FIRST THINGS FIRST

Volume 26, Number 4, August 1965

Conditional covenant did not exist before Abraham. Until God made covenant with him, there was no conditional covenant and no divine law appended to one. Yet among mankind there were righteous ones. Of these Abraham is to be regarded as the most outstanding example; for he is the one about whom most is said in Scripture in this connection. Then, as in fact now, righteousness was attainable by faith alone, altogether apart from law-works.

This, though wholly true, is far from the whole truth; because, as the Apostle Paul indicates in the first four chapters of Romans, righteousness has always been through faith alone, altogether apart from law-works. The reason for the difficulty some find in this is that, under conditional covenant, Israel was under obligation to carry out those law-works; so that they came to be regarded as the essential feature of righteousness, instead of faith itself. This is the dilemma in which all eventually find themselves who are, or claim to be, under covenant. They are under obligation to carry out law-works. To be able to do any good works at all righteousness is essential. But righteousness cannot possibly be attained through law-works; and is therefore for them unattainable so long as they place themselves under a covenant of law-works. Paul is dealing with two distinct fallacies: that righteousness can be attained by law-works; and that law-works, that is works or deeds done under legal compulsion with a view to attaining righteousness, are of any worth at all. That many who were under covenant were, in fact, righteous was in spite of their covenant standing and obligations, not because of it. They believed God; and their faith was accounted to them as equivalent to righteousness, as Abraham's faith was.

The dilemma is set out in Rom. 9:30-10:13, a passage all too easily passed over, because it is in a section that has been labeled by some as "dispensational" rather than "doctrinal"; and also because, though it is a continuation of one line of the argument of Romans 1 to 4, it is separated from that context by other matter. This is in consequence of Romans 5 to 8 being the continuation of the argument of Romans 1 to 4 along a different line which is, for Paul's immediate purpose, the more important and urgent one.

As a touchstone of our sincerity and spiritual maturity this separation is valuable, since it effectively cuts off the full and earnest believer from the superficial and casual who, sad to say, form the majority. Through failure to perceive such matters the superficial never come to full knowledge of what righteousness means and of how it can be attained. Like Israel in Rom. 10:2 they often have zeal of God, but not according to full knowledge. So, all too easily and frequently, their zeal becomes dissipated and unavailing.

Up to this point, there is nothing in this paper that has not been said or implied by me before. In fact, there is a danger on this account that some may jump to the conclusion that the distinction between covenant and non-covenant standing is a minor one. This would be a very serious mistake. The distinction itself is vitally important—but in its own sphere and not in matters outside that sphere.

The fundamental truth, quoted in Rom. 4:3, that "Abraham believes God, and it is reckoned to him equivalent to righteousness" has nothing whatever to do with covenant. It is true independently of any idea connected therewith. It is true irrespective of whether the one who believes is under covenant or not. As regards the attainment of righteousness, and only in that connection, covenant and law-works are absolutely irrelevant; for faith alone matters. God does not demand law-works as a condition for righteousness. Those who do demand them are people who have misunderstood what God requires of His covenant people, or who have believed the carnal inventions of the pagan religions.

Law-works are referred to in Rom. 3:20, 28; 9:32; Gal. 2:16 (three times); 3:2, 5, 10; and that is all. It is worth observing that it is found twice as frequently in connection with departure from the Evangel as in the setting-out of it. The work of the Law occurs in Rom. 2:15. Why it has been necessary for us to say so much about law-works, and for Paul to be so emphatic in referring to them, is that they are so strongly favoured by the soulish man. No reference to them is made in the statement of God's New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah in Heb. 8:8-12 or in its context. This is because they do not arise in it at all, let alone as a means of attaining righteousness. Indeed, works, other than God's, do not appear at all in the Hebrew Epistle except as dead works in Heb. 6:1; 9:14 and ideal works in 10:24. Yet

good works are implied in the terms of that New Covenant for, under it, God will be imparting His laws to His people's comprehension and inscribing them on their hearts, and they will be to Him "into people," literally; that is to say, His people in the fullest sense. In that state, it is impossible that they will not do works altogether pleasing to Him, or that those works will not be in the fullest manner in accord with His laws. But they are not called "law-works," because no notion of trying to achieve righteousness by their means can in any circumstances arise, for His people will already possess His righteousness.

The distinction between being under covenant and not being under covenant is nowhere connected with righteousness and unrighteousness, which are wholly irrelevant to it. Instead, it is simply a matter of standing or status.

