but that breaking and the fragrance of that anointing abides.

      We are speaking here of what we are; not of what we do or what we preach. Perhaps you may have been asking the Lord for a long time that He will be pleased to use you in such a way as to impart impressions of Himself to others. That prayer is not exactly for the gift of preaching or teaching. It is rather that you might be able, in your touch with others, to impart God, the presence of God, the sense of God. Dear friends, you cannot produce such impressions of God upon others without the breaking of everything, even your most precious possessions, at the feet of the Lord Jesus.

      But if once that point is reached, you may or may not seem to be much used in an outward way, but God will begin to use you to create a hunger in others. People will scent Christ in you. The least saint in the Body will detect that. He will sense that here is one who has gone with the Lord, one who has suffered, one who has not moved freely, independently, but who has known what it is to let go everything to Him. That kind of life creates impressions, and impressions create hunger, and hunger provokes men to go on seeking until they are brought by Divine revelation into fulness of life in Christ.

      God does not set us here first of all to preach or to do work for Him. The first thing for which He sets us here is to create in others a hunger for Himself. That is, after all, what prepares the soil for the preaching.

      If you set a delicious cake in front of two men who have just had a heavy meal, what will be their reaction? They will talk about it, admire its appearance, discuss the recipe, argue about the cost-do everything in fact but eat it! But if they are truly hungry it will not be very long before that cake is gone. And so it is with the things of the Spirit. No true work will ever begin in a life without first of all a sense of need being created. But how can this be done? We cannot inject spiritual appetite by force Into others; we cannot compel people to be hungry. Hunger has to be created, and it can be created in others only by those who carry with them the impressions of God.

      I always like to think of the words of that ” great woman” of Shunem. Speaking of the prophet, whom she had observed but whom she did not know well, she said: ” Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually ” (2 Kings 4. 9). It was not what Elisha said or did that conveyed that impression, but what he was. By his merely passing by she could detect something; she could see. What are people sensing about us ? We may leave many kinds of impressions: we may leave the impression that we are clever, that we are gifted, that we are this or that or the other. But no: the impression left by Elisha was an impression of God Himself.

      This matter of our impact upon others turns upon one thing, and that is the working of the Cross in us with regard to the pleasure of the heart of God. It demands that I seek His pleasure, that I seek to satisfy Him only, and that I do not mind how much it costs me to do so. The sister of whom I have spoken came once into a situation that was very difficult for her; I mean, it was costing her everything. I was with her at the time, and together we knelt down and prayed with wet eyes. Looking up she said: ‘ Lord, I am willing to break my heart in order that I may satisfy Thy heart!’ To talk thus of heart-break might with many of us be merely romantic sentiment, but in the particular situation in which she was, it meant to her just that.

      There must be something-a willingness to yield, a breaking and a pouring out of everything to Him? which gives release to that fragrance of Christ and produces in other lives an awareness of need, drawing them out and on to know the Lord. This is what I feel to be the heart of everything. The Gospel has as its one object the producing in us sinners of a condition that will satisfy the heart of our God. In order that He may have that, we come to Him with all we have, all we arc yes, even the most cherished things in our spiritual experience-and we make known to Him: ‘ Lord, I am willing to let go all of this for You: not just for Your work, not for Your children, not for anything else, but for Yourself !’

      Oh, to be wasted! It is a blessed thing to be wasted for the Lord. So many who have been prominent in the Christian world know nothing of this. Many of us have been used to the full-have been used, I would say, too much-but we do not know what it means to be wasted on God. We like to be always ‘on the go ‘: the Lord would sometimes prefer to have us in prison. We think in terms of apostolic journeys: God dares to put His greatest ambassadors in chains.

      ” But thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest through us the savour of his knowledge in every place ” (2 Cor. 2.14). “And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12. 3).

      The Lord grant us grace that we may learn how to please Him. When, like Paul, we make this our supreme aim (2 Cor. 5. 9), the Gospel will have achieved its end.

 

 

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One response to “THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL

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    By Watchman Nee


    Before we pass on to our last important subject we will review some of the ground we have covered and summarize the steps taken. We have sought to make things simple, and to explain clearly some of the experiences which Christians commonly pass through. But it is clear that the new discoveries that we make as we walk with the Lord are many, and we must be careful to avoid the temptation to over-simplify the work of God. To do so may lead us into serious confusion.

