by Thomas Bernard
“Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.”–I Corinthians 1:30.
I take this text, because it appears to me to contain the fundamental idea, which underlies the whole range of the Epistles, and gives the specific character to their doctrine.
The specific character of their doctrine, as compared with the preceding parts of the New Testament, is the question which lies before me now.
Some kind of doctrinal progress must necessarily be attributed to these writings, if their words are taken as words of God; for everything in them which is not simple repetition must be in some sense addition, either giving information wholly new, or explaining, enlarging, and arranging that which former teachings had imparted.
It would therefore be fit, at the point which these Lectures have reached, to make some collection of these additions, or rather some selection of the chief instances of them; unless it should appear that this stage of the progress of doctrine is marked by such distinctive features, as suffice by themselves to describe the nature of the advance which has been made, and to supersede the accumulation of particulars by the peculiarity of a general character.
I. In what has been already advanced the existence of such a general character has been implied, and its nature has been in some degree defined.
We have looked upon the doctrine of the Gospels as the manifestation of Christ to men, giving the conditions and the materials of a spiritual life which was to follow. We have looked upon the doctrine of the Acts of the Apostles, as the preaching of Christ to men, summing up the results of his appearing, proclaiming him with the witness of the Spirit, and gathering those who receive him into the form and the life of a Church. We have observed that the Epistles take up the line of teaching at this point, being a voice within that Church to those who are themselves within it; that they are appropriated by their superscriptions to those who are already called, separated, and sanctified in Christ; that they are marked by their form and method as instruments of education to the spiritual life after it has begun; and that the appointment of their chief author implies the purpose of teaching things which followed the completion of the work of Christ on earth, in his offices and ministrations in heaven, and in the dispensation of the Spirit amongst men. If the actual contents of the Epistles correspond with these intimations, their doctrine must necessarily bear a specific character as compared with that of the Gospels and the Acts. As the manifestation of Christ when it was finished made way for the preaching of Christ, so the preaching of Christ when it has been received opens into the life in Christ. The Epistles pre-suppose the existence of this life, both in the community and in the individual, and their doctrine is directed to educate and develop it. The fundamental thought in every page is that expressed in my text, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.”
They are little words, but they make an announcement of vast significance and boundless consequences. Writer and readers regard themselves and each other as having now entered on an existence, which for spiritual beings seems the only real one. “Ye are” says the Apostle. After speaking of “things that are not” and of “things that are,” he turns to his fellow believers, and says, “but ye are.” And whence is this existence found? From him , from God himself, as its immediate origin and still continuous author. And where is it found? “In Christ Jesus.”
In Christ Jesus! As the simple voice of faith this word is ever uttered with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But preacher or commentator, who may attempt to sound the depths or open the treasures of its meaning, must feel his tongue falter under the sense of the inadequacy of .every explaining word. Let us, however, at least assert the reality of the fact which it expresses, for it is no symbolical form of speech, but the statement of a fact, as real in regard to the spirit, as the fact of our being in the world is real in regard to the body.
How does the vivid consciousness of this reality glow in the pages which are before us now! Christ has been manifested, preached, received; and what is the state which has ensued, as exhibited in the consciousness of those who have received them? They are not merely professors of his name, learners of his doctrine, followers of his example, sharers in his gifts. I may go further. They are not merely men ransomed by his death, or destined for his glory. These are all external kinds of connection, in which our separate life is related to his life only as one man’s life may be related to another’s, by the effect of what he teaches, of what he gives, and of what he does. But it is assumed in the Epistles, that believers in Jesus are no longer living a life that is only external, and, as it were, parallel to his life. They are in Christ Jesus, and he also is in them.
At the close of his manifestation he foretold a state of consciousness, which his disciples had not attained while he was with them in the flesh, but which would be enjoyed by them under the succeeding dispensation. “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). The language of the Epistles is the echo of this promise. It is the voice of those who have entered on the predicted knowledge, and who view all subjects in the light of it.
They know that the Lord Jesus “is in the Father;” or, as it is more fully and distinctly expressed by himself, that “he is in the Father, and the Father in him“ (John 10:38;14:10; and 17:21); not indeed with that character of knowledge which belongs to a later age, when abstract dogmatic statements were fashioned from their warm and living words, but rather with that kind of knowledge, to secure which to the Church for ever those statements were needed and were framed. These writers know the truth, that the Father is in the Son, as constituting the power of the work of Christ on earth; and the truth, that the Son is in the Father, as constituting the power of his mediation in heaven. On the one side, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself”(II Corinthians 5:19); on the other, it is “with Christ in God“ (Colossians 3:3) that the Christian’s present life is hid.
Furthermore, these writers know that believers are in Christ and Christ in them, and shew that knowledge, not only by frequent assertions and a universal supposition of a close and vital union between the members and the head, but by a full development of both the aspects of this union which the words of the Lord present.
Believers are in Christ, so as to be partakers in all that he does, and has, and is. They died with him, and rose with him, and live with him, and in him are seated in heavenly places. When the eye of God looks on them they are found in Christ, and there is no condemnation to those that are in him, and they are righteous in his righteousness, and loved with the love which rests on him, and are sons of God in his sonship, and heirs with him of his inheritance, and are soon to be glorified with him in his glory. And this standing which they have in Christ, and the present and future portion which it secures, are contemplated in eternal counsels, and predestined before the foundation of the world.