At present, approach to God is outside covenant and wholly free from any question of covenant rights and covenant obligations. In time past it was, and in days to come it will be, in covenant or through God's covenant people. The matter is as simple as that! Either way, righteousness comes about through faith, as Abraham's righteousness did.

Having thus cleared the ground, we can push forward to the main object of this paper, observing that the priority—of faith-righteousness is one of those first things that should come first. Yet we have not really digressed, for we have had to note another "first thing," namely, the priority of Abraham's faith over any conditional covenant in which he could have been involved. Two other "first things" must present themselves to our attention. One of them appears at the very start of Scripture, for half of Genesis belongs to a time before Israel existed or could exist, before any covenant problems could arise. The other is to do with the Gospels; for the events recorded in them occurred, and the Gospels themselves were written, before any of the church which is Christ's body came into being at all, or could come into being.

The existence of the events recorded in Genesis and the Gospels is absolutely essential for and fundamental to the fulfilment of every single thing for which Israel has ever hoped for or expected. This is well known to us to be a truism. What is also, for us, a truism (though this truth is rejected by many who have gone astray through the activities of extreme dispensationalism) is that the existence of these events, and their implications and consequences, are essential for and fundamental to everything we have, or hope for, or expect.

The former half of Genesis is a "first thing"; the Gospels are a "first thing." Therefore, we ought in our thinking to give them the priority to which they are entitled. Actually the position is not on the surface so simple as that. The Apostle Paul's Epistles are addressed to, and belong to, us only; but the Gospels are the account of the commission of the Lord Jesus to the lost sheep of Israel's house (Matt. 15:24). That is plainly the primary purpose; but, equally plainly, another purpose is immediately associated with it. For in the Canaanitish woman—a Gentile—existed that faith which Israel so conspicuously lacked. Faith again; and, what is more, great faith (v. 28). Back we come to Abraham, the Gentile who believed God, to another Gentile whose faith also was great and, being reckoned equivalent to righteousness, received its reward. So the effect of the Lord's ministry recorded in the Gospels is not to be, and cannot reasonably be, restricted to Israel. Instead, it flows out to the Gentiles.

In fact, the Lord Jesus was commissioned to something more than His stated ministry to the lost sheep of Israel's house; but the subsequent uncovenanted ministry could not be permitted to confuse the presentation of that which was to the lost sheep. This idea of a ministry in two forms, one plainly seen, the other still in embryo, as it were, during the recorded ministry of the Lord Jesus, is found in the occurrences of the word probaton, sheep. Primarily and chiefly it has to do with Israel; but in John 10:16 there is a disclosure that He has also other sheep in mind. Paul uses the word once, in Rom. 8:36, in an evident echo of the one occurrence of the word in Acts, in Acts 8:32. When we reflect, the reason for this is obvious. Dealing with straightforward fundamental issues involves setting aside for the time being other issues that are not immediate, otherwise all become beclouded. On account of the infirmity of our minds, due to our state of mortality, everyone who would teach adequately, even God Himself, has to proceed systematically from elementary things to the advanced. First things first, in fact! We see a majestic unfolding of the truth which came through Jesus Christ in Matthew's Gospel. We see another unfolding, though on somewhat different lines, in Mark's and Luke's Gospels. We see yet another in John's; and in Acts are recorded the first historical developments. When we come to Paul's Epistles, we find a doctrinal unfolding which could not be disclosed in the Gospels because nobody was ready for it. Yet do we find it descending as an avalanche, so to speak? By no means! The unfolding is found to be steady and astonishingly systematic, once we begin to understand it.

Failure to appreciate the character of the unfolding in Paul's Epistles has caused many superficial students of them to suppose that the later epistles supersede the earlier. Yet we do not regard the part of Matthew's Gospel that begins with Chapter 13 as superseding the former part. True, the character of the ministry of the Lord Jesus changes sharply; but in essence as a ministry to Israelites it is the same throughout. The change of doctrine appears much less than that in Paul's Epistles, the change of emphasis greater. And when we get beyond a superficial understanding of Paul's Epistles, we find that the change in his doctrine is itself much less than the superficial students insist. For instance, what we are told in Eph. 3:6-12, sublime as it is, nevertheless comes through the evangel of which Paul became dispenser, something which can be understood only with full understanding of the earlier epistles. The teaching about the "body" in Ephesians 5 would be very obscure apart from what is taught in Romans and 1. Corinthians, and is, for those who tend to disregard them; that about the circumcision in Phil. 3:3 cannot be understood apart from the foundation teaching about it in Romans and Galatians; and the same is true of what Paul says about righteousness in Phil. 3:9. These last two are so conclusive that some extremists have even expressed doubts as to whether Philippians should be counted with Ephesians and Colossians as what they call an "Epistle of the Mystery."