          There are children of God who believe that all our salvation, in which they would include the matter of leading a holy life, lies in an appreciation of the value of the precious Blood. They rightly emphasize the importance of keeping short accounts with God over known specific sins, and the continual efficacy of the Blood to deal with sins committed, but they think of the Blood as doing everything. They believe in a holiness which in fact means only separation of the man from his past; that, through the up-todate blotting out of what he has done on the ground of the shed Blood, God separates a man out of the world to be His, and that is holiness ; and they stop there. Thus they stop short of God’s basic demands, and so of the full provision He has made. I think we have by now seen clearly the inadequacy of this. Then there are those who go further and see that God has included them in the death of His Son on the Cross, in order to deliver them from sin and the Law by dealing with the old man. These are they who really exercise faith in the Lord, for they glory in Christ Jesus and have ceased to put confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3. 3). In them God has a clear foundation on which to build. And from this as starting-point, many have gone further still and recognized that consecration (using that word in the right sense) means giving themselves without reserve into His hands and following Him. All these are first steps, and starting from them we have already touched upon other phases of experience set before us by God and enjoyed by many. It is always essential for us to remember that, while each of them is a precious fragment of truth, no single one of them is by itself the whole of truth. All come to us as the fruit of the work of Christ on the Cross, and we cannot afford to ignore any.

          A GATE AND A PATH

          Recognizing a number of such phases in the life and experience of a believer, we note now a further fact, namely that, though these phases do not necessarily occur always in a fixed and precise order, they seem to be marked by certain recurring steps or features. What are these steps? First there is revelation. As we have seen, this always precedes faith and experience. Through His Word God opens our eyes to the truth of some fact concerning His Son, and then only, as in faith we accept that fact for ourselves, does it become actual as experience in our lives. Thus we have:

          1. Revelation (Objective). 2. Experience (Subjective).

          Then further, we note that such experience usually takes the two-fold form of a crisis leading to a continuous process. It is most helpful to think of this in terms of John Bunyan’s ‘wicket gate’ through which Christian entered upon a’ narrow path’. Our Lord Jesus spoke of such a gate and a path leading unto life (Matt. 7. 14), and experience accords with this. So now we have:

          1. Revelation. 2. Experience: (a) A wicket gate (Crisis) (b) A narrow path (Process).

          Now let us take some of the subjects we have been dealing with and see how this helps us to understand them. We will take first our justification and new birth. This begins with a revelation of the Lord Jesus in His atoning work for our sins on the Cross; there follows the crisis of repentance and faith (the wicket gate), whereby we are initially ” made nigh ” to God (Eph. 2.13); and this leads us into a walk of maintained fellowship with Him (the narrow path), for which the ground of our day-to-day access is still the precious Blood (Heb. 10. 19, 22). When we come to deliverance from sin, we again have three steps: the Holy Spirit’s work of revelation, or ‘knowing’ (Rom. 6. 6); the crisis of faith, or ‘reckoning’ (Rom. 6. 11) ; and the continuing process of consecration, or ‘presenting ourselves’ to God (Rom. 6. 13) on the basis of a walk in newness of life. Consider next the gift of the Holy Spirit. This too begins with a new ‘seeing’ of the Lord Jesus as exalted to the throne, which issues in the dual experience of the Spirit outpoured and the Spirit indwelling. Going a stage further, to the matter of pleasing God, we find again the need for spiritual illumination, that we may see the values of the Cross in regard to ‘the flesh’-the entire self- life of man. Our acceptance of this by faith leads at once to a ‘ wicket gate’ experience (Rom. 7. 25), in which we initially cease from’ doing’ and accept by faith the mighty working of the life of Christ to satisfy God’s practical demands in us. This in turn leads us into the ‘narrow path’ of a walk in obedience to the Spirit (Rom. 8. 4).

      The picture is not identical in each case, and we must beware of forcing any rigid pattern upon the Holy Spirit’s working; but perhaps any new experience will come to us more or less on these lines. There will certainly always be first an opening of our eyes to some new aspect of Christ and His finished work, and then faith will open a gate into a pathway. Remember, too, that our division of Christian experience into various subjects: justification, new birth, the gift of the Spirit, deliverance, sanctification, etc., is for our clearer under standing only. It does not mean that these stages must or will always follow one another in a certain prescribed order. In fact, if a full presentation of Christ and His Cross is made to us at the very outset, we may well step into a great deal of experience from the first day of our Christian life, even though the full explanation of much of it may follow later. Would that all Gospel preaching were of such a kind!