As the sense of this fact breathes in every page, so also does the sense of the correlative fact, that Christ is in those who believe: associating his own presence with their whole inward and outward life. They know that Jesus Christ is in them, except they be reprobates (rejected ones, II Corinthians 13:5). They live, yet not they, but Christ liveth in them (Galatians 2:20), and Christ is their strength and their song (Philippians 4:13). This indwelling of Christ is by the Holy Ghost, so that the same passages speak interchangeably of the Spirit being in us, and of Christ being in us (Romans 8:9,10); or of the Holy Ghost being in us, and our members being the members of Christ (I Corinthians 6:15,19): and so this word, “I in you,” includes the whole life of the Spirit in man, with all its discoveries, impulses, and achievements, its victory over the world, its conversation in heaven, and earnest of the final inheritance.
Thus, through the different but intertwined relations represented by the words, “Ye in me, and I in you,” human life is constituted a life in Christ; and, through the still higher mystery of the union of the Father and the Son, is thereby revealed as a life in God. “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Yes! as we pass through the Epistles, we see that that day is come, and that the consciousness thus predicted has been attained. It is no flight of mysterious rhetoric, but the brief expression of the settled, habitual, fundamental view of the state of those who are here addressed, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.”
This idea underlies all that is said, gives the point of view from which every subject is regarded, and supplies the standard of character and the rules of conduct. We move in a new world of thought, and are raised to a level of doctrine which we had not reached before, though the Gospels had prepared us for it, and the Acts had led us towards it. In the Gospels we have stood like men who watch the rising of some great edifice, and who grow familiar with the outlines and the details of its exterior aspect. In the preaching of the Acts we have seen the doors thrown open, and joined the men who flock into it as their refuge and their home. In the Epistles we are actually within it, sheltered by its roof, encompassed by its walls; we pass, as it were, from .chamber to chamber, beholding the extent of its internal arrangements and the abundance of all things provided for our use. We are here “in Christ Jesus.” That is the account of the difference which we feel, and which lies in the opening out of the whole effect of the Gospel, rather than in additions made to its particular doctrines. The presence which was lately before our eyes, and drew us towards itself, now absorbs and wraps us round, and has become the ground on which we stand, the air which we breathe, the element in which we live and move and have our being.
The Churches are “in Christ;” the persons are “in Christ.” They are “found in Christ” and “preserved in Christ.” They are “saved” and “sanctified in Christ;” are “rooted, built up,” and “made perfect in Christ.” Their ways are “ways that be in Christ;” their conversation is “a good conversation” in Christ; their faith, hope, love, joy, their whole life is “in Christ.” They think, they speak, they walk “in Christ.” They labour and suffer, they sorrow and rejoice, they conquer and triumph “in the Lord.” They receive each other and love each other “in the Lord.” The fundamental relations, the primal duties of life, have been drawn within the same circle.” The man is not without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:11). “Wives submit themselves to their husbands “in the Lord; “children obey their parents” in the Lord.” The broadest distinctions vanish in the common bond of this all-embracing relation. “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ; there is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; they are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The influence of it extends over the whole field of action, and men “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The truth which they hold is “the truth as it is in Jesus;” the will by which they guide themselves is “the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning them.” Finally, this character of existence is not changed by that which changes all besides. Those who have entered on it depart, but they “die in the Lord,” they “sleep in Jesus,” they are “the dead in Christ;” and “when he shall appear,” they will appear; and when he comes, “God shall bring them with him,” and they shall “reign in life by one–Jesus Christ.”
Pardon, my brethren, the necessarily slight and rapid manner in which you have now been reminded of this pervading characteristic of the Apostolic writings. Yet, swiftly as I am compelled to proceed, I must delay a moment; for there is a question which one who rehearses such words ought not to leave unspoken. What correspondence is there between our own habit of thought and the christian consciousness which speaks in these pages? I mean, not in regard to particular doctrines or precepts, but in regard to that one fact which embraces them all–that which the text expresses, “Of him are ye in Christ Jesus.” That is not the statement of a doctrine, but the summary of a life. Surely I must ask–Is it a life which I am living now? I glance over these pages, and see the holy and beloved name shining in every part of them, and mingling its presence with every thought and feeling, every purpose and hope. I see an ever-present consciousness of being in Christ, and a habit of viewing all things in him. Must I not look down into my heart, and ask whether my own inward life bears this character? Let me accept nothing in exchange for this. Men bid me live in duty and truth, in purity and love. They do well. But the Gospel does better; calling me to live in Christ, and to find in him the enjoyment of all that I would possess and the realisation of all that I would be-come. In suggesting these personal enquiries, I have scarcely taken a step out of my way, for the very point before us is this, that the progress of doctrine in the Epistles is constituted, not in the first place by the communication of new information, but by the recognition of a spiritual state which has been attained, and by the education of the spiritual life pertaining to it.
This page Copyright © 2008 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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