Lastly, we cannot even thrust out the General Epistles from the unfolding sequence. This has, I believe, already been demonstrated in the series of studies of James' Epistle, and should by now be evident to us. Nevertheless, we must not on any account slip into the opposite error and shut our eyes to the tremendous gulf between much of Paul's teaching and the rest of Scripture.

The key to understanding its nature is to be found in Galatians. Perhaps that might be expected, for the epistle is in many ways like the keystone of an arch, marking as it does the transition between the earlier and the later epistles of Paul; for it completes the former and leads forward to the latter. In the former is set out Paul's Evangel. In the latter is displayed the marvellous structure built upon it. In Galatians we find its place in the scheme of things. We find Paul and his Evangel placed face to face with Peter and his Evangel. Paul's is characterized by uncircumcision, Peter's by circumcision, confirming that Paul's means freedom from covenant, freedom from bondage to the Law, and therefore liberation from the curse of broken law (2:7-9; 3:1-14; 5:1, 13). It should be noted, by the way, that "again" (4:9; 5:1) does not mean that all the Galatians had necessarily been under the Law; but simply that wanting to be under law (4:21) or inclining in any way towards the Circumcisionists and to Peter's Evangel put out of its proper setting in time, is repudiation of Paul's Evangel and has something of the death-dealing effect of being now under law. And it must be kept in mind that although the Gentiles have never been under the Law of Moses, they have been under sin's law (Rom. 7:23, 25; 8:2). Moreover, Gal. 4:9; 5:1 do not actually use the word "law," presumably lest that might bring about the very misunderstanding which has trapped many: that the Galatians had been under the Law. The point is that there are more ways of coming under legalistic slavery than being under the Law of Moses as the Jews were. If we are not altogether free from enthrallment with the yoke of slavery we have altogether failed to appreciate Paul's Evangel, we have completely missed the point of it.

Severed by the sharpest of all guillotines are these two evangels. Peter's involves covenant, so it implies the Law and is concerned with Israel, the covenant people and with the fulfilment of the promises of future blessing which are theirs. That fixes it for its full consummation to the coming eon, the thousand years, to the glories of Messiah's rule on earth. But Paul's bypasses all that: it leads in one vast leap to new creation which, as John tells us at the very close of Scripture, is new heaven and new earth. So the end-product of Peter's circumcision Evangel is the transcendent glory of the new earth (Rev. 21:1) in which, as Paul tells us, God will be all in all—by way of the consummation of the earthly glories promised to Israel. The end-product of Paul's Evangel is new heaven, and all that implies, with God all in all, on earth as in heaven, in perfect oneness, as the Lord Jesus Himself prayed (John 17:21-23).

Different, indeed, are the paths; but "God all in all" is the goal. For Israel from new birth via covenant and earthly blessing both spiritual and according to flesh. For ourselves, from new creation, blessings entirely apart from covenant, among the celestials, and purely spiritual.

For proof, we need not search very far. What the Lord Jesus says in John 3:3-8 is plain indeed, and there is nothing in Paul's Epistles to correspond with it at all. The only references to the verb gennaO, beget or be born, in them, apart from Gal. 4:23-29 where the allegory of Abraham's two sons is set out, are Rom. 9:11; 1. Cor. 4:15; 2.Tim. 2:23; Philem. 10. In the second of these, Paul is referring to himself figuratively as a father. By contrast, "new creation" is found in two passages of Paul's. The first, 2. Cor. 5:16, 17, reads: "Yet even if we have known Christ according to flesh, nevertheless now we are knowing no longer. So that, if anyone is in Christ (there is) new creation. The original (state of things) passed by. Lo! It has become new." I do not like having to add the words in brackets, but there seems to be no choice if misunderstanding is to be avoided, particularly in rendering the more profound passages. The second is Gal. 6:15: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but new creation." What is created is indicated in Eph. 2:10; "For we are His achievement, being created in Christ Jesus upon good works, which God makes ready beforehand in order that in them we should be walking." The word here rendered upon is epi with the Dative, and expressed the idea of on a basis of, or on a ground of. This throws a flood of light on Paul's meaning; placing good works in their proper setting in God's purpose for us. It is a standing refutation of, and rebuke to, those who dare to write as if good works had little or no relevance to our standing in Christ Jesus.