          One thing is certain, that revelation will always precede faith. When we see something that God has done in Christ our natural response is: ‘Thank you, Lord!’ and faith follows spontaneously. Revelation is always the* work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to come alongside and, by opening the Scriptures to us, to guide us into all the truth (John 16. 1.3). Count upon Him, for He is here for that very thing; and when such difficulties as lack of understanding or lack of faith confront you, address those difficulties directly to the Lord : ‘Lord, open my eyes. Lord, make this new thing clear to me. Lord, help Thou my unbelief!’ He will not fail you.

          THE FOURFOLD WORK OF CHRIST IN His CROSS

          We are now in a position to go a step further still and to consider how great a range is compassed by the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the light of Christian experience and for the purpose of analysis, it may help us if we recognize four aspects of God’s redemptive work. But in doing so it is essential to keep in mind that the Cross of Christ is one Divine work-and not many. Once in Judea two thousand years ago the Lord Jesus died and rose again, and He is now ” by the right hand of God exalted ” (Acts 2. 3 3). The work is finished and need never be repeated, nor can it be added to.

          Of the four aspects of the Cross which we shall now mention, we have already dealt with three in some detail. The last will be considered in the two succeeding chapters of our study. They may be briefly summarised as follows:

          1. The Blood of Christ to deal with sins and guilt.

          2. The Cross of Christ to deal with sin, the flesh and the natural man.

          3. The Life of Christ made available to indwell, re-create and empower man.

          4. The Working of Death in the natural man that that indwelling Life may be progressively manifest.

          The first two of these aspects are remedial. They relate to the undoing of the work of the Devil and the undoing of the sin of man. The last two are not remedial but positive, and relate more directly to the securing of the purpose of God. The first two are concerned with recovering what Adam lost by the Fall ; the last two are concerned with bringing us into, and bringing into us, something that Adam never had. Thus we see that the achievement of the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection comprises both a work which provided for the redemption of man and a work which made possible the realisation of the purpose of God.

          We have dealt at some length in earlier chapters with the two aspects of His death represented by the Blood for sins and guilt and the Cross for sin and the flesh. In our discussion of the eternal purpose we have also looked briefly at the third aspect-that represented by Christ as the grain of wheat-and in our last chapter, in our consideration of Christ as our life, we have seen something of its practical outworking. Before, however, we pass on to the fourth aspect, which I shall call ‘bearing the cross’, we must say a little more about this third side, namely, the release of the life of Christ in resurrection for man’s indwelling and empowering for service. We have spoken already of the purpose of God in creation and have said that it embraced far more than Adam ever came to enjoy. What was that purpose? God wanted to have a race of men whose members were gifted with a spirit whereby communion would be possible with Himself, who is Spirit. That race, possessing God’s own life, was to co-operate in securing His purposed end by defeating every possible uprising of the enemy and undoing his evil works. That was the great plan. How will it now be effected? The answer is again to be found in the death of the Lord Jesus. It is a mighty death. It is something positive and purposive, going far beyond the recovery of a lost position ; for by it, not only are sin and the old man dealt with and their effects annulled, but something more, something infinitely greater is introduced.

          THE LOVE OF CHRIST

          Now we must have before us two passages of the Word, one from Genesis 2 and one from Ephesians 5, which are of great importance in this connection.

          ” And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept ; and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof : and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh : she shall be called Woman (Heb. ishshah), because she was taken out of Man (Heb. ish)” (Gen. 2.21-23). “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it ; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish ” (Eph. 5. 2 5 – 2 7).

          In Ephesians 5 we have the only chapter in the Bible which explains the passage in Genesis 2. What we have presented to us in Ephesians is indeed very remarkable, if we reflect upon it. I refer to what is contained in those words: ” Christ … loved the church “. There is something most precious here.

          We have been taught to think of ourselves as sinners needing redemption. For generations that has been instilled into us, and we praise the Lord for that as our beginning ; but it is not what God has in view as His end. God speaks here rather of ” a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but … holy and without blemish “. All too often we have thought of the Church as being merely so many ‘saved sinners’. It is that; but we have made the terms almost equal to one another, as though it were only that, which is not the case. Saved sinners-with that thought you have the whole background of sin and the Fall; but in God’s sight the Church is a Divine creation in His Son. The one is largely individual, the other corporate. With the one the view is negative, belonging to the past; with the other it is positive, looking forward. The ” eternal purpose ” is something in the mind of God from eternity concerning His Son, and it has as its objective that the Son should have a Body to express His life. Viewed from that standpoint-from the standpoint of the heart of God-the Church is something which is beyond sin and has never been touched by sin.

          So we have an aspect of the death of the Lord Jesus in Ephesians which we do not have so clearly in other places. In Romans things are viewed from the standpoint of fallen man, and beginning with ‘Christ died for sinners, enemies, the ungodly’ (Rom. 5) we are led progressively to ” the love of Christ ” (Rom. 8. 35). In Ephesians, on the other hand, the standpoint is that of God ” before the foundation of the world ” (Eph. 1. 4), and the heart of the gospel is: ” Christ … loved the church, and gave himself up for it ” (Eph. 5. 25). Thus, in Romans it is “we sinned”, and the message is of God’s love for sinners (Rom. 5. 8); whereas in Ephesians it is ” Christ loved “, and the love here is the love of husband for wife. That kind of love has fundamentally nothing to do with sin as such. What is in view in this passage is not atonement for sin but the creation of the Church, for which end it is said that He gave himself “.

          There is thus an aspect of the death of the Lord Jesus which is altogether positive and a matter particularly of love to His Church, where the question of sin and sinners does not directly appear. To bring this fact home Paul takes that incident in Genesis 2 as illustration. Now this is one of the marvellous things in the Word, and if our eyes have been opened to see it we will certainly worship.

          From Genesis 3 onwards, from the ‘coats of skins’ to Abel’s sacrifice, and on from there through the whole Old Testament, there are numerous types which set forth the death of the Lord Jesus as an atonement for sin; yet the apostle does not appeal here to any of those types of His death, but to this one in Genesis 2. Note that ; and then recall that it was not until Genesis 3 that sin came in. There is one type of the death of Christ in the Old Testament which has nothing to do with sin, for it is not subsequent to the Fall but prior to it, and that type is here in Genesis 2. Let us look at it for a moment.

          Could we say that Adam was put to sleep because Eve had committed a serious sin? Is that what we have here? Certainly not, for Eve was not yet even created. There were as yet no moral issues involved and no problems at all. No, Adam was put to sleep for the express purpose that something might be taken out of him to be made into someone else. His sleep was not for her sin but for her existence. That is what is taught in these verses. This experience of Adam had as its object the creation of Eve, as something determined in the Divine counsels. God wanted an ishshah, He put the man (ish) to sleep, took a rib from his side and made it into ishshah, a woman, and brought her to the man. That is the picture which God is giving us. It foreshadows an aspect of the death of the Lord Jesus that is not primarily for atonement, but answerable to the sleep of Adam in this chapter.

          God forbid that I should suggest that the Lord Jesus did not die for purposes of atonement. Praise God, He did. We must remember that to-day we are in fact in Ephesians 5 and not in Genesis 2. Ephesians was written after the Fall, to men who had suffered from its effects, and in it we have not only the purpose in Creation but also the scars of the Fall-or there would need to be no mention of ” spot or wrinkle “. Because we are still on the earth and the Fall is a historic fact, ‘cleansing’ is needed.

          But we must always view redemption as an interruption, an ’emergency’ measure, made necessary by a catastrophic break in the straight line of the purpose of God. Redemption is big enough, wonderful enough, to occupy a very large place in our vision, but God is saying that we should not make redemption to be everything, as though man were created to he redeemed. The Fall is indeed a tragic dip downwards in that line of purpose, and the atonement a blessed recovery whereby our sins are blotted out and we are restored; but when it is accomplished there yet remains a work to be done to bring us into possession of that which Adam never possessed, and to give God that which His heart desires. For God has never forsaken the purpose which is represented by that straight line. Adam was never in possession of the life of God as presented in the tree of life. But because of the one work of the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection (and we must emphasize again that it is all one work) His life was released to become ours by faith, and we have received more than Adam ever possessed. The very purpose of God is brought within reach of fulfilment by our receiving Christ as our life.

          Adam was put to sleep. We remember that it is said of believers that they fall asleep, rather than that they die. Why? Because whenever death is mentioned sin is there in the background. In Genesis 3 sin entered into the world and death through sin, but Adam’s sleep preceded that. So the type of the Lord Jesus here is not like other types in the Old Testament. In relation to sin and atonement there is a lamb or a bullock slain ; but here Adam was not slain, but only put to sleep to awake again. Thus he prefigures a death that is not on account of sin, but that has in view increase in resurrection. Then too we must note that Eve was not created as a separate entity by a separate creation, parallel to that of Adam. Adam slept, and Eve was created out of Adam. That is God’s method with the Church. God’s ‘second Man’ has awakened from His’sleep’and His Church is created in Him and of Him, to draw her life from Him and to display that resurrection life.