More than that, Eph. 2:15 goes on to speak for the first time of new humanity. The background of this is something that has occurred "now, in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:13). The Gentiles in flesh were apart from Christ, alienate from the citizenship of Israel, etc. But now, in Christ Jesus, those who were far, were made to be near in the blood of the Christ. Why? Because "He is the One making both one and loosing the mid-wall of the barrier, . . . that He should be creating in Himself the two into one new humanity, making peace." Here are two intertwining strands of thought; and we must be very careful not, on the one hand, to separate them and, on the other, to confuse them. Most expositors have managed to do one or the other, to our great loss.

One is God's immediate purpose: to make those nigh who were far. Those were the Gentiles in flesh, termed "Uncircumcision." (There is no "the" before the word in the Greek). In the past era they were outcasts, as there was no room for them. They were xenoi, strangers who could partake of the covenants of the promise, which are Israel's, only as proselytes, as puppies picking up the crumbs. But "just now," as Rotherham renders it, they were made to be near in the blood of the Christ. In that blood a change had already occurred. His purpose was to be reconciling both, those afar and those near, in one body, to God through the cross. This immediate purpose is developed in the Secret, presently set out in Eph. 3:6-12. This deliberately concerns only the Gentiles. Why? Because the reconciling process is "through the cross, killing the enmity in it"; because the cross kills all purely fleshly standing and therefore cannot concern those of Israel according to flesh who wish to retain fleshly standing and privilege. These are termed "Circumcision"; but already it has been revealed that in present conditions circumcision is availing nothing. By the way, the for of the word legomenoi, being termed, is Middle; which suggests that both parties accepted their appellation and that it was not imposed on them without their consent.

The other strand is God's ultimate purpose; for in the same context it has been revealed that uncircumcision is availing nothing. A standing in covenant privilege has come to avail nothing, so has a standing outside covenant privilege. In Christ Jesus both have become irrelevant, replaced by "faith, operating through love" (Gal. 5:6). The reason why the Secret concerns only the Gentiles is that such faith is possible only to those who surrender covenant privilege and believe God, as Abraham did, in uncircumcision. Thereafter both circumcision and uncircumcision become irrelevant. A new humanity has begun to be.

The beginning of the new humanity and the reconciling in one body are coincident under present conditions. Nevertheless, there is good reason why Paul suddenly here introduces the idea of reconciling. For ultimately all are to be reconciled, though only an election become members of the one body, and that only during the present limited time. The citizenship of Israel and the covenants of the promise are not put out of mind by God. In due course they, too, will take their place in the creating in the Christ the one new humanity. There are here separate objectives: the creating the two into one new humanity; the reconciling both to God in one body. BOTH come into the one body by faith, in uncircumcision as Abraham did. TWO come into the one new humanity—the one along the line of covenant through the Kingdom set up on earth onwards into the new earth, the other along the line of Paul's Evangel into all spiritual blessings among the celestials. But nowhere do we find "two" specified as coming into the one body, any more than we ever find two "bodies." Those who willfully add such ideas to Scripture blind themselves to these great and profound truths.

Through the cross, the Christ destroys all divisions and kills all enmity. But the time for that part of the new humanity which is to be created from those under covenant to begin to come into being is after the body is completed and snatched away to meet the Head. There is no division between the "two" because they come into operation at different times—one now, the other in days to come. That separation in time makes impossible any clash, either logical or actual. Nevertheless, through the cross there is now no enmity. We recognize them in advance and love them as fellow-citizens; and they, when the hour of illumination arrives for them, will in turn look back and upwards, in love of us similarly.

Viewed from the standpoint of the reconciliation that is to be, we are all fellow-citizens of the saints, all of them; and members of God's family, the whole of it; and built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, all of them; collectively, for there is no "the" before "prophets." So now the whole vast prospect is likened to a building, a holy temple.

Then Paul turns from this tremendous generalization in figure to another; one special to ourselves: our God's dwelling-place in spirit. And then he turns to another vast thing: the wonderful Secret that is ours, in spirit.

Once again do we find a reference to God creating the new humanity, in Eph. 4:20-25. We are to put it on, something we ourselves have to do. This is entirely in line with Eph. 2:10.

New creation, new humanity—these are two features of God's long-term purpose which begins now with our reconciliation and eventually embraces Israel, under new covenant, and ultimately all. It is the closing up, the gathering together, of the threads which began to entwine through God's revelation in Genesis, and go on developing throughout the Scriptures. So Genesis is one of those "first things," the first of them; for in it are (to change the figure) the seeds of all that follow.

When I was a young man, I soon began to dislike the whole idea of the study of Typology, on account of the excesses of most of those who practised it. They saw Types in every little detail of the Old Testament; and it used to horrify me to find how much was "expositor," and how little was Scripture, in the pronouncements of some of these expositors. I realized how intensely subjective it all was. It seemed to me that all that sort of thing could well stand over, to our great benefit, until such time as we had exhausted the direct teaching of Scripture.

With reservations, I still think this. The Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, are Israel's oracles of God; and the full understanding of them is reserved for Israel in days to come.

Nevertheless, another aspect of the matter exists. It is expressed by Andrew Jukes in "The Two Ways"—notes of two lectures on Genesis 11, 12. He writes: "Many of you, I doubt not, are generally aware that the book of Genesis deals very largely with typical representations, that is, with figures of spiritual things, both facts and doctrines, connected with the Christian dispensation. You cannot carefully read St. Paul's epistles without coming to the conclusion that he saw far more in the histories of Genesis than the mere letter." In support, he cites Rom. 5:12-14 and Gal. 4:21-31, and he also refers to 1. Cor. 10:11. The only thing in this open to question is the expression "the Christian dispensation"; and I would accept that if it were meant to be read as meaning the conditions which began at Pentecost and will last till the fulfilment of I. Cor. 15:28. For the word "Christian" occurs only in Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1. Peter 4:16; and with this proviso is properly applicable to all God's people.

Jukes goes on to say: "Clearly the apostle takes the creation as the figure of another work, which God accomplishes in every saved sinner." He quotes 2. Cor. 4:6 and 5:17, and he goes on to say: "But though many have a general notion that Genesis contains types, few have any idea of the immense extent and depth of this hidden wisdom." Here it is not my purpose to go into these matters, but simply to remove any misconceptions like the one which held me in thrall for many years. For I had learnt, slowly and painfully, that the company or church which is Christ's body is right outside the scope of all Scripture except Paul's Epistles; so I fully realized that the types of Genesis could not be types of the church which is Christ's body. That door is more than shut, barred and bolted. Its very existence is no more than a delusion. Only when I came to understand that the new humanity is not the same as or equivalent to the church which is Christ's body did the truth of the matter dawn upon me. Certainly it includes the body now (in fact, under present conditions there is no-one else in it); but it is not the body, for it is a figure of all of God's people, now, and in days to come right on to the fulfilment of His grand purpose.

That is the underlying theme of much of this paper, and it constitutes a vast clarification. As members of the body, the types of Genesis and elsewhere leave us out of consideration; but as members of the new humanity they include us, and they include Israel in the New Covenant days to come. This cuts the ground from under the objection, on "dispensational" grounds, to study of the types; for it furnishes a justification of it which hitherto has been lacking. What is usually called" dispensationalism " is, when properly understood, wholly irrelevant to it. This fact, in turn, furnishes a touchstone whereby we can test the soundness of any teaching which involves Typology. If it becomes "dispensational," it is by that very fact on wrong lines. Much difficulty has been caused by regarding Ephesians exclusively from the "dispensational" angle. This epistle deals with what particularly concerns ourselves here and now, but it also has to do with our celestial destiny; so necessarily it must go far beyond our present terrestrial circumstances. Failure to appreciate the two-sidedness of the epistle is responsible for most of the confusion regarding it that still exists.

There remains the question of subjectivity. The only way to get over this difficulty is to test all interpretations by the objective truth we already have in the Greek Scriptures. That is a first thing, and must take first place. Only when it is established may we safely venture into the study of the Types.

So we can read and study and learn from the Types to our immense profit. We are fellow-citizens with the saints, all of them, from start to finish; and that fellow-citizenship is part of our citizenship in the heavens and altogether other than the citizenship of Israel. It exists in the fact that we are created into one new humanity. We shall all be one, and one in Him, as the Lord Jesus prayed, when the new humanity is completed and God is all in all. R. B. W.

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