          God has a Son who is known to be the only begotten, and God is seeking that the only begotten Son should have brethren. From the position of only begotten He will become the first begotten, and instead of the Son alone God will have many sons. One grain of wheat has died and many grains will spring up. The first grain was once the only grain ; now it is changed to be the first grain of many. The Lord Jesus laid down His life, and that life emerged in many lives. These are the Biblical figures we have used hitherto in our study to express this truth. Now, in the figure just considered, the singular takes the place of the plural. The outcome of the Cross is a single person: a Bride for the Son. Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it.

          ONE LIVING SACRIFICE

          We have said that there is an aspect of the death of Christ presented to us in Ephesians 5 which is to some extent different from that which we have been studying in Romans. Yet in fact this aspect is the very end to which our study of Romans has been moving, and it is into this that the letter is leading us as we shall now see, for redemption leads us back into God’s original line of purpose.

          In chapter 8 Paul speaks to us of Christ as the firstborn Son among many Spirit-led ” sons of God ” (Rom. 8. 14). ” For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren: and whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8. 29, 30). Here justification is seen to lead on to glory, a glory that is expressed not in one or more individuals but in a plurality: in many who manifest the image of One. And this object of our redemption is further set forth, as we have seen, in ” the love of Christ ” for His own, which is the subject of the last verses of the chapter (8. 35 – 39). But what is implicit here in chapter 8 becomes explicit as we move over into chapter 12, the subject of which is the Body of Christ.

          After the first eight chapters of Romans, which we have been studying, there follows a parenthesis in which God’s sovereign dealings with Israel are taken up and dealt with, before the theme of the first chapters is resumed. Thus, for our present purpose, the argument of chapter 12 follows that of chapter 8 and not of chapter 11. We might very simply summarize these chapters thus: Our sins are forgiven (ch. 5), we are dead with Christ (ch. 6), we are by nature utterly helpless (ch. 7), therefore we rely upon the indwelling Spirit (ch. 8). After this, and as a consequence of it: ” We … are one body in Christ ” (ch. 12). It is as though this were the logical outcome of all that has gone before, and the thing to which it has all been leading.

          Romans 12 and the following chapters contain some very practical instructions for our life and walk. These are introduced with an emphasis once again on consecration. In chapter 6. 13 Paul has said: “Present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God”. But now in chapter 12. 1 the emphasis is a little different: ” I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service “. This new appeal for consecration is made to us as ” brethren “, linking us in thought to the ” many brethren ” of chapter 8. 29. It is a call to us for a united step of faith, the presenting of our bodies as one ” living sacrifice ” unto God.

          This is something that goes beyond the merely individual, for it implies contribution to a whole. The ‘presenting’ is personal but the sacrifice is corporate ; it is one sacrifice. Intelligent service to God is one service. We need never feel our contribution is not needed, for if it contributes to the service, God is satisfied. And it is through this kind of service that we prove ” what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God ” (ch. 12. 2), or, in other words, realise God’s eternal purpose in Christ Jesus. So Paul’s appeal “to every man that is among you ” (12. 3) is in the light of this new Divine fact, that ” we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another ” (12. 5), and it is on this basis that the practical instructions follow.

          The vessel through which the Lord Jesus can reveal Himself in this generation is not the individual but the Body. ” God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith ” ( 12. 3), but alone in isolation man can never fulfil God’s purpose. It requires a complete Body to attain to the stature of Christ and to display His glory. Oh that we might really see this!

          So Romans 12. 3 – 6 draws from the figure of the human body the lesson of our inter- dependence. Individual Christians are not the Body but are members of the Body, and in a human body ” all the members have not the same office “. The car must not imagine itself to be an eye. No amount of prayer will give sight to the ear but the whole body can see through the eye. So (speaking figuratively) I may have only the gift of hearing, but I can see through others who have the gift of sight; or, perhaps I can walk but cannot work, so I receive help from the hands. An all-too-common attitude to the things of the Lord is that, ‘What I know, I know; and what I don’t know, I don’t know, and can do quite well without.’ But in Christ, the things we do not know others do, and we may know them and enter into the enjoyment of them through others. Let me stress that this is not just a comfortable thought. It is a vital factor in the life of God’s people. We cannot get along without one another. That is why fellowship in prayer is so important. Prayer together brings in the help of the Body, as must be clear from Matthew 18. 19,20. Trusting the Lord by myself may not be enough. I must trust Him with others. I must learn to pray ” Our Father . . .” on the basis of oneness with the Body, for without the help of the Body I cannot get through. In the sphere of service this is even more apparent. Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and He will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a blank wall until I realise that I need the help of the Body as well as of the Lord. For the life of Christ is the life of the Body, and His gifts are given to us for work that builds up the Body.

          The Body is not an illustration but a fact. The Bible does not just say that the Church is like a body, but that it is the Body of Christ. ” We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another.” All the members together are one Body, for all share His life-as though He were Himself distributed among His members. I was once with a group of Chinese believers who found it very hard to understand how the Body could be one when they were all separate individual men and women who made it up. One Sunday I was about to break the bread at the Lord’s table and I asked them to look very carefully at the loaf before I broke it. Then, after it had been distributed and eaten, I pointed out that though it was inside all of them it was still one loaf-not many. The loaf was divided, but Christ is not divided even in the sense in which that loaf was. He is still one Spirit in us, and we are all one in Him.

          This is the very opposite of man’s condition by nature. In Adam I have the life of Adam, but that is essentially individual. There is no union, no fellowship in sin, but only self-interest and distrust of others. As I go on with the Lord I soon discover, not only that the problem of sin and of my natural strength has to be dealt with, but that there is also a further problem created by my ‘individual ‘ life, the life that is sufficient in itself and does not recognize its need for and union in the Body. I may have got over the problems of sin and the flesh, and yet still be a confirmed individualist. I want holiness and victory and fruitfulness for myself personally and apart, albeit from the purest motives. But such an attitude ignores the Body, and so cannot provide God with satisfaction. He must deal with me therefore in this matter also, or I shall remain in conflict with His ends. God does not blame me for being an individual, but for my individualism, His greatest problem is not the outward divisions and denominations that divide His Church but our own individualistic hearts.

          Yes, the Cross must do its work here, reminding me that in Christ I have died to that old life of independence which I inherited from Adam, and that in resurrection I have become not just an individual believer in Christ but a member of His Body. There is a vast difference between the two. When I see this, I shall at once have done with independence and shall seek fellowship. The life of Christ in me will gravitate to the life of Christ in others. I can no longer take an individual line. jealousy will go. Competition will go. Private work will go. My interests, my ambitions, my preferences, all will go. It will no longer matter which of us does the work. All that will matter will be that the Body grows.

          I said: ‘When I see this . . .’ That is the great need: to see the Body of Christ as another great Divine fact ; to have it break in upon our spirits by heavenly revelation that ” we, who are many, are one body in Christ “. Only the Holy Spirit can bring this home to us in all its meaning, but when He does it will revolutionise our life and work.

          MORE THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH Him

          We only see history back to the Fall. God sees it from the beginning. There was something in God’s mind before the Fall, and in the ages to come that thing is to be fully realised. God knew all about sin and redemption ; yet in His great purpose for the Church set forth in Genesis 2 there is no view of sin. It is as though (to speak in finite terms) He leaps in thought right over the whole story of redemption and sees the Church in future eternity, having a ministry and a (future) history which is altogether apart from sin and wholly of God. It is the Body of Christ in glory, expressing nothing of fallen man but only that which is the image of the glorified Son of man. This is the Church that has satisfied God’s heart and has attained dominion.

          In Ephesians 5 we stand within the history of redemption, and yet through grace we still have this eternal purpose of God in view as expressed in the statement that He will ‘present unto himself a glorious Church’. But now we note that the water of life and the cleansing Word are needed to prepare the Church (now marred by the Fall) for presentation to Christ in glory. For now there are defects to be remedied and wounds to be healed. And yet how precious is the promise and how gracious are the words used of her: “not having spot “the scars of sin, whose very history is now forgotten ; ” or wrinkle “-the marks of age and of time lost, for all is now made up and all is new; and ” without blemish “-so that Satan or demons or men can find no ground for blame in her.

          This is where we are now. The age is closing, and Satan’s power is greater than ever. Our warfare is with angels and principalities and powers (Rom. 8. 38 ; Eph. 6. 12) who are set to withstand and destroy the work of God in us by laying many things to the charge of God’s elect. Alone we could never be their match, but what we alone cannot do the Church can. Sin, self-reliance and individualism were Satan’s master-strokes at the heart of God’s purpose in man, and in the Cross God has undone them. As we put our faith in what He has done -in ” God that justifieth ” and in ” Christ Jesus that died” (Rom. 8. 33, 34)-we present a front against which the very gates of Hades shall not prevail. We, His Church, are ” more than conquerors through him that loved us ” (Rom. 8. 37).

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